Sunday, 19 March 2017

Hennessy (1975)

Hennessy (1975), one of the early last-ditch attempts by AIP to make a mainstream film, and one of their last UK productions is weird. Rod Steiger is the lead, as an IRA man with a not-very-good accent, but he's quieter than he usually was at this time, which isn't saying much. 1970s London, as rundown as it is looks too recognisable to be Belfast in most shots, though the terraced streets look right. Its when they show high street areas that it looks very London-ish, especially when the film moves to London playing itself (though the genuine shots of second unit Belfast could almost be London if not for the mountains peeking out behind). Eric Porter and Lee Remick's accents are a bit too Southern-inflected, though Eric Porter almost gets it. Ian Hogg is too Scottish. Patrick Stewart  appears as an IRA man. He has hair, but not much of it. He's balding, but still not quite the pure slaphead the world knows and love. His accent's terrible, but it was his first film. Stanley Lebor appears as an IRA man in the same sort of sweater he'd wear in Ever Decreasing Circles (and weirdly, Peter Egan appears too, though they share no scenes). David Collings is literally a leprechaun cabbie. Some of the funeral mourners sing God Save Ireland  out of tune. Basically, Steiger is a reformed IRA man whose wife and child (7 year old Patsy Kensit) are shot by Christopher "That's My Boy" Blake, as a British soldier. An interesting film, because it is so odd. A British film with a dissident IRA hero trying to blow up the Queen on her visit to the Houses of Parliament. Rod Steiger is Niall Hennessy (yes, they say it right), a former WW2 vet who served with Montgomery, then joined the IRA and now, fuelled by the accidental murder of his family by Mollie Sugden's boy, goes off to London, smuggled in by John Hallam (who was born in Ulster, but simply because his family were evacuated, he is one of two Irish actors in it - the other being  Fair City's Oliver Maguire) and Patrick Stewart (with a bizarre West Country-Yorkshire accent, but it was his first film), where he hides with his dead mate's non-love interest widow, the possibly Catholic-but-with-a-Protestant-name Kate Brooke, played by Lee Remick (sounding a bit Oirish and being far too Hollywood glam for a downtrodden Provo widow from East Belfast) . Eric Porter and the lads learn of Hennessy's plan, and realise that blowing up the Queen is a greater risk to Ireland, and chase him, while  Trevor Howard, Richard Johnson and Peter Egan of the Yard investigate, Johnson literally haunted by his time in Belfast as an RUC 'tec. Hennessy sits in Remick's house, where the BBC are somehow showing footage of the funeral of Mrs. Hennessy nationally, and not just on BBC Northern Ireland. Hennessy then decides to take on the identity of a popular Corbynesque MP who protests about the city outside the Albert Hall., trapping the real MP in his vest and underwear. Remick is killed by Porter and the lads.  On Hennessy's way, we begin to see the film's other controversial element - genuine footage of the Queen, her family (even the Duke of Kent), Archbishop Robert Runcie and the Paedo PM himself, Ted Heath from an old newsreel,  intercut with shots of a newsstand selling the Sun and the Daily Mail on Westminster Bridge. The film because of this use of footage got pulled from UK release, and yet the final scenes are the best bit. They are reminiscent of the similar VIP bloodbath of the Medusa Touch (also with Remick), and is efficiently shot by director Don Sharp. Johnson manages to foil the plan, and chases Hennessy out the door, before Hogg shoots Hennessy instead, and is carted away by coppers. However, Hennessy gets up, pleading, only for Johnson to shoot him again, and he blows up, a mushroom cloud descending over Westminster. Johnson wakes up, as God Save the Queen plays. A really interesting  film. Not for all the right reasons. It's laughable, especially if you're Irish, but has a weird sense of morbid charm.  And John Scott's score is nice. It feels similar to other Brit-actioners of the period, like The Black Windmill (1974) or Brannigan (1975). It feels similar to Day of the Jackal, but at least it has more energy than that film, and dare I say it, Steiger and the various bungling IRA men are more captivating protagonists than Edward Fox in a cravat turning his nose up at Paris.  but then again, I am Irish.

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