The Black Windmill [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Kino Lorber
Review written by and copyright: Robert Segedy (3rd March 2019).
The Film

I am not a fan of the espionage genre, but I do like Michael Caine, so I thought that this was worth a spin. Seeing the name Don Siegel in the credits caused me to get my hopes up because he helmed several Clint Eastwood vehicles including "Dirty Harry" (1971), "The Beguiled" (1971) and "Escape from Alcatraz" (1979) and I recall that he also directed the original "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1956) which was an excellent science fiction thriller. But as Siegel himself once remarked about his films, “Most of my pictures, I'm sorry to say, are about nothing. Because I'm a whore. I work for money. It's the American way.” True to his word, "The Black Windmill" is a passable exercise in entertainment, but it is lacking the mise-en-scène that his previous films had displayed. We can just hope that the paycheck was substantial because this film is not very demanding of its audience. The film was based on Clive Egleton’s 1973 novel, "Seven Days to a Killing".

Michael Caine plays Major John Tarrant, a British covert operative officer whose sycophantic supervisor is Cedric Harper (a bootlicking Donald Pleasence) and the plot is fairly routine and pedestrian: violent crooks led by a shadowy Irishman McKee (the dour John Vernon) kidnap Tarrant’s young son David (Paul Moss) while he is away at school and demand that a hefty ransom of $500,000 be paid in uncut diamonds. How ironic is it that this is the exact amount needed to fund a different covert operation? (shades of JonBenét Ramsey). Harper suspects that Tarrant is in on the caper and suggests that Tarrant is feeling the financial squeeze due to his pending divorce from his pending ex-wife Alex (Janet Suzman) and orders Scotland Yard inspector Alf Chesterman (Clive Revill) to tap his phone at his lonely bachelor pad. Criss cross and double crossing ensue as Tarrant figures out that someone is looking to set him up as the fall guy, but who is it and why?

This was an American production that was shot in the UK and France, but even with the exotic settings things feel a tad turgid and Caine never really appears to be engaged as he swaggers through the film without making his pulse rate rise. Tarrant is a tad too detached for my tastes and even though his son is the bail in this deadly game of cat and mouse, he fails to convince me that he really gives a damn. Vernon is always an excellent villain and he gloats throughout, but even as the leader of some IRA gang it feels like he doesn’t have enough to do. Donald Pleasence acts like he is in some spy spoof film as he engages in every neurotic tic that he can muster, from various nervous twitches to constantly playing with his moustache, the man is hardly leadership material. It would be in future years that Pleasance would seal his reputation, once and for all, with his portrayal of Dr. Sam Loomis in John Carpenter’s classic horror film "Halloween" (1978) and its many sequels. Producers Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown may wonder what went wrong with this film that should have been a sure fire hit, but the great cast felt like they were merely going through the motions and that left me feeling like this film had the potential for greatness but it missed the target completely.

Video

Presented in widescreen 2.35:1 HD 1080p 24/fps using AVC MPEG-4 compression, this image was filmed in Panavision, the film looks great with good location footage in the UK and Paris. Outdoor scenes were well done and the colors are vibrant. Skin tones are even and this is probably the best that the film has looked on home video.

Audio

The mono soundtrack is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track and performs well for a film of this vintage, dialogue is centered and well presented, Roy Budd’s soundtrack comes across as a great score for utilizing the action scenes. Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired.

Extras

The film includes an audio commentary by filmmaker Mike Siegel. Siegel talks about the historical significance of the film and comments on the use of various locales.

"Ousama Rawi interview" (18:12), this featurette sees the film’s cinematographer speaking of issues of setting up shoots involving the hovercraft.

6 radio spots (2:57) Hey, pretend that it’s 1974 again and play these repeatedly.

Image gallery (10:22), for lovers of behind-the-scenes stills, an assortment of black and white and color production promotional materials. Backed with snippets of Roy Budd’s score.

Bonus trailers are included for:

- "Billion Dollar Brain" (2:44)
- "The Destructors" (2:51)
- "The Holcroft Covenant" (2:49)
- "The Wilby Conspiracy" (2:15)

Packaging

Packaged in a standard Blu-ray case with a reversible cover art featuring both the U.S. and International artwork.

Overall

"The Black Windmill" is a solid middle of the road film while well done is nevertheless lacking tension and suspense. If you are a Michael Caine fan then you know what to do, but for everyone else, I say pass.

The Film: B Video: A Audio: A Extras: A Overall: A-

 


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