Sweeney!/Sweeney 2 Double Feature
Blu-ray A - America - Kino Lorber
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (13th April 2020).
The Film

Long before the 2012 film film, the gritty 70s ITV cop drama The Sweeney (1974-1978) about the cases of Scotland Yard's Flying Squad hit the screen in a pair of film spin-offs Sweeney! and Sweeney 2 with series stars John Thaw (of Granada Television's Inspector Morse) and Dennis Waterman (of BBC's New Tricks).

Sweeney!: Not long after Detective Inspector Jack Regan (Thaw) is approached by seedy informant Ronnie Brent (A Talent for Loving's Joe Melia) who believes that the supposed suicide of his girlfriend Janice Wyatt (All Creatures Great and Small's Lynda Bellingham) was actually a murder – possibly by one of his enemies – Brent and his small gang are riddled with machine gunfire. Because of the rest of Scotland Yard's low opinion of the Flying Squad as masquerading as police officers while hobnobbing with the criminal element, the Detective Inspector (Alan Mitchell) in charge of the investigation does not take Regan's suspicions seriously that the killings were anything but a gang war; and Regan is loath to aid the inquiries of a Special Branch agent (Prick Up Your Ears' John Kane) at the scene. Although Regan's inquiry into Janice Wyatt's death turns up nothing to suggest a suicide – and more to suggest that her position as a "social secretary" to the big oil types in town for an international conference was actually that of a glorified prostitute – Regan realizes that there really is more to it when his car is run down, he is doused with alcohol, and his car is sent careening into a newsstand, leading to his suspension which bars him not only from contact with the media over the matter but also any other officer including his Detective Sergeant George Carter (Waterman). Nevertheless, Regan continues his investigation with a visit to the public relations firm Janice worked for and is directed to her roommate Bianca Hamilton (Doctors' Diane Keen), and he must be on the right track because an attempt is made on their lives by machine gun-toting murderers-for-hire Johnson and Johnson (Dracula A.D. 1972's Michael Coles and The Stud's Antony Scott). Hiding out in Carter's flat, Regan learns from Bianca that Janice had a powerful lover in finance minister Charles Baker (Doomwatch's Ian Bannen) who is about to make a speech to the oil conference but has suddenly changed his position from raising prices to create a fund for poorer countries to lowering the price for the benefit of richer nations, and that his press agent and Bianca's boss Elliott McQueen (Frenzy's Barry Foster) is the one who seems to be pulling all the strings.

Upping the sex and violence over what was permissible on television, Sweeney! also involves a wide-reaching, literally global conspiracy. While such an approach is usual for film spin-offs to distinguish them from what one could see on television spending an evening in, it seems at first to be quite incongruous with a show in which cops dealt with local gangs and smalltime operators; and yet, that incongruity does indeed manage to pay off thanks to the way the film deals with its protagonist. Regan's stubbornness is as much responsible as the maneuvers behind the scenes at isolating him from the help of his own men, including Carter who calls him out on his egotistic behavior when his colleagues did not "go down on their hands and knees" for the "Mastermind of the Sweeney"; and, indeed, on the run with Bianca, Regan's narrow worldview seemingly cannot conceive of a responsible party beyond Special Branch. Even after the ensuing battle of wills between Regan and McQueen racks up several more bodies, Regan resents the solution that could quietly resolve matters in favor of taking McQueen down and telling him to his face that he is just as "expendable" as anyone of his victims, leading to a hell of a last line of dialogue, freeze-frame and fade out (the fallout of which, unfortunately, not addressed in the sequel). Director David Wickes (Silver Dream Racer) helmed six episodes of the television series and brought with him from the show cinematographer Dusty Miller and editor Chris Burt who moved from his first two feature credits with this film and the sequel to producing with the series The Professionals and Reilly: Ace of Spies.

Sweeney 2: After refusing to testify to the good character of his former boss Jupp (The House That Dripped Blood's Denholm Elliott) who is on trial for corruption – as much because he would be lying ("Your client is so bent that it's been impossible to hang his picture straight on the office wall for the past 12 months.") as any officer speaking in Jupp's defense would be "asking to be tarred with the same brush" – he does agree to honor Jupp's last request before he is sent down for seven years (most of which will be spent in solitary confinement under Rule 43 reserved for vulnerable prisoners to protect them from the rest of the prison population); that is, to take down a particularly violent gang of robbers who have been hitting banks and payroll deliveries. His meeting with Jupp's lawyer (The Elephant Man's Frederick Treves) keeps him away while Carter supervises the Flying Squad in pursuit of the gang after their latest heist has Regan coming upon the bloody aftermath of the chase that has resulted in the death of the getaway driver and one of the injured robbers (shot by his own for being too slow), bystanders including a bobby, and a hostage in the getaway car with the gang which smashed head on into one of the Flying Squad's vehicles that deliberately stopped in its path (costing Regan's own regular driver his foot). The dead robber is unidentifiable since his shotgun-wielding deliberately aimed for the head but the driver is identified as Billy Hicks, whose wife Shirley (Arms and the Man's Anna Nygh) – currently living with and appearing in pornographic advertising films directed by Nazi fetishist Gorran (Who Can Kill a Child?'s Lewis Fiander) – who has a habit of sleeping with her husband's cohorts. Regan puts a tail on Shirley in the case that the robbers approach one of Hicks' associates for the next job while he and Carter focus on the commonalities between the robberies in which they always make off with roughly £600,000 and leave a small sum of it in the getaway cars. With the bodies piling up and leads slow in coming, Regan tries to prevent new supervisor Dilke (Yes, Minister's Nigel Hawthorne) from discovering that his informant source is his former supervisor found guilty of corruption, especially when Jupp's next bit of information takes Regan and Carter all the way to Malta and a villa in the middle of nowhere where a group of British men – lead by Hill (Ladyhawke's Ken Hutchison) and his wife (Blueblood's Anna Gaël) – live a commune-like (yet luxury) existence with their wives and children.

The sequel from Tom Clegg – who directed fourteen episodes of the television show – does some globe-hopping, but the plot is overall more in keeping with the scope of the television series, even taking the time to throw in a subplot in which Regan and Carter insert themselves into an operation involving a hotel guest (Yvon Doval) trying to defuse an explosive lest the bomb squad leader (The Squeeze's Michael O'Hagan) decide to shoot first, as well as some comic relief involving Regan's replacement driver (That Summer!'s Michael J. Jackson), Regan's his dalliance with a switchboard operator (Mahler's Georgina Hale), and Carter's with a schoolteacher (Paper Mask's Marilyn Finlay) who dislikes policemen. Whereas the first film's editing was flashier, often intercutting for dialectic effect, Clegg's approach is more straightforward, using cutting to jarring effect only during the robberies to convey an explosion of violence rather than suspenseful buildup, an approach matched by the film's even shocking moments of violence including a number of shotgun blasts to faces by "principled" villains. The coda sequence seems more than a little cynical but, for two films in which the prominent female characters are little more than pairs of breasts usually bared just before or during their deaths, it provides the female characters of which the men are most dismissive with a degree of autonomy, as well as exposing what the villains "have built up by our own determination and, where necessary, at the point of a gun" for what it really is. More so than the first film, with the underlying theme of police corruption – in the character of Jupp and two officers who Carter discovers have pinched the money left in the latest getaway car – is used to emphasize the proximity of the Sweeney to the criminal element and the Regan's precarious position as his dedication to his work keeps him just this side of his divided loyalties.

Video

Unreleased in the United States until 2003 in a DVD double feature from Anchor Bay Entertainment (seven years ahead of any home entertainment releases of the series that inspired them), Sweeney comes to Blu-ray in a 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 widescreen transfer – the Region B Network Blu-ray is framed at 1.78:1 – that looks spectacular throughout, looking spotless and sharp with healthy skin tones and a subdued color palette spiked by bloodshed. Like the Region B release, Kino's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC widescreen transfer is framed at 1.78:1, popping from the start with the AA ratings card – the equivalent of a BBFC 15 rating, although every release since the 1987 VHS have been upped to an 18 rating – and the vivid blue EMI logo, with the rest of the film from chilly London and sundrenched Malta looking clean, crisp, and colorful with close-ups impressing in fine detail from hair and faces (bloodied and otherwise) to the golden barrel of a shotgun thrust right at the camera (at which point we now understand why witnesses could only remember the gun and not the stockinged faces of the robbers).

Audio

Both films have lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono tracks that are free of defects with well-recorded and mixed dialogue - SDH subtitles help with some of the slang - and sound design. The music is prominent in the first film and less so in the sequel (although that is deliberate seeing as the entire title sequence unfolds as a mix of radio dialogue during the planned raid on the robbers).

Extras

While the DVDs of the features included in seventeen disc The Sweeney: The Definitive Collection (as well as the separate Australian DVDs from Madman Entertainment) came with audio commentaries by producer Ted Childs (The Woman in Black), director Wickes & writer Ranald Graham (Dempsey and Makepeace) and director Clegg & producer Childs respectively, those tracks were not carried over the Network Blu-rays nor are they present here; instead, Kino has included on both films audio commentaries by film critic and author Simon Abrams which likely draw from those tracks for anecdotal information. On the first film, Abrams explains the term Sweeney (as in Sweeney Todd) as cockney rhyming slang for Flying Squad, the goal of making the film bigger and distinguishing it from the series, as well as how that and the increased sex and violence put off fans of the show while the film still grossed a thousand percent of its budget. He also notes that Regan's character was not inspired by his contemporary Dirty Harry but by Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle of The French Connection. While Abram's delivery on the sequel's track is a little off-putting in its jokiness (he refers to the villains as "proto-Michael Mann thieves"), the track is actually full of interesting information, notably the clash between producer Child and show creator Ian Kennedy Martin (Juliet Bravo) who had grown increasingly cynical about the police, the way the show reinforced the police's image of themselves, British fascism, and the influence of shows like Starsky & Hutch on the buddy cop aspect of the show (or that there even was a "buddy cop" angle), the contrast between the show's gritty 16mm photography and the pristine 35mm of the features, as well as heavy quotations from the show's bible that convey how the economical shooting style of the series was carried onto the features. There is only a theatrical trailer (2:46) for the first film, but the disc also includes trailers for seven other Kino Lorber British films.

Overall

The two feature film spin-offs of the gritty British cop show The Sweeney may have alienated fans of the series at the time but are as much a breath of fresh air in seventies British action cinema as its television source.

 


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