Sunday, November 25, 2012

Cult Classics Revisited: THE SQUEEZE (1977)

(UK - 1977)

Directed by Michael Apted.  Written by Leon Griffiths.  Cast: Stacy Keach, David Hemmings, Edward Fox, Stephen Boyd, Freddie Starr, Carol White, Hilary Gasson, Stewart Harwood, Alan Ford, Roy Marsden.  (Unrated, 107 mins)

This seedy, scuzzy British crime thriller has attained a small cult over the years but is still a largely forgotten obscurity. An early directorial effort by busy journeyman Michael Apted, then earning a name for himself with his UP documentaries, THE SQUEEZE was a late but no less effective entry in the post-GET CARTER (1971) subgenre of unrepentant UK criminal nastiness typified by the likes of VILLAIN (1971) and SITTING TARGET (1972), coated in sleazy grime, with an unusual cast, and a jarringly effective, synthy score by David Hentschel that wouldn't sound out of place in a giallo.

Alcoholic, disgraced ex-Scotland Yard cop Naboth (Stacy Keach, pulling off a convincing British accent) has just gotten out of rehab and promptly goes to the nearest pub. Toying with his buddy Teddy's (British TV comic/singer Freddie Starr, currently embroiled in the BBC/Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal) idea of becoming a private eye, Naboth almost instantly finds a job when his ex-wife Jill (Carol White) and her daughter by her new husband Robert (Edward Fox)--she left Naboth and shows little interest in being a mother to their two sons--are kidnapped and Robert, who owns a successful armored car company, is expected to pay the ransom. Head kidnapper Keith (David Hemmings), who was once arrested by Naboth and is none too happy to hear news of him poking his nose into this matter, orders Robert to kill Naboth. Also involved is Keith's boss, Irish mob kingpin and pornographer Vic (Stephen Boyd), a thuggish sadist with a mean streak.

Other than the one-sheet above, there's little evidence of Warner Bros. releasing this in US theaters (it was issued on VHS in 1987 and aired in what had to be a drastically cut version on CBS in 1988), and the Warner Archive DVD issued in 2010 doesn't carry a rating, but THE SQUEEZE is a pretty hard R even by today's standards. Keach, in a strange phase of his career that saw his early 1970s critical acclaim in films like END OF THE ROAD (1970), BREWSTER MCCLOUD (1970), THE NEW CENTURIONS (1972), and FAT CITY (1972) give way to appearances in films as varied as the Cheech & Chong comedy UP IN SMOKE, the Italian cannibal gorefest MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD (both in 1978), and William Peter Blatty's THE NINTH CONFIGURATION (1980), which should've gotten him an Oscar nomination had anyone seen the film, turns in a brave performance that's one of his best, looking like absolute hell and spending much of the film soaked in booze sweats when he isn't letting it all hang out Harvey Keitel-style, even going full frontal in a scene where Boyd makes him strip at gunpoint. There's also some copious bloodletting late in the film, and a skin-crawling bit where Hemmings forces White to do an uncomfortable, almost too-painful-to-watch striptease for him and his goons to the tune of The Stylistics' "You Make Me Feel Brand New." 

Keach is given strong support by Hemmings, Fox, Starr, and White, but Boyd in particular, is terrific. In a major career slump at the time, Boyd, best known as Messala in BEN-HUR (1959), could've had a serious comeback with THE SQUEEZE, but he died of a heart attack on a Northridge, CA golf course before it was released.  He was just 45 years old.    He did one more film after THE SQUEEZE wrapped, playing Dracula in LADY DRACULA, a German sexploitation spoof, which pretty much represents the type of work he was getting at the end of his career. Before his sudden passing, he was set to co-star with Richard Burton, Roger Moore, Richard Harris, and Hardy Kruger in the action epic THE WILD GEESE, but was replaced by Jack Watson. It's best for Boyd if we just pretend THE SQUEEZE is his last film.

Apted, now 71, had his first big commercial hit three years later with 1980's COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER.  Best known for his ambitious and ongoing UP documentaries that began back in 1963 with SEVEN UP (Apted was a research assistant on the film, but eventually took over directing them), where the filmmakers catch up with a group of people every seven years throughout their life, beginning at age seven (56 UP is scheduled for an early 2013 US release), Apted has worked steadily over the last 30 years as a Hollywood journeyman with films as varied as the John Belushi romantic comedy CONTINENTAL DIVIDE (1981), the William Hurt-Lee Marvin thriller GORKY PARK (1983), GORILLAS IN THE MIST (1988), THUNDERHEART (1992), NELL (1994), the 007 outing THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (1999), the Jennifer Lopez thriller ENOUGH (2001), and co-directing the recent Gerard Butler surfing flop CHASING MAVERICKS (2012), which Apted took over when Curtis Hanson left the project for health reasons.

THE SQUEEZE lags a bit in the midsection before really driving it home for the intense final showdown between Naboth and the kidnappers, but it's a practically unknown gem that deserves some more recognition and is worth seeking out for fans of Keach, Boyd, and uncompromisingly nasty crime thrillers.

UK quad poster


  1. It's criminal that there's no soundtrack release for this.

  2. I love this film, in my opinion it's deserves more recognition.