Thursday, 24 February 2011

Hartford-Davis, You Bastard

After the moderate success of ‘Black Gunn’, Brit director in (self-imposed) exile Robert Hartford-Davis blaxploited for a second time with ‘The Take’ (1974), his last ever feature film.

Based on a novel about corruption in the London Metropolitan Police Force (the subtly titled ‘Sir, You Bastard’ by G.F Newman), Hartford-Davis transposes the action from the UK to the US, and the sleazy cockney copper lead into the smooth personage of Mr. Billy Dee Williams.

Billy Dee plays Terry Snead, a dirty cop who is transferred from San Francisco down to Mexico to help the local force fight organised crime. This doesn’t make any sense, of course, especially as he’s taking bribes from the mob before he’s even unpacked and swapping tips with his new, equally bent captain on how best to store their ill gotten gains.

Lord knows why the Mob pay him, though, as it doesn’t appear to have any benefits whatsoever. When he’s not shooting knife throwing gangsters he’s setting up sting operations or dragging in mob associates and torturing them for information. Inexplicably, though, the kickbacks keep coming. His Police colleagues know he’s on ‘the take’ but don’t seem to care either. When their one feeble attempt at incriminating him fails they seem to lose heart and let him do whatever he likes from then on. At the end, he gets promoted.

Snead is basically a massive arsehole, and although some attempt is made to tell us why (he was once a good cop but, after being unjustly accused of corruption, deliberately turned bad and stayed that way) and to show us his pain (he occasionally phones his ex who refuses to take his calls) he doesn’t elicit any sympathy from the audience, only disbelief that the two timing twister doesn’t up in a ditch with a bullet through his bouffant. His nadir as a human being is perhaps when he forces a fat man to take off his kaftan and do star jumps wearing just his pants as part of an interrogation / ritual humiliation before planting some drugs on him. He also makes Frankie Avalon cry, so he's not all bad.

With a better script, ‘The Take’ could have been an intricate, cynical tale, and nead a master manipulator, a man who can be under arrest one day and made a Captain the next, but it just doesn't happen. The direction too is lacklustre, and limited by obvious budget restrictions. Apart from the odd shot, Hartford-Davis doesn’t direct so much as simply film, and the finished product lacks tension and energy as a result.

Unabashed, Hartford-Davis took his quick and cheap methodology to the small screen, and was working on the cop show ‘Cat & Dog’ when he keeled over from a massive heart attack and died. He was 53 years old.

And with that, we’re nearly at the end of our year long Hartford-Davis odyssey. It’s been an interesting, occasionally mind numbing journey, but it’s not quite over: we haven’t done ‘Gonks Go Beat!’ yet...


MM said...

Where do you find this stuff? And where can I find it?
I'd expect that somehow Snead is 'sticking it to the man' by being paid by the white po-lice and da mob and is an outlaw in an architypal blaxploitation kinda way
Is there a funky soundtrack to go with it?
Great blog btw

Toxteth O'Grady said...

G.F. Newman wrote (the massively controversial) "Law & Order" didn't he?

He always made out that it was a neutral/realistic depiction of Met Police life. And I accepted this, being an orthodox leftie.

But this info suggests that G.F.N. had a bit of bias all along. Was he ever a copper himself?

Unmann-Wittering said...

Newman did write ‘Law & Order’, Toxteth, yes. I need to see that. He also came up with 'Judge John Deed', so he seems to have mellowed.

Sadly, there’s no hint of any kind of socking it to The Man in this, it’s all about the Benjamins.

In terms of getting this stuff, my route was to waste ten years of my life collecting hundreds of VHS tapes, then repeating the process with DVD’s, then joining a download site for even more stuff. Don’t be like me, MM, go out once in a while!