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DVD SAVANT
Savant Region 2 PAL Guest Review:

THE SWEENEY


The Sweeney
PT Video
1974 & 75 / Colour / 16:9 / Dolby Digital Mono
Starring John Thaw, Dennis Waterman, Garfield Morgan
Cinematography John Maskall
Art Directors William Alexander, Jack Robinson
Film Editors Chris Burt, John S. Smith
Original Music Harry South
Writing credits Allan Prior, Murray Smith, Robert Banks-Stewart, and Troy Kennedy-Martin
Produced by Ted Childs
Series Created by Ian Kennedy-Martin
Directed by Terry Green, William Brayne, Bill Brayne, David Wickes

Reviewed by Lee Broughton

Note: Lee favored (favoured?) us a few months back with his popular article on Spaghetti Westerns. Here he reviews an English television show as yet unavailable here in the states - it's Region zero, but it is PAL. Crime fans who import discs might want to take note. The references here are probably all a lot more familiar in the UK!

With the original elements of so many British films actually now being held by American studios or disinterested business conglomerates, the DVD market in the UK can prove a little frustrating. Features that are fondly remembered by UK audiences, but unknown in the US, are unlikely to be re-mastered and issued in the manner that they deserve until the new medium starts looking like a more profitable venture over here. Consequently, many DVD labels are finding that issuing classic television shows is a good way of getting a foot hold in the market.

In 1974, the success of a television play called Regan resulted in Thames Television developing a new series built around the play's principal characters. That series, The Sweeney, burst onto our television screens later that year and became one of the biggest British TV hits of the 70s. A cop show centred around Scotland Yard's plain clothed Flying Squad (nicknamed 'the Sweeney' by virtue of Cockney rhyming slang: Flying Squad/Sweeney Todd), it proved to be a gritty, action packed, groundbreaking and uncompromising drama that many feel has never been bettered. The strong content and great dialogue, along with the fairly classy way that the series was shot on film, made each fifty minute episode come across like a mini cinema feature.

The star of the show was John Thaw, who played Detective Inspector Jack Regan. Thaw had been easy to spot in features like Jack Gold's The Bofors Gun and Robert Fuest's Dr Phibes Rises Again. A cocky but likeable 'rough diamond', Regan was a straight talking hard man who pulled no punches. Often cynical and prone to bitter outbursts, he was capable of being just as nasty as the villains that he had to confront. Dedicated to the job, he endeavoured to bring those villains to justice by any means at his disposal, even going as far as to bend the rules from time to time. But he wasn't always successful: frequent clashes with bureaucrats, bungling Civil Servants, politicians and rival Crime Squads sometimes resulted in the bad guys getting away. Regan's streetwise approach and his flashes of compassion and concern for those who he sought to protect, along with his acts of open contempt for his superiors and other figures from the higher echelons of society, seemed to strike a chord with viewers.

Dennis Waterman, who had played Simon Carlson in Roy Ward Baker's Scars of Dracula, was cast as Regan's sidekick, Detective Sergeant George Carter. Although Carter soon came to share Regan's love of staying out late, womanising and drinking to excess he remained the unexpected voice of reason, capable of stopping Regan from going too far at the last possible moment. That said, Carter was more than capable of overstepping the mark himself. Garfield Morgan, fresh from a spot in Ronald Neame's The Odessa File, played Regan's often exasperated superior, Chief Inspector Frank Haskins.

Incredibly popular, the series ran for four seasons (fifty three episodes) and also prompted two successful cinema features, Sweeney! (1977) and Sweeney 2 (1978). PT Video in the UK have just released two PAL (Region code 0, per the sleeve & disc info) DVDs, each featuring two loosely thematically linked TV episodes.




Disc 1. The Sweeney: Car Chases

1) Stoppo Driver. Directed by Terry Green. Written by Allan Prior.
Regan's temporary driver proves to be extremely skilled in handling cars at high speeds. When his actions leave a local crime family in need of a new getaway driver, the villains come up with the audacious idea of 'recruiting' Regan's man.

2) Faces. Directed by William Brayne. Written by Murray Smith.
Three high profile robberies in the space of two days are the work of mercenaries hired by European political agitators. A covert government intelligence agency warns Regan off but he's determined to catch the villains.

Disc 2. The Sweeney: Bank Jobs

1) Contact Breaker. Directed by Bill Brayne. Written by Robert Banks-Stewart.
All of the evidence suggests that a villain on parole was involved in a successful bank raid. But Regan's not so sure. If a crime has been committed, he wants the real perpetrators brought to book but he's under increasing pressure from his superiors to finalise the case using the evidence already conveniently to hand.

2) Night Out. Directed by David Wickes. Written by Troy Kennedy Martin.
The irresponsible, plaudit seeking Superintendent Grant, the head of a rival Crime Squad, is aware that a team of villains are searching the contents of a bank vault for something special, but he won't act until he's traced the source of the radio signals that will lead him to their boss. Grant discovers that the woman who lives above the pub that is situated next door to the bank, and whose window the villains intend to use in their eventual rooftop getaway, is a face from Regan's past. Regan is drafted in against his will and forced to pay her an unexpected visit.

All four episodes are reasonably good examples of what The Sweeney was all about, though the taglines that claim that these are the 'best' or 'greatest' episodes of their kind could be open to debate. The claustrophobic Night Out is, however, a truly classic episode and deserves special mention as a really excellent example of the 'something a little different' that the series was capable of coming up with from time to time. Action, humour (in one section almost farcical comedy for a brief moment), tension, drama, shock, introspection, suspense and some great dialogue all successfully and seamlessly come into play at some point in the proceedings. It somehow brings to mind the feel of the more successful moments from Martin Scorcese's After Hours, with various unforeseen situations threatening to spiral out of control. A real gem.

The show hasn't aged badly at all, helped in part by a reasonably sensible approach by the wardrobe department, and the fact that the kind of risks that the show took virtually every week are now very rarely seen in anything currently on British TV. Many would argue that a series like The Sweeney simply would not get commissioned today.

The series was also a showcase for some of Britain's best TV and minor cinema actors and it's great fun spotting the guest stars. Nicola Pagett, Derrick O'Connor, Aubrey Morris, Tony Anholt, Warren Clarke, T.P. McKenna and Colin Welland, who all feature in the above DVD episodes, may be unfamiliar names but they are definitely familiar faces to anybody with a passing interest in cult cinema or TV. It's also interesting to find major British soap opera stars of the day, like Coral Atkins and Paul Henry, cast as villains.

PT Video have returned to the original 16mm film negatives and have digitally re-mastered each of the four episodes, which are presented in the 16:9 widescreen format for the very first time. They've never looked better, though some of the episodes still have odd specks and scratches present in places. Faces has a thin, dark blue band running down the centre of the picture (possibly due to a camera fault?) but it is only (barely) noticeable during darker sequences and isn't a problem. The sound is excellent, with Harry South's classic intro theme (still one of the best ever) and the introspective end titles theme sounding great. The stylish menus feature main character biographies, a brief history of the show and trivia about the cars used (these three features are the same on both discs) as well as photo galleries. The four page booklets that are included simply give menu and chapter selection details.

Some points of reference for those who still haven't a clue what the series was about? If you could imagine teaming Bobby Crocker with Ken 'Hutch' Hutchinson, giving them both a couple of extra lessons in Harry Callahan style insubordination/attitude and a spoonful of the kind of political incorrectness that featured in most 70s cop/action features, before flying them out to investigate the events that unfolded in Mike Hodges's Get Carter....you'd be almost on the right track.



On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Sweeney rates:
Movie: F: Good SD: Good CB: Good NO: Excellent
Video: F: Very Good SD: Excellent CB: Very Good NO: Excellent
Sound: F: Excellent SD: Excellent CB: Excellent NO: Excellent
Supplements: Booklet, Animated Menu, Photo Gallery, Character Biographies, Show History and Car Trivia
Packaging: Keep Case
Reviewed: November 19, 2000





DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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