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
Disc 2. The Sweeney: Bank Jobs
1) Contact Breaker. Directed by Bill Brayne. Written by Robert
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
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
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