The reasons films fall into obscurity is the material entire dissertations are based on. PhDs and other cinematic scholars spend a lifetime pawing over papers and documented explanations, trying to piece the OOP puzzle back together. Sometimes, it's an issue of rights, several producers and ancillary money men all fighting for the same slice of typically tiny pie. In other cases, the studio simply let the movie lapse, the lack of interest driving its desire to keep it cataloged. There are the stuffy star turns where actors demand a certain performance or picture be buried while, in other instances, a general malaise among moviegoers sees a once well known title slowly dissipate and die. However, when one comes across a superb bit of late '60s UK cynicism in the guise of the character "thriller" The Reckoning, all such explanations seem specious. This fascinating film, a wonderfully weird bit of evil English cheek has so many marvelous things going for it that, when it's over, it's hard to rationalize its MIA status.
As part of a ruthless corporate sales force, Michael "Mickey" Marler (Nicol Williamson) won't let anyone get the best of him. Not his arrogant boss. Not the weak-willed supervisor. Not even a lowly secretary. Playing everyone perfectly and with enough dirt on the crew to kill all their careers, he takes every workday like a game of cutthroat chess. About the only person he can't easily undermine is his depressed, distant wife. She adores having uninhibited sex with him, but beyond that, their relationship is shrill and stifled. One day, Marler learns that his Dad is very sick. He immediately travels back home to Liverpool only to discover he has died. Apparently, his father was beaten when a bunch of Teddy Boys took a dislike to his earnest Irish singing. With issues piling up at the job and a desire for revenge, Marler decides to take the law into his own hands. Whether he survives will have more to do with his characteristic cunning that any physical or psychological skill.
You've never seen a sinister anti-hero as wonderful as Michael "Mickey" Marler. From his bold and brazen business acumen to his ability to bed anyone he wants - even his shrewish spouse - this is a man who knows what he wants, knows how to get it, and knows how to make those in his way pay for their insolence. As a series of scripted one-upmanships, this cagey bloke with a hidden brogue is a stick of TNT laced with a large collection of blackmail fodder. No one can get the best of him, and yet when his Da dies, the desire to be even more callous comes to the fore. As a contrivance by novelist John McGrath, Marler is amazing to watch, made even more so by Nicol Williamson's sensational slow burn. There are times throughout The Reckoning when you'd swear things were about to go nuclear, when our angry lead is going to set his fuse alight and lay waste to everything in his path. But Marler doesn't operate on that level. Instead, he lets things simmer and stew, biding his ample time until he see the proper in. Then it's out with the knives, in with the blade, and out with the competition.
If you enjoy unreasonable revenge, you'll adore The Reckoning. Between the crazy character study that is our star to the various business and personal machinations he must go through to win the day, this is an experience made up of comeuppance and counter punches. When he learns about his father, Marler is immediately interested. He still holds some of his old Irish blood in his heart, and takes it very hard when he learns that race - and the resistance to same - may be playing some part in the problem. Even later on, when he is called out on his heritage, the obvious nods to British class consciousness is clear. Indeed, The Reckoning often plays like a sly social commentary, given the priggish, prejudiced English a chance to hang themselves once again. Granted, an old friend of the family has little nice to say about the Queen's stunted subjects, but the main theme appears to be an insightful dissection of the long standing "troubles." With attitudes like this one (especially in 1971), it's easy to understand the linger anger...and terrorism.
Still, for all the ancillary applications, this is Williamson's film and he delivers a devastating tour de force. Whether he's bedding an associate's secretary (and gaining vital information in the process) or stalking a sleazoid Teddy Boy with a lead pipe in his hand, he is the master of his own miserable domain. Even better are the verbal parries with his various business associates. Marler is a keen mixer and a master manipulator. He can undo the most damaging defeat and rewrite history when need be. As the dialogue snaps and pops between Williamson's stiff upper lip, we can't wait for the next zinger. Indeed, much of the entertainment value in this film comes from listening to Marler fold, spindle, and mutilate his competition. Of course, such amoral affronts need karmic redress, right? Well, don't look to this movie for such meaning. Instead, there is a last act shock that suggests that someone like this will always wind up on his feet. In fact, the suggestion seems to be that he can get away with almost anything. Rarely has a baddie been so celebrated and supported. With The Reckoning, Williamson's Marler becomes a long lost classic villain - one we absolutely love to hate.
As part of Sony's MOD program, the visual aspects of The Reckoning are a bit dated, but still damn impressive. The 1.78:1 anamorphic image is bright and colorful - that is, as colorful as the dim and dingy UK backdrop can be. When Marler motors into his hometown of Liverpool, the place looks positively post-apocalyptic. One gets depressed just seeing its impoverished bleakness. Still, there's some nice late '60s pop artistry to the set designs and everything appears professional and polished.
There's not much that can be done with a standard Mono mix, so giving it a Dolby Digital tweak offers little in the aural department. Instead, conversations are decipherable and easily understood (thick accents and all) and the outsized score (a bit over the top for a movie like this) comes across loud and clear.
An intriguing trailer, nothing more.
Perhaps The Reckoning fell out of favor because someone like Michael Marler is and remains such a heel. After all, he's not the easiest cinematic character to champion. It's also possible that the outspoken slam on the British regarding the Irish was too much for the UK studios to stomach. Being open and honest about the past doesn't also mean allowing the world to witness your dirtiest laundry. It could be that few favored the film the first time around, and only thanks to time and changing attitudes would a man like this become an unlikely hero. Whatever the case, we have the movie back and it definitely deserves a Highly Recommended rating. You may not agree with everything Michael Marler does, but you'll never question how well he does it. Indeed, it's his ability to be devilish and dashing that makes The Reckoning so rewarding.