A London hardman gets back into armed robbery to try and convince his sometimes lvoer that he's still tough...
If Richard Burton had made more films like this and fewer like Cleopatra, he would have been a major movie star rather than a tragic joke. As Vic Dakin, a London hard man who combines the characteristics of both Kray Twins, Burton is as distinctive a gangster for Britain as Cagney was for America or Alain Delon for France. A tough who gets a witness out of the way by telling her to make a cup of tea while he cuts her boyfriend's face off, Dakin is also devoted enough to take his dear old mum down to Brighton every weekend. His mistake comes in moving from his protection racket into armed robbery, not out of the traditional desire to expand his empire but because he is verging on middle-aged flabbiness and wants to back into the action to impress his sometime love interest, Wolf (McShane).
Made just after Get Carter, Villain similarly updates the conventions of the British gangster movie into the 70s complete with flares, sideburns and seedy clubs. Written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, its dialogue sounds a lot more authentic than that of TV's The Sweeney and the plot is a neatly-turned anecdote which pays off with a Burton speech that prefigures Al Pacino's great restaurant rant in Scarface.
Tuchner, who defected to US TV after this striking first film, marshals an awe-inspiring collection of British character actors who were later lured into sitcoms, cosy TV detectives or double glazing adverts. For your money, you get Joss Ackland as an ulcer-ridden gang boss, Nigel Davenport and Colin Welland as determined plods, McShane as a pimp-cum-rent boy, Donald Sinden as a sleazy MP caught in an extramarital orgy, Tony Selby and Del Tenney as minders and Fiona Lewis as a high-class topless tart.
The London crime locations are acutely-observed and brilliantly used: the bungled smash and grab in an industrial estate is a treat, with Burton blinding a driver by squirting him with a Jif lemon and a booby-trapped suitcase full of cash extruding five-foot steel arms. Burton is truly creepy in a fascinating in-depth performance, consumed with hatred for the punters whose idea of a life is "telly all week and screw the wife on Saturdays" as he self-destructs by always relying on weaklings who fall apart when the pressure is on
Impressive cast in this gritty British crime flick...but it'll be a little dated for some tastes.