Thursday, 25 June 2015

All Coppers Are... (1972) / The Strange Affair (1968)

I've spent the day today enjoying a double bill of two films shot within a few years of each other in the late 60s and early 70s that look at corruption and the negative image of the police force.

By the 1970s the media's representation of the police force had begun to accept the ugly truth. This was the decade that bid farewell to the reassuring paternal figures of Dixon of Dock Green and the squad at Z Cars and ushered in the warts and all tendencies of The Sweeney and Law and Order. Having read or heard of the increasingly widespread corruption within the force, the British audience was ready to accept that beneath the dark blue serge uniform lay characters who weren't whiter than white. They were prepared for a more hard edged realistic depiction.

Unfortunately, despite its inflammatory title All Coppers Are... (the missing word clearly being 'bastards', as the chant and series of tattoos and graffiti would have it) this film is surprisingly and resolutely conservative in its depiction of the police force. The only crime from our young PC here, played by former Fellini protege Martin Potter, is one of a lack of propriety as he finds himself cheating on his wife with Julia Foster and subsequently finding himself part of a ménage à trois with local small time criminal Nicky Henson, rather than being guilty of any actual corruption.

Indeed Sidney Hayers film, taken from a script by Allan Prior, takes great pains to depict society around the force as the issue rather than the boys in blue themselves; A pub landlord complains about Potter's presence because a copper in the bar upsets the ordinary decent folk (the joke here being that they're likely to be on the fringes of the criminal underclass and therefore are probably anything but decent), a GP called out to their sick baby initially resents the fact that Potter's wife didn't come to the surgery, but on seeing the uniform is immediately grovellingly helpful towards them and lastly, a student demo against an embassy representing a fascist embassy takes a violent turn - but its the students themselves who  start this by hurling bricks at the police.

Perhaps much of this is due to the producer, Peter Rogers. After all, the Carry On mogul was well known for his conservative politics and its true to say any trace of grit All Coppers Are... manages to convey is rather lost when his brother Eric overlays the action with an iffy unsuitably cheery and chirpy score that even includes some music later featured in the Carry On's themselves. This unfortunate decision also scuppered the thriller Assault which starred Suzy Kendall and Frank Finlay. Its commendable that Rogers chose to produce more than the moneyspinners that were the cheap and cheerful Carry On's, but its a shame he didn't make these efforts truly distinctive from them.

So whilst not wholly a success there's still a promising trace of gritty authenticity to proceedings, helped largely by the solid, unfussy direction from Hayers and the accomplished cast. Julia Foster as the girl in the middle is especially noteworthy. One of the 60s dollybirds, Foster never quite reached the heights that the likes of Julie Christie ultimately attained and this lack of comparable success actually works for the film in that she offers a kind of council estate glamour, a bit tired around the eyes and shabby around the edges, rather than an obviously out of place A-list chic. 

She was certainly, to quote the parlance of the day, a bit of alright, and the film goes to great lengths to display that and the effect she has on both Potter and Henson with close ups of her breasts struggling to be kept within an assortment of revealing tops. That said, I think Potter was made to cheat on his wife, played by the more subtly attractive and classy Wendy Allnutt who would later be known as the woman who wrote the 'dear John' letter in the 80s BBC sitcom Dear John.

The Strange Affair, now this is more like it. The concluding part of my afternoon double bill certainly delivers on the murkier aspects of the metropolitan police in a way that its companion All Coppers Are... failed to do.

On the surface you'd imagine 1968's The Strange Affair would be the more standard, tamer production of the two focusing as it does on Michael York's titular Strange, a fresh faced university educated and optimistic new beat bobby in a London seemingly still lit by The Blue Lamp - albeit dimly. But events soon takes a darker, seedier turn, made all the more affecting by both its swiftness and what feels like its inherent authenticity. The film also stands out thanks to the remarkably distinctive and classy direction of David Greene (responsible for that other overlooked gem from the joint-end of the swinging 60s, I Start Counting) which is determined to deliver a quirky definitively 60s look to the action as opposed to the grittiness the storyline would suggest, and to the impressive, modish and experimental jazz score from Basil Kirchin that enlivens the action and gives the film a flavour of the cop drama we had started to see on the other side of the Atlantic around this time. 

The corruption is satisfactorily shown in two ways; firstly the police officers who are depicted taking bribes to turn a blind eye to some crimes, as represented by the CID officer on the payroll of Jack Watson's character Quince, himself a former officer who now rules his patch of London and supplies heroin via the local heliport alongside a pair of psychotic pinstripe suited mod sons. And secondly, officers who are willing to bend the law they uphold to punish specific criminals, in this case the dogged Jeremy Kemp (himself a former regular on Z Cars) who will do anything to nail the Quince family. The Strange Affair readily and unflinchingly embraces the grey area of policing, presenting these situations as it sees them and offering up the lesser of the two evils.

From a modern day, post Yewtree point of view there's also the interesting subplot involving Strange’s love interest played by Susan George. She is the physical embodiment of the phrase 'gaol-bait' being as she is a deeply promiscuous and extremely underage Sloaney hippy who, along with her aunt and uncle, espouses the most permissive views - too permissive in fact as its revealed said aunt and uncle are an immoral pair who secretly film her having sex with Strange and flog the film round the seedy fleapits of Soho.  Everyone knows she is underage, including the seemingly honest to a fault Strange, but no one actually seems to care. As I say, interesting in these modern times.

Needless to say Strange gets in over his head (especially in one chilling scene where he's tortured by the Quince's with a pneumatic drill) and backed into several corners until before long he's turned into - if he ever even imagined it for one moment, that is - the very thing he thought he would never be thanks to a series of situations he is incapable of acting against. 

All in all this is an interesting 60s film that is long overdue some serious appreciation.


  1. I haven't seen THE STRANGE AFFAIR since it came out, but have a dvd-r of it I must dig out ALL COPPERS ARE was a fascinating discovery last year - Martin Potter in one of his few movies after FELLINI SAYTRICON, Julia Foster in a more revealing role and Nicky Henson in those skintight trousers ! and all that location shooting in those tower blocks around Battersea ..... so deliciously early 70s and looking as cheaply made as those CARRY ONs. I thought that title was "all coppers are bent" ...

    1. Well 'bent' is the clean version of that old chant, but no the B in ACAB should always stand for Bastards. The film is very modest with it during the title sequences, having its last word painted out on the graffiti, but by the closing minute it loses this inhibition when Nicky Henson runs past the wall (how he runs in those trousers is beyond me!) and we see the true legend ALL COPPERS ARE BASTARDS. Also Robin Askwith gets to yell it in protest once he's banged up in the cell.

  2. Anyone know if there's a live URL for ACA..? Stream, download, torrent, usenet - I'll take any format.

    Cheers. =]