Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Tank Malling (1989)

In this post Yewtree society we find ourselves in, where the accusing finger of systematic child sex abuse has moved somewhat away from minor celebrities and '70s entertainers and is now pointing towards significant members of previous governments, there's actually some interest in a film like Tank Malling which, in 1989 dared to suggest that a Masonic like vice of S&M, satanic worship and paedophilia was rife in the upper echelons of society. Unfortunately however, this is the only interest in this twenty-six year old melodramatic British thriller.

Newspaper reporter John "Tank" Malling (Ray Winstone) bears the scars of his involvement with high class prostitute Helen Searle (Amanda Donohoe), literally in fact as, when she asked him to assist in taking down the squalid trail of vice and murder that led to the very heart of the establishment, he received a slashed throat and two years in prison for perjury for his unsubstantiated, swiftly discredited claims.  On the out, Malling has made a comeback of sorts, covering a rural show for the horsey set out in the sticks when Helen suddenly reappears and asks him to track down an incriminating diary that will give him revenge and retribution against those who almost finished him for good, chief among them being Peter Wyngarde's Christ-fixated moral campaigner Sir Robert Knights. 

Actor James Marcus stepped behind the camera for his one and only venture as a director from a script he had co-written Mick Southworth and it's an undertaking that clearly owes a debt to his work in front of the camera; the campaign set up by the shady Sir Robert Knights and his equally sinister lawyer Dunboyne (Jason Connery) is called The Moral Revivalist Campaign, which sounds like it has come straight from A Clockwork Orange, the film that Marcus starred in as droog Georgie. There's also a host of his London's Burning's co-stars in the cast, including Glen Murphy in a prominent role as the chief heavy (alongside former boxer John Conteh) and, in significantly lesser, walk on part roles we have Sean Blowers, Rupert Baker, Craig Fairbrass, Gerard Horan, Russ Boatman and Carole Harrison. There's also a debt owed to slick American TV thrillers of the day too - Marcus seems desperate to depict London with the same neon lit, moody rock saturated soundtrack style more commonly found in an episode of Miami Vice, which frankly tells you all that was wrong with the British Film Industry in the 1980s. It's hard to evoke the same kind of style and sophistication around the streets of Soho and its questionable to want to depict a glossy air to the scummy, bleak aspects of the script in the first place. The said score was provided by 10cc's Rick Fenn and Pink Floyd's Nick Mason and in one painfully ridiculous scene it telegraphs a character's comment that Knights is beginning to sound like Hitler by adding a quick burst of military drumming - y'know, in case we weren't sure which Hitler they were referring to.

If I had to choose one word to describe Tank Malling it would be 'overwrought'. Telegraphing the patchy, flea bitten conspiracy storyline is key and the performances are on the other side of over the top; the terrible dialogue isn't just spoken, it's shouted and Winstone and the normally reliable enough Donohoe are the main offenders. Still, she looks stunning in her seeming attempt to emulate the look and fashion of Brigitte Nielsen in Beverly Hills Cop II. As screechingly obnoxious as those two are they are far superior to the stilted wooden performance from Mick Jagger's old flame Marsha Hunt, playing Malling's girlfriend. She is utterly dreadful. Speaking of wooden, Winstone's old Robin of Sherwood co-star Jason Connery actually delivers one of his better performances here as the smooth and sinister Machiavellian lawyer. It's fairly unremarkable, but you can at least differentiate him here from the trees that surrounded him back in Sherwood Forest. 

Despite all these faults however, the cast remains one of the main reasons to watch Tank Malling because its fun to see the stunt casting (Hunt, Conteh, former pop star Jess Conrad and also the then Page 3 Stunna Maria Whittaker) the solid support from our most enduring character actors of the time (Wyngarde and the late great Don Henderson) as well as the old pals act on display - aside from the cast of London's Burning, there's also a brief turn from Nick Brimble, EastEnders star Nick Berry - clearly on a day off from the Square - and Jamie Foreman. 

Ultimately Tank Malling wants to be a desperately pessimistic indictment on the well hidden corruption and hypocrisy in our establishment but it's just laughable B movie stuff when you compare it to contemporaries like Edge of Darkness and Defence of the Realm. It's particularly empty in its depiction of this threat; just how has a crackpot like Knights and his campaign become such a danger anyway? It's just a crazed clean up campaign, the kind of thing Mary Whitehouse would have been involved with, and apart from his knighthood we know nothing of Knights' standing in the establishment or what he actually does to entice senior figures in the Met, the church and television to his way of thinking beyond their shared secret love of vice. The closing moments which sees Knights' campaign ridiculed by members of the press is a real shoot yourself in the foot moment too. It's accurate of course, but why hasn't such criticism been levelled at them before it got to this stage? You really could drive a bus through some of the holes in this plot. It's a cartoonish, low-rent conspiracy thriller that really doesn't stand up too to much thought or scrutiny.

One final comment on the proceedings - it full of characters snapping lines down the phone when clearly the other unheard person down the line wouldn't have had chance to reply to anything they had said. That's a real bugbear of mine in film and this one is riddled with it. Still, if it stopped us hearing any more of the atrocious dialogue then I suppose it's a blessing.

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