Man of Violence Review

Girls, gangsters and garish colors (but mostly girls) highlight this well-made yet modestly successful outing from director Pete Walker, rescued for the BFI’s Flipside strand.

If Man of Violence had been made in the U.S., it could’ve been a blaxploitation flick. If it’d been made in Japan, Seijun Suzuki might have directed with the plot tweaked to involve Yakuza gangsters. As it happened, Pete Walker’s low-budget crime movie was made in England and has an assured protagonist in the mysteriously monikered Moon who enjoys wearing brightly-colored garments when he’s not bedding down with beautiful ladies or, spoiler alert, small guys wearing flowery shirts. Yes, unlike virtually every other cool fringe criminal, Moon is bisexual, perhaps even omnisexual. He is conveniently open to whatever best serves his own needs, whether professionally or otherwise. The film treats this reveal so casually, more as a simple and firm nod of the head that this is indeed the idea and that you’re seeing it all complete with a “Boys in the Band” poster just fine, that you can’t help but be both astonished and in some degree of awe. It’s an unexpected layer which says as much about Man of Violence as it does Moon.

Pete Walker’s sledgehammer filmmaking has its flaws in Man of Violence. Indeed, the movie as a whole is one unfit for deep analysis or inspection. And, yet, it’s hardly disappointing. From a plot standpoint, we’re dealing with a lead character in Moon (played by Michael Latimer) who does not quite fit in the James Bond mold and shares little with other similar creations of the time. Your mind tends to gravitate in the direction of those now-dated depictions of skulduggery and espionage because of that frequent need for comparison, but despite some commonalities in the approach of very basic, male-oriented cinema candy, this film and hero are on their own. That’s not necessarily intended as a compliment since Latimer could use a charisma injection and the plot sits ludicrously beneath the whole. From watching the movie and reading some brief comments by Walker in the included booklet, I’m not sure the story was even supposed to matter. The director makes clear that he was entirely aware of the need for sex and violence above all else. It was, he writes, “made for the teenage American drive-in market.”

That’s sort of funny to read now, isn’t it, considering Man of Violence (a British quota film) has, I’m almost positive, little to no reputation in the U.S. and has been unearthed decades later by the British Film Institute. The BFI put together a particularly valuable booklet with this release and Walker’s recollections are a definite highlight. He admits that this and The Big Switch, an earlier piece of projection filler in the same vein which is also included on this disc, were “pictures made with the minimum finance in the minimum time and with – to say the least – minimal facilities and equipment.” A round of applause for Mr. Walker and his straightforwardness, please. What’s especially impressive about the film is that, for all of its exploitation-friendly elements, it doesn’t come across as being inherently inferior from a budget or creative standpoint. The plot is, as I alluded to, troublesome in terms of discipline and investment. But you could just as easily say the very same thing about any number of cinematic masterpieces of the same, convoluted crime-related ilk. Sometimes it’s fun to put the puzzle pieces together while there are other occasions when you can just enjoy the experience.

From an opening titles sequence devoted to the twin pleasures of the navel and a gun which squirts ketchup, there’s little in the way of subtlety to be had from Man of Violence. It is a film almost entirely attuned to the factor of cool. Nothing here flies without being hip. Even a throwaway glimpse at a sign above a door bell is fully awesome in its hepness – instructing “If you don’t swing, don’t ring.” The cars, the camera angles, and the bevy of bosom-blessed ladies all fill in the rest. The viewer will, as the picture progresses, learn to accept whatever comes his or her way without expecting one end to fully meet the other. Consolation comes in the form of scantily-clad yet somehow vaguely innocent beauty Angel (Luan Peters). She narrowly avoids catastrophe with the will to again show her magnificent breasts on camera over and over, yet ever so discreetly.

Where I think Man of Violence struggles particularly for the modern audience, even those ready and willing to embrace this sort of film, is that it is kind of slow-going. At 108 minutes, we’re dealing with a runtime beyond the B-movie part of a double feature. A length like that almost implies ambition. The interesting essay by Cathi Unsworth in the BFI’s booklet attributes all sorts of nefarious intentions involving the British underworld (as well as suggesting elements of parody), and it’s certainly a compelling read. That aspect of the picture wouldn’t be immediately identifiable to me or, I’m guessing, most of the potential pool of consumers, but it absolutely adds another dimension to what Walker might have been doing. It’s certainly enough to make me consider Man of Violence as more than just an above-average and cheaply entertaining oddity. Walker writes of his intention to approach things like a live-action cartoon. This is something I can identify immediately, and even if the titillation has greatly faded over the years of evolution via devolution in cinema, I’ll accept Man of Violence as being somewhat superior to its limitations.

The Disc

Man of Violence takes spine number 006 (potential for an in-joke, perhaps) in the BFI’s Flipside initiative. It’s the last release, available on both DVD and region-free Blu-ray, in a second wave of new Flipside titles, and probably has the potential to gain the largest audience. I’m not entirely sure of the title history for the film, but it’s called Man of Violence on the cover, spine and poster reproduction found on the front of the booklet while the actual film credits show the title as Moon, which is given an “aka” status on the disc and back cover for this release.

The film is presented in 1.33:1 and pillar-boxed. Using the original 35mm combined negative, this high definition transfer looks brilliant in 1080p. Colors appear bright and vivid and true. The detail is remarkably deep. Black levels are satisfactory. Grain is quite mild. I would’ve been okay with a touch more of it actually. Nothing significant in the way of damage can be seen. Beat-up prints of old movies can be charming to watch but a transfer like this is fairly persuasive in the idea that, with certain exceptions, most any movie of any quality looks best in as pristine a condition as possible.

Some era-specific music highlights the two-channel English PCM mono audio track. It’s never a bombastic listen but everything comes in at a strong and reasonably consistent volume. Dialogue is always clear and understandable, though a bit distant on occasion. There were some audio synch inconsistencies I noticed, which are also mentioned in the transfer section of the booklet as being inherent to the production. They aren’t serious or prevalent enough to ruin the presentation for sure. English subtitles for the hearing impaired are white-colored and provided for both of Walker’s movies.

An additional low-budget crime feature directed by Pete Walker can also be found on the disc. The Big Switch (aka Strip Poker) is total nonsense that still manages to show a certain flair in its direction. An alternative export cut, which more accurately could be labeled the gratuitous nudity version, runs about 9 minutes longer and was originally intended for the U.S. market. I picked up on a few differences, namely the presence of a self-flagellating stripper across the opening titles, a scene of strange, naked violence against the lead character and further instances of flesh-baring which are in the export cut only. A couple of scenes actually seem to use alternate takes wherein a female will be clothed (barely) in the domestic cut and less dressed in the one for export. If this is the kind of movie that would interest you at all, the export cut is definitely the way to go in order to get the full effect. Both are presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio and look exceptional in high definition.

Trailers for Man of Violence/Moon and The Big Switch run about three minutes each and are in HD. Also, a short, five-second alternative title card of the main feature can be found amid the extras.

With an orange-hued poster as its cover, the 30-page booklet for Man of Violence begins with the essay by Cathi Unsworth I mentioned above and also includes a write-up on The Big Switch by David McGillvray, who wrote the scripts for several of Walker’s later films. A piece on British exploitation cinema by Julian Petley is followed by Pete Walker’s candid remembrances. A list of credits for both films and some biographical information on Walker round things out. It’s another solid and attractive booklet from the BFI.

Final Thoughts

Man of Violence is hardly an essential film, but there’s some definite fun to be had in watching it and my rating shouldn’t be taken too harshly. Director Pete Walker left behind the silly crime pictures after this for low-budget horror, or as he described them “terror” films, and, from the comments inside the booklet, he seems to have no illusions as to the quality of either Man of Violence or the also-included The Big Switch. I think Walker’s direction improves the barely coherent plots and stiff lead performances in both movies, but it’s not surprising that the BFI chose to make Man of Violence the focus of the release as it’s clearly the superior work.

clydefro jones

Updated: Aug 21, 2009

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