Who Dares Wins Review
Film producer Euan Lloyd witnessed the conclusion of the Iranian Embassy siege first-hand in May of 1980. Whilst most of the population made do with the BBC coverage, he was able to see the SAS in action from mere feet away. And, of course, he kept his film producer hat on throughout – once the assault was over he immediately registered the title Who Dares Wins (the official motto of the Special Air Services) under his name and set about translating the event into his next motion picture project. George Markstein, who had worked as a script editor on both The Prisoner and Callan, delivered the initial outline which was subsequently turned into a novel by James Follett (under the name of The Tiptoe Boys) and a screenplay by Reginald Rose. Lloyd and Rose were regular collaborators by this time having previously worked on The Wild Geese and The Sea Wolves in the recent years. Needless to say, Who Dares Wins would offer up similar boys’ own adventure thrills.
Whereas their previous features had a fondness for the ageing action hero (Richards Burton and Harris plus Roger Moore in The Wild Geese; Moore again in The Sea Wolves plus David Niven and Gregory Peck), Lloyd and Rose this time opted for a much younger leading man. Lewis Collins had been causing a stir on British televisions since 1977 thanks to The Professionals and was deemed worthy of an upgrade to movie star. He plays Peter Skellen, a hardnosed captain in the SAS (“I’m SAS or nothing”) who goes deep cover inside a terrorist cell within the CND movement. He does so through charm alone, impressing Judy Davis’ theatrical type (she performs experimental anti-capitalist plays in London pubs) within the space of a few minutes and to the instant distrust of various spectacled and bearded – i.e., considerably less suave – militant left-wingers. From thereon in he’s able to keep tags on the gang until the inevitable Iranian Embassy-alike finale.
The portrayal of the anti-nuclear movement is somewhat odd. According to Who Dares Wins the vast majority of peaceniks and pacifists are all secretly harbouring violent desires and will kill whomever it takes to further their cause. At one point Collins and Davis head to a ‘Rock Against Nukes’ gig (fronted by various former Fairport Convention members) which not only contains a faction of neo-Nazis in its throng but also quickly descends into a massive brawl. As with The Wild Geese, the general attitude is also firmly and unquestioningly pro-military. Lloyd had a reputation as a staunch right-winger around the time and watching these movies again it doesn’t surprise in the slightest.
Of course, such attitudes fit in perfectly with Who Dares Wins’ rampant machismo and boys’ own fantasy. Collins gets to run around with a machine gun, drive a flashy sports car (or at least it was flashy in 1982) and cheat on his wife in the line of duty. It’s all played entirely seriously, though it’s probably best viewed from an ironic distance. Attune yourself to the ridiculousness and it’s hard not to be entertained. Ian Sharp’s solid, workmanlike direction also helps in this respect inasmuch as it never once gets in the way. Lloyd had a habit of working with anonymous filmmakers and Sharp was no different. He delivers the essentials, nothing more and nothing less, just as he had done with episodes of Minder and The Professionals beforehand.
Sharp could shoot action, however, and shoot it well. The final act of Who Dares Wins – in other words the SAS assault; in other words the entire reason behind Lloyd making the film in the first place – is without doubt its high point. The silliness and dubious politicizing goes out of the window allowing for a simple, but hugely effectively, set-piece involving helicopters, zip wires, grenades and Maurice Roëves at his toughest. Sharp minimises any fuss, ups the pace and in doing so delivers the sequence which everyone remembers. It’s therefore likely that those looking to revisit Who Dares Wins will be doing so on the basis of such memories and should be warned that the rest of the picture doesn’t quite live up.
This latest Blu-ray of Who Dares Wins marks the film’s second appearance on the format in UK, once again courtesy of Arrow. This time around it comes with additional extras plus it is now incorporated into the Arrow Video range of cult titles which has, to date, encompassed everything from former video nasties to the likes of Terry Jones’ Erik the Viking and Brian De Palma’s Obsession. As with the other Arrow Video discs we also find a choice of sleeves (original artwork or Graham Humphreys’ newly commissioned efforts) alongside a collector’s booklet, in this case featuring a new essay from Ali Catterall, Euan Lloyd’s production notes, extracts from the original press book and an interview with television director David Wickes in which he recalls working with Lewis Collins on The Professionals.
As for the disc itself, here we find a Region B-locked BD50 containing the main feature, another Collins effort from the eighties by the name of The Commander, an audio commentary with Euan Lloyd and Ian Sharp, a 37-minute documentary on Lloyd plus a pair of trailers. The previous release from Arrow lacked the two promos and The Commander, although it did have an episode of The Electric Theatre Show (which was Grampian TV’s dedicated film show during the late seventies and early eighties) which has since gone missing. The earlier disc was also region free, which would suggest that The Commander’s rights holders have demanded the B locking for this new release.
Who Dares Wins is presented in a ratio of approximately 1.75:1 (there is a sliver of black on the left-hand side of the screen) and with its original mono soundtrack, here present in LPCM form. In terms of image it’s fair to say that this isn’t the sharpest looking Blu-ray you will come across. Detail is rarely strong and this lack is arguably aided by the murky palette: Sharp and cinematographer Phil Meheux favour night scenes, poorly lit interiors and a range of browns and greens. With that said the colours are strong and the contrast levels acceptable. One or two scenes – particularly a scene Collins and Judy Davis share in the latter’s apartment – are perhaps a tad too dark. Dirt and damage, meanwhile, is negligible. There are occasional instances of tramlining or the odd blotch or scratch, though never to any distracting degree.
One curious issue does make itself known about a third of the way in, at which point the image begins to demonstrate a strange quality. Especially noticeable whenever there is any text on screen (posters, street signs, blueprints) or anything involving thin lines (like the SAS’ zip-wires), it’s possible to make out an ever-so-slight ‘double-vision’-alike effect. Having queried the issue with Arrow themselves, it’s been confirmed that this effect is inherent in the master rather than an ill-effect of the transfer (and that master also happens to the best currently in existence). Furthermore, I also asked some others in possession of the disc to see if they could notice the problem and their mileage varied – suggesting that some set-ups may be more sensitive to the issue than others.
The soundtrack, on the other hand, poses no problems. It copes ably with the dialogue, Roy Budd’s score, the music concert scene and the barrage of explosions and gunfire which make up the finale. Optional subtitles for the hard-of-hearing are also available, unlike the previous Arrow disc.
The special features are a satisfying bunch, especially the audio commentary. As with his track for The Wild Geese, Lloyd has a tendency to namedrop heavily, though this does prompt some interesting little tales. Particularly surprising is the mention of Stanley Kubrick’s appreciation of the film and the casting of Judy Davis. Sharp also has plenty to say for himself resulting in a thorough trawl through the production history. Incidentally, Lloyd was in London and Sharp in New Zealand whilst recording the commentary, not that you’d notice.
Backing up this addition is The Last of the Gentlemen Producers, a 37-minute featurette that originally appeared in the UK on the old Mosaic DVD of The Wild Geese. This piece takes us through Lloyd’s career as a producer, encompassing early westerns Shalako and Catlow through to the four Reginald Rose-scripted pictures, The Wild Geese and its sequel, The Sea Wolves and Who Dares Wins. The likes of Ingrid Pitt and Kenneth Griffith pop up to reminisce creating an anecdote-heavy (and occasionally fawning) account that remains interesting throughout.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of The Commander. This was one of three Italian-financed action pictures that Lewis Collins made in the wake of Who Dares Wins. Following Codename: Wild Geese in 1984 (a blatant rip-off of the Burton, Harris and Moore movie which Arrow have included on their new The Wild Geese Blu-ray) and Commando Leopard in 1985, The Commander was a similar jungle-set mercenary picture which backed up its lead with a host of familiar if ageing faces. Here it’s Lee Van Cleef and Donald Pleasence who lend a touch of class, which the film desperately needs. Essentially, Collins and co (including a token badass female) head into Asia’s infamous ‘Golden Triangle’ to retrieve a floppy disc – actually a compact disc – whilst wiping out various bit players and indulging in some ridiculous action vignettes. Reasonably well-paced and with a wonderfully dated synth score, it will likely to appeal to the core Who Dares Wins fanbase as a supporting feature. Presented in standard definition, The Commander looks reasonably good here. It’s presented in its original aspect ratio, though do be aware that the 1937 Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act has resulted in a cockfight being removed by the BBFC. This accounts for one minute and six seconds of screen time, but doesn’t impinge on any narrative development.
Rounding off the package are two original trailers for the main feature. The accompanying booklet was not available for review.