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October 2014

Ransom

cast: Sean Connery, Ian McShane, Jeffry Wickham, Isabel Dean, and John Quentin

director: Caspar Wrede

94 minutes (PG) 1974
widescreen ratio 16:9
Network blu-ray region B

RATING: 6/10
review by J.C. Hartley


The Terrorists DVD
Ransom

The received wisdom about big Sean's career is that after Bond he only ever did the odd thing to keep his hand in; there was the occasional highlight, such as John Huston's The Man Who Would Be King (1975), Robin And Marian (1976), and The Name Of The Rose (1986), but, for the rest, his appearances revolved around big Hollywood ensemble pieces. Of course, the received wisdom is, as in so many cases, quite inaccurate. Connery's apparent rediscovery in The Untouchables (1987), and subsequent glorious twilight, before wife-beating and serial adultery revelations, and Alex Salmond continually referring to him as '007', prompted early retirement, has tended to overshadow the other excellent work he had achieved in the meantime.

The Anderson Tapes (1971), after You Only Live Twice (1967), and before Diamonds Are Forever (1971), accurately predicted the 1970s' paranoid thriller. The Offence (1972), virtually a two-hander, in which Connery plays a British cop interrogating Ian Bannen's suspected child-killer, is almost unbearable in its gritty realism. Zardoz (1974) is, of course, one of the greatest visionary SF films, although not to everyone's taste. Then there is always Cuba (1979), Outland (1981), and Time Bandits (1981).

Ransom (aka: The Terrorists), while a minor entry on the Connery CV, is fairly topical, taps into the twisty-turny, espionage-is-a-dirty-business vibe, and allows Sean to rock his daft 1970s' moustache and his own accent, as 'Scandinavian' security chief Colonel Nils Tahlvik. The film begins with a credits sequence showing a spate of bombings in London, culminating in arrests, signified by policemen escorting figures covered in blankets into custody. A photo-fit picture of a suspect segues into the wintry land of 'Scandinavia', where terrorist leader Martin Shepherd (John Quentin) and his associates have managed to take the British Consul and his immediate staff hostage in the British Embassy. Shepherd's demand is for the release, uncharged, of his London followers, a plane to Amsterdam, and a load of parachutes.

British military attaché Captain Barnes (Jeffry Wickham) reveals to Tahlvik that the release can go ahead, as the British know where the parachute drop will take place and the terrorists can be captured. While Shepherd and his team prepare for their trip to the airport, an incoming passenger jet is hijacked by Ray Petrie (Ian McShane) and three armed men. Despite the pilot attempting to sabotage the hijack, Petrie is able take the passengers and crew hostage before ringing Shepherd, warning him that his escape plans are known to the authorities, and telling him to remain at the Embassy until the plane can be repaired to fly them all out.

Tahlvik stalls, attempting to get the drop on the new hijackers, while fielding the concerns of his superiors, and the righteous anger of the Ambassador's wife who accuses him of playing with people's lives. Gradually, aspects of the situation begin to disturb the Colonel. Petrie is known to Scotland Yard but managed to get on a plane from London, heavily-armed, and evading detection. A further associate of Petrie's was arrested for gold-smuggling but released. Despite being desperate apparently violent men, Petrie's team have singularly avoided casualties.

When Barnes offers to swap places with the Ambassador and Tahlvik discovers there is a diplomatic courier on board the plane he puts two and two together. Petrie's weapons were in the diplomatic bag and Petrie is a British agent having infiltrated Shepherd's terrorist faction. The elaborate double hijack is a means to seize Shepherd. Posing as Barnes, Tahlvik gains access to the plane, reveals Petrie's identity to Shepherd, and secures the Ambassador while the terrorists and Petrie's team shoot it out.

All well and good, except for a couple of sizeable plot-holes. Having infiltrated Shepherd's group, and knowing where the initial parachute-drop was to take place, why did Petrie not just pick Shepherd up then? Admittedly, there was some suggestion that the ailing Ambassador might have to parachute too, so we'll let that pass. Secondly, given that Tahlvik was pissed-off with British culpability, telling Shepherd that Petrie was a cop and unleashing a gun-battle on the plane was the kind of brinkmanship that the Ambassador's wife had accused Tahlvik of all along. All said not a bad thriller, albeit with some padding to shore up a fairly flimsy story.

Finnish director Caspar Wrede had an impressive theatrical CV, particularly at Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre, as well as directing Tom Courtenay in Private Potter (1962), and One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich (1970). The cast, apart from Connery and McShane, are composed of vaguely familiar faces from British TV. Alert readers will have noted some plot similarities with the much later Die Hard 2 (1990).

One interesting facet of the film is that the terrorists, particularly in the character of Shepherd, are not presented as surly long-haired communists, instead they are rather tweedy toffs. It is as if the dilettante anarchists of The Breaking Of Bumbo (1970), in which Wickham had a bit-part, have tooled-up and taken to Angry Brigade-style direct action. The film's extras are limited to a couple of trailers and an image-gallery, for which I for one am eternally grateful; as have I said, I hate extras.



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