Friday, February 19, 2016

Hennessy (1975)

I remember the controversy surrounding Hennessy back in 1975: double page spreads in the tabloids chronicling every supposedly outrageous scene and general all-round condemnation.  I don't know whether it ever achieved a widespread UK release but I do know that, since 1975, it has pretty much vanished completely as far as the UK is concerned.  I'm pretty sure that it has never played on TV here and has never been given a video or DVD release.  I'm only familiar with the details of the plot thanks to a paperback novelisation of the movie I bought in a junk shop many, many years ago.  (The book gave the impression of having been written by someone who had never actually visited the UK and just had the script to work on as a guide). 

The reason for the hostility toward Hennessy in the UK was simple: it tried to use the ongoing troubles in Northern Ireland as a background for an action thriller.  Not surprisingly, with the 1974 Guildford and Birmingham pub bombings fresh in the public memory, there was little appetite in the UK for a film presenting the activities of an Irish bomber as entertainment.  Indeed, with a scenario involving an Irish demolition expert whose wife and child have been accidentally killed in a confrontation between British soldiers and Republicans in Belfast seeking revenge by trying to blow up Parliament during it's State Opening by the Queen, it must have been obvious to producers AIP that the film was going to prove contentious to British audiences.

It wasn't helped by the fact that, based on the novelisation, its grasp of the situation in Northern Ireland was overly simplistic, failing to grasp the complexities of sectarian politics and the role of British military forces in the conflict.  Instead, it opted for a fairly standard thriller format, with the titular Hennessy having to evade both the British police and the IRA, as they both try to sop him from carrying out his mission.  Despite its provocative subject matter, Hennessy does boast a decent cast, including Rod Steiger (doing one of his 'accents') in the title role and featuring the likes of Trevor Howard, Eric Porter, Richard Johnson, Lee Remick and  Peter Egan in support, (even a youngish Patrick Stewart puts in an appearance in a minor role) .  It also features Don Sharp, a pretty decent director of superior British exploitation films.  All of which indicates that the film was probably technically well made.  Nevertheless, no matter how well made the film was, its subject matter meant that, in 1975 at least, it was never going to receive a sympathetic reception in the UK.

Making an exploitation film about the 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland, whilst a terror campaign linked to that conflict was ongoing on the British mainland can be viewed either as brave or foolhardy.  Perhaps if the film makers had been able to claim a serious intent, then maybe it would have been better received.  But as those makers were notorious schlock purveyors AIP, it was never going to be seen in the UK as anything other than an outrageous piece of opportunism.  Only now, with the peace process established in Northern Ireland and the various mainland bombing campaigns fading into memory, can film makers begin to use the conflict as a dramatic device, with films like the recent 1971.   It would be nice to think that, in this new, less sensitive atmosphere, when we can view the whole situation more objectively, that Hennessy might get some kind of UK home video release, so that we can at last judge it on its own merits, (or lack thereof).



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