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The Long Good Friday

I distinctly remember my first brush with 'The Long Good Friday'. I must have been about eight or nine years old and I was leaving the local fleapit ('The Regal' in Bracknell - God rest it's soul). I don't know what my father had taken me to see but on the way out I caught sight of the illustration of Bob Hoskin's face glaring out above a mural of images of destruction and violence, he looked like the most dangerous man I'd ever seen. More dangerous than all the Bond villains put together, because he seemed so real. But it was the tag line that really drew me in '"Eric's been blown to smithereens, Colin carved up, a bomb in my Casino and you say nothing's unusual!" Oh, yes and it was a Certificate 'X'. Somehow, 'X' seemed much more dangerous than an '18', don't you think? I really wanted to see that film.....

But of course I couldn't. At least not until a good few years later when it was shown on TV. It was probably cut to pieces, overdubbed and basically sanitized for mass consumption but it still had the effect on me that I had been hoping. Hoskins was cool as Harold Shand, although not in an American 'Starsky & Hutch' fashion. He looked mean and totally indestructible. Having grown up with 'The Sweeney", I could easily relate to the London that was portrayed here. It was dirty and grimy - just watching it almost makes you want to scrub your hands. The violence came in short, explosive bursts. There were no grandly staged gunfights or car chases. Nobody came back, just when you thought they were dead, in order to save the day. In short, to a teenager, this was what gangster life should have been like. Then, of course, I grew up and became familiar with other gangster movies from both sides of the Atlantic, 'The Godfather', 'Once Upon a Time in America', 'Goodfellas', 'Millers Crossing' all the way through to 'Snatch' and 'Lock, Stock....' and somewhere along the line maybe I forgot about Harold Shand and his plans for the docklands of London.  

But  now it's back and it's given the 'Special Edition' treatment.  It's a well worn cliche that 'The Long Good Friday' is "The Best British Gangster Movie Ever Made", so this new DVD gives us a timely chance to evaluate such lofty claims. Anchor Bay are past masters at presenting first class DVD editions and this is no exception. Housed in a slinky black slip case, the disc is well presented and, while slightly light on the extra features, the important business of video and audio are well taken care of. The picture is in an anamorphic 1.77:1, with the expected  tell-tale signs of age that are sometimes apparent when older movies are spruced up for a DVD release and there are two audio options: The original 2.0 Dolby Stereo mix and an optional, specially created 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround mix. I watched the film with both options and must confess to finding the 5.1 mix slightly muddled and overpowering, with background noises sometimes drowning out the dialogue and other centre stage activities. Having said that, it's a nice addition and allows viewers to make their own minds up as to which one they use. One thing I should point out is that, while the soundtrack itself now sounds terribly dated, the actual theme tune itself sounds fantastic blaring out in full 5.1 glory!  There is also a commentary track by director John Mackenzie that is rather dull and self indulgent (boy, does that guy like to hear himself talk!), but does include some nice insights into the making of the film - particularly the famous last shot of Hoskins.

Elsewhere, there is a press interview with Mackenzie and Hoskins, which covers much the same ground as the commentary, film notes, biographies, a trailer and a rather handy cockney rhyming slang reference guide. All in all, a rather disappointing set of extras for such an influential movie.

So, is it really the 'Best British Gangster Movie of All Time'? Well, it's a hard one to call really and I think if pushed for an answer I would probably give the title to 'Get Carter' over this. But 'The Long Good Friday' is certainly a worthy addition to any crime film fan's collection. Hoskins has never been better (despite what he says in the interview!) and there is much fun to be had spotting younger versions of British TV starts popping up in supporting roles. It's also hard to imagine the films of Guy Ritchie in a world where 'The Long Good Friday' hadn't paved the way first. So, while it may not warrant the title of 'Best British Gangster Film', homage should be paid. Especially from you, Vinnie Jones, you probably owe your acting career to this film!

Sean G

Movie - 8/10
Features - 6/10