KINGS AND DESPERATE MEN (1977).
I'd been wanting to check out this Canadian-lensed thriller for years, and after sitting on a shelf for twelve years, the film finally made it to US shores as a straight-to-video release. What makes it so damned special, you ask? Besides being thoroughly warped and uncommercial, it stars long-time fave Patrick McGoohan and the director/producer/co-writer (in addition to editing and photography, under the pseudonym Henry Lucas) was Pat's old pal from THE PRISONER, Alexis Kanner... McGoohan stars as John Kingsley, a controversial Montreal radio talkshow host who is taken hostage in his high-rise studio on Xmas eve by a pair of novice terrorists (Alexis and Andrea Marcovicci), who wire the building with explosives and plan to go on the air live, in an attempt to get a local activist released from prison. But this isn't the beginning of some standard pot-boiler, because Kanner relies more on offbeat characterizations than simple plot grindings. The head kidnapper is a professor turned social revolutionary ("I'm tired of teaching history," says Kanner. "I'd prefer to shape some of it myself."), and once entrenched in the secured studio, Patrick and Alexis battle it out with various psychological armaments until you're not sure who's really in control. As the police surround the building with enough firepower to stop a small army, the broadcast becomes a public side-show, with McGoohan manipulating his nervous captor with his dry sly wit (while sucking down a bottle of gin) -- listening to the rambling callers, conducting a mock-trial, forcing in commercials breaks against Kanner's orders, and even leaping on the creep, as this intricate, 'oh-so-perfect' plan slowly unravels before Alexis' bloodshot eyes... All of this will probably be too slow and diffuse for most viewers (you know, the stupid ones), but this is a must see for McGoohan-watchers. Kanner shoots his wad (directorially, that is) with the film taking eccentric side-steps around the city (peering in on the cops' plans and the listeners' reactions), and the various script complications take it miles from simple, straightforward narrative. The acting is on the money (with Margaret Trudeau making her cinema debut as Pat's wife) and there's some great psycho-chatter from Alexis' crew of cronies, but the film is at its best when the two leads are verbally duking it out. Kanner is edginess incarnate, while McGoohan is letter perfect as the dynamic Kingsley. It's a flashy, playful role and Pat wades into it with obvious relish. I admit the film's a annoyingly long-winded at times, but it's also always intriguing and often downright brilliant. Oh yeah, in case you were wondering about the title, it's taken from a poem by John Donne: "Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men."
© 1989 by Steven Puchalski.