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films, vol. 5, no. 1, December/January 1985

text: John Marriott

Alexis Kanner on cover of Films magazine

Cover: (main pic) star/director of Kings & Desperate Men Alexis Kanner, lining up a very difficult shot amidst the freezing conditions on location in Canada. (Insert) Patrick McGoohan plays John Kingsley, a radio presenter who becomes involved in a bizarre and compelling radio trial, with Lucas Miller (Alexis Kanner) restaging a manslaughter trial over the airwaves. Blue Dolphin Film Distributors will release the film Kings and Desperate Men on December 28th at the Classic Oxford Street, and the ABC Bayswater in London.

Kings and Desperate Men

Welcome back No. 6! You’ve returned not a moment too soon.

Patrick McGoohan only seems to have been away for an eternity, as he has in fact popped up from time to time in features such as Escape from Alcatraz and Baby, and TV series like Columbo and Jamaica Inn. However, Kings and Desperate Men is the first fully fleshed-out McGoohan vehicle in quite some time, offering him a substantial stamping ground for his oddball talent.

Written, produced and directed by Alexis Kanner (remember Matt Stone of Softly Softly?), who also in a previous existence co-starred with P. Mcg in The Prisoner, this movie concerns an obsessive attempt by a radical history teacher (Kanner again!) to re-stage a manslaughter trial over the airwaves during the ‘John Kingsley Gossip Shop’, one of several amusing ways by which Kingsley (McGoohan) refers to his own daytime radio chat-show. The film cuts between the ‘radio trial’ taking place in Kingsley’s impressibly luxurious studio (an appropriately outsize penthouse suite which is pure ‘prisoner’) and his private domain where his wife Elizabeth (touchingly played by Margaret Trudeau) and backward child are held hostage by two quiet dissimilar minders: the intense and volatile Herrera, who relishes the though of ‘dumping the kid on its head’ and the sensitive eccentric Harry Gibson, who finally throws in the towel and loses his life in the process.

It is clearly in this outsize Tardis of a studio, where you half-expect to see Vincent-Price-as-Dr-Phibes belting out his kitschy organ music, that Kingsley feels so much at home that he is quite able to handle Lucas Miller, the rampant terrorist, with well-oiled Irish ease. The lounge lizard of the airwaves, he strolls around his empire in homburg hat and lengthy scarf, pontificating on whatever takes his fancy to his eager audience on the outside. In a great early sequence he stands up, gently moves the boom mike from his control deck, talking his listeners all the while, and pours himself a large gin from the drinks cabinet at the far end of the studio. At one point he turns to Miller and, in his lilting Irish brogue, proclaims ‘I can’t continue with the show – we’ve run out of gin!’

In addition to all this hilarity and wit, the film has the pace and structure of a slow-burning political thriller, with strong psychological overtones, and is shot much of the time in close-up so as to heighten the tension. As is appropriate, the camera angles, like the excellent soundtrack, are often discordant and jangle the nerves, but are never gratuitous and are at times reminiscent of Nicolas Roeg.

This is a remarkable movie, depicting an absurd and surreal world into which we are irresistibly drawn, which offers McGoohan the best platform he’s had in years and gives us the chance to witness his roguish and whimsical expression which continues to haunt and menace the screen. It is without doubt one of the most compelling films I’ve seen all year.

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