“My only regret is that I didn’t drink every pub dry and sleep with every woman on the planet.” -Oliver Reed
My friend Pita-San wanted to see this movie, Sitting Target, with Oliver Reed and Ian McShane, so I went on the hunt. Turns out it was rated X in Britain when it came out for brutality. They had me at “brutality.” Of course I expected it to be tame now, and in many ways it is- there’s nothing as racy as Lee Marvin throwing a naked man out a window as in the spectacular Point Blank, or as brutal as um, Lee Marvin smashing a pot of hot coffee in a woman’s face, as in The Big Heat (Marvin’s a bad-ass among bad-asses). But it remains a gritty and yes, brutal thriller about a crook who busts out of prison to get revenge on his woman when she shacks up with a well-off acquaintance, instead of waiting for him.
That crook is Harry Lomart, played by Oliver Reed, a bad-ass on and off the screen. Let us have a moment of loudness to remember his passing, at the age of 63, during the filming of Gladiator. He was at lunch, drinking 3 bottles of rum, a half dozen beers, and various shots of whiskey and cognac, and had a heart attack after besting five Royal Navy sailors at arm-wrestling. There are method actors, and there are forces of nature that you are lucky enough to capture on film. Ollie “Mr. England” Reed, so self-proclaimed because he was one of few celebrities to flee Britain’s high taxes in the ’70s, was certainly one of the latter.
Sitting Target begins with Harry getting the bad news from his girl, who’s on the other side of the prison glass, talking to him on the phone. When he learns that she’s been untrue and is leaving him, he bashes through the barrier with one punch and seizes her by the throat. The guards beat him down with their truncheons, and drag him back to his cell. But he’s already been planning a breakout with pal Birdy Williams, played by Ian McShane (you know, Al Swearengen from “Deadwood,” among many other roles). Harry does his time by sticking to a cruel training regimen, working out in his cell. In an age when even hunks had the uni-ab, he’s got the definition of a Greek statue and he’s cold and hard as marble.
He breaks out by hiding during the night roll call, hanging from the ceiling in a feat of physical strength, and swinging down to clobber the guards when they search the cell. They’re the same guys who beat him when he choked his wife, and he gets his revenge. To show how driven he is to pay back his wife’s betrayal, when they finally escape the prison after dealing with guard dogs, search lights, and climbing across guy wires in the dark, Harry has to climb barbed wire with his bare hands. The other guys used rags to protect themselves, but there’s no time. So he does it the hard way.
Once they are out, they are hot and have to leave the country, but not before Harry finishes his business. They break an unspoken rule of “no guns” in the underworld, and pick up a broomhandle Mauser with a removable stock, that can be fired full auto. This leads to a brutal gunfight with motorcycle cops in the back alleys that is probably what gave the film its X certificate. A cycle bursts into flames, and Douglas Hickox’s direction makes it seem documentarian and all too real. As Harry hunts down his wife and realizes he’s made more enemies with his obsession, double crosses lead to more gunplay and an excellent car chase through a railyard with a Land Rover. It’s a forgotten and memorable piece of ’70s crime, and while it may not be a classic like Get Carter, it’s a fine thriller that stands on its own, and deserves a DVD release.
“One day I should like to live in Ireland. I love the Irish, the more I see of other races the more I believe the Irish are the only real people left, and apart from that they have space and clear air in which to wander and think and to feel free.“