HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Friday, February 3, 2012

OUT -- DVD review by porfle

First of all, this isn't about gay people coming out of the closet, which was the first thing that occurred to me when I saw the DVD cover for OUT (1978).  Not that there's anything wrong with that, but if that's what you think you're going to see then you'll probably be disappointed when a hardboiled British crime drama from the late 70s pops up on your TV screen instead.

If that is what you're expecting, however, then chances are you'll be pretty much delighted by this six-episode miniseries from Thames Television (kicked off by their distinctive mirror-image logo) about a suave criminal named Frank Ross (Tom Bell) returning to London after an eight-year prison stretch and trying to track down the "grass" (Brit slang for snitch) who blew the whistle on his big bank job and betrayed him and his mates. 

Fans of the classic 90s series "Prime Suspect" will be interested in seeing a younger, cooler version of the guy who played lady cop Helen Mirren's narrow-minded nemesis DS Bill Otley.  Here, Tom Bell plays a steely, self-confident tough guy without being stereotypically coldblooded, callous, and cruel--his concern for his estranged wife and son, not to mention his former associates, humanizes him while his quiet restraint is more interesting and effective than if Bell had played the part more broadly. 

Still, he's not a good guy in the traditional sense because we don't get the feeling he's at all repentent for his earlier crimes, and he's not above threatening someone's girlfriend to persuade him to cough up info (although we feel he'd never actually follow through with the threat).  It's fun watching his self-assured handling of dangerous situations and the way he uses his wits--the sequence in which he cons his way through an illegal poker game to earn some cash is a particular highlight--and when he does have to get violent it's quick and businesslike. 

The first episodes are a long, deliberately-paced windup with several dramatic and action highlights along the way.  The scenes between Frank and his mad wife Evie are rather chilling, with Pamela Fairbrother giving an outstanding portrayal of deep-seated manic psychosis which, unfortunately, is probably the result of living with Frank.  There's an amazing sustained shot in episode four in which the camera slowly moves into an extreme closeup of her as she gradually reveals the depth of her insanity.

Other dramatic elements include Frank's doomed attempts to reconnect with his troubled son (Andrew Paul) and his turbulent relationship with Anne (Lynn Farleigh), an old flame who loves him but isn't sure she can't stand being with him.  Brian Croucher is very good as Frank's old friend Chris, one of the few people he can really trust and a big help in trying to get his personal life back together.  One of the show's funnier moments involves Chris trying to intimidate a bookish accountant who's come to collect a business debt, and then getting his own ass kicked by the smaller man instead.

All of this, however, is second in importance to Frank's unwavering quest for revenge, which is replete with gritty, hard-edged dialogue ("The way Frank's going he'll be back inside by Easter...or covered in dogshit in an alley with a white line drawn round him") and intense situations.  We meet a rogue's gallery of thugs, goons, and petty crime bosses as he makes his way through the London underworld, including a startlingly young and fit-looking Brian Cox (MANHUNTER, X-MEN 2) as Frank's main nemesis, the vile McGrath.  Tension mounts when McGrath hires a never-fail hitman to dispose of Frank, while further peril comes from the other side of the coin as old enemy Det. Insp. Bryce (Norman Rodway) and his men work tirelessly to put the troublesome ex-convict back behind bars.

Other notable supporting players include Katherine Schofield as the unwilling keeper of some dangerous information, Bryan Marshall as crooked cop Hallam, Hugh Fraser ("Captain Hastings" of "Agatha Christie: Poirot") as a surveillance expert helping Frank keep tabs on a few key people, and familiar character actor John Junkin ("Shake" in the Beatles' A HARD DAY'S NIGHT) as an old friend who serves as Frank's strong-arm goon in the lively and eventful final episode. 

With episode six, all the build-up finally pays off with some big revelations and a few low-key action scenes, though the story is mostly resolved though dramatic confrontations (Bell and Rodway are stunning in their last scene together) and delectable dialogue.  As with the rest of the series, Trevor Preston's screenplay is scintillatingly sharp with flashes of brilliance.  Jim Goddard's direction is equally good as he wields his modest television budget to often noteworthy effect.  That familiar old cheap-film look of many British dramas of the time gives the show a suitably dreary atmosphere, and the tacky late-70s period flavor is fun.

The 2-disc DVD from Acorn Media is in 4:3 full screen with Dolby Digital stereo and English subtitles.  The sole extra is a final-episode commentary track featuring the show's producer, director, and writer.

While Tom Bell's gentleman outlaw Frank Ross is the hero-by-default of OUT and not the usual sadistic thug, we're never quite sure what he's going to do when he finally catches up with the guy who sent him to prison.  That's one of the things that makes his character interesting and keeps us guessing right up to the intriguingly inconclusive ending which, instead of setting us up for a sequel, just leaves us wanting more.

Buy it at

No comments: