Friday, January 4, 2019

The Black Windmill (1974)




Two young boys are kidnapped. The men hired to do the job are blown up as they drive away. Corruption runs deep as two IRA arms smugglers, Celia (Delphine Seyrig) and Mckee (John Vernon), plot against undercover MI6 agent John Tarrant (Michael Caine). Tarrant soon discovers that one of the boys kidnapped is his son David. The other boy is let go but not before he's heavily drugged with a hallucinogenic that prevents him from providing any crucial information. Tarrant finds himself in a state of limbo having to deal with his distraught wife Alex (Janet Suzman), his bosses at MI6 Harper (Donald Pleasence) and Sir Julyan (Joseph O'Conor) and the smugglers, who go by the shared name Drabble. They're the ones holding his son at ransom. And their ask is a big one. They want the £500k worth of uncut diamonds that recently came into the possession of the MI6 department. Harper and Julyan have no plans to give up the diamonds but continue to string Tarrant along. Once Tarrant discovers that the government agents won't back him up, he decides to go rouge and to use his skills as a secret agent to save his son. The corruption is more prevalent than Tarrant expected and with the help of his wife Alex, he begins to uncover the clues of where his son is hidden and how he can rescue him.

The Black Windmill (1974) is based on British author Clive Egleton's debut novel Seven Days to a Killing published in 1973. The film rights to the novel were snapped up fairly quickly. Egleton went on to write numerous spy novels but this is the only one so far that has been adapted to film. According to cinematographer Ousama Rawi, the film was originally called Drabble, a reference to the shared psuedonym used by the kidnappers. Universal Pictures didn't think the name would go over well with audiences so it was on Don Siegel, who served as both director and producer, to work on a new title that would please the studio. The title changed from Drabble to The Two Windmills, then The Twin Windmills before they finally settled on The Black Windmill.

Siegel's film was shot on location in West Sussex, Kent, London and with some scenes shot at Universal Studios. The scenes inside the windmill were actually shot inside one of The Clayton Windmills in West Sussex. Rawi says the stunt man who performed the big fall inside the windmill was seriously injured on the set.  The windmill itself is a crucial part of the film and including it in the title is in itself a spoiler.





The Black Windmill suffers from a lack of real tension and a convoluted plot. I didn't see the plot twist coming but when it did it made sense for the plot but it didn't add any real entertainment value. The film as a whole could have benefited from a better story treatment. The villains are rather flat and one dimensional and I felt they could have been a bit more interesting. Michael Caine turns in a wonderful performance as secret agent Tarrant. He's the main reason you should watch this film. I enjoyed his scenes with frequent collaborator Joss Ackland who plays Chief Superintendent Wray, Tarrant's only ally except for his wife Alex. I'm always looking for how women are portrayed in films of this era and was happy to see that Alex, played by Janet Suzman, has an active part in her husband's mission to save their son and isn't just the helpless distraught housewife.




I'm working through Don Siegel and Michael Caine's respective filmographies so while this wasn't as captivating as I'd hoped it would be, ultimately I'm glad I watched it.





The Black Windmill (1974) is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. When you use my buy links you help support this site. Thanks!

The movie looks great on Blu-ray. Kino Lorber's Blu-ray and DVD includes includes audio commentary by filmmaker Mike Siegel, a great 18 minute interview with cinematographer Ousama Rawi, radio clips, a gallery and Kino Lorber trailers.


 Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me a copy of The Black Windmill (1974) for review.

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