Handgun comes to DVD Featured

Tuesday, 21 May 2013 00:00
Posted in Cult Movies on DVD
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Handgun from Tony Garnett out now on DVD“Handgun” was made in 1982, and was known as “Deep in the Heart” Stateside. It didn’t get a release there until early 1984, with the action set in the heart of Texas. Written, produced and directed by British film and television veteran Tony Garnett, his credits include the likes of “Kes”, Between the Lines and This Life. “Handgun”, like so many of Network Releasing’s recent titles, is featured on this DVD in a brand-new transfer from original film elements, in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio.

Karen Young gives an intense performance as a victim of sexual violence who turns vigilante. With one broken relationship still fresh in her mind, Kathleen Sullivan is in no mood to take on a new boyfriend. Larry the lawyer (Clayton Day), however, in love with his own reflection and with a dubious obsession for guns and schoolgirls (glancing successively at one after another along a school corridor), will not tolerate her rebuffs. Treading the fine line of what the law of the land will let him get away with, he instigates an almost-textbook assault on her, which leaves the police nothing they can hang a conviction on.

The seduction of Kathleen by Larry Keeler is frightening in its simplicity. His banter isn’t witty, his dance moves in a club more John O’Groats than John Travolta, and his attitude to women more caveman that city slicker. He also has a strange choice in entertainment, when as part of a group he goes and visits an emporium specialising in ‘Foxy Boxing’! As viewers we are left in no doubt why Kathleen would want nothing to do with him, despite her friends being supportive of the interest he is taking in his prospective conquest.

The terrifying night of the offence is played out with a gun being used to entice Kathleen’s complicity, although Larry stresses that he is not pointing it at her.  He seems to do everything with it but aim it at her, again making it impossible for her to describe it as a tool of coercion, so as to make her do what he wants her to. Two “fades to black” at what would have been the most disturbing scenes of the act itself stop the film in its tracks; it’s enough for us to know what these abrupt halts signify without having it graphically played out.

Kathleen goes to the police, and we see that the forensics of rape is almost as distressing to the victim as the actual act itself. Her priest is no comfort either, suggesting any child that will come from the liaison will be a gift from God. Kathleen soon shuts down his inappropriate banter by bluntly informing him that she’s taken care of any chance of that happening.

A detective confirms that the Courts are not going to get her the result she was hoping for in pushing for a prosecution. At the time, “date rape” was not a charge which ever resulted in a conviction, the essence being that if you were daft enough to see a man on your own then you were obviously “asking for it”.

On a few occasions, we see Kathleen sitting in front of a framed cover of the Vinyl LP “Double Fantasy” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Lennon’s tragic murder at the hands of a gun is being subliminally referenced here, something which, at the time the film was made, would have still have been very fresh in people’s minds. It’s almost as if this is a link for Kathleen in her making the decision to learn all about guns and how to use them.

Kathleen has her long hair cut into a short ‘bob’, mainly to stop her standing out so much in the crowd. She visits a shooting range, which just so happens to be the one Larry goes to. Larry is there with his mates, but then pretends to not know her when she almost subconsciously turns the gun she is firing towards him.

Next is a visit to a gun store. After a few shooting lessons Kathleen is completely sure of the type of revolver she is looking for. Her Boston upbringing is a source of amusement for the store sales rep, who explains how Texas has a much more liberal attitude to guns and their purchase. She also gets to marvel at an elephant gun, aimed at bringing a beast down rather than killing it.

The undercurrent on all this, confirmed by Garnett in his albeit short archive interview included here as a DVD extra, is that such positive attitudes to guns is not something a British sensibility can comprehend, or indeed condone. Unfortunately, current statistics from the USA go against the message this film is trying to make – gun ownership has increased dramatically across America over recent years, and with it so the amount of violent crime has DECREASED. The fact is that criminals now think twice about accosting potential victims, as they can never be sure who is armed or not.  How different this particular story would have been if Kathleen had been ‘carrying heat’ in the first place.

The film is certainly immersed in exploring gun culture.  I myself learned about a ‘speed loader’, a rubber carousel device which you put bullets in, and allows you to fill all six chambers of a revolver in one quick-and-easy action. Still, my training as a youth was in shotguns, so I’ll use that as my excuse for not knowing of such things!

Kathleen’s skills get better and better with a gun.  Onlookers at the range are consistently dumbfounded and amazed by her antics, one onlooker’s T-shirt setting the bar for their attitudes: “Gun control is being able to hit your target”. Kathleen’s ability to do a roll and fire her gun particularly impresses them. Another advises how all this training will come in useful “when the collapse comes”, while also praising the benefits of Bowie knives.

Her trainer tells her that “the guy that stays calm is the one that wins”. He reveals he’s a Vietnam veteran, continuing by advising her that she should “Mozambique the target – two in the body, one in the head”.

All this leads to a head-to-head showdown between Kathleen and Larry, where she gets her revenge while not taking herself down to his level, showing far more control of herself than she has any right to.

All in all, Director Garnett gets very naturalistic performances out of his cast. There’s no grandstanding here, just understated performances where a glance between characters, or a reaction almost in the background tells you everything you need to know. The music by Mike Post is also worthy of a mention, as it supports the action very nicely indeed.

The special features include the full frame 4:3, as-filmed version of the main feature; original theatrical trailers; an archive interview with Tony Garnett; image galleries; and a Press Book PDF.

“Handgun” is out now from Network Distributing. It has an ‘18’ certificate, a running time of 99 minutes approx, and a RRP of £9.99, or get it for less at www.culttvstore.com

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