Machinegunner on DVD

Monday, 31 January 2011 15:18

Here’s something of an unusual offering, and you have to wonder if it set out to me a pilot movie for a series that never got picked up. Leonard Rossiter, he of Rising Damp and Reggie Perrin fame, stars as Cyril Dugdale, a Bristol-based “machinegunner”, which is West Country slang for a debt collector. He’s also turned amateur detective, and finds himself enmeshed in a dangerous web of corruption in this dark yet humorous HTV thriller.

Lured by the promise of easy money, Dugdale takes compromising photographs of Jack Bone (Colin Welland), a property dealer involved in an adulterous affair, for the mysterious Felicity Mae Ingram (Nina Baden-Semper, once of Love Thy Neighbour, with this movie having been shot as that show came to the end of its run). Felicity’s attractiveness also has more than a little to do with Dugdale’s eager co-operation, but he has little understanding of what he is getting involved in. When Bone’s hired thugs are dispatched to retrieve the negatives, and then Bone himself is found dead in woodland, Dugdale realises he been drawn into a conspiracy involving a widespread extortion racket.

Machinegunner on DVD - was it a TV pilot?Leonard Rossiter’s inherent talent for portraying seedy, unscrupulous but comically engaging characters is the key to the success of this film. Not only that, but the pneumatic icon Kate O’Mara (Caress in Dynasty) seems to be set up to be his partner in crime for future adventures, playing the role of Pat Livingston, the wife of Geoff (Ewen Solon – Lucas in the original Maigret), who is also embroiled in the dirty business.

You can also spot Gabrielle Rose (under the name Gay Rose) as Jan.  Gabrielle has gone on to a successful Hollywood career (well, the Canadian branch, where she was born), having guest roles in the likes of The X-Files, Sanctuary, Dark Angel, Taken, The L Word, Psych, The Commish, Sliders, The Sentinel, Millennium, Smallville, Fringe, Shattered, and even the new Battlestar Galactica. There’s a previous connection to Leonard Rossiter as well, as she featured in a quartet of episodes of Rising Damp, as Brenda, a new tenant who was an artists’ model (actually filling in for Frances de la Tour, who had a theatre commitment).

Originally screened in 1976, and having a VHS release in 1990, “Machinegunner” was written by BAFTA winner Bob Baker (he got the gong for his writing work on Wallace and Gromit) and the late Dave Martin, who get cameos as a pair of ‘scruffs’ in the film.  Incidentally, they were also the creators of robot dog K9 in Doctor Who, whose new Australian incarnation has also been released on DVD this week. 

Taking up the Directorial duties is Patrick Dromgoole of Robin of Sherwood fame, which also gives away the film’s HTV bloodline.

It’s interesting to note that no Rising Damp was screened in 1976, the first two series having been during 1974 and 1975, the final two in 1977 and 1978. Therefore, Rossiter could well have been cast with the idea of making more.  Indeed, Kate O’Mara was starring in The Brothers, which had its final curtain at the end of 1976, leaving things open for her to be involved in the production – indeed, both of them had very sparse CVs during 1977, so who knows?

The whole production has that gritty feel that you associate with The Sweeney, which had stormed onto screens in 1975, and was at the height of its success when “Machinegunner” was made. So, it certainly fitted into the TV landscape of the time.  The down on his luck detective motif had played well on the small screen with Public Eye, so you can see the thinking behind giving Rossiter a starring vehicle in a style of role he was already well-known for. 

But perhaps that’s where in the end the format fell down – you have to keep reminding yourself that you’re not watching Rigsby from Rising Damp playing detective – there’s just too much of a similarity between that character and Cyril Dugdale. Even down to chasing the ladies that he really shouldn’t have a chance with.

“Machinegunner” is out now exclusively from Network, with a running time of 79 minutes approx, a ‘PG’ certificate, and a RRP of £13.27 or less at the Network Online Shop.


Last modified on Tuesday, 04 March 2014 12:26

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