Cast & Crew
Suspecting that Benny Thompson, one of the underlings in his crime empire, has passed information on to the police, gang chief Vic Dakin confronts Benny at his apartment, where, as Benny's girl friend Patti trembles with fear in the next room, the sadistic Dakin pulverizes Benny's face with his fists, then slices him with a straight razor and strings his body over the fire escape. The homosexual Dakin, a sadistic psychopath whose pleasure in inflicting pain is matched only by the pathological love he feels for his elderly mother, has developed a strong, possessive attachment to Wolfe Lissner, a bisexual pimp and blackmailer. Wolfe has so few scruples that he procures his girl friend, Venetia, for a degenerate house party given by Gerald Draycott, a member of parliament who has a fancy for sexual perversion. Inspector Rob Matthews of Scotland Yard has become obsessed with arresting Dakin, who, so far, has evaded the law in his long crime career. Suspecting that Dakin was responsible for Benny's assault, Matthews asks Danny, a club owner who pays Dakin for protection, for information, but Danny is afraid to cooperate. Danny has proposed a payroll robbery at a plastics plant to Dakin, and although Dakin shies away from crimes like robbery, the fact that a clerk at the factory is willing to supply inside information and that the payroll is delivered in a regular car, rather than an armored vehicle, piques his interest. Dakin enlists fellow crime boss Frank Fletcher, whose territory includes the factory, and his ulcer-ridden brother-in-law, Edgar Lowis in the robbery. While at the posh gambling club where he is holding his meeting with Frank and Edgar, Dakin spots Wolfe at the gambling table and encounters Draycott in the men's room. Disgusted by Draycott's sexual propensities, Dakin shoves him into the urinal. Later that night, two of Dakin's thugs pick up Wolfe outside the club and drive him to Dakin's house. Furious that Wolfe has been avoiding him, Dakin leads him into the bedroom, where, after punching him in the stomach, promises to buy him some new suits. When the workers threaten to strike at the plastics plant, Dakin, Frank and Edgar are forced to move up the time of the robbery to circumvent the strike. On the day of the robbery, Frank tails the car carrying the payroll from the bank to the factory as Dakin and Edgar wait in separate cars on the road outside the plant. When the guards carrying the payroll realize that they are being followed, they try to evade Frank, but Frank runs them off the road after which Dakin and Edgar ram the car. In the ensuing struggle, Frank's face is bloodied, one guard is beaten and Dakin sprays lemon juice in the other's eyes, blinding him. Grabbing the payroll, the gangsters speed off in Dakin's car, which has been disabled by a flat tire. His stomach soured by anxiety, Edgar munches on an egg. When the car's tire careens off its rim, they stop and hijack the vehicle of a passing motorist. Deciding that they should split up, Dakin instructs Edgar to take the money and the car and meet them later that night at Wolfe's flat. Finding Wolfe in bed with Venetia when he arrives, Dakin jealously orders her to get out. Later, the gang reassembles to wait for Edgar. Meanwhile, the police have discovered Edgar's cast-off eggshell in the abandoned car, and tracing the fingerprints to Edgar, arrive at his house to arrest him. Their appearance leads Edgar to have a violent ulcer attack, and as he writhes on the floor in pain, Wolfe calls to find out where Edgar is. When Matthews answers the phone, the gang realizes that Edgar has been arrested and Dakin presses Wolfe to find him an alibi for the time of the crime. Wolfe then approaches Patti, who is still afraid the gang will retaliate against her for witnessing Benny's beating. When Wolfe promises that the gang will leave her alone if she agrees to seduce and spend the weekend with Draycott she readily agrees. Soon after, as Mrs. Dakin, Dakin and one of his thugs sit on the Brighton pier, Matthews and his subordinate, Tom Binney, arrive to arrest Dakin and take him back to town for a police lineup. After one of the plant guards identifies Dakin at the lineup, Wolfe sends Draycott a packet of explicit sexual photos taken during his tryst with Patti and threatens to expose him unless Draycott provides Dakin with an alibi. When Draycott testifies that he was with Dakin at the time of the robbery, Matthews knows he is lying, but cannot do anything about it. Soon after, Mrs. Dakin dies in her bed, and Dakin, in tears, calls Wolfe and tells him he needs him. Following the funeral, they go to Wolfe's apartment, and when Venetia lets herself in with a key, Dakin throws her out, then punches Wolfe in the stomach and begs him not to leave. Edgar, who has not revealed where he hid the payroll, has been hospitalized in a prison facility, but when his condition worsens, he is transferred to a civilian hospital. To set a trap for Dakin, Matthews arranges for Danny to pass the information about Edgar's transfer to Dakin, who he knows will try to kidnap Edgar. Posing as a patient and doctors, Dakin's thugs infiltrate the hospital and take Edgar. Wolfe, who was opposed to the plan all along, suspects a setup because their plan worked too smoothly. Meanwhile, the police are watching Dakin, and when he leaves the house for a rendezvous with his lackeys and Edgar, they follow. Edgar leads the thugs to an abandoned railway bridge where he has hidden the payroll under one of the arches. As Edgar digs to retrieve the money, the police arrive. Thinking that Edgar set him up, Dakin shoots him in the stomach, then starts to flee from the police. Resigned to being caught, Wolfe refuses to run, and Dakin, now alone, surrenders to Matthews. As onlookers gawk, Dakin contemptuously screams, "who are you looking at?"
T. P. Mckenna
James M. Crawford
Ian La Frenais
Alan Ladd Jr.
Shot on location at various places in London, including Arundel Gardens in Notting Hill, the Assembly House pub in Kentish Town (site of a publicity still of Burton's then-wife, actress Elizabeth Taylor, visiting Burton on the set and pulling beers behind the bar), both Heathrow and Gatwick airports, York Mansions in Battersea, and the Nine Elms section, Villain was based on James Barlow's 1968 crime novel Burden of Proof. Adapted for the screen by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, Villain was directed by Michael Tuchner for producer Alan Ladd, Jr.'s Kastner-Ladd-Kanter production company, in association with Anglo-EMI.
The plot follows Vic Dakin as he gets involved in a payroll heist at a plastics factory, but is later betrayed to the police by the man who tipped him off to the delivery. The suspense comes as Dakin plans the robbery, while the police plan to trap him. Villain came at a bad time for Burton, who was seeing his popularity decline in 1970, when the film went into production. For nearly a decade, he and Elizabeth Taylor had dominated the headlines with their partying, spending, fighting, and make-ups, but the public began to be weary of their antics and the carousing life-style was taking a toll on Burton's face. At 45, he looked older than his years, bloated and exhausted. Nevertheless, he celebrated his birthday during production on November 10, 1970 with a day off to go to Buckingham Palace with Taylor and his sister, Cicely, to accept a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) from Queen Elizabeth.
Released at the Trans-Lux East and West Theaters in New York on May 26, 1971 (with a UK release on August 12th), Villain certainly under-performed at the box office, and damaged Burton's ability to guarantee film financing. Film critic Vincent Canby, writing for The New York Times, described Burton as "grown somewhat fat and soft, like a potato that's been left too long on the vine, reads his lines well while keeping himself at a safe remove from them, as if he didn't want to be identified with the part." Director Michael Tuchner is panned as having "learned his craft by studying the films of Henri Verneuil, the French director who seems to have learned his craft by imitating (badly) good American gangster films of the thirties. [...] It's an awful film, really."
By Lorraine LoBianco
BFI Screen Online
Canby, Vincent "Burton Portrays 'The Villain' of the London Underworld," The New York Times 27 May 71
The Internet Movie Database
Trailer "The Villain" retrieved https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xsL4zBmbl0
The film's working title was Burden of Proof, the title of the James Barlow novel on which it was based. Although an August 1970 Variety news item stated that the film was "backed solely by British coin," the film's producers were American and other news items noted that the film was financed by Americans. Many contemporary news items mention the involvement of executive producer Elliott Kastner's production company, Winkast, but the organization is not listed in the onscreen credits. According to a 1970 New York Times article, Richard Burton forewent his "celebrated $1,000,000 fee" to work for a percentage of the picture's profits.
According to the LAHExam review, for its U.S. release the film was partially dubbed from its original version to assist American audiences in understanding the strong British accents. Villain marked the first feature film for television director Michael Tuchner.
Released in United States 1971
Released in United States 1971