REVIEW: CAPTAIN CLEGG / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: PETER GRAHAM SCOTT / SCREENPLAY: ANTHONY HINDS / STARRING: PETER CUSHING, YVONNE ROMAIN, PATRICK ALLEN, OLIVER REED / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
While not as revered as their horror output, there was some interesting and exciting romps among Hammer's action films. Captain Clegg was one such film, and can now be enjoyed in all its glory after years of obscurity, thanks to this newly restored edition.
1792, and in the area of Dymchurch on the Romney Marshes, overlooking the seas to France, smugglers bring their bounty of wine and brandy to out-wit the hefty taxation laws. Rather like nipping over to Dover on the weekend ferries, then. There is something more to fear in this area as stories spread of the Marsh Phantoms, who strike fear into those unfortunate enough to see them. Dymchurch is also the last resting place of the notorious pirate Captain Clegg, whose grave is in the village churchyard. Their preacher, Reverend Dr Blyss (Cushing) is a noble, generous, and well-liked man, and is shocked when the men of the Royal Crown march into town amid reports of smuggling. Led by Captain Collier (Allen, who voiced many UKTV adverts), they set about searching the local tavern ran by Mr Rash (Martin Benson) and the workshop of the ever busy coffin maker, Jeremiah Mipps (the ever-reliable Michael Ripper, in perhaps his biggest role for Hammer). They fail to find any trace of illicit booze, despite using their prototype sniffer dog: the Mulatto (Milton Reid, a distinctive character actor who would appear in several horror films before resorting to sex comedies), a character seen left to die by Clegg in the pre-credits sequence. It seems Collier and his men rescued him as they were on Clegg's trail, and used him as a way of finding hidden wine since then. After coming up empty on the search, Mulatto loses control when he comes face to face with the genial Blyss, attempting to kill him.
Although not technically a horror film, it's a lot of fun, and the acting is first class all round. Oliver Reed had yet to turn into the caricature of his later life and is an imposing presence, and the subplot involving his romantic entanglement with the innkeeper's ward, Imogene (Romain) doesn't slow the action down. Cushing is at his best as the Vicar hiding a secret, which most will have seen coming a mile off. The film is a brilliant, rip-roaring adventure, bolstered by some spooky and atmospheric moments involving the phantoms on the marsh and the creepy scarecrow and certainly better than the Disney version (Dr. Syn alias the Scarecrow, 1963).
This new HD transfer is stunning. The picture practically jumps from the screen, bursting with colour and detail, although it does highlight some focus issues when the camera zooms in for close-ups.
For supplementary material, we have an informative, albeit a little dry, 30-minute documentary on the making of the film and a short look at the various horse-drawn carriages used over the years by Hammer. Not particularly earth shattering extras, but they are definitely worth a look.
Extras: as above