Today: May 28, 2024

Forgotten Gangster Gems

We all know about Get Carter, Snatch and Kidulthood as classic commonwealth crime capers, but what if you’ve seen all the popular titles and have an appetite for more? To celebrate the release of violent new thriller Hooligan Legacy, here are some forgotten gangster gems for fans of ‘geezers and guns’ that fell under the radar or got lost in time …

Hell Is A City
Kicking off the list we follow committed police inspector, Harry Martineau. He rightly guesses a recently escaped local criminal will head home to Manchester to pick up the spoils from his last job. Martineau soon after investigates a murder during a street robbery which seems to lead back to the same villain. Martineau discovers the criminal wasn’t working alone and becomes obsessed with tracking down the escaped killer and his gang.  A British film for the ages that is frequently overlooked, this Maurice Procter adaptation is a true classic film noir with masterful acting from cast members Stanley Baker (Zulu) and John Crawford (The Enforcer) and was inspired by British new wave cinema of the time.

He Who Rides A Tiger
From director Charles Crichton (A Fish Called Wanda) comes the story of Peter Rayston, a man who has been in and out of prison most of his life and after being released for the eighth time, he immediately goes back to his old life, providing for his expensive tastes by executing a series of daring burglaries. Legal and financial hassles upset the smooth production of this crime story, but it does not show on the screen with great performances from Judi Dench (James Bond) Tom Bell (The Krays) and based on the real life cat burglar, Peter Scott.

Sitting Target
Based on the 1970 Laurence Henderson novel of the same name, this drama focuses on jealous convict, Harry Lomart, as he learns that his wife has been impregnated by another. He is so enraged that he busts out of prison with fellow inmate, Birdy Williams, and the two set out to find and kill her, taking out anyone who stands in their way. Sitting Target is not only a great adaptation but a fantastic piece in its own right. The movie also filmed its prison sequences in the same abandoned penitentiary used in The Italian Job (the Kilmainham Jail). Starring Jill St. John (Diamonds Are Forever), Ian McShane (Sexy Beast) and the late, great Oliver Reed (Gladiator, Oliver!).

From the man behind Get Carter, Mike Hodges shows that even late into his career he can still deliver a dark, complex and compelling thriller. Set around London’s gambling world, the story follows a struggling writer, Jack Manfred, who takes a job as a croupier to support his art. Knowing the dangers of the cards, he is adamant about remaining a professional outsider, but the temptations of the game inevitably swallow him deeper than he could have ever anticipated.

Starring Alex Kingston (Doctor Who) and Clive Owen (The Bourne Identity) in his breakout role, Croupier is reminiscent of the great British crime dramas from years before, yet still manages to be highly original. Universally adored by critics and currently holding 98% positive on rotten tomatoes, this film as an absolute must see.

Gangster No. 1
Filmmaker Paul McGuigan (Lucky Number Slevin) chronicles the rise and fall of a prominent and particularly ruthless English gangster, starting as a young, ambitious apprentice in the 1960’s thro as he learns the secrets of the trade. Universally praised by critics for its style and great performances from Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange), Paul Bettany (Avengers 2: Age of Ultron) and David Thewlis (War Horse). Gangster No 1 is a violent and exhilarating look on the English gangster scene, spanning through several decades and with characters inspired by real life mobsters.

Also from the turn of the millennium we have a film by John Irvin (The Dogs of War) and starring Michael Cane (The Italian Job) and Martin Landau (Ed Wood). The story follows Billy “Shiner” Simpson (Caine) a boxing promoter who is banned from legitimate fights until he finds great promise in his son Eddie. However, when the night of the fight sees Eddie killed, Simpson suspects rival Frank Spedding (Landau) and seeks revenge, only to grow mad as his suspicions draw closer to home. With high acclaim for Caine’s acting and also featuring Frances Barber (Mr Holmes) and Andy Serkis (King Kong), Shiner is a ferocious dramatic piece about revenge, redemption and deception.

London To Brighton
It’s 3:07am and two girls burst into a rundown toilet, one in ripped clothing crying her eyes out and the other tending to her bruised face that’s starting to swell. A man lies in his bathroom bleeding to death and is later found by his son, who wants answers. The two girls must spend the next 24 hours trying to flee London, on the run from violent men from their past. Starring Lorraine Stanley (Made in Dagenham), Georgia Groome (Angus, Thongs And Perfect Snogging) and Sam Spruell (Legend) and dealing with themes of runaway youth and child prostitution, this is an extremely hard-hitting drama riddled with tension and grit.

The Escapist
This well received, prison break movie, directed by Rupert Wyatt (Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes) centres around Frank Perry, an institutionalised convict, 14 years into a life sentence

without parole. When his estranged daughter falls ill, he is determined to make peace with her before it’s too late. He develops an ingenious escape plan, and recruits a dysfunctional band of misfits with unique skills, all united by a desire to escape their hell hole of an existence.

With a stellar English cast comprising of Brian Cox (Troy), Damian Lewis (Homeland), Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare In Love), Liam Cunningham (Game Of Thrones) and Dominic Cooper (Captain America: The First Avenger), this surprisingly smart tale of subterfuge was inspired by “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” and, like Sitting Target, It was also shot at the abandoned Kilmainham Jail.

Dawn Terrace
Starring such names as Robin Hill (The Kill List), Julia Deakin (Hot Fuzz) and Michael Smiley (The Worlds End), this modern British triumph tells the story of a father and son (Hill) recently released from prison and desperately seek to unmask the police informant within their midst, who threatens to take down their business. As a result, a tale of recrimination, betrayal and murder ensues.  Amazingly this gem did not perform well at the box office, earning just short of £7,000, but despite the lack of interest from viewers, it has been praised by critics who commend director Ben Wheatly (Sightseers) for his orchestration of the piece. Any aspiring filmmaker will immediately appreciate the quality of this movie, which was shot with only £21,000 and took just 8 days to film!

Hooligan Legacy
Finishing the list is a new hidden gem in the British gangster genre. Get ready for a visceral story of friendship, betrayal and revenge when four men, Ronnie, Jimmy, Jack and Chris – no strangers to unlawful transgressions – execute a daring football stadium robbery. Their dynamic soon turns sour when the leader of the group becomes paranoid and begins to self-destruct. Years later and after a stint in prison, Ronnie is out for revenge, looking for the old friend that took the years away from him. Starring Kris Johnson (Who Needs Enemies?) and Terri Dwyer (Hollyoaks, Grange Hill), this gritty revenge flick is sure to get your blood pumping on a roller-coaster of action, violence and retribution.

Precision Pictures Presents Hooligan Legacy on Digital HD 27th May & DVD 30th May, 2016.

Paula Hammond - Features Editor

Paula Hammond is a full-time, freelance journalist. She regularly writes for more magazines than is healthy and has over 25 books to her credit. When not frantically scribbling, she can be found indulging her passions for film, theatre, cult TV, sci-fi and real ale. If you should spot her in the pub, after five rounds rapid, she’ll be the one in the corner mumbling Ghostbusters quotes and waiting for the transporter to lock on to her signal… Email:

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