Between 1971, the year Get Carter was released, and 1980, when The Long Good Friday came out, the British made no great gangster films. If truth be told, no British crime films of any kind from this period can be called masterpieces. But during that decade, there were a few imperfect gems produced – films that never quite got the respect or attention they deserved. One such film is 1977's The Squeeze, directed by Michael Apted. A director of sterling versatility – Coal Miner's Daughter (1980), The World is Not Enough (1999), The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010), the Up Series of documentary films, to name a few – Apted began his career in television, where he learned to shoot quickly and on location. The Squeeze was his third fiction feature, and his skill at shooting all around London, in natural light, and using hand-held cameras, is evident. Filmed very much in rough neighborhoods, the movie depicts late-seventies London with documentary-level clearness, and there’s an unpolished quality to its look that holds up well today. It's fascinating to see ordinary pubs where working stiffs drink, a porn film district crowded with patrons, a pre-gentrified Notting Hill with boarded up houses everywhere, abandoned spots under elevated highways where drunks congregate at night by fires. It's a London where tension and criminal enterprise exist as things you'd expect to flourish.
The plot is simple. Alcoholic ex-cop Jim Naboth (Stacey Keach, playing a Brit) is unemployed and just out of rehab when he finds himself pulled into a kidnapping case. A group of gangsters has abducted his ex-wife, Jill (Carol White), and the daughter she's had with her current husband, Foreman (Edward Fox). The daughter, Christine, is about seven. The reason they've snatched the mother and daughter is to hold them as leverage in a scheme to get one million pounds out of Foreman, a rich businessman. It's clear they have a robbery planned against an armored vehicle from Foreman's business that on a certain day will be loaded with cash, and what they're asking Foreman to do is create the conditions for a smooth heist. He'll come away seeming the victim and they'll get their money. And Foreman, understandably stressed by the abduction, is almost willing to accept their demands until he agrees to let Naboth help him. Naboth will try to prevent the heist and rescue Jill and Christine. As an ex-copper, he has the nerves and experience for the job. But even after rehab, his drinking continues at a fierce rate. Too often he's more focused on getting to the pub and having his next glass of sherry than on investigating anything.