19 May 2005 | barnabyrudge
Unfairly lambasted espionage thriller.
Don Siegel will always be remembered as the man who gave us Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers and Dirty Harry, as well as being the mentor of Clint Eastwood when he was just starting out in the acting business. Here he tackles very atypical material with a low-key British spy thriller based on the book Seven Days To A Killing by Clive Eggleton. Although this is not really Siegel's kind of thing, he manages to coax sound performances from an impressive cast, and gets across a certain degree of excitement. From time to time the suspense slackens a little, but on the whole this is an engaging enough potboiler.
Major John Tarrant (Michael Caine) is a secret agent who is distraught to learn that his son has been kidnapped by a gang who want a batch of diamonds for his safe return. Tarrant's boss Cedric Harper (Donald Pleasance) has never got on well with Tarrant, and even goes so far as to suggest that maybe the kidnapping is an elaborate double-cross hatched by Tarrant himself in order to get hold of the diamonds. Supported by his wife Alex (Janet Suzman), Tarrant steals the diamonds needed for his son's safety, and attempts to elude his own colleagues plus the police long enough to secure the return of the young boy.
Critical opinion at the time seemed to be of the view that The Black Windmill was a bad film. Generous critics were kind enough to call it average. Perhaps everyone still had Siegel's extraordinarily good Dirty Harry fresh in their memories and were unable to accept that he couldn't always make films of that standard. The Black Windmill, while stilted and a touch dry in parts, is certainly not a full-scale dud. It has interesting plot twists, good acting (always good to see John Vernon in any of his '70s villainous roles), intriguing character clashes, and a nice sense of genre. I'd rather have a low-key thriller like this than one of the modern spectacular-but-empty popcorn actioners. Try not to be influenced by the negative buzz.... give The Black Windmill a try. It's no classic, but it's better than you might expect.