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Based on the adventures of Jack Sheppard, the thief and jail-breaker who became a folk hero in 1720s London. Jack is working as an apprentice to a clockmaker when his brother Tom is sentenced to be hanged for theft. To save Tom (who has a wife and children) he goes for help to the brutal 'Thief-taker General' Jonathan Wild. Wild mediates between the government and the criminal underworld, fencing stolen goods and delivering thieves who don't pay him tribute over to the authorities. He assigns Jack a robbery in return for saving Tom from the gallows, but when Jack learns that Tom is instead to be 'transported' to the colonies for a life of hard labour he refuses to cut Wild in on the proceeds. An angry Wild has Jack thrown in Newgate prison, from which he escapes, forming his own criminal outfit with another of Wild's disgruntled associates, Joseph 'Blueskin' Blake. Determined to crush this affront to his authority, Wild uses Jack's mistress Bess to trap him and has him jailed again. ... Written by
Peter Brynmor Roberts
Jonathan Wild was one of the most interesting characters in 18th century London. Long before the city had a police force, Wild turned himself into the capital's "thief-taker", arresting and bringing criminals to trial and making himself rich in the process. At the same time, he was also the greatest criminal mastermind in the country and had most of the city's major criminals under his control. When they became troublesome Wild would set them up for arrest, and then collect his bounty as thief taker.
In this film Wild is played, rather well, by Stanley Baker, who also produced through his production company Oakhurst, with the novelist James Clavell directing. The story focuses on Wild's relationship with another notorious 18th century criminal, Jack Shepherd, here played by the '60s singing star Tommy Steele. Shepherd is forced to work for Wild to save his brother from the hangman, but then manages to assert his independence and work for himself. Wild then sets him up, only for Shepherd to escape from one jail after another. Shepherd's exploits, especially his escapes, make him a celebrity, and Wild's attempts to capture him become increasingly important to the maintenance of his image as thief taker. Steele isn't ideal casting as Shepherd, but he does manage to acquit himself reasonably well, and his scenes with Stanley Baker are among the best in the film. Overall, the film is something of a mixed blessing, however. The story is a winner, there are some interesting character bits and, as was increasingly the fashion in the '60s, it shows the grot, grime and filth of 18th century London quite well. But it does go overboard at times with the local colour, the pace slackens a bit occasionally, and there are some decidedly cheesy 1960s songs on the soundtrack. However, it's an interesting story and is probably worth a couple of hours of your time, especially if you're interested in the period.
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