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I first saw this film at the cinema when it was released in 1975. I got
shock of my life when I saw myself in the newsreel film over the opening
credits. In 1969, 1971 and 1972 I had served tours in Belfast with the
Regiment of Fusiliers, and it is film of the Winter 1971/Spring 1972 tour
that opens Hennessy.
The first few scenes of the street rioting, the armoured "pigs", the equipment of the squaddies and the visceral hatred shown by the rioters was scarily authentic, unfortunately the accents of some of the "Irish" characters wasn't. With such heavyweights as Rod Steiger and Trevor Howard, the film should have received more support- perhaps the distributors were concerned about the politics. A brave film for daring to confront "The Troubles" and a good "yarn" as well.
Back in 1975, when this controversial political thriller was released,
critics were quick to call it "implausible", "unbelievable" and
"far-fetched". But since then, the western world has had a few wake-up
calls. The 9/11 terrorist attacks; the Madrid bombings;
hunt-campaigners breaking into Parliament and hurling powder pellets
onto the Prime Minister; the suicide bombings on the London
Underground.... to name but a few. In retrospect, Hennessy may have
been made at a time when the top-brass of Britsh and American
governments and armies thought themselves invulnerable, but looking at
it from a modern perspective this is a chillingly possible tale. It is
not even slightly far-fetched or implausible.... this is a genuinely
unsettling, suspenseful and thought-provoking thriller.
Northern Irish explosive expert Niall Hennessy (Rod Steiger) lives a peaceful life in Belfast with his wife and daughter. He has IRA contacts, including the dangerous and wanted Tobin (Eric Porter), but Hennessy repeatedly refuses to get involved in their violent activities, even refusing to provide them with small amounts of gelignite. However, one day during a street riot the British Army inadvertently open fire on the rioters, and in the confusion Hennessy's wife and child are killed. Distraught, Hennessy heads for London with the aim of revisiting his loss on the English capital. His unthinkable plot is to blow up the Royal Family and the members of parliament in the House of Peers. Fearing a backlash and an influx of extra soldiers in Belfast, Tobin sets out to stop Hennessy. Also, Special Branch detective Inspector Hollis (Richard Johnson - who also came up with the film's story) races against time to prevent Hennessy's explosive scheme.
As in The Day Of The Jackal, the audience knows from the outset that Hennessy's horrifying plot is doomed to fail.... but also like The Day Of The Jackal, this film still generates terrific excitement. Hennessy, as essayed by the excellent Rod Steiger (in one of his most subtle, least hammy roles), is a very sympathetic figure and it is only because his revenge plot is so terrible that we do not want him to succeed. Hollis, the cop out to stop him, is very convincingly played by Richard Johnson, and there are further notable performances from Lee Remick as the widow of a one-time IRA saboteur and Trevor Howard as Hollis's over-confident, under-cautious superior. Director Don Sharp, whose films are usually mediocre at best, is in uncommonly good form, serving up a thriller of considerable tension and topicality. In today's vulnerable society, films of this kind remind us of the perilous position we're in at the mercy of embittered extremists.... and Hennessy is one of the best of its type.
If anyone liked "Day of the Jackal", then they will certainly like this movie. The plot is similar in that a political enemy is to be killed by an individual. In this case two groups are trying to stop the killing-the government of Great Britain and the IRA. The IRA is not trying to defend great Britain but trying to prevent the backlash that would have been certain if the Queen and her family along with the House of Lords and Parliment were blown up. Definitely worth seeing in any case because of Rod Steiger's performance..
Rod Steiger is "Hennessy" in this 1975 drama also starring Lee Remick,
Trevor Howard, Richard Johnson and Eric Porter. Hennessy is an
explosives expert living in Belfast who no longer believes in violence,
even to the point of refusing to supply the IRA with explosives. He
soon reverts to his former opinions when his beloved wife and child are
killed in crossfire between the British army and rioters. From that
point on, his agenda is his own, and he heads for London with the idea
of blowing up the whole of Parliament when the Queen and her family
come to address the body. He seeks out the widow (Remick) of an IRA
agent and hits her up for a place to stay while he steals gelignite,
practices impersonating a member of Parliament he has zeroed in on and
arranges to have the bomb made. Both the IRA and the British Special
Branch are on to him, and both want him stopped - the IRA because it
realizes what the backlash will mean.
Given recent times, this drama takes on a timeliness it did not have when it was first released and probably got lost among the plethora of international espionage films. Rod Steiger is always a surprise, as he could overact with the best of them (The Big Knife) or underplay beautifully, as he does here. His Hennessy is dead inside and quietly determined to achieve his goal via an intricate plot. Beautiful Lee Remick is wasted star power here but lovely nonetheless as a lonely widow who has already lost someone to the cause and wants nothing to do with it. Richard Johnson is terrifying as Hollis, a rogue member of the Special Branch who doesn't care who he beats to a pulp and whose property he destroys to get the information he needs. Trevor Howard, as his boss, gives his role a measured dignity and coolheadedness - and with Hollis on his team, he needs it.
All in all, very absorbing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Hennessy casts Rod Steiger as an IRA man who has renounced violence and
then goes back to it when his wife and daughter are killed in one of
the many outbreaks of street violence in Belfast. He's going to shake
the foundations of the United Kingdom in one explosive blast and
horrific thing is that he almost succeeds in doing it.
The incident where Steiger's wife and daughter are killed and it's one of those horrific accidents with kids throwing rocks and bottles at troops and them just being in the wrong place at the wrong time when a rock hits a British soldier and he's stunned and he fires his automatic weapon on reflex. Still there's no convincing Steiger he's not due for some payback.
But Steiger's got both the IRA and the British authorities looking for him. The IRA is afraid of bad international publicity if Steiger succeeds. This is the part of the film I'm not too keen on. Mind you this is the same IRA who in real life four years later didn't consider Lord Louis Mountbatten or his teen grandson off limits. Still with Steiger hunted by all it does make for some exciting cinema.
What Steiger has in mind is to rig a vest with gelignite and sneak into the opening of Parliament while Queen Elizabeth is giving her opening address and blow the place up. Leading Scotland Yard's effort against him is Richard Johnson who's been a victim of IRA terrorism himself and has a real hate for the crowd. They are an evenly matched pair of adversaries.
Now we all know that such a thing didn't happen, still the way news coverage of an opening is worked in with the story seamlessly makes for some very good cinema.
Trevor Howard is on hand as the chief inspector at Scotland Yard and Lee Remick plays an IRA widow who shelters Steiger in London without knowing his purpose. If you don't blink you'll catch Patrick Stewart in an early film role.
Hennessy is very exciting cinema and very relevant for the times we live in.
My father-in-law, Les Hammond, did the sound on this film, and I remember at the time him telling me that he did not think this film would be released on general release because the authorities thought it would be looked upon as some sort of bible for terrorism. We went to see it a long time after it's release, and I'm pleased to say that it was an eye opener. The storyline was good, the acting was excellent (the accents were difficult but you can't have everything). I'm a great fan of Rod Stiger and he did not let anyone down in this film. Les Hammond is still in rude health and will be celebrating his 100th birthday on 6th June 2008.
Maltin is an idiot for saying that the plot is unbelievable. It is in fact all too believable. Rod Steiger shows his versatility by playing an Irishman who impersonates an Englishman. Lee Remick is delectable as usual and English fans will applaud the inclusion of Eric Porter
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Released at the time when the PIRA were blowing innocent Brits to pieces, it is instructive to re - assess "Hennessy" at a time when Islamic extremists are blowing innocent Brits to pieces .For their potential victims,the terrifying difference between the two organisations is the care the PIRA bombers took to protect their own lives and the indifference of the Islamists towards their own lives or anybody else's.It is depressing to note that the PIRA's present "Campaign" has been going on for forty years,and although they have clearly been bribed by a craven Labour Government to adopt a less overt profile,their aim remains the same. If the Islamists operate on such a time scale - and there is evidence to suggest that their plans are even more long - term - then Brits run the risk of being blown to bits for several generations to come.In that context what can we learn from "Hennessy"? Simply that revenge is the strongest of motives,and that a man who perceives he has nothing to live for is a deadly,unstoppable enemy. And that politics makes strange bedfellows. Mr Rod Steiger plays explosives expert Hennessy,a man maddened by grief at his wife's death (albeit accidental)at the hands of Brit soldiers during street disturbances in Belfast.He plans to extract a terrible vengeance by blowing up the Royal Family at the State Opening of Parliament. Fearful of a backlash,the IRA leadership co - operate with the security forces to stop him. It is a fact universally acknowledged that no terrorist organisation can flourish without at least the tacit support of the community it sprung from.The Provisionals have significant if silent support in a large part of Belfast.Thirty years ago it was more overt and vocal.Hennessy was not a Provo or even a fellow traveller - but he knew a man who was. As the Brits and the Bhoys close in, Hennessy single - mindedly gets on with his plan.And,as we have learned to our cost,there is no defence against a man with nothing to lose. Mr Steiger has somehow gained the reputation of being a "great" actor. Well,he is certainly recognisable as an "actor",I'll say that. Give him an accent i.e. "In the heat of the night","The Pawnbroker" and he showboats quite happily.Thus in "Hennessy" he does "Belfast" pretty well and is right at home playing a broken man,but unfortunately he is never Hennessy,merely Rod Steiger playing Hennessy,a small but important distinction. As we look over our shoulders in a tabloid frenzy of suspicion and fear we reflect that the great Alf Garnet once said "You can't have a democracy without shooting a few people" and it's looking increasingly likely that he may have had a point.
Demolitions expert in Belfast, once a member of the Irish Republican Army, sees his wife and child accidentally killed in a street riot between political protesters and soldiers; he reacts by traveling to England to carry out a plot against Parliament and Queen Elizabeth II, though Scotland Yard is one step behind. Dreary topical thriller, an odd release coming from American International Pictures, has some surprising relevance to today's headlines, though that doesn't exactly make this endeavor an important or intriguing one. Rod Steiger and widowed friend Lee Remick (reunited from 1968's "No Way to Treat a Lady") are somewhat uneasily cast in their roles, though the film has good music scoring by John Scott and fine cinematography from Ernest Steward. Controversial in Great Britain due to the Queen's appearance via newsreel footage, the producers were forced to begin the film with an amusing disclaimer. ** from ****
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
After seeing his wife and young daughter gunned down by a British
soldier during a riot in Belfast, Hennessy, (Rod Steiger), decides to
blow up the state opening of Parliament by way of revenge. As you
As a revenge fantasy, Hennessy is fine, apart from the end. As a political thriller, it's laughable. To think the IRA would issue a contract on one of its own volunteers for attempting to kill the British head of state when ten years later it tried and came close to killing Margaret Thatcher demonstrates a lack of research and familiarity with the subject matter.
The renewed Troubles were only five years old at the time of filming, and film-makers are always looking for ways of giving us the same old same old in new surrounds - so Hennessy is nothing more than an old-fashioned thriller - implausible, slightly absurd and highly engaging - in no way does it ever address or seek to address the causes of conflict in the north. That comes as a welcome relief.
What I liked most about Hennessy the man were his bull-like qualities, his tenacity in the face of over-whelming odds, and the audacity of his revenge fantasy. By seeking to assassinate no less than the head of state he immediately revokes status - the pomp of the Queen's entourage is contrasted bleakly with his family's funeral procession on television. He is conspicuously missing - he has a job of work to do. As a man who strips wires for a living he inhabits all the subtleties of a tradesman - untiring, no-nonsense, get the job done...
This film outraged the establishment and liberal press in Britain, who wanted IRA men portrayed neither as heroes or anti-heroes, but criminals. But every country has its own establishment and in Ireland Hennessy is counted a hero, not because of what he did do, but because of what he didn't do - the death of his wife and child are real enough set against his non-act, let that stand.
Incidentally, don't miss the wonderful opening of this film which shows footage of Belfast city centre before it was demolished by redevelopers at the behest of the city council. The old town was a beautiful place - if you're ever in Belfast take a walk down Joy St and see the last remaining cultural architecture in the town. It's somewhat ironic that Hennessy's job is that of a demolition expert, and we first see him demolishing a piece of old Belfast by explosive. Maybe what goes around comes around, eh, Niall.
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