What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of something called The 7th Annual Rule Britannia Blog-A-Thon being hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts. This is obviously an event to celebrate all things British in classic films, because in the very own words of the host…
While many people think of Hollywood when they think of classic movies, the fact is that the United Kingdom made many significant contributions to film over the years. From the Gainsborough melodramas to Hammer Films to the British New Wave, cinema would be much poorer without the British.
He’s very much not wrong about that, so let get this thing underway…
You can see all the contributors to this blog-a-thon here:
The late Roger Ebert hated this movie. You will too if you can’t look at Roger Moore and not see his usual type-cast; a womanizing, devil-may-care maverick just like what he played in “The Saint,” “The Persuaders!,” and of course his portrayals of James Bond. The same applies to Anthony Perkins. If you’re sitting down to watch this movie expecting another “Norman Bates,” you’re going to be disappointed. Likewise, don’t expect cinema royalty James Mason to be the pivotal character in this movie. If any of these things are why you don’t like “ffolkes,” that’s a “you” problem. There’s a reason why this movie is on my list of essential films; it features three screen legends doing something I absolutely love…actors “playing against type.” Roger Moore, Anthony Perkins, and James Mason all play characters which are anything but what film fans came to expect from them.
The title character Rufus Excalibur ffolkes (played by Roger Moore) couldn’t be more unlike James Bond short of their implied naval backgrounds. ffolkes is a coarse, cat-loving, thickly-bearded Scotsman who has cloistered himself in a castle. His other eccentricities include being a decided misogynist and a borderline drunkard with a penchant for being caustically arrogant. He’s also a pre-eminent counter-terrorism expert with an obvious background in operations similar to that of the British Special Boat Service (SBS) or the United States’ Navy Seals. All tolled, Moore’s “ffolkes” is a case study in “anti-hero.”
Opposing ffolkes is criminal master-mind Lou Kramer (played by Anthony Perkins). Kramer is about as far from “Norman Bates” as one can get; Kramer’s insanity only goes as far one needs to be homicidal on an industrial scale…otherwise he’s a pure evil genius motivated by nothing other than straight-up greed.
Topping it all is the biggest screen legend in this film; the only one I’ve previously written about for another blog-a-thon. Instead of being a pivotal character around which the film revolves, James Mason’s “Admiral Brinsden” raison d’être is to be the stooge representing the British military’s impotence in dealing with Kramer.
Despite that, Brinsden ends up in the heart of the action after having been given an incredibly mundane yet critical task; one that ffolkes forces him to practice as it must be executed perfectly. The reason an Admiral is relegated to play such a subservient role to ffolkes is that unlike the British government, the insurance company Lloyd’s of London understands the threats faced by the country’s off-shore oil-drilling platforms in the North Sea. As such, they commission counter-terrorism consultant ffolkes to create a plan, should any of the oil installations insured by Lloyd’s face a threat…specifically that of being hijacked for ransom.
While the British Admiralty has dismissed the very concept, a group of terrorists posing as journalists boards the supply ship “Esther.” Led by Lou Kramer, the hijackers take control of the Esther and kill two of her crew during the take-over. After they have control of the vessel, Kramer’s gang attaches high-explosive mines to the legs of oil platforms named “Jennifer” and “Ruth.” Once the mines are in place, Kramer issues a ransom demand not to incinerate the oil platforms to the British government for £25 million (~$32 million USD at the time or roughly $107 million as of this writing).
Facing an economic and environmental catastrophe, the British government consults Lloyd’s of London, who being the insurer of these platforms obviously has a stake in the game. The government seems to be in favor of paying the ransom; Lloyd’s is not and they inform the Prime Minister of ffolkes, his team, and his plan for just such an occasion. The Prime Minister remains hesitant until ffolkes tells everyone in the room that capitulating to the ransom demands will invite “every crackpot with a rowboat” to do the same.
The Prime Minister decides to employ ffolkes and his team, but appoints Admiral Brinsden to “supervise” the operation. ffolkes’ plan involves two steps. Since Ruth is over the horizon and out of sight from Jennifer (where the supply ship Esther is now moored), the first step is to stage an explosion to make the hijackers believe the mines on Ruth detonated during a removal attempt. The idea is to buy time to move ffolkes’ team into place. The second step is to have Admiral Brinsden go aboard Esther with ffolkes posing as his aide ostensibly to pay the ransom; ffolkes intention is to kill Kramer on the bridge of the Esther after his team has boarded her from underwater and killed the other terrorists.
Step one goes off without a hitch, but step two goes awry when Kramer smells trouble in ffolkes and has him sent back to Jennifer. Now that his original plan plan has taken a major hit, ffolkes arranges to have the helicopter delivering the ransom to also drop a bomb a bomb on Esther at a predetermined time as an insurance policy to keep Kramer from detonating the mines in case ffolkes’ men can’t get to him in time.
I’m reticent to spoil the ending for those who have yet to see this movie. Make of it what you will, but veteran filmmaker Andrew V. McLaglen borrowed bits from the characters his stars are escaping, tossed those bits with elements of other action/adventure films he’s made such as “The Wild Geese,” and “The Devil’s Brigade” to create a properly-paced and greatly entertaining action/thriller in “ffolkes.”
P.S. For a film dedicated to “edge of your seat” action, “ffolkes” contains a surprising amount of comic relief, much of which comes at moments where you won’t expect it. One of my favorite examples is the interaction between ffolkes and a female ship’s mate named Sana (played by Lea Brodie).
The decidedly misogynist ffolkes continually refers to her as “boy,” which ultimately leads to a tremendous moment of undeniable discovery combined with a grudging acknowledgement of her gallantry.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
In the world of college basketball, there’s hardly a more polarizing figure than University of Kentucky head coach John Calipari. While he may not live in a castle, and I’m pretty sure he is not an expert on counter-terrorism tactics, he’s every bit the anti-hero as Rufus Excalibur ffolkes. This analogy may very well be one of the most hidden I’ve done to date; the key comes in the comparison of characteristics shared by the coach and the commando-for-hire.
First of all, they are both like lawyers in the sense that nobody really likes them; the only “good” one is the one who works for you. Kentucky fans probably love Calipari because he’s returned Kentucky to it’s status as top-buck property on the College Basketball Monopoly board.
Under Calipari, landing on Kentucky with a hotel and newly-refurbished arena will cost you. Where the friction comes is that Calipari doesn’t much care for the silliness and outright corruption of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Calipari builds winners wherever he goes; he brought Massachusetts to prominence, and put Memphis on the map, even if both of them incurred the wrath of the NCAA after his departure. Similarly, ffolkes also works outside the rules. As a private mercenary, ffolkes can train his men in any manner he wishes, where I’m fairly confident the British Navy would frown on his throwing live grenades at his men as part of training.
Because of the level of success they both enjoy, both Calipari and ffolkes aren’t well-liked by their opponents; nobody enjoys getting beat constantly. This is why Calipari is routinely called a “cheater” by his detractors and Lou Kramer’s dying utterance is about not liking ffolkes’ face. Making that even worse is the fact both ffolkes and Calipari strip off all the pretenses. In the case of ffolkes, he eschews all the niceties and political considerations of planning a military-style operation; he cares not for the extraneous “not stepping on toes” because all he wants to do is kill the “bad guys.” Calipari just wants to win games and turn his college players into professional-level talent.
Call it whatever you will, both Calipari and ffolkes have built winning teams through impeccable recruiting. I would have a much easier time telling you where you could find top-flight basketball players, but ffolkes obviously knew where to find elite naval commandos. In either case, finding recruits is one thing; getting them to join your operation is entirely another. One tactic both Calipari and ffolkes use to do this is offering the opportunity to be the best. With ffolkes, there’s a special mindset amongst the kind of guys who will let you throw hand grenades at them in order to make them the best they can be.
But in the case of Calipari, this comes back to doubling-down on stripping off the pretense. The NCAA has been living off the archaic notion of the “student-athlete” for decades, meanwhile anybody with a set of eyes and a functioning cerebral cortex can see that college basketball at it’s top levels has become a multi-billion dollar a year business. While the NCAA currently uses the canard of the “student-athlete” to deny the players a share of the income, Calipari did an “end-run” around that by telling players he was recruiting that if they spent one year at Kentucky, he would teach them what they need to know to be a professional player with the opportunity to make hundreds of thousands…if not millions…of dollars in the National Basketball Association or in the burgeoning professional leagues across Europe and in Asia.
When he was asked why he does this, Calipari’s response was simple. To paraphrase, he said that if the idea of college is to prepare somebody for a professional career then why shouldn’t I do just that and give these kids an opportunity to make an amount of money that can change not only their own lives, but that of their families as well? More importantly, don’t think for a minute that Calipari’s turning these players on to a way to make money off their talents hasn’t helped nudge the NCAA toward letting some of those billions trickle down…
When it comes to sheer ham-handedness and completely missing the point, the British government as portrayed in “ffolkes” and the NCAA march in lock step. That’s why they need people like Rufus Excalibur ffolkes and John Calipari to save them from themselves.
The Moral of the Story:
The difference between an anti-hero and a hero is perception.
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Actors acting – what a novel idea! I don’t think I’ve run across this in any of its titles, but I certainly won’t avoid it in future.
Liked this analogy. When it comes to “sheer ham-handedness and completely missing the point” you can beat a fictional or real institution and its ever-loving bureaucracy..
Good point re:Impeccable recruiting – for both movie missions and sports teams.
I never paid much attention to this film when I came across it once or twice, but next time I’ll make a point of watching it, thanks to your review. James Mason?! And Roger Moore in a Where’s Waldo hat? I’m in!
A “Where’s Waldo” hat while straight blowing stuff up and wasting bad guys…what more could you want!?
I really like this too, it’s very underrated. Roger Ebert? Pah! What does he know?
The film is a bit ahead of its time in its plotting, with the terrorist take over (actually extortionists, as in Die Hard). They also managed to include a female Prime Minister, which was either very prescient or a last minute change, as Thatcher had only just been elected in 1979. The plot was topical too, as North Sea oil was coming online in the 1970s.
I always say this, but that US title irks me. North Sea Hijack is a perfectly good title, telling you what the film’s about and that it’s a thriller. It also scans well, it’s just a good title. Maybe they thought Americans don’t know where the North Sea is, but they sure as hell don’t know what “ffolkes” means either, so it’s no better in that regard.
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Discovered this gem way too late, but adore Roger Moore in this one. I only discovered it after he passed away but it was a great find – Do check out my take on it .
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The fact that Roger Moore plays against type is exactly why I like ffolkes. After so many years of seeing him play characters similar to Simon Templar, it was nice to see him in an entirely different sort of role. Thank you so much for taking part in the blogathon!
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