Release Date(s)1974 (December 4, 2018)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: B-
Though it boasts an impressive cast, The Black Windmill is a thriller without many thrills. In what appears to be an imitation of third-tier Hitchcock, the film stars Michael Caine as MI6 agent Major John Tarrant. Tarrant’s young son David is kidnapped. Unbeknownst to Tarrant, the kidnappers are his own colleagues – McKee (John Vernon) and Ceil Burrows (Delphine Seyrig) – who want the large number of uncut diamonds that Tarrant’s office has obtained. If he doesn’t cooperate, his son will be harmed. Tarrant agrees to go along, all the while searching for his missing son, joined by his estranged wife Alex (Janet Suzman).
Despite being directed by Don Siegel (Dirty Harry), The Black Windmill is a tedious slog with little action, too much talk, a sluggish pace, and a mechanical performance from the star. The kidnapping element and a final scene set at the title windmill are reminiscent of two Hitchcock films – The Man Who Knew Too Much and Foreign Correspondent – but lack their cleverness. With little humor to liven the expositional scenes, the movie remains disappointingly flat throughout. An attempt at injecting a bit of levity with the character of Cedric Harper (Donald Pleasence), Tarrant’s boss, comes off as forced.
The final scene, when Tarrant confronts McKee as he tries to rescue his son, should be a big payoff but is merely ho-hum. The staging is routine, there are no surprises, and the movie simply trails off. Don Siegel had a decades-long career and directed such first-rate films as The Beguiled, Charley Varrick, and Escape From Alcatraz, but The Black Windmill is colorless.
Video resolution is 1080p. Aspect ratio is 2.35:1. Color appears somewhat faded throughout. Night scenes and a scene inside a police van are grainy. There are no dirt specks, scratches, or other damage in the Blu-ray print. Optional English subtitles are available.
Sound is recorded low, so the TV volume had to be set much louder than usual. The DTS is not dynamic and often provides a tinny sound. This is not a major flaw with dialogue but in action scenes, bass can hardly be heard.
Bonus features on the Blu-ray release include audio commentary, an interview with the film’s cinematographer, 6 radio spots, image gallery, and trailers.
Audio Commentary – Filmmaker/historian Mike Siegel provides background on Don Siegel (no relation), whom he refers to as “an efficient director,” meaning he knows what he wants and works quickly. Early in his career, as second unit director under big-name directors, Siegel worked hard to film in their styles. His battles with studio head Jack Warner left him with bitter feelings toward producers. The Black Windmill began production without a completed script, which resulted in a few plot holes. It should have included more action. Actor Janet Suzman was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company and didn’t appear in too many films. Caine plays his role with little emotion. The Black Windmill is one of few movies to feature scenes of a hovercraft.
Cinematographer Interview – Cinematographer Ousama Rawi discusses the hovercraft sequence, noting the crew was allowed to film only during actual operation, so they had to set up equipment quickly. Scenes were shot during a single crossing of the English Channel. Rawi discusses meeting Don Siegel and being interviewed for the job. The film’s working title was Drabble. Rawi was impressed with Siegel’s body of work. He recalls Siegel saying that when he directed Clint Eastwood, who often asked technical questions, he saw in him a future director. Siegel had a dry sense of humor and was “bemused at our [British] politeness.” Siegel liked his actors to have “business” – things to do while delivering dialogue.
Image Gallery - With accompanying music, this slideshow features posters, ad sheets, and color production still photos.
Trailers – Five trailers are included: The Black Windmill, Billion Dollar Brain, The Destructors, The Wilby Conspiracy, and The Holcroft Covenant.
– Dennis Seuling