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North Sea Hijack

***
1980

‘…North Sea Hijack doesn’t have quite the explosive qualities required, but as a precursor of Die Hard, it’s just about got most of the notes in almost the right order…’

Back in 1979, when North Sean Hijack was being filmed, American author Roderick Thorp was working on a similar project, a novel called Nothing Lasts Forever which would be filmed within a decade as Die Hard. The success of that film created a new genre, but North Sea Hijack feels very much cut from the same cloth; an Alistair MacLean-type thriller firmly based on a siege/hostage situation, with the terrorists actually robbers intent of swindling the authorities out of some loot. Based on a book by Jack Davies, named Esther, Ruth and Jennifer after the three rigs involved, Andrew V McLaglen’s thriller wasn’t much admired at the time, and there are glaring flaws in the film’s plotting, but there are also plenty of sweet moments to justify a cult following.

Straight off the bat, there’s a fun performance from Roger Moore here, at the peak of his Bond fame, and keen to ring the changes on his image; cat-fancier Rufus Excalibur ffolkes is a huge fan of needlepoint, and spends most of his film working on his latest creation. And he’s supposedly a master strategist, which takes a good while to come to the boil; seventy minutes in, ffolkes hasn’t actually done anything but ask his crew to synchronise their watches. Meanwhile Anthony Perkins embraces type as mercenary terrorist with a bloodlust Kramer, and James Mason just about keeps his dignity afloat as a concerned Admiral. Kramer plants explosive on three oil-rigs and sits back to wait for the Admiral to stump up 25 million squid, but Lloyds of London don’t fancy cashing them up and send for ffolkes, who they can quite literally pay with a box of kittens for his efforts.

North Sea Hijack is amusing in the way it presumes that we’ll agree that ffolkes is a genius; on this evidence, he’s a complete idiot. Striding around in a stripey bobble-hat and Vermillion wetsuit, he requires to be rescued by the ship’s gamine cook (Lea Brodie) the moment he steps onto the rig. And his master-plan, as shared with the Admiral, involves offering terrorists a packet of cigarettes as a distraction then dropping the fags on the floor. This plan surely only works in a hostage situation is so convivial as to allow the sharing of cigarettes; it’s surprising ffolkes doesn’t have a salver of canapés at the ready as back-up.

Sure, you could remake this as a straight action vehicle, but some of the plot-points were ancient in 1979 and are positively mirth-inducing now. And there’s comedy with one of these new fangled female politicians for ffolkes to tangle with (the UK prime minister played by Faith Brook), something of a novelty in 1980 and unlikely to catch on. Still, North Sea Hijack is a good example of Elliott Kastner’s productions; effective, tense, star-driven and satisfying enough for a Friday night. Reuniting Moore with his Wild Geese director, North Sea Hijack doesn’t have quite the explosive qualities required, but as a precursor of Die Hard, it’s just about got most of the notes in almost the right order.

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    • You pulled that one out of nowhere, I couldn’t honestly say that Tall Story was the film that I feel Perkins will be remembered by. But I am impressed by his 70’s output.

      • Well, we both know Psycho is and will always be his epitome, however it is great fun to look into the catalog to see what efforts were made to disabuse type. I still sometimes get him confused with Roddy Mcdowell and this is a case in point! I had Roddy for this role in my numbskull.

  1. A good watch at the time but somewhat surprised to find it falling into the cult category now – I wonder if interest has been stoked up by the knitting brigade.

    • It really got muffled by the three titles back in the day, and probably reached a big audience due to tv screenings; maybe there are needlepoint fans out there too…

  2. Well, it’s got synchronising watches, which is always a classic scene.

    Also, I’ve finished the first draft of the letter to Mr Coppola’s agent. Would you like to read it (WARNING: It uses your real name…)

      • Ok, it’s a little long winded, but here we go:

        “Dear Mr Liberman (one of his agents),

        I hope you and your family are well. I’m getting in touch with rather unfortunate news, sadly, concerning one of your clients – Mr Francis Ford Coppola. I understand he is very well respected in the business, and I myself have enjoyed many of his films, including such as The Godfather and Apocalypse Now. However, when in what started out as an innocent discussion with a renowned colleague, journalist and writer Mr Eddie Harrison, we stumble upon some dangerous facts regarding Mr Coppola.

        Mr Harrison merely suggested that there may be a link between The Godfather: Part II’s interestingly crafted flashbacks tied together with a future storyline to create one narrative, and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, which follows the same technique. This, I presumed, was a joke at the time, although you can never quite tell with Mr Harrison. In rebuttal, I told him that the film was set forty four years later, so it was impossible that The Godfather: Part II could have stolen from Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again – in fact, it was more likely to be the other way round. But at times, Mr Harrison’s knowledge of films can seem infinite. He told me that Mamma Mia!’s story is actually based on 1968 film Buena Sera Mrs Campbell, or, in English, Good Evening, Ms Campbell, which is set six years before Mr Coppola’s sequel.

        Both of us a little suspicious that something may be slightly off, we wonder if plagiarism may have been committed. We are merely concerned that Mr Coppola may not of just done this with The Godfather: Part II, but with many of his other films. I’m sure you can understand our distress – we are both big supporters of young writers and directors, trying to ply their trade in a difficult game, and sometimes it can feel like there’s one rule for us and another them. Plagiarism is a big issue, yet we never begin to doubt the most success among us. At first we considered something of a lawsuit, due to these prejudices caused by copyright infringement and quite frank violations of moral rights. But, as we are reasonable people, we have come to a nonnegotiable (stress on the nonnegotiable) compromise.

        As fervent Mamma Mia! fans, we do not know if you or Mr Coppola are in contact with Catherine Johnson, the creator of the film series, but we would like to arrange a meeting with her to perhaps discuss a future role in the speculative Mamma Mia! 3. I know Mr Harrison has a pretty big attraction to the role of Cher. Obviously, this is a big ask, but this is also a very big accusation, and I’m sure Mr Coppola wouldn’t like this ‘black eye’ anywhere near him, or anyone close to him. If we dig any deeper, who knows what we’ll find. Therefore, I suggest you take this very seriously and treat us with the uptmost respect, for we hold something of a grenade in our hands, very close to going off. Thanks for your time. I look forward to your reply.

        Best wishes,
        I would never give my name away so easily”

  3. Alistair MacLean-type thriller firmly based on a siege/hostage situation

    Ha! The first thing I thought when I saw the picture was “Man, that looks like a MacLean cover!”.

  4. Released as ffolkes (not capitalized) in North America. I was wondering why I was pulling a blank on this one until I saw the character’s name.

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