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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars BFI Flipside # 24: The Black Panther, 5 Jun. 2012
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This review is from: The Black Panther (BFI Flipside) (DVD + Blu-ray) [1977] (DVD)
The Black Panther was Donald Neilson, who became infamous for his execution of a series of crimes throughout the Midlands in the mid-70s. Though he was finally apprehended by the police in December 1975, this film was released in 1977, just 18 months after his arrest and just a few months after his trial, so the crimes were still very fresh in the publics' conscious. And that was both the making, and the downfall of the film.

Neilson is played by Donald Sumpter (more familiar to contemporary audiences for his role as Maester Luwin in Game of Thrones), who carries the film for the first 70 minutes, until the police finally make their overdue appearance. The centerpiece of the film, after Neilson carries out a few bungled robberies, one of which ends up with him killing those he was attempting to steal from, is when he plots to take a wealthy heiress hostage for a ransom. The film goes into none of the sensationalist areas that many similar true-life crime films have done, and for 'The Black Panther', this actually works very well. In real life, the police and press made a number of catastrophic errors, which are toned down somewhat here, though producer Ian Merrick didn't exactly shy away from such details. It does make a refreshing change to watch a film relay a story exactly as it happened (though even today some details are contentious), though it obviously wouldn't work for every crime film, it does work for this one. Unsurprisingly, as the film was released so soon after the actually crime, there was a press-led revolt against releasing it in cinemas. Though it was eventually put on limited release in a few major cities, and there was a VHS release many, many years ago, this is the first serious release of 'The Black Panther' since 1977, and is certainly one of the more deserving entries into the BFI's Flipside collection.

The Blu-ray (and DVD which mirrors the content of the Blu-ray) has a transfer taken directly from the original 35mm film elements, so though the film has a murky feel to it, this is intended by the filmmaker, and is generally a very pleasing transfer, with very few signs of damage, and a generally crisp image throughout. There's a mono English soundtrack, and also an alternative French language soundtrack with English subtitles. As for extras, the main piece here is the 1979 28-minute film by Bob Bentley, 'Recluse'. This is a more fictionalised account of a murderer than 'The Black Panther', and is set on a rural farm rather than the main film's urban sprawl. Still, it's an excellent companion piece, and well worth a look. There's also an 8-minute piece of location footage shot by the director of 'Recluse' when he was scouting locations for the film. Finally, there's an excellent 34-page booklet inside with lots of detail about both films, and details well the context surrounding 'The Black Panther's' release.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 7 Jun 2012 17:30:23 BDT
gemimah says:
I concur... excellent review.

Posted on 10 Dec 2014 11:57:52 GMT
N. Pemberton says:
Brilliant review, sums up the film perfectly, such a shame about it's original release in 1977, it deserves to become a cult classic. Nice to see Donald Sumpter so young, giving a grimly realistic performance of such a warped & controlling individual. I'd wanted to see this since I was a 14 year old schoolboy in London, I remember the poster being displayed nearby. Thanks again for your review.
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Reviewer

T Everson
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Location: Shropshire, England

Top Reviewer Ranking: 49,422