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Forgotten films... in familiar settings

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THE TIME has come to indulge a long-held ambition to be a film critic. The yearning has been there since those easy-going afternoons passed while an apprentice journalist frequenting the movie houses along O'Connell Street in Dublin for the cheap matinée screenings.

Here is a career move that appeals as a great deal better than actually working. No more windblown sidelines of the sports reporter. No more attempting to wring quotable quotes from evasive politicians. No more real-life death and destruction. Much better to dim the lights, pop the popcorn and concentrate on make-believe death, destruction and drama instead.

Rather than take on the seasoned reviewers by offering judgement on the latest Spielberg epic or Johnny Depp vehicle, it may be best to start modestly. So, for the first outing as a critic, let us make a cool appraisal of ' The Violent Enemy', directed not by Martin Scorsese but by someone called Don Sharp.

' The Violent Enemy' is not actually coming to a cineplex anywhere near you any time soon. Nor is it flying off the shelves in XtraVision. In fact, you will need to carry out some deep trawling around the less-frequented nooks and crannies of the internet to track down ' The Violent Enemy' on DVD.

It has been released as part of a 'Best of British' collection but could just as well be bracketed 'Eccentric Irish'. Its main attraction is that, along with Tom Bell, Susan Hampshire and Ed Begley, it stars the town of Enniscorthy. And there is a strong supporting role for Courtown Harbour too.

Yes, there was a time long before 'Saving Private Ryan' hit the beach at Curracloe when County Wexford was in demand as a film location. ' The Violent Enemy' was made back in 1967 when heroes wore polo necks in best 'Man from U.N.C.L.E.' fashion and smoking on screen was considered practically compulsory.

The flirtation with Hollywood continued when, three years later, a production called 'Underground' rumbled into town, with Robert Goulet and Daniel Gaubert at the head of the cast. Their Second World War drama was dusted off and given a special showing earlier this year by the Athenaeum restoration committee. Naturally, the audience concentrated on the familiar locations and spotting friends or family among the extras.

The committee could do a great deal worse than consider booking ' The Violent Enemy' for their next date with the movies. While there were no Oscar-winning performances, the characters and the action remain compelling enough to retain the interest of the casual viewer. And then there are the backdrops provided by little old Enniscorthy.

No doubt a seasoned cinema critic would provide a rough outline of the plot, so here goes. The film concerns the return of convicted IRA bomber Seán Rogan (Tom Bell) to Ireland after he is sprung from an English jail midway through a 15-year sentence. As a political offender, he is immune from the threat of extradition.

Rather than lie low in his native Mayo, he is persuaded by unreconstructed Republican hardliner Colm O'Moore (Ed Begley) and the charming Hannah Costello (Susan Hampshire) to assist in plotting to blow up an electronics factory.

There is certainly no shortage of class associated with the gelignite rich production. Bell knew his way around the BAFTA awards. Begley was a member of the jury in the Henry Fonda classic ' Twelve Angry Men'. Hampshire had male viewers in multi-channel land sighing and swooning as Fleur in the BBC's ' Forsyte Saga'. And many of the support crew are no slouches either.

Philip O'Flynn, who plays the Garda Inspector in this piece, also saw service in 'Ryan's Daughter' while the incomparable Noel Purcell limps his way through the action as the pub owner John Michael Leary. The script has very presentable roots too, based on a novel by Jack Higgins, no less.

The sum of all these substantial parts is less than a masterpiece. Too much of a hint of 'Oirish' accents among English actors. Too much talk of The Cause. Too little movement in the clock above Leary's bar, which is forever stuck at seven minutes past nine. Still it fills an idle hour and a half well enough.

And Enniscorthy stands up nicely enough to the exposure. The action is supposed to be set somewhere vaguely near the Border but there is no disguising the Slaneyside locations. The river and the old bridge have changed not at all and St Aidan's Cathedral appears comfortingly familiar.

Other features have altered over the decades. The Cotton Tree pub, now a haven of warmest hospitality as Holohan's, appears as inviting as a concrete bunker. The AIB was known as the Provincial Bank when ' The Violent Enemy' was shot. Patty's hair salon is long gone from Main Street while the modest window on Kelly's Medical Hall in Slaney Place has been replaced by standard Oxford Street plate glass. Walter Bourke's jewellery no longer advertises itself on the gable end of the property now occupied by Mackin Travel.

Yet, whatever the changes, the underlying geography is immutable, and the film is a reminder of enduring charms we too often play down through familiarity. Watch out too for glimpses of Rosslare Harbour and Ferrycarrig, while the climax is fought out against the backdrop of (please correct me if I am wrong) Courtown.

They don't make movies like ' The Violent Enemy' anymore, more's the pity. The Wexford economy could do with such a boost and I am always available to review.