What do The Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre, The Avengers, The Persuaders!, The New Avengers, The Professionals, The Famous Five, The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, The Fall Guy, The Greatest American Hero, Battlestar Galactica, TJ Hooker, Magnum PI, Knight Rider, Remington Steele, Philip Marlowe, Private Eye, Manimal, The Master, The A-Team, Airwolf, Werewolf, Scarecrow and Mrs King, Adam 12, They Came From Outer Space, Baywatch, Space Precinct and CI5: The New Professionals all have in common?

Well, they are all series made for television, and they have all had episodes directed by Sidney Hayers. This British-born filmmaker, who died in 2000 after an extraordinarily prolific career spanning two continents and five decades, was the very definition of a journeyman director. Accordingly, his 14th feature Assault shows all the slick professionalism - and stylistic blandness - that might be expected of, say, a crime thriller on ITV.

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Someone has been raping schoolgirls in the Devil's End - a phrase that seems to be as much a coded sexual reference as it is the name of the wooded crime scene running adjacent to Heatherdene School. Soon rape becomes murder, and Detective Chief Superintendent Velyan (Frank Finlay) has only two witnesses: Tessa Hurst (Lesley-Anne Down), the first victim whose traumatic experience has left her in a catatonic state; and art teacher Julie West (Suzy Kendall), who is laughed out of court after testifying that the perpetrator, half-glimpsed in the dark through a warped rear windscreen, "looked exactly like the devil".

Undaunted, Julie volunteers herself as bait in her own hare-brained scheme to flush out the killer. Could it be Denning (Freddie Jones), local foot-in-the-door journalist who pursues Julie like a stalker and insists on addressing her as "girlie"? Or Dr Greg Lomax (James Laurenton), the psychiatrist in charge of Tessa's recovery who keeps feeding Julie sedatives, and shows an interest in her that is clearly more than professional? Or Leslie Sanford (Tony Beckley), hen-pecked husband of the school headmistress (Dilys Hamlett) and a man who likes the feel of a young girl's thigh? Or someone else entirely?

Viewers reared on the British whodunnit (or its superior continental variant, the giallo) will have little difficulty determining the identity of the assailant - but what is perhaps more interesting about Assault, and certainly more confronting, is the unsavoury light that it casts upon its own male audience. Two characters (including one who has openly confessed) are eliminated from serious suspicion for being merely impotent peeping toms, who, as Dr Lomax puts it, "want sex without contact - now rape is right at the other end of the scale." This certainly puts us in our place. For as we get our vicarious cinematic kicks from all that nubile flesh and feminine vulnerability flashed before us on-screen, we may only be voyeurs, powerless to become involved more intimately in events - but according to the film's troubling logic, we still inhabit the same sliding scale as a psychotic rapist, even if we have not yet reached the devil's end of that scale.

Despite some ridiculously contrived plot devices, Assault is well-acted, made with an assured competence, and features some pleasing spooky shots of electricity pylons…

Reviewed on: 08 Mar 2007
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Assault packshot
A witness to rape offers to help police catch him by putting herself in harm's way.
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Director: Sidney Hayers

Writer: John Kruse, from the book The Ravine by Kendal Young

Starring: Suzy Kendall, Frank Finlay, Freddie Jones, James Laurenton, Lesley-Anne Down, Tony Beckley, Anthony Ainley, Dilys Hamlett, James Cosmo, Patrick Jordan, Alan Cuthbertson, Anabel Littledale, Tom Chatto, Jan Butlin

Year: 1971

Runtime: 87 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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