The Black Panther (1977)
D. Ian Merrick
This British lensed True Crime pic is easily one of the most clinical and cold films ever put to celluloid. While not as good, it ranks up there with the German film Angst in cold blooded depiction of crimes.
The Black Panther tells the true tale of one Donald Neilson (formerly Donald Nappey in real life who had changed his name because of the bullying he took over the last name because that is British slang for a diaper) who was responsible for the deaths of several burglary victims and ending with a 17 year old heiress he kidnapped. This film wasted no time getting to the screen as the case has just wrapped up literally the year before in 1976.
The film opens with Neilson in the woods performing what appears to be survivalist duties. But it turns out to be is his woods bound hideout for a robbery attempt. But this attempt sets the stage for those to come as he bungles it when someone finds him rummaging about and he flees without any of wares. Though back in the woods he does an admirable and thorough job of dismantling his campsite so there is no trace of his presence.
We soon see that he has a wife and teenage daughter that he treats horribly. Commanding them around like he is a drill Sargent in the army and they are his recruits. Even the tiniest infractions are met with his disdain. he spends hours alone in his room pouring over blue prints and photos from the city plotting his next robberies. When he is not doing that he is remembering his time in the war with pictures and warm memories.
But his robberies never go as planned. He dons a black hood and manages to show some skill getting into the places (usually post offices or general stores) but he always has to go that extra step and get keys or what not from people who live attached to the places and ends up facing off with unexpected people. He doesn’t set out to kill anyone, but they meet his shotgun anyway.
The press label the murderer The Black Panther because the surviving family members describe a man in a black hood. When he sees a newspaper article about a teenage heiress who recent was awarded a huge amount of money in the death of her parents. He sets his sights higher for some kidnapping and extortion. He finds a storm tunnel underground that is rarely used and makes that the place where he will store his captive. Unlike his other adventures, this one goes off without a hitch. He gets the girl and gets her into the drain, ties up and she cooperates. his complex plan of leaving notes, having her family makes calls and set up meetings is put into motion. Naturally the family call the police, which is what screws it up and things do not go as planned.
As I stated before this is a cold, calculated movie. It isn’t really a character study as you don’t get much characterization from anyone, especially the lead. This film is much more interested in laying out the facts as they happened. And from what I understand it does so as close to reality as possible.
Donald Sumpter plays the lead role (he can most recently be seen in David Cronenberg’s crime drama Eastern Promises) and is chilling. He plays this guy as a wound spring. Tight, rigid and waiting to blow. But he only blows in small fragments, just long enough to make a mistake and kill someone. Then he heads right back into his shell and is rigid and rock solid again. he’s living some sort of paramilitary superman fantasy that we never are really clued into, but it is clearly there in the performance.
The version of this I saw was from a well worn VHS that I got from a bit torrent site. So I have no idea where it exists. I keep thinking this might be in one of those 50 pack DVD sets, but I may be getting it confused with another film called Day of the Panther.Andy Copp
Screen caps and ripp from empoapes at cinemageddon