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Steven Berkoff film 1980s-1



 

Berkoff entered mainstream films with major roles on blockbusters Beverly Hills Cop, Octopussy and Rambo.  It could have been the start of a profitable career for Berkoff.
 

Steven Berkoff Absolute Beginners

Absolute Beginners directed by Julien Temple in 1986.  Berkoff as guest star along with rock singers including Bowie. The dancing and song have an interesting undercurrent portraying the racism and fascism of the time.

Director Julian Temple says “I’d read Colin MacInnes’s book Absolute Beginners as a teenager and it enthralled me.  I wanted to turn it into a screen musical that captured the birth of the teenage era in Britain – and the arrival of a black presence in music…” and actress Patsy Kensit says “A lot of the extras were cast from the Wag Club in Soho – there was a minibus that would bring in all these outlandish characters. Lunch in the canteen was like being out on a Saturday night. I was so square: people would be smoking a joint and I’d be horrified” (both from interviews by Ben Beaumont-Thomas, The Guardian, 21 Sept 2015, click here).

Steven Berkoff Absolute Beginners

The film has a good visual element with a six-minute opening one-shot scene as the camera meanders round the streets picking up characters and atmosphere.  Ian Nathan's review has a different opinion "Any film that attempts to out-flamboyance Orson Welles, by hanging on longer than Touch Of Evil’s fabled four minute opening tracking shot, is up to no good", though he does seem biased in his review "A general disappointment, but then with David Bowie and Patsy Kensit what did you expect" which hints that his negativity was there before he saw the film (review from Empire magazine, 25 Aug 2006 click here).

Anthony Nield is more perceptive "Absolute Beginners deserves big. This was moviemaking on a grand scale, reconstructing the London of the late fifties through massive sets and choreographed extras. Its tale of teenagers and racial tensions was told- unlike the British cinema of the period it sought to recreate- in full colour and Super Techniscope widescreen. Social realism back then meant black and white. Teen images too were almost strictly monochromatic: the juvenile delinquents of Cosh Boy... and Beat Girls... here was Soho circa 1958 in all of its garish delight." (Anthony Nield in The Quietus 29 Aug 2021, click here)

Steven Berkoff Absolute Beginners

One of the indoor sets, the boarding house like a doll's house.

Ray Davies in Absolute Beginners

"Ray Davies, of the Kinks, as Colin's put-upon father, sings about the ''Quiet Life'' in the family's chaotic boarding house, seen in cross-section like a doll's house. Mr. Davies's music-hall-influenced song not only matches his character, but also suits the slapstick scrambling all around him. It's one of the film's euphoric moments, but stylistically it belongs in another movie. " (Caryn James, New York Times, 18 Apr 1986 click here).

David Bowie in Absolute Beginners

Bowie plays dodgy businessman Vendice Partners.  Whereas his song Absolute Beginners is a classic, his role in the film is at times staid.

Berkoff is convincing as the fascist leader stirring up hatred in rhyming verse in a Mosley style rally.

Steven Berkoff Absolute Beginners

Steven Berkoff Absolute Beginners

Steven Berkoff Absolute Beginners

Steven Berkoff Absolute Beginners


 Images from the DVD of the film.




Beverly Hills Cop

"here we go again; the film that will haunt me for the rest of my life" Steven Berkoff

Beverly Hills Cop from 1984- black actors can star but not kiss the girl. Directed by Martin Brest in 1984.  Eddie Murphy playing Axel Foley at his best.

Berkoff says, talking of strangers he meets when travelling "Loved your work in Beverly Hills Cop...here we go again; the film that will haunt me for the rest of my life".  Stallone was to star but pulled out. He was impressed by Berkoff and his role as gangster Victor Maitland so wanted him on Rambo.

Casting Director Margery Simkin says she was on a plane and the movie shown was a Bond film [Octopussy] and she thought Berkoff was the iconic person she needed for the film.  Director Martin Brest says he saw a photo of Berkoff and liked the "laser quality of his look".

Berkoff is impressive, the perfect mixture of the businessman/ mafia boss with superficial pleasantry, but generally disdain for others.  This works extremely well against the innocent/ street wise Murphy.  The two together have real chemistry and tension. 

Steven Berkoff in Beverly Hills Cop 

Murphy plays a Detroit cop and when a friend is murdered Berkoff's Victor Maitland in Beverly Hills seems implicated.  When Murphy arrives the rough informal ways of Detroit police are contrasted with the do-it-by-the-book policing in Beverly Hills.

Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop

Steven Berkoff as Victor Maitland in Beverly Hills Cop

Steven Berkoff - Beverly Hills Cop

All photos from the DVD of the film.  Quotes from director and casting director, and notes on Sylvester Stallone from DVD extras.



McVicar McVicar

Roger Daltry plays the true-life criminal McVicar. What is interesting about the real story of McVicar is how a vicious criminal ended up reformed and writing for the New Statesman magazine. The film ignores this and covers his glamorised life as a criminal in prison. Berkoff is the East End prisoner, and in the predictable prison riot scene he sings "Maybe its because I'm a Londoner".  Directed by Tom Clegg in 1980.

Berkoff and Daltry



Steven Berkoff Octopussy

"The great thing about Steven is to keep him within bounds, shall we say, because he has such a wide range.  He is such a fine actor, he can do anything" (director John Glen)

Octopussy, a James Bond film, with Berkoff playing Colonel Orlov, his usual villain piece. Roger Moore as Bond and Berkoff had worked twice earlier on The Saint.  Directed by John Glen in 1983.  Berkoff is good, Moore gives his usual lightweight performance.

Steven Berkoff Octopussy Roger Moore 

"As titles go, 'Octopussy' is one of the silliest, most convoluted, and embarrassingly innuendo-ridden imaginable. A perfect summation of this movie - 13th in the Bond catalogue... The joy of a great Bond movie is the way it pushes the limits of believability - and knows when to stop. 'Octopussy' fails (Debbie Barham, 20 Aug 2001, BBC Movies here).  To be fair the title Octopussy is from an Ian Fleming short story though not otherwise related to the film.

In the film Octopussy is a rather unimpressive octopus which as a deadly poison, but otherwise it barely appears.  One character is improbably called Lady Octopus, and the octopus logo appears a lot.

Steven Berkoff Octopussy  Steven Berkoff Octopussy

The film has the usual Bond set-piece action scenes but they don't make a coherent whole and the film is confused compared with, for example, the "bootleg" Bond film Never Say Never Again with Sean Connery, or the later Bourne films with complex plots but overall coherence.  The film copies the plot of Frederick Forsyth's novel The Fourth Protocol, with elements of Dr. Strangelove.

In one scene where Bond is being pursued he has to contend with elephants, a tiger, spiders, snakes, leeches and crocodiles.

Berkoff plays Orlov, a high ranking (see P. Orrebrand comments below) Russian officer who suggests a pre-emptive attack on Western Europe.

 Steven Berkoff Octopussy

There are various sub-plots with Orlov involved in fake Faberge eggs (the real ones apparently are worth £500,000) to gains funds, and a bomb intending to explode and lead people to think the blame is an accident at a US base.

Steven Berkoff Octopussy  Steven Berkoff Octopussy

Steven Berkoff Octopussy

"The great thing about Steven is to keep him within bounds, shall we say, because he has such a wide range.  He is such a fine actor, he can do anything, he can sort of test you in a way, he tries things.  I love that in an actor.  He experiments and sometimes you like it and sometimes  you don't.  Sometimes you have to say to him, look take it down a bit when he goes a little bit over the top" (director John Glen from DVD commentary).

Bond eventually arrives in a Union Jack balloon and saves the day. 

Steven Berkoff Octopussy

Octopussy with Berkoff as Orlof

Site visitor P. Orrebrand comments: ."I just wanted to point out that Mr Berkoff's role in Octopussy is referred to as "Colonel Orlov".  However, he is referred to as "General Orlov" in the actual motion picture, and also carries the the two stars of a Soviet/Russian Lieutenant General on his uniform.  (In the old Eastern European/Communist armed forces, Brigadiers did not exist, so one star was/is a Major General and two stars a Lieutenant General.) Perhaps not a matter of life-and-death, but important to us fans and military buffs. :o)"- Thanks!!! Iain.

Steven Berkoff Octopussy

On the DVD extras Berkoff (above) says Barbara Broccoli saw a play of his, Greek, in Los Angeles and considered him for the role or Orlov.  Moore say he was a wonderful Bond villain, a very talented man.

Steven Berkoff Octopussy credit

All images from the DVD and DVD extras of the film.


Outland Outland

A minor role in a Sean Connery film. Berkoff plays a coward with space sickness who turns homicidal.  Berkoff injects himself then becomes homicidal, attacking a woman and ending up killed by the rescue squad.  But why did he and others go mad?  Sean Connery has to find out why.  The role proves either that some parts are so bad that they cannot be made good, or that good actors have bad days.  Directed by Peter Hyams in 1981.

Outland Steven Berkoff   Outland Steven Berkoff




Berkoff Prisoner in Rio

"my main accusation against the film was the crime of humiliation,
both committed by me and against me" Steven Berkoff

Prisoner in Rio, another British gangster film alongside the Krays, McVicar and Charlie. This is about the Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs, who co-wrote the screenplay and has a role as Mickey (on the left). 

Prisoner of Rio Ronnie Biggs

Biggs was convicted and jailed for the robbery, but escaped and ended up in Rio where he can't be extradited.  Berkoff is sent to arrange for him to be kidnapped and taken to a British warship where he could be sent back to Britain.

Prisoner in Rio Steven Berkoff

Prisoner in Rio Steven Berkoff

Prisoner in Rio Steven Berkoff

Berkoff plays a dour Scots policeman Jack McFarland with an annoying fake Scots accent, though this gradually fades away. Directed by Lech Majewski in 1988. It is Berkoff's only starring role in a mainstream cinema film.

The film is dull and inept, plodding along with poor script and direction.  The photography by cinematographer George Mooradian is at times interesting- it was his first role as cinematographer.

Berkoff wrote a book about the filming "my main accusation against the film was the crime of humiliation, both committed by me and against me". 

In 2009 Berkoff wrote to The Sunday Times supporting the release from jail of Biggs.

Prisoner in Rio Berkoff



 Images from the DVD of the film.


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