286. Slade in Flame (GB 1975)

Director: Richard Loncraine

Starring: Slade, Alan Lake, Tom Conti, Johnny Shannon, Alan Lake

Cinematography: Peter Hannon

Screenplay: Andrew Birkin

Bit Parts: Bill Dean, Tommy Vance, Reginald Bosanquet

Fact: Alan Lake went to prison for a bar room brawl that saw Leapy Lee ('Little Arrows') sent down for three years

Lie: Dave Hill (seventeen miles outside of Wolverhampton) is just seven inches away from qualifying as a mountain according to the British Geological Society

Time: 91 minutes

 In one line: the rise and fall of a Midlands rock band

Summary:

Raucous rock singer Stoker (Holder) leaves his band The Undertakers to become lead singer/guitarist with local rivals Flame. The band enjoy a rapid rise to fame but are dogged by bad luck, violence, manipulative management and vicious criminals.

Click on the poster to see the trailer

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It's strange the way Slade in Flame has disappeared from public consciousness; I would have thought Film 4 or one of the 'Movies for Men'-type channels would have picked up on it.

There are much, much worse British films 'doing the rounds' on the various film schedules and SIF is better than a awful lot of them. The film tells the story of a band not unlike Slade and their rise from the working men's club circuit to (almost) superstardom and break up.

Stoker (Noddy Holder) leaves a Screaming Lord Sutch/The Damned type band called The Undertakers and replaces the charismatic Jack Daniels (the excellent Alan Lake) in Flame. The band are spotted by A and R man Tony Devlin (Colley) who brings them to the attention of sinister, corporate division boss Robert Seymour (Conti). Seymour aims to market the band just like any other of his products and hopes to bleed them dry in the process. The fortunes of the band are followed with a keen interest by their ex (?) manager, vicious petty criminal Ron Harding (Shannon) who is none too pleased with his property being taken away from him.


The band's rise to fame doesn't seem to follow any realistic temporal framework, but in 'film time' they are soon making chart-topping records, playing to packed houses and breaking up due to 'irreconcilable' differences. Along the way, their layers of management are being undermined and destroyed by Harding and his henchmen.

Slade in Flame is a grim, almost nihilistic look at human aspirations and the quest for success. Just by swinging the camera round the various locations, Loncraine gives a good indication of how miserable life could be in 70s working class Britain. Everything is grey, brown and drab. Violence is everywhere; characters squabble rather than communicate, and there's an obvious, inevitable trajectory of failure and defeat to be followed in Flame's journey from their depressing hometown roots. 

Having said that, and conversely, it's a really enjoyable film and a tremendous social document for future generations. It has been said that the film stalled/killed Slade's career. Although there were a number of decent comebacks after the film, Slade were never the giant chart-topping band they were pre-'Flame'. Perhaps this would have been inevitable given the fickle nature of pop trends and the fact that Slade were, well, Slade.

Alan Lake is the undoubted star of the film, and it's a pity that he disappears from the action so (relatively) early in the film. Lake is better known as being 'Mr Diana Dors', but it's obvious that here was a great talent that was never properly exploited - mainly due to lake's drink, drugs and temperament problems. Johnny Shannon ("very nice stay, Mr Fawlty; you wouldn't 'appen to be a betting man, would you?" is also excellent, as are Conti and Colley.


As for Slade, Noddy is by far the best actor; Jim Lea manages a few decent lines; Don Powell does all that could have been expected of him after his horrible car crash and Dave Hill is Dave Hill. There are few close ups of the band saying their lines (because the director didn't want you to see that Slade couldn't act) and one of the major faults of the film is the poor post-syncing/dubbing of the band's voices which prevents the audience from engaging with the band's characters.

However...a good film with an unusually downbeat ending.

7/10