Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire- Underrated

The great English director Alan Clarke (1935-90) was best known for his unflinching portraits of working-class life. Films like Scum (1979), Made in Britain (1982) and the Andrea Dunbar scripted Rita, Sue and Bob Too (1986) were firmly in the social realist tradition. So Clarke directing a musical about a snooker match between a cowboy and a vampire was something of a departure.

Billy ‘the Kid’ (Phil Daniels) is a 20-year old rising star on the snooker circuit whose unconventional ways rile the snooker establishment. His manager T.O. aka ‘The One’ (Bruce Payne) is in debt to a gangster (Don Henderson) who demands a showdown match between Billy and the reigning world champion Maxwell Randall (Alun Armstrong), ‘the Green Baize Vampire.’ Randall represents the old guard and demands a 17 frame match with the loser never playing snooker again.

Back in the 80’s snooker was hugely popular in the United Kingdom. Players like Steve Davis, Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins and Dennis Taylor were household names. The most striking player at the time was Ray Riordon, a tall, dark figure with a passing resemblance to ‘Dracula’ star Bela Lugosi. Clarke and his writer Trevor Preston based the Green Baize Vampire on Riordan and the brash youngster ‘the Kid’ on the young Jimmy White.

The showdown takes up the final half hour of the film. Clarke keeps things interesting by having Daniels and Armstrong performing their own shots so he can keep the actors in the frame and use sweeping camera angles. There is an expressionist feel to the sets. Everything takes place at night and we never see daylight. Though it seems Randall is just playing at being a vampire there are a couple of moments that suggest he may very well be a creature of the night.

Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire sits uneasily alongside Clarke’s social realist work and is often avoided when critics discuss his work, but there is still a political element with Maxwell representing the establishment and Billy the underclass. Daniels is perfectly cast as the cocky youngster, while Armstrong is an amusing mixture of Northerner and the supernatural. Composer George Fenton ( The Company of Wolves ) acted as the musical arranger for the film. Bruce Payne has a terrific singing voice and gets the best number, ‘I’m The One.’

Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire is unique. It is fair to say there will probably never be another film combining Westerns, vampires, and snooker. Sadly it came out shortly after another British musical, the ruinous Absolute Beginners (Julien Temple 1986) and despite the popularity of snooker Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire never found the audience it deserved.

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