After gaining some kudos for their film school project, the short documentary In Search of Lebanon, Peter Crane and Nigel Hodgson were keen to progress in the industry and their chance came when they met writer and sometime actor Michael Sloan at an American diner in London, where Crane worked. The trio hit it off and they decided to produce one of Sloan’s scripts.

The writer had managed to talk June Ritchie into starring in the film, which would become Hunted. With her name behind it (she starred in A Kind of Loving as well as doing the rounds on British TV at the time) they managed to also rope the great Edward Woodward into acting alongside her.

To do things properly, Peter, Nigel and Michael set up a production company for the film, using the first two letters of each of their names, and the Pemini Organisation was born.

The company made three films in quick succession, Hunted, Assassin and Moments, before fizzling out as Sloan and later Crane moved onto bigger and brighter opportunities in the US. Though they helped kickstart the pair’s careers (Crane calls the three productions an extension of his film school studies), the films they made together never made a huge splash and, as such, have largely disappeared from public consciousness.

Indicator is a label that is interested in delving into the forgotten nooks and crannies of cinema though and has decided to release all of the Pemini films in a lavishly produced box set, entitled The Pemini Organisation (1972-1974). Intrigued, I got my hands on a copy and my thoughts on the films and set follow.

Hunted

Director: Peter Crane
Screenplay: Michael Sloan
Starring: June Ritchie, Edward Woodward
Country: UK
Running Time: 41 min
Year: 1972

Hunted was made on a tiny budget of only £1000, so costs had to be kept low, but the film’s concept aids this. It’s a two-hander, almost solely set in one room, that opens with estate agent Margaret Lord (June Ritchie) showing John Drummond (Edward Woodward) around an apartment.

There’s something strange about John’s interest in the apartment and we eventually learn the disturbing reason behind it. He pulls out a shotgun, locks Margaret in the room with himself and tells her that at 12 pm he will open fire on the town square below the window. As time ticks on, Margaret desperately attempts to talk him out of it.

With its two-hander, single location nature and dialogue-heavy approach, Hunted is quite a stagey affair that feels like a lot of British TV plays of the era. However, the concept and real-time presentation are grimly compelling.

Doing a great deal to make it all work are the two actors. Woodward revels in his lengthy monologues, playing it perhaps a little large in places but delivering the goods in spades. Ritchie is a little more reserved but sells the intense emotions required for the role.

You can tell the team behind the film were only just getting started and much of the crew were Crane’s film school students (he moved into teaching after his own studies), as visually Hunted is not particularly exciting and elements like the production design are a little sparse. However, the drama is confidently handled, which is what matters.

So, Hunted is a tense, disquieting two-hander that makes for uncomfortable but compulsive viewing. It’s rather stagey and contrived in places but remains an effective, well-performed half-length film. As such, it’s a fine showcase for what can be achieved with very little.

Assassin

Director: Peter Crane
Screenplay: Michael Sloan
Starring: Ian Hendry, Edward Judd, Frank Windsor, Ray Brooks, Mike Pratt, Verna Harvey, Caroline John
Country: UK
Running Time: 82 min
Year: 1973

Though it wasn’t a big success, Hunted turned out good enough to spur the Pemini team onto making their follow-up much more ambitious.

Assassin is a thriller that sees Ian Hendry play a government hitman that’s sent to kill Stacy (Frank Windsor), who also works within the government. We follow both, as the assassin prepares for the job and Stacy hosts a stag party and wedding reception for his work colleague (Ray Brooks).

With the assassin having experienced problems on a previous job and it being such a sensitive in-house operation, his control (Edward Judd) also sends out another pair of killers to keep an eye on him and step in if needed.

Whilst the spy thriller mould, larger cast and numerous locations show a big leap forward for director Peter Crane and Pemini, you can still see the connections between Hunted and Assassin. Though less dialogue-heavy in its approach, this later film is still another intense portrait of a violent man with a troubled mind. This isn’t an action-packed James Bond style spy thriller (though it has a couple of action scenes), it’s an intimate examination of a man whose job it is to kill, that, to me, brought to mind Fred Zinnemann’s The Day of the Jackal, which was released the same year.

The film, once again, has a great cast. This was a real boon, given how low-budget the production was and how little experience the crew had. They just got lucky and had the confidence to approach this talent. They went directly to the actors instead of through agents, which saved the expensive, box-office-success-driven middlemen.

Hendry is particularly strong in the lead role. It’s remarkable to hear in the special features how much of a drink problem he had during production as he still manages to craft a subtly complex and sympathetic character.

Crane is more confident with the camera here too, producing quite a stylish film with DOP Brian Jonson, who had come on leaps and bounds from the sparse simplicity of Hunted. It’s quite artfully shot and great use if made of close-ups and montage in the opening sequences.

I did have a problem with the final act of the film though. Without wanting to spoil things too much, there’s a pair of twists that are poorly earned that left me feeling cheated after a mightily impressive build-up.

So, whilst Assassin is not perfect, with a clunky, slightly daft conclusion, on the whole, the film is a moody, engaging, often stylish treat.

Moments

Director: Peter Crane
Screenplay: Michael Sloan
Starring: Keith Michell, Angharad Rees, Bill Fraser, Keith Bell
Country: UK
Running Time: 92 min
Year: 1974

Pemini’s last film, Moments, was originally planned as a short or mid-length film to run alongside something else but Michael Sloan’s script developed into something bigger. It was originally also going to be set in a rundown hotel but when the team discovered they could use The Grand Hotel in Eastbourne, they altered the script and rushed it into production, as the hotel was already part-way into its off-season when they were given the OK.

The film sees Peter Samuelson (Keith Michell) arrive at the setting, where he used to holiday as a boy. When he chats to the head porter about it, Peter seems deeply saddened and, that evening, in his room, we see him put a gun to his head with the intention of killing himself.

Thankfully, however, he’s interrupted at the last moment by the sound of Chrissy Hunter (Angharad Rees) banging on his door. Over-friendly and refusing to leave Peter alone, Chrissy treats him to an unforgettable night at the nearly empty hotel and the pair develop a close bond.

The question is, will this new spark in Peter’s tragic life be enough to stop him from prematurely ending it, as he originally intended.

Despite, on paper, looking like a smaller, more intimate film, there’s yet another increase in scale and ambition between Assassin and Moments. The, for want of a less literal description, grand setting adds a lot and it’s shot beautifully by the great Wolfgang Suschitzky, who was also the DOP on Get Carter and Theater of Blood.

There’s more confidence in Crane’s direction too. Assassin was scaled up a lot from Hunted but stylistically it seems a little uneven. Moments is more unified and cohesive. At this point, Pemini had to start using union crews, which may have been the cause of much of the increase in professionalism.

Moments is ostensibly another two-hander based around a loner though. As such, you see some themes that run through all three films. They’re all markedly different but still share many similarities, making them work together as a vague sort of trilogy. The chirpy, energetic Chrissy adds a new dynamic here though. The way her character rejuvenates Peter threatens to get corny in places, but Crane and the cast manage to tread the fine line between sentiment and poignancy for the most part.

Once again, however, I did feel let down by the film’s final twist. It’s hard to say too much without spoiling things, but it’s another case of the rug being pulled under the audience more for the sake of surprising them than providing a fulfilling conclusion.

Like the rest of the films in the set then, Moments is an intimate, well-made and well-performed drama that doesn’t always hit the mark but stands up remarkably well for a British indie from the era.

The Pemini Organisation (1972-1974) is out on 30th May on Region Free Blu-ray in the UK, released by Indicator. Considering the obscurity of these titles and the fact the negatives have been lost, the transfers are very good, with a nice natural, thick grain and relatively little damage. Some very brief missing chunks from all the films have had to be reinstated using a videotape source though, so you occasionally get little blips where the quality takes a momentary hammering. These literally only last a few frames though, never much more than 1 second. It’s preferable to the sudden, unwarranted jump cuts you would have to endure instead.

I’ve used screengrabs throughout this review to give an idea of how the films look, though, please note, they look better in motion and the stills have been compressed.

Audio is solid on Hunted and Assassin too, but Moments sounds a little poor. ‘S’ sounds are distorted and there are some other flaws here and there.

INDICATOR LIMITED EDITION 2 x BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES

HUNTED and ASSASSIN
– New restorations of Hunted and Assassin from 4K scans of the only surviving film elements by Powerhouse Films
– Original mono audio
– Audio commentaries on Hunted and Assassin with Pemini co-founder and director Peter Crane and film historian Sam Dunn (2022)
– Organising Principles (2022, 32 mins): Crane remembers the origins of Pemini and his subsequent work in Hollywood
– An Amazing Time (2022, 7 mins): Pemini co-founder and writer Michael Sloan looks back at his three early films
– Good Chemistry (2022, 29 mins): Pemini co-founder Nigel Hodgson revisits an exciting chapter in his life
– A Group of Friends (2022, 14 mins): June Ritchie, star of Hunted, recalls her time with Pemini
– Scoring with Gerry (2022, 13 mins): the veteran Soho musician Graham Dee remembers his work with Gerry Shury on the compositions for In Search of Lebanon and Hunted
– The Life of My Memories (2022, 22 mins): assistant director Martyn Chillmaid recounts his adventures on the three Pemini films
– Assassin’s Creed (2022, 22 mins): Ian Hendry biographer Gabriel Hershman explores the life and career of the troubled actor
– ‘Hunted’: The Lost Prologue (2022, 10 mins): video essay, narrated by Crane, reconstructing and reappraising scenes shot for the missing US television version of Hunted
– Restoring ‘Hunted’ and ‘Assassin’ (2022, 5 mins)
– Image galleries: extensive behind-the-scenes, promotional and publicity materials from the Pemini archives
– Assassin script gallery: complete shooting screenplay
– New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
– World premieres on Blu-ray

MOMENTS
– New restoration from a 4K scan of the only surviving film element by Powerhouse Films
– Original mono audio
– Audio commentary with Pemini co-founder and director Peter Crane and film historian Sam Dunn (2022)
– The BEHP Interview with Wolfgang Suschitzky (1988, 93 mins): archival audio recording, made as part of the British Entertainment History Project, featuring the cinematographer in conversation with Bob Dunbar and Manny Yospa
– ‘Moments’ in Cannes (2022, 8 mins): Crane tells a memorable story about an exhibitor screening
– A Present Out of the Blue (2022, 7 mins): actor Valerie Minifie fondly remembers Moments
– Reality and Non-reality (2022, 14 mins): composer John Cameron replays some Moments motifs
– Shooting with Mr Su (2022, 11 mins): gaffer Bill Summers recalls lighting Moments with Suschitzky
– Nothing’s Going to Stop Us (2022, 15 mins): production designer Bruce Atkins describes dressing the sets on the Pemini films
– A Family Affair (2022, 22 mins): assistant James Partridge remembers working with his cousin, Crane
– The Whole Story (2022, 17 mins): film historian Vic Pratt charts the rise and fall of Pemini
– Deleted scenes (14 mins): sequences removed from release prints
– Restoring ‘Moments’ (2022, 5 mins)
– In Search of Lebanon (1970, 12 mins): student film directed by Crane and Hodgson exploring present-day Lebanon as the living source of the Adonis myth
– Image gallery: extensive behind-the-scenes, promotional and publicity materials from the Pemini archives
– New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
– World premiere on Blu-ray
– Limited edition exclusive 80-page book featuring new essays by Peter Crane about the origins and history of Pemini, extracts from the films’ original press materials, an archival news article, new writing on In Search of Lebanon, and full film credits
– Limited edition exclusive set of five replica production stills
– World premieres on Blu-ray
– Limited edition of 6,000 copies for the UK and US

Wow, no stone is left unturned here, in terms of extra features. With commentaries on every film and countless interviews, you get the full picture of the Pemini Organisation and it’s quite a story. Yes, there’s a fair amount of crossover in anecdotes here and there but I wouldn’t want to lose any of the pieces and they all have their own perspective or tale to tell.

In his piece, Vic Pratt gives a potted history of the Pemini Organisation and how Edward Woodward played a key part in its beginnings and end. It’s a good starting point among the extras. Crane also tells a longer, more detailed history too in an interview on the first disc, as well as in his commentaries.

The commentaries are wonderful. Crane is honest about his inexperience and fears of directing actors when making Hunted, admitting he did little to affect their performances. He claims it was all them. It’s fun to hear just how low-budget the films were too and how they came together. For instance, in all the commentaries we often hear about the Yankee Doodle American restaurant, where Peter worked and met a number of the people involved in the films. The tracks make for inspirational listening for young first-time filmmakers.

A prologue for Hunted, which shows John as a young man hunting with his father, was shot after Assassin went into production to make it fit a more internationally friendly length for TV. Unfortunately, the footage is lost, but the piece on the disc provides still images and Crane’s description of what happened and how the shoot went.

Nigel Hodgson didn’t have as much creative input in the films as Crane and Sloan but he was a founding member of Pemini and a close friend of the rest of the core team, so has warm and enjoyable recollections of their time together in his interview.

Michael Sloan’s interview is only short at 6 minutes but it’s good to hear from him and he has fond memories of his time with Pemini.

Gabriel Hershman’s piece on actor Ian Hendry is an affectionate interview that runs through the actor’s life and work, being honest about his drinking problem and lamenting the fact he didn’t become a bigger star. Hendry found reasonable success on TV but never cracked films, partly due to his alcoholism.

The interview with Graham Dee, who was the composer of the scores for In Search of Lebanon and Hunted is fairly short but a nice addition.

Martyn Chillmaid was Assistant Director on the films. He was brought on to Hunted when he was a student. His interview is fairly lengthy and he tells a number of illuminating anecdotes about shooting the three films. It sounds like part of his job on Assassins involved keeping Ian Hendry on set during his drinking escapades!

June Ritchie’s interview is enjoyable, giving a first-hand account of working on Hunted. She was more experienced than most of the crew on the film, so she offers a different perspective on it. She also discusses the story’s disturbing subject matter.

Disc 2 includes In Search of Lebanon, which is a welcome addition. I wasn’t a massive fan of the documentary, with its rather pretentious voiceover and travelogue-like presentation but I can see how it showed promise as a student film and it’s great to have it here to get a fuller picture of Pemini’s development.

The Wolfgang Suschitzky interview, which runs under Moments like a commentary, provides an epic journey through his long career. It makes for engaging listening, particularly in the early sections where you hear about how he grew up as an Austrian Jew in the lead up to WWII. I found the latter sections interesting too as he discusses changes in the industry over the years. It was recorded in the late 80s, so it’s fascinating to hear his worries and compare them with what has happened since.

Bruce Atkins, the production designer on Pemini’s films, reminisces fondly on his time working with the organisation and tells some eye-opening stories about the seat-of-their-pants nature of the shoots.

John Cameron’s piece on scoring Moments is wonderful, as he goes into fair detail as to his approach to the music, even demonstrating how he made some of the more unusual sounds. It makes you greatly appreciate his work on the film.

James Partridge was an assistant on the films. He’s Peter’s cousin and grew up in the same house, which is how he got involved. Without a background in filmmaking, he largely did lackey work. You may think this would mean he’s not got much to say about the productions but, actually, he has several amusing stories to tell about some of the bizarre jobs he had on set. It’s a fun piece that amusingly deglamorises the filmmaking process.

Bill Summers, gaffer on Moments, discusses working with Wolfgang Suschitzky. He’s very technical when discussing their work but he’s a cheerful chap and has a lot of respect for the late DOP, so has much to say in his brief interview.

Valerie Minifie’s piece is only short and perhaps not as vital as many of the other interviews, but she has some pleasant tales to tell of her brief time on set, shooting Moments.

The short piece on Moments in the Cannes film festival is amusing and warmly recollected too.

The deleted scenes from Moments are also interesting. There are three, and two of them are just subtly extended/re-edited scenes, but the other is a 6-minute sex scene. Rather than cheap exploitation, it plays further on the psychological state of the Peter Samuelson character, as we see Chrissy morph into Peter’s dead wife as he flashes back to sleeping with her. It’s tastefully done but proved too much for the censors, so the scene was removed to avoid an X rating.

Both discs also have restoration featurettes that show the condition the prints were in prior to their remastering. It helps you appreciate the amount of work that goes into a set like this and explains some of the flaws that remain.

Unfortunately, I haven’t yet received a copy of the booklet to comment on that but, generally, Indicator are the best in the business at producing these, so I imagine it’s as indispensable as ever.

So, whilst the films in The Pemini Organisation (1972-1974) maybe aren’t perfect, they’re still hidden gems that are well worth watching and the mountain of special features in the set are of huge value, providing a wealth of fascinating viewing in their own right. As such, I couldn’t recommend this boxset enough, particularly to young wannabe filmmakers and anyone interested in independent film production.

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Editor of films and videos as well as of this site. On top of his passion for film, he also has a great love for music and his family.

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