Judge Maurice Cobbs has been certified insane far more than a paltry three times.
Another Kray Era Legend? Killed 40 People? Certified Insane 3 Times
The thing that hooked me more than anything else about the DVD Mad Frank: Britain's Most Dangerous Criminal! was the claim splashed across the front of the DVD: "Killed 40 People? Certified Insane 3 Times." Wow, I thought. Three times?
WHY? It seems to me, in my limited knowledge of mental health issues, once would have been sufficient. Was he declared insane, then cured and had a couple of relapses? Had he perhaps been the victim of some sort of legal red-tape nightmare, forced to prove his sanity again and again after being wrongly classified as a madman? Or was the claim simply the sort of hyperbole that you might expect from a sensationalist direct-to-DVD documentary? Granted, being able to claim 40 kills as a career highlight—for that matter, being able to claim being declared insane three times as a career highlight—certainly seems to support the idea that he may, in fact, be insane. But how could I know for sure?
There seemed to be only one way to find out. No, I didn't watch the DVD—not right then, anyway. To tell the truth, I was a little intimidated. Flipping the DVD over, I'd read that "Britain's most Legendary[sic] criminal?" had a terrible, jaw dropping history with his victims: "If he wasn't chopping them up with an axe, he was pulling his victims[sic] teeth out with pliers. Robberies, killings, prison riots—-- Frankie Frasier is as mad as it gets." An axe? Pliers?! You have to admit, the guy sounds absolutely mad as a hatter. Crazy as a soup sandwich. Nutty as squirrel poop. "This is," says the text on the back of the package, "the Ultimate Gangster Video!"
It's filmed in Gangstervision to boot.
Even the cover to the DVD is slightly unsettling. As I slit the cellophane wrapping, slowly freeing Mad Frank from his prison of thin, clear plastic, it seemed that the picture of Britain's most dangerous criminal stared deep into my psyche, insane eyes following me no matter where I moved my head. A cold shiver ran down my spine as I contemplated the terrible awesomeness of this deadly criminal underworld figure. One of a series of DVDs from Entertainment Programs, Inc. about infamous gangsters from the United Kingdom (other titles include The Krays: Geordie Connection and Roy Shaw: Brute Force), Mad Frank: Britain's Most Dangerous Criminal! boasts an impressive array of special features, including raw footage from Reggie Kray's funeral procession and the first interview that the Kray twins have given since they died about seven years ago (thanks to the amazing abilities of "Psychic to the Stars" Sally Morgan).
The packaging also boasts interviews with "all the top names in British crime." For example, we get to hear from such underworld luminaries as John McVicar, the criminal-turned-journalist who in the 1960s was named Public Enemy Number One by Scotland Yard, with a "dead or alive" reward placed on his head by Security Express; Charles Bronson (not the actor, obviously, although one of the other interviewees featured on the disc is, ironically, Death Wish director Michael Winner), a.k.a. Michael Peterson, a.k.a. Charles Ali Ahmed, a man who has been in jail nearly continuously since he was 19 years old in over 120 prisons, and is considered a maximum security prisoner because of the number of inmate and guard attacks that he has been involved in (including a 2000 hostage-taking incident that earned him a discretionary life sentence); and Dodgy Dave Courtney, a celebrity criminal not unlike Mad Frankie himself, who claims to be the inspiration for Vinnie Jones's hard-man legbreaker character from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
With a roster of such intimidating commentators and—let's face it—that picture on the front (shudder), I had to take a moment to gather my wits about me. Splashing a handful of cool water on my face, I gagged when some of it went up my nose and then looked at myself in the bathroom mirror. Once I started down this path, I knew, there could be no return to the blissful ignorance of my happy-go-lucky life. Could I meet the Geordies on their own terms? Was I hard enough to enter the shadowy world of hard man and old-school British gangster Frank Fraser?
Gritting my teeth, I knew the answer before I even asked the question. No sacrifice is too great for you, our loyal and faithful DVD Verdict readers. For you, I would take my first steps into the murky criminal world of Britain's most dangerous criminal. For you, I would experience the legend that was Mad Frankie Fraser.
As I turned the DVD over in my hand, contemplating the gravity of what I was about to do in the name of journalistic integrity, my wife happened to look over my shoulder. "What's that you got there?" she asked.
I hesitated. Exposing myself to the terror that was Mad Frank was one thing; could I possibly expose my beloved to the same mindless, numbing horror that I was soon to experience?
"What do you know about Mad Frankie Fraser?" I asked, cautiously.
"He's a complete waste of space," she said.
My wife, you see, comes from across the pond, from the very small island country that was held in the grip of terror by the rampaging madman known as Mad Frank Fraser during the Kray brothers' heyday. But instead of shuddering with abject horror at the mention of Frankie's name, she rolled her eyes! Foolish woman! I thought, Do you not realize upon whom you are heaping your insolent scorn? But she was resolute in her disdain. I won't go into her exact words, but the terms "wannabe," "loser," and "complete tosser" were used, and not in a kindly sense. "He's useless," she concluded, with a shake of her head.
Could it be that Mad Frank was hardly the criminal terror that Entertainment Programs, Inc. make him out to be on the DVD packaging? The consensus on the main feature seems to be mixed: some of those interviewed seem to think that Frank's terrible reputation is more than deserved; others seem to think that he's, well, a complete tosser. The feature explores various aspects of our boy's criminal career, punctuated by a repeating clip of ol' Mad Frank throwing a punch towards the camera. With a resounding "thwack!," the title of the segment appears on the end of Frankie's fist. "Thwack!?" PRISON. "Thwack!?" THE KRAYS. Frankly, it quickly became my favorite part of the entire DVD, partly because it was so damned cheesy and partly because, deep in my heart of hearts, I secretly thought that it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen in my entire life. In fact, I'm thinking of co-opting the technique for my own biography.
Listening to stories about Frank—in Gangstervision, which appears to be an insane mish-mash of shaky, grainy footage, footage of Frank shot in heavy shadow, standard "talking head"-type interview shots, and what I can only assume to be second-unit footage, or possibly stock footage, altered to seem as if it originated sometime before 1910—I got the distinct impression that one of our gangsters from over here in the Colonies, say, Bugsy Siegel or Dutch Schultz, for instance, would eat Mad Frank for a light bedtime snack. Also, the feature is rather curious in that it manages to be both unsatisfyingly short and almost painfully tedious at the same time; no mean feat, I can assure you.
"Are these guys, like, celebrities?" I asked my wife. That seemed to be the general attitude of the DVD's narrator towards these famous figures of British organized crime. Each name was spoken with the sort of reverence usually reserved for war heroes, supermodels, or Chuck Norris. It seemed odd, considering that these people were, well, criminals. Thugs. Not the sort of people that you'd want to invite to your daughter's wedding, although Mad Frank is more than willing to attend, for a price; according to his official Web site (!)—he's available as an after-dinner speaker, and for "functions and boxing tournaments"—when he's not conducting his Gangland Tours. Which would seem to answer the question, "Is there really a market for this video?" But again, why are these people celebrities?
"They're not," said my wife. "But they desperately want to be."
A hefty selection of special features material has been included in this package, and most of it is complete and utter crap. The crown jewel in this collection of crap is footage from Reggie Kray's funeral procession, which is quite possibly the single most tedious experience of my entire life to date. Minute after excruciating minute of the most pointless, most ineptly filmed, most mind-numbingly boring amateur video since the Paris Hilton sex tape played across the screen, as people mumbled, milled aimlessly in crowds on the sidewalk, and completely ignored the sad, pathetic son of a gun that held the camera. And the rest of the special features material is just as boring, just as pointless, and just as poorly produced. I'm assuming that the viewer from the United Kingdom would have some sort of working knowledge of who these people are and why they matter, but for a poor, simple Yank like myself, unfortunately outside of the loop, the features were uninteresting, and in some cases downright baffling—not to mention the fact that practically nothing in the special features material has anything to do with Mad Frank. But wait, there's more! Absolutely none of the special features that are available on the DVD are listed on the back of the case—but the two features that are listed ("Earnie Shavers—Bad Boy Bash" and "Until Death Do Us Part") cannot be found on the disc. The Ultimate Gangster Video, indeed.
But the entire package seems to reek of that desperate air of people living in the past, whose greatest achievements were being at the low end of British crime nearly 40 years ago and spending more time in prison than the average bloke. They have only one thing to sell, it seems to me: their image as gangsters. Except they weren't very good gangsters. Consider that Mad Frank: Britain's Most Dangerous Criminal! focuses far more on the brothers Kray than it does Mad Frank, only reinforcing the general impression of Frank as a hanger-on, a sycophant who desperately craves the infamy of his more notorious contemporaries—and that the only marketable aspect of this DVD is Mad Frank's connection with the Krays.
Yes, I'm afraid to say that this disc is simply a waste of time and money. It's at the very low end of cheaply-produced, exploitative true-crime "documentary" discs. I can't even imagine that fans of that sort of thing would find anything worth their while in Mad Frank: Britain's Most Dangerous Criminal! Hard man? Legend? Britain's most dangerous criminal? That may or may not be the case—and if you ask my wife, it's far, far from being the case—but this shoddy effort from across the pond isn't going to do very much to secure Mad Frank's place in the annals of crime. "WE PRODUCE AND SHOOT ALL OUR OWN DVDs," proclaims the Gangster Videos Web site, but after looking this disc over, I'm not so sure they should bragging about that.
This DVD is as guilty as a guilty thing on a guilty day, and is remanded to the custody of the rubbish bin.
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