Sinful Davey Haggart

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John Hurt in his pre-chest burster phase.

Back in my post Phrens like these“, I discussed the phrenologist George Combe who had Corstorphine and South Gyle connections.

“George Combe was no stranger to [controversy]. In fact, on one occasion he examined the head of one David Haggart, a nineteen year old pickpocket and murderer from Dumfries. Combe claimed Haggart had developed “secretiveness” written on his skull. Haggart was later to be executed, but would write a moving autobiographical account, explaining how the murder had not been premeditated and that he was deeply sorry for it. News of Haggart’s account reached Blackwood’s Magazine and others, who used it to attack Combe.”

Sinful Davey

A friend of mine specialises in digging up obscure films, and recently, he found one from 1969 called Sinful Davey, also known as the The Sinful Adventures of Davy Haggart. Having more than one title is never a good thing for a film, and I doubt it did much good for Sinful Davey before it sank into oblivion…

It took me a while to make the connection between Sinful Davey and the David Haggart I mentioned above. There is a very Barry Lyndon-esque flavour to the story-line. This film doesn’t really deliver on the “sinful adventures” that it promises, apart from a few robberies, there is less smuttiness than a Carry On film, and it looks quite tame in this day and age.

The penny only really dropped when a phrenologist came in to measure the character’s head in Stirling Gaol. Unlike much of the film’s narrative, this appears to have happened.

Sinful Davey boasts a well known cast, and some awful attempts at Scottish accents. The main character Davey Haggart is portrayed by a baby-faced John Hurt. His love interest is played by the under-rated Pamela Franklin (who you may remember as Sandy in the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie). Supporting roles are played by Ronald Fraser (who does the most convincing of the Scottish accents), Robert Morley (hamming it up as he always did), Nigel Davenport, and Fionnuala Flanagan. It seems to have been entirely filmed in Ireland, and while Ireland looks reasonably like Scotland, the Irish extras seem to make little attempt to put on Scottish accents.

The film was also Anjelica Huston’s first role, although I was unable to spot her. Her father John Huston directed the film. (Huston’s films recently featured on the Pointless recently, and Sinful Davey wasn’t even mentioned among the “pointless” answers!)

David Haggart

According to his Wikipedia article (!), the real Davey Haggart seems to have originated in Goldenacre in Edinburgh, of all places…

“Twelve days before the trial he was visited in prison by George Combe, the phrenologist, and between the trial and his execution he partly wrote, partly dictated, an autobiography, which was published by his agent, with Combe’s phrenological notes as an appendix, and Haggart’s own comments. It is a curious picture of criminal life, the best, and seemingly the most faithful, of its kind, and possesses also some linguistic value, as being mainly written in the Scottish thieves’ cant, which contains a good many genuine Romany words. Lord Cockburn, writing from recollection in 1848, declares the whole book to be “a tissue of absolute lies, not of mistakes, or of exaggerations, or of fancies, but of sheer and intended lies. And they all had one object, to make him appear a greater villain than he really was”. On the other hand, the contemporaneous account of the trial, so far as it goes, bears out Haggart’s narrative ; Cockburn is certainly wrong in describing Haggart as “about twenty-five”, and in stating that the portrait prefixed professed to be “by his own hand”. This autobiography later served as the inspiration for the 1969 movie Sinful Davey. It is available in several reprint formats, but no new edition has ever been issued.