Friday, 15 February 2019

Helen Hayes as Miss Marple in Murder with Mirrors

I have been away and watched some current day television. It was rubbish, by and large, but gave me some ideas for posts here. I watched some Murder She Wrote and remembered how I got myself in trouble some time ago by asking if Angela Lansbury strikes Americans as a convincing American. I was hoping for a yes or no answer and didn't get one! So I thought I'd relive it by writing about an American playing Miss Marple.
...who of course isn't a convincing English person to a native speaker, but this film does a good job overall of portraying a cast of mixed nationality as British, while having a good go at dealing with our ridiculously complicated social stratification, and the film ends up very watchable. I would be interested in how they sound to US viewers.
In general I shouldn't like this film, because it is a festival of big names, in addition to Helen Hayes we have Bette Davis and Leo McKern. They are such good actors that their presence isn't distracting. I see that both Davis and Hayes were over 80 when they made this and Davis had been terribly ill in the preceding year. I hope I can take on new things at their age!
I have seen all four of the adaptations of this book (Murder Ahoy was based on it, but Christie wasn't impressed) and like this one best. IMHO the premise of this Christie is rather dissatisfying - the fact it takes place in a house running with delinquents muddies the water too much, but I feel this adaptation feels more like a conventional country house murder, and Miss Marple rightly spends the majority of the time investigating the relationships of the people who aren't delinquents. This is exactly the sort of investigation Marple excels at.
There is one part where it goes slightly wrong, where Miss Marple talks to the American character, despite being American herself. I like Helen Hayes a lot as Miss Marple. I like the way the little old lady act is portrayed as just that, in fact I think she is the perfect compromise between fluffiness and incisiveness of Marple.
My absolute favourite bit is where the police officer, who had been warned by a colleague, tells Miss Marple to stop pretending to be a doddery little old lady!
I don't really have any criticisms, unusually for me. I just wish Hayes was better known for playing Marple here. Her portrayals of Miss Marple are of course available in region 1 DVDs and in German region 2 releases. I have no idea what language the latter are in so buy at your own risk!

Monday, 11 February 2019

The Avengers: Wish You Were Here

I'm on holiday this week and hence a post about one of my favourite Avengers episodes, which is a jolly romp about a hotel. Except it isn't, since this Avengers draws on the classic fear found in many a dream, where the protagonist finds himself in a situation where nobody believes him. In this case the prison is a luxury hotel and nobody can believe it is a prison.
Out here in the real world this situation is of course what underlies many a situation of abuse, and it is no coincidence that I am writing this post shortly after the Abbot of Ealing Abbey has belatedly resigned from his position in the wake of the inquiry into child sexual abuse showing the paucity of his response to complaints. One of his predecessors is in prison after being on the run from the police, and another monk and several lay teachers are also in prison.
But who would have believed that those holy men would be abusers? Just as who would believe a hotel would be so difficult to escape from? That is the genius of this Avengers, that it places fear and intimidation in a setting of luxury, creating mixed feelings in the viewer. My favourite part is the escalating efforts to stop Tara leaving.
Something I hadn't thought of, which is so obvious when it's pointed out, is that this episode is one long nod to, and parody of, The Prisoner. Mother takes the role of Number 2. Another aspect of the plot, not knowing which of the guests are on which side, is another borrowed plot element.
My other absolute favourite thing about this is that the hotel is a real hotel. You can stay there. I presume they let you out again.
I've also noticed something else this time, normally I don't like familiar actors, and the fact that many of the actors appear in other Avengers episodes is a common criticism of this episode, but I don't mind it here, and don't notice them. It was only when I read other reviews that I noticed them at all!
Crown roast, anyone?
I see I have written about this episode before, here.

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Gideon's Way: Boy with Gun

Gideon's Way is a series I have never seen, and am only just starting today with this episode, since I found it is available online. I actually came round to this series in a rather roundabout way. I have been watching Budgie, a show I know for a fact I watched several years ago, didn't like at the time, but thought I would give it another go. It strikes me as very old fashioned because of the way Adam Faith speaks cockney, even Cockney rhyming slang - old fashioned because Cockney has largely given way to London Multicultural English out here in the real world. The other cockney sparrow I could think of on TV was Ben in Dr Who, played by Michael Craze, which led me straight to Boy with Gun.
The plot goes like this:
A tale of boys gone wrong. Chris Kirk (Howard Knight) has been mothered too much but his father, Police Surgeon Doctor Kirk (Anthony Bate) is overbearing. When cornered by three leather-coated, knife-wielding yobs who want to steal the shotgun his father bought him, Chris shoots one. Believing he has murdered him, he goes on the run and meets a boy who has escaped from Borstal. They go to his brother's place so he can arrange their escape from the country but the shot boy's father (George Sewell) finds out and wants to kill the kid who shot his son. A powerful story filmed mainly around London's East End. Also features Michael Craze as Vince Kelly, Michael Standing as Chaz Kelly and Royston Tickner as Charlie Berry.
 Of course this is a story which would be done very differently now. I actually laughed out loud at the scene of Chris Kirk's arguing about him. It sounds like a joke - mum wanting their son to be a girl so she dresses him up as one, and dad wants to toughen him up, so takes the not-immediately-obvious action of buying him a gun. Nowadays of course, this plot would either end in the boy growing up to treat women with respect and being in touch with his feelings, or else they would identify as non-binary and pansexual, thereby annoying both his parents. Frankly with parents like his, it's no wonder Chris went off the rails in the sixties - if he hadn't he'd have needed years of psychotherapy.
Unfortunately the presence of the gun means there is a whacking great hole in the plot of this show from the start. If one of the ruffians had had a gun, that would have made sense. But even fifty years ago if you are a doctor you know there are laws around where guns can be possessed. The events of this show simply would have happened. At one point the boy actually walks down a railway line next to a train, holding a gun. No. It's not credible.
On the other hand, the sheer unlikelihood of the plot gives this episode a feel of the later series of The Avengers (remember this is the only Gideon's Way I have seen). Perhaps the self-conscious Cockney-ness of the characters is also part of the unrealness? I'm hazarding a guess, but imagine the cockney wide boy act was as real at the time as the generic Northerner image of anyone North of Cockfosters. Tell a lie, there's also an excessively Irish Irishman.
The episode is tightly plotted, if incredible. My real criticism is of using very familiar actors but that's a personal thing.
I will stop now, me old China, it's tea time.

Saturday, 19 January 2019

The Goodies: It Might As Well Be String

Remaining in the 1970s (terribly modern by by standards), we come to another episode of The Goodies. I see that the boxed set of the whole BBC series is out at a huge price, and I might get it when it comes down a bit. I also have several double disc sets as it is, so I'm not sure what to do, especially as I sometimes find having everything can be a bit wearing. After all the best bits are selected for selection boxes.
One of the best things about this episode is not to do with string at all. It is the spoofs of UK brand advertising at the time. The brands include Mr Kipling's cakes (notorious for its cosy olde worlde adverts for its mass produced cakes) and Birdseye fish fingers. Not only are fish fingers the world's weirdest food in my humber opinion, but I'm glad I'm not the only one who found Captain Birdseye frankly rather creepy. On one level the advertising part of this episode is as much social commentary as it is humour.
Reading around people's thoughts on the internet, the nature of the social commentary gives way more trouble now than it probably would have done then. The sexy cigar adverts of the time are parodied in a segment in which Tim Brooke Taylor (TBT) is offered a piece of string in a cigar box by a woman in a wet t-shirt. At one point one of the characters (sorry I forget which and can't find that bit now) gives this sensuous description of a woman's body in a wet t-shirt, which I think was supposed to parody the sexual element of much advertising at the time. Flake chocolate, for example, was advertised (well before the watershed) by a woman eating it suggestively and then a bath overflowing. This was, after all, the 1970s when pretty much anything went, despite a concurrent backlash from second wave feminists about the objectification of women's bodies. The fact that men's bodies are actually more exposed (Raymond Baxter appears in wet string underwear at one point) didn't seem to be a problem at the time, except that of course they weren't objectified. So the sexual mores of the time are giving trouble, as are the racial attitudes portrayed at various points. I know I tend to bang on about this, but the other major problem of 1970s TV, that the stars have tended to go on to get criminal records for their sexual proclivities, is also present.
Not only is the show spoofing the adverts of the time, but also the TV, particularly Tomorrow's World. I wrote recently about the dangers of depicting the future in television: unless your show is wiped, if you pick a date in the near future people will be able to see how wrong you got it, and of course this was the main difficulty that Tomorrow's World had. In retrospect the show now looks so old-fashioned and has been parodied more than once, including in the show Look Around You. Here, as a result of the Goodies' advertising of string, the show does an episode all about how string is the material of the future. The point is that everything is made of string, and of course it's not useful for many things, such as hip replacements. Ironically string actually is very useful and has a scientific use in the sort of underwear shown in the show. Like old-fashioned cellular blankets it traps air between the cells and keeps you warmer in the winter. In summer a string vest is wonderfully cool - I like them myself.
Leaving aside the difficulties caused by changes in attitudes in the past 40 years, this show was plainly intended to be a lot of fun, and looks as if it was a lot of fun to make. The final madcap sequence includes quite a bit of messy stuff and manages to get in more spoof advertisements, this time for Dulux paint, Hai Karate and Heinz baked beans (in the face, of course). It's probably very old school but there is nothing like a bit of slapstick. If you're having trouble keeping something amusing, get messy or drop your trousers.
My conclusion is that this show is a lot of fun while managing to include social commentary of the time. It is handicapped by showing the social attitudes of the time, and so you have to forget all that if you want to enjoy it as it was intended. On the other hand, if you want to discover the social attitudes of the time, it might also be perfect!

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Target: Blow Out

I have previously commented that the rock on which Target floundered was the amount of violence it depicted, and I suspect this was one of the episodes which most shocked people.
There are two occasions in the episode. One is where a jewel robber gets burned in the face by an oxyacetylene torch. One of his companions comments that they might as well finish the job, but they kindly dump what's left of him outside a hospital. The other occasion is where the escaped convict throws boiling water over his wife who has been cheating on him while he has been in prison, and whom he has caught in flagrante delicto.
Personally I feel the violence in this episode isn't out of what can be expected for a show designed to depict the criminal underworld, but of course that is only a personal opinion. And this episode shows the working of a gang of jewel thieves rather well.
What I do think is shocking is the way Hackett reveals his wife's whereabouts to the criminal they enlist to help with their enquiries, and which leads to him taking the revenge on her described above. The police give him an extra ten weeks' remission and this is the result. This is far worse in my opinion than any of the dodgy things done by police in The Sweeney. Hackett turns a blind eye when his colleague beats the boiling water man up. Hackett rightly gets a dressing down for his actions in this case.
This episode of Target is vulnerable to my personal criticism that shows of the sixties and seventies use a lot of the same actors so that you end up wondering who the actors are, rather than following the show. Ron Pember (who was good at playing baddies), for example, plays the released prisoner with the cheating wife. Christopher Benjamin, who payed J J Hooter in the Avengers episode How to Succeed at Murder, plays a chap who owns a string of jewellery shops. I  also think that unless you happen to like this sort of show, Target will not appeal to you: the plot, such as it is, is a bit thin. The episode is rather a series of scenes depicting the workings of the force and frankly the connection between them can be difficult to see.
If you particularly want a moral to take home from this episode it is that there is no honour among thieves. Personally I'd already sussed that one - I'm just surprised Hackett didn't!
Illustration courtesy of IMDB.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Adam Adamant Lives: Sing a Song of Murder

Adam Adamant is one of my dream series, largely because so much of it was wiped - I particularly would like to see the missing episode where a whole train vanishes, but I doubt that this quintessentially English series was exported, so would be unlikely to turn up in Nigeria, or wherever. My few posts about the show here are among the most popular, which I suspect reflects a lack of coverage on the internet. For that reason alone I have been interested to read Grant's recent posts about this series (including this episode). The post highlights that another possible reason for the series's lack of popularity is the silly price the box set is currently going for, and unfortunately the Dutch-released set I bought much more cheaply also seems to have vanished from the market.
I largely agree with what he says about the annoyance of the repeated dream sequence of Adamant being conked on the head, but I disagree with seemingly everyone - Adamant himself describes it as cacophonous - about the pop song which is the focus of this episode because I think it's wonderful!
The cultural Zeitgeist that this episode picks up on is the contemporary fear of the hidden persuasion of advertising, particularly subliminal messages. In the slower-moving communication world pre-internet, this was in the wake of Vanve Packard's 1957 book, The Hidden Persuaders. This is combined at points with a suspicion of the drug culture and various other aspects of the modern world. The point here, of course, is that because Adamant is uninfluenced by the modern world he can see what is happening from the off. Similar plot devices are used elsewhere in the series, such as washing powder. I suspect this show's account of the modern world would have been incredibly polarising at the time, directly confronting the modern and their fuddy duddy parents.
My absolutely favourite thing about this episode is the so-contemporary dress Georgina Jones wears )my second-favourite thing is the bit where Simms has a go at killing her). Frankly I wonder whether this show is a little too much of its time, so that it becomes difficult for subsequent generations to watch and understand. At the time the simplistic moral that the modern world  is dangerous would probably not have been welcome to the up-to-date young.   A further shortcoming is the repeated playing of the opening of the song, which I suspect was intended to give the hypnotic effect intended in the show, but becomes a bit too much.
My conclusion therefore is that while I love this show, it is open to a number of criticisms. The song is still good though!

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Time as Treated in Some 1970s TV Series


I recently took a leap in the dark and bought the box set of Timeslip, a show I've never really fancied on the basis of its reviews on the internet. Part of the reason for that is that I like my vintage TV to reflect the contemporary world and I have a preference for series beginning in the sixties up to the end of the seventies. Naturally I make arbitrary exceptions to this rule when it suits me. One of the things about mainly sticking with one period of television is that I become familiar with the conventions of the time, and thus it becomes comfort TV.
The world view I find myself banging on about here is the contemporary 'modern 'reverse one of hope in the scientific future, frequently combined with warnings of what could happen in the event that the burgeoning technology gets into the hands of a diabolical mastermind. I am currently in the midst of several shoes which treat time in different ways, so this post will be about several at once.
The first is The Changes, which I haven't watched to the end of yet and am not really in a position to come to a final judgement. The story goes that quite suddenly humans cannot tolerate being surrounded by any technology, so they begin trashing every gadget they can lay their hands on and the series is about the events thereafter for one girl. The Changes is serious quality television, a top-drawer version of the series Survivors, which is about what happens after a virus. This was a major preoccupation of the seventies, and ironically the house the girl lives in at the beginning is decorated in dead seventies fashion, with lots of natural wood and natural wall coverings. I remember a family friend's house being decorated like that, and thinking it very sophisticated. But what if it all comes to an end? ...was not a question I was asking myself at the time. Interestingly the series is contemporary enough to feature a Sikh family as major characters, and they deal with the crisis in true resourceful Sikh style.
I also haven't nearly watched to the end of Sergeant Cork, which readers will doubtless know is set in the nineteenth century. I don't really know but I get the impression there was a fad for Victorian things around this time. Neither have I watched to the end of Timeslip, which both goes into the past and into the future. You would think it would be safer to travel into the future than the past, but I think it's less safe, because you can only imagine what the future would be like.
In the case of Timeslip, the future is awful, resulting in attempts to stop the glimpsed future actually happening. Naturally the future as imagined was not as we actually experienced it in the 1990s, but still comes across as not a bad imagining of the future. Both Timeslip and The Changes are quality shows intended for children, but which are worthy of adult viewing.
Finally I have been watching a show which hasn't worn so well, so perhaps I should stress that it has a permanent place in my collection - Gerry Anderson's UFO. I have a terrible confession to make, which is that I have never got on very well with Gerry Anderson's TV series. I think this is for the unreasonable reason that I had a friend at school who was very much into them. He virtuously avoided sugar, didn't have one filling, and that fact did my head in. I was also irritated by the way Lady Penelope walked. Not the best of reasons, as you can see.
That said I suspect Anderson's output had a disadvantage for my generation. UFO, for example is set in 1980, and as that year approached the show appeared hopelessly optimistic. The future was plainly never going to be as it was shown. In retrospect it was a good go. The red hot dream of the scientific future personified, and of course UFO allows the viewer to dream that he wouldn't be in the part of the world ignorant of the reality of UFOs.
The show manages to appeal on many levels, although probably most to the adolescent boys who would have been the audience of Anderson's other shows. Episodes touch on complex emotional issues including bereavement, so that the show is not merely dealing with sci-fi and gadgetry. I love the buttons in Straker's office to pour various drinks. Where it falls down is probably in the fashions designed by Sylvia Anderson. Synthetic fibres and purple hair abound and perhaps the strangest ones are the string uniforms. To wade into the debate on the internet: the men plainly don't wear anything underneath and the women plainly do! This is another illustration that this show isn't as successful as it could be, because people get distracted into talking about the bizarre uniforms,
As is my policy, all of the shows I write about here are worth watching in my opinion, but the different treatments of the present, past and future mean they are quite different and some have worn better than others.