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Reviews

Midsomer Murders: Death in a Chocolate Box
(2007)
Episode 8, Season 10

Warning: major spoiler below - amusing concealed literary reference
Early in this episode, we get two shots of a rather bizarre level crossing across a railway, recognisable because of the rickety gates and the speed and lack of warning with which they come down. They are very noticeable, and a couple of reviewers have already remarked on them.

This brings to mind the Russian playwright Chekhov's principle of the gun - if a pistol is obviously evident on the wall in the first act of a play, you know it will be used to shoot someone before the end. Nothing must be irrelevant to the story. Hence a dramatic climax at the level crossing, with a train bearing down, is foreshadowed.

Then the script plays with us a bit, because Cully gets a part in a new play. And guess what - it's Chekhov's Cherry Orchard, which with some irony is the only Chekhov play in which a gun is waved about that is not used!

Will the gates come down on Tom, or the killer, at the end? A nicely subtle tease from the author Tony Etchells.

Salamander
(2012)

Good scene-for-scene, doesn't really make sense - serious spoilers in this review
Enjoyable tense Belgian conspiracy thriller, well-made and illustrative of the weird and paranoid politics of Belgium. Particularly good performances by Jo de Meyere, Mike Verdrengh and Koen De Bouw.

However, it really doesn't make a great deal of sense viewed as a whole. A couple of the major flaws have been recognised by other reviewers. First, why did Wolfs concoct his elaborate plot to expose Salamander, and then in the end just shoot Jonkhere? It might have been easier to do that in the first place (although admittedly he had just been shot, so perhaps he thought it would be his last chance). Second - more importantly - why did the 66 members of Salamander keep incriminating documents in their safety deposit boxes, rather than destroying them? It might have been that the Salamander organisation kept the documents for blackmail purposes, but Jonkhere seemed to have no knowledge of the boxes' contents.

The main problem, though, is that Gerardi falls in love with Wolfs' daughter when they meet in a car park at their daughters' school. Er, the rogue detective pursuing a conspiracy accidentally finds himself with one of the conspirators as a prospective father-in-law, out of a country of 11 million people? Klaus turned on Wolfs because, as he said, only a naive sentimentalist could believe it was a coincidence - but it was!! The plot would never have been unravelled without that glaring happenstance.

Other more minor issues - it wasn't really confirmed how Wolfs or Klaus got the inside information about the deposit boxes. There was a suicidal clerk who might have given them the information, but he can't have known that all the boxes would contain incriminating documents.

It also wasn't clear how the Salamander people sabotaged Gerardi's car. He had parked outside his house after a night out. He told his wife and daughter to stay in the car while he investigated the house. Only after a while did they join Gerardi inside. The sabotage could only have happened after that. But then Gerardi decided to send his family away on the spur of the moment, so the sabotage had to have happened before then. How did the bombers know that they had this extremely brief window of time to sabotage the car, and how could they be sure they would not be caught in the act? The reasonable assumption would be that the Gerardis would go to bed, and so the car could be sabotaged at their leisure at any time during the night, and so they would wait until the lights went off.

It is also a bit weird that an order of monks might be better equipped than the Belgian police to deal with a major conspiracy and coup attempt. Or maybe not.

Midsomer Murders: King's Crystal
(2007)
Episode 3, Season 10

Doesn't really make sense - spoilers ahead
Scene by scene it's all the usual Midsomer fun, slightly fewer murders than usual. This time the plot is derived from Hamlet, and for added frisson the play-within-a-play is ... Hamlet, starring Cully.

However, unlike the Bard's work, it doesn't make sense. Alan is murdered in Shanghai, and Ian discovers the motive after finding Alan's Chinese sketchbook with a pencilled note inside setting out his suspicions. But how did this happen? If Alan took the sketchpad on his Chinese trip, then why was it not incinerated in the car explosion? How did it get back to England, and in particular, how did it end up in his box of masonic regalia on top of the wardrobe? Who would remove it from his effects and hide it there in particular?

If, on the other hand, he didn't take it with him to China, that explains how it ended up on top of the wardrobe, but doesn't explain why he never mentioned his suspicions to anyone beforehand (e.g. His wife), or tried to prevent Charles' shady deals going through when actually in Shanghai.

Second, Tom - of course - gets the solution to the case on hearing Polonius' "method in his madness" line while watching Cully's performance, and rushes out. A day or two later, Cully is still mad at him - but by rushing out exactly when he did, Tom saved a life, never mind making his arrest. Did no-one explain this to Cully, or is she so up herself she only thinks of her own performances?

Third, there is no explanation for Ian's mad behaviour. His madness consists of sending Sophie/Ophelia off to a nunnery (or to the stock 'friend up North'), becoming an apparent convert to Charles' sneaky schemes, and telling his mother who the murderer is. There is no explanation for the first two of these, and no apparent reason why he doesn't share his information with the police.

So then why does Tom realise who did it when he hears the 'method in his madness' line, since there is no method in Ian's madness? If, say, Ian had drugged and killed himself to implicate Charles, having planted the seed of doubt in his mother, that might have made a bit more sense.

It would also have made more sense of the death of Peter, which, as it was, was just an accident. If Ian specifically wanted to destroy Charles and Peter, while disillusioning Hilary, he needed to be a bit more active than accidentally killing the one and being passively murdered by the other.

Fourth, surely wearing someone's cap and driving him around in the boot of his car leaves forensic traces? Hairs on the cap? Blood in the boot? Yet nothing is found, by this police force which must be the most experienced in murder investigations in the world.

And then, as the other reviewers point out, the complete lack of a resolution is a real problem. There must have been a better solution than this. It would be impossible to pin the Shanghai murder on Charles, with the lack of evidence (even given the autopsy). A neater ending would have given Tom something to play with. Had there been some method in Ian's madness, Ian might have provided it.

A Game of Murder
(1966)

Great fun but enormous plot hole - warning: spoilers in this review
As the other reviewer pointed out, a great story, nostalgia, red herrings and typical Durbridge.

I believe Durbridge made these things up as he went along, and unfortunately this one shows. There is a whole set of issues not resolved about why Bannister turned up in a wheelchair at his first meeting with Kerry, why he took the cheque and why it was found on Delaney. It incriminates Kerry of course, but there is no mention of why and how this was planned. The murder of Delaney was not planned at that stage, and no suggestion of any need to set Kerry up, so unless Bannister was clairvoyant how could he know this would be worth doing?

But more importantly, the plot turns crucially on the blackmail of Mel Harris by Mrs Lincoln. This would all make sense, were it not that Harris and Mrs Lincoln knew each other well. None of the plot works if they know each other. If they did not know each other, then an explanation is needed as to why each pretended to know the other, but it is not provided.

Of course, no-one really expects these things to make sense, so it doesn't detract from the scene-by-scene enjoyment. But still ...

Zorro's Fighting Legion
(1939)

Great serial
Remarkably good Zorro material, trying to prevent the Yaquis taking over Mexico under the villainous Don del Oro - or, put in 21st century terms, trying to prevent the indigenous people of Mexico reclaim control. Lots of exciting moments and good serial fun, somewhat let down by the lack of suspense about the identity of the Don and consequently the climactic unmasking. He could be any one of the four or five villains on the council, but since we have known they were villains from the beginning, which one of them is actually the one in the golden mask is of academic interest only. It would have been far more suspenseful had the council members been apparently upstanding members of the community, being eliminated one by one, as is the usual serial pattern.

Don't Lose Your Head
(1967)

A near miss
Misfiring Carry On (the 'Carry On' name was dropped during a spat with a distributor), with plenty of good moments that don't quite add up to a top-rank whole. The plot leans heavily on Barry K. Barnes' 1937 offering The Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel, with Sid James in the Barnes role, Jim Dale in Anthony Bushell's, Kenneth Williams in Francis Lister's, Joan Sims in Margaretta Scott's, Charles Hawtrey in O. B. Clarence's, and Dany Robin in Sophie Stewart's. Most of them have a great time, especially Williams, Sims and Hawtrey, while Sid James dominates the plot.

Jim Dale has a thankless unmemorable supporting role, and the wheeze of casting a sexy French actress (her career was drawing to a close at this point), like that of casting Phil Silvers in the previous entry Follow That Camel, was a mistake, failing to generate international interest while diluting the very English comedy. Like Silvers, Robin wanders through the film gamely with a strong sense that she has no idea what is really happening, but, hey, a job's a job.

Plenty of good moments and lines, usually delivered by Hawtrey or Sims ("Come my dear, shall we take a walk in the arbour?" "Oh, I 'ad no idea we were so close to the sea"), and lots of great character names and puns, while Williams' sharp intakes of breath get more and more exaggerated as the film goes on. Watch out for a good ad lib from Williams when Peter Butterworth accidentally knocks his hat off. There is a strong sense that the English may be less stylish and clever than the French, but they are more easygoing and fun, and generally better - in a strong tradition of lampoons of Napoleon and French centralisation that also reaches forward to the Brexit debate.

But the plot is quite tiresome, and the climax, with a huge sword fight in which various stuntmen gradually ruin Camembert's ill-gotten art collection is extraordinarily tedious. Moments stay in the memory, but the film as a whole does not.

Ubu
(1978)

Coarse and stylish short
Geoff Dunbar's Ubu was a coarse, short animation that managed to catch the punk sensibilities of its time and got some attention. The inkblot artwork resembled Gerald Scarfe's, who had come to prominence in Private Eye and elsewhere, and who was reaching new audiences with his work with Pink Floyd.

Alfred Jarry's work was also going through one of its periodic rediscoveries at the time, and his play Ubu Roi, with its Shakespearean echoes, scatological humour and brutish characters fitted a Britain roiled with strikes, financial crises and conflict. Dunbar's animation was timely, with comments on the politics of the time hidden behind its portrayal of medieval Poland, and with some smart work in terms of the animation, and the distorted voices. As I recall, it even made it onto the television, I think on the Arena arts programme on BBC2.

Dunbar obviously got it all out of his system with this, as he went on to do Rupert Bear and Peter Rabbit.

The Third Alibi
(1961)

Tightly-plotted mystery
As many reviewers have noted, this is a neat and tightly-plotted thriller set in suburban Surrey, probably no more than a couple of miles from the studio at Walton-on-Thames, with a hissable villain, and a 'what's going to happen next' feel to it. Good performances all round, and a good script, with much credit going to the original story from Pip and Jane Baker.

However, it is worth pointing out that Norman could have weaselled out from under the charge at a couple of points. First, had he simply pretended to the police who arrive sharp at 7.00 at Peggy's bungalow that he had knocked on the door but not gone in, he might have given himself the basis for a far more convincing story. Second, he would actually have had his alibi if he had only told the police that Dr Murdoch arrived at his house at 6.30 and that he had not let him in. As it was, Dr Murdoch tells the police of his arrival, in Norman's hearing, and so deprives Norman of that route to safety.

Also, much of the plot is served by the singularly unobservant neighbours on Peggy's estate, who seem to be unable to corroborate or deny any of the various narratives offered to the police.

Even so, it's good fun thinking about how things might have changed, and the final twist alone is worth the price of entry. Altogether a far better film than we had any right to expect.

The Adventures of Sir Prancelot
(1972)

Excellent children's animation
In the style of Captain Pugwash, Sir Prancelot, knight and inventor, heads off to the Holy Land on a Crusade. Nineteen episodes shown daily on BBC children's television take the Captain and his gallant band through Europe, encountering plots from various foreigners on the way, such as Count Otto the Blot and Duke Uglio, before reaching his destination, which is not quite what he expected.

The band included Sir Prancelot, his overweight, domineering but romantic wife the Lady Hysteria, and their mischievous children Sim and Sue, his overweight but mean majordomo Master Girth, incompetent serfs Bert and Harry, together with Hysteria's pet Pig William.

Also accompanying them was an unnamed cockney minstrel who would narrate the story. Each episode had more or less the same structure. A plan would be laid; a dangerous threat would emerge; there would be a bit of slapstick running around, accompanied by the minstrel's manic lute theme; all would be resolved either by one of 'the Sire's' inventions, or by a piece of sabotage by Sim and Sue. The inventions did go over the top, as there seemed to be nothing beyond the Sire's genius, so it was usually simple to escape at the end of each episode.

The lute music (played on electric guitar) was basically three catchy riffs which would be played once each episode. But the star of the show, without whom it would not have been possible, was Peter Hawkins. He did the voices of all the characters, varying them to make them utterly different, and each with his or her own personality. Bert, Harry and the minstrel are all lower-class cockneys, but completely distinct voices and characters, so it is quite possible to forget that they all come from the same mouth. Only Sim and Sue are silent. A brilliant piece of work by a consummate professional.

For some reason never made clear, the nineteen episodes are numbered 1-20, with no episode 5. However, episode 6 follows on directly from episode 4. It was also followed up with the continuation of the story on an LP a little later, but there was no TV sequel.

A very entertaining show, if overshadowed by the success of Pugwash. The comedy is funny, the slapstick of the cardboard cut-out characters suitably hilarious, and the unfolding quest across Europe involving. (Those who worry about crusades and diversity should be aware that the story does concern the former, and there is precious little of the latter.)

Unnatural Causes
(1993)

Return to form for Dalgliesh
As noted by other reviewers, Unnatural Causes doesn't follow the book. This partly because the sequence has been shot out of order. The previous serial, Devices and Desires, had already killed off Aunt Jane, which removed the ostensible reason for Dalgiesh's presence.

For the first time, Dalgliesh is cut down to a single movie, an improvement on the six-part format of Devices and Desires, which was impeccably acted and intelligently scripted, but in which Dalgliesh bizarrely played no active part. Here, he is back in the centre of the action, leading the deductions as well as some very physical manoeuvres. Things move at a lick - and even better, unlike the previous serial, the plot hangs together and virtually (but not quite) everything is explained.

It's not all plain sailing, however. Roy Marsden's wig starts to develop its own independent characteristics, even hinting at a slight punk sensibility in the later stages. And Mel Martin is called upon to reprise her thankless role as the fruity but tedious girlfriend joining Dalgliesh in Suffolk - again going against the book - being menaced, finding bodies, having moods and generally getting in the way.

The Champions: The Gilded Cage
(1968)
Episode 15, Season 1

Devoid of sense
The problem with this episode is that the plot really makes no sense whatever. If one questions any of the scenes, or actions of the characters, there is no answer.

Why do the villains raid the headquarters of NEMESIS? What do they find out that they couldn't already have known - the dimensions of Richard's carpet? How does Richard know that the villains are about to kidnap him, and if he doesn't, why does he write the note for Craig? Why does Symons give Richard 12 hours to solve the problem (as opposed to 36 hours, or 60 - the longer he has, the more likely he is to solve it)? There doesn't seem to be any other time factor involved. Why does Richard try to send Craig to Dublin? And expend so much effort to do so? Why does Symons threaten to kill Samantha? Why does he think this will make Richard solve the cipher (as opposed to his threatening to kill anyone else, or simply asking Richard nicely)? What does Samantha think she is doing? Why does she flirt with Richard - does she think her flirting and giving him champagne will make him more likely to solve the cipher? What has Symons told her? She must think that Symons has a reason for asking her to make up to Richard - what is it? Why does she begin by trying to gaslight him, saying that he has got drunk? And why does she stop? Why is Sharron left back at home in her frilly bikini? Could she have been of no use here? Why does the computer room have poison gas laid on? How does Craig trace Samantha to her flat? How does Craig get into the back seat of a Mini in ten seconds silently - I remember Minis and it was nearly impossible to get into the back seat in normal circumstances, never mind covertly? Why should anyone try to keep a formula for a solid fuel a secret? And if it's not commercially viable, who cares?

It is not even explained what the original crime is - why is there an unsolvable cipher at all? Was it stolen?

And who is everybody?

I Didn't Do It
(1945)

Post-war sub-par George
George Formby struggled to remain relevant after the war, and soon wisely quit films. The warm-hearted pre-war farces at which he excelled were followed by his enjoyable wartime flagwavers, but it quickly became clear that George wouldn't be able to cut it again in Civvy Street, as styles grew more realistic, and the competition was no longer the stagey quota quickies of the 30s, but harder-edged violent thrillers like Brighton Rock and No Orchids for Miss Blandish. I Didn't Do It was a game attempt to live in that world, but it simply doesn't work.

The sub-par casting doesn't help - Marjorie Browne is sweet but utterly forgettable, Jack Daly rather repellent, and Caryll & Mundy's style is too coarse to carry as much of the action as they do. The attention is naturally drawn by the experienced and talented actors playing the policemen and the villain. George is on good form, but one aches for the songs, of which we only get three, to arrive. However, She's Got Two of Everything is George at his best, and I'd Like a Dream Like That isn't bad either.

The main problem is the inordinate length. Padded out to 95 minutes, it should have ended quickly after about an hour. The whole final scene of the revue is superfluous, stupendously boring and only tangentially related to the solution of the crime.

They Came from Somewhere Else
(1984)

Inspired amateur surrealism
Very hard to find nowadays, this was a cult classic from late night Channel 4. A development of a stage show by the Cliff Hanger Theatre company, starring its members Pete McCarthy, Rebecca Stevens, Robin Driscoll and Tony Haase, it was deliberately amateurish in execution, unremittingly silly in script, and intriguing enough to make you tune in next week. It lovingly spoofed the Invasion of the Body Snatchers genre of sci-fi, with inane characters who were the only ones who could grasp the unfolding takeover.

It was successful enough to warrant a move for the Cliff Hanger company to the BBC for their series Mornin' Sarge, but there the company's run ended. Only Pete McCarthy went on to major success, but a small number of those following his popular travelogues remembered his early days as the idiot Colin, forever mentioning his friend Ant.

Recommended, if ever anyone is sensible enough to bring this out on DVD.

Mornin' Sarge
(1989)

Inspired surrealism
The nearest that the Cliff Hanger Theatre company, of Pete McCarthy, Robin Driscoll, Rebecca Stevens and Tony Haase got to mainstream success, following their cult hit It Came From Somewhere Else on Channel 4. Surreal, and almost deliberately unprofessional in production, script and acting, Mornin' Sarge added grumpy Paul Brooke to the company as the eponymous Sergeant in a London police station. The incompetent coppers limped through cases and problems, and struck the funny bone often enough to be fondly remembered. However, it was probably too lower case to catch on, and it never made a second series, nor even a DVD release. Far funnier and less formulaic than the Thin Blue Line, which mines the same seam. Well worth watching if you can catch it.

The Arsenal Stadium Mystery
(1939)

1-0 to the Ar-se-nal
A better than average quickie, with a number of interesting features. Leslie Banks' outrageous performance has been noted, but Ian McLean, not a well-known film actor, is very good value as his long-suffering sergeant, with dry wit and a poker face. It is also notable for being the only British appearance of Liane Linden, a winsome Norwegian actress who might have made it in British movies had she remained. Richard Norris also impresses as the chemist Setchley, but his film career was cut short by his death in battle at Salerno. George Allison, the Arsenal manager of the time, actually puts in a decent performance, although he was unlikely to be nominated for a BAFTA. There are also splendid cameos from Bruce Winston, Maire O'Neill and the actor playing the receptionist at Doyce's flat.

The resolution isn't entirely satisfactory - there appears to be no reason for the murderer to give him- or herself away at the denouement, as there was no damning evidence to be retrieved. The clue to the motive of the murders is oddly reminiscent to a similar clue in Saloon Bar, another whodunnit of about the same time, and the background is written up more thoroughly in the novel of the film by Leonard Gribble, recently republished by the British Library.

Storyboard: A Question of Commitment
(1989)
Episode 3, Season 4

A doomed attempt
Unsuccessful attempt to spin a series off the intelligent, but moderate, spy series Mr Palfrey of Westminster, featuring the least interesting of all the characters therein. Blair was the competent heavy with the omnipresent leather jacket, thirst for beer and women, and naff spectacles, forever being despatched to follow people and search and bug their apartments - characterised in the opening episode of Palfrey as a 'plumber', i.e. the man who stops the leaks. He saved Palfrey legwork, and usually contrived to provide him with some key information along the way. This script tries to humanise him by giving him a flat, a cat, a local pub, a randy neighbour, a hobby and a penchant for out of the way holidays - and when he returns from one of the latter, he gets a nasty surprise. Of course, nothing is what it seems. But ultimately it is unengaging, and Blair's love life is probably more distracting to the viewer than the actual plot itself. Unsurprisingly, the envisaged series never transpired.

Storyboard: The Traitor
(1983)
Episode 5, Season 1

Intelligent but not quite convincing
The play/pilot that led to two series of 'Mr Palfrey of Westminster' with Alec McCowan's character in the lead. This play pits Palfrey against Tim Pigott-Smith's Fawkes, one or other of whom is a spy. Can they be jolted to reveal their secrets? This pilot has a little more of the James Bond, at least in terms of the main set, than the full series, which was solidly in Le Carre territory, in Westminster School no less. But this play is basically a two-hander as McCowan and Pigott-Smith joust and fence. It's hard to see the villain falling for the ruse that ultimately betrays him, which lets the story down somewhat. On the other hand, there is compensation in a very decent twist at the end.

The Gay Desperado
(1936)

Pleasant, minor Mamoulian
An enjoyably lunatic film, from a revered director. Somehow an amateur opera singer gets entangled with a chaotic group of Mexican bandits, just as they decide to modernise their operation and turn themselves into American-style gangsters.

The director left his mark with some classy desert photography, and engineers some hilarious set pieces. Highlights include the hi-jacking of a radio show during a girl group's rendition of 'Lookie Lookie Lookie, Here Comes Cookie' (they continue to perform with their hands up), a bungled firing squad, Nino Martini underneath the world's largest sombrero, Martini singing in handcuffs, and the entire gang guarding Ida Lupino. Mischa Auer shows his expertise at quirky roles as Diego, totally silent save for a single line, the longest in the film, where he becomes the gang's conscience. The interplay between Leo Carrillo's eternal optimist, and Harold Huber's pessimistic second in command is great.

Martini's performance is engaging, and he's not afraid to laugh at himself, but his English is too poor for the film to come over properly. It is never explained why Mexican bandits, and indeed Mexicans generally, are so enraptured by Italian opera. It also drags a little - it might easily have ended before Stanley Fields' gang of Robinson and Raft lookalikes even appear.

The film is undeniably minor, and the beginning of Mamoulian's decline - it is certainly can't compare with Becky Sharp or Queen Christina. It has some of the candy floss feel of Love Me Tonight, but none of that film's subtlety and far less wit. But it's got a nice feel to it.

Not that I have tried hard, but it's difficult to get any information on the girl group, who reappear later on the radio. They deserve to be remembered.

At Last the 1948 Show: Episode #1.3
(1967)
Episode 3, Season 1

Getting into their stride
An excellent collection of sketches for the third show of the series. A running gag is developing with Aimi MacDonald and the hostesses, whose number increases by one each week; this week Christine Rodgers joins the team.

The sketches reach a very high standard, with some solo turns. Tim Brooke-Taylor impresses as a hyperactive robotic hospital visitor, Graham Chapman is a very unusual shepherd with Tim as the straight man, and Marty Feldman appeals on behalf of the sleep-deprived. Feldman and John Cleese perform the original version of the bookshop sketch, later recycled for the Monty Python Contractual Obligation Album. Highlight is Mice Laugh Softly, Charlotte, a wonderful and incomprehensible spoof of the frenetic conclusions of the Francis Durbridge serials popular at the time.

Devices and Desires
(1991)

Odd and detached mystery
The other reviews here are split between admiration and boredom, and this is unsurprising, but neither attitude is quite right. The pace is slow, but the acting is generally excellent and the atmosphere intense. There is a whodunit mystery, and a lot of intelligent character exploration, and even some abstract musing about nuclear power and the environment.

It is, however, worth pointing out that this is a Dalgliesh mystery, which sets up certain expectations, with Roy Marsden's presence looming over events like an Easter Island statue in a leather jacket. These expectations are almost wholly disappointed, because Dalgliesh is irrelevant to the plot - his character could be excised from the series entirely, with remarkably little effect.

Note, there are heavy spoilers in the remainder of this review.

There are two murderers. Dalgliesh identifies neither of them. Indeed, he employs one of them. There are three suicides; he fails to prevent any of them, and even watches one take place. He counsels a former colleague, and fails to bring him out of his depression (in the end, the colleague's wife reappears and immediately gives birth to a lovely girl, which cheers him up instead). There is a terrorist plot, of which he appears to be ignorant until it is blown by an ironic accident.

Most importantly, his only official duty is to advise MI5 with respect to a nuclear power station. In the end, its head Dr Mair is promoted to become some kind of nuclear policy supremo. This is perhaps a little concerning, because there are a few question marks over Dr Mair's suitability for the post.

In particular: he murdered his father. He had affairs with two not altogether suitable women, both of whom were murdered. The first, who was blackmailing him, was murdered by his own sister, who later committed suicide. The second was an anti-nuclear campaigner working for terrorists who murdered her (but not before he had proposed to her). His secretary was also a terrorist, murdered by her bosses. His promising research assistant alerted him to the danger of a computer virus, which he brushed off, despite its turning out that the virus was potentially very deadly and could have caused the reactor to explode. So sensitively did he manage the problem that the researcher committed suicide (for reasons not altogether clear) by leaping off the reactor in front of an audience including Dalgliesh.

Now, call me a fuddy-duddy, but this chap perhaps shouldn't be running a sensitive piece of national science policy. Dalgliesh was certainly aware of most of this (only because Susannah York had extracted the family history from the sister, not through his own work), and after the fact it is hinted that he realises about Mair's affair with Amy while he is consoling Amy's boyfriend, a wet young man with alarming hair. Yet he tells no-one.

All Dalgliesh really does is find a body that would have been discovered anyway, tick off the beer-bellied sergeant every time he is politically incorrect (which is about every episode), and romance fruity Susannah York (though not so successfully as to persuade her to tell him her suspicions about the sister). He nearly dies removing a dead body from a burning building (and ruins his leather jacket). He also announces, on the basis of no evidence, that the second murderer is a woman. This is true, but hardly helpful, and he may even suspect Susannah. We never find out why he thought this, why he said it when he did, and whether he had anyone specific in mind. It is the nearest we get to detection in the story.

The only sensible person in the entire programme is young Theresa Blaney, the daughter of a feckless, combative and drunken Irish artist, whom Dalgliesh, perhaps unwisely, installs as caretaker in his inherited cottage at the end.

NET Playhouse: The Importance of Being Earnest
(1964)
Episode 20, Season 1

Fine cast, playing it straight
An ideal cast, and of course the lines practically speak themselves. One of the many brilliances about Wilde's script is the way that every character has wonderful things to say, no-one can dominate. And this is cast in a dream, Ian Carmichael, Patrick Macnee, Fenella Fielding and Susannah York, with Wilfred Brambell and Irene Handl in support. The lesser-known Pamela Brown is not physically imposing, but excellent nonetheless as Lady Bracknell. This is an utter pleasure, with zero artistic experimentation. The cutting edge of drama it isn't, but it is everything that drama ought to be.

I don't know how much of this still exists, but the third act is available as an extra on the Avengers Series 3 DVD, vol.6, on the strength of Patrick Macnee as Algy.

Columbo: Blueprint for Murder
(1972)
Episode 7, Season 1

Good, solid Columbo
An early Columbo, directed by Peter Falk, entertaining, and with a good twist, but unfortunately a little bit of padding towards the end releases the tension. As usual, much of the pleasure comes from the contrast between the lead actors. Although Falk the director restrains Falk the actor's mumbling, Patrick O'Neal is at his most reptilian. We also get Forrest Tucker in full sail, and an extraordinary turn by Janis Paige as his first wife, a pair of vulgarians at war with O'Neal's snobbish architect, sacrificing their money for his Art. There is a nice cameo from John Fiedler as a heart specialist.

It is somewhat odd that no-one, neither Bo nor Goldie nor Columbo, questions O'Neal's close relationship with the second Mrs Williamson. And why is there no explanation for Goldie's extraordinary costume in the scene where she is confronted by O'Neal with Bo's will - she appears to be dressed as the principal boy in a British pantomime. In the middle of the day, yet!

Unholy Partners
(1941)

Too classy an effort
All set up for a rip-roaring hour and a quarter, with Edward G. as the sassy newshound back from the trenches, in partnership with gangster Edward Arnold, surely two of the very greatest. Just watch Robinson outwit Arnold in a poker game for the paper. You know it won't end well. In tow are Laraine Day, who loves the former, as does naïve William T. Orr, an aspiring newspaperman who still has all his ideals intact.

It goes more or less as you'd expect, but with MGM glitz and taste rather than Warners energy. Which means it's 20 minutes too long, and with a weird drawn-out ending tacked on for no particularly good reason, and you go away after 95 minutes feeling less than satisfied. Someone shudda told those guys at MGM, class ain't everything.

Columbo: The Conspirators
(1978)
Episode 5, Season 7

Not with a bang ...
A serviceable Columbo, with some energy and a bit of a budget, but hardly at its best - a shame, as this was the last episode of the first magnificent run of seven seasons, and it never reached these heights again in the 1990s. Columbo is on the trail of poet-cum-terrorist gunrunner-cum-professional Irishman Clive Revill, who has murdered his doublecrossing arms supplier and is now struggling to replace him. As usual, the clash in acting styles between Falk's method and his antagonist's - in this case Revill's twinkle-eyed scene-stealing - brings much pleasure.

And yet the series was tired, and this was one of the weakest of the first seven seasons, and this was one of its weakest stories. Falk has all but completed the move from amusing, likeable, persistent, scruffy pest to dark mythic nemesis, so that almost every one of his lines is given a heavy double meaning, and uttered at dictation speed, especially in his opening scene when he really has no reason to suspect Revill at all. Revill is entertaining enough and big enough to inhabit the part, but not only is his Irish accent not very good, it's the wrong Irish accent - it's very clearly an accent from the Republic, and nothing like that of a Belfast Catholic. Having said that, it's an infinitely better attempt than the lamentable effort of Michael Horton (who went on to play the wet nephew in Murder She Wrote), playing a redundant gofor/amanuensis figure. Added to a few other unfamiliarities with Ireland, like the complete inability of the writer to understand the rules of darts, it's not too convincing on the background. Falk also regrettably moves out of character on occasion, as when he gets interested in a book of erotic art and unembarrassed at the attention he is getting from another customer: not one of the series' successful comedy moments.

Also perhaps worth pointing out that when Revill refers to G.W.F. Hegel as an Irish philosopher, he is making a joke, not a goof - it is mistakenly listed in the 'goofs' section on this page. His character tends to refer to the authors of quotes he approves of as great Irish poets, writers or philosophers - including when he is mock-egotistically quoting himself.

Columbo probably has just about enough evidence for his conviction, but the key discovery is rather telegraphed, and the revelation at the end is a bit ho-hum. A fairly average effort to go out with.

Columbo: Any Old Port in a Storm
(1973)
Episode 2, Season 3

Arguably the best Columbo
Columbo always shone particularly when there was a clash of acting styles, and here, Falk's method mumbling comes across Donald Pleasance's traditionalist hamming, learned in prisoner of war camps and post-war English repertory theatre, and honed in gothic horror films, to great effect. The interaction is brilliant, helped by Pleasance's sympathetic character, a man who loves only wine, and who will do anything, including fratricide, to keep his vineyard out of the hands of the Marino Brothers.

In the end, Columbo traps him with a brilliant ruse, using his anger management problems and his sensitive palate to expose him. Yet you feel Adrian is really trapped by Karen: he is actually gratefully choosing prison over marriage, and a life without his beloved wine collection. Columbo kindly gives him a final bottle to drink on the way to the hoosegow in a lovely final scene.

There are a few points one might raise an eyebrow over. The assault on his brother was done in momentary anger, but the murder by suffocation required a stronger stomach and a more sadistic heart. Is it really the work of a few minutes to strip and then put a scuba diving outfit on a man who has been dead for a week, and then wrestle the body into the boot of a Ferrari? If Rick had struggled prior to death, then wouldn't he have tell-tale marks on his tied wrists? Even if he hadn't, Adrian couldn't have known that wouldn't happen (otherwise why tie him up?). If Rick was in negotiations with the Marino Brothers, wouldn't this be evident (e.g. in correspondence)? And so wouldn't that be a line of inquiry for Columbo? And ultimately Columbo surely has no evidence - all his evidence tells him is that the air conditioning failed in the wine cellar. Fortunate, then, that Karen overplays her hand, and Columbo gets his confession.

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