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Reviews

The Crown: Moondust
(2019)
Episode 7, Season 3

Disappointing and biased
It was very good in some ways. The portrayal of a man (Prince Philip) facing a mid-life crisis was very good and well-acted. I liked the scene in the jet as he takes control and soars above the clouds -- very reminiscent of a scene in "The Right Stuff."

However, the portrayal of the US astronauts was an abomination. They were shown as childish technicians, if that. This is utterly unrealistic. The writers of this episode set them up as straw men. They were portrayed as if they were about 25 years old. In reality they were 39. Prince Philip was only 9 years older!

Even worse, the strong implication was that there was really no point in going to the moon, since all we found was a bleak dry barren terrain. What utter nonsense! Of course that is what the moon is like! That had been well understood for at least 100 years, maybe 150.

So having met these "immature" astronauts, Philip decides the cure to his disenchantment is to be found "inside" rather than "outside." This is an incredibly simplistic duality. Let me assure him and everyone else, the people who are motivated by scientific exploration are every bit as inspired and deeply internally motivated as anyone.

Perry Mason: The Case of the Careless Kitten
(1965)
Episode 24, Season 8

A very good episode
This is based on one of the best of the original Perry Mason books, from 1942. The writers of the TV show changed a few things, but it is remarkably similar in basic plot.

A lot happens. Indeed, it's almost too much for the 50 minutes or so of a TV episode. The basic story is that ten years earlier wealthy Franklin Shore disappeared mysteriously. Just about everyone is convinced he is dead, but widow (?) Matilda won't have him declared dead and the will probated. This upsets Franklin's brother, Gerald, who could use the money he would inherit.

Then one night niece Helen gets a phone call -- from Uncle Franklin! He's not dead! He wants Helen to meet him but tell no one. However Helen does tell Gerald who gets Perry Mason to come along to the meeting place. They find a note from Franklin saying to go to a certain place and meet someone else, a Mr. Leech. They go there but find him dead.

Meanwhile, the family cat has been poisoned! Later that night Matilda reports she has been poisoned! The next day Helen and her boy friend are shot at by someone hiding in a dark bedroom. That is an amazing a mount of action - -almost too much.

The story is unusual in that there is never a court room scene, and no one is ever arrested. Perry unmasks the murderer at a group meeting where Hamilton Burger is also present, much like an old Agatha Christie story. Hamilton Burger is not an antagonist in this story at all.

This is a well done, well plotted mystery story. It differs from the original book in that in the book Hamilton Burger is not so friendly. He accuses Perry and Della of hiding a witness, and arrests Della. Della goes on trial!

Highly recommended -- but the book is better.

Perry Mason: The Case of the Fiery Fingers
(1958)
Episode 31, Season 1

Pretty good episode, but the book is better
The acting and direction are good. But the original book by the same name is a lot more interesting. It has lots more time to develop a more complex plot. The writers of this episode cut it down drastically. "Fiery fingers" meant a lot more in the book.

Here Come the Nelsons
(1952)

An absolute delight.
Sure it's old-fashioned. Yes it presents a much simpler world than the one we live in now. But that's great! It's a comedy after all.

During the 1950s many millions of Americans actually lived in a world where the nuclear family reigned supreme -- and worked. Most of those families weren't as well off financially as the Nelsons portrayed here, but they strived to be like the model shown here. It was a very commonly lived experience.

Given that, this movie is very well done. It is wonderfully acted by all involved, especially Harriet and Ozzie. Ricky and David do quite well, and Ricky gets some fun one-liners that are almost risqué. It is also quite creative. I was continually delighted by the plot twists.

So return for 90 minutes or so to the world of small city America, before the cold war became a constant worry, before rock and roll. Hurray for Ozzie and Harriet.

The Wife
(2017)

Well acted but predictable
Both main actors are very good, even excellent. But the basic story is just too unlikely and too too predictable. Even the last ten minutes were easy to see coming.

The Magnetic Monster
(1953)

They go deep under ground off Nova Scotia? That sounds familiar....
An interesting but rather odd and contrived story. Yes it's nice to see a serious attempt at authentic science. But it really fails rather badly at that -- even though it has the aura of authenticity.

Why did the writers of the movie feel it was necessary to go to Canada? Did audiences of the time accept the oddly dressed workers as Canadians? They were, of course, Germans acting in a movie from 1934.

As I write this in 2018, I wonder if other new viewers had the same thought as me -- they are going 1700 feet underground along the coast of Nova Scotia? My God -- it's Oak Island!!

The Day Mars Invaded Earth
(1962)

Surprisingly good
I'll keep it brief: this is a surprisingly good 1950's style sci-fi space alien movie.

It may have been made in 1963, but it hearkens back to good old 1950s alien sci-fi movies. Yes, it's low budget and the robotic device on Mars looks a bit silly by 21st century standards. But the main filming location, the mansion, is quite impressive. The acting by the two or three main characters is excellent, as is the dialog. The basic plot is refreshingly original, and almost -- dare I say it -- believable.

Don't be fooled by the overall rating of 4.8. This is really worth watching.

Perry Mason: The Case of the Nervous Accomplice
(1957)
Episode 3, Season 1

Very well done but improbable
Excellent acting and high production values mark this and many other episodes of this fine series. I always love seeing Perry, Della, Paul Drake, Lt. Tragg, and Hamilton Burger. The trial judge was quite good on this episode. The actor who played George Lutts was especially good.

I won't summarize the plot, as others have done so. However, I do think it extremely unlikely that a shot from a 38 caliber pistol would be effective over the long distance demonstrated by the scene where Della waves from the hilltop. It's not clear how Mrs. Grainger's gun got involved in the crime. Also, not to reveal any spoilers, but the accomplices at the end seemed a rather unlikely pair.

Perry Mason: The Case of the Buried Clock
(1958)
Episode 6, Season 2

Too complex for a fifty minute show
This is one of the many episodes that were adapted from one of Gardner's Perry Mason novels, the Case of the Buried Clock. That is actually one of the my favorite Mason novels. It is quite complex, involving more characters and situations than could be put into a fifty minute TV program. A lot of compression and abridging was done by the writers of the TV episode -- so much that it ends up being unbelievable.

There are holes in the plot. The clock is introduced very late, unlike in the book. It's not explained how Perry found the clock. It's not explained why Beaton didn't discover what was going on.

Read the book!

Perry Mason: The Case of the Substitute Face
(1958)
Episode 32, Season 1

A well done episode
This episode was based on a book by the same name written in 1938, number 12 in the long series. The writers here have simplified the plot quite a bit to make it fit into 52 minutes, but they've done a good job. The substituted face is now that of the father, the murder victim, instead of an actress who resembles the daughter. No matter.

About half of the program, including the murder and arrest, occurs on board a cruise ship that Perry and Della happen to be taking as well as those directly involved in the plot. The acting and staging are well done; good "production values." The plot hangs together very well upon reflection, at least when you consider that sixty years ago security on board cruise ships was not like it is today. I was impressed that they simulated the rolling of the ship during the storm, a nice touch.

I love these early years of the long running TV series, in which Perry and Della -- and even Hamilton Burger -- look quite young. I didn't like the last few minutes, where the court room confessions are not realistic.

Upstairs, Downstairs: An Old Flame
(1975)
Episode 6, Season 5

A significant episode
After a chance encounter, James and Diana Newberry strike up a passionate relationship.

It's very believable. As always, Diana is gorgeous -- I for one find her far more attractive than Hazel was. James says at one point that he regrets choosing Hazel over Diana. I think back then (about ten years earlier) James saw Diana as a bit scary and Hazel as safe. Now, their brief fling creates problems with Richard, and Bunny too when he finds out.

I won't reveal here how it turns out. But the whole episode provides a revealing look at James's character and what's become of his life postwar. Highly recommended.

Upstairs, Downstairs: Magic Casements
(1972)
Episode 7, Season 1

Not to be missed
Wow.

With a bit of a lull in late summer 2015, with Mad Men over and a few months to go for Downton to start again (here in the US), my wife and I decided to watch all of Upstairs, Downstairs again. Ten years ago we watched the entire opus, and I wrote then on a review here that the series is the finest thing that's ever been on television. A bold statement. What about now, after so many good series, what would we think?

You can tell that the actors and writers were feeling their way, getting settled in during the first couple shows. The episode previous to this was very good.

Then this one. I vaguely remembered the main plot element, an affair of Marjorie's, but that's all.

Wow. Absolutely superb. It adds to the enjoyment that I'm a fan of Keats and the opera scene that is the backdrop near the end. Profoundly deep, so very real. A pure 10. Not to be missed.

Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase
(1939)

Not my daughter's Nancy Drew
This is the first of these Nancy Drew movies I have seen, having just watched it on TCM.

In general, I love movies from the 1930s, but this one was disappointing. When my daughter was growing up, I read to her every night, and often read a Nancy Drew mystery. It would usually take at least a week to finish one. They were quite good juvenile fiction, intriguing and suspenseful.

This movie has a totally different feel and tone. It is basically a comedy with a mystery subplot. Most of the characters are just silly compared to those in the books, especially Nancy, "Ted" (what's wrong with "Ned"?), and the police chief.

It got better once the staircase was discovered, and the last ten minutes or so was clever and entertaining. But still, I would much rather have a story faithful to the novels.

Foyle's War: The Hide
(2010)
Episode 3, Season 6

Somewhat Contrived End to the Series
I love Foyle's War. It is one of the finest series ever developed for television, with a great setting, excellent mysteries, appealing characters, and fascinating history to learn on the side.

This episode was evidently to be the last one. Foyle has finally retired and is preparing to go to America, when he takes a deep interest in the trial of a traitor named James Devereaux recently returned from Germany. Coincidently (?) a young woman is murdered in the nearby town of Brighton. She was renting a room in a house owned by someone who spent many years working for James Devereaux's father, a very wealthy and important man. Hmm.

I guessed the reason for the strange intense interest Foyle had in Devereaux; that was a very nice touch. The plot reminds me very much of many of those written by the great mystery writer Ross Macdonald. As in his stories, the present day evil stems largely from an act committed a generation ago.

I like many other parts of the story, including the side plot with Sam, but couldn't help noticing some plot holes.

** spoilers below ***

  • Mrs. Ramsay has been renting a room to Agnes for some months, and recognizes the picture frame when Milner shows it to her. Yet she had not recognized in those months the face of someone she knew well -- James Devereaux.


  • Jack Stanford is a fake, yet he essentially "rejoins" MI5 when he gets back to England, and no one there recognizes that he is a fake. Really?


  • I find it just unbelievable that James would commit suicide and betray himself by not explaining his actions. That he was doing this to punish his father just doesn't make sense.


  • What's with that sudden explosion in the house/hotel that Wainwright owned? Talk about a deus ex machina. Don't have to worry about selling or fixing up the place now!

Perry Mason: The Case of the Lazy Lover
(1958)
Episode 35, Season 1

excellent episode
The plot has been summarized by other reviewers, so I won't go into much detail on that.

As are most of the early Perry Mason TV episodes, this one was based on a book by the same name. Unusually, the TV episode is much better than the book, which is too complicated and has people doing extremely unlikely things.

In the interest of time if nothing else, a number of the features of the book had to be removed or changed. Here, only one check for $2500 is delivered to Mason's office (not two) to start the story. Here, the stepdaughter is younger and more innocent than she is in the book. Here, the client (Mrs. Allred) is more willing to talk to Mason and is more straight forward.

But the essential features are the same: Allred's right-hand-man, Fleetwood, feigns amnesia after a blow to the head because he knows too much about a crooked deal. Allred wants to tightly control him, maybe kill him, at least keep him from his partner (who does not appear at all in the TV episode). Allred, his wife, and Fleetwood go to a motel; they are not all there at the same time. Later there is a murder, and Fleetwood ends up not too far away at a cabin on a small ranch.

That brings us to probably the most interesting part of the plot: the map showing the tracks left in the soft ground at the ranch by various people, a car, and a dog. The district attorney says the tracks clearly show that Mrs. Allred is guilty. But Perry has another idea.

It is very well acted, with Della looking especially young and lively. Highly recommended.

Foyle's War: They Fought in the Fields
(2004)
Episode 3, Season 3

a good complex episode
I love all the Foyle's War episodes that I have seen to date. This one is very good (of course), though not the best.

It is intriguing that for quite a while there seems to be no connection between the two main subplots. If the story has any fault, it is that it is too complicated. There are an awful lot of subplots, most of which are red herrings are not really so interesting. I did like the hint of a romantic interest for Foyle.

I also much appreciate each episode learning some history of how England got through these early war years. This episode we learn about the Women's Land army.

Foyle's War: Eagle Day
(2002)
Episode 4, Season 1

Too many threads in this one
I've been watching the first year of Foyle's War on DVD and am very impressed. Love the stories, love the characters, great acting, great sense of actually being there in the early days of the war in Britain.

But this one I do not like. It's too complicated! There are too many threads that just barely connect, and too many coincidences. I'm not going to say much more as I don't want to reveal any spoilers.

The story opens with the murder of a man who drives a truck (lory). It develops that he was hired to drive art masterpieces from a museum in London to a safe hiding place in Wales. But is that why he was murdered?

Immediately a second plot begins with Foyle's son Andrew flying some missions to help the RAF test its radar. It was neat to see how important radar was to the success of the British air force. I do love the history that one learns in these stories. But Andrew soon gets into some trouble with his superiors at this secret base. It seems to have something to do with an old college friend of his, who apparently is being shadowed by someone. Who? And what has that to do with the art museum masterpieces?

Throw in another subplot about Samantha's father, and you've got quite a complicated story.

Dear Heart
(1964)

Precursor of Mad Men?
This is an absolutely delightful romantic comedy. Like many others, I am amazed that I never heard of it before a few days ago, when it appeared on TCM. I recorded it (love that DVR) and watched it yesterday.

I agree with others who say that the acting of the two leads, Ford and Page was excellent. So too was that of the supporting characters Lansbury and Nichols. But the many fine small touches stand out too. I loved seeing the old Penn Station in New York, long since destroyed. I loved the look of the girlfriend of Ford's "son", with the hair style, clothes, and big glasses. That brings back some high school memories. The many fine little one-liner or throw-away jokes, such as "nice wig" or Ford: "I have a psychic thing;" Nichols: "I don't want to see it."

But even beyond that, I was amazed by the portrayal of the society and customs of 1963 New York. Shades of Mad Men! No, there were no Madison Avenue Ad executives, but the banter and casual sex displayed was an eye opener. I thought that all happened ten years later? Even the look and feel of Ford's character was remarkably like Don Draper. I seriously wonder if this movie was not an inspiration for Matthew Weiner when he created Mad Men.

Perry Mason: The Case of the Sleepwalker's Niece
(1957)
Episode 2, Season 1

An Early Gem
I have long been a fan of Perry Mason, both the books and the TV series. I remember the TV series fondly when I saw it in reruns as a young adult, and the books were my introduction to the mystery genre.

As others have written, this was the second filmed episode. It is closer to the early books in mood than most of the TV episodes. Della looks especially young and attractive. She playfully massages Perry's neck. Mason is himself playful, almost flirting, with one the the female leads whom he needs to get on his side. He almost playfully traps the murderer on the witness stand. You don't see that sort of thing (especially Mason smiling so much) later in the TV series, after it became a huge hit, and a bit formal, if not stodgy.

The early books have a pronounced film noir flavor, and this book is no exception. The TV episode is a very good representation of the book. Of course they had to abridge it somewhat, to make it fit into 53 minutes. They've left out some of the material about the niece, which makes one wonder, who has seen only the TV episode, why the title is the way is it. My major criticism of the TV episode is that the actor who portrays the murderer doesn't fit the part; it's poor casting. The result is a person who is hard to imagine as a murderer.

Still, a great 53 minutes of television.

Perry Mason: The Case of the Stuttering Bishop
(1959)
Episode 20, Season 2

a solid entry
Good acting and a pretty reasonable plot make for a good episode. I liked the Carol Delaney character. Veteran character actor Ken Lynch gives a good performance as an almost sympathetic character. No Hamilton Burger; the assistant DA is OK. The murderer was a bit too obvious, though the way the murder was done was a nice twist. There is not much use of Della or Paul Drake.

It's based on one of the best PM books by Gardner, one of his early ones. It concerns a young woman who may be the long lost granddaughter of a millionaire, if a certain bishop can be believed. Or is he just an impostor, a crook of some kind?

The book is a lot more complicated than this episode, and they changed some things about the bishop. If you can, read the book.

Guilty Hands
(1931)

A Delightful Surprise
I always say "never underestimate a movie made in the 1930s" and this is a key example. Even though we see who commits the murder, it has the flavor of a well done who-done-it. Sumptuous sets, great costumes, the proverbial dark and stormy night -- all set a wonderful mood. The camera work sustains it, but above all, the excellent acting by Lionel Barrymore and Kay Francis make for a suspenseful thriller.

I had heard of Kay Francis, but I don't recall having seen her in anything. She is fantastic! Barrymore is best known these days for playing the heavy in "It's a Wonderful Life", but here he is quite a bit younger, very spry, and marvelously expressive, both in inflection and mannerisms.

I wouldn't dream of giving away the ending, which has two nice touches, but I'm proud to say I saw it coming - about thirty seconds before the climax. I was thinking, "wait, they couldn't possibly ..., not the ... " but it was. Superb! Highly recommended.

  • henry

The Razor's Edge
(1946)

Should have been better
This is a very good movie that should have been better. It is full of excellent little scenes and fine touches, such as the scene at the coal mine with the ex-priest. The photography and quality of the sets are wonderful. There are wonderful scenes in very believable little French hotels and bistros. There are subtle recurring symbols of a philosophical and religious nature.

As others have written, it is centered on the story of a WWI veteran (Larry, played by Tyrone Power) who can't get serious about the routine kind of life everyone else seems to be pursuing in Chicago after the war. He wants more. He gives up marrying the beautiful Isabel (Gene Tierney) and has enough money to travel to Paris, then to India, seeking enlightenment and wisdom. That could be hokey, but it is handled well. He is gone long enough for Isabel to give up on him and marry someone she doesn't really love named Gray (John Payne). Also, an old friend of Larry's named Sophie (Anne Baxter) meets tragedy in her family life.

Years later, Larry returns from India to Paris and meets Gray, Isabel, her rich uncle Elliott (Clifton Webb) and others there. The stock market has crashed and Gray and Isabel have lost most of their money. They are living with Elliott. Larry has an unusual hypnosis scene with Gray. I was intrigued and thought the situation really had a lot of potential. I loved the scenes with Anne Baxter in Paris. But somehow, after that the main thread got lost. It is a long movie, but maybe not long enough to really do justice to all the subplots. Some of them should have been toned down or dropped, though I admit choosing which one wouldn't be easy.

Anne Baxter was superb. Every scene she was in was gripping. Clifton Webb was good, but I got tired of him. There was too much about him. Having Somerset Maugham appear in the movie as a character had its advantages, but somehow didn't really work for me, though the scene where he starts to seduce Tierney is great.

Music, direction, plot, production values -- all are first rate. But the movie lives or dies based on the plot and the characterizations.

For me, the two main flaws are Tierney and Power. Tyrone Power is just too handsome, in a plastic sort of way, and ultimately fails to be believable. Tierney is in one sense perfectly cast for the villainess -- maybe too perfectly. She is too obvious, too one-note. The contrast with the performance of Anne Baxter is striking.

So it's a very good movie that makes me want to see the 1984 remake, and read the novel. I wish they could have cast someone other than Tyrone Power.

The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes: The Boscombe Valley Mystery
(1991)
Episode 4, Season 1

A good late entry
This is a good story well presented and well acted. It has a very appealing hero and heroine. Holmes and Watson are in good form.

Unfortunately it is late in both the canon and in the wonderful Sherlock Homes series with Jeremy Brett. Brett is showing his age and his declining health. As for the plot itself, it seems that Doyle was recycling some plot elements from earlier stories. Those who have seen or read quite a few earlier episodes will see haunting parallels.

Still, I enjoyed it. I love Jeremy Brett and I love this series of Holmes stories.

  • henry

South Pacific
(2001)

You've got to be kidding me
The good part: the sets are lovely.

The bad part: everything else. Start with the appalling choice of Glenn Close as Nellie Forbush. You've got to be kidding. Glenn Close is **one year** younger than Rade Serbedzija, who played Emile de Becque. That's absurd. She should be at least ten years younger, twenty would be better. The closeness in age is all too obvious in the movie.

Glenn Close has no southern accent. Nellie is supposed to be a well meaning, sweet, naive twenty year-old from unsophisticated Little Rock. Glenn Close, to her credit usually, is just not that type of person. It just doesn't work. Worse, every time she opens her mouth to sing, this sweet little voice comes out. Sure, right. Glenn Close as Nellie Forbush is the worst miscasting I have ever seen.

Rade Serbedzija actually does a good job.

The guy that plays Luther Billis doesn't have the right attitude or communicate the right personna.

The original movie with Mitzi Gaynor is far far superior. The play recently on Broadway (2010) is excellent. The show done on PBS a couple years ago with Reba McEntire is very good. If South Pacific is new to you, try to see one of those fine presentations.

The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes: The Eligible Bachelor
(1993)
Episode 2, Season 3

And now for something a little different...
I read a few of the reviews here before watching this for the first time. I adore Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, and all of the adaptations this company made of the original stories by Conan Doyle. I saw "The Last Vampyre" (not from Conan Doyle) and thought it stupid and silly. So I was prepared to dislike this one, also a late entry in the series.

It takes some getting used to. There are odd interpolated scenes that don't seem to make any sense. There are foreshadowings and flashbacks. There are a lot of extreme closeups. There are also brilliantly constructed scenes with impressive lighting effects. It's very non-linear and often puzzling.

The overall effect? I'm impressed. All the strange scenes make sense at the end, even granting, upon rational reflection, that the ending is perhaps a bit unlikely. This is a superbly crafted, acted, and presented film. It is a worthy addition to the Canon, and a triumph by Brett and Edward Hardwicke.

By all means, give it a shot. Don't be dissuaded by the negative reviews. This is truly a great Sherlock Holmes mystery.

  • henry

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