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Sherlock Holmes: Das gefleckte Band
Episode 1, Season 1

A Good Television Treatment of the Story
This show is the first of six episodes videotaped for West German television in 1967, fortunately preserved for us on YouTube. It is a good production, well prepared and executed; though naturally dated and seems to drag. The acting is fine, keeping in mind these actors were more used to the stage and that it was taped as a play, within infrequent cuts and retakes, albeit with thoughtful camera settings and other direction by Paul May. (I do wish he had told his lead, Mr Schellow, to project a bit more!) I'm glad the Germans tackled Holmes, like many other countries did--I think they have a good product. As far as dramatic tension, you'd better be ready for the killer to slide down that bell pull! It's intense!

The Sign of Four

The End to a Landmark Sherlock Series
This film marks the last one Eille Norwood did as Sherlock Holmes; and apparently as anything else. He died twenty-five years later, but did no more film work. There were two feature films in this series, and about two dozen shorts, done in a two-year period, and the vast majority are lost. What we have, though, reveals a great Sherlock lauded by Conan Doyle himself.

This film is expansive, has a welcome action flow, pretty good settings, appropriate humor, and an unrecognizable plot. Its story line is vastly removed from the book and has some puzzling variations, keeping the viewer guessing at what was happening. Historical value.

All Is True

Splendid Take on the Great Bard's Golden Years
I believe there is value in studying great mens' lives; I believe that helps the rest of us attain to greatness. Certainly there has never been a greater writer than the subject of this film, and incidental to my review I urge you to delve deeply into his writings for your life's duration--you will find immense value in that.

And now some of our favorite contemporary interpreters of Shakespeare have gathered to produce for us a beautiful, thoughtful, sweetly sentimental concept of his homecoming. Very well done.

The story is insightful and mostly satisfying; the acting is superb; the cinematography is breathtaking. I found the pace a little slow, and I found some questions still unanswered, and I wish there had been more examination about why he quit both writing and the London theater at his and its height. Could he have found someone in his life who could have better encouraged him? Was he rich enough, had he attained all the accolades he wanted, was he discouraged, was he homesick? Was he tired, or sick, at forty-nine years old, dying three years after his return to Stratford?

Well, maybe this movie will stimulate the aforementioned Shakespeareans to bring us well-mounted filmed plays. I think it's high time for a proper Macbeth; I think there's room on my DVD shelf for a good Othello and Lear.


Lovely Film About the Greatest Writer of the 20th Century
Professor John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, author of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and other related and non-related works, has now become the object of a biographical British film, directed by a Finn. Since Peter Jackson's films were so successful a few years ago, it is natural the film world would explore the possibility of another success, and so now we have this fairly nice take on his life. Tolkien was a private man: he didn't give many interviews and there are very few biographies available. He was first and foremost a scholar of languages, and not a pop icon.

Let me interrupt my comments on the film to share with you my own association with Professor Tolkien's works. I first read The Lord of the Rings in the late sixties, and like most people I was swept away with the breadth of this otherworld, Middle-earth. I joined the Tolkien Society of America and wore "Frodo Lives!" buttons (briefly). When I first went to England in 1974, a year after the professor had passed away, I visited Oxford and met Charley Boswell, his last caretaker; and phoned his son Christopher to ask when The Silmarillion would be ready. (He thanked me for ringing.) So, I'm a big fan.

This movie, then, does a pretty good job depicting his tragic childhood, his early struggles, and his courtship of Edith Bratt. I liked the premise of visions and flashbacks during his combat experiences--tantalizing views at Sauron, the Nazgul, and other objects of his horror were very nicely placed. There wasn't much said about his Christianity, but he wasn't very explicit about it either, and his deep Catholic faith was portrayed as a negative influence on him. Like other reviewers, I wish it would have gone on a little longer, perhaps until we met C. S. Lewis and the other Inklings, who were such a powerful influence on his creativity. I would have liked to have seen him submitting The Hobbit typescript to his first publishers, Raynor and Unwin, and to be reminded that it was the publisher's ten-year-old son who approved its publication and thus began the Tolkien furor.

The acting was good, the settings were lovely (though I wish we had been treated to more of Oxford), and the story moves along pretty well. Recommended for subscription viewing.

The Chosen

Beautiful, Moving Representation of Our Savior
This production began as a short episode Mr. Jenkins did for his church's Christmas Eve service, which was a short take of a shepherd's perspective of the nativity. That appeared on FaceBook in the last year or so; and it was seen by many millions of people, including promoters who encouraged a series. We now have four one-hour episodes which were funded by 16,000 "investors" who contributed $10,000,000. The production is thus independent in the truest sense of the word: no studios, no star performers, no theater bookings, no advertising campaigns. Is it, however, skillfully crafted, very well presented and very, very moving. New investors have emerged, and a second series is, at this writing, about to go into pre-production.

The story of Jesus Christ has been told many many times in every conceivable media. Comparison to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, Franco Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth, and so forth is useful: what is new about this show is that we are presented more of the people surrounding Jesus and how they learned about Him and came to believe. It makes for great stories and a fresh approach--it is very watchable.

Acting, sets and other technical aspects are exceptional. It is a beautiful film sacrificing no authenticity. It is clearly exhaustively researched and will be a valuable teaching tool for generations. But, most of all, it does what a good film ought to do: it moves us, and into a good place. Bravo!

Sherlock Holmes

Historically Valuable: Flawed But Game
Here is an ambitious early effort by the BBC to bring Holmes to the small screen, in faithful live adaptations of the original stories. The 1964-5 series of thirteen programs starred a surprisingly capable Douglas Wilmer, who reads Holmes as brilliant (of course), lofty, bland, and a trace condescending--it is a well-crafted portrayal. Mr Wilmer seems to have been a Holmes devotee, and picked up several other related shows in his later years, including his last acting appearance as an irate member of the Diogenes club, in 2012. His devotion to this production reportedly included deep uncredited script rewrites--whoever is responsible for these teleplays did a very commendable job.

The 1968 series of sixteen episodes, of which unhappily only five survive, went to Peter Cushing. He provides us a typically brilliant, mercurial, skillful interpretation though with no new personality traits of the character. He is quite a showman, however, and easily captures the camera and propels the stories along. Both these great actors had difficulty with the confines of live, serial British television of the 1960's. The production, while very skillfully made, looks pretty inexpensive and generally lacking in retakes. Clearly rehearsals were hurried as well.

So, recommended for Holmes scholars; most people, fast-forward to the Granada series of the 1980's and 90's.

Sherlock Holmes

Brave and Effective Treatment of Holmes
This long-lost series was produced in the early 1950's, after long definitive success of Basil Rathbone in the early '40's. There had been a few other attempts at cinema, but these 39 half-hour stories were the first crack at television.

Very well cast, period settings including background shots of London, strong scripting, droll and humorous, and some very neat mysteries, it only ran one season. What went wrong? Marketing: or the lack thereof. Movies knew how to promote themselves very well in the 50's; television didn't, especially in Britain. And, this series, which boasted fine British acting talent, wasn't filmed there--or even shown there! We're lucky to have what we have of it now.

It's a charming show. Holmes' genius, so important to the canon's enduring success, is adroitly exhibited by Mr Howard. The all-important relationship of Holmes and Watson, often very clumsily portrayed through the years, comes off nicely here. Things have to move along in a half-hour show, but stories don't seem forced and they are engaging. The producers also elected to offer new stories, apart from Mr Doyles' (unlike the popular Granada series thirty years later), and so we have some new adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

I have a 5-disc set from Mill Creek Entertainment, which contains the complete--though woefully brief!--series. Enjoy!

Buck Benny Rides Again

Delightful Light Comedy
This is one of the best of the Jack Benny vehicles, based on his very popular radio character Buck Benny, itself a fond satire of the Lone Ranger. No pretensions here, no classy "schtick," just good escapist box office gold. The pace seems slow by modern standards, and I missed Cactus Face too. (OTR fans will know who Cactus Face is!). Enjoy.

Man About Town

Light Comedy, Fine Fluff
I found this movie enjoyable, with great performances from some great people. There is no pretense of high art, or even an attempt at it; but mostly, I believe, intended as a vehicle for the great radio star Jack Benny. Typical late-Depression fare: and very important

So don't expect too much, and you'll be pleased.


Enjoyable, But Not Consequential
This movie, which seems to have come about because the producers felt the story should be re-told, is a beautiful production. It has value as an exciting race scene, which was the centerpoint of the film, and an almost-felt sentimentality about family love: its main theme. Happily, the theme of the 1959 version--comparisons will be inevitable--of bitter revenge was only a sub-theme here. There were some nice plot devices, and all in all I was mostly pleased with this telling of the story.

I was disappointed that the subtitle, "A Tale of the Christ," that MG Wallace put to his book wasn't imported into this film; and I was most disappointed by the maudlin presentation of Jesus Christ. It is not accurate to portray Him as doing carpentry work alone in Jerusalem; and only a calm, pious presentation of His three hours on the cross has surely been corrected by Mel Gibson's film.

There is an apocryphal story about Ben-Hur's origin that I heard in my youth. MG Wallace was riding in a train one day with Robert Ingersoll, a very popular public speaker of the time who was an agnostic. He and Wallace were discussing how Christianity has damaged civilization, human progress and the American way; and Ingersoll challenged the general to write a book disproving the faith. Instead, after earnest research, Wallace came to belief in Christ and this is the book which came about. Published in 1880, it was the most popular novel in America until the advent of Gone With the Wind. So there's a little background for you and the reason I wanted this movie to be good.

But, I wanted to enjoy this movie, and I was able to do so. Again, the production itself was great, the acting though unevenly directed served to move the story along, and the story was worth telling. After all, this has been an American classic for many years. It could have been better, though, and we want our movies to be 10/10 every time out of the chute!

The Young Messiah

Unpretentious, plausible, well made, slightly flawed
First of all, it's been great to see a spate of movies about Jesus Christ, the carpenter from Nazareth, Who has been proved to be the Son of God Almighty. As one of his great followers said, it only matters that, in every way, Christ is proclaimed, including on the silver screen.

Next, and with no apologies for the brief Christian message above, this movie is a worthy addition to the others out there. I'm happy to see some filmmakers' ideas about Jesus as a boy, incorporating Bibilical stories into their own; I believe it can add to our understanding in the same way a good Sunday sermon can do. This film was very well made: the production, the acting, the editing all commendably done.

Finally, we enjoyed this nice movie very much! Thanks a lot.

A.D. The Bible Continues

Powerful Cinematic Portrayal of Early Christianity
I believe I speak for a great many viewers, particularly Christians, who are grateful to the producers for this effort. I think no one argues that it is well crafted. Costumes, settings, writing, editing: they're wonderful. The actors here are very skillful. Beside that, it seems truly heartfelt and genuine. I'm happy it appeared on network television if that was the best market; and I expect more viewers are being found than had it gone to a premium cable service. I believe it will sell well eventually as a DVD set. But most remarkable here, and the most important impact, is the irrefutable proof that there's a great market for Christian- based media; and I believe this mini-series, as it joins other efforts, will go very far to prove that.

I think everyone is aware that drama must be embellished to build tension and interest: that you can't film a page of print, even if it's sacred Scripture. So I have no problem with the script or the characterizations. At this writing, we have seen only the first episode; and it would be unfair to judge it by itself as clearly there are many more stories to tell. (Also at this writing there are continuous threats of nuclear annihilation, enormous terrorist threats, and bitter violence all around the world.)

All that, however, sounds defensive, and I would like to use the remainder my review to be positive. This mini-series, then, is the incredible story of uneducated, unrefined people who went all over the world to talk about their King. They did miracles. They preached powerful messages. Persecution couldn't stop them then, and it can't stop us today. The message that is still going out is 100% good news: that you and I, in spite of our faults, are precious and forgiven. I invite you to watch this mini-series, and to talk to our King about it afterwards, with that background in mind: you are completely loved. Thanks.

George Washington Slept Here

Another Benny Tour-de-Force
Bright, sweet, very funny stuff here. A little dated; but after all, the date is 1942! Jack Benny was the top comedy star of the day, very busy in radio at this time, and he didn't get to take too many movie roles. When he did, they were top market. And, due to his extremely generous nature, he sparked everyone else in the cast to their best efforts. The camera follows him as the star, but everyone looks good. Beautiful Ann Sheridan serves ably as the "straight" (wo)man here, and there are many other delightful character actors weaving in and out.

A disadvantage he had in this film is that his legendary timing was off a little. All comedians do better with a live audience, so he didn't have that here; and, he found Percy Kilbride hysterically funny and had to make himself totally exhausted to play his scenes with him. Kilbride, who became Pa Kettle in that successful series, had been a Broadway actor, and Benny insisted he be brought out to repeat his role from the play. That plan almost wrecked the film! But it worked out okay. The director seems to have been a bit antagonistic as well, which may not have helped much.

Very enjoyable!

A Nero Wolfe Mystery

A Fine Entry to Detective Fiction
I have read all the reviews and agree with most of the comments. (I've also read all the Nero Wolfe books.) I agree this is an exceptional television production (it's quite interesting it was made in Canada, not Hollywood), and that the late Maury Chaykin, though skillful and entertaining, doesn't interpret Nero Wolfe correctly. For my contribution, I offer a little perspective.

Detective literature has been the most popular fiction of all time. Beginning with Sherlock Holmes--whose film and television interpretations encompass the entire history of film and television--, through Inspector Morse, Miss Marple, Perry Mason, Magnum PI, and on and on and on, people have loved the chase; especially if there's a smart guy doing the chasing. Nero Wolfe is one of the smartest, the greatest fictional American detective, and it's sheer joy to watch him go. But, actually, he doesn't go!

And that was the interesting facet of Wolfe persona when the books were being written: his fictional peers were all over the place, but his creator decided to leave him at home. So, even more than this series shows us, Wolfe almost never leaves his house! Imagine Sherlock staying ensconced in Baker Street for all those years. Wolfe is Mycroft with a burr under his saddle, named Archie Goodwin. Well, every hero needs a personality or the books wouldn't sell.

Wolfe battled murderers, gangsters, and scheming in-laws. He turned up in a couple of movies in the '40's, a radio show in the 50's, and a TV show in the '80's. His bad guys weren't as ugly as Ed McBain's, but much nastier than Holmes'. There was a Moriarty, named Arnold Zeck. If he had been introduced halfway through the second season of this show, there would have been two more seasons. (Oh well.) There were brilliantly constructed heroes and hangers-on. And the plots were up there with Agatha Christies'.

The point I'm making is that this genre is a lot of fun. A lot of people have made fortunes writing it, and acting in it. I personally never mind that the protagonist is always miles ahead of me: feeling dumber than the hero is part of the fun. Good guys are admirable; bad guys are not. Issues are right and wrong, which in this confusing world is comforting. It's escapist; it's entertaining; and I maintain it's great literature.

Will we see a better filmed version of Wolfe? I doubt it. Will there be other, better detective stories? I doubt that too.

The Devil's Foot

Decent Stoll Effort
Here is a great Holmes story, well adapted and produced on location--at least, the exteriors look like Cornwall. The staging is good; the acting fine; the action fairly crisp. I hope more of there titles turn up, and I hope someone restores these shorts someday.

Mr Norwood set a high standard for subsequent Holmes interpreters, though it appears William Gillette, who played the part on stage for twenty years, exerted more of an influence. Orson Welles, in an introduction to a radio production, paid high tribute to Gillette; Bosley Crowther, an influential New York theater critic, wrote "I would rather see William Gillette play Sherlock Holmes than to be a child again on Christmas morning." At eighty-three years old, he starred in the very first Holmes radio show, on 20 October 1930.

Probably these two-reel Stoll shorts didn't get much marketing in America--Hollywood productions were going strong by the '20's and maybe there wasn't much interest. But the ones I've seen stand up well.

Enjoyable: historic.

The Copper Beeches

A Little Embarrassing
Considering the wonderful cinema that Holmes has inspired since the little nickeloden title "Sherlock Holmes Baffled" in 1903, this little one doesn't stack up well. Filmed in England by a French (!) production company in 1912, presumably supervised and produced by Sir Arthur himself, it is no more than a filmed pantomime performed by actors who had no concept of the camera. We realize stage actors have to make grandiose gesticulations, but didn't the director know something about filming? Hard to follow, strays far away from the story, a "quickie" very forgettable. I recommend you fast-forward nine years to the Stoll productions.

The Jack Benny Program: Harry Truman Show
Episode 2, Season 10

First President on a Sitcom
Okay, this episode of The Jack Benny Show isn't very funny. Admittedly, there's a definite lack of comedy motif. Milton Berle wouldn't have touched it; Red Skelton couldn't have pulled it off. Jack Benny brought a president to commercial television, and his low-key humor fit right into the picture. (Well, maybe the show drags a little . . .)

Mr Benny made a visit to The Harry Truman Library, and was escorted by the 75-year-old first citizen of Independence, Missouri: President Harry S Truman. He gave Jack a personal tour of the library, and shared some of his insight into the history of the time. Jack wisely avoided interviewing, made a few jokes, and actually made Mr Truman laugh a little.

Not too funny, but really interesting . . .

The Jack Benny Program: Gary Cooper Show
Episode 1, Season 9

A Classy Season Premier
Jack Benny was, first and foremost, a showman. I've listened to all his radio shows, twenty-five years, and he missed only one: when Carole Lombard died in the plane crash. He performed ill and tired--no one could ever tell. For all those years, his audience could count on him for a good show. And for this one, he brought Gary Cooper to the small screen.

Gary Cooper had won his Oscar for High Noon. He was big: the biggest He appeared awkward on this live show, but that was part of his charm and Benny played it up. The skit was a cowboy scene (and pretty dumb, to be honest), but it's great television history. Lost for years, newly released--classic.


A very worthy addition to Holmes' media library
I have seen most of the film and television adaptations of Sherlock Holmes: Rathbone, Brett, Eille Norwood, Langella, Plummer, Heston, Ronald Howard, Lee, Cushing--on and on. I have enjoyed and recommend the radio shows from the early 1930's onwards, beginning with a brief recording of stage star William Gillette. There's a lot of good fun out there.

This BBC series gives us the twist of updating Holmes to the present day. And after the shock of seeing him expertly using a smartphone, we realize it's okay. As the producers said in their commentary track, of all the interpretations out there, they most enjoyed Rathbone's and Bruce's depiction of fighting Nazis. Why shouldn't Holmes combat terrorists and drug pushers now? In short, it works. And most importantly: it's fun. Gone are the painfully accurate depictions of Victorian days--those are great but, after all, a good story outlasts current mores. There are so many fresh ideas here that almost every minute is a pleasure. Highly recommended.

The production is really stunning, and the directing and editing are absolutely brilliant. Mr Camberbatch is a great young actor, with honest instincts; and I believe I like what Mr Freeman and the writers have done with Watson better than anywhere else in the pantheon. When mixed together, these two are dynamite--as it should be. For future productions I urge the writers to avoid too many plot devices to fill in their time--like their Golem, for instance--but I do appreciate no reference to cocaine.

Finally, it is exciting to think what people will be watching fifty or a hundred years from now. What will Holmes be investigating? Interplanetary crime? Will Lestrade be pulling in to the Baker Street space station to whisk him away to a moon of Mars? The point is, of course, why not?

The Jack Benny Program: Honolulu Trip
Episode 1, Season 4

Television glamor
This was pretty early in Monroe's career, and Jack was very excited about having her. He did a little bit about a dream on a cruise, which he later repeated with Jayne Mansfield, about some great dreams and waking up to fat girls--you have to realize, he did a lot of fat jokes. Monroe is luminous: a stunning beauty at that time, and she does a good job with the comedy too. This was her first television show, and when Jack asked her what she wanted to do it, she said, "Oh, I don't want money. But nobody has ever given me a car."

He gave her a Cadillac. It was not widely known at the time, because of his cheap image, and probably no one at the time would have believed it anyway.

Artists and Models Abroad

Delightful light comedy
Here is a nice bit of froth, cheery and funny in light of its depression time frame. As we know, that seemed to be the main objective of the studios of that simpler time. The major star was Jack Benny, on hiatus from his radio show: the most popular radio show of the day. But, he interacts with the fine supporting cast as though it's an ensemble; just as he always did on his radio and television shows to come. The songs are good, the plot is charming, the comedy is deft and sparkling, and there are bonuses of French fashion designs, by real French designers of the day. Makes a nice historical lesson, as it were. If you like that sort of thing, that is.

The Rounder

Early Benny
Here is a rare gem: an early short of Jack Benny. He is supposed to be playing a drunk, a very popular convention of the day, but underplays as ever--no W. C. Fields-type here. His gift is his glib talk, finely honed on the vaudeville stage, and he makes the most of it here. Obviously missing a live audience, which so energized him for later radio and television triumphs, nevertheless he shows complete confidence in the material and in his performance and star quality. Don't expect any fancy movie-making: there are very minimal camera angles and settings. Actually, don't expect very much at all! But, it's a treat to see the young Benny Kubelsky, and to think how funny he became.

The Jack Benny Program: Jack Takes Boat to Hawaii
Episode 9, Season 14

A Break for Jack?
Here is good ol' Jack taking a little vacation, to Hawaii. Sadly missing is Mary, as she was from most of the episodes at this point (the story is she developed stage fright). Off he goes for a relaxing boat journey, and expects to take full advantage of sun and maybe even a little romance--Jayne Mansfield conveniently appearing, at least in his dream! But, unfortunately, the voluptuous Jayne turns in to a fat girl. Another fat joke? Yes, in one of the typical vaudeville conventions Jack grew up with, fat was funny back then. Poor Don Wilson took the brunt of the jokes for many years, and there was a Blue Fairy fat woman--not too pleasant these days, but probably in forty or fifty years the comedy of today will seem dumb and tasteless. (Not too hard to believe, is it?) The world keeps turning.

The Jack Benny Program: New Year's Eve
Episode 11, Season 12

Classic Benny
This show is another of the transpositions from the great radio show: Jack Benny's New Year's Eve adventure. The scene opens with the cast of the show becoming convivial, preparing for their party, and of Jack making a grand entrance in top hat and tails. He has a great date! Dennis Day gives us a wonderful song, and things are off to a great New Year's Eve. But then poor Jack gets some bad news . . . I expect it took great courage to put this show on; at least, back in the radio days. Benny as a tragic figure? In my opinion, here is where he moves into his place as the supreme clown: Pagliachi himself. Not immensely funny, but intensely moving; reminiscent of another great American comedian, Jimmy Durante, covering popular music standards late in his life.

The Jack Benny Program: The Jam Session Show
Episode 2, Season 5

Glamor and Glitz
Jack Benny, a master showman, knew the value of big-name guest stars; but he also knew they needed a device, a "hook." This episode is a very funny one about regular guys getting together to play some music. The fact that the guys were famous movie stars of the day makes the hook that they are just regular guys work, and work well. The set, Jack's living room, also shows the very high production standards of the show, with camouflaged soda and candy machines, strong allusions to Jack's fabled stinginess. And, I don't know if these guys played those instruments, or not (well, I know Jack played the violin); but it surely seems like they all did!

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