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Murder, She Wrote: Unfinished Business
Episode 3, Season 3

Great to see unshaven DeFore and unshaven Windom
It's always pleasant to see which favorite actresses/actors from the past enliven this series with their guest appearances. Here, Don DeFore, much underrated generally, maybe because he's played so many likeable guys, turns in his usual good job.

This episode has the ingredients of a very good program, and it starts out well - a retired police detective, Barney Kale, sets out to show that his former coworker, Detective Dixon, did not have a natural drowning accidental death ten years ago, but was murdered.

There's the Maine setting, always a plus, assorted characters without much of an alibi, Jessica looking trim and efficient, lovable Seth. We find out about the backgrounds of a doctor, a businesswoman, a young opportunist and his wife, but practically nothing about the victim until the very end, so it's anybody's guess why poor Dixon was knocked off, if he didn't accidentally drown. Jessica, Amos and the Juniper Lake sheriff (wonderfully played in low-key style by J. D. Cannon) don't seem to exert themselves much to learn a thing about Dixon or any enemies he might have made.

The end is a big anti-climax. Don't want to give it away, but really, ask yourself, if you were Lt. Det. Barney Kale, would you have trekked to Juniper Lake to finish the "unfinished business"? HOW stupid is Kale? '

The Price of Folly

Interesting British "quota quickie"
If we were reviewing this 51-minute mystery/drama in 1937, when it was released, we might have been inclined to give it an 8 out of 10 rating overall. But it's about 80 years later, and as much as we may try to keep art in its own perspective, most of us are jaded by the slicker films produced since then.

The screenplay was an adaptation of the play "Double Error" by John Lee Thompson. When a screenplay is faithful to a play, immediate objections are raised. But "talkiness" and "static set" charges are not flaws to the entire audience - some may prefer dialogue to sensational effects. Welwyn Studios, where this was shot, had thin walls and inferior acoustics - originally it was a base for the production of silent films. It was susceptible to regular unwanted sound effects, speaking of effects, being situated near a noisy Nabisco shredded wheat factory and a noisy main-line railroad.

Colin Keith-Johnston as Martin turns in a fine nervous desperation performance, with only a couple of short lapses into melodramatic "moments of epiphany," staring too long to absorb shock, and leaving his mouth open a bit too long than modern audiences will tolerate as normal response to horror. Keith-Johnston makes us feel his pain, so his acting mission is accomplished, I'd say. A nice counterpoint to his well- and reasonably-sustained agony is Leslie Perrins' (Owen's) laid-back delivery.

There's an original plot. Keith-Johnston makes two dreadful discoveries as he careens into insanity, hence the title of the play, double error. We wonder how he'll fight back. Shoot Owen? Skip town? Shoot himself? We really don't know until the end, and we remain interested in his fate.

There's only one clear implausibility, having to do with the "window seat/chest," but to tell you about it would be to commit a "spoiler." Without it, I would have given the film a 9 out of 10.

It's directed by Walter Summers, who has a horror/mystery track record of 1920s and 1930s movies.

Suffice it to say this one is worth 51 minutes of your day. Unfortunately it's not available on VHS or DVD, and you must wait for some kind soul to upload it to You-Tube from the nitrate print, which still lives, parked in the British Film Institute files.

The Mayor of Casterbridge

Surprisingly good adaptation by the ever-surprising Dennis Potter
Please pardon the substandard Americanism, but "who'd a thunk" that the insanely imaginative bete noire of British television writing, Dennis Potter, could have written such a disciplined, book-faithful, beautifully-paced script as this. He pays full and respectful homage to the great Thomas Hardy's masterpiece.

No repetition of the accolades of prior reviewers is needed here. They're spot on.

What I would like to see, if I had control of casting of both the 1978 and 2003 versions, is a redistribution of the cast. For this exercise, I need a time warp.

Understanding, for example, that Polly Walker, who plays Lucetta in 2003, was only 12 years old in 1978, I would have preferred her (as she was in 2003) to Anna Massey as Lucetta in 1978. Walker has some beauty and magnetism and is believable as a man- hungry "fallen woman." Massey was undeniably an excellent actress, but as a vamp she simply can't cut it. To think Farfrae or Henchard could be attracted to her sensually is laughable. The suspension of disbelief here is too much for me to make. (By the way, her miscasting as Laura in the Pallisers is equally disturbing, as there is NO spark between her and Donal McCann in that series.)

Then I'd grab Juliet Aubrey out of the 2003 version and cast her in place of Anne Stallybrass - Aubrey portrays Susan more sensitively, more skilfully.

Janet Maw is superb as Elizabeth-Jane, so I'd leave her there, and not import Jodhi May into 1978 - May is too stilted as E-J. Both Purefoy and Galloway are very good as Farfrae, but Goodman is so very good in the minor role of Jopp that I would pull him out of 2003 to replace Lacey,

And last, I leave it to you as to Hinds or Bates as Henchard. They both turn in the most remarkable performances of their careers in Mayor of C. And that's why it's such a pleasure to watch both versions. despite the dreadful editing of Hardy in 2003.

Sleeping Car to Trieste

For once the remake surpasses the original
Sleeping Car is a remake of the very good 1932 Rome Express with Conrad Veidt providing a much more sinister and intense Zurta in that one than Albert Lieven does in this remake - to his credit, though, Lieven does exude a debonair, charming sliminess, and I like both actors' widely different takes on the role.

Lieven is actually better suited to the role of Zurta than Veidt would have been, since the tone of Sleeping Car is lighter, despite the biting satire overall. Rome Express, while absorbing, is by comparison somewhat flat and humorless. The action and dialogue in both are crisp, fast-paced without being frenzied; the subplots in Sleeping Car are more entertaining.

Scottish actor Finlay Currie is in both. He's a fast-talking American show business promoter in Rome Express, and an overbearing author in the Trieste version. Urbane actor Paul Dupuis is more satisfying as the detective Jolif in Trieste. He has classier, funnier lines, and comes across as a three-dimensional sophisticate. In Rome Express, the role is a dull mish- mash attempted by Frank Vosper.

Not to be missed is the fun performance by always-watchable Jean Kent, in full control of her role.

Overall, Trieste corrects some of Rome's plot weaknesses, as well as adding life and humor, If you have a chance, watch both of them. They're both enjoyable.

Malice Aforethought

Catch the 1979 version, if only for the cast, or to compare to this one
Several reviewers have asked why Bickleigh married his wife in the first place. I haven't read the book, or been able to view this 2005 remake, but I've seen the 1979 version a couple of times and was amused by the plot and impressed with the acting. In the 1979 version, Mrs. Bickleigh - a delightfully authoritarian Judy Parfitt - states that they didn't love each other when they married, but she needed to "get away from a situation at home." The book by Francis Iles (one of Anthony Berkeley Cox's nommes de plume) is available for a few dollars from eBay, and that probably has more background on Mrs. B's problem at home before marrying the slick doctor.

In 1979, Madeleine was superbly played by the always-wonderful Cheryl Campbell. Please catch that version if you can, it's in four 50-minute installments, without feeling like three and a half hours. Denny is not an alcoholic in that one, and there wasn't a hint of any French or other nationality creditors pursuing Madeleine.

The Three Weird Sisters

Philanthropy with a few twists
The sisters are irritated when their successful younger half brother refuses to help them in their philanthropic plans to help the ill-starred community rebuild. They are positively miffed when he later decides to leave his secretary all his assets (including the family house) in his will. Greed and pride in their heritage takes over, philanthropy is set aside, and they begin a program of steady, unsuccessful assaults on their half brother and his secretary, who represent London and modernity.

This interesting movie might as well have been titled "Escape from Wales." It is known that the script co-writer, the poet Dylan Thomas, took a dim view of Wales, his homeland, and one can't help but feel that the decrepitude of the sisters, and their fragile old house set in a bleak Welsh town where the mines are defunct, are emblematic of Wales as seen by the author and script writers.

Logically, the half brother and secretary want to leave as soon as the danger is palpable, but are thwarted in doing so at every turn. A doctor (recipient of the sisters' philanthropy in the past) zigs in and zags out like a confused, allegiance-less mosquito, for most of the time until the very end.

Nova Pilbeam as the secretary has a pleasingly crisp voice and comes across in 1948 as a Katharine Hepburn type, but is a much more natural actress than Hepburn, who usually announced her lines rather artificially instead of just saying them. Pilbeam was very good in Hitchcock's "Young and Innocent," and is better still in this film.

For all its melodrama and its interspersed (overly poetic?) political moments, this is an engaging "dark houser" that holds one's interest from the first minute to the last.

Innocents in Paris

Comedy? Pas de tout.
A week-end in Paris. Too many characters are crowded into 100 minutes, making implausible romantic and other connections. Film might have been better with fewer story- lines, and certainly the 87-minute version, which excludes the Mara Lane/Laurence Harvey incidents, is an improvement over the longer version.

This is a cross between an attempt (1) to display "slice of life" and (2) to provide some "charming" atmosphere. Unfortunately, this overlong attempt is riddled with clichés. It is unfunny where humor was intended, and fails to move where pathos was intended. Completely misses the mark as a farce or light comedy.

Only Rutherford, Sim and Gordon's presences slightly redeem this waste of time, so in their honor it seems three points are in order, one for each of those actors.

Girl in the News

Excellent cast in absorbing, gentle courtroom drama
Very good script by Gilliat based on a novel. Likable protagonists and support characters, as well as nearly-likable villains in a wonderful cast who work pleasingly together.

I'm glad Barnes, not Redgrave (apparently as originally planned), fell into the role of "Stephen." Barnes is gentlemanly distant and professional, but obviously protective of Lockwood as friend and client. Redgrave might have handled the role in a cheesier, more intimate manner, not appropriate in this quiet script. Livesey provides a friendly but professional touch as Barnes' policeman flat-mate.

Refreshing to see characters interact without sturm und drang for a change, in well-paced unfolding of Barnes' defense of Lockwood.

Enjoyed this movie very much. There aren't many that succeed in first gear - maybe "A Canterbury Tale" is another such, but there aren't many others.

The Card

The (deservedly) beloved Guinness is miscast in this one
Yes, agreed, this is a light-hearted, feel-good film. Events roll pleasantly along, and Guinness crashes through the class barrier using a wily prudence and opportunism.

The problem is, Guinness is always Guinness. That works delightfully in "The Ladykillers" and "The Lavender Hill Mob." Not so much in "The Card." Guinness' constant, somewhat smug semi-smirk gives Denry more of an air of cynicism than suits the general purpose of this movie.

The casting director should've hauled George Cole into this role. Cole was twenty-seven in 1952. He would've brought the proper note of innocence/cleverness/playful joy into Denry.

By the way, the author of the book this film is based on, Arnold Bennett, gave Denry his own birthdate, and was also a rent-collector for a time (while in the employ of his father).

Silent Dust

Atmospheric suspense film, Nigel Patrick excellent as usual
Prior reviewers have made very good points, so my view of the film isn't needed, but I do wish to echo admiration for the cast, tight production, fine musical score, sharp dialogue. Particularly pleasing is the wind-up scene at the end, where the legendary Seymour Hicks (please see his bio!!) gently insinuates a satisfactory way to deal with the events fallout (I don't want to give away the ending). Hicks keeps his head, thinking ahead. when the others are understandably off balance, and gives them an out. This was Hicks' last film.

Interesting to note that a couple of years after this film was made, Nigel Patrick married his stepmother in this script, Beatrice Campbell. Another fun fact is that Patrick was born in 1912, the same year Stephen Murray (who plays his father here) was born, but Murray acquires white hair for the movie, and the superb acting carries it all off.

Quiet, steady character development, but no dull spots as this story unfolds well-paced, and gains tension. Well done.

The Shop at Sly Corner

Very well worth the viewing time, but a film with two holes
Prior reviewers have given the plot line, so I won't reiterate those details. This is a gripping movie, well-paced, and mostly logically developed. Performances are mostly very good, with the exception of Muriel Pavlow, who is passable - however, her representation of violin playing is so substandard as to be laughable. It can't have been so difficult to find a REAL violin player (even a poor one!) who could coordinate fingering and stroking much, much better to the music played, who could also perform the minimum acting required of this ingenue role. The casting director and producer should have shopped around music conservatories, small orchestras, etc., to find some pretty young girl who could actually play the violin, and then her representational playing could have been dubbed by a better player, as it was in this movie. Viewers of Mary Astor movies may remember her playing the piano in "The Great Lie" of 1941, and being dubbed by a superior piano player. That worked because Astor actually played the piano fairly well herself, and could match finger moves well to the notes heard. The more difficult passages were simply "off camera." Here, long shots were frequently used but still didn't cure the blatant problem That was hole #1.

Hole #2 is that we are asked to believe that Heiss throws in the towel when he is well in the clear of the murder; he has not been identified as being one of the two men who dumped the body. The other man who dumped the body is dead. How Fellowes obtained the "legacy" money may be an open question, but it does not incriminate Heiss directly, as Fellowes may have been blackmailing someone else, or had some other unsavory money source. Pavlow's doctor-fiancé tells Heiss that an item that was on the mantelpiece, then in Fellowes' pocket, proves Fellowes returned to the shop on the night of the murder. So what? All that cool-customer Heiss needed to suggest was that Fellowes may well have returned, unbeknownst to himself, and just pocketed the item, and then left without seeing Heiss. Fellowes could have entered the shop surreptitiously - an open window? did he still have a key? was the door unlocked? - no need for suicide here. That's hole #2.

Otherwise, a fine movie that kept the viewer rooting for the old man..

Cottage to Let

OK, this sweet film has a special effect - but it's none too effective
Two bad-guy Nazi guards with guns return to the entry room of a mill where Banks, Cole and the Scotland Yard detective/butler are being held in the inner room. Check. It's all over for these two Nazi agents. The handwriting is on the mill wall. Militia is outside, surrounding them, shooting through the windows. The baddies' gun ammunition is likely low, as they've been shooting a lot. I didn't notice they brought extra rounds. Check.

Problem solving is no longer necessary for our hostage three. They clearly heard the rescuing ruckus. All they have to do is bide their time and enjoy their rescue. They don't have to bother to fulfill any escape plan.

But no, here comes their superfluous special effect. A large, heavy millstone is lever-ready to come crashing through the door connecting the inner room to the mill entry. Only it's narrower than about a third of a man's body, and quite unlikely to remain upright for more than a foot length of travel if levered and pushed. Makes you wonder how this point was staged in the play format this film was based on.

Now if you were a Nazi/bad guy, would you stand around huddled next to your pal in perfect line with the approaching stone, or would you have good enough reflexes to just hop aside? A second or two of warning is all you'd need to get out of the way, as the stone improbably lumbers along its slow, inexplicably upright gravitational path. The baddies stare at it and get in line for the impact.

Well this film still gets 9 stars from me out of 10, mainly for the entertaining interplay between comedy and intrigue, and for the excellent cast and script, and overall sweetness, despite credulity-bending here and there. Enjoyable movie for a rainy afternoon.

The Woman in White

DVD Region 2 is available, but not yet Region 1 for US/Canada viewers
Because I agree with most of the reviewers' comments already submitted, I have very little to say except that Wilkie Collins' book is beautifully constructed, well written and very re- readable. It is a tremendous challenge to adapt to a 3-4 hour format, but Ray Jenkins has met the task with minimal damage to the characterizations and intricate plot lines. Kudos to him, and to the producer & director, as well as actors. And appropriately moody music.

I did find Daniel Gerroll insipid at first as Walter, but he grows on you, and by about the third time I viewed this 1978/82 version (first broadcast in '78, rebroadcast in '82), I began to appreciate his performance very much. Seagrove, the marvelous Anna Wing (Mrs. Clements (and Pauline Jameson (Mrs. Catherick) are also excellent.

Yes, it's available as a Region 2 DVD, and because I bought a Region 2 player for $30, well worth it, to play "The Green Man," which is also on Region 2 only, I can play this one, too, but not all my classic-loving American/Canadian neighbors can, without making the player purchase or complicated adjustments to their Region 1 player.

The UK continues to create superior adaptations of classics, keeping its rich literary traditions alive in so doing, although later remakes of most classics are generally inferior to the ones created in the '70s and '80s, if you're interested in seeing a film remotely in line with what the authors intended..

North & South

If we're rating a film by the sex appeal of the leads, yes, it rates high
There's no denying that Armitage is a handsome man and Denby-Ashe is a lovely woman. Let's put that on hold, because Mrs. Gaskell is turning over in her grave.

Un-Gaskelly, un-Victorian scenes (smelling of Hollywood, not London, and certainly not of Manchester!) are injected out of writer's caprice to motivate the characters more blatantly, to bring sensationalism into the mix for the viewer's consumption. The "railroad scene" ending that so entrances viewers is nowhere to be found in the book. Victorians simply did not display open, public eroticism, because it wasn't that kind of culture in those days. What a disappointment for modern audiences, who like nothing better than sex with a little violence thrown in for emphasis (Armitage's beating the employee in the early part of this dismal adaptation).

Other reviewers have said the Margaret/John relationship was not developed, or underdeveloped, and right they are.

The 1975 version, even with the liabilities of Rosalind Shanks' uncertain acting, crooked smile and meandering eyebrows (way too many close-ups of that lady as Margaret), is far, far better a telling of what Mrs. Gaskell intended to say. Patrick Stewart makes a believable John - morally straight, forceful, and attempting (nearly succeeding) to be a gentleman, as in the book.

Not that the 1975 version is perfect. Margaret, whose graduate degrees in economics are absent, presumes to know how to run a mill successfully, and pontificates frequently and ignorantly, but with sincerity, anyway. Furthermore, the 1975 version omits Leonard's recognition of Frederick at the train station and consequent legal problems for Margaret - but it is one thing to omit, and quite another to fabricate, as the 2004 version does.

Norman Jones is appropriately intense and mellow, as the situation calls for, and overall much better as Higgins in 1975, although Brendan Coyle has lots more sex appeal in the 2004 version.

This 2004 version is pretty. Nice locations. Mill fluff ten times the size of true mill fluff in those days, so the viewer can take it seriously. But it does not deserve more than two stars, and that's for Sinead Cusack's rowing with the script oars she was given - she does an outstanding job with a flawed script. Her dad was the great Cyril Cusack, an actor's actor, catch one of his later roles as the gunsmith in "The Day of the Jackal."


Some nearly fatal miscasting problems, but this 1971 version has some merits
Ann Firbank's Anne is "past her bloom," for sure, by too many years, and there is zero magnetism between her and Bryan Marshall's Frederick, but that's not the actors' fault as much as the casting director's. Firbank lacks the vulnerability and gentleness of Amanda Root's (and author Jane Austen's) Anne in the 1995 version with the incomparable Ciaran Hinds making a very definitive, dignified Frederick.

Zhivila Roche's Louisa Musgrove is far more irritating and immature than she should be, considering she's supposed to evolve quickly as a serious lover of poetry, post-accident; that character development would've been more plausible if Louisa were toned down just a bit pre-accident. No one doubts that people can change after a trauma, but this is way too unbelievable as done in the 1975 version.

Ignoring production values, or excusing them for the technological conditions of the day (which is always a good idea), this version works because it takes the time to tell the story, closer to the book. The omissions made in the 1995 script do damage the logical progression & character motivations. The music is wonderful in the 1995 production, melodious and romantic, yet not overpowering.

Both are fun to watch. I haven't caught the other versions yet, having little hope that they'd be anything like what Jane Austen intended to say. Correct me if I'm wrong!

The Green Man

If this one doesn't deserve 10 stars, nothing does
Hilarious, flawless, consistently-paced script. Kudos to writers Gilliat & Launder. The witty dialogue and precision-cut plot pieces converge plausibly at break-neck speed. No lulls. No plot gimmickry. The most entertaining and skillfully acted comedy ever filmed, as far as I know, and I've loved British films for decades. Modern "comedies" can't come close - well - maybe the 1955 The Ladykillers is nearly as well-written and acted. Thanks for uploading!!! Now on DVD, Region 2. If you're a Region 1 user, this film alone is worth shelling out the $30 for a Region 2 player.

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