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"Inspector Morse" Happy Families (1992)

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13 out of 17 people found the following review useful:

One of the more complex Morse episodes, and a fine one it is too.

10/10
Author: TheLittleSongbird from United Kingdom
7 July 2009

Happy Families is a wonderful entry of the much-loved detective series, and actually one of my favourites. John Thaw and Kevin Whately maintain their usual standard of acting, which is nothing short of perfection, particularly Thaw. I know Thaw wasn't the typical Hollywood looker, but his amazing acting ability was what touched people most, and when he died, Britain did lose a great actor, and even that word doesn't do justice to the talent the man had. The script and the plot are excellent, full of complex issues, like Morse's persecution with the press. The camera-work is very slick, and the final solution, while not the most ingenious of the Morse episodes was still clever and entirely unpredictable. I also liked the supporting actors, especially Martin Clunes, in definitely one of his better and more understated performances, but the performances of Anna Massey, Allun Armstrong and Gwen Taylor also impress, and Rupert Graves seems to be enjoying himself as the ruthless newspaper man. All in all, a very complex mystery, developed into a very well-done and intelligent episode. 10/10 Bethany Cox.

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6 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

The case of the murdered aristocrat.

8/10
Author: besah from Australia
30 July 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is Morse at its best.

Sir John Balcombe is found brutally murdered at his home, Balcombe House. Morse immediately comes under pressure from Chief Superintendent Holdsby, brilliantly played by Alun Armstrong of "New Tricks." Holdsby is ambitious and has his sights set on a promotion.

At the press conference Morse is patronizing towards the media and comes to the attention of some unscrupulous journalist who soon turn the focus on the "clever cop." Soon after Harry Balcombe, a son, is found murdered and suspicion falls on the surviving brother - James who is played by Martin Clunes in one of his best performances. However, he too is murdered in strange circumstances; shot dead at a site with a spade in his hand. Morse investigates and unearths a skeleton that has been buried for 20 years.

Once again Morse solves a murder as if it were a cross word puzzle!

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5 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

Digging Up The Past.

8/10
Author: Robert J. Maxwell (rmax304823@yahoo.com) from Deming, New Mexico, USA
26 February 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I followed the narrative, more or less, despite the redolent red herrings and assorted michigas. The Balcombe family are an unhappy lot, despite their immense wealth. Most of the locations in this series include one or another stately home, but this one is Shirburn Castle. It has the requisite towers and moat and was licensed in 1377. What marvelous parties could be had there. But instead the Balcombes live in a state of constant gloom. The opening scene has Lady Balcombe, Anna Massey, celebrating her birthday while her husband and two sons and her financial adviser sing one of the least enthusiastic "Happy Birthday"s you ever heard.

One by one the family members are knocked off. First the pater familias, whom we didn't care about anyway because we never got to know him. He gets his head bashed in with a stone mason's mallet. Next, one of the spoiled and greedy sons. He has his neck broken, a chisel stuck through his chest post mortem, and rolled into a gully. Just as well. He was pretty snotty. The other son, Martin Clunes, seems to be next in line and he knows it. He's scared to death. When he goes, it's no great loss either. With his over-sized eyes and chubby lips he looks like a debauched cherub, and he's a Philistine too. He can't see the beauty in his art collection. Finally, the only family member left is Anna Massey, who is half mad. She's likable in her own unquiet way, with her exopthalmia and receding chin -- and a fine actress -- but she gets it too.

I said I could follow the plot and it's true, but the plot is one of the most stupid that I've run across in the series. Some crime committed years ago is being avenged by a most unlikely person. Or -- let me put it this way. How can an ordinary academic lady of no particular strength manage to snap the neck of a fully grown man, even if that man is a moral weakling? Further, the ending resembles that of a Columbo episode. It hinges on the fact that the murderer attended the University of Montreal, not Cambridge, as claimed. When the lie is revealed, the suspect spills all the beans, even in the absence of any evidence that would convict her. That happens routinely in "Columbo" because nobody cares enough about the credibility of the plots. The fact is that everybody lies, and not just once in a while but every day, beginning with the response to the question, "How are you?" Heck, social life is a tissue of misrepresentations. Okay, full disclosure. I didn't go to Cambridge either. I went to Asbury Park Community College. Now I'll tell you about all the murders I've committed. Final implausibility: a young girl hates the mother she never knew so much that when Anna Massey claims to BE that mother, now loving and generous, the kid lets her have it.

Points of interest include the fact that Lady Balcombe, oozing money, wears sneakers around the castle -- or, pardon me, "trainers." In this episode, Morse becomes the object of media ridicule; the official investigation receives less attention and the paparazzi turn Morse's private life into a tabloid essay. A bit more exploration of that theme wouldn't have hurt because of its relevance today. The title of the episode is part of a quote from Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina" -- "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." (PS: Kids, I think it's supposed to be ironic.) Finally, I'm beginning to more and more admire those lady police constables in this series. As Randolph Scott once remarked of his leading ladies, "They ain't ugly." And while the lady PCs themselves are dutiful and restrained, their uniforms are rather spiffy. May I suggest shorter skirts and, instead of those ruddy great clod hoppers, they wear high leather boots with spike heels? I can't imagine how it would interfere with their constabulary duties.

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