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Endless detail in Quota-Quickie Land
But no reviewer gives this film anything other than a deserved high rating and most identify much of what makes it so watchable.
I think it is no coincidence that the director is also the screenwriter. It means that dialogue can be quite spare at times because it will be visuals - glances between individuals - which tell the story. And this draws in the viewer - "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" says the detective to his colleague - no reply because he (and the viewer) are thinking the same. Nothing is over-played. A suspect is sitting in a room, with no announcement a detective brings in a witness, briefly introduces him to the suspect. Neither show any interest in the other. The detective and witness leave. Nothing is said but it has wordlessly made clear that a hopeful line of enquiry has suddenly turned into a dead end.
And it may be no coincidence that veteran director Val Guest was formerly an actor. A screenwriter is concerned to tell a story - and the dialogue is divvied up between the cast. But perhaps most deadly of all is mere padding dialogue: "Cup of tea? Milk? How many sugars?" An actor in contrast is firstly playing a character so dialogue is as much sketching the character as advancing the plot. British film "Calculated Risk" 1963 is another example of very ordinary sounding dialogue lifting a production where the screenwriter was also an actor - and with character comes relationships. "what's my motivation" is the question always kept in mind and ensures the cast's focus throughout. Of course the top name screenwriters - the Alan Platers - come close. But here characters can almost be Dickensian with instantly recognisable ways of speaking "I've got a photographic memory" repeatedly says a minor but important witness. Realistic people who are excited and so gush irrelevancies that they don't stop when ushered out of the room, but audibly continue with the police constable waiting outside.
Pace - I can see some of how this comes about. One thing is elimination of redundant film - an address might come over the police radio - cut to police car stopping outside the address. Yet there is no sense of hurry. Everything is given the necessary time.
It's a measure of the film's qualities that there is such agreement about its merits - nobody fails to understand and appreciate it. Was it influenced by earlier American police procedurals? Has it been a model and inspiration till this day for British police dramas? I think it is yes to both. I'd suggest Dragnet for the first but so domesticated that the link is more tone than anything. For the second, decreasingly so as swagger, gloss and style come to predominate. And swagger, gloss and style are absent here.
Car S.O.S. (2013)
A tribute to a real hero
It's enough for a master restoration mechanic to work at a normal pace, surrounded just by competent helpers, turning work away when too busy, making excuses for delays. Difficult problems and crises arise of course from time to time but those are the conditions under which most make their living.
But this TV series, like some Japanese reality show, adds fiendish challenges and trials amounting almost to torture with an ever-present camera to record the reaction. I have some knowledge of the work so find the problems and solutions fascinating. And the work is almost the sum total of the interest and significance of the programme, apart that is from the usually tragic personal story concerning each owner and their joy at seeing their pride - and joy - restored.
The added challenges and trials includes not just near impossible deadlines but also an imposed near functionally-redundant presenter who has a deep but unrequited relationship with the camera and is in constant photo-bombing mode. It is he who pronounces not asks the expert on the list of tasks, it is he, at moments of others' stress steps forward to indignantly pronounce that it is time to "crack on" and, at the end, when the overjoyed owner is overwhelmed with gratitude, each time contrives a scene in which he takes the credit while the person who has done the work, modestly stands back. I look at the drawer of large shiny double open ended spanners going up to perhaps 1kg weight and wonder if Fuzz Townsend, master mechanic, will ever misuse one on his colleague and be enabled to get on with the work and receive due credit.
But probably not, that is the marvel of the show which is not just about his skills as much as a testament to his extraordinary temperament. He's a real hero and I could never be such.
Was Hitchcock ever as good again?
I am surprised that few if anybody comments on the striking opening sequence - so unlike other British films of the time. It starts with a very obvious model of a village street but the houses are unlike any British houses - slightly gnomish, all looking as if made of mud with not a brick or wooden beam in sight. And the odd lighting - very contrasty and coming upwards at an angle from ground level. All the houses had sash windows - completely wrong for ancient cottages. The whole thing is visually very stylised - it somehow reminded me of early German films. I checked and found: "In 1924, Alfred Hitchcock was sent by Gainsborough Pictures to work as an assistant director and art director at the UFA Babelsberg Studios in Berlin on the film The Blackguard. The immediate effect of the working environment in Germany can be seen in his expressionistic set designs for that film. Hitchcock later said, "I...acquired a strong German influence by working at the UFA studios (in) Berlin" (Wikipedia)
And as the camera goes from window to window then from interior to interior as the entire street is woken by a noise of banging, and husbands and wives get out of their beds .... Normally the camera, like a gentleman, would avert its gaze at this point. However, this being Hitchcock with his trade-mark rather schoolboyish grubby sense of humour, it sees a hand viewed in close-up from above diving into a glass to pull out some false teeth, and lingers while more than one woman struggles to put on her lingerie under her night-dress, lingering unduly as one totters as she puts both feet down a single leg of one garment. Clearly a once naughty young boy had become a naughty young man (and was famously to become a naughty old man). The Young Master had made his unmistakable mark after scarcely 5 minutes running time. A cheekily amusing camera's eye but not one which would I think ever again be seen in a British film. Well hardly ever. Robert Donat's inconvenient hand-cuff, 9 years later, would oblige him to intimately assist young Madeline Carole to put on her stockings.
The following scene has two women - one late middle age, the other young and excited, gossip as the older makes tea in the kitchen. As they gossip the two cross the kitchen backwards and forwards, and 7 times the camera crabs to follow them; 6 times the younger one sits down and gets up. I laughed out loud - it was so true to life. And the dialogue (they were gossiping about the murdered girl) "What kind of tea do you use?". So true to the character - so inspired as bit of writing.
Hitchcock so clearly has a vitality, inventiveness and sharply observant eye in this film that he progressively lost as budgets and his fame grew. Production values sky-rocketed, the biggest names starred, the plots became more convoluted and stories moved towards pointless horror as he became to cultivate notariety with Psycho and finally Frenzy
My hypothesis is that his time in Germany was his sole inspiration and directly influenced him. The next 40 years were a using up of that inspirational experience and diminishing joy for him even as his fame reached its peak.
"Good night, Lady Melrose" "I didn't quite catch that?" "Good NIGHT!" "Oh"
Thus went the conversation between Ronald Colman's Raffles and the rich but vast and ageing Lady Melrose after he had courteously escorted her to her bedroom and the two hovered either side of the open door. The lady's expression, which went from bright expectation to annoyed disappointment, left no doubt what was happening. This was pre-Hayes Code and both here and elsewhere it was very obvious. Also the question of Raffle's morality. In the book, Raffles does give some kind of justification for his thieving - "the richly immoral robbing the immorally rich". He also never befriends soon to become victims. Here Colman blithely disregards all of this. The 1939 almost scene for scene word for word remake with David Niven was entirely cleaned up - but weaker and more colourless for it.
I'm a great fan of the Raffles books. E W Hornung the author was not so well known as his brother in law, Arthur Conan-Doyle but was though alround a better writer. This film is engaging and quite exciting, brings together parts from different stories and the result is entertaining but in terms of story, thin and slap-dash. The adaptation is dominated by the requirement to continue/assist Ronald Colman's highly bankable screen persona as an elegant, humorous, charming pleaser of ladies.(Raffles in the book is too dedicated to be humorous or charming unless necessary in pursuit of crime). Here Raffles love interest, Kay Francis, is very passionate, unlimited in her devotion to him. Of the two other central characters, companion in crime "Bunny" Manders is reduced to an irrelevance. Curiously the third character in the trio - McKenzie, the "Scotch" detective - alone is the all-time definitive rendering of the character in the book - Raffles' feared Nemesis: dogged, doughty and determined. Indeed the adaptation gives him equal billing with his quarry. It's a joy to watch a character from the books so vividly and truthfully brought to life. Clearly whoever did the adaptation was more interested in and relished McKenzie more than the other two.
All in all, a good entertainment.
The Ravelled Thread (1979)
Sunday evening fayre from the 1970s
This was the era of good family viewing where historic costume dramas could be full of action but light on controversy. Set in 1846,it is agreeable to look at, with good costumes, interiors and attractive South Coast historic exteriors. Although it has spills it is short on thrills. And conspicuously lacks Poldarks great casting of feisty Angharad Rees and Robin Ellis. The late great Jack Wilde has a rather peripheral role rather than being featured. Also the outline of the story - Britains involvement in the American Civil War - doesn't deliver anything like the interest it promises.
It remains however what it always was: agreeable family Sunday early evening entertainment from a time when Bergerac was adult viewing. A 6.5 out of 10
The gorgeous Olivia de Havilland
I'm an great admirer of the Raffles books. E W Hornung was a better writer than the more famous Arthur Conan Doyle, his more famous brother in law. The stories were very well constructed,characters well-defined and deserved classics. This is a thin lazy adaptation, combining of several of the stories losing a great deal of what was important. It is though a scene by scene and largely word for word re-make of the superior 1930 Ronald Colman version.
One, and perhaps the, reason for the remake seemed obvious to me. The 1930 version was too steamy and too suggestive for 1939. When Ronald Colman courteously escorts the large and elderly Lady Melrose to her bedroom and wishes her goodnight, Lady Melrose affects to mishear and Colman repeats with great emphasis the finality of NIGHT!. It is made very clear from their expressions that Lady Melrose was hoping Colman would join her. It think it was not perhaps until the 1970s that Hollywood would again dare suggest such a thing. Colman's love interest is clearly passionately besotted with him and would do anything for him. It was realism but of a kind which Hollywood would I think never portray again. Firstly Hayes Code prudery and later the box office obligation to show women as heroic and independent.
The adaptation removes Bunny's connection with Raffles (formerly a junior at Raffles public (fee paying) school and the odd obligations this entailed. Bunny in this version has little purpose. Raffles was the ultimate professional thief and corrupts Bunny and in the process teaches him (and the reader) his philosophy of life and crime. His cricket was a calculated necessary high profile front. Raffles lived alone without a servant - his night time arrivals and departures, often in disguise made that obligatory
As other reviewers have said, Niven makes a good job of his part but only Olivia de Havillands loveliness makes the film at all watchable.
The best screen rendering of the Raffles was a 1975 British TV series - again combining different stories but a seamlessly invisible adaptation. The interiors were those of a wealthy single gentleman of 1890s London - based on gentleman's clubs. Raffles, Bunny and McKenzie were authentically true to the books. It did Hornung honour. BBC Radio has done two versions (at least), first a reading and second a full production complete with distinctive signature tune.
Thanks once again to Talking Pictures TV for screening these famous early Raffles versions. Otherwise I would never have known of them.
All Over the Town (1949)
Attractive location shooting but falls short
First the good news: lovely photography of Lime Regis in summer. But the bad news is that a number of things let this film down. Firstly the lead - Norman Moreland, a tall handsome classical actor but without star quality or personality. Secondly a lack of wit and sensitivity in the screenplay. Thirdly a rather unsympathetic plot.
I'm not sure if the resemblance was coincidental but Moreland physically and in the clothing closely resembles actor James Stewart and the film and part resemble - but fall far short of - a number of classic James Stewart comedies. The difference is that Stewart's screen persona was perfectly served by the scripts: the audience's sympathies and emotions perfectly manipulated. Here the screenplay is, like the main characters, rather clumsy and not really sympathetic. The female lead (Sarah Churchill) too was all set to marry Moreland but angrily rejects him when she discovers that marriage will not provide her an escape to London. Ealing comedies would never have been so clumsy with characters. Even the "villains" (Fabia Drake and James Hayter - always exceedingly good) in this film had more personality and in a way more engaging and certainly more entertaining than the two do-gooders who while they blast open the small town cronyism and corruption, are in their way intolerant overbearing know-alls. It perhaps though accurately reflected the times with division between those who spent the war at home unchanging provincial narrowness and those whom the war was transformative - seeing the world, seeing and having responsibility for decisions over life and death. The screenplay needed to have sketched this rather than assume the audience necessarily knew and were sympathetic.
Some reviews of the time were uncommonly uncomplimentary: "The New York Times described it as a "slow, dogmatic little picture" with a "dog-eared" plot. In The Times, the film's plot was seen as unoriginal, executed "without inspiration or any originality of thought" (Wikipedia) The criticism of the plot seems though unduly harsh - a film about the (local) press being in bed with advertisers and business interests the local people overturning it is not a common one.
A 6.5 - it could have been an 8. Moreland as an actor performed the script he was given but added nothing. A star such as Kenneth More would most likely have seen a need for changes to it. It's what made "Genevieve" such a classic - More played a loud selfish and insensitive man often maddening his wife - but with periodic self-awareness and redeeming charm - script and actor in perfect harmony.
Last Holiday (1950)
About wealth, power and networking - not class
The central character (Guiness) is "a modest unassuming salesman of agricultural implements" (Wikipedia). A respectable almost classless person whose unassuming manner, unglamorous job and modest salary have limited his social circle. For the first (and last) time circumstances allow him to spend freely and, for want of any other idea, stay a few weeks at a very upmarket seaside hotel. Its clientele have only one thing in common: either possessing wealth or using the opportunity to accumulate it. Some are rich and lack class, others have power and status as well as wealth. The Guinness character for the first time has an opportunity to network with important people.
Guinness in a way reprises his role in The Man in the White Suit - a thoroughly honest man innocent in the ways of the world whose modest manner and appearance belies his inventive genius. Yet is remarkably unchanged by success and continues to treat both high and low equally - and cause a surprising degree of unintended upset.
A good story with excellent cast, it is a less demanding part for the chameleon genius of Guinness. As usual with Priestley very well crafted story-telling. However the film dates from 1950 - 5 years after WW2 when people were looking to a better future and trying to put grief behind them. During WW2, Priestley had been the nation's uncle, providing not false comfort but a steadying presence putting the worlds events into a assimilable form for the average person. With the end of the war, the public's need for Priestley (much as their need for Churchill) ended. The film's sour end seems to have no point other than to say just when things are looking up and people at their most cheerful and optimistic, everything can be be dashed to the ground in an instant.
The Secret Man (1958)
I say! That's not cricket! Engrossing and watchable. Oddly topical too
Amazingly no review yet has noticed who wrote the screenplay. To call Brian Clemens a veteran writer in this genre would be an understatement. The man who created The Avengers and later The Professionals deservedly received considerable credit for these and many many other TV and cinema productions. And this film too is more inventive more interesting and better written than the hundreds of other budget B&W films of the era featuring a budget US star. It is a careless mistake to rubber stamp it as a quota quickie - it's considerably better than this.
Elements from it are to be seen in the James Bonds and another in The Great St Trinians Train Robbery. I cant judge but get the impression that there are genuine authentic elements too. When all are suspect how do you know who to trust?
The budget, cast and direction does not rise above the average but the key parts of the story could be re-made today. The London shooting locations - today for millionaires - were then grimy and bomb-blasted. The weather too was uniformly grey and misty.
What's not cricket? You'll see about 5 minutes in.
Holby City (1999)
Doing what, with what, to whom?
What kind of procedures - old and trusted or new and cutting edge? What instruments and apparatus to be deployed? Who is the patient?
This very long running series has, at least over the time I've watched it (the last 2 years), had its superb high peaks and some dips - I guess as writers change. At times very involving but also exhausting as multiple medical emergencies with their critical dilemmas overlap personal emergencies and critical dilemmas including agonisingly long running will he/she wont he/she romantic indecision. Just the medical side is often fascinating - educational even. Also fascinating, at times, is the portrayal of wisdom in the management of highly skilled professionals - what to say? to intervene? to keep quiet? when professional rivalry, bad-judgement or personal matters interfere. Individual characters and psychologies are both very diverse and very well sketched. Some characters unmistakably get on with everybody, some find themselves tied to a colleague from Hell.
Of late it has rather deteriorated from its peak - the harshest professionals have softened and become strangely sentimental. Increasingly emergencies are occurring within the hospital grounds. A hated non-medical CEO of the Trust meets his end conveniently and to unvoiced wide satisfaction but improbably.
However overall it's medical soap of the choicest quality.