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RKO 281 (1999 TV Movie)
Glimpses of Greatness, Greed and Grandeur
21 December 2011
If you are into vintage movies, vintage America and conspiracy theories, then this is an entertainment for you.

Many other reviews here have outlined the strengths and weaknesses of the film re the truth about the making of Kane, and the relative attributions of credit, blame and opprobrium. I'd like to inject a good word for Roy Scheider's portrayal of RKO boss George Schaefer: His character's struggle to find the right balance between keeping his east coast money men happy, his obvious liking for Welles and the desire to make good movies is very well portrayed.

Something I really enjoyed was the portrayal of Welles' and Mank's visit to the Hearst Castle at San Simeon, California. That is a fascinating place, which saw so many famous and talented people visit during Hearst's time there. There's a movie about the lifetime of that place to be made by someone, though I don't think anyone has ever attempted it? Apparently they didn't use the real location for RKO281 - a lot of it seems to have been done in London. Was that cost, or did the Hearst Castle trustees refuse....? Anyway, if you're up for a good tale woven around some known facts, but not sticking to them too tightly, take the RKO281 ride, you'll have fun. Just don't let it become your true picture of Mr Welles, Mr Hearst or (most of all) Mr Mankiewicz.
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Beast (2000–2001)
Another vote for a DVD release.
2 December 2009
STOP PRESS: Bothe series are now (Feb 2014) available on DVD in the UK

I can only concur with the previous reviews about Beast. It's something approaching a crime that the Beeb have not put this out on DVD -especially considering some of the dross that they HAVE put out! I have to demur from the adoration of Simon Nye's earlier "Men Behaving Badly" series -which I thought was only sometimes as funny as it thought it was. I also object to MBB on the grounds that it spearheaded the "Men are stupid, woman are clever" stereotype that was so prevalent in comedy and advertising around the millennium. I can only imagine the storm of protest that would have ensued if that stereotyping had been the other way around...

Anyway, no such problem with Beast, everyone in it is, happily - a lackwit!
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Needs a DVD release.. NOW!
28 October 2009
Why on earth is this not available on DVD? A Brilliant film that fully deserves a DVD release. One wonders if any trails or out takes survive too?

Redgrave is - as always - excellent and the supporting cast are superb. An intriguing story - that has already been described by other reviewers, so I won't repeat that.

It used to play regularly on UK TV but has now disappeared. Does anyone know who now owns it? Could they be persuaded to re-master it and release it on DVD? Being directed by BBC TV film critic Barry Norman's dad should give it a little extra interest for the market.
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A gem waiting for you to discover it.
24 March 2008
Having never seen this before I recorded it off TCM more out of curiosity than expectation. Boy, was I wrong! This one really is a gem.

The hugely talented Mitchell and Qualen dominate - as has already been noted by previous reviewers. Garfield is suitably nasty, but not too nasty. Lupino is believably hormonally confused between her "steady Eddie" boyfriend George (appropriately played by Eddie "Green Acres" Albert) and Garfield's devil-may-care petty gangster.

Overall, it's a fairly slight story, but extremely well directed, staged and photographed. The satisfying ending merely adds the finishing touch. Terrific atmosphere somewhere between "To Have and Have Not" and some darker Capra moments, terrific acting and a great way to spend 80 minutes or so.

Had this starred Bogart or Edward G Robinson, it would have been more widely recognised today for the minor classic that it undoubtedly is.
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Almost perfect.
10 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Having collected an off-air recording of this film I now make sure to watch it at least once per year. Why? It's almost perfect.

A New York police detective stumbles upon a plot to kill President elect Abraham Lincoln en route to Washington for his inauguration. The plotters plan for multiple gunmen to assassinate Abe whilst he is speechifying in Baltimore.

Having failed to convince his superiors that the plot is real, the cop hands in his badge and takes "The Flyer" - an overnight train from New York to Baltimore. The bulk of the film concerns his efforts to find out more details of the plot, and figure out which of his fellow passengers are part of it. Having done so, he must stop them from bumping him off or getting him locked up until it's all over. It's a great plot, extrapolated to some unknown degree, from real events.

For me, the film has a quality that should put it right up there with other film noir classics such as "The Big Sleep". You actually feel the cop's physical desperation that he must stop the conspirators, and you feel their fanaticism to succeed. Dick Powell as the cop (Ironically called John Kennedy) carries the film superbly. Will Geer (he eventually played the Grandfather in "The Waltons") is completely believable as the harassed train conductor. The more minor characters (such as the driver/engineer and some of the non-principal passengers) are given depth and motivation to a degree that is quite unusual.

The settings feel like a train, rather than a set being rocked gently by a set of burly teamsters. The external train shots are mostly real, not the usual laughable model shots you get in many train films of this vintage. In fact, overall, the technical competence of the whole production is top notch. The photography, lighting, sound, visual effects and sets are of a very high calibre indeed.

Even if you are not usually given to watching movies as old as this one, I urge you to track this one down - it's well worthwhile.

Alan T.
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Michael Palin was right.
29 October 2007
So, Michael Palin was right. In his 1979 "Great Railway Journeys' of the World" trip for the BBC from London to Scotland, he said that the start of a long railway journey was one of the great moments in life.

In this film "The Elizabethan" we share that feeling as the prestigious express train makes ready to leave from the famed platform 10 at London's Kings Cross station, as it did every morning at 9.30 for its headlong journey to Edinburgh. The sense of anticipation and excitement of the train departing is still palpable, more than 50 years later (and in black and white!) as the huge wheels of the A4 Pacific start to roll, then we get the low level track side shot of the train heading out of Kings Cross. Classic stuff! The film is an excellent look at how these great British express trains were run, and the kind of people and places they served. Of course, it's still happening: The GNER (Great North Eastern Railway) trains of today still do this trip many times each day, and dare I say that they do it even faster than the steamers used to do it, but rather more effortlessly and not so photogenically.

The A4 engines in this film are visibly trying very hard, with steam and smoke gushing from every vent and we even see the fireman shovelling coal heroically to keep the beast moving. We see the engine picking up water at speed from the between-the-rails troughs, and spray goes everywhere: You can't get all that visual eye candy from someone opening up the throttle of an electric - even though the result is a faster journey.

The narrator is Alan Wheatley who played the Sheriff of Nottingham in the 1950s TV Robin Hood Series (in which Richard Greene played the title role). I knew I had heard that voice somewhere before and I finally figured it out.

I was one year old when this film was made - but I think it's great. From the opening 1954 overview of Kings Cross station concourse (shortly to be viewed in colour in the 1955 Ealing comedy film "The Lady Killers") through the shots of stations along the way, and to the majesty that is Edinburgh, it's a pleasure that even the occasionally "ouch" rhyming of the narration cannot wholly diminish.

Track it down and see it. One of the great moment of life for all railway holics.
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Harry O (1973–1976)
Now Available on DVD. Great series cut off in its prime.
5 November 2005
This series was that rare thing in the 1970s - an original and intelligently constructed mainstream US TV series.

This was due to two factors, the personality and performance of David Janssen (the word unique is grossly over-used, but it truly applied to him), and the way that the character of Harry Orwell was constructed around Janssen's screen persona. The idea of an ex cop taking up private detection was not new, even then, but the details were what made this one special. For example, Harry often travelled by bus, being unable to drive because his car was always hosed. Imagine, Kojak or Jim Rockford doing that? No, neither can I. Harry also had a family history (ex-partner, money problems etc)that we actually saw him dealing with. Very little gloss on Harry's life.

So, an intelligently constructed premise, a great central performer, superb performances from the recurring characters - notably Anthony Zerbe as the acerbic Lt. Trench (replacing Lt. Manny Quinlan half-way through series 1, when the series' location moved from San Diego to LA at the behest of the studio suits). And then, we had some interesting and well written scripts - but yes, there were some clunkers too. Harry O was well directed, very well cut in the styles of the time and oh! - those Foley sounds, loud footsteps in longshots - I love it! The sound on just one of the series one episodes is appalling, but for all the rest, they look and sound great.

Perhaps because it came in at the middle or latter end of the US boom in detective series, Harry O ran for only two seasons. A great shame, it had a lot more potential to realise - and without Janssen it can never be recreated.

2013 UPDATE: The first series is available now as a box set from the Warners online shop!

2014 UPDATE: No longer a rare series! Warners have put out box set of both series now. You can buy on Amazon or direct from WBshop.

Excellent! Just ordered mine!
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