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Gentleman Jim (1942)
4/10
Gentle History
1 January 2011
You could have given Flynn any director, setting or costume but even at this point in his career, he could still never escape his self-moulded image. To be fair though, he tries his best as 19th century boxer James J Corbett in this 'biopic' - hurr hurr, as the Warner machine does its ineluctable best to see his story told as they see fit.

Hence, some of the studio's finest worked if not on historical accuracy, the splendid period recreation - characterisations and all - and Raoul Walsh sure loves pugnacity, as evidenced in his later Cagney films. It has to be said that Alexis Smith makes a splendid Olivia de Havilland.
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Busting (1974)
3/10
Average Bust
1 January 2011
Gould and 'Our Gang' regular Blake play a couple of vice cops who give up on the rest of their lazy and thick-headed department and decide to go about cleaning up the streets single-handedly (come on people, Eastwood, Friedkin and Michael Winner had already done their stuff). Enter every crime/sleaze caricature imaginable, and in 70s gear to boot.

Hyams' first feature is a very straight-faced but contemporarily 'hip' outing, which here and there seems inevitably hilariously dated in its trappings and social mores now, but also doesn't stray too inconsequentially from the tested 'buddy movie' formula. It's got a fine cast and Hyams' action style certainly won't disappoint fans of his later work.

In terms of violence, there is certainly a not-inconsiderable brutality quotient, but I don't know whether I was getting the complete picture in this BBC print, as the BBFC website indicates that 30-odd seconds (of what, not specified) were originally cut for both Cinema and Video.
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4/10
Film-Making Plan 9 From Mars
1 January 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Dubious is the artistic integrity of any sci-fi story set in 'Septober'. Nevertheless, this no doubt seriously-intended seasonal concoction for the kiddies is a scream today.

Wacky sets, props and colours aside, a consistent facetious hilarity is maintained via the allusions between 'Martian' and middle-class American domesticity throughout the story of Mr Claus' exploits after being kidnapped by the eponymous planet, following their concern that their children are being brainwashed by exposure to festive 'Earth Programmes' on their intergalactic TVs. "Something is happening to the children of Mars" espouses the anguished Martian Mom Momar to her husband; "Kemar, as leader of the Martians, you must do something about it".

Supporting the possible sneaky allegory about the universally deleterious effects of TV on kids is none other than a prepubescent Pia Zadora, before she grew up to sing a couple of deleteriously awful 80s pop songs and star in a couple of deleteriously awful 80s movies. I'm not convinced that Mom's diet of 'dinner pills' didn't go someway to achieving the catatonic state of acting that Pia and her on-screen brother achieve, but there you go you can't lambast parents for too many things at once in an ostensible flick for kids. That would be subversive!

If, by the time the sing-a-long 'Hooray for Santy Claus!' end credits refrain rolls around, you're not convinced that at least some involved in this prodigious production were not under the influence of something, it is always interesting to note the air-lock resolution premise of Alien being trotted out for the second time (following It! The Terror From Beyond Space). I fail to see how anyone, even men with polar bear costume fetishes, could not unilaterally love this film; at the very least it is so vastly superior to 'Santa Claus The Movie'.
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Ryan's Four (1983)
4/10
3 'stars' were not enough to give intended series its 15 minutes
27 December 2010
I'm a tad confused at finding this entry here. It implies a TV series beginning and ending with its inaugural episode, whereas what I am reviewing is a TV film pilot for the eponymous series, but there isn't a separate entry for it. Granted the film I saw was approximately 70 minutes long, which I guess would probably have been allotted a 90-minute broadcast slot (ie with ad breaks) on original US transmission, so perhaps the listed running time here is a 'guesstimate'?

Anyway, as mentioned this is yet another TV series pilot, the title referring to the four doctors newly-appointed by head of interns Skerritt, who is himself having trouble from the pedantic hospital administrator. Par for the course, the medical action takes second place to the domestic drama of the central protagonists.

Skerritt aside, the only other recognisables here today are Elibacher, who very shortly afterwards coincidentally went onto play a nurse as Charles Bronson's daughter in that unlikeliest slice of homo-erotic heaven '10 to Midnight', featuring Adonis-like nude misogynist murderer Gene Davis. Talking of which, here we also have the delectable Tim Daly, also doing little more than looking very sexy in very little as a middle-class novitiate medic, forced to take up one of his own hospital's beds through unfortunate happenstance.

Overall, it's fairly engaging but ultimately short on substance - which, given the running time is hardly surprising; it's a good movie to put off the ironing to.
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Heatwave! (1974 TV Movie)
5/10
Not Red Hot but Good
27 December 2010
Struggling independent young couple Murphy and Bedelia - he's a lowly clerk, she's pregnant - are two of the more memorable residents of a small town whom the heat is upon, where personal emotions and intensities are rising along with the temperature.

There's dramatically nothing new here, and it isn't new on a TV budget. But in saying that, the TV disaster cycle spawned by the success of the big-screen genre in the 70s was often to be found to be far more briskly entertaining than its bombastic big-budget counterparts. In fact, in Heat Wave! in particular, the tack factor remains pretty low and preposterousness is kept to a minimum, in favour of building tensions amidst characters and their situation.

It's a shame that these films aren't shown TV anymore, as in their way they can be a more thoughtful yet entertaining watch than today's mindless blockbusters, and often at half the length.
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4/10
Nothing Hidden
24 December 2010
Courtsey of MGM's prolific/proficient second feature output unit, comes this sequel to Fred Zinnemann's debut feature 'Eyes In The Night', about a visually-impaired sleuth. This time around, the technical team is unfortunately less resourceful than their protagonist who is busy, with the aid of his faithful guide dog, trying to clear an innocent man of murder.

The replacement of B-frisson chills with chuckles is a miscalculation on this outing, and stereotype B-movie characterisations abound from vulnerable love interest to seedy villains. The story's gritty, 'urban' settings, replete with dark alleyways and disused warehouses, are never exploited to the full effect of their classic noir trappings.

The proceedings are all lighthearted enough if a little too genial. However, although there is some inevitable sentiment, the film is surprisingly unpatronising in its treatment of our blind hero. All in all it's a disappointing sequel, but not an hour-and-a-bit wasted.
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Brisk Fun
24 December 2010
Holt and co come to the aid of a pal when two nasties try to nab his goldmine by nabbing his girl. One of these is a spunky gal monikered 'gypsy', played by Veda Ann Borg; another in the endless succession of 20s and 30s-drafted 'starlets' who never made it past the starting blocks. She did though take a few notable roles, including 'Mildred Pierce'; Shirley Temple's 'adult' intended career-rejuvinator Bachelor Knight; and nostalgic Betty Grable vehicle Mother Wore Tights.

Of course this is nothing new, but it seems much brisker than usual, and if it doesn't exactly cut it in the 'artistic' departments it is simply an hour's fun entertainment. Sometimes that's all you want out of Western cinema!
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Angela (1954)
2/10
Double Indemnity - Italian Style
26 March 2008
A definite B-grade revisiting of 'Double Indemnity'. Of chief interest is the plenty of reasons why this could have been made in Italy, none of which seem particularly savoury today.

This entry drops Wilder's film's cynicism, malice and ambiguity in favour of some admittedly brooding atmosphere. This however also carries the weight of an unfortunately extraneous voice-over.

Starlet Lane can do posing sultriness to be sure, but as a femme-fatale her complexities are insipid to say the least. Considering the Italo-connection, the men's tough-guy antics aren't in the least threatening, and the whole affair lacks much-needed dollops of passion.
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In Society (1944)
3/10
Low Society
26 March 2008
A&C as plumbers - cue a 100-or-so cross-talk routines, trouble with pipes and a plethora of vulgar noises, before the duo somehow becomes embroiled in a high-society art theft. Naturally they save the day, but not without ruining the substantive part of it first.

This particular A&C film is often much funnier than most, but it nevertheless remains as unbearably noisy, frenetic and annoying as any similar 'Three Stooges' short spun out to feature-length would have been.

Rather more insultingly, a lot of the footage is lifted from WC Fields' 'Never Give A Sucker An Even Break'.
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1/10
House of Idiot
26 March 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Comment title paraphrases French & Saunders' skit on the 'The House of Elliot'. But here, it's application is unquestionably adroit.

A rare directorial effort from the man responsible for 1978's video-nasty-that-never-was, 'Killer's Moon', produced by soft-porn Eurotrash (ie TRASH, as in rubbish, junk) magnate Harry Alan Towers.

A slightly modernised version of Poe's Gothic saga; due to the complete technical incompetence of the above pair all this has to offer, in the way of thrills, is shaking furniture and fires. Pleasance jobs as the 'sinister' butler, which is at least a plot twist that affords him the opportunity to do something interestingly nasty (an off-screen incident involving an in-subservient maid's hand, and a meat mincer).

An experience akin to scraping the bottom of the proverbial barrel - only, from beneath.
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3/10
Curly Top - Marriage Counsellor
26 March 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Even today, it's doubtful that anyone settling down to a Temple movie will have 'accidentally' stumbled upon it whilst browsing, and knows what they're letting themselves in for. Temple's vehicles are a sub-genre of their own and, in terms of cinematic artistry, are amongst the kind of films who's best critics by far are their own core audience.

The plot of OLG seems the kind of mawkish fare that Miss Curly Top was a dab-hand at resolving with a starry smile and a twinkly eye - mum and dad's marriage hits the rocks, divorce beckons following infidelity, and Shirley is of course caught up in the middle of it all.

This particular entry somewhat subverts the given formula however, and throughout the film's brief hour-long running time the perspective is in the main unusually dour. Whilst we're not exactly talking 'Requiem For A Dream', there is no sanguine song-and-dance routine to make everything alright here. It takes a runaway Shirley, one of those stock-character post-depression aphoristic hobos, and much wincing solemnity on the part of respected Thesps McCrea and Ames to win the day.

Director Robertson apparently chose not to heed WC Fields' advice regarding children and animals, having already directed a version of 'Annie' in 1932, and having to contend with a lot of one and a little of the other here too. One has to wonder whether there was any sadistic pleasure taken in the fabled 'dead animals' factor necessary for Temple's required tears quota, which on this occasion would certainly have been higher than usual.
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The Two of Us (1986–1990)
6/10
Classic Sitcom
1 March 2008
How on earth has this no comment? It features Nicholas Lyndhurst as "Ashley", who was obviously famous by then for Only Fools and Horses.

He was one half of a young metropolitan couple struggling to get by independently, the female role taken by a lovely, thickly-black haired lass by the name of either Janet or Elaine Dimbleby (I may be getting the character and actresses' names mixed-up).

The young couple drove around in a Citreon 2CV and as I remember, they had moved into a downstairs flat in some trendy London suburb and the plot centred around them trying to make a success of their young independent lives. At one "cliff-hanger" point, Elaine/Janet became pregnant...

It really was actually quite funny. ITV produced a lot of good solid sitcoms during this period, amongst them the more acerbic but equally solid "Watching", which seems to have a much larger and established fan-base.
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Empire City (1992 TV Movie)
1/10
Neon Manic-Depressives
16 September 2007
Warning: Spoilers
The opening scene of this TV cop-thriller features the prolific Pare being handcuffed to his bed by the blonde Mara, who turns out to be a fellow 'tec and is subsequently revealed as his partner, in both senses. The surprises end there and predictability takes over like indigestible, undercooked dough; as some cosmetically-enhanced never-will-be sporting the moniker "Beau Starr" watches her loadsamoney fiancée being knifed over some dodgy dealings.

Modern Z-grade noir trappings abound, from blue-neon lit nightclub scenes a go-go to what one prays is a surely self-deprecating line in first-person narrative ("I was walkin'... I didn't know where I was going'...").

Being a TV movie however, this is the one genre where the absence of gritty modern-day swearing and violence (aside from some glossily discreet skirmishes) is to be bemoaned. The action gets no racier than a handful of woman-on-top-with-bra-on sex scenes; predictably emanating from Pare's affair with the chief witness-cum suspected accomplice, set in his one-bedroom (of course) apartment. Underwhelming.
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The Sellout (1952)
4/10
Headline Fallout
16 September 2007
Others have summed up the plot in far more detail; so suffice to say, this MGM second-feature has Pigeon taking centre stage in a Smalltown USA, man-against-the-mob story of a newspaper editor getting bogged down in the mire of police corruption he's battling to expose.

Despite being relatively full of incident the action is not exactly rivetingly staged, but then the script allocates much more time to wordy exposition than it does the kind of noir-ish trappings that might otherwise befit this type of plot.

That said there's a full rogue's gallery of a B-cast embodying themes of wasted lives and silent witnesses which, for the running time, was enough to carry this viewer through to the compellingly executed courtroom climax.
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1/10
Sex on Safari
9 September 2007
Her bit-part as a masseuse, in the lurid sequel to the original 'Emmannuelle', evidently gave someone the bright idea of putting a spanner in the works of the French soft-core series' gambit by inverting the Caucasian carnality and casting Javan stunner Gemser in a leading role in this, the rather tame first of a series of sexploiters that became increasingly depraved as sleazier directors took on in-name-only sequels.

Someone (and surely not the English-language over-haulers Warner?) was also anticipating an 'A Star Is Born' type meteoric rise out the results, judging by the way the actress is credited merely with the eponymous moniker of the on-screen heroine, albeit with a couple of consonants sacrificed as insurance against litigation.

Gemser's tenure in the series saw her as an 'intrepid' photographer, allowing of course for all manner of subsequent globe-trotting adventures. But, whilst she may well have been one the very most beautiful actresses on the screen at that time, any thespian talent that may have been there to discern becomes mired in the same sort of unfeasibly facile cogitation ("I have to confess that since I've been in Africa, I find white skin less appealing...") that was to be found in the French films.

And in this particular entry, much to the consternation of the raincoat brigade the essence of on-screen carnality is as much to be found in puerile symbolism (pumping engine pistons!) as it is in prosaic couplings - although naturally these include generous dollops of 'exploratory' lesbianism. Connoiseurs of kitsch are however guaranteed a continuous stream of aural delights, what with such epithets of ethnographic wisdom as "I do nothing to be a perfect black, she does everything to be a perfect white".
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1/10
Joker's Hand!
17 August 2007
Warning: Spoilers
D'Angelo and Julia yawn through this easy-money career pit-stop, wringing what integrity they can out of an insuperably trite script dealing with the somewhat unconventionally blossomed romance between a 'has-been' baseball player and a 'never-will-be' nightclub singer.

Whilst the stars can't be totally blamed for being provided with lacklustre building blocks and no instruction from their anonymous director, they are both nevertheless pretty effortlessly upstaged by Jenny Lewis as D'Angelo's precocious 11-year old daughter who unites the pair.

Overall it's as amorphous as any unlikely-romance TV movie of the period, and certainly looks like one too (seemingly transferred to film from video?). Outside of Lewis' screen time the only other highlights are provided by D'Angelo's own singing, which is most undeserving of the derision heaped upon it by her lecherous male audiences.
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Chopper Squad (1977–1979)
1/10
One for boys who like to play with their choppers
17 August 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Ignorable pilot for a thankfully so far unresurrected Australian TV action series.

This focuses, with an exclusively routine lack of imagination, upon the reactions of an unprepossessing reactionary (in the best and worst sense) airborne rescue crew, to assorted antipodean adventures.

These range from skyward leering at topless good-time girls bronzing themselves on the beach - lads, they're probably someone's grandmother by now! - to becoming severely "strewth"-ed by a forest conflagration sparked by dilettante terrorists.

Fortunately, our 4-X compatriots have got rather better at this kind of thing over the years, such as "Fire" for example.
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2/10
It Dies
17 August 2007
Warning: Spoilers
In a direct sequel to Cohen's 1974's cult favourite "It's Alive!", Forrest and Lloyd take over as a couple playing host parents to a newborn 'sacrilige' being observed along with two fellow mutant tots by a mad-dish ("perhaps theirs is the race that will be able to adapt to the future") scientist.

The script's impartial stance on the blindness of the 'authorities' against the plain stupidity of nature-tampering science, along with the excellent and affecting portrayal of parental suspended grief by the two leads, are sadly the film's only virtues.

On the back of the cult critical plaudits poured over his "God Told Me To" the previous year Cohen seems to have transformed into the Tarantino of his day by the time of this production, resulting in an overly-discerning, archly facetious parody of his original. Following a coherent and workable first 20 minutes the babies escape, characterisation fades into evanescent memory, and suspenselessly-edited sequences telegraphed as 'shock' but ending up as anything but become the order of the day.

Cohen's career subsequent to this was a pretty unambiguously hit ("Q") and miss ("Wicked Stepmother", "Return to Salem's Lot") affair. Visually it's all pretty ugly, and just like with the aforementioned Mr T it's hard to discern (ie care) whether or not the amateur slapdashness is in fact sick slickness. Hardly a gracious return to American movies for Eddie 'Lemmy Caution' Constantine, either.
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Strongroom (1962)
4/10
Small Back Room-Lite
17 August 2007
Warning: Spoilers
A trio of crooks plan "one last job" that results in them unintentionally sealing a bank manager and a humble secretary in a time-locked vault, with sweaty cross-cutting moral-dilemma results.

Unfortunately the production as a whole is less hermetically sealed, resulting in a distinct lack of consistent tension. Unaided by listless direction from Sewell, the intrigue comes in the intense playing of Gordon and Lynn as the incarcerated couple who start off with nothing in common, but come to wring a credible denouement out of a genuinely unpredictable situation.

This is achieved through admirably unhysterical script and dialogue, in a way only the British could ever have achieved in second-feature quality material.
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Joey Boy (1965)
2/10
Launder & Gilliat cash in their chips
16 February 2007
Corbett and his spivvy gang are faced with the tough choice of the big house or boot camp as 'reward' for their criminal endeavours. After opting for the latter, and following a failed attempt to avoid their fate with forged med certs, an hour or so ensues of largely mirth-free 'rude awakening' mishaps.

Corbett and his entourage (including the ever-hideous Reg 'Sweaty Combover' Varney) are not an attractive gang. Imagine the George Cole character from Launder & Gilliat's St. Trinian's series having a whole movie to himself, without the checks and balances of the other range of eccentric and distinguished protagonists around him. If that appeals to you then you may love it.

The film falls into that void of 60s British cinema wherein everything except prestige productions (mostly enhanced by a healthy injection of the Dollar) and social realism fell flat. Comedy of the era by and largely now fails; an unwanted stopgap between the decline of the wit-laden riches of the 40s and 50s, and the embracing of the puerile by the general public with each successively vulgar Carry On entry, as the series progressed towards the 70s.

The few laughs are wrung out of the army game's reliable cast of spit-and-polish character players who deserve better lines and routines, and 10 years earlier in a similar plot, would have been given them to work with. But all the film serves to do now is put paid to any notions, held by cultists in their favour, that the writing/production/directing team of Launder & Gilliat are entitled to auteur status within the 'classic' Brit Cinema heritage canon.

In an ironic way this serves a purpose, as all they otherwise did of note during these twilight years was ever-more dispiriting cash-ins on the St. Trinians franchise that, due to the worthiness of the original film, may nevertheless nostalgically cloud the memories of the team's defenders.
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Night Song (1947)
3/10
Love is blind but not audiences
14 February 2007
This is an awful film as far as passive but discerning viewers are concerned. Oberon, in full histrionic mother-of-Roger-Moore's-left-eyebrow mode, plays a socialite who plays blind in order to woo a contumaciously sightless nightclub pianist.

Cue lots of bordering-on-domestic-violence, but acceptable at the time, altercations; and gauzy close-ups of big tears rolling down Miss Oberon's (facial) cheeks.

But in its favour the film, although potentially offensive in its approach, is sumptuous enough in its production values to wallow in forgivably. Plus, of course, Barrymore's cynical world-beater routine brings back from the edge any film in which it is deployed.
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Panhandle 38 (1972)
2/10
Comedy Spaghetti Western
9 February 2007
Although this seemed inept and crude to me for the duration, I'll at least give it some technological benefit of doubt for having to watch the original cinematic images compromised by the pan-and-scan screening.

Wynn plays (non too evocatively it has to be said) an old gunslinger who doesn't know whether or not to trust his estranged, convent-raised son when he turns up out of the blue. But fear not, Junior promptly beats up barfuls of badly-dubbed recalcitrants, and displays an acute disloyalty towards the intended Confederate recipient of his consignment of gold.

No-one else - including standard decorative female lead, and bungling bandit companion - is quite what they seem, in the name of achieving mirth in this 'humorous' genre entry (ie tiresome fast-motion fights in the Hal Needham vein).

In what must be one of the most bizarre examples of the politically-incorrect in the entire Spaghetti Western canon, a gang of decidedly effeminate red Indian marauders lose their quarry over concern for their coiffures: "...Nasty man... You've ruined my hairdo... I'm sure I look just awful... My curlers! I've lost my curlers!". It simply has to be seen and heard (the appalling Anglicised dubbing probably makes it even more incongruous than it actually is) to be disbelieved. One has to wonder whether this film in part inspired Mel Brooks to do Blazing Saddles.

In the film's defence, it probably would have at least had the visual sweep of burning hills and wide open spaces in it's original format. But it is now so obscure - and probably not without good reason - that the prospect of such a version ever becoming readily available, for re-appraisal, is as elusive as El Dorado.
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2/10
Sara Lee Arabian Nights cheesecake
2 February 2007
This fantasy does indeed look sumptuous, and it is rendered in particularly eatable colour. But beauty is only skin deep, and this is otherwise a particularly ghastly addition to the endless stream of 50s overdressed and underwritten exotica.

Performances are generally very junior at an Arabian Nights pantomime level, although a minor gaggle of lascivious cheesecake ladies in a permanent frenzy does cut a strikingly camp dash and stops things from getting too unbearably dull.

Otherwise the most surprisingly redeeming factor is, for once in his career, the presence of John Derek; combining perfectly adequate Errol Flynn Jr-type physical heroics with an agreeably broad sense of self-parodic charade; a versatility very rarely displayed in any of his more 'serious' thespian outings.
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I'm Dangerous Tonight (1990 TV Movie)
4/10
Cinderalla Chainsaw Massacre
2 February 2007
This is an unanticipatedly imaginative TV terror movie revision of Cinderella, all the more effective for being guided by the same directorial hand that gave us the unrelenting physical horrors of 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' and 'Eaten Alive' in his 70s heyday.

Amick (of Twin Peaks domestic violence 'Shelley' fame), in a standout performance is the lowly collegiate struggling to juggle her studies with the demands of caring for both her home and her decrepit grandmother, whilst her Aunt and cousin live it up night after night. Cue a reversal of fortune when she lands the job of props mistress in a production of 'Romeo and Juliet' and falls under the spell of a sensuous red cloth which, as spooky professor Perkins points out, is an original Aztec witchcraft cloak; and which she transforms into a dress, with murderous results.

Clearly a waste of time for the underwritten Perkins and sad to see such a talented and perennially underused actor ill and jaded in a career on the wane, although far worse was yet to come (ie 'In The Deep Woods'). The film is also bereft of the sort of shock value that one would need to swallow the tall tale being presented at face value. Still, it does sort of work on a surprisingly engrossing level of creepy subtleness, and this is aided by a slinky visual quality and the billowing symbolism of the red dress; captured on film stock in what must have been one of the very last TV movies to be shot this way.
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Feel the Force (2006– )
5/10
A bit forced yes, but the backlash is rather over the top
8 June 2006
What's everyone's problem with this? Why should silly scattershot humour without an 'ironic' or 'post-modern' or 'adult' twist suddenly be so taboo? Some of the comments about it misrepresenting the police force etc are just pathetic. It's obvious 2 minutes into any episode that the show is meant to be far removed from reality and is more in the slapstick visual tradition of silent film and the absurdist bungling comedy partnerships such as Laurel & Hardy, Abbot & Costello etc.

Yes it is definitely hit and miss. But it makes such a change to be able to watch a sitcom which looks good visually, is not studio-bound, without canned laughter, and without all the horrible anodyne PC humour of BBC1 comedies or the 'ironic' hipness of Channel 4 (ie swearing, vulgarity, pointlessly random hand-held camera-work and flashy editing).
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