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South African puppet Sci-Fi series
Anyone familiar with Gerry Anderson's Supermarionation shows of the 1960s onwards should find this rare 1981 offering from South Africa interesting. I understand that 39 episodes were made in total although only 37 were transmitted. The first 13 episodes have been released on DVD. The story involves a space defence force based in Cape Town protecting the planet from sinister forces. The spoken language is Afrikaans and I have been unable to find either a dubbed version or an English subtitle set. This makes evaluation quite difficult as the show appears to be in the form of a serial and has rather a lot of dialogue. The budget was clearly a lot less than that of the Anderson shows. It cannot compete with the sheer visual complexity and variety of the likes of Thunderbirds, Stingray and Captain Scarlet. Most of the verbal action takes place in half a dozen or so set locations and these areas are quite nicely detailed. Where Interster scores well is the catchy soundtrack and realistic puppet movements. There are no visible strings so I assume that the puppets were controlled electronically. This would put the show on a par with the puppets of the Terrahawks series which was also made in the 1980s. It would be nice to see the whole series released with subtitles, making it available to a much larger potential audience. A fanbase set of subtitles would be of benefit, however, having created scratch srt files myself for half hour programs, I know just how time consuming an operation this is.
Children's series from Cécile Aubry.
Cécile Aubry was a French actress know for such films as 'Manon' (1949) and 'The Black Rose' (1950). In the late 1950s she began to write children's stories and also at this time made several short films. One of her stories called 'The adventures of Poly' was accepted for television and was made into a black and white, thirteen part, fifteen minutes per episode series. It was aired in France in 1961 under the screen title 'Poly'.
Poly is a cute pony with a blonde mane in a traveling circus. One day the circus arrives at the village of young Pascal. Pascal becomes friends with the mistreated animal and decides to rescue it. Aided by local children he hides his new four-legged pal in the woods and so the adventure begins.
The character of Pascal was played by Aubry's own son Mehdi, who was just four years old at the time. Mehdi turned out to be quite a natural in front of the camera and four years later he would go on to play Sébastien in Aubry's more widely known series 'Belle and Sébastien'. Cécile Aubry directed Poly herself with the support of a small production crew. She wisely set the story in her home village of Saint-Cyr-sous-Dourdan, a picturesque area south of Paris. The cast was mainly made up of local residents, children and amateur actors. They would later be dubbed by professional voice artists. Aubry's local knowledge of the area, (she lived there for almost sixty years) resulted in some good location choices. The rural French countryside is a visual treat. The birds twitter, the children race around, hide Poly in a haystack and are then treated to a ride on top of a hay cart towed by a tractor. It certainly has charm. It reminds me of some of those early British Children's Film Foundation (CFF) productions, with youngsters romping around in fields, scrumping apples and strawberries, letting the air out of the vicar's tyres and stuffing a potato up the exhaust pipe of grumpy old Mrs Tong's Morris 1000.
Cécile Aubry penned numerous Poly stories, nine of which made it onto the television screens. All of them featured Poly becoming involved in various scrapes both in France and around Europe. The cast changed for each show but some actors did appear more than once. I have all of the Poly series in my collection except for Au Secours Poly Au Secours! For some reason this was not released on DVD. Does anyone know if it is on VHS?
The Poly series are listed below in order of transmission.
1961- THE ADVENTURES OF POLY.
13 episodes of 14 minutes.
Director- Cécile Aubry.
1963- LES VACANCES DE POLY.
13 episodes of 14 minutes.
Director- Claude Boissol.
1964- POLY ET LE SECRET DES SEPT ÉTOILES.
13 episodes of 14 minutes.
Director- Claude Boissol.
1965- POLY AU PORTUGAL.
13 episodes of 14 minutes/ 7 episodes of 26 minutes.
Director- Claude Boissol.
1966- AU SECOURS POLY, AU SECOURS!
Director- Henri Toulout.
1967- POLY ET LE DIAMANT NOIR.
13 episodes of 14 minutes/ 7 episodes of 26 minutes.. Director- Henri Toulout.
1970- POLY A VENISE.
13 episodes. (In colour).
Director- Jacques Pinoteau.
1972- POLY EN ESPAGNE.
13 episodes of 26 minutes. (In colour).
Director- Claude Boissol.
1973- POLY EN TUNISIE.
Director- Claude Boissol. (In colour).
A junior version of The Double Deckers.
This show was a bit of a recent surprise discovery for this 1960s oggleboxer. Like a lot of Brits currently in their 50's I am familiar with 'Here Come The Double Deckers' (1970), but I wonder how many can recall this earlier CFF offering from 1968. It is obviously a forerunner to that later series. Both shows feature a gang of kids getting into all sorts trouble, with lots of mud, water and cakes etc flying around the place, and the odd song routine thrown in. Two of the children, Brinsley Forde and Michael Audreson went on to appear in the more polished Double Deckers production. The supporting adult cast includes Deryck (Please Sir!) Guyler, the always posh and prim Damaris Hayman, and Janet Webb who used to appear regularly on the Morecambe and Wise Show. It is also worth noting the presence of young Len Jones (character Steve) who also voiced puppet Joe in Gerry Anderson's 'Joe 90'. If you don't know who Joe 90 is then you are too young to be reading this. Watch out for the slightly worrying moment when the kids are all sitting on a pianola being pulled down the road behind a tow truck, when a van zooms past overtaking them. Health and Safety would go nuts seeing that today! IMDB lists about twelve episodes of 'The Magnificent Six And A Half' but I don't know if that is the total number made. If you are curious then it's worth searching for this one. Look up episode 'Ghosts And Ghoulies' here on IMDB for a different review of this rather forgotten series.
Escape Into Night (1972)
Scary if you're ten.
When I was a kid in the early 1970s there were four things on TV that gave me a case of the old screaming Plockton williecobblies- Shop front mannequins with an attitude problem, Cybermen clunking their way up the stairs, David Essex attempting to sing, and Escape Into Night.
The story based on Catherine Storr's novel is about a girl confined to bed after falling from a horse. Out of boredom she doodles an imaginary house in her notepad and is then surprised to find herself transported there in her dreams. No one is in the house so when awake again she draws a boy at an upstairs window for a companion during her next dream visit. As it turns out the boy (Mark) is also in bed in the real world, unable to walk, and has now somehow been pulled into her alternative world. He also has the same home schooling teacher as Marianne, Miss Chesterfield although the two children have never met. The children don't get on too well at first and when in the real world Mark buys Miss Chesterfield a more impressive bunch of birthday roses than Marianne, she vents her annoyance by drawing in some boulders surrounding the dream house which unfortunately seem to take on board her rather negative mood. As the series continues Marianne discovers from her teacher just how sick Mark really is and so the children's relationship mellows somewhat. Marianne starts drawing objects to make Mark more comfortable at the house. The sinister one-eyed boulders outside however become increasingly threatening, and Marianne is horrified to discover that not only can they move but she is also unable to rub them out of her drawing. Together, Marianne and Mark decide they must find a way to escape from the house. The action switches back and forth between Marianne's dream existence and her bedroom where her mother, doctor and teacher are concerned by her strange behaviour, nightmares and obsession with Mark.
The whole thing was obviously filmed on a cheap budget with just five cast members and what appears to be only three locations. I'm not knocking it though, cheap can work fine if you have the right story and approach, and this does work. Sure you can pick holes in it but this is a children's program and us 70s urchins weren't too critical of plot shortfalls. The stark empty house is almost as creepy as something out of the film 'The Grudge'. The sound department needs to take a lot of credit. The loud continuous tock of the grandfather clock on the stairs gets ominously slower as the story unfolds, and the eerie disembodied voices heard as the children have to walk past it sets a gloomy aura to the place. Then there is the radio which Marianne draws to cheer them up. Instead of getting Radio Caroline the airwaves are immediately taken over by the malevolent boulders who make their threats to the children quite clear.
So, would the current generation laugh at it or hide behind the sofa? No idea. They would certainly recognise the concept of two people inhabiting an alternative reality, to them it's just like Cyberspace. The Tony Curtis poster on Marianne's bedroom wall would puzzle them. Actually it puzzles me. At the time my sister would have opted for either David Cassidy, Davy Jones, some chap in a magazine she once took a shine to advertising a hideously naff buttoned up shirt, or even the previously mentioned over optimistic warbler David Essex. Tony Curtis wouldn't even have made the list. Weird.
Beauty and the Beast (1987)
A love story too far?
Oh dear, this one really isn't my cup of tea. It puts me in a dilemma, as although I could easily yawn myself into a coma on the sofa watching this I know that a lot of young Mills and Boon type romantics will lap it up. For this reason I will give it eight stars rather than the four it would otherwise get.
Catherine (Linda Hamilton) is a young and capable city attorney and Vincent (Ron Perlman) is the big furry faced fella living in some caves under her feet. The two share a strong telepathic bond which enables them to sense each others emotions wherever they happen to be. The series follows the ups and downs of their relationship as challenged by various conflicting human stories from the environment of the surrounding metropolis.
The two main cast members are good but I can't help feeling that if only the writers had dumped the fantasy element altogether this could have been a terrific solo vehicle for Linda Hamilton as a straight forward cop show. I'm thinking of a female version of Petrocelli. We would probably all still be watching reruns today. It's interesting to note that George R.R. Martin's name appears during the end credits. Sadly for me this doesn't help. It's more 'Game Of Groans' than 'Game of Thrones'.
So what's my problem? No not that one, the doc says I can fix that by doing plenty of crosswords. What makes me grind my teeth is the over the top flowery dialogue and voice-overs. Before you think what a miserable old grump this bloke sounds I do have the likes of 'Brief Encounter' in my collection which was quite enjoyable. I just like my love stories a little more low key.
Here's a typical scenario that illustrates the problem.
Catherine is reclining on her posh high-rise balcony gazing thoughtfully at the moon at two in the morning after a hard day's attorneying. She's all dolled up in an expensive gown and slurping Prosecco, when up pops Vincent out of nowhere wearing an old sack, covered in fleas and smelling faintly of sewage. He starts spouting his usual spiel- 'I love you Catherine. I love you! We are two songbirds sitting on separate branches of the enlightened tree of Venus, sometimes far apart but always singing the same song. It's heard only by the angels Catherine because only they can recognise a love as deep as ours. We are bound together for ever wherever life may take us. Only the angels know this Catherine, but they are sworn to eternal silence. I love you Catherine! I love you! I love you! I love you!' Now in all honesty what is she likely to do here? Will she go all doe-eyed and invite him in so that he can drop old bits of sausage roll, used tea bags and potato peelings all over her plush new carpet, or will she wait until he's not looking and then push him over the balcony railing with a long handled broom and have the whole place disinfected the next day? I know which option my money's on.
By the way, if any of you younger chaps are thinking of using that speech for your next chat up attempt, DONT, it doesn't work (especially if her name isn't Catherine).
The Token King (1993)
Well worth a look if you can find it
This hard to find school drama was shown on British television's Channel 4 in the early 90s. It was repeated a second time which I recorded onto VHS tape. I had the common sense to save from VHS to DVD when the inevitable deterioration began to occur. My copy is still a bit blurry but better than nothing.
Ray Kilby's 1970s drama is set at an urban comprehensive school. Pupil Paul Wesson (Jeremy Payne) is making small time pocket money by trading school dinner tokens. Another pupil, Vicky Hooper (young Samantha Morten), immediately realises the big profits that can be made if the system can be rigged and offers to go into partnership with gullible Paul. Vicky has a ruthless no nonsense, trample everyone else into the gutter on the way to the top streak to her character. As the drama unfolds the token exchange enterprise begins to expand into troublesome territory when a couple of skinheads catch on and decided to go into business for themselves. James Hooten and Wayne Shipman are amusing as the thuggish duo and play their roles with relish. Thaydo-'Are you looking at me or chewing a brick?' Vicky-'I'm gonna have you.' And she does.
The story is a comment on the fraud and corruption that nearly always goes hand in hand with the financial and stock market circles of operation. Events following the 2008 disaster remind us of this. The Vicky types of this world are well equipped to become very successful in such a climate.
Ray Kilby has created the mood and feeling of a 70's comprehensive quite nicely. Those were the days of Chopper bikes, Mud and The Bay City Rollers. Look out for a great playground dance sequence to Mud's 'Tiger Feet'. If you are not British and have never heard of The Bay City Rollers please don't look them up, it will spoil your whole day and possibly the entire week. Playground politics could often be brutal and corporal punishment was the norm. Chalk dusters really did fly across the classroom, and if your teacher did give you a belt over the knuckles with a slipper you simply accepted that you had stepped over the line, learned your lesson and got on with it. There was none of this going bleating to your parents. The drama captures the realities of the time, it has a slightly sadistic PE teacher, a head in the clouds drama teacher, a hippy nutcase, a clueless headmaster and a geography teacher sporting trendy flares, kipper tie and a moustache. Yes, we all remember them, especially that PE tyrant who made us all take freezing cold cross-country runs in December. Ahhh....the memories.
The actual school used for filming was The Frank Wheldon School in Nottingham.
Sorry, this one's a turkey
What a shame. I was hoping for the definitive modern 'Dunkirk' film. This isn't it.
Right from the start the film fails to offer an overview of unfolding events, instead presenting the viewer with massed British and a few French troops on a beach with no explanation as to how they got to be there. The style is annoyingly disjointed, switching continually between a Spitfire pilot, a small rescue boat chugging across the channel, and various troop predicaments. Irritating background music is meant to create a mood of tension where there is none. You don't even get a sense of the magnitude of the rescue operation. What happened to the huge flotilla of small craft that braved the dive bombers? I counted a group of about fifteen boats, and that's it. In an effort to link the whole mess together Kenneth Branagh keeps popping up wandering up and down a makeshift jetty looking stern/emotional as required. The subject matter deserves much better than this.
If you are still thinking of seeing this film then here comes the spoilers and some ridiculous errors that you will be inflicting upon yourself.
1) A Spitfire pilot shoots down an implausible quantity of aircraft before running out of fuel. Just how much ammunition is he supposed to have then? He's not finished yet however. He then appears to pull off an amazing feat by downing a final plane even though he has now been gliding at low level for what seems quite a few minutes. What! Give me a break! Also, wouldn't pilots be under strict orders to bring their aircraft home in order to fight another day? This chap burns his perfectly serviceable plane on a French beach and gets himself arrested.
2) A group of troops in a beached leaking fishing boat decide they need to lose weight in order to re-float it. While they argue over who should be forced to get off at gun point, tons of water flood in up to their chests, rendering their deliberations pointless. The viewer has figured out this failure of logic already of course but still has to watch. It could be a good moment to consider visiting that cafe down the road for a cup of tea and a sausage sandwich and not bother going back.
3) A soldier swimming in an oil slick has oil everywhere except his eyes and mouth. I am fairly certain that one of the horrors of a face full of crude is that it pretty effectively blinds you. A couple of shots later and most of the oil has washed off. I don't think so. No points for realism here either then.
I would advise going to see this film expecting it to be awful, then you won't be disappointed. A Bridge Too Far was a war film done properly. This is the opposite.
Belle et Sébastien (2013)
Appealing version of the Cécile Aubry story
Looking through the reviews I am wondering if I am the only one so far to have seen the original 1965 series. This film is not a remake of that series, there are quite a few changes to the plot and characters. César, Sébastien and the dog Belle remain at the core of both stories however. The series was set in an Alpine village near the French/Italian border where criminals attempt to use Belle to carry secret documents over a mountain pass to Italy. The film in contrast is set in 1943. The French Resistance is involved in guiding Jews to safety into Switzerland.
I was uncertain about the war time setting. I would have preferred not to have had Nazis in the film at all. The villain in the 1965 scenario was a crook named Norbert. The film still remains safe family viewing however as the occupying troops are only as menacing as they need to be in order to drive the plot forward. Young viewers understand just enough to know that these are the 'bad men'.
The earlier version of César was a strong principled character who supported Sébastien's belief in Belle right from the start. In the film he is a more complex and flawed person with a weakness for alcohol. Likewise, the updated Sébastien seems more mature than the earlier one. This is better as he can react to events without continually repeating the phrase "but I love Belle" all the time. The earlier Angelina was feisty but not as feisty as Margaux Chatelier who follows the modern trend for strong female role models by mucking in with the dangerous work when necessary. It is good to see Mehdi in a minor role as André. Mehdi played the original Sébastien and is the son of Cécile Aubry who wrote and created the TV series.
A couple of reviewers have commented on the 'corny' music played during the film. This is in fact the theme tune to the original series and adds a deliberate sentimental link to the earlier show for those that remember it. Non French viewers need to realise that the French have a nostalgic fondness for Cécile Aubry and the children's literature and television series she was associated with in the 1960s and early 70s. Americans go all daft for Lassie, in France it's Poly, Belle Et Sébastien and Le Jeune Fabre.
Take the kids to see this at the cinema if you think they are able to cope with subtitles. The mountain scenery is majestic. Don't make the same mistake as my mother and grandmother though. As a child they dragged me off to the flicks to see The Sound Of Music and then Fiddler On The Bloomin Roof. Luckily I recovered.
Ijon Tichy: Raumpilot (2007)
Vote Tichy for Galactic President.
Ijon Tichy: Raumpilot is a German series based on the novels of Stanislaw Lem (The Star Diaries).
If you liked 'The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy' then you will probably like this.
Unlike boring old, finger wagging, formulaic 'Star Trek: The Next Generation,' this series simply ignores the laws of physics if they get in the way of the plot. In the Tichy world no one needs to have their style cramped by an unflattering space suit, you just ban the vacuum of space altogether and go outside in your vest. Remember those living room door handles they used to put on spaceship airlocks in early Dr Who episodes? The interior of this ship is basically a student bedsit complete with a deckchair for the captain and an ordinary glazed window for a viewing screen. Picard wouldn't have put up with that.
The stories are imaginative, the aliens comical, and the whole thing zips along nicely to a catchy theme tune. I think Stanislaw would have been pleased.
Do you really want to watch Picard constantly swanning around the cosmos telling all the locals how great the human race is whilst secretly counting up his tax payer funded Star Fleet pension, or would you rather give the job to a friendly chap in a vest who would make them a nice omelette (not the chicken based lifeforms obviously)?
Series one episodes are fifteen minutes long and the second series are twenty four minutes. The whole thing is in German with English subtitles but don't let that put you off, it is worth it.
Ferien in Lipizza (1966)
Galloping good fun.
White Horses was an upbeat, bright and breezy European light entertainment series that was ideal for Summer holiday viewing. In Germany it was known as Ferien in Lipizza (Holiday in Lipizza) and had a different theme tune to the Jackie Lee one we associate it with in Britain. The show was mainly aimed at girls. Boys used to run screaming from the room with their hands over their ears as soon as the opening theme came on but I am sure many would have continued to watch. To be fair, after a while and a couple of beers, and a while longer, and another beer, the tune does grow on you a bit. I read once that Jackie Lee added the additional harmonies herself when she had some spare time in the studio. She is probably right to be pleased with it.
The episode plots were generally uncomplicated with young Julia (Julka) zooming around the countryside on her favourite horse Borej, becoming involved in all sorts of simple adventures. Julia had no female competition in the show to spoil her command of events at the Lipizza stud farm, which was run by Uncle 'firm but fair' Dimitrij with his square jaw and shiny set of gnashers. He was almost as good looking as his horses. The male characters generally doted on Julia and she had a reliable friend and confidant in the person of harmless, lovable, bumbling Stanko. It is good to see a happy Helga Anders in this show, her life seemed to take a turn for the worse in later years. This is a good way to remember her.
White Horses is often compared with Follyfoot but really shouldn't be. Follyfoot was a more thoughtful drama dealing with main character Dora's youthful attempts to cope with loneliness and find her place in the world. She gained comfort caring for rescued horses. Julia also loves horses but spends her time happily bouncing around on screen like a Spring Gazelle.
When the youngest member of our family reaches ten years old l will sit her in front of the television with no prior information and put White Horses on to see if it still works it's magic. If she turns around and says: "Hey! What's this rubbish? I hate horses. Where's my Ipad?" l will be a bit disappointed. Expect a report back in eight years.
For some time only episode thirteen was known to exist in English, however I understand that the sound tapes have been recovered and the series is now available on DVD in the English language. I will look forward to watching as I remembered it. You can still probably also find the series in German with English subtitles. I already have this version.
Belle et Sébastien (1965)
A boy and his dog
BELLE ET SEBASTIEN (1965)
Many Britons in the 55 to 65 age group will remember watching this series on their ropy old black and white television set way back in the late 60s. The opening sequence and music (by Daniel White) will bring it all back instantly. Created by French actress and author Cecile Aubry and starring her own son Mehdi, it told the story of a young orphan boy and his dog Belle (a male Pyrenean Shepherd - 'Flanker') as they tackle smugglers and pooch hostile locals in a spectacular snowy alpine setting. A young faced Cecile Aubry appears at the start of each episode to deliver an introduction and this format is continued on into series two and three also. My older sister described the mood of this series as quite melancholic and I partly agree with that. Young Mehdi turned out to be quite confident in front of the camera, as i suppose he should be with an actress mother for guidance. He had already performed in Aubry's earlier work 'The Adventures of Poly' in 1961. This opening series of the trilogy is easily obtainable on DVD with both French and English audio versions on the disc. Recent photographs show that Cesar's mountainside house and the refuge hut where Sebastien was born are both still standing. It could make an interesting day out for those on holiday in France (Belvedere /Gordolasque valley).
SEBASTIEN PARMI LES HOMMES (1967)
The follow up series 'Sebastien Among Men' was filmed in colour. Sebastien goes to live with his recently discovered real father (Claude Giraud) who is successfully involved in the horse racing world as a trainer. Series one revolved around Sebastien's relationship with his beloved dog Belle and Surrogate grandfather Cesar (Edmund Beauchamp). Here he builds bridges with his father Pierre Marechal and learns more of his mother and family. The sudden appearance of the boy, however becomes a source of friction between Pierre and his entended wife to be, Sylvia (Louise Merleau). Characters Cesar, Celestine (Helene Dieudonne) and Belle the dog are carried over from series one but play reduced roles. Mehdi himself was brought up around animals and gets to demonstrate his riding skills. The storyline is more mature than series one as Sebastien is now old enough to engage with the adult characters. This makes it worth watching for adults who have only seen series one. A memorable theme tune accompanies the series. Look on the internet for the Rene Simard version of L'Oiseau.
SEBASTIEN ET LA MARY MORGANE (1970)
This final story begins 3 months after the death of Belle. Twelve years old Sebastien is sent for a holiday stay on the Brittany coast with his mysterious and rather reclusive uncle Louis Marechal (Charles Vanel) of whom even his father knows little. Elderly Uncle Louis runs a fishing enterprise and owns several ships in a partnership operation. Initially Sebastien and his uncle get on well, however the friendship becomes strained as the boy slowly uncovers a local feud that stretches back to world war two. An emergency at sea onboard fishing boat Narval soon brings these lingering animosities to the surface once more. Like all children of that age Sebastien sees the world in absolute terms and struggles to recognise the nuances of adult motivations and actions. To add to his confusion the poor little chap gets a crush on the best looking girl in town, who unfortunately happens to be ten years too old for him (Yutta d'Arcy). We all remember that happening don't we? It's tough being a kid! All in all it's a thoughtful storyline that requires some effort from it's young teenage target audience. As a small side note, i am reasonably convinced that Sebastien's English Setter pal was in fact Mehdi's own pet dog in real life.
Both series two and three DVDs can be obtained online from Europe. They are French audio only. Thankfully, good English subtitle sets can be downloaded for free if you search for them. For the technical dinosaurs out there, your best option is to get the brainy grandchild of the family to link the subtitles to the pictures for you. Give them a bag of liquorice allsorts for their efforts and then everyone is happy!