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The Dobermann Always Rings Twice

Has ‘The Brexiteers’ Jumped The Shark?

Uncategorised Posted on Sat, June 13, 2020 16:43:14

Many of us feared at the end of the last series of The Brexiteers that the writers had painted themselves into a corner, and the most recent episodes of the current series seem to bear that out.

While the overthrow of the Theresa May character satisfied many, it left the Brexit storyline unfulfilled. There was some dramatic irony in May being replaced as Prime Minister by the buffoonish Boris Johnson, but it would only have worked if that really was the last episode of the series.

The final shot of The Brexiteers series 2

The appeal of the May character was that power was an end in itself for her, and Brexit was the means of achieving it. Much of the entertainment in The Brexiteers came from seeing the Prime Minister twist and backtrack in the face of changing events.

The problem with her replacement is that the character is, in many ways a carbon copy. While the actor brings a buffoonish charm and method-school inarticulacy to the role, it can’t disguise the fact that there’s little going on, either inside the character’s head or during the Brexit negotiations.

Faced with a deadline to deliver a third series of The Brexiteers, the producers took the bold step of veering off into science fiction territory. Having primed the audience in pre-publicity by saying Johnson was based on the Mayor from Jaws, they introduced the pandemic storyline, which took the series in a whole new direction. While the storyline is dramatic, it’s far from the original intent of the series. Brexit negotiations are now reduced to occasional Monty Python style interludes with the negotiators hurling insults at each other across Zoom screens.

The problem for the producers is that, having taken the series in this sensational direction, it’s going to be very difficult to get back on track. The bold step of effectively side-lining the Prime Minister, keeping him the background while a succession of minor characters take the lead has helped to disguise the lack of story development. At the same time it leaves a vacuum where we should be seeing confrontation with the dashing new opposition leader Keir Starmer. But the problem facing the producers is that having altered the internal reality of the series to a science fiction melodrama, it will be very difficult to steer the storyline back to the original political drama.

Evidence of this is shown by the introduction of street protests and riots just as the pandemic storyline begins to get boring. It’s unfortunate that these episodes were screened at the same time that Talking Pictures TV was repeating the 1970’s Quatermass. The scenes of warning gangs and ‘Planet People’ blindly marching towards intergalactic doom seem strangely similar to the protest scenes in The Brexiteers with the marchers seemingly convinced their good intentions will protect them from the virus.

The big question is – what will the producers pull out of their hats? Are the protests engineered to provide a willing stock of guinea pigs to test whether ‘herd immunity’ has taken effect? Is it really a plot to eradicate the radical left to ensure a more compliant population remains for the economic recovery? Or will it just turn out that there is no conspiracy? That no-one is in control and no-one really knows what they are doing? At the rate the producers have been going, anything could be revealed.

Mr Rose (1968) – Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.

Uncategorised Posted on Sun, May 24, 2020 18:09:07
Nicholas Ball, William Mervyn: “You are the future of TV detection, I perceive

Free and Easy – the 5 December 1968 episode of Granada TV’s Mr Rose would prove to be the final outing for the TV detective who had appeared in three separate series (The Odd Man, It’s Dark Outside and Mr Rose ) since 1963.

With an odd – almost breaking the fourth wall – structure , the episode written by Jack Russell (The Devil’s Crown) sees Rose using his full array of psychological tricks against a theatrical adversary.

William Simons and Derek Newark

Hindsight lends the episode even more significance since the cast boasts a number of future TV lawmen – Nicholas Ball (Hazell, Thief Takers) as a young soldier, Peter Childs (Ron Gash in Public Eye and Rycott in Minder) as another guardsman, William Simons (Constable Thackery in Cribb, and Sgt Ventriss in Heartbeat) as the pub landlord, and guest star Derek Newark (DI Eddie Tucker in Barlow). In addition, Michael Elwyn, who plays the MOD investigator Seaford-Smith, later played Detective Chief Inspector Simpson in Sam Saturday (1992) and recently played Judge Rivlin in QUIZ, the 2020 Who Wants To Be A Millionaire docudrama.

William Mervyn was also playing Bishop Cuthbert Hever in the BBC comedy All Gas and Gaiters (which made its debut only 3 weeks before the first episode of Mr Rose) so it may not have come as too much of a wrench for Mervyn to bid farewell to Rose. The episode opens with Rose being gunned down, only for us to learn that it’s actually an actor – Marcus Despard, in a stage play based on Rose’s career. When Rose points out that it didn’t actually happen like that – the criminal shot himself and Rose is still alive – the director (David Graham) retorts that the contract gives him the right to change the story and he prefers it to end with Rose being killed.

Derek Newark and William Mervyn: Is it real or is it Memorex?

The outraged Rose discovers that Despard and his co-star (Derek Newark) are mixed up with a revolutionary group called Free and Easy and have been buying rounds for Guardsmen from the local barracks with the aim of winning support for their plot. This is an excuse for Rose to don a hairpiece and impersonate Despard, while his assistant Robert Trent (Eric Woofe) helps Despard to get into the character of Rose. As Mervyn often seemed to play the same pompous but benevolent character in most of his parts, it’s instructive to watch him slip into the coarser guise of Despard – almost as if he’s reminding the viewers he is just as actor.*

Despard is also being investigated by two rival rival civil servants (David Savile and Michael Elwyn) – each suffering from budget cuts. One section has a radio that can only transmit, not receive, while the other has to wait for their investigators to call in from a phone box. They assume that Trent’s name is an alias (based on the novel Trent’s Last Case) and get confused as to whether Rose is Despard or Despard is Rose. During one scene, Mr Rose is being quizzed by Savile and the conversation intimates that Free and Easy plan to assassinate the Prime Minister – with a photo of Harold Wilson being held up as an illustration. Coming only months after Cecil King’s abortive attempt to gain support from army officers and Royals for a coup against the Labour Government, it’s questionable if the noticeably TV-savvy Wilson saw this episode. Wilson is often said to have become paranoid towards the end of his Government but as the saying goes; “just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.”

Rosemary Dunham

One final notable aspect of this episode is the casting of Rosemary Dunham as actress Marsha Tott. Ms Dunham is immortal as Michael Caine’s landlady in Get Carter (1971) and if you think she can generate sexuality in a rocking chair you should see what she can do outlining a meal to Robert Trent before she gives him an autograph, “On the small of your back!”

The story ends in a circular fashion with the opening re-enacted. Rose has discovered that Despard is a former colonial Policeman, made redundant in budget cuts. Is there a reference to the series cancellation here? The episode ends with Mr Rose looking down at the body of the redundant Despard saying, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” A reference to All Gas And Gaiters perhaps?

*Strangely enough, William Mervyn was always known as “Mr Rose” in our house although I only have memories of watching All Gas And Gaiters. Looking at the schedules, the BBC tended to put event programming such as boxing and Miss World up against the first series of Mr Rose and the anthology series Detective up against the second. The final series – shifted to Thursday nights – was up against Softly Softly and Sportsnight – so I can’t see any reason why we wouldn’t have watched Mr Rose but certainly came to each episode without the slightest glimmer of recognition.

Murder She Cooked – Mark Rolston’s ‘Red-Eye Eggs Benedict’

Uncategorised Posted on Sat, May 16, 2020 18:24:00

Following on from Ian Ogilvy’s Witchfinder General themed Turnip and Onion Soup, I’m returning to Silver Screen Suppers’ ongoing Murder She Cooked project in search of further lockdown diversion. This time it’s ‘Red Eye Eggs Benedict’ – this one associated with Mark Rolston of Aliens (above) who appeared in four Irish-themed episodes of Murder She Wrote including two as Sergeant Boyle of the Garda. Mark recently appeared in a March 2020 episode of Hawaii 5-0 with the catchy title I ho’olulu, ho’ohulei ‘ia e ka makani , so you could accompany this with a glass of Pineapple juice (or does that MAD running joke just apply to the 1970’s series?).

Eggs Benedict on Malted Milk

Scanning the recipe to get the ingredients together, the first surprise was that it called for “8 large biscuits”, halved and toasted! Biscuits? Some quick research revealed that this is a type of bread popular in the American south. They’re sourdough items similar to a scone but made with buttermilk. Recipes are available, so you could bake your own. Or use scones? But I settled for some sourdough bread with the crusts cut off. Slipped them in the toaster and then set them aside.

Once again, in the interests of social distancing and masking, I tried this recipe in the guise of Dr Syn – Alias The Scarecrow

Just keep the gas flame low

The Dr Syn analogy is apt. Like The Scarecrow waiting to lead his band of smugglers on a raid you need to ensure the quick, co-ordinated accomplishment of several acts in co-ordination. Of course, there has to be a twist to provide that note of potential danger, and this recipe delivers the complication of the ‘Red Eye Sauce’. It also makes sense to read the recipe closely, and – if you’re downsizing from four servings to two – make sure you write your downsizing calculations down right.

As insubstantial and unengaging as a politicians promise

In my first attempt to make the Hollandaise Sauce, I neglected the instruction to reduce the pepper, vinegar, water mix down before adding the egg yolk and water. I also got my quantities of water wrong, and then added the butter cold instead of melting it beforehand. So there I was, whipping and whisking and whirling, spattering liquid over the cooker and erupting into the flames and naturally it refused to thicken. It remained as insubstantial and unengaging as a party Political Broadcast.

As thick and buttery as a politician

In a guttural Patrick McGoohan voice, I gave the order to abandon the first attempt! Back to the recipe with my merry band of cutthroats! I made sure I actually understood what it was telling me to do. I set the butter to melt in a separate pan and got my calculations right. I took care to reduce the pepper, vinegar and water til it was just covering the pan and then added the egg yolk. Even as I whisked, with less liquid in the pan it quickly became clear what the recipe meant about pulling it away from the heat if the egg was in danger of scrambling. I poured in the melted butter and kept whisking. Within seconds it was ready. I’ve only ever had healthy, light Holland Sauce out of a jar before, and the white pepper gave this sauce more of a buzz, with the egg yolk and butter rendering a more decadent texture, as thick and oleaginous as a politician.

Somebody send for Colt Seavers !

At this stage, I have to admit that while I followed the full recipe for the close-up shots, I brought in my stuntman, in the form of Marks and Spencer Hollandaise sauce for the wide shots. Emptying the shop-bought Hollandaise into a saucepan, I fried the ‘Country-Smoked Ham Steaks’ – or Marks and Spencer Traditional Smoked Gammon Steaks and then “trimmed them into rounds”. Or knifed them into shapes roughly approximating the toasted bread.

And you have to save the grease afterwards!
It’s getting tense in the kitchen!

At this point the recipe calls for the creation of the ‘Red Eye Sauce’ – a tablespoon of butter and a quarter of a cup of cold coffee added to the grease left in the frying pan and then reduced for a few minutes over a medium heat. Meanwhile, “poach the eggs in the boiling water and vinegar” or use your trusty K-Tel Poach Pan cheat (“Never be embarrassed again by your poached eggs! Your family will be amazed by the cavalcade of poached egg dishes you produce with the accompanying recipe cards!”)

And here is where the magic coincides. Lay the Ham and Eggs on the “biscuits” and then cover them with the Hollandaise Sauce to which you have added the “Red Eye Sauce”. The bitter-butter taste of the smoked-fat and coffee liquor adds a tasty kick to shop bought Hollandaise and will doubtless send Mark Rolston’s peppery Hollandaise into the realms of artery tickling Nirvana.

Did you ever fall in love with someone you shouldn’t’ve?

I make no claims for the prettiness of the photo – it’s the Lee Marvin of food photography – it’s that girl your mother always told you to steer clear of. And I make no claims for having done anything more than follow what the recipe clearly told me to do. But that is a magnificent Eggs Benedict. The original recipe suggests garnishing with half a jalapeno pepper – but I’d say no – in the current crisis you don’t want to go raising your body temperature!

Project X (1967)

Uncategorised Posted on Fri, April 17, 2020 22:05:52
Project X – £9.99

William Castle’s Project X (1967) – out on Blu Ray from 101 Films – is like a fugitive from a frustrating dream where you go into the past and discover a book or comic that never really existed. If I’d ever heard of horror maestro William Castle directing a science fiction movie (1), it had never registered, so that enhances the feeling of coming across something from a parallel world!

The movie itself has the structure of a dream where the narrative suddenly shifts in strange unexpected ways. Christopher George (Grizzly, The Rat Patrol) plays 22nd Century geneticist Hagan Arnold who is sent on a secret spy mission to “Sino-Asia”. He discovers a secret that will destroy America but his memory is wiped by an anti-interrogation drug injected before the mission by his own side. American scientists seek to recover his memory by an elaborate process which involves convincing him that he’s a bank robber in 1960’s America.

When I read the precis on the back of the Blu Ray, I assumed this would be a cheap way filming a lot of the movie on 1960’s city streets. But surprisingly this action takes place in a reproduction of a remote farmhouse flung together by the 22nd Century military. It’s almost like Mission: Impossible with the main cast of scientists assuming false identities. The casting of actors like Philip Pine and Henry Jones who regularly guest-starred in 1960’s TV shows and Van Cleave’s spot-on jazzy score during this sequence heightens the resemblance to a Quinn Martin production. *

*Christopher George himself would later star in the Quinn Martin TV movie The House on Greenapple Road (1970). The subsequent series, Dan August saw Burt Reynolds take the leadGeorge was already starring in The Immortal (1970-71).

When the amnesiac George sleeps, scientist Henry Jones uses a mind-scanning process to creates holograms reproducing what is known of George’s mission in the hope that his sub-conscious will then reveal what is unknown. This leads to the most incredible development of the whole film. It’s almost as if William Castle actually journeyed forward into the 21st Century and saw a modern day thriller with all the computer generated stunts and special effects! And on returning to the 1960’s, he did his best to recreate what he’d seen by commissioning Hanna Barbera to animate the dream sequences. George and other actors are superimposed over cartoon sequences designed by Carl Urbano and Alex Toth (at least some of which are retreads from the Jonny Quest TV show).

Scriptwriter Edmund Morris (another TV veteran) effectively reverses the plot of Leslie P. Davies’ novel The Artificial Man (1965). In the book, the hero is a science fiction writer living in a 1960’s village. Friends and neighbours keep making remarks which inspire the development of a novel he is writing about life in a dictatorship in 2016. After he meets a girl from the village who believes she is living in 2016, the author gradually realises that he’s a secret agent who has lost his memory. It really is 2016 and his life as a writer has been part of a plot to recover the secrets held in his lost memory. There are obvious overtones of the 1967 TV series The Prisoner and it’s intriguing that Castle and North chose to give the big revelation right at the start of the movie – as if they wanted to make sure they didn’t confuse anyone.

We only get vague hints of what the world of the future is like – women are designated as sterile or breeders, and nobody knows what a potato is. There’s an implication of the dictatorship of Davies’ novel, but since most of the action takes place in a top secret military project it’s hard to be certain. Harold Gould plays the Colonel in charge of the operation, constantly in opposition to Jones and Pine as the scientists. There’s a slight hint of Waiting for Godot watching actors who usually play supporting roles taking the lead – you’re constantly waiting for the big star to turn up – but with even George laying comatose or addled for much of the movie, it’s Jones and Gould who dominate. There’s a darkly amusing scene at one point when it’s feared that the project has been exposed to a plague – and Jones calmly lays out to a horrified Gould how they’ll have to quarantine the base as the infection spreads , with each new victim cremated by the survivors. Jones delivers this speech with a methodical slyness, so we’re never quite sure if he’s already thought of the loophole that’s going to save them.

The second source for the movie is Davies’ novel The Psychogeist, which has similar themes of amnesia, a man recalling a childhood comic which may actually be memories of life on an alien planet, and a top secret project. When scientist Jones comments during one scene that, “What we see in the mirror and what the mind sees filtered through our ego is quite another thing.” he seems to be stating the main theme of Davies’ work.

Monte Markham: “I am the Master, you will..” (Oops, wrong show)

It’s possible that The Psychogeist inspired the character of Gregory Gallea, the mysterious figure played by Monte Markham (star of The Second Hundred Years TV series – later to be the Seven Million Dollar Man rival of The Six Million Dollar Man). Markham wears an Ed Bishop catsuit and a Roger Delgado beard so he looks like a futuristic villain, but plays Gallea with a convincing ambiguity, so we’re never quite sure of his connection with George and the mysterious disembodied entity that manifests itself in the project (2). Picking up a plot strand from The Artificial Man, George’s character has met a girl from the village (Greta Baldwin) who is unaware of the deception. When she’s arrested by the military, Markham tries to enlist her aid in busting George out of the project. Once again, just when you think you know what direction the movie’s going in, Castle veers off in another direction.

As a piece of science fiction, Project X often looks outdated, and as a work made for hire it looks cheap – especially in comparison to some of the other movies coming out at the time. But it has a kind of mad charm and beneath the surface there are a number of interesting concepts, not just as science fiction but in relation to other films (3)

(1) In fact, Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story (2007) on the Indicator 13 Ghosts Blu Ray, does mention Project X as a project handed to Castle by the studio before Rosemary’s Baby but released as an anti-climactic follow-up to the success of the Ira Levin adaptation.

The 101 Films Blu Ray of Project X comes with a commentary by Allan Bryce and David Flint and a new documentary, Money Back Guarantee in which commentators such as Vic Pratt (above) of the BFI relate William Castle’s career in ballyhoo. It’s obviously cut price in comparison to the documentaries on the recent Indicator box set, but then cut price is well in the spirit of Castle and Project X – and it still manages to be entertaining and informative.

(2) SPOILER – Gallea is the villain, albeit one with a convincing motivation. One could only wish the next actor to play The Master on Doctor Who could be given a Ludovico Treatment and sat in front of Markham’s performance as Gallea so they can see there is another way to play a villain without going full Jack Nicholson/Johnny Depp.

(3) SPOILER *** The movie ends with Henry Jones telling Greta Baldwin that George has been given a new identity and new memories as an engineer. Baldwin is informed that she also has a new identity and that she was officially married to George three days ago. George affects a particular vacuousness in his new identity and as they depart hand-in-hand it’s hard to dispel memories of Arnold Shwarzenegger and Sharon Stone in Total Recall.

SMASH!Creative Destruction and change

Uncategorised Posted on Sat, March 14, 2020 12:33:56
Spot the Difference…

Lew Stringer recently revisited the traumatic week in 1969 when the comic SMASH! was completely revamped . The article here at gives a good summary and evokes the distress some of us felt. It also raises some interesting points about change and the management of change. I’ll talk about the revamped comic at the end, but just to get to the essential points:

The main reason most of us bought SMASH! 51 years ago was because (like all the old Power Comics) it contained a mix of Marvel superhero reprints and anarchic British comedy. As Lew points out, this had gradually been changing over the previous year due to internal management shifts within the International Publishing Corporation (IPC). But January 1969 was the “big bang” when the comic was revamped to the taste of staff from the prevailing Fleetway comics. An article by the fictional new office boy, “Mike” (‘Smash Chat’) informed us that they’d decided to give the superheroes a rest for a bit. It was my first taste of corporate bullshit. There may have been sound reasons for reducing the Marvel Comics reprints (as weeklies, the several Power Comics published by IPC’s Odhams subsidiary had come close to exhausting the supply of monthly Marvel comics) but as Lew points out, the bottom line is that the old Smash was not to the taste of the prevailing management *. So like most forced recipients of change, I was probably ( 51 years is a long time to remember accurately) predisposed to resist!

*Spider-Man and Ghost Rider reprints popped up the following year in the revamped TV21.

And yet I stuck with the new SMASH! I still have a copy from September 1969 The Warriors of the World feature on the cover helpfully shows that this is the 26th issue of the new series, which suggests that the comic won me over.

A simplistic reading might be that this was just Schumpeter’s Creative Destruction at work, with innovation pushing aside the exhausted old guard and delivering new benefits to the consumer. The lesson might be that it’s better to embrace change rather than resist it because – in the end – you will come round. Better sooner, rather than later.

But, it’s not quite that simple. The Fleetway arm of IPC were the old guard. Odhams’ Power Comics had been the young Turks winning over the audience with new ideas. If anything, this was the reverse of creative destruction, with the old monoliths being rebuilt. And to complicate things – while the look of the new SMASH! was more conventional with distinctive artists like Ken Reid and Mike Higgs, writers on the old SMASH! were employed on the new SMASH! They may have been tales that looked more corporate but they still had the same inventiveness. So any benefits may have been derived from the quality of the staff, rather than the management vision.

To sum up, we’re told that change is good. In small steady doses that may be true (Fleetway had already slipped traditional strips like Sergeant Rock, Paratrooper and King of the Ring in among the superheroes the previous year). When big change does come, the staff and the punters have little choice but to accept it and make the best of it. Since we can’t live parallel lives we never really know if it’s for the better, although as Lew’s article shows, external events often have a trick of undermining the best laid plans. What you can be sure of is A: There is no point telling management their plans won’t work B: If it doesn’t work, you can be sure it will because of external factors that no-one could have predicted C: By the time it doesn’t work, the people who made the original decision will have moved on to new successes.

The Rebbel Robot

Many of the new comic strips were good. Rebbels on the Run had been a fairly conventional theme – three orphaned brothers run away from a care home rather than be split up. But with this issue the story morphed into The Rebbel Robot. The brothers meet the mysterious Professor Bodkin who tells them that their dead father had been a secret service agent. Just before he died, Frank Rebbel allowed Bodkin to feed his brain patterns into an electronic brain which is now enclosed in a robot body.

Other stories included Master of the Marsh, in which a strange hermit called Patchman (implied to be a reincarnation of Hereward the Wake) teaches the working class children at Marshside Secondary School. This weeks episode is like a reverse of The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, with ‘Knocker Reeves’ trying to sabotage his classmates chances in the County sports day. There are eleven dramatic strips (some reprints) all well-told and exciting. Janus Stark and Cursitor Doom are among them, but there’s a host of lesser-known strips. And that’s before you get to the comedy strips.

It strikes me now that the most ironic of the strips is The Battle of Britain. Not a wartime strip, it tells how Secret Service agent Simon Kane and his West Indian assistant Tubby oppose “the power crazed Baron Rudolph” who has seized control of London and most of Britain. I believe this was a reprint from the early 1960’s, but with sharp, clean Geoff Campion artwork this was one of my favourite strips. By September 1969, Kane has managed to rescue the Prime Minister from a prison camp in Hyde Park and is working with army loyalists to smuggle the Prime Minister out to Canada. The irony is, of course, that IPC’s chairman Cecil King had been sacked by the board after a farcical attempt to launch a coups against Harold Wilson’s government in May 1968. If only they’d got Ken Reid to draw that one up!

Wolf 359 on the rocks

Uncategorised Posted on Sat, March 14, 2020 00:16:45
Sara Shane, Patrick O’Neal and Ben Wright sip Martini’s in Wolf 359

Synchronicity reared its’ head this morning when I came across this recipe for the Carole Landis Martini on the @silverscreensup Twitter account. Only the night before, I’d been watching The Outer Limits episode Wolf 359, where philanthropist Philip Exeter Dundee (Ben Wright) asks, “Didn’t DeVoto write a whole book on the Martini”?

In the pre-Internet age, it would have taken some detailed research to discover that Dundee was referring to historian Bernard DeVoto, whose curmudgeonly essay The Hour was published in book form in 1951. It refers to 6pm, the cocktail hour which is illustrated by scriptwriter Seeleg Lester in the TV episode when scientist Patrick O’Neal proudly mixes his perfect cocktails as thick steaks sizzle on the barbeque.

By coincidence, the Silver Screen Suppers recipe links to an article by Richard Ehrlich which quotes DeVoto’s description of the Martini as , “The supreme American gift to world culture.”

Wolf 359 – the malevolent force escapes from the planet

Until now, my main fascination with Wolf 359 (from a screen story by Quatermass Xperiment adaptor Richard Landau) was the concept of a tiny planet, created by O’Neal in the lab funded by Wright in order to promote space research. With evolution speeded up, O’Neal is able to observe the growth of microscopic life, and evidence of war, cruelty and inhumanity but unaware that a malevolent force is issuing from the planet and invading his home.

I first saw this 1964 episode in 2005, and it seemed clear that it must have influenced Jack Kirby when he was drawing Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen issue 142 in 1971. Here, Superman and Jimmy Olsen discover that scientist Dabney Donovan has created a miniature planet in a lab beneath an ancient graveyard. Having said that, Kirby’s humanistic instincts took the basic concept to another level. In the TV show, the ‘alien’ is a micro-relative of Hob from Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass and the Pit. The ‘alien’ is a science-fiction embodiment of ancient evil, bringing out the worst instincts of the microscopic creatures on the tiny planet.Director Laslo Benedek (Death of a Salesman – 1951) employed some stirring horror film iconography as the prairie wolves outside the lab react to its presence. But Kirby turned the concept round by having the scientist project images from old horror films onto the planet Transilvane. The microscopic life forms are natural mimics which actually take on the forms of vampires and werewolves. Kirby’s humanism detects the need for self-determination and self-preservation in the creatures. For them, the scientist Donovan is the malevolent God, who regards planet Transilvane as nothing more than an experiment.

Count Dragorin and Werewolf

On Friday the 13th I could do nothing less than succumb to influences on me and mix up some vodka martini’s as I reflected on Wolf 359 and The Man From Transilvane. I’d noted before that Ben Wright, the actor playing Dundee, had a slight physical resemblance to Walt Disney. But now I see that he was the voice of Roger Radcliffe, owner of Pongo in the first Disney version of 101 Dalmations. Can I find a link between Disney and Transilvane? Give me a few more Martini’s and I’m sure I will!

Cat and the Canary (LIVE)

Uncategorised Posted on Wed, March 11, 2020 06:03:18

Dr Terror reviews The Cat and the Canary Richmond Theatre (and touring)
If you go back far enough, what are now the creakiest of cliiches were presumably fresh as daisies. I couldn’t help reminding myself of this while watching The Cat and the Canary unfold: it had first appeared as a play in 1922, after all. That’s a full thirty years before The Mousetrap with which it shares many…er…trappings, and The Mousetrap has been running forever.

I was thus prepared to let every thunderclap, snipped phone line, ghostly gurgle and secret passage wash over me. There’s nothing here that you haven’t seen many, many times before even if you have never experienced any of the film or TV adaptations (I only had the vaguest of memories of the Bob Hope one) – but it’s all so comforting and reassuring. In the end, even if it maybe didn’t introduce these elements, when this play first premiered on Broadway, they would have been relatively unfamiliar to contemporary audiences. It’s just that it’s now nearly a century later.

The stock characters are also deeply familiar – as are the actors playing them: didn’t the jittery vet (Mark Jordon) used to be the ginger one in Heartbeat? Wasn’t the glamorous author (Tracy Shaw) a regular at the Rover’s Return not so long ago? Will the prim Aunt take that look off her face…or could she be Marti Webb? They all look quite a bit older than you remember them being with the exception of pugilistic Londoner Gary Webster who could still be minding the lockup for Arthur Daley. The icing on the cake has to be Britt Eckland – yes, THE Britt Eckland – pulling all the stops out as the spooky housekeeper, Mrs Pleasant.

The plot is ridiculous and makes no sense whatsoever but, after the last series of Doctor Who, I’m used to that happening. Would I recommend it as a night out? I’m honestly not sure.
I think it depends what you’re looking for. As a whole it has the aroma of a month old Gorgonzola – but forget the whole…just savour the sum of the parts.

Till Death us do Part (1968)

Uncategorised Posted on Sat, March 07, 2020 19:52:48
The last time he’ll smile ’til 1966

Till Death us do Part is that rarity – a movie spun-off from a TV show which feels like it adds more to the story. Director Norman Cohen, who would go on to helm the first film version of Dad’s Army (1971) also directed the semi-documentary The London Nobody Knows ( 1969 – based on Geoffrey Fletcher’s book) which may explain the authenticity of this movie.

Johnny Speight’s 1966 BBC TV series was contemporary – so contemporary that sometimes the scripts were late – and usually centred upon arguments between Alf Garnett (Warren Mitchell), his son-in-law Mike (Anthony Booth) and daughter Rita (Una Stubbs), both of whom lodged with Alf and wife Else (Dandy Nichols) in their terraced house in Wapping.

The movie was made by British Lion soon after the TV series had been cancelled in mid-1968. The lateness of Speight’s scripts is given as one reason for the cancellation, although the controversy over the political arguments in the show (and Garnett’s frequent use of the then-offensive word bloody) made the show unpopular with an incoming BBC management. Speight and Cohen give the movie an epic scope by devoting the first hour to the Second World War.

Bob Grant, Sam Kydd, Bill Maynard & Michael Robbins listen to Alf’s theory

Opening with a black-and-white newsreel showing Nazi tanks massing, the movie picks up Alf Garnett’s commentary, “They’re all cardboard! He’s probably got men inside pedalling! It’s all propaganda! That’s yer Goebbels- he’s famous for it! Propaganda!” Throughout the TV series there had been controversy over whether Speight was satirising or espousing Garnett’s bigoted views, but with a wartime setting it is clear that Garnett is the archetypal pub bore. An early scene shows drinkers listening in silence as Garnett puts forward his theory that Dunkirk is actually part of Churchill’s grand strategy to strengthen the British forces. And before that, Garnett is shown being taken by surprise in his tin bath, when Chamberlain announces that the war Alf said would never happen, is actually happening.

After the first hour the action jumps forward the March 1966 General Election and Alf arguing with daughter Rita (Una Stubbs) about whether she can put a Labour poster in his window. Cohen captures the frenetic world of the TV series well – Una Stubbs’ affection and exasperation coming across as she argues with Alf while clearing the plates from the table (Dandy Nichols, sitting at the table as Else, neutral in the argument, suddenly puts her hand on Una’s to stop her taking the Swiss Roll away). Terry Knight’s detailed set design captures the mood of the 1960’s – halfway between Victorian and Elizabethan ages – Una’s micro mini skirt and mod design washing up liquid set against the 1930’s kitchen implements and wallpaper.

Garnett’s home (ironically shown as Jamaica Street by an insert when Alf mistakenly receives call-up papers) is represented by a lovingly created external set at Shepperton, which allows Cohen to take the characters through the ‘phony war’, the blitz, VE day, and through to the 1960’s. Powerfully, this also allows Speight to represent the experience of actual Londoners. Having survived the bombs, the Garnett’s find that their house is listed for demolition by the council (the actual Garnet Street in Wapping had already been demolished). When valuers arrive to put through the compulsory purchase, Alf is told that his house is worth £400.

But I bought it off the Council for Fifteen Hundred,” Alf protests, “And they gave me a mortgage!” The valuer (Frank Thornton) explains that £400 is the land value. There is no property value.

Alf refuses to sell, but the bulldozers move in, his local pub is boarded up and workmen begin to gut the neighbouring houses. Finally, Alf arrives home to find Else, Mike and Rita packing up and moving to the new tower block, where the council offer luxuries such as an indoor toilet. Defeated, Alf finally follows . But as he arrives at the brutalist concrete block, he realises he doesn’t know the apartment number. He begins knocking on doors as, on a lower level, the family go out to the cinema.

When the TV series returned in 1970, the climax of the movie was ignored and the Garnett’s were still settled in their terraced house*. Set against the context of the TV series, the end of the movie may be disconcerting, but it’s a small price to pay. The film itself hangs together well. Perhaps because the movie had to pass the British Board of Film censors, there are few of Garnett’s more outrageous racial comments and most of those are filtered through the wartime sequences ( although one slightly ugly scene with actress Cleo Sylvestre is singled out for inclusion in the original trailer, suggesting that the producers were trying to capitalise on the controversy of the TV shows).

However, the movie is generally funny, if you can be entertained by seeing man at his most craven and self-interested. The scene where Alf, craving some milk for his tea at a time of wartime rationing, snatches baby Rita’s milk bottle and tries to unobtrusively lighten his tea before Else comes back in the room has echoes of Laurel and Hardy .

The other point of note is that the film is pretty representative of the British comedy scene in 1969 with uncredited background characters being played by now familiar faces. Michael Robbins from On The Buses plays the landlord of Alf’s local (who refuses to give credit when the Blitz begins on the basis that his customers may be killed before they can settle up) while Bob Grant from the same show is one of the pub regulars. A restrained Brian Blessed plays an Anti Aircraft Gun Sergeant, who takes an interest one of of Alf’s neighbours. She is played by Kate Williams, who would go on to star in ITV’s Love Thy Neighbour (where bigoted Eddie Booth (Jack Smethurst) would refuse to watch the BBC because they had “That Man, and his uncouth language!”. Tommy Godfrey , from the same show , is another of Alf’s pub audience.

*In ‘Dock Pilfering’ (11 October 1972) Alf is gloating that the house is now worth £20,000 under a Tory Government, whereas it was only worth £600 under Labour. When Mike counters that it is just inflation, Alf retorts that, “According to Labour” the £2.00 a week Mike pays in rent is now worth only 25 shillings (£1.25). So, “On the black day you married my daughter and moved in here you were paying £2.00 a week rent in a £600 house. But, now thanks to me and the Tory Government, you’re only paying 25 shillings rent for a room in a £20,000 house! Under us, YOU’VE GOT ON!”

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