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The System on Blu Ray

Uncategorised Posted on Sat, September 28, 2019 16:45:23

Indicator has just released a new Blu Ray of Peter Draper’s The System (1964). This is the movie Peter Draper wrote for Michael Winner at the same time as scripting early episodes of The Plane Makers.

Set in a West Country seaside resort, it follows beach photographer Oliver Reed and a gang of local boys, who try to make the most of the summer season by chasing girls according to ‘the system’.

With sharp cinematography by Nicolas Roeg and a characteristically witty script by Draper, The System might easily have been called The Takers and the Taken (to quote a line used early in the film). Jeremy Burnham (who appears as a hapless junior executive in two episodes of The Plane Makers) plays an upper class character midway through the film who says with disbelief, “You mean you actually live here all year round?” Oliver Reed replies, “Yes, that’s what all the houses are for.” Harry Andrews, as Reed’s employer at the photo shop, gloats that he spends his winters in Los Palmas. Early in the film, Winner intercuts footage of holidaymakers with old film of South Sea Islanders as Reed describes the habits of the tourists (or Grockles as Draper dubs them) underlining that they are all trapped in a form of economic ritual.

Indicator’s region free Blu Ray comes along with an informative commentary by Melanie Williams and Thirza Wakefield, revealing interviews with surviving cast members including Jane Merrow, an entertaining documentary short by Winner called Haunted England and a 32 page booklet.

When the Boat Comes In: The Hungry Years

Uncategorised Posted on Sun, September 22, 2019 21:02:56
Jamie Brown as Jack Ford at the Customs House, South Shields

When the Boat Comes In: The Hungry Years by Peter Mitchell, is the second in a projected trilogy based on the 1970’s BBC TV series. Premiering at the Customs House, South Shields until September 28th, the play introduces a new generation to the vivid characters and situations created by James Mitchell.

Despite the setting in a depressed 1920’s Tyneside, we regard the character of Jack Ford as one of the few true rivals to John Wilder ; a calculating pragmatist who takes the world on his own terms and offers reward to those who follow him. Jamie Brown succeeds in winning over the audience without betraying the ambiguity of the character. His interpretation is distinctly different from the TV original (to coin a phrase, it’s as if someone said, “Get me a young George Costigan”) but still has the ring of truth.

Alice Stokoe as Jessie Seaton and Jamie Brown as Jack Ford

The play takes aspects of the TV episodes, Paddy Boyle’s Discharge, King For A Day, and Kind Hearted Rat With A Lifebelt but Peter Mitchell and director Katy Weir have tightened the strands into a fully theatrical experience. The Jack Ford of the play is much more on edge – whether through conscience or the after-effects of trench warfare – leading to a nightmarish pre-interval explosion. The action takes place against an expressionistic, sliding set that opens in darkness with clanging, grinding noises (shipbuilding or coal hoists?) before the cast gradually appear holding candlelights and singing ‘The Internationale’ as Jack Ford sorts through the treasures in his kitbox, finally pulling out and spinning the chambers of his service revolver.

The rapid scene changes are turned into an event by having the actors shift the scenery in choreographed moves, sometimes accompanied by contemporary songs. This probably sounds more twee than it actually is . The overall effect keeps the mood of the show consistent and also allows for some shock effects such as (what we’ve presumed to be) the walls of a house to slide apart to reveal Tom Seaton (Matthew Howden) standing beside the coffin of his wife Mary.

Matt Headley (Charlie Richmond), Dolly Ford (Anna Bolton) & Jack Ford (Jamie Brown)

While this is a fresh interpretation, there is also much that remains faithful to the TV show. From the moment Steve Byron yells, “tell that fornicating bastard to go to hell,” it’s clear that he’ll be playing wheelchair-bound Bill Seaton in the irascible manner of James Garbutt. Byron doubles as Ford’s mentor, Sir Horatio Manners (played by Basil Henson in the TV show) nailing the upper-class character’s foxy charm (sometimes with an extremely quick change). Similarly, Charlie Richmond plays Matt Headley, the straight-as-a-die but hero-worshipping sidekick of Ford like a reincarnation of Malcolm Terris, but also plays Lord Calderbeck, prospective victim of a sting by Manners and Ford.

Anna Bolton makes a sympathetic, three-dimensional Dolly Ford, with some humorous body language and pouting when Jessie Seaton comes to call on Jack. It’s Dolly who first alerts Jack to the starving conditions of widow Sarah Balfour (Carrie Downey) and her sons. The plight of the Balfour family, with not enough money coming in to feed the children, is one of those situations which seemed to be part of the dead past in the TV show, and yet now seems frighteningly relevant for the stage show.

Bella Seaton (Janine Birkett) & Jessie Seaton (Alice Stokoe)

The play opens with Jack unemployed due to shipyard layoffs. Sir Horatio Manners offers Jack a chance to make some quick money by posing as a rich businessman at a country house weekend. Later on, union organiser Les Mallow (Adam Donaldson) offers Jack the chance to be his paid assistant if he will use his skills to get Les elected as union secretary.

At the heart of When The Boat Comes In is the tension between Jack’s ruthless self-interest, the intellectual socialism of Jessie and union organiser Mallow, and the practical charity of Bella Seaton. Bella is played with great charm by Janine Birkett (who recently appeared as war correspondent Marie Colvin in the drama-documentary Under the Wire). Throughout the play, Bella tries to do what is right, shouting down her opinionated husband or gently coaxing a shattered Jack Ford away from self-pity. Ironically, Alice Stokoe doubles both the principled Jessie and the extremely unprincipled Lady Jessica Croner.

It’s great to see these characters live again. The story is entertaining, down-to-earth and salted with wry humour (unexpected bits like the union strike vote where brother Poskett (Luke Maddison) suddenly points at the audience shouting, “You, get your hand up!”)

If I had to criticise the play, I’d question why Jack Ford was robbed of his big speech against inequality towards the end. And to see a play about Jack Ford without him trotting out his story about the death of Captain Manners and “Dining at the Saville” seems like Hamlet without “To Be or Not To Be”. But those are minor quibbles – and for a play that has the hair standing on the back of my neck more than once, not really relevant. When the Boat Comes In continues at the Custom House until Saturday 28th September.

Eggs or Anarchy: The Brexit No Deal Breakfast

Uncategorised Posted on Sat, August 17, 2019 11:57:19

Now that we are assured that Britain will exit the EU in October, deal-or-no-deal, I have been reading what will surely become essential reading. Eggs or Anarchy by William Sitwell is the story of Lord Woolton, World War Two Minister of Food, who ensured that Britain kept eating as supply chains seized up and resources dwindled.

Frederick James Marquis was joint managing director of the Lewis department store chain. It was a little known fact that Marquis had grown up in a poor terraced street in Salford. As Sitwell notes, modern politicians would, “barely let an interview pass without eulogising on their near poverty-stricken roots (but) Woolton never mentioned his very real, unassuming origins, indeed he rather buried them.”

Educated at Manchester Grammar School and Manchester College of Technology, Marquis’ career took a path through social work, teaching and journalism before being invited by Sir Rex Cohen to join the Lewis firm. One of Marquis’ personal goals was to achieve success in business while respecting his social conscience.

Such was the reputation Fred Marquis achieved in business that, on the outbreak of war, he was appointed Minister of Food. Marquis had already achieved success in cutting through red tape as a technical advisor to the War Office, ensuring that sufficient uniforms were produced to clothe the influx of servicemen.

Ennobled as Lord Woolton, his task was a stiff one. Britain had been a net importer of food: “half of all meat, three-quarters of all cheese, cereals, fats and sugars and four-fifths of fruit came from overseas.” With enemy submarines sinking shipping and former exporters over-run, those supply chains were at threat. On 29 September 1939, the Ministry of Food began a registration scheme to record the details of every civilian in the land – men, women and children. This provided the basis of a rationing scheme, which would ensure that food was evenly distributed. At the same time Woolton set his civil servants to studying the nutritional requirements set by the League of Nations to determine how calories the country needed to keep going. Behind the cold science, Fred Marquis never forgot his experience growing up in Salford – his knowledge of just what the working classes really ate.

Lord Woolton , publicising the mission of the Ministry of Food

Woolton had many critics – members of the House of Lords were particularly fond in quoting anecdotal tales of how his food distribution lines were failing while the press eagerly reported how Black Marketers were getting around the rules. Woolton also had to contend with the strong farmers lobby which was dissatisfied with the prices set for their produce.

But Woolton prevailed with a gift for plain-speaking and determination. “Here was a man not pleading for their support so he could keep his job. And here was a man who talked to them with an honesty they did not expect from politicians.”

Woolton was also a tough but canny negotiator with suppliers. Argentina tried to push an above-market price for its beef, perceiving Britain to have no alternatives. “The British could moralise and talk about principles all they liked, but they had no choice but to pay up.” Woolton informed the Ambassador that he accepted their decision, but since they could no longer trade, he would order British supply ships to stop calling at Argentinian ports. Since Argentina’s cold stores were stacked with produce, and British ships were part of the country’s import-export supply chain, this would cost Argentina millions. The Ambassador conceded, but then Woolton told him to raise his price by a small margin. “Woolton wanted final recognition of the negotiation to belong to the Ambassador, so that he could claim to his government that Britain was a reasonable country to deal with: a satisfied supplier meant that they would continue to sell to him as a customer.”

Sitwell concludes that, “Britain, at the end of the war, was not just in good physical shape, it had – and has never been – so healthy….child mortality had never been so low and far fewer mothers died in childbirth. Fewer babies had been stillborn and children were both taller and studier. There was also a markedly lower rate of tooth decay. All…achieved with fewer doctors, dentists, nurses and health visitors. While the rich ate less, the poorer ate more adequately.”

While the British have never forgotten the ordeal of food-rationing and how ‘we’ all came through it together, the man who won the commitment of civil servants and tradesmen and ensured that the nation came through it healthier than before is unjustly forgotten. Even the ‘Lord Woolton Pie’, created by a Savoy Chef to popularise the use of root vegetables and wholemeal flour is little celebrated. But with the prospect of crashing out on World Trade Organisation rules looms, perhaps a copy of Eggs or Anarchy should be delivered to every member of Boris Johnson’s ‘war cabinet’.

Eggs or Anarchy by William Sitwell Simon and Shuster 2016 ISBN 978-1-4711-5107-1

See how to make and eat Lord Woolton Pie here

Ransom (1975)

Uncategorised Posted on Fri, August 09, 2019 22:11:42

Looking forward to Ransom (1975) the film that brought Sean Connery and Ian McShane together with director Caspar Wrede


Ransom (1975)
Jeffrey Wickham and Sean Connery in Ransom (1975)

Superman – The Movie Phantom Zone

Rant Posted on Sun, July 21, 2019 19:02:11

There are so many superhero movies out there now that it’s sometimes hard to recall how sparse superhero movies used to be – and how inevitably disappointing most of them turned out. Even Superman – The Movie (1978) seemed off register at the time.
The film represented a Superman at least 10 years out of date – Clark Kent working for the Daily Planet, Lois Lane trying to uncover his identity and Lex Luthor as the main villain. Not just Luthor, but a humorous Luthor seemingly influenced by the Batman TV show. In the comics, Superman had moved forward. The Daily Planet was now owned by the Galaxy Broadcasting System whose duplicitous CEO, Morgan Edge conscripted Clark and Lois into reporting for his TV news shows. Scripts had become more ingenious.
Even when Superman – The Movie and its sequel Superman II related old-established lore such as the Phantom Zone villains, they seemed to do it in an odd mixed-up way. In the comic books, Kryptonian criminals were condemned to the Phantom Zone by a ray projector . Once inside the misty realm, the criminals became ghost-like and insubstantial, needing no food or mortal comforts. In the movies, the Phantom Zone was a whirling mirror that swooped down out of the skies and somehow absorbed the villains. It didn’t seem to make much sense. However, having recently got hold of a collection of Tales from the Phantom Zone – I’ve finally understood where the movie makers were coming from.
Superman – The Movie opens with General Zod (Terence Stamp), Non (Jack O’Halloran) and Ursa (Sarah Douglas) being condemned to the Phantom Zone at a trial in which their prosecutor Jor-El (Marlon Brando) has the casting vote. Superman II shows the Phantom Zone being shattered by an exploding bomb (or a missile in the Richard Donner cut). The Kryptonian villains realise that Earth’s yellow sun gives them super powers and quickly proceed to take over the Earth. Again, none of this seemed to make sense because in the comics the Phantom Zone wasn’t a physical prison that could be broken open.

The Phantom Zone first appeared in a Superboy story written in 1960 by Robert Bernstein. A sealed container falls to Earth and Superboy decodes the warning, signed by his own father Jor-El that they contain Krypton’s deadliest weapons. Despite the warning, Superboy opens the casket and finds a “thought helmet” which instructs him on the use of the Phantom Zone projector.

Superboy is accidentally projected into the Phantom Zone when a pesky lizard touches the ‘on’ button and spends the rest of the story as a living ghost until he figures a way to reverse the process. Superboy doesn’t encounter the rest of the Phantom Zone villains although the helmet does introduce the character of General Zod who is condemned to the Phantom Zone for trying to use an army of clones to take over Krypton.
However, the main inspiration for the Phantom Zone villains of the 1970’s movie, comes from a 1963 Superboy strip scripted by veteran science fiction writer Edmond Hamilton. The Untold Story of the Phantom Zone .
The story opens on Krypton with a crazed scientist called Gra-Mo trying to seize control of the planet using the robot police. His rival Jor-El foils the coup by using a magnetised weather satellite to capture the robot police. Because the Phantom Zone projector has been damaged by the magnetism, Gra-Mo and his associates are placed in suspended animation and exiled in a rocket ship.
Decades later, the prison ship has drifted towards Earth and a glancing blow from a meteor sends it crashing onto the planet’s surface. This is effectively the inspiration for the “Phantom Zone” being smashed open in the movies.
Gra-Mo tells his colleagues that they’re on Earth. “We monitored this world a thousand times from Krypton with our space telescopes and radios. Why we can even speak the English language.” This contrasts with Superman II where Zod and Ursa think they are on the planet “Houston” and know nothing of Earth (although they too speak very good English).
Gra-Mo also anticipates the deductions General Zod makes in Superman II “According to our scientists, if Kryptonians went to a world energised by a yellow sun, instead of our red sun, they’d have super powers!”

In the comic, Superboy arrives and is duped by the super villains. Ironically, when Gra-Mo tells Superboy he was an old friend of Jor-El’s, the Boy of Steel believes him because he knows “all Krypton’s villains are in the Phantom Zone”. When Gra-Mo invents a telepathic helmet to contact the Phantom Zone prisoners, they advise him how to attack Superboy. Eventually Superboy realises the Kryptonians are villains but is powerless to stop them as they embark on a campaign of vandalism similar to that of Zod and his cohorts.
In Superman II Lex Luthor leads Zod and his comrades to the Fortress of Solitude where they confront Superman. In the comic book story, Gra-Mo outwits every move Superboy makes. When he sends a lump of Kryptonite towards them, Gra-Mo jeers that the Phantom Zone villains have told him how to create a serum which gives him temporary immunity to Kryptonite.

In the movie, Superman is also in an impossible position. When Zod tells Non they will kill Luthor, Superman seizes his chance, whispering to Luthor that they must trick Zod into entering a chamber which will rob him of his super powers. Luthor immediately tells Zod what Superman is planning, and they force the Man of Steel to enter the chamber. What they don’t realise is that Superman has reversed the polarity (or whatever) and every Kryptonian outside the chamber is robbed of their super powers. Superman knocks the villains off the ice terraces of the Fortress of Solitude and as the fall towards the snow they fade away!
Back in the comic-book, Superboy has hidden the Phantom Zone projector inside Gra-Mo’s prison ship. The Phantom Zone villains, desperate to escape, tell Gra-Mo what Superboy has done. But when they enter the ship, they find out that the Phantom Zone projector is a cardboard model. Superboy seals up the ship and covers it in paint which blocks the rays of Earth’s yellow sun.
Robbed of their powers, Gra-Mo and his comrades are helpless as Superboy fires the Phantom Zone projector, which sends them into the misty realm inhabited by the other Kryptonian villains.

Superman II is a more entertaining film than Superman – The Movie but the plot flaws hanging over from the first movie were always annoying. Reading the comic book stories that formed the background for Zod, Ursa and Non, makes the apparent illogicality easier to accept.

I hadn’t realised, until I started researching this article, that there is now a controversy about whether Superman and Lois killed Zod and Ursa and that some viewers insist Zod died at the end of Superman II. I have to admit is never occurred to me that Superman had killed Zod. That strange fade before Zod hits the ice or snow or whatever it is at the bottom of the Fortress of Solitude suggests they didn’t want to show that. But again, having seen the comic book story which inspired that sequence, it’s pretty clear that Superman (or Superboy) would have sent them back to the Phantom Zone.
The ‘Richard Donner Cut’ DVD (2006) includes deleted scenes from the end of the movie which show a ‘US Arctic Patrol’ taking Zod, Non and Ursa into custody. This is all in long-shot because it’s the background to Gene Hackman’s final scene but the implication seems pretty clear.
If Richard Donner had returned to shoot the remaining scenes for Superman II it’s probable that he would have shot some close-ups of the Kryptonian villains to make it clear. But Donner was replaced by Richard Lester and the ending was re-written. Perhaps Lester thought the villains ‘fading away’ into the snow was the sort of thing that happened in comic books. After all, we’d just seen Superman deploy the incomprehensible tactic of throwing the ‘S’ symbol from his chest at Non.

Moonshot Memories: 18 July 1969 – The Gold Robbers

Rant Posted on Wed, July 17, 2019 08:24:54

As the Apollo 11 crew continued their journey to Moon orbit , ITV screened the seventh episode of London Weekend Television’s serial The Gold Robbers at 9pm on Friday 18th July 1969.
Continuing the ongoing format of the show, An Oddly Honest Man by former Plane Makers script associate David Weir, opened with the standard sequence of the armed attack on a plane delivering gold bullion to an airport. It then branched off to show the van full of gold being loaded onto a Bristol air freighter piloted by this week’s guest star Ian Hendry.
Picking up the trail, Inspector Craddock (Peter Vaughan) checks a list of every Bristol airfreighter in the country on the day of the robbery and narrows their whereabouts down to one plane which was supposedly sitting in an airfield in Beek, Holland, waiting for a contract to be signed by the Nigerian owners. Craddock establishes that the plane was in the air on the day of the robbery and the broker (Christopher Benjamin) tells him he let a friend, Tom Goodwin (Hendry), take the plane for a test flight as the plane had not been officially sold at that point.
Goodwin, a former mercenary pilot, has been imprisoned in South America on unspecified charges. Records show that when he returned to England, a month before the robbery, he declared £30,000 cash to Customs. Since he was not required to show the cash, Craddock suspects he was establishing an alibi for his payment from the robbery. Goodwin has married his girlfriend Dee (Wanda Ventham – two years before their pairing in the BBC’s The Lotus Eaters)and bought a riverside hotel to give them a solid future.

A series of point of view shots of the broker, Goodwin and Goodwin’s accountant shows them answering Craddock’s questions, proving he is unable to break down Goodwin’s alibi. The relentless Craddock gambles that, as a pilot Goodwin has always been up in the air, divorced from the consequences of whatever he’s been involved with. He goes to the hotel and confronts Tom and Dee with the face mask used by one of the robbers when they squirted ammonia in the faces of the guards and coshed them. “Look – you can still see the policeman’s blood there…he’s blind in one eye..”

Craddock tells Dee that he likes Goodwin, but eventually he’ll nail him. And he’ll no longer be the man he was. “After ten years in jail – courage, dignity, personality. Everything goes.” His only chance is to confess for a lighter sentence.

With Goodwin determined to stick to his alibi, Dee packs her bags and leaves. She can’t face a life looking over her shoulder waiting for Craddock to strike. “I don’t want it like this. I still love you..but I can’t live without hope. With nothing to look forward to.”

As Craddock returns to the hotel, he sees Dee stood at the bus stop with her suitcases. He finds Goodwin sitting at the bar. Director Bill Bain allows 23 seconds to elapse before Craddock says, “Hello Tom”. Hendry walks to the bar, gets a bottle and pours Craddock a drink. Another 1 minute 40 seconds elapses before Hendry says, “Must be a frustrating business, being a copper.” Craddock agrees: “I’ll get that pilot in the end, though.”

The titles roll as Craddock and Hendry sit drinking in silence. Another tightly scripted episode by David Weir balancing the procedural detail as Craddock zeroes in on his man, with Goodwin’s doomed attempts to make Dee’s dream of a riverside hotel into a reality. Director Bill Bain makes good use of point of view shots to heighten the atmosphere – when Craddock first goes to interview Goodwin, for instance, the idyllic shot of Hendry and Ventham looking over the river is overlaid with the crunch of Craddock’s footsteps on the gravel. They turn to look towards the camera, and the apprehension grows on Hendry’s face as the camera lurches towards him.

Read about The Yo Yo Life of Ian Hendry by Gabriel Hershman

Official Ian Hendry Tribute Site

Moonshots, Main Chance & Resurrection 16 July 1969

Rant Posted on Tue, July 16, 2019 09:20:43

16 July 1969 the eyes of the world were on Cape Kennedy . BBC1 and BBC2 covered APOLLO 11 from 1.50 pm with Cliff Michelmore, James Burke and Patrick Moore, while ITN ran MAN ON THE MOON from 2.10 pm with Peter Fairley.

There were updates throughout the day, but once Apollo 11 had launched successfully, TV returned to a semi-standard schedule with Alex Glasgow telling Tales of Northumbria in Jackanory on BBC1 and Freewheelers pitting Ronald Leigh Hunt’s Colonel Buchan against Geoffrey Toone’s Von Gelb on ITV (notwithstanding the irony of a former Nazi threatening the modern world on children’s TV, while former Nazi Wernher Von Braun had played such a pivotal part in the success of Apollo 11 ).
At 9pm ITV screened Yorkshire TV’s The Main Chance. In, Privilege of Justice by Edmund Ward, Solicitor David Main (John Stride) is offered a contract to negotiate the release of Raul Ramira (John Bennett), a political prisoner in Castro’s Cuba. Raul’s family escaped to Switzerland, while Ramira stayed with Castro to fight a guerrilla war against Batista. Ramira served under Castro’s government as a justice minister, but was then charged with “counter-revolutionary activities” and sentenced to hard labour in a prison camp. Now his family are offering to any “fine” that Main can negotiate if Raul’s sentence can be commuted.
Main arrives in Cuba and gradually realises he is a prisoner under surveillance, unable to leave the top floor of his luxury hotel or communicate with the outside world. He is visited by Montero (Alan Browning) the new Minister of Justice. He was an informer in Batista’s police force who clearly resents Ramira (“no sleeping under the stars for me. When they came for me, there was nowhere to run”). Main criticises the current regime that enforces its rule with guns, and takes the possessions of anyone who wants to leave and sentences them to two years labouring in a cane field waiting for a plane out.

Montero responds that Cuba under Batista was, “the brothel of the hemisphere. You could buy children’s flesh cheaper than you could buy tobacco. You could watch the tourist boats pouring in from Miami. Fat men with fat wallets.”
Montero removes his glove and shows him his battered hand without nails. “This is the price I paid for freedom and justice, Mr Main. How much did you pay?”
Back in Leeds, Margaret Castleton (Margaret Ashcroft)is carrying out the bread-and-butter work of the solicitors practice, defending a housewife charged with theft. Mrs Cooper has sold the TV, bought on Hire Purchase, to pay off other debts. She has told her husband that the TV is in repairs, frightened that he will hit her if she admits she can’t budget on what he pays her. Margaret has to explain that Mrs cooper is being charged under the theft act because under Hire Purchase the goods don’t belong to you until you’ve paid off the whole of the debt. Mrs Cooper fails to turn up at court and the magistrates order her arrest. Margaret confronts Mr Cooper, who says his wife should have told him: “Maybe I would have clouted her – but I wouldn’t have meant any harm!” He says she should have been able to manage on what he gave her – other women do. When Margaret asks if he knew she was on tranquilisers, he replies, “She was always in and out of the doctors – it gives her something to do.” Margaret tells him he’s lucky – “The last case like this, the women left the children with a neighbour and killed herself.”
In Cuba, Raul Ramira is brought to Main’s hotel suite. He says he fought for the revolution but disapproves of the results. “I did not fight for the rabid mouthings of men whose paranoia has brought the country to the brink of starvation.” As Ramira and Montero argue, Main says he has the funds to pay any fine if Ramira’s sentence can be commuted. He has a bankers draft for $200,000 that requires two signatures – his and Ramira’s. Ramira says he will refuse to sign, “All I can do is take the one last freedom that every man has – the freedom to die on his own terms.”

Montero tells Main that Ramira has chosen suicide. “To die is easy. To live and work is the hard part. Every day to push belief a fraction forward. to go without the heroic gesture.”
“Forget Ramira’s signature.” Montero tells Main, “Go to Mexico city. Authorise payment as soon as you hear that Ramira has safely been put on a plane. Freedom or a death warrant. You decide.”

At 10:30 pm on BBC2 Alan Dobie starred in the second part of Resurrection Alexander Baron’s adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s final novel. Dobie plays Prince Dmitri, who is shocked to recognise the accused in a murder trial as a servant he once seduced. Maslova, played by Bridget Turner lost her job when she became pregnant by Dmitri and drifted into prostitution. Now she is accused of poisoning an abusive client. Dmitri tries to intervene to rescue Maslova.

Soylent Green (1973)

Rant Posted on Thu, July 11, 2019 00:18:09

SOYLENT GREEN is the 1973 adaptation of Harry Harrison’s prophetic novel of overpopulation, ‘Make Room! Make Room!’
If Twitter had been around in 1973, the film would probably have been slaughtered. Even in the analogue era, the film developed a bad reputation among science fiction fans because Harry Harrison ridiculed the changes the movie made to his novel .

Penguin’s tie-in cover (above) does a good job of selling the novel as a 1984 style tale of star-crossed lovers against a backdrop of overpopulation. But Harrison’s novel is set in an overpopulated New York of 1999. Detective Andy Rusch is investigating the murder of gangster ‘Big Mike’. The readers know it’s actually a bungled robbery, but because Big Mike’s fellow gangsters fear it was a rival mob hit, Andy is given all the time he needs to make a thorough investigation. Andy falls in love with Shirl, Big Mike’s mistress. They spend a short idyllic time sharing Big Mike’s food and air conditioning before the rent is up. Then Andy has to move Shirl into the apartment he shares with Sol, an ex-engineer who has rigged up a bike to power the lights and TV in the apartment.

Harrison depicts a world in which everything is falling apart – petrol, water and food is scarce – the ever-expanding population subsists on Soylent – a Soya and Lentil substitute. When a store gets hold of some rare beef steaks it starts a riot as the New Yorkers sight over the rare luxury. When Sol dies after taking part in a protest in favour of birth control, an obnoxious family is moved into the apartment. Shirl abandons Rusch in search of the privileged life she once had as Big Mike’s mistress. Andy finally tracks down Big Mike’s killer, but is busted back to a uniformed beat as a result of departmental politics.
Richard Fleischer’s 1973 movie Soylent Green makes several changes, although most of these are for the better. The movie shifts the period forward to 2020 and ups the population of New York to 40 million. Charlton Heston plays detective Frank Thorn. As the title suggests – the food substitute is now central to the plot. ‘Big Mike’ becomes an executive of the Soylent Company, played by Joseph Cotten. Whereas the readers of Harrison’s novel know that Big Mike’s murder is an accident, the movie audience knows that Cotton’s murder is an assassination made to look like a robbery.
The screenplay is by Stanley R. Greenberg who developed a reputation for fact-based docudramas such as The Missiles of October but had also been involved with the 1967 ITC TV series Man In A Suitcase. Starring Richard Bradford as McGill a former CIA agent cast-out for a crime he didn’t commit and forced to exist as a modern-day bounty hunter, the series developed a reputation for being harder-edged than most ITC series. In Greenberg’s episodes, McGill operates on the edge of society. He sub-contracts work to small-time private eye’s and criminals. As played by Richard Bradford, he refuses to back down to threat, becoming progressively battered and broken-down as he faces off against the opposition.
Norman Rossington and Richard Bradford in Man In A Suitcase

Greenberg’s script for Soylent Green takes a similar approach. Thorn is literally a thorn in the side of the Soylent company, continuing to investigate the assassination they’ve crafted to look like a robbery gone wrong. Every change Greenberg makes serves to heighten the drama. Assassin Stephen Young (Seaway ) is steered towards Thorn, who continues to push his way towards uncovering the McGuffin – the big revelation about Soylent Green which so annoyed Harrison.

Society has been reduced to the utilitarian. Thorn appears to be on something like a short term contract – only employed as long as he continues to clear up New York’s increasing murder rate. Thorn is casually corrupt, helping himself to the drinks and food of the rich murder victim. Sol (Edward G. Robinson) is now a “book” – a forensic researcher assigned by the police to aid Thorn. Shirl (Leigh Taylor Young) is now “furniture” – one of a number of call girls offered by the high-scale apartment house to prospective tenants.
Sol in the novel appears to be the mouthpiece for Harrison, explaining the causes of over-population and its effect on society and dying from a virus caught while protesting in favour of birth control. As played by Edward G. Robinson in the movie, Sol is at the centre of the most affecting scenes. After his first visit to the scene of the murder, Thorn brings back some plunder he’s confiscated including an apple and a cut of meat. As Sol regards the priceless food items, he’s overcome with regret for the lost past.
Later on, when he pieces together the secret behind Soylent Green, Sol perceives why Cotten was consumed by remorse and accepted his own murder. Sol decides to ‘go home’, entering the church-like Euthanasia centre, where a cheery Dick Van Patten goes through a questionnaire asking Sol’s favourite colour and music. The answers provide an ambience to Sol’s final moments, having drunk a suicide brew.
Thorn pushes his way into a viewing chamber, where he sees the images of ‘home’ – films of the wide open spaces, vibrant oceans and abundant crops of the past played to comfort the dying. For the first time Thorn sees just what has been lost.
Soylent Green is arguably one of the first movies to deal with ‘global warming’. The street scenes are obscured by an optically printed smog. According to a behind-the-scenes report in Cinefantastique, the exteriors were filmed during a cold snap and underclad extras had to be sprayed with a glycerine mixture to simulate the dirt and sweat of a tropical heat. When Heston leaves his apartment at night, he has to manoeuvre his way past scores of extras sleeping on the stairs (an indication of the over-crowding mentioned directly in the source novel). The film’s New York setting tends to mask the fact that the whole world is in decay. Towards the end Thorn explains to Shirl that there is nowhere to run to. Crops have failed, animals have become extinct and even the plankton in the sea have been over-farmed. People queue for cut-price crumbs of Soylent while waiting for the scare rations of high protein Soylent Green to be delivered. The slightest delay in delivery triggers a riot in which protesters are scooped up and dumped into 21st century garbage trucks.
Ultimately, the film of Soylent Green remains pertinent because it is about scarcity of resources. Whatever the cause of the situation it depicts a world in which humans are reduced to commodities – ‘Books’ – ‘Furniture’ – and only the 1% prosper. The ultimate revelation (SPOILER) – the one which offended Harry Harrison so much – is that the source of the Soylent Green has failed and the company has begun reprocessing human bodies from the euthanasia centres. As resources become even more scarce, society begins to eat itself!

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