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The Dobermann Always Rings Twice

Looker (1981)

Uncategorised Posted on Sun, September 20, 2020 17:37:08

Sometimes it seems like a movie has to wait for its time to come – and for Looker (1981) that moment is now. Industrialist James Coburn explains that it’s the politicians who cause all the trouble – “Multinationals want peace and stability. Governments are recklessly out of control.” It’s up to private industry to save society.

In Looker, Albert Finney plays plastic surgeon Larry Roberts. Four of his actress patients have come to him with a shopping list of minor adjustments to their bodies, and when they start dying in mysterious circumstances, Larry has to protect the survivor Cindy Fairmont (Susan Dey – The Partridge Family, LA Law) and convince the police that he’s not killing off his patients.

Written and directed by Michael Crichton, (Westworld, Coma) the movie is a lighthearted thriller in the vein of North By Northwest which deals with concepts that seemed like science fiction in 1981 and seem like science fact now. On initial release, Variety called the movie, “silly and unconvincing”, partly due to the choices made in the original edit. The Blu-Ray currently available from Warner has a deleted scene in the extras which was apparently added to the TV cut, and which makes the plot clearer (while hinting that additional material might have been cut from the cinema version).

Finney discovers that the millimeter-accurate list of plastic surgery corrections have been provided by a firm called Digital Matrix which is involved with the production of TV adverts. Their next step is to ask Cindy to submit to a computer scanner in exchange for a lucrative lifetime contract. The scanner is the size of an electricity sub-station and Cindy has to descend naked on an illuminated platform in the roof. Once inside, the computer scanning effects are a combination of trick lighting and animation, as a digital copy of Cindy is created to serve the company.

When Finney uses a stolen electronic pass to visit Digital Matrix at night, he discovers that the firm has developed a light gun which can both create the illusion of invisibility and put victims into a trance so that an hour can pass in the blink of an eye. The scene in which Finney flicks through the technical manual describing the gun shows just how long ago the movie was made. Today, you’d be able to buy both the gun and the manual as part of the merchandising, whereas in 1981 the camera skims over the detailed schematics in seconds.

The ability to create the illusion of invisibility points to some of the inconsistency detected by critics. The fact that the gun can ‘freeze’ its victims explains some of the early plot points but would make the later extended fight and chase scenes impossible. If you’re in a trance, there’s no way you can resist your assailant.

Albert Finney in Michael Crichton’s tribute to Poe

When I first saw Looker on TV (11 September 1990) I remember I wasn’t paying attention at first and thought during the title sequence that it was a TV movie – the photography has that smeary pastel 1980’s look, combined with a minimalist electronic score. It was only when I realised that Albert Finney was in it that I knew it couldn’t be a TV movie.

Once the titles have finished the movie kicks off with an intriguing, eerie, hallucinatory scene which grabs the attention. Crichton notes in the commentary that he had to keep slowing up the pace of these scenes so that audiences could grasp what was going on. Ironically, one of the themes of the film is that by 1980 audiences were willingly giving their attention up to adverts. Crichton compares the punishment of being forced to sit in a prison cell for most of the day as punishment, with audiences willingly shutting themselves in with a a box for entertainment. In the commentary (which seems to have been recorded in 2006) Crichton notes that audiences could use a Tivo to skip TV adverts. But of course, things have moved on in 15 years and we are subjected to a wider range of adverts and clickbait on our laptops and phones. And during lockdown in 2020 much of the population has alternated between Working From Home and being entertained on the same devices.

As noted, there is an intriguing ‘deleted scene’ on the Blu-Ray which appears to have been reinstated for the TV version of the movie. This is a welcome addition, making clear how James Coburn’s conglomerate intends to use the digital technology to put a President in the White House! But comments made in this scene about the detective played by Dorian Harewood, lead to the suspicion that there are further scenes missing. Finney says he has passed one of the light guns on to Harewood, but there is no point in the existing movie where Finney could have done that. In fact, in the existing cut Harewood seems to be aware that Finney has been set up. Could there be an expanded Looker at some time in the future? Who knows.

And this is me….

Uncategorised Posted on Fri, September 11, 2020 18:25:10
Harry Dobermann

In an attempt to bring a little order to the website, I’ve created a separate index to the non-Patrick Wymark related items (book/film/TV reviews) which you can find at this link

Tige Andrews’ Riz-Norma

Uncategorised Posted on Wed, September 09, 2020 20:49:12

Checking out another potential recipe for Silver Screen Suppers’ Murder She Wrote Cookbook, I came across this winner from Tige Andrews aka Captain Greer in The Mod Squad.

Tige Andrews appeared in Family Doctor, a 1991 episode of Murder She Wrote. He played a retired mobster who gets shot leaving a restaurant which he owns. William Windom is called to treat Andrews, but it doesn’t go well. This was Tige Andrews’ last screen role after a long and successful career and Riz-Norma is a fine tribute.

Norma Thornton

The Norma behind Riz-Norma was Norma Thornton, Tige’s wife. They met in 1949 when she was a dancer in the Broadway cast of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and he was playing Schlemmer in Mr Roberts (he would later play Wiley in John Ford’s 1955 film adaptation). As a publicity stunt, the cast of both shows were pitted against each other in a bowling match – and for Tige and Norma the match struck.

While Norma became a member of the June Taylor dancers on the Ed Sullivan show, Tige continued to appear on Broadway in Stockade (the stage version of From Here To Eternity) and The Threepenny Opera (in which he appeared opposite Lotte Lenya, Jerry Orbach and Ed Asner and sang ‘Mack the Knife’).

Tiger Andrews next to Maurice Gosfield in Bilko

During the 1950’s Tige developed a career as a TV character actor and guest artist, becoming Private Gander, a member of Bilko’s platoon in the first series of The Phil Silvers Show. In 1959 he began a three year stint as Lt John Russo, the second lead in Robert Taylor’s The Detectives. From 1968 to 1973, he starred as Captain Greer, the mentor of the three teen undercover detectives in The Mod Squad.

I remember when this series was first screened our family used to speculate where the name Tige came from. But it turns out his birth name was Tiger (family tradition was to name sons after a strong animal) and that’s how he was billed in early shows (including Bilko).

So to Riz-Norma. I had a bit of an issue early on because the recipe tells us to braise some thinly sliced beef. I started out buying some braising steak and then realised it was the wrong sort of beef for this recipe because it would take too long to cook. So I switched to The Saint’s Vache Espagnole which uses many of the same ingredients and returned to Riz-Norma after I’d got hold of some beef suitable for stir fry.

The recipe calls for us to peel and slice an aubergine (or eggplant) and put it to one side after squeezing lemon juice over it. We then sear the beef or lamb in olive oil and then add the aubergine. Top this up with garlic, bay leaf, green peppers onion and a tin of tomatoes.

Add green beans or asparagus, then cover and simmer until all the ingredients are heated through. I have to say – this kind of recipe induces the type of suspense I associate with The Mod Squad – how long is enough? Have I cooked the meat enough? Should I have left it longer?

But I trusted the implication of the recipe – this reads like a quick meal – and it was ! Twenty minutes to simmer – the meat was tender and the sauce was beautiful. Served over basmati rice, and it went down a treat.

The Simmering Saint’s Vache Espagnol

Uncategorised Posted on Sun, September 06, 2020 18:23:05

Faced with the urgent need to dispose of an aubergine and some braising steak, I seized upon the chance to try out Simon Templar’s Vache Espagnol – a French dish, despite the name.

The Saint tells us, “This recipe was given to me by the head chef of Hotel Le Provencal in Juan-Les-Pins. It was a family recipe but he renamed it La Vache Espagnol in memory of an incident my biographer recorded in The Saint In Europe.

To serve two, skin and dice one aubergine, dust with salt and put to one side. Put 0.300 kg braising steak in a casserole dish and sear in a tablespoon of olive oil for 10 minutes. Remove the meat, and brown the aubergine in the juices, then set that to one side too. Saute a chopped onion and four cloves of garlic until glistening.

. Add a small tin (around 227g) of chopped tomatoes and a cup of Spanish red wine. Add the meat, cover and simmer for two hours. After the first hour, top up the juice with a large tin (around 450g) of chopped tomatoes and half a cup of Spanish red wine. After another hour (two hours in total), check that the meat is tender. When it’s ready to go, add the chopped, browned aubergine for another five minutes, then turn out and serve artfully with boiled potatoes

He said, serve artfully

Well, my technique may not be anything like the head chef’s – but much of the pleasure in this dish is just smelling it as it cooks – the wine and the garlic infusing the meat and scenting the atmosphere every time I checked the pot. The big gamble was whether the beef was soft enough – but in this case it worked, and the meat and the sauce tasted every bit as good as it smelt. I may not be able to eat like a king, but I can try and eat like a Saint.

Murder in Lockdown

Uncategorised Posted on Tue, August 25, 2020 12:04:16
Guest Review by Doctor Terror

Dr Terror reviews , a new online concept in interactive murder mysteries.

If you’ve never come across the name Joy Swift then you won’t know that, not only does she organise the most absorbing and entertaining murder mystery weekends in the country, she actually invented the whole concept. Back in the early 80s, she pioneered what half the hotels in Britain seem to offer now…but hers correctly advertise as ‘the original and best. She was even awarded an MBE for services to tourism as a result.

Well, the requirements of social distancing and other aspects of the ‘new normal’ pandemic culture have taken their toll on the traditional approach but she has bounced back with an interactive murder mystery game played online which simulates one of her weekends in the most imaginative and addictive way. For the giveaway introductory offer price of £4.99, you can give up your evenings next week to crack a case appropriately called ‘Lockdown’ in which our detective, stuck indoors and self-isolating, works alongside you as you try to solve the murder of a young academic which turns out to be just one of many.

As the bodies pile up, you are provided with video clips showing bits of action and interrogation, clips of phone calls and a skipful of clues in the form of utterly realistic letters, documents, photos, texts and so on. You can play at your own pace, the whole thing is nearly divided into twelve chapters and is certainly not the work of an hour…as I said, set aside several evenings or one incredibly intense weekend!

The lockdown theme is exploited very realistically with video of Zoom calls (or is it Teams, or Skype, or…?) as well as filmed footage set both in the present day and ten years earlier. In fact, some of it was actually shot ten years earlier, allowing the suspects to have aged naturally (not to mention one retired inspector, whose hair has gone from black to white).

A full denouement is provided at the end and you can even download various levels of certificate depending on how effectively you have submitted your solution (via a series of multiple choice and open-field questions). I won’t pretend that the solution isn’t fantastically difficult to crack – it is. But it plays fair throughout. The clues are there if you look for them, as the late David Frost used to say through flared nostrils. There are, however, enough red herrings to put Billingsgate out of business.

The content can get quite dark but not more so than an episode of Vera, Inspector George Gently, Unforgotten or Endeavour…to name but four.

If you think you might enjoy this sort of thing, be prepared for a certain amount of frustration but, much as when you read a detailed detective story, when you get those ‘lightbulb moments’ of realisation, the exhilaration is very powerful.

If you’re feeling bored or jaded indoors and are looking for something different and challenging, this could be just the thing.

Compare and Contrast: Who’s That Guy?

Uncategorised Posted on Sun, August 23, 2020 14:12:06

Who’s That Guy? by Marcus James Heslop is a record, not only of the remarkable tenacity of the author, but the incredible professionalism of the subject. Guy Standeven was an actor who appeared in hundreds of film and TV shows from the 1950’s to the 1990’s. Unlike many actors, he was happy to accept non-speaking roles as an extra. This means that his appearances were varied and often unbilled. Over the past few years, Marcus James Heslop has been tracking down every appearance of Guy Standeven, swelling his IMDB entries with every hour. Who’s That Guy? now puts those statistics into context with the life story of a man who was determined to spend his working day in the business he loved.

In the first chapter, Marcus James Heslop answers the question, “Why write a book about someone nobody’s ever heard of?” The answer is that Guy Standeven “contributed more to the entertainment industry than many famous people do, but received little recognition for it.” Publishers rush to publish autobiographies by reality TV stars who have accomplished relatively little, so surely there is room for someone with a 40 year track record. Guy was also notable because – as an actor – he was happy to take work as an extra. “When he was doing extra work he wasn’t trying to hog the camera or.. steal the limelighthe just got on with the job.”

Reading Guy’s life story, I couldn’t help but compare and contrast with the life of Patrick Wymark. The two men were born two years apart in the north of England, Wymark in 1926, Standeven in 1928. Both had parents involved in amateur dramatics, and both Wymark and Standeven made their first stage appearance with local societies. Both were conscripted towards the end of the war, although Standeven was unfortunate to be invalided out. This did, however, provide him with a service pension that helped supplement his later career.

Where Wymark auditioned for the Old Vic Theatre School and then graduated to leading theatre companies, Standeven found work with regional repertory theatres before moving to London in 1950. Here he registered with Central Casting, the agency which provided extras to the British film industry. What makes Standeven notable is that while most actors would have refused further extra work once they had ‘graduated’ to speaking parts (The Hostage (1956) Standeven continued to accept the non-speaking roles.

In time Guy built up a reputation as a ‘dress extra’ (an extra who could provide his own costume) and whose acting skills gave him an edge as an someone who could be relied upon to provide a reaction or deliver a small line. Over the years he became high on the “shopping list” of assistant directors and was therefore always in work. However, he was also still cast in stage plays (some quite substantial roles) and Marcus James Heslop documents these too.

Wymark and Standeven’s paths never appear to have crossed, although they did appear in the same films such as Cromwell and Operation Crossbow. Ironically, while Wymark has what is effectively a cameo role as a partly-obscured Winston Churchill briefing Richard Johnson’s character in the opening scene, Guy Standeven gets an amusing dialogue exchange with George Peppard which illustrates his versatility.

Who’s That Guy tells a wonderful story, and for anyone who likes watching 1960’s TV shows (or for any viewer of Talking Pictures TV) it’s worth buying just so that you can start totting up the appearances of Mr Standeven (he’s even got a speaking role in the new Woman In Black BluRay from Network). You can buy Who’s That Guy for £14.99 from Amazon.

Greatness and Grief – Richard Burton

Uncategorised Posted on Sun, August 23, 2020 09:48:25

Greatness and Grief: An Appreciation of Richard Burton is not as Gabriel Hershman says in his introduction, another full biography of Richard Burton, or even an attempt to evaluate every performance. The intent of the book is to examine his greatness as an actor and reappraise the myth that he “threw away” his talent.

The second half of the book covers 20 of what the author considers Burton’s finest film performances. Not necessarily great films, and therefore not a predictable top 20. Where Eagles Dare is in there, as is The Wild Geese, but so is The Robe and The VIP’s.

The cover of the book shows Burton with Tony Palmer, rehearsing for Wagner (1982), a film which Hershman covers in greater detail in the first half of the book. This examines the journey from a small Welsh pit village to Oxford University and then to stardom: what Anthony Quayle called, “The odyssey of Richard Burton”, something Quayle felt Burton found more important than being a great stage actor. “Perhaps,” Hershman offers, “acting was merely incidental on the path of life.”

Hershman records Burton’s generosity and insecurity, and also attempts to define the intangible element that caused his peers to regard him as the greatest of actors. Hershman also devotes a chapter to “the alcoholic actor”. Burton was a pioneer in admitting that he was an alcoholic. He accepted it as a reality, in contrast to fellow actors would just admit to “liking a tipple” (or in the case of Ian Hendry define “giving up booze” as only drinking lager). But even knowing the reality, Burton fatally could not stay away. Hershman suggests that far from trying to get high from booze – many actors are trying to subdue their heightened sensitivity – the very sensitivity that allows them to call up the soul of some fictional person. In once of his diaries, Burton refers to “the panacea of…a double ice cold vodka martini…hitting the stomach and then the brain.” But, Hershman examines all possible factors – the tendency to romanticise the hard-drinking heritage of the pit village, the constant search for excuses. In the end it’s difficult to say what causes an addiction. But it’s fair to say Burton recognised his addiction – went on record to warn others at a time when he still had a career to endanger – and took great efforts to avoid the bottle.

This is a fascinating book – it follows Hershman’s own odyssey over the years as an admirer of Burton’s, visiting his birth village and his final home in Switzerland and redressing the balance after years of negative publicity.

Greatness and Grief: An Appreciation of Richard Burton by Gabirel Hershman is available for £9.99 from Amazon

The Destiny of the Doctor – an Adventure in Time and Trainspotting

Uncategorised Posted on Sun, July 26, 2020 18:31:29

by Harry Dobermann –

When Dr Who reveals in the less than classic episode Black Orchid (an episode best watched with the commentary on so you can hear the star Peter Davison reminding you of every flaw) that as a boy he always wanted to drive a steam train, he nails the hidden destiny of Doctor Who.

British Railways was the state owned railway operator between 1948 and 1997. The British Broadcasting Corporation is the British public service broadcaster, established under Royal Charter in 1927. In 1955, British Rail began a programme of modernisation, replacing steam engines with new diesel locomotives. In 1961, the BBC hired Sydney Newman, to reinvigorate its drama output. Dr Who was one of Newman’s innovations.

In 1942, Ian Allan , a clerk in the Southern Railway publicity section at Waterloo had responded to increasing requests for information about locomotives by publishing the ‘ABC Southern Locomotives’. This led to a series of booklets covering all regions of the United Kingdom, and in 1945, he left Southern Railway to set up Ian Allan Publishing . The company would become the world’s leading transport publisher. Allan also set up the ‘locospotters club’ , organising the ad hoc pastime into a community of 230,000 members pledging not to trespass or misbehave on railway property.

In 1965, the William (Dr Who) Hartnell Fan Club was created, rejuvenating into the Doctor Who Fan Club in 1967 . The original fan club was encouraged and financially supported by the BBC up until the Tom Baker era, when it was succeeded by the independent Doctor Who Appreciation Society. Membership of the DWAS appears to have been on a much smaller scale than the ‘locospotters club’ – a membership of three thousand reflecting the fact that Virgin books would print and sell around 25,000 copies of each novelisation and home video cassettes sold between 20,000 and 50,000 copies.*

Richard Beeching IS The Doctor

In 1963, physicist and engineer Dr Richard Beeching of the British Transport Commission, published a report which advocated addressing falling revenue by cutting a third of passenger services and over half the existing train stations. The proposals were opposed by both unions and the rail travelling public. In 1985, BBC1 controller Michael Grade addressed falling viewing figures by proposing the cancellation of Doctor Who. In response to public outrage, the series was at first “rested” and returned after 18 months with a new lead actor. It was finally “not-renewed” in 1989.

With the 1955 modernisation plan replacing steam with diesel and electric locomotives, and lines being closed as a result of the 1963 Beeching report, a new breed of enthusiast emerged to preserve what was disappearing . These enthusiasts were not content just to record facts about the trains. They wanted to drive the trains. And they wanted to maintain the trains and preserve the lines. The Bluebell Line – opened in 1960 – was the UK’s first standard gauge (ie full size) passenger railway, run by volunteers and reopening part of the Lewes to East Grinstead Line. Today, millions travel on our preserved railways. Many would not consider themselves locospotters or enthusiasts. The preserved railways are just another industry open to the public.

With Doctor Who no longer supported as TV show, it became similar to a redundant train line. Enthusiasts now ran the show. In 1989, Virgin Books had exhausted most of the TV episodes which could be novelised and negotiated the rights to publish original novels. These had more adult themes and a greater imaginative reach than what had been appearing on TV. In 1999, the audio company Big Finish produced an original full-cast Doctor Who adventure The Sirens of Time. This company became very much the equivalent of a Railway Preservation Society. They employed former Doctor Who actors in the same way that the early preserved lines employed former railwaymen to use their skills. Doubtless if things had gone differently, Big Finish would have become the official successor to the BBC in preserving the heritage of Dr Who.

But the BBC began to realize that – while Dr Who had no value as a TV show – it was a valuable merchandising property. As Miles Booy put it in 2012*, “a fan born in the late 60s…has been collecting sets of Doctor Who in some format (novelisations, video, DVD) for literally as long as they could remember. T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock counted out his life in teaspoons – I’ve spent mine waiting for The Sun Makers to come out.” This reflects the experience of railway enthusiasts. As Nicholas Whittaker notes** “At the serious end of the collecting business a stout chequebook is essential”

There’s still life in the old boy yet

In 1993 Virgin proposed to formalise the continuation of TV Doctor into book Doctor with a regeneration into a new doctor “played” (on book covers and personal appearances) by David Troughton. The BBC vetoed it. In 1996 they licensed a film to be made by Universal for the Fox network and the BBC starring Stephen McGann and in 1997 the BBC took back publishing of the New Adventures. Ironically, in 2005 the BBC brought back Doctor Who as a TV show under iconoclastic writer-producer Russell T Davies. This new series strongly reflected the approach of the Virgin New Adventures. As Miles Booy puts it, “Who products which had been precision exercises in niche marketing in the 1990s now constituted a massive Research and Development Division for what became a massive mainstream hit.”

More than this – the new Dr Who was written, directed, produced and acted in by former fans (most prominently Peter Capaldi – fanzine writer in the 1970’s and Dr Who himself in the 21st Century). This reflects the railway experience which Nicholas Whittaker observed: “In the fifties and sixties trainspotting was the Bash Street Kids versus British Rail… grumpy stationmasters and porters…. BUT ever since British Railways took up advertising jobs in the ABC spotting books, the railways have been staffed by former trainspotters. Not only do they get their chance to drive trains and whistle trains off, they welcome fellow enthusiasts with open arms.”

The BBC had realised that there was a commercial advantage in controlling the direction of the character. Again, the application of capitalist instincts reflects the railway experience. Nicholas Whittaker ** notes that by 1994, “Privatization had already reared its ugly head…under the new rules locomotive owners must pay Railtrack for the privilege of travelling its rails. An extra cost that’s too much for some of the preservation groups.”

The question in 2020 is not whether Dr Who has a future, but what direction that future might take. If there comes a time when the BBC can no longer support Dr Who as a TV show, will they “privatise it” and license it to a company like Netflix? Or will they hand it over to the preservationists?

I originally wrote “only time can tell” at this point, but was challenged by a correspondent*** who said that the question was irrelevant because the BBC had already attempted to privatise Dr Who with the TV movie. A good point, but I would argue the commercial environment was very different then. Despite the existence of of American Dr Who fan clubs watching old Jon Pertwee episodes on PBS, there was not a sizeable audience ready to embrace the McGann TV movie. Whereas now, a substantial worldwide audience has embraced the new-style Dr Who. So, could there come a time when the home grown BBC audience no longer justifies the BBC making the show – but the merchandising and worldwide audience make it attractive enough for the BBC to license the actual production of the series, so that the BBC can just sit back and benefit from the royalties?

*-Love and Monsters:The Doctor Who Experience 1979 to the Present – Miles Booy, I.B.Tauris & Co, 2012

**- Nicholas Whittaker Platform Souls: The trainspotter as 20th century Hero, Icon Books 2015 (Gollancz 1995)

*** Thanks Tomalak

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