Thursday, 7 December 2017
Fortunately the other two regular cast members are still there - Roddy McMillan as Inspector ‘Choc’ Minty and Desmond McNamara as Hazell’s cousin Tel. Hazell’s relationship with Minty is somewhat tense although there are moments of grudging mutual respect, and plenty of opportunities for acidic dialogue exchanges. They might not like each other very much but they are useful to each other. Cousin Tel provides the comic relief, and does so very successfully.
Hazell follows a formula that is very very close to that of The Rockford Files. Both deal with down-market private eyes who have uneasy relationships with the police, both feature heroes with unhappy pasts (Rockford was in prison, Hazell had a drinking problem), both take a tongue-in-cheek approach to the private eye genre, both series are stylish and witty, and both are heavily influenced by the American hardboiled and film noir traditions. Of course there is one very major difference - The Rockford Files is very American (in fact very Californian) and Hazell is very English (in fact very London).
Hazell and the Baker Street Sleuth kicks off season 2. Hazell finds himself working for the very down-market Fitch Bureau of Investigations. Fitch has a reputation for not paying his investigators but Hazell needs the work. Getting paid will be one challenge but there is also a moral dilemma - he has to investigate an unfaithful husband who really doesn’t seem to be unfaithful at all but clients want results and Fitch likes to give them results.
In Hazell Bangs the Drum Hazell is hired by a Dr Patel to investigate what appears to be a case of blackmail. Hazell suspects that an illegal immigration racket may be behind it, but it’s just a theory and really he’s not sure what he’s stumbled upon. He has to take crash course in rock’n’roll drumming to solve this case but he finds some surprising compensations in a laundrette.
Hazell Gets the Boot sees Hazell, much against his better judgment, working for a notorious gangster. The job seems harmless enough. Someone has stolen the gangster’s Bentley and he wants it back. Of course the job isn’t harmless at all. This excellent episode features a delightfully twisted plot.
Hazell is hired by a very attractive young lady in Hazell Gets the Bird. Someone is trying to put this lady out of business. Her business is exotic pets but mostly she deals in taxidermy. Hazell finds himself with a personal stake in this case when he starts sleeping with the lady in question. He’s getting well paid, he’s getting to bed an attractive woman and he’s getting to play the knight rescuing a damsel in distress. So far it’s all good. Except for the birds. The birds are a worry. Hazell discovers that sleeping with clients isn’t always a wise idea, although of course that’s not going to stop him from doing it again. A nicely plotted story and thoroughly enjoyable.
Hazell finds himself in the heart of the countryside in Hazell and the Suffolk Ghost. His client has inherited a cottage but he has no idea why it should have been left to him, plus there have some slightly spooky incidents. Ghosts and witchcraft are not normally in Hazell’s line and dealing with surly villagers who dislike strangers makes things a bit uncomfortable. There are compensations however. The client is overseas but his wife is staying at the cottage and she’s very young, very attractive and has a rather affectionate disposition. In fact she’s very affectionate indeed to Hazell. Bedding a client’s wife might not be strictly ethical but it doesn’t do to get too hung up on ethics.
Hazell and Hyde starts out as a very routine case. Hazell has to find a missing girl who probably doesn’t really want to be found. In fact it’s the beginning of a nightmare for Hazell. Someone is stalking him and it has something to do with the missing girl. A pretty good episode with a few genuinely scary moments.
Hazell Gets the Part introduces Hazell to the glamorous world of the movie business, which turns out to be rather sordid. He’s looking for a stolen necklace but finds other kinds of villainy afoot. There's also plenty of fun to be had in this story.
The less said about Hazell and the Greasy Gunners the better. A clumsy political message episode.
The series gets back on track with the excellent Hazell and the Public Enemy. Hazell is hired by an old childhood friend. The friend has just broken out of prison but he’s actually in big trouble and he wants to hire Hazell to help him. That’s going to make Hazell unpopular with the law, and with a very nasty big-time gangster. Even worse, the whole scheme has been cooked up by a girl crime reporter and Hazell is quite rightly suspicious of her motives. This is a serious episode with a very definite film noir quality.
Hazell is fine television viewing, witty and intelligent but also great fun. Highly recommended.
Both seasons are available on Region 2 DVD from Network in the UK.
Friday, 24 November 2017
Mr Teddy Bear was one of the very early Cathy Gale episodes of the Avengers and was apparently one of Patrick Macnee’s favourites. It was recorded in August 1962, going to air in Britain a month later.
Martin Woodhouse wrote the script. Woodhouse was a doctor by training and he believed that not only would it be desirable to include scientific concepts in his stories, it would be even better if these scientific ideas were plausible.
Woodhouse went on to write a number of episodes featuring both Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale and Julie Stevens as Venus Smith, as well as one of the Diana Rigg episodes (the excellent A Sense of History).
Mr Teddy Bear is a notorious and very successful hitman. He has just masterminded the ingenious murder of a prominent military man, the murder taking place live on television. He is not just a hitman but a bit of a showman as well. One-Ten (Steed’s boss who appeared as a semi-regular character in the early Cathy Gale episodes) has decided that enough is enough. Mr Teddy Bear must be stopped. The plan is to use Steed as bait. Mr Teddy Bear will be hired to kill Steed. This should bring him out into the open. Of course if the plan goes wrong it will be very unfortunate for poor old Steed.
Mrs Gale is to be the one who makes contact with the assassin. She will be the one who hires him to kill Steed.
This episode dates from the days when the series was shot live on videotape, a practice which was certainly limiting when it came to attempting any fancy visual tricks (although the talking bear is a nice touch). Fortunately such tricks are not really necessary if you have a good director working from a good script and, most importantly, if the lead actors have a form grasp of what characters tick and what makes the relationship between them tick. That’s very much the case here. It’s a good story but it’s the characters who make it great television. Patrick Macnee and Honor Blackman had already developed a wonderful chemistry.
This is the early version of Steed, a more cynical and more ruthless operator than the later Steed. There are times when Mrs Gale definitely does not approve of Steed’s cold-bloodedness. That makes the relationship between them rather interesting. There’s flirtatiousness and there’s clearly an element of sexual attraction but there’s a bit of an edge as well. Cathy is a bit cautious about Steed.
The Optimum Region 2 DVD release includes an excellent audio commentary for this episode which features writer Martin Woodhouse.
Mrs Gale happens to know quite a bit about stamps. Steed unfortunately knows nothing of the subject. The fact that he doesn’t realise that there’s no such thing as a Maltese twopenny blue almost gets him killed.
Had the script stuck to stamps it might have been amusing and offbeat but writers Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dicks have a different agenda and the script degenerates into heavy-handed political messaging. And it’s neo-Nazis once again. The obsession of television writers in the 60s with this topic was truly excessive and truly embarrassing. It could be made to work quite well if writers treated the subject as an opportunity for outrageous conspiracy theories and silly fun but this story is more like an earnest political lecture, with endless speeches. As the focus switches away from the stamps the fun seems to evaporate.
A very fine guest cast, including Richard Vernon and Alfred Burke, almost saves this one.
This is one episode that does suffer a little from the limitations of the shot-live-on-videotape format. Too much of the episode is focused on a dull political meeting (that seems to go on forever with speech after speech) in a nondescript hall.
So two episodes, one excellent and one not so good.
Thursday, 16 November 2017
Thirty years later a young couple elopes. The Justice of the Peace who marries them suggests they might like to stay at Mary Kry’s place. She has a large bridal suite that she’s just started renting out. It sounds like an enticing offer but Mrs Kry’s house turns out to be a gigantic dilapidated wreck of a place, and Mrs Kry herself (played by Miriam Hopkins) is more than a bit disturbing.
Gard Hayden (Buck Taylor) and his bride Vivia (Melinda Plowman) are a bit concerned that Vivia’s dear old dad may be pursuing them and being pursued by Emmett Balfour (John Hoyt) is no joke. He’s a powerful and formidable man, and since Vivia is underage he could cause them a lot of grief.
Still, they are newly married and everything is a romantic adventure and the bridal suite seems like it’s just the place for romance. They’re a nice young couple, hopelessly in love, and we feel that things will probably end up working out for them. If only they don’t look in that deceptively ordinary looking box. It’s not a very big box so it couldn’t possibly contain anything really bad or dangerous, could it? But evil can come in very small packages.
This episode has an extremely gothic feel to it which you don’t really expect from The Outer Limits but it works extremely well, adding to the sense of not just horror but of weirdness. It’s a weird story and it’s an appropriate combination.
The Outer Limits was a series that was always willing to do stories that required effective special effects even though early 60s American network television wasn’t really up to doing elaborate effects in a convincing manner. The Outer Limits was also very willing to show us the monster early and show it often even though that’s usually a bad idea unless your monster is effective enough to allow you to get away with taking such risks. In this episode on the whole the gamble pays off, and in any case the real impact of this story is from the atmosphere of gothic creepiness and the horror of the situation the characters find themselves in rather than from the actual scariness of the monster.
Miriam Hopkins goes outrageously over-the-top and it’s the right approach. The rest of the cast take a much more restrained approach, and that’s the right thing to do as well.
An excellent atmospheric episode with some real chills that come from moral dilemmas rather than straight out monster stuff.
In ZZZZZ the rather studious and dedicated middle-aged entomologist Professor Ben Fields gets a new assistant. Regina (Joanna Frank) is a remarkably beautiful young woman and very very sexy. She doesn’t appear to have any actual qualifications and she has no references but she gets the job anyway, which doesn’t please the professor’s wife Francesca (Marsha Hunt) very much. Francesca is middle-aged and just a little on the dowdy side and for some strange reason she’s a bit suspicious of her husband’s new sex kitten assistant.
Regina however is very interested indeed in mating. She is not an ordinary young woman. She is not a woman at all (which is giving anything away since we in the audience know this from the beginning). Being an entomologist Ben knows quite a bit about insect mating rituals, but not enough to realise that he’s right slap bang in the middle of one.
The success of this episode depends to a very high degree on Joanna Frank’s performance. She has to be beautiful and very sexy, which she manages with ease. In fact she oozes sex from every pore. She has to be seductive, but not in a crass way. If Ben Fields is going to be tempted he’s the type of man who is most likely to be tempted by a girl who is sexy in a sweet nice girl sort of way. Wide-eyed innocence and all that sort of thing. She has a stunning figure but it’s those big eyes that are likely to get him. Miss Frank however has to do more than this. Given what we know about her true nature she has to have a certain haughty arrogance, the arrogance of supreme power. She also has to have sublime confidence in her beauty. She has to do all this whilst still being sweet and innocent. Not easy but she does it and she does it extremely well. She also needs to have a certain quality of disturbing strangeness. She has to be a beautiful woman and still let us know that she is not human. It’s a superb performance and it’s enough on its own to carry the episode.
This episode has more than this going for it though. It’s a good story. It’s far-fetched but it’s done skilfully enough to allow us to suspend our disbelief successfully. And it has at least some emotional punch.
There are only a couple of brief special effects and while they’re not great they work well enough. I do love the professor’s laboratory. The gadgetry manages to be clever and imaginative while obviously done on a very limited budget.
ZZZZZ is a terrific episode. And you have to love a story with a monster who combines menace with innocence and seductiveness.
Two excellent episodes that serve as a reminder of just how good The Outer Limits could be.
Tuesday, 7 November 2017
Melissa opens in typically Francis Durbridge fashion. Guy Foster (Tony Britton) is a rather inoffensive journalist now trying to make a living as a novelist. He’s not the sort of man you would expect to be a murder suspect. But that is what has happened to Guy. His problem is that the story he has told to the police has been contradicted, in fairly spectacular fashion, by the evidence of other people. Are these people lying? Is there some kind of conspiracy? Has Guy gone insane? None of it makes sense but the upshot is that to the police he’s looking more and more like a guilty man.
Guy is now in a nightmare world. The police don’t seem to believe anything he says. Nobody seems to believe him. People he has never met claim to know him. A very respectable doctor tells the police that Guy is one of his patients, although Guy has never even heard of the doctor. Any evidence that might support Guy’s story seems to disappear, or (even more worryingly) appears to have never existed although Guy distinctly remembers seeing these pieces of evidence.
It’s obvious that if Guy wants to clear his name, and avoid being arrested, he’ll have to solve the case himself but he doesn’t know if he can trust anybody since nobody seems to be the person that Guy thought they were. In fact his whole life may not have been what he thought it was, and certainly the reality of his marriage differed from Guy’s perception of it. Did he even know his wife Melissa at all?
And it’s not just one murder. And the circumstances of the second murder tend to point towards Guy as well. It’s also by no means certain that this second murder will be the last.
Durbridge’s script twists and turns in very satisfying fashion. By the end of the fourth episode I must confess that I still had no inkling whatever of the solution to this mystery. There are six half-hour episodes and Durbridge knows how to make the most of this format, giving us some kind of surprise (or enigmatic) ending for each episode.
The solution to the mystery is quite typical of Durbridge’s work but I won’t say any more for fear of revealing spoilers.
Tony Britton gives a fine performance. It’s mostly understated and even when Guy’s whole world is collapsing around him Britton doesn’t overdo the gradually increasing hysteria because Guy is the sort of man who, if he were going to go mad, would go mad quietly and unobtrusively.
This is early 60s BBC television so don’t expect too much in the way of production values. There are a few outdoors scenes but mostly it’s shot in the studio and it is a bit dialogue-heavy at times.
Melissa is one of the four Durbridge serials in Madman’s Australian Region 4 Francis Durbridge Presents Volume 1 DVD boxed set. The set also includes The Desperate People and A Game of Murder (both of which are excellent) and A Man Called Harry Brent (which I haven’t yet watched). The transfers are good (considering that this is early 60s shot-on-videotape British television) and the set is great value.
Melissa is an unassuming but entertaining mystery. Durbridge fans won't want to miss it. If you're not yet a Durbridge fan it's probably as good a place as any to start. His television serials are all pretty consistent and all are enjoyable.
Melissa is an unassuming but entertaining mystery. Durbridge fans won't want to miss it. If you're not yet a Durbridge fan it's probably as good a place as any to start. His television serials are all pretty consistent and all are enjoyable.
Monday, 30 October 2017
The format was the same as in the first season with each feature-length episode being an impossible crime story (and usually a pretty good one).
In season two Carlie Kirkland (Christine Belford), who had appeared in the pilot episode, was added to the regular cast, at least for the early part of the season. She’s an insurance investigator as well and it was obviously felt that the sometimes friendly, but mostly antagonistic, rivalry between the two would add some interest. And of course there’s an uneasy romantic tension as well. I’m not sure it was an entirely necessary change but their interplay is quite amusing. She disappears in the later episodes.
Once again Banacek gets invaluable help from his friend Felix Mulholland (Murray Matheson), rare book dealer and expert in all manner of esoteric subjects.
One of the secrets to the success of this series is George Peppard’s ability to make Banacek a character who is both arrogant and genuinely likeable. He’s likeable because the arrogance is done with a twinkle in his eye.
In No Stone Unturned an eleven foot high three ton statue disappears. To get the statue into the museum where it was to go on display required an entire wall to be removed. The wall was then replaced so there was absolutely no way the statue could have been removed from the building. But someone did remove it.
A three million dollar horse-drawn wedding coach belonging to a Middle Eastern potentate is stolen from a shipping container in The Three Million Dollar Piracy. The coach was being shipped to the Middle East for the ruler’s marriage to movie star Diana Maitland.
In this episode Carlie has become engaged to the very respectable, and very dull, Henry DeWitt and this gives Banacek the opportunity to have a good deal of fun at his expense. This is a particularly pleasing episode that includes everything a Banacek fan could ask for.
The Vanishing Chalice is a valuable ancient Greek artifact that is stolen from a museum. Stolen in public. Stolen right in front of dozens of witnesses. But nobody saw it happen. The solution turns out to be a quite ingenious and satisfactory impossible crime solution.
This episode also sees Carlie manoeuvre herself into the position of being Banacek’s assistant. She claims that she just wants to learn from the master but this being Carlie we’re not surprised that she has another more devious agenda. Carlie is pretty good at manipulating men but she discovers that a girl has to get up pretty early in the morning if she wants to out-manipulate Thomas Banacek. Another fine episode.
A racehorse is stolen, in full view of numerous witnesses. This is not just any racehorse. This is Oxford Don, the best racehorse in America, and he’s insured for a cool five million dollars. That means half a million dollars if Banacek can find the horse (his terms are always that he gets ten percent of the insured value of any items he recovers). Oxford Don had been owned by Katherine Wells, the most glamorous racehorse owner in the country. Katherine admires horseflesh but there are other things that interest her more. To be more specific there is one thing she likes more than horses, and that is men. She chooses her men the way she chooses her horses. They need to be thoroughbreds, in the peak of condition, and with lots of stamina. She prefers stayers to sprinters. Anne Francis has plenty of fun with this role and is able to make Katherine both slightly horrifying and rather sympathetic.
Oxford Don wasn’t exactly stolen. He was taken out for trackwork and when he came back he wasn’t Oxford Don any more.
Carlie Kirkland doesn’t appear in this story which is just as well. There are two women involved in this case and Banacek needs to give them both his undivided attention.
In Rocket to Oblivion a new highly advanced rocket engine is stolen from a science and technology expo. There is no way something of that size could be stolen within a few seconds and there was in any case no way of removing something that heavy from its display, given that the electricity was off at the time of the theft. Nonetheless the engine was stolen. The insurance company wants it back. The inventor of the engine wants it back. The Pentagon wants it back.
Fly Me - If You Can Find Me concerns a jet airliner forced to make an emergency landing at a remote airfield in Nevada. The crew spend the night at a motel and when they return to the airfield the next day the aircraft is gone. But there is no way it could have taken off. It was not only in no condition to fly, it would have been impossible to get the plane airborne.
Now You See Me, Now You Don’t involves stage magic, and usually I love movies or TV dealing with this subject. In this case the setup is very good but to me the ending was just a bit too far-fetched.
The second season generally maintains the high standards of season one. Banacek is stylish and witty entertainment with some reasonably clever plots and it has a charismatic star. There’s not much more you can ask for in a television program. Highly recommended.
Monday, 23 October 2017
I know it’s an episode that has a fairly dire reputation, but I’ve found that some of the most reviled Seventh Doctor stories are the ones I enjoy most (like Paradise Towers and The Happiness Patrol). And while most of the criticisms of Silver Nemesis are valid (the plot is overly complicated, the various plot strands don’t quite come together, and the cybermen are absurdly vulnerable) it was still rollicking good fun.
When you have a female 17th century black magician, an ageing Nazi trying to usher in the Fourth Reich with the aid of alien technology, a setting that jumps back and forth between 17th century England and 1980s England, some bizarre and horrendously destructive piece of Gallifreyan technology that the Doctor may well have been responsible for unleashing, some intriguing hints about the Doctor’s dark and mysterious past and secrets about himself he would prefer not to have revealed, plus you have Ace getting to blow stuff up, how can you not have fun?
It also has a fine supporting cast, with the standout performance being by veteran actor Anton Diffring as a crazed Nazi with a Wagner fixation. Fiona Walker is also excellent as the equally crazed Lady Peinforte, the 17th century dabbler in black magic and time travel with her own plans for world domination.
I was always quite fond of Sylvester McCoy's Seventh Doctor, although nowadays I find Ace to be just a little bit tiresome.
Maybe there are just too many interesting ideas thrown together, but perhaps the biggest problem is that it’s only a three-parter. Usually the major problem with classic Doctor Who is an excess of padding, but this is a rare case of a story that might have benefitted from an extra episode. I still thought it was great fun.
Monday, 16 October 2017
The Mind of Mr J. G. Reeder was a delightfully quirky British murder mystery series set in the 1920s and based on Edgar Wallace’s J. G. Reeder short stories. Wallace was known more as a thriller writer than a mystery writer but his J. G. Reeder stories are genuine, albeit slightly unconventional, detective stories. The first season went to air in 1969. A second season followed in 1971, this time with original stories.
This series has many things going for it, not the least of them being Hugh Burden’s marvelous performance as Mr Reeder. Mr Reeder is not a policeman as such. He works for the Office of the Public Prosecutor as a special investigator, concentrating on crimes that require his special talents - crimes that need to be handled with discretion, or with particular urgency, or that are for some reason too awkward for conventional police methods to be successful. Mr Reeder is a shy, awkward, self-effacing physically negligible little man in late middle age. Not the sort of man, you might think, to strike fear into the heart of the average criminal. appearances can be deceptive. In fact Mr Reeder is very much feared by the criminal underworld. Many criminals have made the mistake of underestimating him. Those miscreants are now either serving lengthy sentences in one of His Majesty’s prisons or they have ended their criminal careers on the scaffold.
The Mind of Mr J. G. Reeder combines a subtly tongue-in-cheek approach with ingenious and original plotting. The 1920s setting is evoked pretty successfully on the whole.
Willoughby Godard contributes an outrageously over-the-top performance as Reeder’s boss, Sir Jason Toovey. Sir Jason is the kind of civil servant who is very good at two things - taking credit for other people’s hard work and shifting the blame for his own failures onto someone else’s shoulders. He is a man of limited intelligence but possessed of a great deal of cunning. Despite his conning, his duplicity and his utter lack of scruples for some curious reason which he is never able to understand he never seems to be able to get the better of the apparently insignificant and harmless Mr Reeder. The exchanges between Reeder and Sir Jason provide a great deal of the considerable wit that characterises this series.
One interesting thing about the second season is that Sir Jason seems to have been made into a slightly more sympathetic, and slightly more intelligent, character. Fortunately he’s still just as amusing.
The dusty, timid and bookish Mr Reeder is not the sort of man one would normally associate with romance. Mr Reeder is however full of surprises and there is indeed romance, or at least potential romance, in his life. Even more surprisingly the object of his passions is a very beautiful young lady, the charming Miss Belman (Gillian Lewis). The only obstacle they face is their mutual shyness. It is clear that Miss Belman very strongly reciprocates Mr Reeder’s feelings.
Season two kicks off with The Duke. Mr Reeder has to deal with a Chicago mobster and a disputed succession to an English title and the estate that goes with it. There is murder afoot and with Chicago gangster planning to bring in a few of his boys from the States there’s the potential for a great deal of mayhem. And a great deal of fun - this is an excellent episode.
Man with a Strange Tattoo isn’t a wildly original story but I’ve always enjoyed tales dealing with strange Indian gods and forbidden idols. It’s handled quite well, with Mr Reeder showing his usual mixture of sensitivity and social clumsiness.
Death of an Angel takes Mr Reeder into the world of motion pictures, a world that proves to be every bit as immoral as he had feared. An actress has been murdered but there is an evil plot afoot that may claim several more victims if Mr Reeder does not act quickly. Blackmail is involved and there’s an attempt to blackmail Reeder, but it’s an unwise criminal who thinks he can outsmart J.G. Reeder. A very fine episode.
There are of course plenty of people who would like revenge on Mr Reeder and in The Willing Victim one of them is trying to make that wish into a reality. The plan is a particularly clever and twisted one.
In The Fatal Engagement some very important and very distinguished men are in danger of being implicated in the murder of a music hall star. Sir Jason of course is anxious for Reeder to prove that such men could not possibly have been involved in something as sordid as an affair with a music hall performer. This is one of the episodes that succumbs to the temptation to score cheap political points and as a result it’s not as much fun as it could have been.
Find the Lady involves the mysterious disappearances of a number of young ladies. That would be bad enough but these young ladies are the daughters of some of the most distinguished peers of the realm - they are the flower of the aristocracy. Could it be a Bolshevik plot? Or something much worse - perhaps they have been sold into white slavery! Both Mr Reeder and Miss Belman take active, and dangerous, roles in the subsequent investigation. This is another episode where the social satire is a little overdone but on the whole it’s a fun episode. And I love anything to do with stage magic and this story features a sinister Chinese illusionist.
The Treasure House closes the second season on a high note. Larry O’Ryan is a likeable young man who happens to be a reformed safe-cracker. Now he’s in trouble and he’s come to Mr Reeder for help. He’s in love. He doesn’t even know the young lady’s name but he knows she is in danger. And indeed she is, but the question for Mr Reeder is to decide which of the various oddball types surrounding the lady presents the real danger. This episode has a slightly surreal feel and there’s an outrageousness to the plot that is very Edgar Wallace indeed.
In each episode of this season Mr Reeder finds himself with a new young lady as his secretary, each of whom proves to be wildly unsuitable or simply quite mad but they provide considerable amusement.
Although the second season was shot in colour only two episodes survive in colour. We should be grateful that all eight episodes do survive, even if mostly in black-and-white versions.
Network’s boxed set includes both seasons in their entirety.
The second season is perhaps not quite as good as the first but The Mind of Mr J. G. Reeder is still wonderfully offbeat television with mostly fairly decent plots (some being very clever indeed) and it’s executed with a great deal of style and wit and charm. Highly recommended.