Category Archives: classic cinema

1920s film musical reviews

My I L<3ve Musicals! list on Letterboxd.

Applause (1929)

‘Applause’, starring a young Helen Morgan made up to look like a washed up burlesque star, is about a singer, Kitty Darling, who has a lowlife husband and a daughter hidden away in a convent. Things change when the money runs out and the daughter is recalled from her safe and cosy world.

From the first scenes of large legged chorus girls wearily high kicking before slavering customers, to the scenes in the railway station where young April Darling sends her sailor lover away so she can bump and grind to save the family pride, ‘Applause’ is never anything other than engrossing.

But the acting honours go to Morgan, who is simply wonderful and heartbreaking. The ending, where she lies dying in her dressing room after overdosing on sleeping tablets, while April and her lover plan an escape for the three of them, is powerful and shocking. A hard hitting early talkie which you’ll remember for a long time.

The Big Revue (1929)

The six-year old Judy Garland making her debut on camera with her sisters (‘The Gumm Sisters’) is just one of the acts on show in this film, which showcases a few juvenile musical performers. She displays star quality even in this one number, which makes The Big Revue worth watching. I just love stumbling across these historical nuggets!

Broadway (1929)

An early backstage musical with wisecracking girls, a choreographer ‘with personality’, a gangster producer, a murder, and sweet little Billie (Merna Kennedy).

Brought to the screen from the stage show, this includes Paul Porcasi reprising his role as the nightclub owner Nick, and survives in both silent and talkie versions.

Director Paul Fejos displays an early affinity for the medium, with interesting camera shots and a few sequences which experiment with sound.

The musical numbers are sound enough, although Glenn Tryon is a bit, well, trying when he isn’t singing. Kennedy and Evelyn Brent go well enough, and the chorus line are decent, but the plot is confused and doesn’t really lift itself from the mundane.

The opening credits are unusual as the giant Devil laughs and stomps around the theatres and clubs of the great White Way. Men of power are corrupt and without morals, and the ambitious girls survive on a smile and the attention of a string of sugar daddies.

There’s also a Technicolor sequence, but it is in poor condition and by this time every other film seemed to have a similar showcase to keep the interest.

I liked this one, and the acting isn’t bad, while the pre-Code naughtiness pokes through here and there.

The Broadway Melody (1929)

This was the first big musical of the talkie era, in the days when musical numbers were still performed live rather than to playback, and before camera booths could allow the same kind of movement which existed before 1927, and before microphones could be small enough and portable enough to catch everyone’s voices.

Bessie Love (1898-1986), who was a marvellous actress still appearing in character parts fifty years later, and Anita Page (1910-2008). a pretty, pouty cutie who appeared to have the same slight eye problem that also afflicted Norma Shearer, are the leading ladies alongside the debonair Charles King (1886-1944), who despite his singing talents was finished in films and back on the stage by 1930.

The songs are by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown, and you’ll recognise a couple of them from the later homage to the silent era, Singin’ in the Rain. They’re sparkling and well-performed, and if the bits in-between are a bit forced, and the plot is next to nothing, there’s lots of pre-Code fun including shots of the girls in their underwear, and a few naughty nods.

I like a lot of the early musical features and revues from 1929 into the early 30s, and this is one of the best, gaining itself a Best Picture win because of the way it revolutionised the industry, and to us nine decades on, we can see that the early talkies, despite some limitations, were not the clunky disasters which were parodied mercilessly in later years.

Broadway Scandals (1929)

Not actually ‘watched’ as this film is sadly lost, but thanks to the fact its soundtrack was done on Vitaphone discs, that aspect survives, and with a musical, of course the sound is more than half of the magic.

I can’t rate it, however, as it isn’t the complete thing. It sounds like a fairly bog standard revue of the period with diverting enough tunes.

The Cocoanuts (1929)

Directly lifted from their stage show, this was the first film appearance of the Marx Brothers, at this point a quartet with Groucho, Chico and Harpo being joined by Zeppo, and the long-suffering Margaret Dumont.

As this was made in 1929 it is undoubtedly creaky, but as a new screen team the boys definitely have their personalities sketched out and Groucho and Harpo in particular are great fun.

The Desert Song (1929)

This is a review based on seeing roughly half of this early talkie, a musical starring John Boles, Carlotta King and Louise Fazenda. The story within this operetta is around ‘The Red Shadow’, an outlaw who is also a quiet and unassuming chap when he’s out of his mask.

The songs are superb but their staging is rather static, filmed with one facing camera and microphones which are rather obviously placed – many actors talk to the spaces the microphones are in rather than to their peers on the screen!

‘The Desert Song’ duet is one highlight, ‘One Alone’ is another. And those musical sequences can easily be viewed online, even if the film in toto is harder to find.

Glorifying the American Girl (1929)

Viewing the censored version on the Mill Creek Classic Musicals set, which has some cuts for taste and decency, and no Technicolor sequence.

The glorious Mary Eaton (1901-1948, of the ‘Seven Little Eatons’, five of which were vaudeville performers from childhood) is the lead in the rags to riches story of Gloria Hughes, who progresses from the counter of a sheet music store to the Ziegfeld Follies. She is a great little hoofer with a nice voice, and she’s a cute little blonde chorine into the bargain.

There’s a nothing story about her predatory dancing partner, Danny Miller (Dan Healy, 1888-1969, another Follies veteran), who wants her body and soul, enough to agree to a contract, but of course there’s better pickings for her out there. It was the crowning glory of any girl performer to join the Follies in the 10s and 20s, and the final third of this film is a pretty good record of what these shows involved (‘personally supervised by Ziegfeld’).

You’ll spot some familiar faces if you’re quick, including Johnny Weissmuller, Irving Berlin, Helen Morgan, and Mrs Ziegfeld, Billie Burke, but the lion’s share of the show is given to Eddie Cantor, whose comedy was popular enough to keep him in stardom on stage and screen well into the 1930s, and remembered with enough affection for a film to be made about his life in 1953. It might be hard to understand his appeal now, but in 1929 he was a huge attraction.

This film was fully restored by UCLA some years ago, with the censored pre-Code bits reinstated, and the finale put back to its original two-strip Technicolor state, but it remains unavailable, while these flat public domain prints can be found on the Internet Archive, YouTube, and budget sets like Classic Musicals.

Gold Diggers of Broadway (1929)

Lost except for ‘Tiptoe Through The Tulips’ and the finale, this is a difficult film to review, but from what’s available the musical sequences were sumptuous. It’s a moot point whether the rest of the film would stand up today.

Happy Days (1929)

The most disappointing of the anthology shows put out by the major studios at the dawn of talking pictures, and the birth of the movie musical.

This entry into the genre comes from Fox (not yet ‘Twentieth Century Fox’), showcasing a roster of stars including Will Rogers, Charles Farrell, Marjorie White, El Brendel, George Jessel, Dixie Lee (the first Mrs Bing Crosby), Janet Gaynor, and Edmund Lowe.

Its notability is mainly from being the first feature film to be shown in a widescreen process (these prints are now lost), but even at 80 minutes it tends to drag, although there are a couple of musical highlights (White’s ‘I’m On A Diet Of Love’, Lee’s ‘Crazy Feet’, the minstrel finale of ‘Mona’).

The ill-fated White, killed in a car crash in the mid-1930s, is a sparkling delight, but you might struggle to put names to some of the ‘stars’ on show here, and even with a paper-thin plot this film doesn’t really go anywhere. I’m being generous giving it a three-star score because I am a sucker for musical revues, but you might not be so accommodating.

The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929)

Admittedly slow-paced and dated, there is a certain charm to this film that makes it very enjoyable.

I particularly liked the novelty acts and comedy routines – Bessie Love, Marie Dressler, Laurel and Hardy and Buster Keaton’s Egyptian lady.

And the Gilbert/Shearer Romeo and Juliet section is worth sitting through the rest for anyway (despite its washed out colour, which oddly looked better in the little snippet showed in When The Lion Roars).

I can’t say I was disappointed with any of it – you get mind-boggling acrobats, you get weedy voiced Marion Davies, you get Jack Benny playing his violin and Conrad Nagel as smooth master of ceremonies, and Charles King singing that hideous song about mothers, and Ukelele Ike, well, playing a ukelele, and Joan Crawford’s ungainly dancing … it’s just a real treat, and nice to see from a technical point of view that the sound isn’t bad at all and despite its advanced age it is still watchable.

The Jazz Singer (1927)

The Jazz Singer has crossed into popular culture as the film which finally killed off the silent screen, and it was the first film to include musical moments as part of the plot.

Your view on this film will solely depend on your liking, or not, of star Al Jolson. If you find him unbearable, you might well find this film a difficult watch; on the other hand, if you enjoy his brand of humour and song, this might have some moments you will like.

The silent drama which surrounds Jolson’s excursions into song seems a little laboured, although Eugenie Besserer is touching as his mother, and that’s the first Charlie Chan, Warner Oland, as the Cantor.

Perhaps the best moment in this piece of cinema history is Jolson’s break into ‘talking’ before his song. The ‘wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet’ has passed into folklore.

The Love Parade (1929)

I love Maurice Chevalier and his films with naughty Jeanette Macdonald just sparked and sparkled.

This early Lubitsch talkie is a musical and if the songs are not top notch, and if the plot is a bit silly (she is the Queen of some mythical Kingdom, he is a randy and disgraced French courtier), then no matter.

Much has been made of the gender politics where she has to relinquish power to her mate – but she does it in the same way Mary Pickford’s Kate did in The Taming of the Shrew.

Macdonald is a revelation here if you have only ever seen her in her teamings with her later singing sweetheart pairing with Nelson Eddy (although those films were sweet and romantic).

With Chevalier the sparring is sexy and resolutely Pre-Code – they make a fine pair and they fizz under their director’s firm touch.

A Plantation Act (1926)

A valuable record of the minstrel act which made Al Jolson famous.

Blackface was the first form of entertainment that could be described as typically American, and became the most popular art form during the 1840s. The songs and dances included may have attempted to be authentically black, but it was the use of spirituals (such as Swing Low, Sweet Chariot) that became more prevalent in later years. There were also influences from other traditions such as the circus.

Jolson was undoubtedly the most famous blackface performer of the early 20th century, and well beyond the mid-point of the century minstrel shows commanded huge audiences. I can recall seeing the Black and White Minstrels on television as a child in the 1970s.

It is perhaps worth noting as well that even African-American performers became minstrels, in many cases as a first route into showbusiness.

So, minstrel shows and blackface performance is historical fact and important to the understanding of the evolution of showbusiness, music and live stage routines.

This short presents Jolson performing three of his most enduring numbers, including “April Showers” (which I will always associate with my grandad, who used to sing it). His character is the predicatable happy slave worker, content with his lot, which although it makes for uncomfortable viewing today, was nothing unusual at the time.

Viewing this as an example of early talkie entertainment, it is fairly static in its presentation, but the Vitaphone sound disc is clear, and Jolson puts his songs across well. There’s an attempt to make a farm/plantation setting believable, with strategically placed chickens and a barn, and the print available is tinted.

Hard to rate, but it isn’t awful, and it isn’t outstanding. Rating against other Vitaphone shorts of the period it is average.

Red Hot Rhythm (1929)

This film is lost so I am commenting purely on the one clip that is available, a Multicolor number featuring either Alan Hale or James Clemmons (no one seems really sure), a line of flame-haired dancers, an orchestra, and some fiery effects. The dancing is somewhat hyperactive and the song (the title song) is catchy.

Photoplay back in 1929 said the colour sequences and dance numbers were the only thing of importance about this. Thanks to Vivian Duncan of the Duncan Sisters this – very low quality – clip has been saved, but director Leo McCarey thought this was one of his worst films.

Rio Rita (1929)

Bebe Daniels, with a ridiculous accent and a trilling voice to rival Jeanette MacDonald, is Rita, being romanced by mysterious gringo John Boles. Their operetta duets are fairly pretty and Bebe gets to wear some good costumes.

In another storyline interwoven with that of Rita are Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey (with little Dorothy Lee) in a comic divorce-based plot. Woolsey is the wise-cracking cigar-chomper with the glasses, Wheeler the little guy with the high voice and a nice line in song ‘n dance.

Rio Rita is a fun early musical with primitive Technicolor bits and one Berkeley-esque overhead shot with the frilly girlies doing their thing round Wheeler. Dorothy Lee’s voice reminded me of Helen Kane (the lady who introduced I Wanna Be Loved By You before Marilyn got her hands on it).

My favourite bit music-wise is the catchy ‘Sweetheart, We Need Each Other’; otherwise the invisible girl only seen by the boys after quaffing some seriously strong plonk is a really funny bit.

And I did like the fact that for 1929 this wasn’t as primitive as other early talkies I’ve seen. Good stuff (and an invaluable record of a Ziegfeld show of course).

Sally (1929)

Originally filmed in 2-strip Technicolor, this film now survives as a mainly black and white print with some colour footage intact. This rags to riches story (Sally starts from an orphanage and ends up with her own show on Broadway) stars Marilyn Miller – little seen and perhaps only known to film buffs because of Judy Garland’s impersonation of her in ‘Till The Clouds Roll By’. Miller was a beautiful and talented artist, as ‘Sally’ proves.

Supporting her is a very young Joe E Brown (best known as Captain Andy in the third film version of Show Boat) who is a lot of fun, and Alexander Gray, who like many other leading men of the early talkies is a bit of a stuffed shirt. You’ll also spot the Keystone Kops’ Ford Sterling as ‘Pops’.

‘Sally’ is a hugely enjoyable early talkie. The colour sequence is lovely and bright – it is a pity that we lose the impact from the rest of the film. The songs are good and Miss Miller is a treat to watch.

Show Boat (1929)

The first film version of the Kern-Hammerstein musical, which had premiered on stage in 1927, from the Edna Ferber novel published a year before.

What remains of this film (and it is sadly incomplete) is a part-talkie with a prologue of songs from the original show (including Helen Morgan singing ‘Bill’ – she would get to play Julie in the 1936 film). I know I have seen the ‘Hey Feller’ segment with picture as well as sound before, but this version shown on TCM retains an ‘overture’ title card to accompany the songs.

The first sound segment begins after around half an hour and centres on Gaylord and Magnolia acting on stage together, then planning to marry, and eloping. Laura La Plante is far too mannered as Magnolia – although this is not as noticeable in the silent sequences – I much prefer Irene Dunne’s playful take on the character, or Kathryn Grayson’s haughty naivete, while Joseph Schildkraut is a little bit stiff with his Germanic accent as Gay, lacking the charm of either Allan Jones or Howard Keel.

The second sound segment is after Gay loses their money on an expensive horse and starts to ridicule Magnolia for wanting to sing, but this is where the track has been lost, so we get subtitles, and it doesn’t really work to paper over the cracks.

Emily Fitzroy is a priceless Parthy (she can be comic, cruel, and tragic, often at the same time), and Alma Rubens does well as Julie (although the racial storyline is completely removed, and she is fired from the Cotton Blossom simply for being too fond of the infant Magnolia, who – it is strongly hinted – might be her child).

Of the songs in the musical, we hear ‘Old Man River’ and ‘Goodbye My Lady Love’ as background music, but there are no songs as such (in the original print there were five songs, but not in the same context as in the stage show). Joe and Queenie, in this surviving version, are purely peripheral, and unlike any other version, we lose Captain Andy quite early on, during the raging storm in which Magnolia gives birth to Kim. No ‘After The Ball’ reunion for father and daughter here.

Interestingly this is the only one of the films which includes Hetty the whorehouse madam who is the Belle Watling to Gay’s Rhett Butler (he really is a river rat, and a cheat in all senses as well as a gambler), and this is how Julie comes back into the story, not as a lounge singer missing her man. There is also no reunion for Gay and his daughter Kim, so ultimately this film is more downbeat than the others.

Because it is no longer a musical in its surviving form (it kills the scene where Magnolia sings ‘Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man of Mine’ towards the end to see her sing it but not hear it!), I cannot give it a higher score, but the differences in storyline, some excellent performances, and that inclusion of Morgan’s song in the prologue, nudge it up just a tad, and TCM’s attempt to salvage lost sound sequences is laudable.

Show of Shows (1929)

Some marvellous musical numbers jostle with low comedy (MC Frank Fay is an acquired taste) and snatches of high drama (John Barrymore as Richard III).

This was the Warner Brothers entry into the revue anthology films of the early days of talking pictures, showcasing most of their stars – Mary Astor, Richard Barthelmess, Monte Blue, Hobart Bosworth, Chester Conklin, Lupino Lane, Myrna Loy, Chester Morris, Rin Tin Tin, Ben Turpin, and Loretta Young.

Enjoyable, even if it is now a shadow of what it was (it was originally presented in colour), it only survives from a black and white copy for television.

Splinters (1929)

Fun army revue film which, despite ageing sound and worn-out visuals, still manages to be entertaining. It is based on the stage revue of the same name, and was one of the first sound films to be released in Britain.

Nelson Keys and Sydney Howard star, Jack Raymond directs and Herbert Wilcox produces. The musical numbers have survived in better condition than the scenes around them.

Sunny Side Up (1929)

One of the early talkie musicals, this one teams silent sweethearts Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor, and gives them both the chance to share their questionable musical gifts.

This film shouldn’t work at all, but Gaynor has charm, and Farrell is watchable, and there are other compensations including the sparky Marjorie White (who should have had a long and fruitful career, but sadly died early, in 1935).

Recently given a lavish restoration, this musical sends its audience away humming the tunes, and in between has made them laugh and forget their troubles, just a bit. Why ask for more?

Syncopation (1929)

Who knows now there was a third Bennett sister who was born between Constance and Joan? But there was, and Barbara Bennett plays the female lead here, Flo.

It is fairly clear why her screen career didn’t endure, and sadly her personal life was no better and her life ended by suicide in 1958.

Alrhough the perennial impersonator of Hitler, Bobby Watson, plays Bennett’s nice as pie husband, your eye will get drawn to Morton Downey’s crooning and to the cutie who plays Peggy: that’s the bubbly Dorothy Lee, who found fame with Wheeler and Woolsey.

Word has it that Bert Wheeler saw Syncopation and looked all over town for Dottie, knowing she was just right for his sweet and silly musical comedy romance schtick. You can see here what Wheeler saw in her.

Ian Hunter is the impresario who offers Flo and Benny a break: he’s always a bit stiff, but has his english charm to pull him through.

Director Bert Glennon became a cinematographer for the likes of John Ford, and this film certainly looks good, even if it is stilted by the technical limitations of the time.

“Do Do Something” is the musical highlight of this film, which was RKO’s first musical, while Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians are top-billed as the band.

Trivia note: Watson is the diction coach tormented by Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor in 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain.

 


The Talking Pictures TV Reel Streets Ealing Film Locations tour

On perhaps the wettest day to hit West London for weeks, we arrived at Osterley Park to find a Talking Pictures TV banner and a small marquee where we could pick up our brochure and picnic lunch.  It was lovely to finally meet Sarah Cronin, who does so much with her family to programme the weird and wonderful (and sometimes both) film and TV fare of Talking Pictures TV.

On a packed Routemaster (we discovered later from a friendly former bus driver that it had been a green bus in service, but now painted red), we set out for a three-hour tour of locations across Ealing (and a bit of Hounslow).

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Our bus and companion for the morning.

The route in our book wasn’t quite the route we followed – the driver decided to miss out Hanwell and visited Ealing Broadway a little earlier than planned – and the loudspeaker on the top deck was sadly inaudible until the final hour of the tour, but as a local couple my husband and I were able to roughly follow the progress of the tour from Osterley to Heston, to Southall, West Ealing, Ealing Broadway, South Ealing, Brentford then back to the park.

Highlights along the way included former cinemas the Palace Southall, Odeon Southall, and the former sites of the Walpole and the Empire in Ealing, and locations where “Richard Attenborough caught the bus in Seance on a Wet Afternoon“, “Benny Hill came past this building towards the camera in Who Done It“, and the gate “depicted in The Lavender Hill Mob“, to mention but three.

We spotted the former homes of legendary comics Sid James and Arthur Haynes (both on Gunnersbury Road, with blue plaques), and the alleyway used in Run for Your Money, as well as the corner where George Formby once walked in It’s in the Air and where the policemen marched in Carry on Constable.

Of course the main attraction was Ealing Studios, where so many great films were created and shot, from the early days of Will Barker in 1902 through to the present day.  This is currently the focus of an attempt to create a Walk of Fame to celebrate those stars and crew who made films across the borough.

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The tour brochure.

The booklet utilised film stills and brief descriptions, but I would have added a simple map of the route so it could be retraced by locals or more easily understood for those new to the borough.  It was also an ambitious route for the time and traffic, even on a Sunday morning, so future tours may wish to bear that in mind.  However, care and time had clearly been lavished on this event.

A tasty packed lunch of crisps, a cheese and tomato sandwich, and a traditional scone with clotted cream and jam (which we took home with us), plus a glass of bubbly on arrival and a Roses chocolate en route, was much appreciated, as were the two rest stops (although I think Southall Park disappointed with the loos closed!).

Our £45 tickets also included a tour of Osterley House, but we decided to call it a day after our mystery tour, planning to use the booklet on future travels around Ealing (and to tick off any films listed which we have not seen yet).

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Our yummy packed lunch.

Roll on next March, when the Renown Film Festival takes place in St Albans.


DVD audit 2018 – pt 3

More film and television from my DVD collection.




DVD audit 2018 – part 2

More titles from the collection. Film, TV, documentaries, music. There’s more to come!

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DVD audit 2018 – part 1

By no means my entire collection, here is a peek at some of the films and TV series which make up my DVD collection.

Check back for more and for some book shelfies during the next few weeks.


Shakespeare 400: Film and TV

There have been many, many screen versions of Shakespeare’s plays – please follow the links below to my lists on Letterboxd to find a range of straight adaptations and versions inspired by the Bard’s work.

Such a rich store of films, television and recordings from the RSC, the National Theatre, the Globe, and Digital Theatre exist to prove the Bard remains relevant 400 years after his passing.

tragedieshamlet

Shakespeare – The Tragedies (http://boxd.it/8yDy), covering 11 of the 37 plays: Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Macbeth, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, Timon of Athens, Titus Andronicus, Troilus and Cressida.

Five to try:

  • Antony and Cleopatra (1974, dir Jon Scoffield, with Richard Johnson and Janet Suzman).  This will be released by Network Distributing later this year.
  • The Bad Sleep Well (1960, dir Akira Kurosawa).  A Japanese loose version of Hamlet.
  • Macbeth on the Estate (1997, dir Penny Woolcock, with James Frain).
  • Othello (1990, dir Trevor Nunn, with Willard White and Ian McKellen).
  • Romeo and Juliet (1984, from the Royal Ballet, with Wayne Eagling and Alessandra Ferri, to Kenneth Macmillan’s choreography).

comediescomedydench

Shakespeare – The Comedies (http://boxd.it/8yDS), covering 12 of the 37 plays: All’s Well That Ends Well, The Comedy of Errors, As You Like It, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Measure for Measure, Merry Wives of Windsor, The Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing.

Five to try:

  • The Comedy of Errors (1976, dir Trevor Nunn, with Judi Dench, with music by Guy Woolfenden).
  • McLintock! (1963, dir Andrew V. McLaglen, with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara).  A Western inspired by The Taming of the Shrew.
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935, dir Max Reinhardt and William Dieterle).  A Hollywood fantasy with Mickey Rooney as Puck.
  • Much Ado About Nothing (2012, dir Joss Whedon).
  • The Merchant of Venice (1972, dir Cedric Messina, with Frank Finlay as Shylock and Maggie Smith as Portia).

historiesrichardshaw

Shakespeare – The Histories (http://boxd.it/8yEc), covering 10 of the 37 plays: Richard II, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2, Henry V, Henry VI Part 1, Henry VI Part 2, Henry VI Part 3, Richard III, Henry VIII, King John.

Five to try:

  • Richard III (1995, dir Richard Loncraine, with Ian McKellen).  Set in the Nazi era with a modern feel.
  • Henry V (1944, dir by and starring Laurence Olivier).  A stirring version made during the Second World War.
  • King John (1984, dir David Giles, with Leonard Rossiter, for the BBC Shakespeare).
  • Henry VIII (2010, dir Mark Rosenblatt, for Globe on Screen, with Dominic Rowan).
  • Richard II (1978, dir David Giles, with Derek Jacobi, for the BBC Shakespeare).

romancestempestglobe

Shakespeare – The Romances (http://boxd.it/8yEw), covering 4 of the 37 plays: Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest.

Five to try:

  • Prospero’s Books (1991, dir Peter Greenaway, with John Gielgud).  Inspired by The Tempest.
  • The Winter’s Tale (1999, dir Gregory Doran, with Antony Sher, for the RSC).
  • The Tempest (1908, dir Percy Stow).
  • Cymbeline (2013, dir Michael Almereyda, with Ethan Hawke).  With an urban gang setting.
  • The Winter’s Tale (1910, dir Thanhouser).

 

 


Shakespeare 400 in images

  • Marlon Brando plays Mark Antony in the 1953 film of ‘Julius Caesar’;
  • Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting in the 1968 film of ‘Romeo and Juliet’;
  • Kenneth Branagh in his 1996 film of ‘Hamlet’;
  • Laurence Olivier in his 1944 film of ‘Henry V’;
  • Wendy Hiller, Cyril Cusack, Michael Kitchen and Roger Daltrey in the 1983 BBC Shakespeare TV version of ‘The Comedy of Errors’;
  • Simon Russell Beale in the National Theatre’s 2012 production of ‘Timon of Athens’;
  • Dumaine (Adrian Lester), Berowne (Kenneth Branagh), Longaville (Matthew Lillard), and Ferdinand (Alessandro Nivola) in the 2000 film of ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’;
  • Philip Quast as Achilles and Jeremy Sheffield as Patroclus in the RSC’s 1996 production of ‘Troilus and Cressida’;
  • Jonathan and Phoebe Pryce in the Globe Theatre’s 2015 production of ‘The Merchant of Venice’;
  • Judi Dench as Titania in the 1968 film of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’;
  • Antony Sher as Falstaff in the RSC’s 2014 production of ‘Henry IV Part 1’;
  • Ian McKellen in the 1979 TV version of the RSC’s production of ‘Macbeth’;
  • Guy Henry in the RSC’s 2001 production of ‘King John’;
  • Robert Shaw (Leontes), Rosalie Crutchley (Hermoine) and Patrick McNee (Polixines) in the 1962 TV production of ‘A Winter’s Tale’;
  • Paul Robeson in a 1942 stage production of ‘Othello’;
  • Christopher Benjamin as Falstaff in the Globe’s 2010 production of ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’;
  • Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore in the 1953 film of ‘Kiss Me Kate’ (based on ‘The Taming of the Shrew’);
  • Gary Bond and Irena Mayeska as Benedick and Beatrice in the 1970 Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre production of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’;
  • Anthony Hopkins in the 1999 film of ‘Titus’;
  • Heathcote Williams as Prospero and Toyah as Miranda in the 1979 film of ‘The Tempest’;
  • Romola Garai as Celia in the 2006 film of ‘As You Like It’;
  • Ben Miles as the Duke and Anna Maxwell-Martin as Isabella in the 2010 Almeida Theatre production of ‘Measure for Measure’;
  • Derek Jacobi in the BBC Shakespeare TV adaptation of ‘Richard II’ (1978);
  • Ian Charleson and cast of the BBC Shakespeare TV adaptation of ‘All’s Well That End’s Well’ (1980);
  • The National Theatre of Greece at the Globe in their 2012 production of ‘Pericles’;
  • Tom Courtenay in the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, 1999 production of ‘King Lear’;
  • Alan Howard in the RSC’s 1978 production of ‘Coriolanus’;
  • Alan Bates and Frances de La Tour in the RSC’s 2000 production of ‘Antony and Cleopatra’;
  • William Houston as Prince Hal and David Troughton as Henry IV in the RSC’s 2000 production of ‘Henry IV Part 2’;
  • Mark Rylance in the Globe’s 2012 production of ‘Richard III’;
  • Richard Johnson in the BBC Shakespeare TV adaptation of ‘Cymbeline’ (1983);
  • Tommy Steele as Feste in the 1969 TV adaptation of ‘Twelfth Night’;
  • Dominic Rowan as Henry with Amanda Lawrence as his fool in the Globe’s 2010 production of ‘Henry VIII’.

Review of 2015

This is the point where, now 2016 has started with the traditional fireworks and hangovers, we have a look back to the good (and bad) of 2015.

Theatre

In January I saw two productions, the frankly disappointing ‘Potted Sherlock’, and the excellent ‘Taken at Midnight’, in which Penelope Wilton excelled as a woman whose son was in the hands of the Nazis.

February brought a new Tom Stoppard at the National, ‘The Hard Problem’, which tried to mix academia with personal relationships, but didn’t really do either justice.

In March I enjoyed the revival of ‘Harvey’, starring James Dreyfuss, which stopped off at Richmond before a run in the West End, and I travelled to Hampstead for my first visit to the theatre there to see Zoe Wanamaker in the revival of ‘Stevie’ (a piece I know well from the Glenda Jackson film).

April brought three top-class musicals associated with Stephen Sondheim: first, the show on which he wrote lyrics, ‘Gypsy’, at the Savoy, which some of you will have seen and enjoyed when it was on television over the Christmas break, and second, the transfer of ‘Sweeney Todd: Demon Barber of Fleet Street’ at the ENO, with Bryn Terfel, Emma Thompson, and the welcome return to these shores of Philip Quast.  Finally, the concert version of ‘Follies’, at the Royal Albert Hall, which was ridiculously overpriced but certainly star-studded.

In May, a silly but perfectly-pitched tribute to the Bonzo Dog frontman, Vivian Stanshall, who died twenty years ago, was on for one night only at the Bloomsbury.  ‘Radio Stanshall’ teamed old hands with a fun reboot of the Sir Henry at Rawlinson End tales.   Meanwhile, over at the Globe Theatre Jonathan Pryce impressed as Shylock in ‘The Merchant of Venice’, and on transfer from Stratford-upon-Avon, Antony Sher and Harriet Walter reteamed for the first time since the late 90s Macbeth for ‘Death of a Salesman’, which was a definite highlight of the year.

June at the Barbican heralded the Beckett International Festival, of which I chose to see the starry ‘Waiting for Godot’ with Hugo Weaving, Richard Roxburgh, and Philip Quast (again!).  I love the play, and this production seemed to polarise audiences, but I found it very good indeed.

In July, there was comedy at the National in ‘The Beaux’ Strategem’, and a major misfire at the Young Vic with a head-scratching version of ‘The Trial’, in which a conveyer belt set and Rory Kinnear were excellent but the translation was not.  Closer to home, Julian Clary headlined the Ealing Comedy Festival, while in town, David Suchet donned a dress for a hilarious take on Lady Bracknell in ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’.

August brought us one of the year’s total turkeys, at the Charing Cross Theatre, where the dreadful ‘Dusty’ had cast changes, delayed press nights and worse.  Back at the National, ‘Three Days in the Country’ was a new and truncated version of the Turgenev play, which had a bit of overacting from John Simm but a finely judged comic bit from Mark Gatiss.

In September, the delightful Rattigan play ‘Flare Path’ stopped by at Richmond, while ‘Mr Foote’s Other Leg’ did well at Hampstead before a West End transfer – I especially liked Dervla Kirwan’s delicate actress-whore.    And the month ended with the new version of the Bristol production of ‘Jane Eyre’, a high-energy adaptation which was a total joy to watch.

October saw a trip to the Bridewell Theatre for an excellent version of ‘Sunset Boulevard’ by the amateur Geoids Musical Theatre, an ensemble I would happily watch again.

In November the final piece of the RSCs King and Country puzzle fell into play with the showing of ‘Henry V’, which I liked a lot, and which, coming so soon after the Paris attacks, felt oddly relevant and very moving.

Meanwhile, December brought the undoubted un-highlight of the year, with the National’s jaw-droppingly terrible ‘wonder.land’.   I would recommend a trip to the National’s Shed instead to see the fun ‘I Want My Hat Back’, and New Year’s Eve brought the year to a sentimental close with ‘Goodnight Mr Tom’.

Concerts and live cinema relays

The Southbank Centre hosted a special ‘Friday Night is Music Night’ in February which I really enjoyed: with the Light Programme being represented with everything from Max Miller and Roy Hudd to Flanders & Swann and Gilbert & Sullivan.  The concert a week later in the same series, looking at post-1959 music, was fun, but not quite in the same league.

On Valentine’s Day the Berlin Philharmonic with their conductor Sir Simon Rattle was in residence at the Royal Festival Hall, with a programme showcasing their splendid rendition of Mahler No 2.   And on the big screen there was a live relay from the Royal Opera House of ‘The Flying Dutchman’, with Bryn Terfel, which was another of the year’s highlights: he really had made this role his own.

In April Daniel Barenboim was at the Royal Festival Hall with the Staatkapelle Berlin, playing Elgar, and it was an honour to be there, especially to see him awarded the Elgar Medal which he dedicated to his late wife, Jacqueline du Pre.   This month also saw a live musical accompaniment to a little-seen Lillian Gish film, ‘Annie Laurie’, at the Barbican.

In October, the London Literature Festival gave us both Terry Gilliam (with a video retrospective of some of his films), and Tom Jones (who sang, and by heck, is he still good).  The end of the month had a return visit to the Royal Festival Hall from Randy Newman, who with just a piano, was rather marvellous.

December was the month of NT Live screenings, with the Broadway production of ‘Of Mice and Men’ and the Barbican ‘Hamlet’ (which I didn’t add here for some reason, but which can be seen in my review over on Letterboxd).  We ended the year in concert mode with the professional gloss of Andre Rieu and his Johann Strauss Orchestra at Wembley Arena.

Film

Letterboxd (where I post as loureviews) tells me I watched 451 films – including shorts and miniseries, in 2015.  Eight of those merited a full, five-star score, and all were rewatches: Mary Poppins, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Lifeboat, I Know Where I’m Going, Guys and Dolls, Witchfinder General, Rebecca, and The Snowman.

There were, however, some four and a half star films I had seen for the first time, so these are my picks of the year: Night Will Fall (2014), Laughter in the Dark (1969), Her (2013), Maxine Peake in Hamlet (2015), Mr Axelford’s Angel (1974), The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), Contempt/Le Mepris (1963), Shylock’s Ghost (2015), Night and Day (2015), and Tony Benn: Will and Testament (2014).

The turkeys of the year, the true stinkers, number ten: Carry on England (1976), Happy Hooligan (1903), Ride Along (2014), Sherlock Holmes (2011 – and it isn’t the Asylum one), The Other Woman (2014), Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015), The Nut Job (2014), Annie (2014), Bed and Breakfast (1938), and The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978).

Tributes

I marked a trio of anniversaries this year.  Twenty years since the death of Vivian Stanshall, thirty-five years since the death of AC/DC frontman Bon Scott, and twenty-six years since the death of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman.  You can find links to all these in the ‘Index to tribute profiles’ at the top of the page.

Exhibitions

In January, the London Transport Museum was the venue for ‘Goodbye, Piccadilly’, which I loved.  Later in the year, the Hayward Gallery hosted the thoughtful ‘History is Now’, which was odd but engaging.

 


Wuthering Heights, 1992 film ***1/2

Wuthering Heights, directed by Peter Kosminsky.  Ralph Fiennes as Heathcliff, Juliette Binoche as Cathy/Catherine, Jeremy Northam as Hindley, Robert Demeger as Joseph, Jason Riddington as Hareton, Simon Shepherd as Edgar, Janet McTeer as Ellen, Jonathan Firth as Linton and Sophie Ward as Isabella.  105 minutes.  1992.

I’m a Brontë nut, and ‘Wuthering Heights’ was my Gothic go-to book as a teenager. However when this film came out I was nineteen, it had several poor reviews, and I dodged it rather than going to have a look.

Therefore I didn’t see this film until about four years ago for the first time, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it is not at all bad – Juliette Binoche is unquestionably French, but she does portray the sense of a Cathy who veers between being lost in the emotions of her strong connection to Heathcliff, as rough and as wild as he is, and her need to become a respectable woman of means, as Mrs Edgar Linton.

Ralph Fiennes might not be an obvious choice as Heathcliff, but he has the romanticism of a Gothic hero, and if there is a slight misstep in the casting of Sophie Ward as Isabella (not the right type of woman for the role), it is balanced by Janet McTeer’s Nellie Dean, Jeremy Northam’s pathetic Hindley, and Simon Shepherd’s snooty Edgar. Kudos too for Jonathan Firth (brother of Colin) for his portrayal of the sickly Linton Heathcliff, child of a destructive and loveless union.

You get a sense of the Linton parents, too, in the persons of Simon Ward (father of Sophie, so perhaps a bit of stunt casting) and Jennifer Daniel. They are refined enough to see beyond Cathy’s dirty face to her family’s reputation and breeding, but too inward looking to accept the bond she has with her friend.


Remembering Graham Chapman

graham

The wildest, funniest, most bizarre of the Monty Python team left us on 4th October 1989 when he died of cancer at the age of 48.

The most talented actor in the group – he played the title role in Life of Brian and King Arthur in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Chapman was also a hedonist who overindulged in many things, notably alcohol (gin was his drink of choice) and, according to his tongue in cheek book, A Liar’s Autobiography, sex.

molluscs

Openly gay, he was something of an activist, funding the fledgling publication Gay News.  He was also sharply intelligent behind the silliness: a qualified doctor and a man who, in an appearance on the Channel 4 show Opinions, railed against gender stereotyping and dealt with the issue of death in a matter of fact way.

His contribution to Python has been downplayed over the years, with writing partner John Cleese claiming he ‘carried’ Chapman: yet many of the quirks and ideas which made Python sketches special came from the quiet and contemplative pipe smoker in the corner.

grahampipe

His outrageous side was legendary, whether sticking a part of his anatomy into a stranger’s drink in a pub, appearing full frontal nude as Brian, or fully embracing a spoof advice page on masturbation for the team’s second book, The Brand New Monty Python Papperbok.  (This last item was said to be ‘upsetting to Gray’s fans’ when I shared on a Facebook page yesterday, which surely misses the point that this chap pushed the boundaries each and every day of his life).

naughty

An attractive man, Chapman was probably just as aware of his appeal to fans of both sexes as he was of his ability to appear outrageous (he was the Python who looked best in a dress). His enduring (but open) partnership with David Sherlock lasted more than twenty years, during which time they adopted teenage runaway John Tomiczek.

After Python his career was not that successful,  although he starred in two feature films – The Odd Job, which had previously been a vehicle for Ronnie Barker; and Yellowbeard, a sort of mad pirate saga.  His last professional appearance was in an Iron Maiden video called Can I Play With Madness.

Chapman died on the eve of Python’s 20th anniversary – a true case of ‘party pooping’.  At the memorial service his colleagues took the opportunity to be outrageous and offensive on his behalf.   Since then he has been a regular participant in their shows right up until their ‘farewell’ shows at the O2 in 2014.

He will always be my favourite of the Pythons: the one who makes me laugh, and makes me think.

flix-yellowbeard00


My Network DVD collection

TV Comedy

  • The Complete Adrian Mole.  Capsule review: An excellent comedy-drama adaptation of Sue Townsend’s first two books about Adrian Mole. <a href=”https://amzn.to/2O5IdWa”>Buy from Amazon</a>.
  • Agony: The Complete Series.  Capsule review: Maureen Lipman is a scatty agony aunt with romantic problems.  Tries too hard to cover ‘issues’. <a href=”https://amzn.to/2CCROSU”>Buy from Amazon</a>.
  • All Star Comedy Carnival.  Capsule review: a waltz down memory lane, with lots of laughs. <a href=”https://amzn.to/2QjotQi”>Buy from Amazon</a>.
  • An Audience with Jasper Carrott.  Capsule review: Carrott’s breakthrough series before an audience; still very funny. <a href=”https://amzn.to/2Qg4YYO”>Buy from Amazon</a>.
  • Beadle’s About series 1.  Capsule review: Very much of its time, this raises the occasional smile but hasn’t worn well. <a href=”https://amzn.to/2NtBKY2″>Buy from Amazon</a>.
  • Catweazle: Series 1 and Series 2.  Capsule review: A classic children’s series with a strong central performance and clever storylines.  <a href=”https://amzn.to/2Nv11B3″>Buy from Amazon</a>.
  • Cilla’s Comedy Six: The Complete Series.  Capsule review: Hit and miss sketches which prove Cilla Black was not a strong comedienne.  <a href=”https://amzn.to/2QiP4Nh”>Buy from Amazon</a>.
  • Classic ITV Christmas Comedy.  Capsule review: A good sampler of half-forgotten comedy programme festive specials, many from the 1980s.
  • Dawson’s Weekly.  Capsule review: Les Dawson in a set of comedy characterisations which are very entertaining.
  • Doctor on the Box.  Capsule review: every Doctor series which ran on the BBC, good for dipping in and out, but the earlier series are the sharpest.
  • End of Part One: The Complete Series.  Capsule review: a quirky and obscure delight in Pythonesque mode.
  • Frost on Sunday.  Capsule review: Frost goes variety in his lightest of the three weekend 60s series.
  • The Galton and Simpson Playhouse.  Capsule review: a set of amusing comedy plays.
  • The Goodies … At Last, A Second Helping.  Capsule review: time hasn’t been kind to this silly sketch series.
  • If There Weren’t Any Blacks You’d Have To Invent Them.  Capsule review: two versions of the same black comedy play, both very effective.
  • Law and Disorder: Complete.  Capsule review: gentle comedy with Margo in a wig.
  • The Morecambe and Wise Show: The Thames Years.  Capsule review: not as good as their BBC series, but this duo were always good fun.
  • Mrs Merton and Malcolm.  Capsule review: not entirely successful, but now and again this is as much comedy gold as the Royle Family.
  • The New Incomplete Complete and Utter History of Britain.  Capsule review: a lovingly compiled package of a variable comedy series.
  • Outside Edge: The Complete Series.  Capsule review: the pilot play and the whole series, a joy from start to finish.
  • Paul Merton in Galton and Simpson’s … series 1.  Capsule review: disappointing, especially the Hancock reboots.
  • Pipkins: Volumes 1-4.  Capsule review: legendary children’s series, with subversive puppets.
  • The Rag Trade: The Complete First LWT Series.  Capsule review: laugh out loud on occasion, but the original BBC series is stronger.
  • Rik Mayall Presents.  Capsule review: a series of comedy plays, cleverly written.
  • Ripping Yarns: The Complete Series.  Capsule review: superior comedy plays in the old yarn style and with a Python twist, with the Secrets play as a dark and funny extra.
  • Romany Jones: Complete Series 1 and 2.  Capsule review: James Beck’s only starring role following his success in Dad’s Army – but it is creaky fare!
  • Sadie, It’s Cold Outside: The Complete Series.  Capsule review: worthwhile character led comedy.
  • Shillingbury Tales: The Complete Series.  Capsule review: excellent writing, good performances.
  • Six Dates With Barker.  Capsule review: a set of comedy plays with Ronnie Barker in the lead, very nicely done.
  • Spitting Image: The Complete Series 1-7, Series 8.  Capsule review: of its time, and very dated, but now and again very sharp indeed.
  • The Strange World of Gurney Slade: The Complete Series.  Capsule review: a hidden gem with strange and surreal twists and turns.
  • Sunday Night at the London Palladium: Volumes 1 and 2.  Capsule review: variety and music show from the 50s and 60s.
  • Tingha and Tucker.  Capsule review: odd jumble of remaining items from a forgotten children’s series.
  • Two’s Company: Complete Series.  Capsule review: a well-remembered two header with flair and fun.
  • Victoria Wood: Screenplays.  Capsule review: early series of comedy plays which stand on their believable characters and situations.

TV Drama

  • The Adventures of Black Beauty: Best of.  Capsule review: children’s drama inspired by Anna Sewell’s novel, great theme tune and good production values.
  • Adventures of Robin Hood: Complete.  Capsule review: high adventure and many early appearances from familiar faces make this series a winner.
  • Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel: Complete.  Capsule review: affectionate piece of whimsy with a great central performance and enjoyable storylines.
  • Alan Plater at ITV.  Capsule review: a good overview of one of television’s best playwrights.  Includes some taster episodes of series like Flambards.
  • Anglo Saxon Attitudes: Complete
  • The Arcata Promise
  • Armchair Cinema: The Collection.  Capsule review: a solid set of standalone dramas from Euston Films with strong characterisations.  Some films miss the mark but all are worth watching.
  • Armchair Theatre: Volumes 1-4.  Capsule review: a range of episodes from the long-running series of standalone plays.  The older titles are more innovative but as a whole they are interesting to compare with the BBC’s ‘Play for Today’.
  • Armchair Theatre Archive: Volumes 1-4.
  • Armchair Thriller: Complete.  Capsule review: lengthy tales of chills and terror, hit and miss as a series.
  • Band of Gold/Gold: Complete.  Capsule review: hard-hitting series about a group of prostitutes in Bradford; the follow-up series isn’t a patch on the original.
  • The Bass Player and the Blonde
  • Beasts: The Complete Series.  Capsule review: a range of horror tales which linger in the memory; two outstanding and the rest very good indeed.
  • The Beiderbecke Trilogy/Get Lost: Complete
  • Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire
  • The Blackheath Poisonings: Complete
  • Bloody Kids
  • Brass
  • The Brontes of Haworth: Complete
  • The Buccaneers: The Complete Series
  • The Caesars: Complete
  • Casting the Runes
  • Cause Celebre
  • Children’s Ward: Complete Series 1 and 2
  • Chiller: Complete Series.  Capsule review: surprisingly good series of spine-tinglers with a great opening sequence.
  • A Choice of Coward: Complete
  • Clayhanger: Complete
  • Codename Kyril
  • Crown Court: Volumes 1-8
  • The Crunch … and other stories
  • Danger UXB: Complete Series Special Edition
  • The Dark Angel: Complete
  • Dennis Potter at LWT: Volumes 1 and 2
  • Dick Turpin: Series 1
  • Disraeli: Complete
  • Dramarama: Spooky
  • Dramarama: Volume 1
  • Edward and Mrs Simpson: Complete
  • Enemy at the Door: Complete
  • Espionage: Michael Powell
  • Fireball XL5: Complete
  • Flickers: The Complete Series
  • Floodtide: The Complete Series
  • The Four Just Men: The Complete Series
  • Framed
  • Fraud Squad series 1
  • The Frighteners
  • Gideon’s Way: Complete
  • The Gold Robbers: Complete
  • The Good Companions: Complete
  • The Hanged Man: Complete
  • Interpol Calling: Complete
  • The Invisible Man: Complete
  • ITC 50
  • It’s Dark Outside: the Complete Series
  • Jack Rosenthal at ITV
  • Jamaica Inn: Complete
  • Jemima Shore Investigates: Complete
  • Jennie, Lady Randolph Churchill: Complete
  • Justice: Complete Series 1-3
  • Killers
  • A Kind of Loving: Complete
  • The Knock: Complete Series 1
  • Ladies in Charge: Complete
  • Lady Killers: Complete Series 1-2
  • The Last Place on Earth: Complete
  • Laurence Olivier Presents
  • The Life and Times of David Lloyd George
  • Lillie: The Complete Series
  • Look-Back on 70s Telly: Issues 1-4
  • The Main Chance: Complete Series 1-4
  • The Male of the Species: Three Plays by Alun Owen
  • Mr Axelford’s Angel
  • Mr Palfrey of Westminster: Complete
  • Mr Rose: Complete Series 1-3
  • Mystery and Imagination
  • Napoleon and Love: Complete
  • The Nation’s Health
  • The Nearly Man
  • Nightingale’s Boys: Complete
  • New Scotland Yard: series 1
  • The Organisation
  • Philby, Burgess and Maclean
  • Piece of Cake: Complete
  • The Plane Makers: Volumes 1-3
  • Plays for Britain: Complete
  • The Power Game: The Complete Series
  • The Protectors: Complete Series
  • Red Letter Day: The Complete Series
  • Redcap: Series 1
  • The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes: Complete Series 1-2
  • Robin of Sherwood: Complete
  • The Sandbaggers: Complete
  • Scoop
  • Scorpion Tales: Complete
  • Sergeant Cork: Complete Series 1-6
  • Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance
  • Shadows of Fear: Complete
  • Six Days of Justice: Complete Series 1-2
  • Smuggler: The Complete Series
  • Soap Box: Volume 1
  • South Riding: The Complete Series
  • Storyboard: The Complete Series
  • Strangers: The Complete Series
  • Tales of the Unexpected: Complete
  • Tales Out of School: Four Films by David Leland
  • Thomas and Sarah: Complete
  • Thriller: The Complete Series
  • Travelling Man: Complete
  • Twelfth Night
  • The Tyrant King: Complete
  • Upstairs Downstairs: Complete
  • Van Der Valk: Complete
  • A Very Peculiar Practice: Complete
  • Village Hall: Complete Series 1 and 2
  • Warrior Queen: Complete
  • The Widowmaker
  • Will Shakespeare: Complete
  • William Tell: Complete
  • Wish Me Luck: Complete
  • The XYY Man: Complete
  • Yesterday’s Dreams: Complete
  • The Zoo Gang: Complete

TV Other

  • 56 Up
  • Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow
  • Charley Says: Limited Edition
  • Coronation Street: 1972
  • Emmerdale Farm: Volume One and Two
  • Frost on Coward
  • Frost on Friday
  • Frost on Saturday
  • ITV 60
  • Six Centuries of Verse: Complete
  • The Story of Film: An Odyssey
  • Tempo: Volume 1
  • Unknown Chaplin
  • World in Action: Volumes 1-4

Films:

  • British Comedies of the 1930s Volumes 1-2
  • British Musicals of the 1930s Volumes 1-6
  • The Ealing Rarities Volumes 1-14
  • The Jessie Matthews Revue Volumes 1-6

 


Highlights of 2014

I want to share my personal cultural highlights of the year, especially when living in the capital where so much goes on and so many opportunities are around to visit the theatre, the cinema, and exhibitions (I haven’t done many this year, so I haven’t ranked them).  I don’t work in this field (I’m a senior manager in academic libraries), but I like to see as much as possible, and with the BFI Southbank, the National Theatre, the Southbank Centre, and the Barbican, we are extremely lucky, as well as being able to make the occasional excursion into the expensive West End.

Theatre:

1 The Crucible, at the Old Vic.  Richard Armitage was superb as John Proctor in Arthur Miller’s still-powerful play.

2 Ballyturk, at the National Theatre.  This divided audiences but I really liked it and came away thinking about Enda Walsh’s absurb creation for a long time afterwards.

3 Happy Days, at the Young Vic.  Juliet Stevenson was heartbreaking as Winnie in the Samuel Beckett classic.  More Beckett to come in 2015 as I see ‘Waiting for Godot’ at the Barbican.

4 Henry IV, parts 1 and 2, at the Barbican.  The RSC brought Antony Sher as Falstaff and Jasper Britton as Henry in this pair of classic Shakespeares.

5 The Importance of Being Earnest, at Richmond Theatre.  I liked this gentle parody of the Wilde classic, seen through the eyes of an ageing amateur theatre company.

Honorable mentions go to the revival of Miss Saigon, at the Prince Edward, and Twelve Angry Men, at the Garrick.

The disappointments of the year were Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, and Richard III, at Trafalgar Studios.

Film:

1 NT Live – there were some excellent performances transmitted to cinemas this year – War Horse, Skylight, and A Streetcar Named Desire.  This is fast becoming a much cheaper alternative to forking out London theatre prices.

2 Jane Eyre (1956).  The BFI Southbank showed the entire Stanley Baker/Daphne Slater series as part of its Gothic season back in January.  It is absolutely terrific.  Whether it will ever see the light of day on DVD (it is a BBC production) is doubtful, but if you get a chance to see it, it is a definite must-see.  It is now my fourth favourite version of the eleven films/miniseries I have seen adapted from this book.

3 Monty Python Live – 1 Down, 5 To Go.  I saw this at the cinema, live from the final night at the O2.  I am a long-time Python fan but was sceptical about whether this reunion would work.  It was a musical comedy extravaganza.

4 I was very pleased to get a chance to watch the original Django (1966) on one of those cheapo Sky channels.  The gorgeous Franco Nero in an ultra-violent (for its day) Spaghetti western.

5 I got twelve films into my Reverse Hitchcock marathon.  With 44 more films to go, I might finish this in 2015, but then again I might not.  Psycho and Frenzy were particularly brilliant.

Honorable mention goes to my discovery of the 1919 The World and Its Woman, which I thought was lost.  Now I have seen three Geraldine Farrar films!  You can see it, and many other films from European film archives, here.

Television:

1 Peaky Blinders (series 2, BBC).  The television event of the year as far as I’m concerned.

2 CBeebies commemorated the anniversary of the Great War with a very touching short called Poppies.  Quite superb in its simplicity, geared to its young pre-school audience.

3 Grand Hotel continued its mix of murder, secrets and period drama in the Spanish series running on Sky Arts.  It returns for a final run in the first week of January 2015.

4 The viral video that was Too Many Cooks took everyone by surprise with its quirky take on American sitcoms.

5 We got the first series of The Vikings, which ran, curiously, on History, with an American and Irish cast and creatives.  It was a TV highlight while Gabriel Byrne appeared as the warrior leader (he also appeared with less fanfare as the alcoholic pathologist in Quirke), but tailed off thereafter.

Honorable mentions go to Remember Me, a creepy ghost story starring Michael Palin, and the Victoria Wood play That Day We Sang.

DVDs:

1 My purchase of the year has to be the 1965-69 series The Power Game.  Intrigue in the boardroom (and implied in the bedroom) this series from half a century ago is sharp, engrossing, well-acted, and has a marvellous opening sequence where all the main cast assemble in Paternoster Square in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral.

2 The Dutch release of Who Pays The Ferryman was well worth watching.  I like Michael J Bird’s dramas and was similarly impressed with his earlier series The Lotus Eaters.

3 Young Anthony Newley made his debut in The Adventures of Dusty Bates, a TV serial that has made it to cut price DVD.  He was around 12 or 13 here and wasn’t quite in Vegas mode, yet.  He was a decent little performer.

4 The wonderful set of Ealing Rarities from Network Distributing came to an end with volume 14.  This series of discs has brought 56 films back into distribution, some for the first time since their release.  Network continue with their companion series of British Musicals of the 1930s, which is about to reach volume 3.

5 The BFI, as part of their Sci-Fi season, released Out of the Unknown, which presents all the surviving episodes of the BBC landmark series.  I have had these episodes on bootleg discs for years but this set makes them look as great as possible with a sumptuous booklet.  Well worth a purchase, and will be the subject of a more in-depth blog post in 2015.

Sport:

The only event worth noting really is the surprising rise of Brentford FC in the Championship, which is good news for the other member of our house, a fan of some 40+ years standing.  May they stay in the top half of the table for the remainder of the season.

Concerts:

Chrissie Hynde and Joan Baez both impressed, independently, at the Royal Festival Hall.  Chrissie gave us her new album but saved the best of Pretenders material to last, and Baez performed a rounded set of classics.


Sherlock Holmes: ten favourite portrayals

Following yesterday’s look at my choice of Watsons, today I turn to the Great Detective himself, Sherlock Holmes.

It’s a much harder choice to restrict my list of Holmes interpreters to just ten, as probably thirty actors are worth careful consideration.  However, having reflected on my choices, and leaving out a few honorable mentions who might have made a longlist on the topic (Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Stephens, Geoffrey Whitehead, Benedict Cumberbatch, John Barrymore), here’s the final ten.

10. Jonathan Pryce.  Television: Sherlock Holmes & The Baker Street Irregulars (2007).  His Watson was Bill Paterson.  Although only a one-shot appearance, Pryce was a very memorable detective.

pryce holmes

9. Ronald Howard.  Television: Sherlock Holmes (1954-55).  His Watson was Howard Marion-Crawford.  Across the 39 episodes of this low budget series, and helped by an extremely good doctor, Howard was an energetic, keen and young Holmes.

howard holmes

8. Nicol Williamson.  Film: The Seven Per Cent Solution (1976).  His Watson was Robert Duvall.  Nervy, eccentric, and tormented, this one-shot appearance was a keeper, although Duvall’s accent stopped his Watson from being top notch.

nicol

7. John Neville.  Film: A Study in Terror (1965). His Watson was Donald Houston.  Elegant, sardonic, and very tough, Neville’s stage presence comes through in this single appearance of the great Detective.

neville holmes

6. Eille Norwood.  A series of silent films for Stoll (1921-1923).  His Watson was Hubert Willis (and Arthur Cullin in The Sign of Four).  He’s pictured here with Conan Doyle himself.  Norwood was an excellent choice to portray this most complex of characters.

norwood holmes

5. Basil Rathbone.  A Baker’s dozen of films (1939-1946). His Watson was Nigel Bruce.  Although the films might sometimes fail to work, and Bruce’s Watson may be a little on the dozy and comical side, Rathbone was a superb, calm, and sometimes calculating Holmes.

rathbone holmes

4. Peter Cushing.  Film: The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959).  Television: Sherlock Holmes (1968).  TV movie: The Masks of Death (1984).  His Watsons were André Morell, Nigel Stock, and John Mills.  Three attempts at the character over a twenty-five year period cannot be ignored.

cushing holmes

3. Arthur Wontner. Five films between 1931 and 1937.  His Watson was Ian Fleming (and Ian Hunter in The Sign of Four).  Although often overlooked, and a little bit old for the part, Wontner was nevertheless excellent, especially in Murder at the Baskervilles aka Silver Blaze.

wontner holmes

2. Douglas Wilmer.  Television: Sherlock Holmes (1965).  His Watson was Nigel Stock.  Only in one series of this BBC classic, Wilmer (who is still living and very astute on the subject of his portrayal of Holmes) was very watchable, if a dour and sarcastic portrayer of the genius sleuth.

wilmer holmes

1. Jeremy Brett.  Four series on television and some TV movies (1984-1994).  His Watsons were David Burke and Edward Hardwick.  It is no exaggeration to say that Brett’s wildly variable performances as Holmes are as definitive as any actor can be.  Simply, he was Sherlock Holmes for a decade, and his films stand up to many rewatches.

brett holmes


Magical Mystery Tour, 1967 – ★★½

‘Magical Mystery Tour’ sees the Beatles on one of those dull, dull, bus trips around the countryside.

Except of course this trip keeps getting interrupted by strange happenings and visions, and has some classic Beatles tracks including ‘Flying’ (with lots of colour filter changes which would have really looked rubbish when this film first aired on TV, in black and white!); ‘Blue Jay Way’ (in which George drones on while playing a keyboard drawn on a rock); ‘Your Mother Should Know’ (with the cheesy ‘coming down the stairs’ bit); ‘The Fool on the Hill’ (where Paul stands on a hill, natch); and, best of all, ‘I Am The Walrus’ (with eggmen, walruses, and other strange beings, and some funky spaced out camera work).

The fab four also appear as some irritating magicians, all big hats and silly voices, and not that funny, while Ringo’s ‘aunty’ dreams about hitting it off with Buster Bloodvessel (played by the very odd Ivor Cutler). Nat Jackley gets in there too, as well as Victor Spinetti playing a manic Sergeant major who talks so fast thatnoonecankeepupwithawordheissaying…

If you’re bored with The Beatles, you can always catch the Bonzo Dog (Doo Dah) Band near the end doing ‘Death Cab For Cutie’ while singer Viv is distracted by a stripper (the very alluring Jan Carson).

Is the ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ worth your time. Well, it’s different.

I can just see a 1967 audience watching this on the box and thinking ‘what the…?’. It’s on a par with ‘Yellow Submarine’ although I think this time they didn’t take themselves quite so seriously.

The ‘Magical Mystery Tour’, with its tent, muddy spaghetti on the restaurant table, very white beaches, and static cows, is a candy coated, multi-coloured, goggle-eyed, very silly bundle of fun.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews


Angela Lansbury double: Driving Miss Daisy and Blithe Spirit

Last week I was at the BFI Southbank to see a recording of ‘Driving Miss Daisy’, filmed live in Australia and featuring Angela Lansbury, James Earl Jones and Boyd Gaines.  I’d previously seen the same production on a London run with Vanessa Redgrave as Daisy, but it is curious and instructive to see what a change of just one cast member can do for the dynamics of a play, and so it was here.  Redgrave may be a theatre grand dame and one of an illustrious dynasty, but Lansbury is A Star.   Her scenes with Jones are an absolute joy.

The play was hugely enjoyable and Lansbury, making a rare personal appearance afterwards on the cinema stage, talked frankly about her time at MGM (which she clearly hated, finding the studio cold and impersonal in contrast with Paramount’s friendly vibe when she was loaned out for ‘The Court Jester’), how she felt when she triumphed on the Broadway stage in ‘Mame’ but lost the role in the film to Lucille Ball, and the twelve-year run on television of the popular crime series ‘Murder, She Wrote’ which gave employment to so many of her old colleagues.  At 88 years old, Lansbury is still bright and glamorous, and even if she didn’t quite appreciate the level of film knowledge of her audience (‘you won’t have heard of Boston Blackie/Greta Garbo/Robert Taylor’), she appeared fairly warm even if she was dismissive of the talents of most of her contemporaries.

Today I was in the same ‘room’ as Ms Lansbury again, but this time at the Gielgud Theatre for the matinee performance of Noel Coward’s sparkling comedy, ‘Blithe Spirit’.  With Charles Edwards, Janie Dee, and Jemima Rooper acting alongside Lansbury, this is a vibrant production with a wicked second half (the first takes a while to warm up), although I hesitate to agree that front stall and dress circle tickets are worth in excess of £100.  Madame Arcati to many will always be Margaret Rutherford, but Angela Lansbury with her expressive glances, dotty dancing, and sense of timing, does entertain with a level of professionalism which comes from a seven decade career.

 


Tom Thumb, 1958 – ★★★

This slightly disappointing film from George Pal takes the famous fairytale as a starting point when a tiny chap (played with some flair by Russ Tamblyn) arrives at the house of childless couple Jessie Matthews and Bernard Miles, following a meeting between the man of the house and a woodland fairy.

It all starts well enough and one particular scene, where Tom’s toys come alive and put on a display for him, is fabulous, but the introduction of some token bad guys (Terry-Thomas and Peter Sellers) slows up the action and doesn’t really work.

I imagine this film is entertaining for kids in fits and starts but as a feature it is far too long and sags badly in places. Tamblyn is good value but there are slim pickings to be found in this stodgy saga.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews


Archive DVD labels #2: BFI

The DVD publishing arm of the British Film Institute (BFI) has been very active in recent years, not just releasing quality editions of films from a variety of countries and timespans (including the Free Cinema and Lotte Reiniger sets), but also a series of documentary releases which includes focus on the mining, shipbuilding, and steel industries; public information films; the output of the British Transport Films and General Post Office Film Unit; a three volume set of the works of Humphrey Jennings; a collection of films around the British pub; and two explorations of social documentary in Land of Promise and Shadows of Progress.  There have also been discs focusing on London – the Wonderful London and A London Trilogy sets.

The Flipside label has focused on forgotten gems from the past such as The Bed Sitting Room, Privilege, Lunch Hour, and The Party’s Over; while the recent Gothic season on the big screen led to a number of archive television releases including the long sought-after series Dead of Night (sadly incomplete), Supernatural, the Play for Today Robin Redbreast, and Schalcken the Painter.  The upcoming Sci-fi series will include a release of the legendary series from the 1960s, Out of the Unknown, across six discs.

Finally, children’s and silent cinema has not been neglected.  The Childrens’ Film Foundation sets have been very popular, including two serials from the Famous Five books of Enid Blyton.   In terms of silent cinema, The Epic of Everest and The Miners’ Hymns joined the roster recently complementing releases such as South and The Great White Silence.

The BFI DVD label is a wonderful enterprise releasing affordable gems other labels probably wouldn’t touch.  My favourite recent release of theirs is probably the Ghost Stories for Christmas compilation, bringing together in particular the 1970s classics such as The Treasure of Abbot Thomas and The Ash Tree, plus a few more recent entries into the genre.


The Reverse Hitchcock Project

In the spirit of list-making and viewing challenges over at Letterboxd, I have tasked myself with watching all of the surviving films directed by Alfred Hitchcock, but instead of doing it the conventional route, starting with his silent features, his early British talkies, and finishing with the big Hollywood titles, I’m doing it in reverse, starting with ‘Family Plot’ and finishing with ‘The Pleasure Garden’.

That’s fifty-seven films to get through, and should you want to follow my progress, here’s the link to the Letterboxd list. I’m rating and reviewing them as I go along.

Those titles are also listed here, for reference.  As of today, the 29th January, I have watched the first two.

1 Family Plot
2 Frenzy
3 Topaz
4 Torn Curtain
5 Marnie
6 The Birds
7 Psycho
8 North by Northwest
9 Vertigo
10 The Wrong Man
11 The Man Who Knew Too Much
12 The Trouble With Harry
13 To Catch a Thief
14 Rear Window
15 Dial M for Murder
16 I Confess
17 Strangers on a Train
18 Stage Fright
19 Under Capricorn
20 Rope
21 The Paradine Case
22 Notorious
23 Spellbound
24 Bon Voyage
25 Aventure Malgache
26 Lifeboat
27 Shadow of a Doubt
28 Saboteur
29 Suspicion
30 Mr & Mrs Smith
31 Foreign Correspondent
32 Rebecca
33 Jamaica Inn
34 The Lady Vanishes
35 Young and Innocent
36 Sabotage
37 Secret Agent
38 The 39 Steps
39 The Man Who Knew Too Much
40 Waltzes from Vienna
41 Number Seventeen
42 Rich and Strange
43 Mary (German version of Murder!)
44 The Skin Game
45 Elstree Calling
46 Murder!
47 Juno and the Paycock
48 Blackmail (sound version)
49 Blackmail (silent version)
50 The Manxman
51 Champagne
52 Easy Virtue
53 The Farmer’s Wife
54 Downhill
55 The Ring
56 The Lodger
57 The Pleasure Garden


An American gentleman: a tribute to John Hodiak

A few years ago, I made a purchase of a book online from a bookshop in Hollywood.  The book, one ‘Apache Gold and Yaqui Silver’, by J Frank Dobie, was written in 1939, and was about the Adams gold diggings of the early 1860s.  If you are wondering what this has to do with our subject, it just so happens that the copy of the book which is now in my collection once graced the shelves of John Hodiak (1914-1955) and has his handwritten ownership marker inside as proof.  Even more charming is the fact that the bookseller sent it out with a pressed rose and a red ribbon!

Hodiak is not that well remembered these days.  He was born in Pittsburgh on the 16th April 1914 and so this is his centenary year.  Through his father and mother he had Ukrainian and Polish descent, and occasionally he would play characters from these countries, or with this background, in his films.  On radio during the 1930s Hodiak created the character of Lil’ Abner, but it would be as soldiers, cowboys, or gentleman gamblers that he would be shown on the screen.

Through thirty-four films in Hollywood in what was a tragically short career, Hodiak would appear opposite some choice leading ladies, including Judy Garland (in ‘The Harvey Girls’; their duet in this frontier musical sadly did not make the final cut – where he is at his most charming as the gambler who steals Garland’s heart and finds reformation in the process), Greer Garson (in the sequel ‘The Miniver Story’, which received a mixed reception), Lana Turner (in the enjoyable ‘Marriage is a Private Affair’, where he is the stuffed shirt she marries in youthful madness), Tallulah Bankhead, for Hitchcock (in ‘Lifeboat’, his first real leading role and probably his best, flirting and sparring with the gravel-voiced lady who made few films but always left an impression), Gene Tierney (in the flagwaver ‘A Bell for Adano’, as a sympathetic major), Lucille Ball (petty criminals in ‘Two Smart People’, in a fun film), Hedy Lamarr (more criminal activities, in ‘Lady Without Passport’, a film which should have a stronger reputation than it does) and Anne Baxter, who he would marry in real life (in ‘Sunday Dinner for a Soldier’, the film on which their romance blossomed).

Other memorable roles were in the confusing ‘Somewhere in the Night’, ‘The People Against O’Hara’, the disappointing oater ‘Ambush at Tomahawk Gap’, as a charming gangster in ‘Desert Fury’, and a wartime major in ‘Dragonfly Squadron’.  It seems to me, though, that this attractive leading man never really developed into a first rate marquee name and I’m puzzled as to why.  He was also one of MGM’s ensemble cast of Dore Schary’s realistic war film, ‘Battleground’, a film which grows in reputation over the years and proves that screen idols like Van Johnson and Ricardo Montalban were effective actors.

His early death at just forty-one years old from a coronary thrombosis took one of the leading crop of actors who emerged when their peers were away at war (Hodiak was unfit for service due to problems with hypertension).  His films are occasionally revived and shown of television or at festivals, but it seems almost an accident that they are films featuring this actor and not packaged because he is in them.

His daughter with Baxter, Katrina Hodiak, a musician who bears a striking resemblance to her father, appeared in the Merchant-Ivory film ‘Jane Austen in Manhattan’, alongside her mother.


Mr Sherlock Holmes

The much-hyped third series of ‘Sherlock’ has come to an end and I have to say, I wasn’t that impressed.  When Benedict Cumberbatch hit our screens with his sociopathic amateur sleuth in the clever ‘A Study in Pink’ back in 2010 we all thought “wow’ and were blown over by the mix of modern situations and locations, technology, and the central friendship between the detective who keeps clear from people and the doctor invalided out from Afghanistan.   The first series picked elements from Conan Doyle’s stories like ‘The Dancing Men’ and brought a believable dynamic between characters we knew (Mrs Hudson, Inspector Lestrade) and those created for the series (Molly the nurse) and our central duo.  And despite being an extremely annoying character as played by Andrew Scott, the swimming pool stand-off between Sherlock and Moriarty at the close of the third episode, ‘The Great Game’ (with plot elements taken from ‘The Bruce-Partington Plans’) was excellent.

The second series had our heroes escaping from their nemesis, meeting the famous ‘Woman’, Irene Adler (here a dominatrix), doing their revision of ‘The Hounds of Baskerville’, and eventually came to a close with ‘The Reichenbach Fall’ in which Sherlock falls to his death from St Bart’s Hospital … or did he?  Our expectations of finding out just how he escaped was thwarted by the non-revelations of ‘The Empty Hearse’, the opener to series three, which had a throwaway reference to the ‘Moran’ of the Conan Doyle story, a nice bit with a video dealer which echoed the bookseller’s “bargains” of Jeremy Brett’s Holmes three decades earlier, but little else.

Cumberbatch was never going to be my favourite Holmes – half a dozen names would make the list before his (Brett, Arthur Wontner, Douglas Wilmer, Peter Cushing, Rathbone, and Eille Norwood in the Stoll silents).  His tedious pseudo-autism is wearing thin after the charming cleverness of a fish out of water of the early first series episodes, and I hope that the planned series four gets him back on track and stops our ‘Great Detective’ being the tedious show-off you want to avoid at parties.  There have been many actors who have tackled the role of Sherlock Holmes: some excellent one-shot performances of which I would have loved to see more, including Nicol Williamson and Robert Stephens, Jonathan Pryce and John Neville, Raymond Massey and Tom Baker.  Of series level Holmes, the Russian Vasily Livanov is excellent, while in cheap 1950s and 1980 TV series retrospectively I rate Ronald Howard and Geoffrey Whitehead very highly, even if they have to work with scripts of the calibre of ‘The Baker Street Nursemaids’ or ‘Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard’.  John Barrymore made a decent stab at the role in the silent era, just the once (in a play remade less successfully years later with Frank Langella).

Of the trio of modern Holmes brought to the screen (not two, as the recent Timeshift documentary had it, ignoring the US reboot named ‘Elementary’ in which Jonny Lee Miller is proving an excellent 21st century Holmes), I haven’t much time for Robert Downey Jnr, as he is only really good at playing himself and his own personality is miles away from the complex contradiction needed to depict Sherlock Holmes.  His Watson (Jude Law) is good though.  Miller’s Watson is a woman (not the first – Joanne Woodward was a Dr Watson to George C Scott’s delusional Sherlock character in ‘They May Be Giants’ and Margaret Colin was the granddaughter of the original John Watson in 1987’s ‘The Return of Sherlock Holmes’) played by Lucy Liu, and she’s brilliant, easily a match for her strange friend.  Cumberbatch is blessed with Martin Freeman as Watson, although I still find his acting technique limited – his Watson is the same as Bilbo Baggins, is the same as Arthur Dent, but it hardly matters.

So who failed to present the creation of Conan Doyle as we would expect him to be?  Christopher Lee may be a devotee of the stories, but his trio of films in which he plays Holmes suffer from bad dubbing (‘The Deadly Necklace’) and poor scripts and Watson (‘Leading Lady’, ‘Victoria Falls’, with Patrick McNee, himself a terrible Holmes in ‘The Hound of London’).  Stewart Granger looked as if he belonged in the Wild West in his ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’, and the less said about Peter Cook’s Jewish Holmes and Dudley Moore’s Welsh Watson in their ‘Hound’, the better.  Reginald Owen was poor in ‘A Study in Scarlet’, Charlton Heston may have played the role on stage in ‘The Crucifer of Blood’ but was far too old for the film.  Richard Roxburgh and Rupert Everett were miscast opposite Ian Hart’s solid Watson in a TV ‘Hound’ and an original story ‘Case of the Silk Stocking’.  John Cleese was, well, John Cleese for Comedy Playhouse’s ‘Elementary, My Dear Watson’ and ‘The Strange Case of the End of Civilisation as We Know It’.

I like my Holmes, and I’ll watch any of them, from the odd defrosted versions of Michael Pennington and Anthony Higgins, the pouty youth of James D’Arcy, the clipped tones of Clive Brook, the teenage sleuths of Guy Henry and Nicholas Rowe, and the intensity of Christopher Plummer in ‘Silver Blaze’ and ‘Murder by Decree’.  And although the third series of ‘Sherlock’ has made me lose the love and admiration I had for Cumberbatch’s performance, just a little bit, I will be back to watch him when he returns.

There’s something about our detective that brings us back time and time again.  Long may he live to be adapted and enjoyed, and long may his intellect and odd view of the world endure.


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