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The Bickering Critics – Anita and George

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Lucky Me (1954) – reviewed by George

Directed by Jack Donohue, with songs by Sammy Fain (music) and Paul Francis Webster (lyrics), this is, according to Netflix, one of the first musicals filmed in CinemaScope, but the script doesn’t really present any reason to use wide-screen, except for “Parisian Pretties”, a vaudeville show-within-the-show where the camera fits the stage.
In the opening number Candy Williams (Doris Day) reveals that she is superstitious to a clinical degree in a song staged on city streets with shops. She bounces through the number, which is okay but nothing more, and is perky in a jerky-jittery sort of way. In fact, there are large chunks of this movie where the perk is so thick, you may find it hard to breathe.
Then she arrives at a theater in Miami, checks the glassed-in sign, which for the first time gives her fourth billing (in microscopic lettering), and enters the stage door. The troupe members with better billing are Phil Silvers, Eddie Foy, Jr., and Nancy Walker. And “Parisian Pretties” turns out to be the best part of the film. It’s a vaudeville routine stretched to a full-length musical (of which we see roughly four-and-a-half minutes), and it has humor, energy, and verve. The songs seem better here because the context of a troupe doing a show is tried and true.
And then they get fired, and the plot begins to coil like a sick snake, and my interest waned and shriveled. Briefly Robert Cummings is a composer/lyricist trying to find backing for his new Broadway show. In order to get some money from a Texas oil millionaire (Bill Goodwin), Robert has been romancing his daughter (Martha Hyer). Then he falls for Doris for real, only he has to keep her out of Martha’s sight, so as not to screw up the chance for one backer for the whole show, which would supposedly give Robert total control. But doesn’t it work in just exactly the opposite fashion?
None of the songs are outstanding (one is called “I Want to Sing Like an Angel and Dance Like the Devil”), and the film puts all the weight of the endeavor on Doris, to the extent that no one else has all that much to do.
I love musicals, but this one? Not so much.

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The Red Lily (1924) – reviewed by George

This silent film, both written and directed by Fred Niblo, is really a pleasure to look at. The placement of the actors is marvelous, with a lot of full-figure shots and almost no close-ups. Medium shots are favored when normally a close-up would be used. And the acting is controlled and deeply felt.
The mayor’s son Jean Leonnec (Ramon Novarro) and the cobbler’s daughter Marise La Noue (Enid Bennett) are in love, but even in a tiny village in France their difference in class prevents any thoughts of marriage. Therefore, Jean is planning on running away with Marise. Then her father dies and she is a pauper. The mayor (Frank Currier) orders her out of her apparently rented house, and off to another village to live with relatives. Her next of kin are worn, unwashed, unhappy. So the husband drinks while his wife carps, and they and their three children live sordid lives. And into this situation, sweet, innocent Marise arrives to live. One night she defends one of the children against the father, who then chases her with a whip. She barely escapes and makes her way back to the only home she has ever known. Jean sees the light and comes to investigate. He ends up staying – building a fire which the two of them sit in front of all night. The next day the worst is thought of them, and the mayor insults Marise and orders her out of town again.
They run away to Paris and are going to be married, but they are separated and she is robbed. They don’t see each other again for years, during which she has to take awful jobs in order to exist and he becomes the apprentice to a master thief, Bobo (Wallace Beery). The message of the movie seems to be “The world is carelessly cruel and completely random.”
Niblo is very clever inventing cinematic ways for the two to barely miss each other again and again, and I think it likely that all the film conventions about these near-misses come from this film. It’s all imaginative and yet very frustrating, as is the moment when they finally meet.
At one point we meet the Bouchards, Papa and Mama (George Periolat and Emily Fitzroy), and they are the source of my favorite dialogue cards. Papa to serving girl: “Soon my fat wife will die, and I will take you to St. Moritz” And immediately Mama to male worker: “His liver gets worse every day. It won’t be long before we go to Monte Carlo together.” And Nana is played by Rosemary Theby, who with heavy makeup and a really hideous wig is possibly the most unattractive prostitute in film history.
I really like silent films, and this is one of the best I’ve seen. Though I don’t know what the title means.

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The Murder at Road Hill House (2011) – reviewed by George

This British television movie, based on a true crime book by Kate Summerscale, was written by Neil McKay and directed by James Hawes. It is excellent in every department, and I suppose that excellence is what caused the creation of three additional movies under the umbrella title “The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher” These appeared in 2013, 2013, and 2014.
The story takes place in 1860, with the failure of a hearing to produce sufficient evidence to sustain a trial, and the suspect is released. Mr. Jack Whicher (Paddy Considine) is furious at the defeat, which everyone present takes as an adequate excuse to mock the Inspector as he leaves the room, gets in an open cart, and leaves for the railroad trip back to London. Then we back up two months to a morning in a village outside of Wiltshire, where the best-off family in the area awakens to discover the three-year-old son missing. The family consists of the father Samuel Kent (Peter Capaldi), his wife Mary (Emma Fielding), his children by his first wife, Constance and William (Alexandra Roach and Charlie Hiett), and his beloved 3-year-old Savill by his current wife. The servants are dispatched to find the child and soon the day is filled with cries of “Savill!” The groundsmen are called in and the search widens to the outdoors, and then the child’s body is found in the privy.
Parliament goes ballistic with one member (Julian Firth) shouting about “a man’s castle” and if this could happen in Wiltshire, it could happen to any family anywhere in England, which sort of overlooks motive and opportunity completely.
The head of Scotland Yard, Commissioner Mayne (Tim Pigott-Smith), calls in Inspector Whicher and tells him that the village’s constables are no better than idiots, and the Wiltshire Constabulary is even worse: “They’re arrogant, obstructive. Unscientific. And they’re getting absolutely nowhere.” He further says that the Home Secretary is demanding that an intelligent officer be sent at once, and that since Whicher’s record is impeccable – he shall go.
Mayne: “The reputation of the Detective Branch depends on this case.”
Whicher: “I shan’t let you down, sir.”
On arrival at Wiltshire, Whicher meets Superintendent Foley (Tom Georgeson), who defends the family when Whicher asks about windows and locks, “Mr. Kent is very particular about security.” When challenged he adds, “Liberties have been taken. There’s been trespass – fruit stolen from the orchards, fish poached from the river.” Whicher asks, “He’s not well-liked?” And Foley supplies the motive without knowing it, “He’s prosperous. And in a place like this, envy can easily turn to a deeper malice.”
As Whicher builds his case, develops a theory, and starts to back it up with evidence, he comes up first against the press. He tells the reporters, “And from now on, this investigation will be driven by me, not by you.” So there is a lot he simply couldn’t overcome: the resentment of the press, the countryman’s antipathy toward the city and its representatives, and most importantly an almost preternaturally clever killer.
So at the hearing to decide whether or not to bind the killer over for trial, the defense has an attorney while the prosecution does not, Whicher is held to a too-short timetable regarding finding the crucial piece of evidence, and the killer walks. Also noteworthy: the defense attorney says, “The one fact is the suspicion of Mr. Whicher.”
Jack returns to London and is put on leave. Jump to five years later where we learn that back then a doctor discharged him from the force citing “congestion of the brain”. And now the killer has confessed, Supt. Foley has admitted to finding the evidence and hiding that fact, and we prepare for a happy ending.
This is really superior stuff, and trust me, I have not told too much. The interactions among the various characters, the undercurrents of ill feeling, and the secrets that are exposed, make for a special viewing experience.

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Cult Classic Season Comment By Anita

Fall is in the air.  We are rushing about getting wood ready for the stove, canning up summer veggies and even making a jar of jelly or two.  The birds  and local pole cats are hunkering down for the coming winter.  That means it is the season of Cult Classics.

With Halloween on our heels TV and of course the movie houses are boasting their meanest and best.  There is even a new and improved Blair Witch Project.  How they think they can improve on that it beyond me.  The movie is sheer, budget, scary, genius.  So, along those lines what are you watching at home?  Some of my favorites are the classics, obscure and what we call a Cult Classic.  Here are a few I hope you get a chance to see:

” I move the stars for NO one.” ….Labyrinth from 1986 is a must.  Not scary (unless you’re a really little kid) and stars David Bowie as the Goblin King Jareth.  Jim Henson’s muppets make up the cast of this collaboration he did with George Lucas.  Considered a flop when it came out Labyrinth is a wonderful fairy tale about coming of age.

Carrie debuting in 1976.  This flick put Sissy Spacek on the map!  Talk about prom gone wrong.  Raised by a religous freak for a mom, poor Carrie White just didn’t fit in at school.  We all know how sensitive our high school years are anyway.  In Carrie’s case things go extreme.  I’m sure you’ve seen it but watch it again. This time put on your old prom duds and pop some corn and have a glass of wine.  We are old enough to do that today.  Love Carrie. 

George Romero’s Season of the Witch made a bad mark on the movie scene in 1973.  The plot is a board house wife whose life is spinning out of control when she dabbles with the occult.  The film was not well received because people either didn’t get it or didn’t want to try.  It is for sure odd.  I get a kick out of it.  You will too.  Lots of smoking, and lots of big earrings.  

The Exorcist with the very young Linda Blair is unforgettable.  Beyond horror as it could happen, right??  Well in the case of The Exorcism of Emily Rose it DID happen.  Based on the true story of Anneliese Michel a German woman who under went a Catholic exorcism it is scary as all he**.  I think what makes is so scary is it is based on a true story.  I grew up Catholic, still am one, so I get it.  I really get it.

I could list out more.  And you can look for more as we get closer to Halloween.  However I think this will get your feet wet.  Watch a couple, or better yet what are some of your favorites for the season.  I just might like to watch a few of them.  Happy Fall!

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The House of Mystery (1923) – reviewed by George

An adult serial rather than one for children, “The House of Mystery” consists of 10 episodes with a total length of 6 hours. It is also a silent film, and a French film, wherein the dialogue cards have English subtitles printed at the bottom of the screen. Director Alexandre Volkoff began shooting in the summer of 1921, but was interrupted for six months when leading man Ivan Mosjoukine contracted typhoid fever. Shooting was completed in summer 1922, but due to changes within the production company, the film’s release, in ten weekly installments, began on March 23, 1923.
Apparently, at the time, professional critics regarded adult serials as rating 2 stars out of 5, being the harbinger of the collapse of the film industry, and generally challenging their vocabularies for new ways to say, “It stinks!”. Whoops , sorry! That’s how professional critics today regard the week’s biggest opening — the frequently comic book-based blockbuster. Oh well, the French critics of the early 20’s really did despise serials, so read that as you want.
This film, however, had the most hateful critics expressing either respect or actual admiration. And it really is excellent: well-directed, well-acted, and well-photographed. And while there is naturally some florid over-acting, it is really held to a minimum and used for only really big emotions. Mostly the actors are restrained and very sympathetic. The film has a great deal of humanity and yes, modernity.
Regine de Bettigny (Helene Darly) has three suitors, though one of the men is technically not a suitor, he is just very attentive and lavishes gifts on her. Her parents are rich and noble, and the three men are the owner/manager of a fabric company, his second-in-command, and a banker (the gift lavisher). She chooses the owner/manager Julien Villandrit (Ivan Mosjoukine) over the junior exec Henri Corradin (Charles Vanel) and the banker Marjory (Bartkevich), and they are married.
From that setup comes a story of villainous jealousy, lies, and murder: elements that keep the lovers apart for years. Lucky for Regine they have a daughter Christane (Jane Munier as a child, Simone Genevois as a young girl, and Francine Mussey as a young woman), who keeps her mother company through thick and thin. The other major character is Rudeberg (Nicolas Koline), a scruffy amateur photographer, whose secret photographs of the murder, crucial at the time, become more and more important as time goes by. Further, Rudeberg has married a widow with a child, a young boy Rudeberg comes to love as his own, Pascal (Fabien Haziza as a boy, Vladimir Strizhevski as a young man). Pascal and Christiane will fall in love.
The screenplay, by Volkoff and Mosjoukine, is taken from the novel of 1921 by Jules Mary, and includes a lot of action: a train full of escapees being chased by armed police in automobiles, a central character thrown over a cliff, an attempted drowning, and a fugitive hiding in a circus under clown makeup. Really, it is a silent movie I can recommend to everyone. I’m looking forward to watching it again.
Note: The movie’s coda is a title card after the end. “In spite of all human effort the great river of life always seeks to return to its normal course.” Wisdom words indeed.

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Timeline (2003) – reviewed by George

Directed by Richard Donner, from a Screenplay by Jeff MaGuire and George Nolfi, and based on the Novel by Michael Crichton, with Caleb Deschanel as Director of Photography, “Timeline” is an exciting and frenetic film. It’s so frenetic that my first draft of this review was 4 handwritten pages. I promise to try to explain what’s going on more succinctly than that.
The first section intercuts between a man in a forest running from a mounted knight with a sword in his hand, and the New Mexico highway where the same man is staggering along mortally wounded. But the sequence is not edited as you would expect.
1. A van on a highway in New Mexico
2. In a forest the man is pursued by the knight.
3. The man runs wounded, but is now in New Mexico.
4. The knight is catching up.
5. The wounded man stumbles in New Mexico.
6. The knight is very close, and swings his sword in a deathblow.
7. The driver of the van is distracted, and when he turns back to the road he sees the man in his lane. He swerves to miss him as he collapses on the highway, then he stops and runs back to the man, who mumbles, “Castlegard.”

Cut to hospital where death is called. X-rays show that “Everything is out of alignment. Even his veins… This guy looks like a paper doll got cut up and pasted back together.”
No wallet, no I.D., just a pendant with a logo on it: ITV. International Technology Corporation, right there in Silver City, New Mexico, is a major contributor to the hospital, so someone calls them. And Neal McDonough is sent to retrieve the body and the pendant. (Note: It’s confusing enough to keep the characters’s names straight, so I am only using the actor’s names). The dead man was Vincent Taub (I have to use the character name; I couldn’t find out who played this uncredited part), and when Neal calls David Thewlis, the head of ITC, and says, “It’s Taub.”, Thewlis asks if Marton Csokas was with him. Neal says no, and Thewlis says to get the body out of there with whatever x-rays and records they have. Thewlis turns to his second-in-command, Matt Craven, and says, “If this gets out, ITC is ruined. Any idea how he ended up in the desert?”  Craven says, “Maybe he used his marker without enough clearance” (which is the right answer). A law officer asks Neal what Castlegard means, and Neal says, “Sounds like an amusement park.”

The scientists at ITC have been working on a matter transmitter that will send inanimate objects to a second identical machine in NYC, where the items will be re-constituted from the information transmitted. It works, but it doesn’t send things across the country. It sends things only to one specific place full of large trees, and then sends them back. By sending cameras they have been able to photograph the night sky of the unknown location, and by comparing the pictures with worldwide star charts, have learned that the destination is in France, but not today’s France – France in 1357!
They then come up with “markers”. These devices enable a person to be sent back in time (though Thewlis says it is not a time machine at all; they have just connected with a wormhole), and then to choose to return by pressing the button on the marker, which incidentally also shows the time you have remaining before you have to come back (six hours total). They have sent back many teams to try to confirm  the exact time and place where the wormhole deposits things (and people), and have learned a lot about this part of France back then. Some people (like the unfortunate Taub) have been damaged by the number of trips they have made.

Cut to “Archeological Dig Site, Castlegard, France” (this sequence turns out to be a flashback because Taub and Csokas went back in time with Billy Connelly, to guard him, but, according to this sequence Billy hasn’t left for New Mexico yet – see what I mean?). Billy Connolly as the head of the dig is lecturing a group of students who work at the site about the battle of April 4, 1357. The English invaders, in red, were occupying the village of Castlegard, while the advancing French in blue planned to drive them over the river, past the monastery, and up and over the heights just beyond. But the English retreated to Castle La Roque, well-fortified, strong, and well-supplied (looks like the French should already have been there). Gerard Butler takes over the story: The French had been trying to oust the English for a hundred years, and now they had to settle down for a long siege. But Lord Oliver decides to take the fight out of the French. He has a prisoner, a woman of nobility, the French commander’s sister, Lady Claire. Oliver hangs her from the battlements where she can be seen for miles. Instead of demoralizing the French, it whips them into a frenzy and they attack like madmen overpowering the English with sheer passion. So the fortress falls in one night because of the death of one woman. Lecture over, Gerard finds Billy preparing to go back to America to confront Thewlis. Billy tells his son Paul Walker that he is distrustful of Thewlis, who has provided so much information about where to dig and so on, stuff that no one should know at this point. “Thewlis isn’t telling us everything. We’re making too much progress. Something isn’t right.” When Paul protests, Billy says that he knows Paul only came to the dig to see Frances O’Connor, one of the scientists on the dig, and the leading lady of the movie.

Next, two good scenes: Paul expresses disdain for archeology and Gerard gives him a lesson, showing him the 600-year old sarcophagus of a married couple. And a cave-in at the monastery opens up a room unseen for 600 years – except it contains a bifocal lens from Billy’s glasses, and an ancient document with Billy’s signature asking for help. Carbon dating shows the ink is 600 years old. The technician says, “Your father wrote that note, but he wrote it 600 years ago!”

So when they storm in on Thewlis, he tries to soothe them by telling them that Billy really wanted to go to see what the dig site looked like originally, and could not be talked out of it (most likely true). Now Gerard, Paul, Frances, and Rossif Sutherland (who speaks excellent French) will go back, guarded by Neal and two other guys, to save Billy and bring him home. Neal practically begs Thewlis not to make him go, but Thewlis says, “If you find Csokas you know what to do.” And from the moment they land in France, in water instead of on land, the temporal confusion is over and a grand adventure begins. And more cast members should be noted: Anna Friel from “Pushing Daisies” plays a young French girl that Gerard ends up protecting, Ethan Embry plays a physicist at the dig, Michael Sheen is Lord Oliver, and Lambert Wilson plays the leader of the French forces, Lord Arnaut – the brother of Lady Claire.
Well, it isn’t 4 pages, but it sure is long!

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The Walk (2015) – reviewed by George

Previously I have reviewed, on 10-30-15, “The Man Who Walked between the Towers ” (2005), and, on 3-12-16, “Man on Wire” (2008). The first is a short animated film, and the second is a feature-length documentary with news footage, interviews, and recreations. Both deal with Philippe Petit and his wire-walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center in 1974, while the top 10 floors of the second tower were still under construction.
“The Walk” is a regular Hollywood retelling of Petit’s life and accomplishment. The documentary deals with the events leading Petit first into the life of a street entertainer, and then to three separate daring wire-walks around the world: between the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral, between stanchions of a bridge in Sidney, and then to the Twin Towers, which was the ultimate goal all along. The current film omits the Sidney bridge, perhaps for reasons of time, but happily includes Philippe’s first exposure (in a dentist’s office reading a magazine) to an architect’s rendering of what the towers would look like, before construction began, when he was 17. At that time he became obsessed.

The newest film, directed by Robert Zemeckis, with a Screenplay by Zemeckis and Christopher Browne, and like the documentary based on Petit’s own book “To Reach the Clouds”, and featuring a super score by Alan Silvestri, stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Petit, with Ben Kingsley as Papa Rudy, his mentor in not only wire-walking, but also entertaining in general, Charlotte Le Bon as Annie, Philippe’s girlfriend, and Steve Valentine and James Badge Dale as two of his band of “accomplices” in getting the equipment up to the staging area on the roof of building Two, and then assembling it. The biggest challenge was getting one end of the wire from one building to the other.
This is a good film, well-acted and directed, but the star of this one is Kevin Baillie, the Visual Effects Supervisor. With Gordon-Levitt narrating from the torch of the Statue of Liberty (more CGI) the Towers gleam with reflected sunshine in the distance across the river. The scenes looking down are nothing short of remarkable. As a card-carrying acrophobe I can tell you I was thrilled and never queasy with these stunning shots. The film has thrills and suspense and that remarkable photography and CGI, but somehow I felt that it was lacking in heart. I needed more about the wonder of the buildings, even at the expense of the details of the job at hand. About the documentary I said, “a truly thrilling tale of obsession and derring-do”. About the animated film I said, “a wonderful, touching tribute to all … things worth remembering”. So I like the cartoon best of the three, because, even as it celebrates Philippe, it emerges as more of a tribute to what we all have lost, yet still love, and always will.

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American Horror Story, Season 6, “?6”, Episode 1, My Roanoke Nightmare – reviewed by George

With no solid information available, I decided to watch the first episode of the new season to see what “?6” means. In an attempt to imitate reality shows, Lily Rabe and Andre Holland play a married couple speaking in turns directly to the camera; Adina Porter plays his sister. They describe a haunting (or is it “inbred hillbilly neighbors”?) designed to drive them from their home. Their narrative is fleshed out with a Dramatization wherein Sarah Paulson and Cuba Gooding Jr. play the couple, with Angela Bassett as the sister.
This is a series I enjoyed for two years, I think – at any rate I bailed during the “Asylum” year, and have not returned until now, and I won’t be back next week. For me, Chapter One was a complete waste of time. It was not horror, it was not even interesting. AND it was not just underlit – it was hardly lit at all.
And I still don’t know what ?6 means, if indeed it actually has a meaning.

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Swamp Water (1941) – reviewed by George

When I saw this listed on TCM I was excited to get a chance to see it again after many years. I could only remember that it starred Dana Andrews, Jean Peters, and Walter Brennan, and took place in and around the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia. So you’ll understand why I was surprised watching the film and seeing no Jean Peters. Instead Anne Baxter was playing Brennan’s daughter.
The film is based on a Saturday Evening Post story by Vereen Bell and has a screenplay by Dudley Nichols. It was the first American film directed by Jean Renoir after leaving France to escape the Nazis. The billing is Walter Brennan, Walter Huston, Anne Baxter, Dana Andrews; and Virginia Gilmore, John Carradine, Mary Howard, Eugene Pallette, Ward Bond, Guinn Williams. The music is by David Buttolph.
“The locale of this story is the Okefenokee Swamp in the state of Georgia. Not so many years ago, its seven hundred miles of marsh and cypress were an unknown wilderness to the people who lived around its edges. They knew that its sluggish waters were filled with alligators, and that its boggy forests harbored the deadly cottonmouth snake. They feared these creatures, but much more they feared the unexplored vastness in which a man might disappear, never to be seen again.”
The community of folks in the story is not just rural, but is really out-of-the-way. Some of the folks raise hogs, some trap animals on the edges of the swamp, others run stores. Ben Ragan (Andrews) traps, and the smart way is not to go, even into the edges of the swamp, without other men with you. Each man has a flatbottom boat and a hunting dog, and they stay close, honoring the tradition of respect for each other’s traps. On one such trip Ben’s dog Trouble sees a deer and jumps from the boat to give chase. Ben yells, but the excitement is too much for the dog and he keeps going. The next day, with Trouble still not having come home, Ben goes back alone and walks into the swamp blowing a horn to call the dog. When the dog bays he keeps on going, winding up at the campfire of Tom Keefer (Brennan), a man long though to be dead after vanishing into the swamp following an accusation of murder.
Tom convinces Ben that he didn’t do it, that the real killers are Tim and Bud Dorson (Bond and Williams), who were the accusers. Ben promises to tell no one that Tom is still alive, and to give Tom’s share of their new joint trapping venture to Tom’s daughter Julie (Baxter).
There are plenty of other story threads to follow: Ben’s dad Thursday Ragan (Huston) has finally remarried a very suitable but younger woman (Howard) following the death of Ben’s mother, and she is afraid to tell Thursday that Jesse Wick (Carradine) comes around and bothers her when Thursday isn’t home. Mabel (Gilmore) has her sights set on Ben, even while Ben is falling for Julie, generally mistreated by the folks in the community.
There are alligators on screen, but no attacks are featured; however, 23 minutes in, Tom gets bitten by a cottonmouth. And the quicksand is another reason never to enter the swamp alone.
Buttolph’s music is good on its own, but he also uses recognizable songs very well. The mournful tones of “The Red River Valley” are used as a recurring theme.
There’s something about the makeup – especially on Andrews – that makes him resemble a silent-movie actor. I think it’s the eye makeup, but judge for yourself.
In the end credits the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is thanked for allowing photography of scenes in the actual swamp, and my best guess would be that these are the scenes of men plying through murky waters with mossy trees in the background.
I really enjoyed this picture, but finished watching still confused about Jean Peters’s absence. I scrounged around on imdb.com, and couldn’t find another movie with that exact title. Then I looked up Jean Peters and found a movie called “Lure of the Wilderness” (1952), which turned out to be a remake of “Swamp Water”, starring Jean, Jeffrey Hunter, Constance Smith, and Walter Brennan (reprising his top-billing role with 4th billing). It was directed by Jean Negulesco. I would review it as well, but Netflix doesn’t have it, and amazon.com has only a VHS tape, for which they want $185 !
Wow! After posting this I went back to amazon to check the price on the VHS to be sure to get it right to the penny, and lo and behold, the VHS is not listed and a $20 DVD is! So maybe I’ll review it after all. Maybe.

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The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, Set 1, Disc 4 (1971) – reviewed by George

In this final group of episodes we find some of the best stories of the series. I hope to get to Set Two soon.

11. Donald Sinden as Romney Pringle in “The Assyrian Rejuvenator” by Clifford Ashdown, dramatized by Julian Bond, and directed by Jonathan Alwyn.
The crooked detective makes for a delightful and funny tale. Pringle describes himself as a “literary agent” and Sergeant Hawkins (Victor Platt) says he wouldn’t know an author if he saw one. Well, who would? Unless he or she was signing books at Barnes and Noble.
The case revolves around patent medicines with supposed anti-aging effects, and wonderful names like the title and Pelosia Balm. Henry Jacobs (Derek Smith) is the con man behind the company, and while he has used many different names in previous cons, he is just out of jail and stuck with his own moniker. His secretary, Doris Pratt (Alethea Charlton) thinks she is his girlfriend (no), and that is most likely a way for Henry to avoid paying her. At the other end of the social scale is Colonel Sandstream (Michael Bates), in love with a music hall babe, Suzie Shepherd (Jo Rowbottom), who is much younger than he. Which is why he has dumped a small bundle on the Assyrian Rejuvenator. The Colonel is really fried because the product was purchased with a money-back guarantee, which the company refuses to honor, making up ever new excuses, starting with he didn’t give it enough time, and most recently with he didn’t use it correctly. So Suzie goes to Sergeant Hawkins, who goes to Romney Pringle. Now a con man has been sicced onto a con man. Romney tells Suzie to have the Colonel come see him, and the Colonel does: “My card, Sir.” Pringle (incredulous): “Your club will know where to find you?” Sandstream: “Should do. I live there.” Jacobs tries to make an impression on Major Parkins (Pringle in old age makeup) and talks about the sales of the products on “the Kah-tea-naw” (the continent). When Pringle tells the Colonel to leave things to him, the Colonel says, “No sense to keep a dog and bark yourself, I suppose.”And Susie does two music hall numbers: “Father’s Footsteps” and “The Boy I Love Is Up in the Gallery”. And “After the Ball Was Over” is heard in the background of the final scenes. The score is fun, in keeping with the music hall theme.
Clifford Ashdown is a pseudonym for the team of our old friend R. Austin Freeman and Dr. John Jones Pitcairn (1860-1936). They wrote 13 Pringle stories, although Freeman flatly refused to admit Pitcairn’s contribution. The DVD notes say that the truth was only revealed after Freeman’s Dr. Thorndyke stories became successful. In the stories Pringle is already dead – the cases are found written down in his diary, which is discovered after his death. Pringle is excellent at feigning interest in his dupes (excuse me, clients), but he always has the main chance firmly in his sights. And most of his dupes are as crooked as he is.

12. Robert Lang as Bernard Sutton in “The Ripening Rubies” by Max Pemberton, dramatized by Anthony Skene, and directed by Alan Cooke.
Sutton is a jeweler detective and Lang is excellent in the role.This episode is one of the top entertainments in this set. The gold-painted lettering in his store window says “Sutton and Co. / Court Jewellers”. The case revolves around Lady Faber (Lally Bowers) and her huge ball featuring (or honoring, depending on whether you’re the hostess or the guest) the Duke of Brabant (Terence Bayler), and her daring timing, since most recent balls have ended in large amounts of loss in jewels, taken right off the necks, ears, and wrists of the ladies wearing them without their immediate knowledge. But Lady Faber has an ace up her sleeve: Sutton is so concerned about his creations disappearing, possibly to be taken apart, that he agrees to attend the ball and keep watch while he circulates. And of course Inspector Illingworth (Windsor Davies) of Scotland Yard will be there with a team of coppers. They will stay outside, obviously, but should be able to catch any thief leaving. Lord Faber (Richard Hurndall) is also happy to have Sutton there as an inside man; after all, Sutton has just recovered the necklace which was stolen from his wife at a previous party from a rather stupid thief named Jaffe (Ron Pember) who tried to sell it to Sutton himself (!). The necklace is the one with the ripening rubies of the title. If I understood correctly, ripening rubies are not as fully red as the norm. The other guest who figures largely in the story is Mrs. Kavanagh (Moira Redmond), because she is interested in Sutton; she is recently widowed and chases him somewhat outrageously. And of course there are the servants, the caterers, and the rest of the guests, many of whom we meet as Sutton continues greeting acquaintances and customers. I like to include a line when there is one I particularly like, and in this review I have chosen this one. In the late afternoon before the ball Sutton surprises Lady Faber with her recovered rubies and reveals that he has just received them back from the police. The Lady replies, “Police? I shall have them soaked in gin before I wear them.”
Sir Max Pemberton (1863-1950) was a popular British novelist known for adventures and mysteries. He made Sutton a professional jeweler dealer and designer, who only unwillingly investigates occasionally (only in every story in which he appears) and is usually recruited to participate. As a detective Sutton was known to readers as a common-sense type, looking at opportunity and personality, and naturally taking advantage of his knowledge of the jewelry business.
I have really enjoyed these stories and now wonder how basically only Sherlock survived over time. It’s a real pleasure to have the opportunity to check out these largely forgotten detectives.

13: Peter Barkworth as Martin Hewitt in “The Case of Laker, Absconded” by Arthur Morrison, dramatized by Philip Mackie, and directed by Jonathan Alwyn.
Hewitt is shown as partner to Jonathan Pryde (Ronald Hines) as they enjoy having landed a new client, the company that insures banks from thefts by their employees. Pryde asks about fee structure and Hewitt tells him, no, they get a portion of what they recover, so – better than a fee. And then a walk clerk named Charles Laker (Roger Gartland) absconds with his whole day of picked-up cash. Or has he? The girl he’s supposedly in love with, Emily Shaw (Jane Lapotaire) thinks not. Then as the investigation proceeds, she comes face-to-face with tellers and their accounts of how Charles Laker behaved and completed his transactions, and she begins to waver. Hewitt, on the other hand, grows more and more confident that Charles was waylaid and tries to find him, a major clue being Charles’s umbrella, left behind at a lost-and-found counter. A very good story, well-acted and directed, and a fitting close to this great set of Victorian mysteries.

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