We are here to bicker our way through pop culture for YOU.
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The Bickering Critics – Anita and George
We are here to bicker our way through pop culture for YOU.
As our blog gets bigger we suggest that you check out content by clicking on a “Category” to the right.
The Bickering Critics – Anita and George
What a fantastic film! The script is excellent, the performances are excellent, the direction is excellent, the score is excellent – I could go on, but I think you’ve gotten the idea. This is one of the three best SH movies so far. Music by Miklos Rozsa, Written by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, and Directed by Billy Wilder. Holmes is played by Robert Stephens and Watson by Colin Blakely.
A bank vault is opened and a large lockbox retrieved. It contains the private papers of Dr. John Watson, M.D., who has been dead for 50 years. There are many mementos and a manuscript of one of Holmes’s cases which Watson considered too scandalous to publish before now. It begins: “It was August of 1887, and we were returning from Yorkshire where Holmes had solved the baffling murder of Admiral Abernetti.” Once back in their apartment they quarrel over Watson’s writing, specifically his tendency to romanticize, and Holmes gives very specific examples: “… misogynist. Actually I don’t dislike women, I merely distrust them. The twinkle in the eye and the arsenic in the soup.” Holmes raves on about midgets and dust, and is very funny. Later the two of them accept tickets to the last London performance of a Russian ballet company featuring the celebrated Madame Petrova (Tamara Toumanova). After the performance Holmes (alone) is invited to her dressing room for vodka. Rogozhin (Clive Revill), her manager, apologizes that this has been her last performance ever. “She is retiring.” Holmes: “What a shame.” Rogozhin: “She has been dancing since she was three years old, and after all, she is now thirty-eight.” Holmes: “I must say, she doesn’t look thirty-eight.” Rogozhin: “That is because she is forty-nine.”
The wonderful Wilder-Diamond humor will pick up again, but right now we get deadly serious. Petrova wants a child to give her something to do in retirement, and she wants Holmes to be the father. He tries to demur without hurting her feelings, and the only thing he can come up with is that he and Watson are lovers. The idea comes to Holmes from Rogozhin’s earlier statement that they wanted Tchaikovsky, but for Tchaikovsky women are not his glass of tea. That line works, and Holmes is thrown out of Petrova’s dressing room.
Cut to Watson having the time of his life dancing in an impromptu chorus line of the girls from the Corps de Ballet. Rogozhin whispers to some of the girls not dancing, and the news spears like wildfire. Suddenly Watson is cut out of all fun and games. Back at 221B Holmes explains what happened and Watson is livid. “We can no longer share rooms! I will be disgraced by my regiment and cut off the roll!” and so on. Holmes then tells why he did it, and Watson quickly calms down. Then Watson asks Holmes for assurances, and Holmes simply moves into his room and closes the door.
And now the current case begins when a lovely French woman, Gabrielle Valladon (Genevieve Page), is brought to Dr. Watson half-drowned. Dr. W. finds a head injury left by a cosh, and has Mrs Hudson (Irene Handl) put her in his bed, while he will sleep on the couch. She had their address in her pocket before she was knocked out and thrown into the Thames, because she wants Holmes to find her husband, a French scientist who came to England and promptly disappeared. And Holmes gradually falls in love with her, providing Watson with his “assurances”.
The film is filled with wonderful actors, some in unexpected roles. For instance, Christopher Lee plays Mycroft Holmes and Stanley Holloway appears as a Scottish gravedigger. And a tiny actress named Mollie Maureen plays Queen Victoria.
And there are plenty of midgets and canaries – even the Loch Ness Monster turns up! This is not to be missed.
Last Sunday at the awards there was a funny bit between Stephen Colbert and James Corden, where they kept saying “I voted for you” to each other. It made me think of a story I had heard about David Niven accepting his Best Actor Oscar for “Separate Tables”. Since I’m repeating the story here, I sincerely hope it is true.
Niven said that at a party only days before people kept telling him, “I voted for you”, and he took it all seriously, and thanked them all gratefully. Until he caught himself moments later mouthing and motioning to another nominee across the room, “I voted for you.”
Hosted by Julie Andrews, Director Michael Kantor, Written by JoAnn Young.
Oklahoma! – was the show that made story the most important element in a musical. No longer would Broadway productions automatically be called “Musical Comedies”. But isn’t that what what the same Oscar Hammerstein did with “Show Boat”? For both of these shows he wrote the book, or dialogue, as well as the lyrics. Story first became the most important part of a musical in “Show Boat”. Remember that comment in an earlier episode about how in the second act there was the “miscegenation scene” with eight characters interacting together and no song? Which reminds me of a tale. At a party a guest was raving about “Ole Man River”, and saying what a great writer Jerome Kern was. Oscar’s wife Dorothy is supposed to have said, “Oscar Hammerstein wrote “Ole Man River”. Jerome Kern wrote (she sang this last) “Da da da da!”
A real innovation from “Oklahoma!”was the elevation of dance to a full contributor, not only to the plot, but to the emotional foundation of the characters. Plus, it may have been the first show that used so much ballet – the choreographer was the great Agnes DeMille. “Oklahoma!” was the first show to have an Original Cast record album, produced by Oscar, and the show played for five years, breaking the previous record for length of run, by over 800 performances.
On the Town – Adolph Green, Betty Comden, Leonard Bernstein, and Jerome Robbins were all in their twenties when they decided to create a new Broadway musical, a musical about today. So they wrote about sailors on shore leave in New York, trying to meet girls and stay away from the Shore Patrol. It had new young actors and loads of raw energy.
Carousel – Rodgers and Hammerstein’s second musical was the first to benefit from Ed Sullivan’s publicizing. He had John Raitt and Jan Clayton do “If I Loved You” on his Sunday night show, and he talked a little about the plot. Even R&H needed some help with this one – the story of a doomed love, with an unsympathetic “hero”.
My Fair Lady – Rodgers and Hammerstein worked about a year on turning Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” into a musical and never got much of anywhere. Newcomers Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Lowe, who had been working in film (the score for the musical “Royal Wedding”) tried, and they had problems too – until they decided to follow the British film version of 1935 starring Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller. “My Fair Lady” broke the long-run record of “Oklahoma!” by playing for six years.
The Sound of Music – drenched in Oscar’s unwavering optimism. A huge success.
John Raitt singing “Oklahoma!” (Maybe a revival – Alfred Drake was the original Curly).
Laurie’s dream ballet from the film.
The final seconds of “Oklahoma!” from several different productions.
“New York, New York, It’s a Wonderful Town” – original cast.
Same photographed in color for “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway” tribute.
Cris Alexander and Nancy Walker (orig. cast) doing “Let’s Go to My Place”.
John Raitt and Jan Clayton sing “If I Loved You” on “The Ed Sullivan Show”.
John singing “My Boy Bill”
Jack Benny trying to buy a ticket to an R&H show.
Ethel Merman singing “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business” from Irving Berlin’s “Annie Get Your Gun”.
“Kiss Me Kate”: the original cast with Patricia Morrison singing “We Open in Venice”, followed by Ann Miller from the film singing “It’s Too Darn Hot”.
“South Pacific”: Ezio Pinza and Mary Martin singing “Some Enchanted Evening”, Mary Martin singing “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair”, Bill Talbot singing “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught”.
“Guys and Dolls”: from the film “I Got the Horse Right Here”, from the stage “Sue Me, Sue Me” done by Sam Levene and Vivian Blaine, and from the film “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” by Frank Sinatra.
Gertrude Lawrence singing “I Whistle a Happy Tune” with R&H providing the whistling.
Paul Lynde: “Ed Sullivan” from “Bye Bye Birdie.
Julie Andrews: “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” from “My Fair Lady”.
Rex Harrison: “Let a Woman in Your Life” from “My Fair Lady”.
Julie Andrews: “I Could Have Danced All Night” from “My Fair Lady”.
Mary Martin: “The Sound of Music”.
Julie Andrews: “The Sound of Music”.
Patricia Morrison: “Getting to Know You” from”The King and I”.
Alfred Hitchcock’s 14th film is based on a John Galsworthy work, Adapted and Directed by Hitchcock with a Scenario by Alma Reville.
It’s a story of two families and the conflicts that keep them at loggerheads with each other, but on a deeper level it’s the story of two philosophies – two ways of looking at the world, and it’s is up to the individual audience member to decide who is in the right. Personally I think one outlook is better, but here, the way the people react makes their positions much less sympathetic.
I think it’s unlikely that anyone in this corner of England is really upper-class, but the Hillcrists are as close as you can get. They believe in keeping your word, in duty to others, and so on. The Hornblowers are middle-class, the owners of Hornblower’s Potteries, and are mainly interested in acquisition: more money, more property. They are uninterested in anyone’s opinion of them. When Mr. Hillcrist (C.V. France) sold some land to Mr. Hornblower (Edmund Gwenn), he stipulated that the Jackmans (Herbert Ross and Dora Gregory) were to stay in their house on the land, and Mr. Hornblower agreed. Now he wants them 0ff the land to build a bigger pottery. And since the stipulation was not part of the bill of sale, it has no weight in court and Mr. Hornblower is free to do as he pleases.
This is typical of both men: Hillcrist carelessly taking a man’s word as his bond, and Hornblower going for the main chance.
Of course you can say Hillcrist is naive and should have known to get it in writing, and you can say Hornblower carefully kept it out of the legal papers in order to get the Jackmans off his land. It’s all in how you phrase it. But Hillcrist thinks it is unconscionable, largely because the Jackmans are elderly, having lived in that house for 30 years.
And Hornblower points out that his land acquisitions have resulted in the Hillcrist home being almost surrounded by land for the pottery and garaging trucks and storing supplies and inventory, etc, etc. There is one piece of land that stands between Hornblower having completely surrounded the Hillcrist mansion, and he means to have it, and Mr. Hillcrist is equally determined to deny him by buying it himself. Now the skin game (a swindle or trick) starts in earnest.
The two families consist of Mrs. Hillcrist (Helen Haye) and daughter Jill (Jill Esmond), and the two Hornblower sons Charlie (John Longden) and Rolf (Frank Lawton) and Charlie’s wife Chloe (Phyllis Konstam). And there is Dawker (Edward Chapman), who works for Hillcrist, or does he? Things begin to unravel quickly at the land auction, with bids coming from both men and their representatives. And then morality goes right out the door.
This is a good tale and quietly demonstrates the way principles, even Hornblower’s minimal ones, can be eroded over money and pride.
This is the last episode of this TV series, whether you are counting the shows in the total series, or only the shows that survive. So how great that it’s the very best of the survivors! Dramatised by Stanle Miller and directed by Bill Bain, this episode has humor, action, a little romance, and a lot of excitement.
A very sarcastic Lady Morcar, the Countess of Morcar (Madge Ryan), and a gobsmacked hotel Under-manager, James Ryder (James Beck), have an encounter on the Grand Staircase of the Hotel Cosmopolitan in London. She wants the smoke out of her room when she returns in one hour, and he hurries away to see that the deadline is met.
Upstairs Lady Morcar’s maid Catherine Cusack (Diana Chappell) is putting away the Lady’s dressing gown when she hears someone in the living/receiving room. She comes out to find Mr. Ryder wiping his hands on his handkerchief after poking about in the grate. And aha, they are having an affair and their kiss is interrupted by the worker Horner (Neil Fitzpatrick). Ryder: “It’s about time, Horner. You’re late!” Horner: “I only just got the call.” Much later Cusack is helping Her Ladyship get ready for the opera, and they discover that her blue carbuncle (a rare blue diamond) is missing. You can imagine Lady Morcar’s reaction. And of course you are right – fierce, loud, and demanding.
Which makes the next scene so wonderful. She is commanding Sherlock to take the case, and he is saying no. She won’t take no for an answer, yet he won’t budge. Delightful!
As she is leaving, Watson is arriving, and she knocks him right down. Holmes is uninterested in explaining, but he does tell Watson that she was unable “to engage my interest. It was a dull and pettty case.” After all, an arrest had already been made (Horner) and all she wanted was for Sherlock to retrieve the diamond: a task he felt quite suited to Lestrade’s skill set.
This marvelous episode has excellent direction, excellent musical score by Max Harris, and fantastic performances, especially from Madge Ryan, Peter Cushing and Nigel Stock.
Do yourself a favor and find this. And it’s a Christmas episode too!
Here we are again with Episode 3 of 6, and I was planning on doing another summary of the history recounted in the show. But my fear is that if I tell too much about each milestone of the years covered in each program, you will never seek out the DVD, and you will miss all the wonderful performances of the songs discussed. So I will do a shorter explanation of the significance of each song, or person, or show, and hope to inspire you to see for yourself.
“Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” was the big song of the early Depression, when music publishers were the filter between creator and audience, and the publishers wanted only hopeful stuff in the firm belief that people wanted and needed “happy”. “Brother…” got through only because Yip Harburg had written it for a Broadway show, “Americana”. And then, once out there, it made The Hit Parade. It really struck a chord in a nation where virtually everybody was struggling. And listening to the Bing Crosby recording while watching Depression-era news footage brought tears to my eyes.
Ethel Zimmerman was bigger than life and twice as loud, and was a star in vaudeville, where she changed her name to Merman to fit the marquee. She got to Broadway in “Girl Crazy” by George and Ira Gershwin. Now, her first song was 8th on the program, but it was “I’ve Got Rhythm”. The audience went berserk.
“Of Thee I Sing” was another hit for the Gershwins. It’s a political satire of the government from the Supreme Court to Congress with emphasis on the uselessness of the Vice President.
Ethel Waters was a big star in black revues, but there was a color line that could not be crossed, so the two races did not mix on stage. Who made this rule? No one could tell you precisely. It was just “the way things are”. What a lousy exclusionary practice! Ethel introduced “Stormy Weather” at the Cotton Club in 1933. Irving Berlin saw her there and hired her for a new revue he was writing with Moss Hart “As Thousand Cheer”. Berlin apparently didn’t like book musicals; he called them Situation Shows. The show featured sketches and songs, each one tied to a headline in a newspaper, and Ethel played everything from a Caribbean dancer (“We’re Having a Heat Wave”) to a Southern woman whose husband had been lynched. She sang “Suppertime” about how could she tell their children of their father’s murder when shr had to make supper, and of the way she would miss him since suppertime had been their time together with the kids.
Cole Porter was urbane, sophisticated, rich, idle, gay, and a playboy who liked to be on the Riviera or in his apartment in Paris. He wrote both lyrics and melodies, and once he got started his songs were like a tonic for a tired nation. Born and raised in an average fashion, his grandfather left him 9 million in cash. In 1919 in Post-War Paris he married Linda Lee Thomas, a divorcee called “the most beautiful woman in Europe”, who had no problem with his sexual preferences. Cole wanted popularity and in 1928 he got it with the show “Paris” and the featured song “Let’s Do It”. And Cole’s “Anything Goes” was a perfect show for the 30’s. Its book was by Lindsay and Crouse and it starred Ethel Merman, William Gaxton, and Victor Moore. In 1932 Fred Astaire, in “Gay Divorce”, first performed “Night and Day”. Two years later he sang it to Ginger Rogers in their first movie together, which also was his first starring role.
“Porgy and Bess”was the opera George Gershwin had always wanted to write. He got the inspiration from the book “Porgy” by Du Bose Heyward. He wanted to write an opera for ordinary people, not the cultured few. Todd Duncan and Anne Brown were the original stars, and they are featured in some really good footage in this program. It played for 124 performances, but was a financial failure. It would take many years for the work to achieve landmark status. It was Gershwin’s last show for the Broadway stage. He died at 38 of a brain tumor.
“The Cradle Will Rock” was the first work of the Work Projects Administration’s fine arts division. Marc Blitzstein had written what is sometimes called a rabble rouser, and someone in the WPA was afraid of the show and ordered the theater locked. But director Orson Welles and producer John Houseman were too strong for that. The opening night crowd was led through the streets to another theater, and even though the government and the unions involved had told the performers not to perform, Orson made it a free speech issue. And to weaken the arguments ahead, he had the actors deliver their lines from the audience! Each one was alone except for actual audience members in surrounding seats, so duets and dialogues were done with the actors separated, sometimes a theater apart. It sounds like an incredibly exciting thing to have witnessed or to have taken part in. What courage!
“Pal Joey” was a real departure for Rodgers and Hart. Based on a story by John O’Hara, the show dispensed with traditional optimism. Tawdry nightclub routines framed the story of an affair between a wealthy married woman and a sleazy gigolo. It starred Vivienne Segal and Gene Kelly, and June Havoc played the part Kim Novak had in the movie.
Irving Berlin’s 1942 “This Is the Army” was a paean to the American Armed Forces, and even featured Berlin in his World War I uniform. Berlin stayed with the show when it toured our bases all over the world. The show had been requested by the government because of Berlin’s patriotism and contributions during WW I.
Hosted by Julie Andrews, Directed by Michael Kantor.
Hitchcock’s 13th movie is another film based on a stage play, but this one has been really opened up. The action occurs all over the place. And it is a straight-forward murder mystery. It is also Hitchcock’s 3rd suspense film, after “The Lodger” and “Blackmail”.
A little street of cottages – a scream – and everyone starts waking up and throwing on clothes to go down to Diana Baring’s cottage to see what is happening. They find a constable already there, a bloody poker, and a dead body. Diana (Norah Baring) herself is okay, but appears drunk and insists she has had nothing to drink. The constable tells a patrolman to ask the Inspector to come along “and tell him it’s serious.”
The entire street has now crowded in. The constable asks a woman of late-middle-age if the dead girl is one of her lodgers, and she says, “No, but Miss Baring is.” (points).
Now several people try to explain to the constable at once: “These two ladies (Diana and the victim) are both part of the theater company performing in the theatre which backs up to the alley.” He says, “One at a time!” And so the company’s Stage Manager, Ted Markham (Edward Chapman), takes over as spokesman. He says the victim is Edna Druce (Aileen Despard), actress and daughter of the General Manager, Gordon Druce (Miles Mander). Mr. Druce collapses and the constable asks for spirits. Diana says that there’s some on the table, but the constable finds the bottle empty. Murmurs of “So, she is drunk” float around, and the constable takes Diana to the station.
Now the trial of Diana Baring for murder begins. We skip the trial and go straight to jury deliberations. Sir John Menier (Herbert Marshall) is one of the three jurors who vote “not guilty”, and he listens with interest to the other two being persuaded (coerced?) into changing their votes. He starts out very sure, but as the other jurors pummel him with facts and suppositions, he can no longer verbalize his reasons, and he caves too. However, after leaving the court, the more he thinks about it, the more convinced he becomes that his objections have weight and seriously undermine the prosecution case.
So he sets out to investigate on his own. He quickly hooks up with the Stage Manager Ted Markham and Markham’s wife Doucie (Phyllis Konstam), and they make an effective team. As they talk to people of the theatre company, they see other possibilities and explanations, and eventually identify the guilty party. There’s even a chance that Diana and Sir John may come to mean something to each other.
It was certainly interesting (and nice) to see Herbert Marshall younger and healthier and walking normally: every other film I have ever seen him in showed him walking with a cane. I’ve just learned that he lost a leg in WW I, and walked in a very normal fashion with a wooden leg, but eventually the loss made it harder to walk and a cane was required. And seeing Edward Chapman play a man close to his own age, height, etc. made his work as Captain Boyle in “Juno and the Paycock” stand out as a real achievement (I still don’t like the movie, but appreciate all the performances).
Other Hitchcock stalwarts who appear are Donald Calthrop, Hannah Jones, and Violet Farebrother and Clare Greet from “Easy Virtue”. Also interesting: that both Counsels were played by women: Esme V. Chaplin as the Prosecuting Counsel and Amy Brandon-Thomas as the Defending Counsel. Hitchcock appears as “Man on Street”, but I didn’t see him (again).
Based on the play “Enter Sir John” by Clemence Dane and Helen Simpson, Adapted by Alfred Hitchcock and Walter Mycroft, Scenario by Alma Reville, Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
NOTE: “Mary”, a German language film of this same story, was apparently filmed by Hitchcock on the same sets in Germany as “Murder!”, and at approximately the same time. It stars Alfred Abel as Sir John Menier and Olga Tschechhowa as Mary, the title character. It is unavailable to English-speaking audiences, so I have decided not to count it in this presentation of all (or at least all I could view) of Hitchcock’s feature-length films.
This is not unheard of – when Universal made their first Dracula movie with Bela Lugosi, the cast and crew worked normal hours. Then when they left for the day, a Spanish-speaking cast and crew came onto the sets and, working all night, shot the same scenes just completed by Lugosi and his group, but in Spanish.
Further, there is a film with Anne Baxter and Steve Cochran called “Carnival Story” (1954), which was shot simultaneously with a German version starring Curt Jurgens and Eva Bartok called “Circus of Love” (1954).
This Disney film is a lot of fun. It has regular comedy, funny lines and funny situations, but it has a lot of slapstick too. Mr. Pemberton (Cecil Kellaway), the Flagg family lawyer, has come to the Flagg mansion in Boston to read the will of the patriarch, the grandfather of sister and brother Arabella and Jack Flagg (Suzanne Pleshette and Bryan Russel). The will begins with the most generous bequests you ever heard: $20,000 to the coachman, $40,000 to the cook, $50,000 to the housekeeper Miss Irene Chesney (Hermione Baddeley), and #100,000 to the butler and factotum Eric Griffin (Roddy McDowell). The thing is, the estate is broke. Arabella says grandfather must have wanted to please everybody,just for a few minutes.
Twelve-year-old Jack packs and runs off to California to get rich in the gold fields, and when they discover him missing, Eric has to rush after him to get him off the boat (yes, the best way to get to California from Boston then was to take a ship around Cape Horn).
So both Eric and Jack end up in California, constantly being robbed by their nemesis Judge Higgins (Karl Malden). Karl Malden as villain? No sweat. But as a villain who does physical comedy? Hard to believe – and yet he does a great job.
The major stumbling block for Eric, however, is Mountain Ox (Mike Mazurki) who is as dumb as the name implies, but is built like the name implies. Their boxing match toward the end of the picture is a real highpoint.
Of course, Arabella ends up in California too (after all, Pleshette got second billing), and the boys find one friend, Quentin Bartlett (Richard Haydn), to help them through the small mining camps and the bigger town saloons, where they find Arabella singing and dancing. The songs, some used narratively, are all fun, with hummable melodies and clever lyrics. The songs are by Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman, and by Mel Lewis and George Bruns. And there’s simple animation throughout that I liked a lot. Ward Kimball is credited with “Titles and Things”. But if you want to know how Eric becomes Bullwhip, no spoilers here.
Screenplay by Lowell S. Hawley, Based on the Novel “The Great Horn Spoon” by Sid Fleischman, Directed by James Neilson.
This short (1:04) black-and-white film from Paramount exposes the charlatan tricks of spiritualists, but also depends on some real spiritualism to advance the plot.
Roma Courtney (Carole Lombard) has just lost her twin brother John (Lyman Williams), who was murdered by his lover Ruth Rogen (Vivienne Osborne). Ruth is somewhat unusual in that she has also strangled two other men she had taken as lovers, and is now on Death Row awaiting execution, basically for John’s murder, but the charge includes the other two victims. Ruth is really in love with the spiritualist Paul Bavian (Alan Dinehart), who uses wires (unseen in the low lighting he favors) to fly things around the room where he holds seances, so he’s a real phony, but he CAN control the minds of others. And he is the manipulator of Ruth, so in effect is the real killer. He had her kill the two other men to disguise the murder of John Courtney. There is one other star here: Randolph Scott as Grant Wilson who loves Roma. And one de facto star, Dr. Houston is played by H. B. Warner, who believes that minds can live on after death for a while and that a mind without a body can infect a living person to subdue their will and then kill again, That would explain the rash of imitators after the execution of a particularly nasty killer.
What do all these folks want? Well, Roma wants justice . She also wants John back, but oh well on that one, though Paul is planning on telling her he can help her contact John at any time. Grant wants Roma, and feels that she needs protection from someone, but is not quite sure who. Paul wants Roma and all that beautiful money she alone controls now that John is dead. And Ruth wants out of prison, and she wants to kill again, and she wants Paul. And Dr. Houston wants Ruth’s body so he can preform an experiment with light, which he hopes will keep her spirit in her body.
This is one of those stories where the major characters’s deeply felt desires are in direct conflict with each other, and somebody is going to be very unhappy. And you worry about what they will do when thwarted. Okay, it’s phony, but it is really interesting stuff and grips you tightly. You won’t answer the phone while while watching this film.
Story and Adaptation by Garnett Weston, Screenplay by Harvey Thew and Brian Marlow, Directed by Victor Halperin.
NOTE: I really laughed at John’s newspaper obituary which said his loss “will be deeply felt in aviation and polo circles.”
Agatha Christie’s Miss Jane Marple has been played by many luminaries of show biz: Margaret Rutherford and Angela Lansbury on film, and Helen Hayes, Joan Hickson, Geraldine McEwan, and Julia McKenzie on TV. For television Joan Hickson appeared in adaptations of every Marple novel. Geraldine, and then when she retired, Julia, appeared in a series of Christie novels and short stories, whether Miss Marple had been in the originals or not . This series lasted six years, with Geraldine starring in the first three seasons, and Julia starring in Seasons 4, 5, and 6. “The Pale Horse” was part of Season 5, but for whatever reason it was omitted from the Season 5 DVD Boxed Set. It is now available as a one-off.
While Miss Marple (Julia McKenzie) is listening to a radio broadcast of “MacBeth”, with the witches howling, a parish priest, Father Gorman (Nicholas Parsons), is being guided through foggy streets by his flashlight and a young boy. He reaches the lodgings of one of his parishioners, Mrs. Davis (Elizabeth Rider) , and is let in by the landlady Mrs. Coppins (Lynda Baron). Mrs. Davis is dying and Father Gorman has been summoned to administer last rites. Mrs. Davis keeps muttering, “Wickedness – such wickedness – I must confess!” She gives Fr. Gorman a list of names, with presumably some explanation, and dies. He puts the list into an envelope and on the way home drops it in a post box. Around the next turn he is accosted and murdered.
The next day Miss Marple is awakened by her servant Bertie (Jodie Hay) with her breakfast tray and a letter. Bertie looks at the return address and says, “W-2. Where’s that?” “Paddington, I believe.” After the list of names, Father Gorman has added “Rev. 6-8”, and Jane reaches for her Bible and looks it up: “And I looked and behold – a pale horse, and his name that sat on him was Death, and hell followed with him.”
Later, when Jane is leaving her cottage, she gets the newspaper with Father Gorman’s murder on the front page. Jane being Jane, she goes straight to Scotland Yard where Inspector Lejeune (Neil Pearson) is very nice, but of course dismissive. “We’ve done this sort of thing before.” So Jane, instead of going home, goes to the lodging house and speaks with Mrs. Coppins, who is polite and patient, but really has little to add. Jane delays a moment and looks around Mrs. Davis’s room. She finds a hairbrush absolutely full of black hair (Mrs. Davis was a brunette), and a paper used to line a shoe for better fit. The paper is another copy of the list of names – but this time there is a date by each name. AND the paper is from a notepad with the heading “The Pale Horse Inn, Much Deeping, Hampshire”. Before she leaves the lodging house she meets Paul Osbourne (JJ Feild) who seems young and helpful, but who is surprised when Jane says she does not agree with the police that Fr. Gorman’s death was simple robbery.
Back at the Yard Inspector Lejeune is looking at the names again – all common enough except for Hesketh-Dubois. He checks a London phonebook and finds a Lady, no less. He calls, but the line is engaged, by Jane, who can also use a phone book. Jane’s call is answered by Mark Easterbrook (Jonathan Cake), who is much more suspicious than Paul Osbourne. He fends off her questions politely enough, but when he hangs up his expression is really suspicious.
Now Jane goes to the Pale Horse, and meets Sybil Stamfordis (Susan Lynch) and Thyrza Grey (Pauline Collins), the owners, and the other guests: Captain Cottam and his wife Kanga, (Tom Ward and Holly Valance) and their housekeeper Lydia Harsnet (Sarah Alexander), and Mr. Venables (Nigel Planer), horrible, but all let it slide because he is confined to a wheelchair, a polio victim. Then Mark rushes down in his car, but in Much Deeping he gives a ride to Ginger Corrigan (Amy Manson), who is bound for the Inn, having just arrived on the bus.
Everyone assumes Jane is there for The Burning (supposedly everyone else is), a reenactment of the Witch Trials of 1664, which concludes with the very well-staged “burning” of the actress (Holly Willoughby) playing the witch Goody Carne.
Now Jane has suspects galore to watch, and from her observations she can make her conclusions.
A very good story well done is always a pleasure, and this one is also unusual because it is more disquieting than simply scary. You will have a lot of questions, and Jane will answer them all. Screenplay by Russell Lewis and direction by Andy Hay.
NOTE: Kanga is obviously a nickname. Since her husband is named Rupert, she calls him Rooster, frequently shortening it to Ru, or Roo. This is left for you to notice and is never pointed out, but they are Kanga and Roo. Could you just gag?