Every First Time Watch During Lockdown Part 2 – Thrillers

THE DEADLY AFFAIR (1967, Sidney Lumet)

Despair seeps out of every frame of this adaptation of John LeCarre's debut novel Call For The Dead. London is a drab and grey city whose only respite from suffering seems to be a pint in a grotty pub or a trip to tortuous West End productions of Macbeth or Edward II. James Mason plays Charles Dobbs (Paramount held the rights to the name George Smiley), an MI5 operative whose suspicions are aroused when a Foreign Official kills himself shortly after Dobbs interviewed him about his student affiliations with the Communist party. A visit to the dead man's wife (Simone Signoret) indicates a wake-up call was placed by the victim for the following morning. An unusual move before a suicide. LeCarre's worldview is bleak and unforgiving and Call For the Dead laid down the groundwork for his Smiley stories. Smiley as the quiet observer of a human tragedy overshadowed by the machinations of the Cold War. The Deadly Affair captures this tone all too well. It makes the Harry Palmer films look glamorous and Callan seem like a cheerful bloke. Mason makes it work though. Not the best Smiley, but the most sympathetic version

EYE OF THE NEEDLE (1981, Richard Marquand)

Tense WWII thriller starring Donald Sutherland as a seemingly well-mannered English gentleman who is outed as a Nazi spy and flees to Scotland where a U-boat is waiting for him off the coast. Big Ian Bannen’s chasing after him so he’s wise to run. He’s desperate to get back to Berlin with information about the forthcoming D-Day invasion but he gets shipwrecked on a wee island and ends up lodging with unhappy housewife Kate Nelligan and her embittered invalid of a husband (Christopher Cazenove). Sutherland is chilling as the outwardly charming but utterly ruthless killer who will do anything to get home. There’s a moment where we learn a little about The Needle’s aristocratic upbringing and his life before the war and a portrait emerges of somebody who’s always been a loner, but this is primarily an old-fashioned chase movie. It could have been made 30 or 40 years before and it would have starred James Mason or Dirk Bogarde.

THE FLORIDA STRAITS (1986, Mike Hodges)

Mike Hodges made this TV movie for HBO in-between Morons From Outer Space (1985) and A Prayer For the Dying (1987) and it’s better than both of those theatrical releases. Raul Julia plays a Cuban political prisoner sent to America after his release, who on his arrival immediately hires a boat owned by sailor Fred Ward to take him back home to find the gold coins he threw from his plane on a mission twenty years ago. Really he just wants to speak to the woman he left behind. Like most films about men going in search of gold nothing works out as planned and the journey becomes more important than the destination. Hodges has a talent for undercutting machismo with vulnerability and in terms of mid-80s’ actors you really can’t do better for leads than the late Raul Julia and Fred Ward.

NIGHT MOVES (1975, Arthur Penn)

Always wanted to see this having heard so much about it. Night Moves was written by Scottish writer Alan Sharp who somehow despite being from Greenock was able to write authentically American genre pieces. Gene Hackman plays an L.A. based private investigator hired by an actress to find her missing teenage daughter which he does easily enough. But solving this case only makes matters worse and leads him onto a more complicated mystery involving a smuggling operation. The details are a little hard to fathom but this feels like a movie that needs multiple viewings to get a handle on. It has the same sense of fatalism Sharp brought to the western The Hired Hand (71, Peter Fonda) and deserves its reputation as one the best films of the 70s’.

Every First Time Watch During Lockdown Part 1 – Glossy Dramas

Will be going back to work soon so I’m going to round up everything that’s kept me occupied through the lockdown period.

Connie (1985)

Of all the chintzy British attempts to channel the glamour of US prime-time soaps this is definitely the most unusual. Connie (Stephanie Beacham) returns home to Birmingham from exile abroad to reclaim the fashion house empire stolen from her by her step-sister (Pam Ferris). Jamieson (Richard Morant) is a pin-striped city worker who dumps his wife and leaves behind his comfortable middle-class lifestyle after a brief liaison with Connie. Everything is played dead straight while clearly being a satire on Thatcherite driven capitalism. Ron Hutchinson’s florid dialogue is wonderfully over-the-top. “Come and let me cut your throat for love, and lust, and tenderness for this other woman, you! And Ted from Harrogate arrives and you didn’t TRUST me enough!” Connie led to Beacham getting cast as Sable Colby in The Colbys and it must have bagged her co-star George Costigan the lead as the dodgy husband in Rita, Sue, and Bob Too (1987, Alan Clarke). Think I love this show even more than Howard’s Way.

Summer of Rockets (2019, Stephen Poliakoff)

Not sure Poliakoff would appreciate being placed alongside two glam mini-series but for all his highbrow leanings his shows have the same fascination with the lives of affluent people and his work does tend to follow a formula. Fancy folk in big houses, garden parties, and a mystery that has some kind of hold over the present. Toby Stephens plays a Russian-born inventor specialising in hearing aids who longs to feel accepted in England. A chance encounter at Royal Ascot leads to him befriending an MP (Linus Roache) and his wife (Keeley Hawes) but this new relationship is tested when the secret service begin taking an interest in his work and ask him to spy on the couple. The non-realistic dialogue and slightly mannered performances seem to be a cause of irritation to many of Poliakoff’s detractors, but I think those stylings are as important as the music he uses in his work. Plus Close My Eyes (1991) is one of the best films of the 90s’ so I’m willing to cut him some slack for anything except The Tribe.

To Be the Best (1991)

Back in the late-20th century if writers became super-famous they were allowed to personally introduce television adaptations of their work. Barbara Taylor Bradford opens To Be The Best with a short monologue about her novel, but really she’s letting the viewer know she lives in a huge mansion. To Be the Best completes her Emma Harte trilogy which began with A Woman of Substance (1985) and Hold the Dream (1987). This tale of espionage between two rival fashion houses isn’t as compelling as the rags-to-riches A Woman of Substance and the absence of original star Jenny Seagrove means it loses some sense of continuity . However its fun watching a half-awake Anthony Hopkins playing a suave corporate enforcer in a glossy mini-series made just before Silence of the Lambs put him on the A-list and priced him out of this kind of material for good.

A Magnum For Schneider (TV, 1967, Bill Bain)

A Magnum For Schneider aired as part of ITV’s Armchair Theatre series and marks the first appearance of Edward Woodward as David Callan, a burnt-out assassin forcibly retired and now working as a clerk in a bookkeepers office. James Mitchell’s script undercuts the 60s’ trend for glamorous spies by presenting a drab, conflicted, lonely man. Callan is recalled by his former handler Hunter (Ronald Radd) to carry out a hit on a German arms dealer but it’s a rush job, with no back-up, and the police are watching the target.

Hunter runs SIS, an intelligence unit specialising in removing potential threats using a variety of underhand methods. Schneider (Joseph Furst) is a red file case, meaning he’s marked for death. Hunter’s right-hand man Toby Meres, played by Peter Bowles, an actor who specialises in cads and bounders and whom I once saw give a director a bollocking during an LFF Q&A, wants to carry out the hit himself. However Hunter wants to find out if Callan has really gone “soft.” The worst thing a man can be in this game. If Callan can kill Schneider then he can invited back into the fold. If he fails then he’s no longer a problem. Either outcome is acceptable.

Hunter chose Callan for the hit because he works in the same building as Schneider. In fact Hunter implies he got Callan the job at the bookkeepers so he would already be in place when the time came to eliminate Schneider. Callan contrives to stumble into Schneider on the stairs knocking the box he’s carrying and sending its contents to the floor. Callan picks up a model soldier and correctly identifies its regiment. Schneider’s annoyance quickly gives way to delight at meeting somebody who may share his hobby and he allows Callan into his office to show off his toys. They bond over their military backgrounds and shared love of history. Though Schneider emphasises he only plays at war these days. “I do not care for blood Mr Callan. Not any more.”

Though these two old soldiers have much in common they are also complete opposites. Callan is taciturn and sad. Schneider outgoing and friendly. He even has a younger girlfriend, Jenny (Francesca Tu), who cares a great deal for him and knows all about his criminal activities. Callan’s only companion is a small-time criminal nicknamed Lonely (Russell Hunter) who helps him acquire a firearm. Though their relationship seems to develop over the course of the first season, here Callan bullies Lonely, making fun of his personal hygiene and threatening him.

You can feel the violence simmering under the surface with Callan. Woodward gives him a slightly hunched demeanour, and in his interactions with Hunter he speaks hesitantly, like he hasn’t spoken to anybody in months. When he breaks into Schneider’s flat and moves through it trying to evaluate the man’s life we hear his thoughts in voice-over, a drab Hamlet in an overcoat reflecting on whether or not he should make the kill. Schneider keeps a record of killings he’s been involved in hidden in a safe and Callan knows Schneider has to go.

Had A Magnum for Schneider remained a standalone play its bleak final scene would be the perfect ending. They have to walk that back in the season 1 opener The Good Ones Are All Dead which tells a variation on the same story, but this time with a less sympathetic antagonist, an unrepentant Nazi war criminal hiding in plain sight in London. Mitchell also gives Callan a tragic backstory, no doubt to make this embittered loner palatable to audiences more used to likeable heroes. I’m halfway through the surviving episodes from season 2 now. It’s filmed in monochrome with film inserts for location scenes and I cannot imagine how this downbeat show maintains the same feeling of despair when it switches to colour for its later seasons.

Villain (1971, Michael Tuchner)

Wonderfully off-kilter gangster film that feels like a bridge between British comedies like The Lavender Hill Mob (1971, Charles Chrichton) and the grittier British crime films that would emerge in the 1970s’ and 80s.’ Villain manages to be both disturbingly violent and very funny. It’s written by Dick Clement and Ian Le Frenais who are best known for their sitcoms Porridge and The Likely Lads and have a real feel for the English working-class life. Vic Dakin (Richard Burton) is an East End gangster with a violent reputation and a sentimental side. He’ll carve up a grass and display him outside a building like an ornament, but he’s always pleased if you ask how his old mum is doing. 

It’s in the pub we get a sense of how he is viewed by those around him. Dakin walks in with his crew and chats happily enough to the landlord about the football and buys an auld fella a drink. He’s more guarded when it comes to work. Vic made his reputation through running protection rackets and one of his clients/victims offers up a potential money earner. Danny (Anthony Sagar) is clearly scared of Dakin and trying to avoid upsetting him. Dakin is focused, polite, but only ever asks Danny questions about the job in hand giving him nothing more. After all it’s business. Danny runs a strip club and a punter has tipped him off about a security detail carrying the payroll for a plastics factory who have yet to upgrade to an armoured van.

However Danny is also being leaned on by the Met, specifically Inspector Bob Matthews (Nigel Davenport) who’s been after Dakin for years but can never find anybody willing to testify in court. Matters are further complicated by Dakin having to team up with a rival firm led by Frank Fletcher (T.P. McKenna) and his brother-in-law Edgar (Joss Ackland) to perform the heist. Extortion and violence may be part of his repertoire but Dakin and his crew have never attempted an armed robbery.

Dakin is also infatuated with Wolfie (Ian McShane), a young hustler who makes a living as a pimp and pusher for the rich set. One such client is Draycott (Donald Sinden), a high-profile politician with a reputation as something of a moral crusader. Dakin loathes him and explodes with rage when he finds Draycott in one of his clubs. “What’s he doing here? He’s an MP isn’t he? I mean the whole country looks up to him.”

 For somebody who makes his money from crime Dakin has some rather old-fashioned views, even chastising Wolfie for selling “poppers at four in the morning to little Soho scrubbers.” He’s a contradiction then, but given the character is a composite of both Kray twins these extreme contrasts make sense. Burton keeps Dakin still for most encounters but in the scenes where he explodes with violence he goes wildly over the top, arms windmilling as he repeatedly kicks a man on the stairs or the deranged leer he shows to a croupier before slicing his face with a razor. Davenport matches him with a turn that reminded me of Ben Johnson’s Texas Ranger in Dillinger (1973). Easy-going almost to the point of joviality, but relentless in pursuit of his man.

The heist proves to be farcical. A mixture of slapstick comedy and bone-crunching violence as the the three security guards fight back against Dakin and his men injuring Fletcher in the bloody confrontation. Though they escape with the money thick red smoke from the payroll’s anti-theft security system fills their getaway car forcing them to ditch it and carjack another driver. Dakin figured Edgar for a weak link when he ordered off menu at a fancy French restaurant. These are vicious men, but they are also kind of stupid. Edgar hides out in his own house, nabbed after his wife forgets to clear a dinner table set for two. Matthews finds him in the garage. “Come in Edgar. It’s warmer in here. And you haven’t finished your milk.”

Reviews for Villain back in the day were poor. Maybe it was too close to real events coming only a few years after The Krays were jailed . Critics didn’t seem to like seeing a glamorous figure like Burton playing a seedy East End gangster or the film’s violence. Burton’s star power contrasts with the drabness of his surroundings making Dakin a believably larger-than-life personality. The dialogue wouldn’t seem out of place in an episode of The Likely Lads. “Good night on the telly tonight, Donald O’Connor and Vera Allen,” says one of the gangsters at a gangland meet-up. It’s that idiosyncratic Britishness that makes it work. Villain might not be as polished as Get Carter (71, Mike Hodges) but it’s a fascinating snapshot of London in the 70s’.

Mr Klein (1976, Joseph Losey)

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Paris 1942. France is about to begin the mass transportation of Jews to Germany. Robert Klein profiteers from those fleeing the city by buying their possessions at a knock-down price. We first see him negotiating the purchase of a painting. He’s effortlessly polite and even claims to be embarrassed. “I assure you it’s most unpleasant for me.’ But the seller (Jean Bouise) isn’t taken in and concludes the deal as quickly as possible. As he leaves, Klein courteously opens the door and wishes the man “Bon voyage, and good luck.” Then he notices a copy of the information pamphlet sent out to all Jews lying on his doormat. Assuming his guest dropped it on the way in he hands it back to him only to find it is correctly addressed to a Robert Klein. The Jewish man offers a wry smile. “Good luck to you Mr Klein.”

Klein visits the police to tell them about the mistake. There must be another Robert Klein living in Paris. They check and find out there is. But the police are not convinced he’s the Robert Klein who isn’t a Jew. Klein has inadvertently informed on himself. So he begins to hunt his namesake through Paris visiting places he knows the other Klein to have been. Yet people seem to recognise him and often behave like he’s the same person. “Same height, same hair. Slim, the same look..” says the other Klein’s landlady when he turns up to view his doppelgänger’s apartment. The room seems to have been empty for a while, and she says this Klein would come and go during the night. The police too are hunting for this Klein and in the background there are little changes going on, signs in shops, yellow stars on jackets, anti-Semitic propaganda, and cabaret performances with exaggerated Jewish caricatures as the villain, all showing a gradual acceptance of this othering of a minority group.

Delon played doppelgängers in the Louis Malle segment of Spirits of the Dead (1968), an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “Willie Wilson” about a man haunted throughout his life by a namesake who resembles him and turns up at inopportune moments. This is more like Kafka, an innocent man (who feels guilty) searching for an answer that remains forever out of reach and inadvertently bringing about his own destruction. His attempts to clear his name with the authorities just make him look all the more guilty in their eyes. Klein thought his position as a member of the middle-classes would protect him and even right at the end as his fate becomes clear he’s still insisting “This has nothing to do with me.” We never meet the double in Mr Klein, although we do hear a telephone conversation between the two men. Whether he exists or not is a moot point. Mr Klein is about how tenuous an individual can become when society ceases to function in a civilised way. Something a blacklisted exile like Losey was painfully aware of.

Dirk Bogarde in May We Borrow Your Husband? (1986, Bob Mahoney)

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Going to write short pieces about some of the more obscure titles I’m watching while on lockdown. May We Borrow Your Husband? is a TV adaptation of a Graham Green short story and one of Dirk Bogarde’s final screen appearances. By this time Bogarde had largely stepped away from acting to publish a series of memoirs and semi-autobiographical novels. He also wrote the screenplay for this film so the part of William Harris, a well-known but reclusive writer hiding away in an upmarket hotel in the South of France is a perfect fit. Expecting to get plenty of work done during the off-season, his peace and quiet is disturbed by the arrival of a pair of English couples who gradually draw them into their affairs.

First to arrive are middle-aged interior decorators Stephen (Francis Matthews) and Tony (David Yelland) who insist on moving into the room next to William’s despite there being plenty of other rooms available. William finds them vulgar and recognises in their behaviour an underlying cruelty. They are amused by him and consider him an old fuddy-duddy. Then young newlyweds Peter Travis (Simon Shepherd) and his inexplicably named wife Poopy (Charlotte Attenborough) turn up. They’re very awkward together and she seems sad. William suspects it’s probably a marriage of convenience on his part. Tony picks up on this and begins to move in on Peter separating him from his wife socially and leaving William to chaperone the unhappy Poopy around town.

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There’s a feeling of impending tragedy in these early scenes but it never develops. Green published this story in 1967 when divorces were harder to come by and homosexuality was against the law. Both outcomes could have been ruinous for a young society couple. But here the action is made contemporary so that threat is removed. Everything kind of fizzles out and it’s impossible to watch and not wonder what some of the directors Bogarde worked with in his post-matinee idol phase might have made of this comedy of manners. Still it’s worth it for Bogarde completists. After this there would only be the Screen Two film The Vision (1988, Norman Stone) and his final screen appearance in Bertrand Tavernier’s These Foolish Things (1990).

Baywatch Nights – Night Whispers

 

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At the height of its mid-90s’ success Baywatch producers Douglas Schwartz, Gregory J. Bonnan, and star David Hasselhoff decided to create one of the oddest spin-offs to a hit show ever made. Baywatch Nights had initially started out as a private eye show for its first season with Hasselhoff’s Baywatch co-star Gregory Alan Williams reprising his role as Garner Ellerbee and newcomer Angie Harmon rounding out the team as fellow investigator Ryan McBride.

Ratings were poor however and by the time season 2 came around Baywatch Nights had mutated into a low-rent X-Files knock-off which usually ended up with the cast running around an empty building while some kind of supernatural entity chased after them. Gregory Alan Williams left the show and was replaced by Dorian Gregory as untrustworthy government official Diamont Teague. Some of the more unusual storylines included viking warriors resuming hostilities after being thawed out in modern-day Los Angeles and Eddie (Billy Warlock) mysteriously returning to lifeguard duties with no explanation despite him having left his job two years earlier. The most entertaining episode though is Night Whispers, in which a vampire who dresses like Magenta Devine decides the Hoff is the most fascinating thing she’s ever seen in her 400-year existence.

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Ryan and Griff (Eddie Cibrian) are jogging through a park at night. She’s out of breath and has to stop while Griff tries to encourage her to run just a little further to a nearby bridge. Listening to their conversation from the penthouse suite in a nearby hotel is Francesca (Felicity Waterman) who uses her vampire senses to locate the source of the noise. Then she leaps off the balcony and flies through the air, an effect rendered by the use of the Evil Dead-style shaky-cam. A young fit guy jogs past Ryan and Griff and reaches the bridge same time as Francesca who does a fly-by eat and greet. Ryan discovers the body and Griff phones 911. Weirdly when the police turn up it is now daylight, so they must have been waiting all night in a park with a corpse and a killer on the loose. Detective Korris (Scots-born actor Arthur Taxier) lets them tag along to interview Francesca who matches the description of a woman seen in the area at the time Ryan notices something rather unusual.

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Having noticed Francesca casts no reflection Ryan searches out Mitch Buchanan (Hasselhoff) and finds him down at the marina fixing his boat. Ryan is very much the Mulder in this show while Mitch functions as the sceptical Scully figure. Francesca has no address, does not appear on any electoral records, and but did once receive a credit card in 1951 which would put her well into her 60s’.“Mitch, she wears gloves. In California. In August!” He’s not buying this story at all. So Ryan brings out a bundle of books on vampirism to prove her theory, one of which I kid you not is a pop-up book.

 With Mitch more interested in fixing his boat and quite possibly finishing the rest of the vampire pop-up book Ryan calls in Teague. Blood belonging to the victim found on her shirt turns out to be uncoagulated, an impossibility as blood normally coagulates within seconds. I have no medical training and no idea if this is true but I trust implicitly the science on Baywatch.

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Ryan wants to interview Francesca who is now in police custody,  “Why” asks Korris. Police headquarters are being closed down and this is the final day they will be in operation. Coincidentally Police HQ’s  looks suspiciously like the set Mitch and Ryan get chased through every other week. None of them realise Francesca has already escaped and is wandering the corridors. Mitch bumps into her and is taken aback by her otherworldly presence. She’s impressed by his old world politeness. “Fascinating…and attractive.”

Everybody’s left headquarters already except for Korris, two prostitutes Chantal (Elise Muller) and Rosie (Michelle Bonilla) who are refusing to sign their release papers, and their smarmy lawyer Pantalone (Joe Maruzzo). There’s also a young uniformed cop Doretha (Monica Allison) who’s clearing up and putting files into boxes.

Korris goes to check on the cells and never returns. Mitch goes to investigate and finds Francesca feeding on the detective.

There follows a shaky-cam chase through the building and veteran director Reza Badiyi throws in a few expressionistic camera angles as Mitch tumbles down a flight of stairs and finds himself at the mercy of the vampire.

Francesca has no interest in feeding on Mitch though. She’s too impressed by him. “What do you want?” he asks. ‘That is the question I’ve been asking myself for 400 years and now, for the first time I think I may have the answer.”

Meanwhile Chantal and Rosie have split from the others preferring to go it alone despite not knowing how to get out of the building. Farewell then Chantal. Rosie will have to walk those streets alone now. Francesca sends Rosie back with a warning. Everybody dies unless Mitch gives himself to her willingly. “How do I get myself into these places?” says Rosie as if this has happened to her before.

So Mitch gives himself up but it’s a trap. The old bait a vampire using David Hasselhoff routine every vampire falls for. Ryan has jammed a broken stick into a door and all Mitch has to do is break free from the vampire’s embrace and make sure she chases him towards the doorway. Rosie slams the door shut impaling Francesca.

There’s a melodramatic final moment between Francesca and Mitch as she holds her hand out towards her betrayer. Then she falls to the floor and is surrounded by rats. One of which walks over Waterman’s face and I do hope she got paid extra for that. After a moment she dissolves into nothingness.

Then a brief final epilogue in which Mitch pretends to have been turned into a vampire. “The light’s so bright. I feel strange.”

I’ve always been quite fond of the low-key first season of Baywatch which gave a prominent role to cult hero John Allen Nelson (Killer Clowns From Outer Space, Deathstalker III). NBC initially cancelled the show due to poor ratings but after proving to be a success abroad the producers rebooted it as a TV version of a Sports Illustrated photo-shoot and it just wasn’t the same. Baywatch Nights is something else though. Like the sceptical Mitch Buchanan every time Ryan brings him evidence of supernatural activity I can’t quite believe it exists.

This post is a belated entry in Terence Towles Canote’s 6th Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon hosted on his site A Shroud of Thoughts. 

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Chris Isaak in a World of Blue – Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

With their matching rockabilly haircuts and their love of 1950s’ Americana you can see why Chris Isaak and filmmaker/musician David Lynch ended up working together. Lynch used two tracks from Isaak’s debut album Silvertone on the soundtrack to Blue Velvet (1986) and an instrumental version of Wicked Game in Wild at Heart (1990). The latter helped bring Isaak into the mainstream and Wicked Game was re-released with a fancy new Herb Ritts video showing the crooner writhing about in the surf with supermodel Helena  Christiansen.

Despite his promotion to best-selling artist status it was still a surprise when Isaak was cast in a prominent role in Lynch’s movie prequel to his hit TV show Twin Peaks (1990-1). The singer had appeared in small roles as a hitman disguised as a clown in Jonathan Demme’s Married to the Mob (1988) and as a SWAT team leader in the same director’s Silence of the Lambs (1991), but here he would be carrying the first part of the film in place of the show’s leading man Kyle McLachlan who initially turned down an offer to return as the eccentric FBI agent Dale Cooper.

To emphasise Chester Desmond is a very different special agent to Cooper he’s first shown putting two teenage girls in handcuffs in full view of a school-bus filled with weeping children. FBI Chief Gordon Cole (Lynch) partners Desmond with Sam Stanley, played by Kiefer Sutherland (cast against type as a dweeby twitching bundle of nerves) and sends them off to the small town of Deer Meadow to investigate the murder of a young woman found wrapped in plastic. It’s one of Cole’s “blue rose” cases, code word for weirdness.

Isaak’s music videos usually focused on his brooding good looks and he certainly has enough screen presence to hold the attention. All that’s required of him is to react to the unusual events going on around them and he proves more than capable. When something really out of the ordinary happens he tilts his head like a dog wondering if his owner is about to take him for a walk.

While the opening of Fire Walk With Me mirrors the pilot everything that happens is inverted. Cooper finds a vibrant community all of whom have been affected by the murder of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). Desmond and Stanley find only hostility. Nobody cares about the victim. Unlike the overly friendly deputy Andy (Harry Goaz) and receptionist Lucy (Kimmy Moran) their counterparts at Deer Meadow police station are obnoxious. Sheriff Cable (Gary Bullock) is a thug with no interest in co-operating with the FBI.

Special Agent Desmond is different too. He’s colder than Cooper, and a bit meaner. He tricks Stanley into spilling scalding hot coffee onto his groin. Chester Desmond seems to expect the worst from people whereas Cooper looked for the good. Isaak’s physicality and his college background as an amateur boxer makes him a more imposing figure than McLachlan and Lynch uses this to great effect. First in a scene where the mouthy deputy Cliff (Rick Aiello) tries to block his path. Isaak calmly lifts his hand then grabs the guy’s nose and tucks him neatly under the receptionist’s counter. There’s even a sequence cut from the film which appears in The Missing Pieces showing Desmond boxing Cable in a brutal fist fight. “This one’s coming from J. Edgar” as he delivers a final knockout punch.

The most glaring disparity between Twin Peaks and Deer Meadow is the local diner. A drab empty place devoid of atmosphere with a snarling owner called Irene (Sandra Kinder) who chain-smokes while serving food and calls the customers “toeheads.” Teresa like Laura also worked as a waitress but unlike Norma (Peggy Lipton) her boss seems unmoved by the girl’s death. Laura’s predilection for drugs and sex were a well kept secret in Twin Peaks, but here Teresa’s lifestyle is known to her boss who writes her death off as a “freak accident” and seems to imply she brought it on herself.

The one likeable person in Deer Meadow is Carl (Harry Dean Stanton) even though he is an old grouch. “DO NOT DISTURB BEFORE 9AM – EVER!” says the sign on his door and Chet and Sam pull their badges straight away when they realise their error in waking him up. They bond over coffee though. Coffee is one of two things in Lynch’s world that can truly bring people together, the other being music. Though there is a broadly comic feel to the opening act there’s an underlying menace. Electricity crackles from pylons and lights flicker ominously. Carl is visibly shaken by the appearance of a tiny mute stranger holding a walking stick and clutching a cloth over their eye. “I’ve already gone places. I just want to stay where I am” says Carl. Though he must have changed his mind because Lynch/Frost relocate the trailer park to Twin Peaks for the third season.

Chet leaves Stanley to drive back to Portland on his own and returns to the trailer park just before dark. Carl directs him towards Deputy Cliff’s red pickup truck but Chet is drawn instead to a brightly lit small caravan. Nobody answers the door , but underneath he finds the unusual green ring belonging to Teresa Banks. As he reaches out to touch it the screen goes black and that’s the last anybody sees of Special Agent Chester Desmond.

Cooper follows up on Chet’s disappearance but finds only questions coupled with a strange feeling that this case is far from over. I hoped during the summer of 2017 when the new series aired that we might see a return for Isaak as Special Agent Chester Desmond but two missing FBI agents coming back from some other place was probably too much to hope for.

This post has been a contribution to Gil’s Pop Stars Moonlighting at her site Realweegiemidget Reviews

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Maverick – A Relic of Fort Tejon (Leslie H. Martinson)

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“There are some gambles that haven’t any right to pay off. This one had, because of a lovely girl called Fatima who couldn’t take no for an answer.”

This is my contribution to the James Garner Blogathon held by Gil over at  Realweegiemidgetreviews. Long been an admirer of Garner’s easy-going screen presence and thought about writing about The Americanisation of Emily (1964, Arthur Hiller), Support Your Local Sheriff (1969, Burt Kennedy), or his turn in Marlowe (1969, Paul Bogart). The latter is a contemporary updating of Raymond Chandler’s novel ‘The Little Sister’ and feels like a dry run for The Rockford Files (1974-1980).

However I’m currently making my way through Garner’s breakout role in Maverick so it made sense to choose an episode from that show. I’ve gone with episode 1:07, ‘Relic of Fort Tejon,’ because it perfectly balances the humour and Western genre elements that made Maverick so successful. This episode is also the last time Garner carries this show alone. From what I can gather the heavy production schedule was already causing problems with cast and crew so Jack Kelly was brought in as an alternate lead with each actor starring in an episode apart and then occasionally sharing screen time.

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Though they play brothers the essential character sketch is the same. Maverick is a gambler and a wanderer who lives on his wits and travels everywhere with a $1000 bill sewn into his jacket. The actors make the two Mavericks distinct though. Garner’s Bret Maverick is as you would expect very charming with perfect comic-timing. Kelly’s Bart is more taciturn. I like Jack Kelly a lot, particularly in the surprisingly bleak ‘Prey of the Cat’ where he thinks he’s made friends in a small town but ends up being blamed for the death of a man he liked. I’m not sure he could have been the lead in ‘Relic of Fort Tejon.’ The absurdity of the episode’s premise suits Garner better.

IMG_4882The script is based on a magazine short story written by Kenneth Perkins. Writing a single episode using existing material is something you don’t really see episodic television doing anymore but it seems to have been quite common back then. There’s an even an episode taking Robert Louis Stevenson’s short story ‘The Wrecker’ and turning it into a Western. The teleplay by Jerry Davis mixes Perkins short story about a man riding a camel through the desert in search of an escaped outlaw with a recurring theme in Maverick. That of corrupt authority figures abusing their powers for profit.

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We first see Bret in his usual place at a poker table. He bluffs his way to cleaning out a Reverend despite holding the weaker hand.  This backfires though when the Arabian Mount included in his winnings turns out to be a camel named Fatima.

Maverick is naturally taken aback but he looks after the animal until he can find a new owner. Even a guy as charming as James Garner can’t sell a camel to a cowboy so he resorts to paying a local farmer to look after Fatima. However she begins pining for Maverick as soon as he leaves.

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Maverick has business to attend to in the small town of Silver Springs. There he runs into an old flame, Donna (Maxine Cooper) who’s about to get married to local bigwig Carl Jimson (Fredd Wayne). Carl is the reason Maverick is there. Though he is well liked and about to be voted in as Mayor, Carl is running crooked card games in his saloon. It’s a common plot in this show. The Maverick brothers setting out to right a wrong by conning a con-artist. Carl seems like a nice guy at first. When a punter turns violent after losing at cards Carl defuses the situation by recompensing him. Donna clearly loves him. But when he hears Maverick’s taking the house for $5000 he hides a pistol up his sleeve and joins the game.

Maverick wants the deck cut citing Hoyle’s rules on poker, a book on card games referenced earlier episode in the series which allows a player to call for a change at any point during a game. Jimson refuses and shoots Maverick claiming he was about to reach for his gun. Donna pleads with the wounded gambler to leave town but he’s got a score to settle. Besides an unlikely ally has followed him all the way to Silver Springs.

Every episode of Maverick opens with a pre-credits sequence showing one of the brothers in trouble. Then they’ll show us how Maverick got himself into this mess. Here it’s a gunfighter calling him out in the street in front of the entire town. Drake (Tyler Macduff). has been hired to by Jimson to finish off what he couldn’t do at close range. There are episodes of Maverick where Bret or Bart will draw their gun but it’s always as a last resort. Creator Roy Huggins and Garner wanted a show about an atypical hero. In Maverick’s world quick wits will beat a quickdraw expert most of the time.

Cowards are harder to deal with though. They cheat at poker and everything else. Jimsen tries to ambush Maverick in his hotel but misses again. He’s not much of a shot. When he sneakily tries to break a temporary ceasefire so Donna can get away Jimson shoots her in the chest and frames Maverick for attempted murder forcing him to flee on horseback into the desert.

Jimson follows intending to kill Maverick, but we know already he’s a lousy shot. The gunfire spooks Maverick’s horse sending it running off into the desert. Jimson runs the other way. Maverick finds his horse exhausted and dying from the heat.

However salvation arrives in the form of Fatima. It’s Chekov’s gun theory but with a camel. Don’t show something in the first act unless you plan to use it in the third.

Everything is wrapped up neatly by the time Maverick chases down Jimson and brings him back to Silver Springs. Donna is awake and identifies the would-be Mayor as the man who shot her. Maverick is now the most popular guy in town but nothing can persuade him to stay.

I haven’t seen many of the other 50s’ Westerns that dominated TV screens in the 50s’ but they seem like precursors to the drifter sub-genre of show. Heroes who turn up in some new place, get caught up in the town’s troubles, and then move on because they can’t ever stop. Something always compels them to leave whether it’s their restless nature or they’re being pursued by forces which are too strong to fight. Roy Huggins would go on to create The Fugitive (1961) which is perhaps the best known of these types of shows. Sometimes they make a connection though. A bond even running away can’t break.

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Thanks again to Gil at Realweegiemidgetreviews for letting me take part in this Blogathon.

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The Buccaneers – Ep 3 ‘Captain Dan Tempest’ (Ralph Smart)

Photo 20-03-2019, 13 36 24This post is part of the 5th Annual Favourite TV Episodes Blogathon hosted by Terence Towles Canote over at A Shroud of Thoughts. I’ve chosen the third episode of The Buccaneers (1956-7), one of a number of swashbuckling shows produced by Sir Lew Grade’s ITC production company in the 50s’. The Buccaneers is set during the Golden Age of Piracy in the early 1720s’ as Woodes Rogers, takes over as Governor of Nassau and offers the King’s Pardon to British pirates if they agree to mend their ways. The show ran for a single season and gave an early leading role to the ferocious Irish actor Robert Shaw.

However its star doesn’t make an appearance until episode 3. So having set up Rogers (Alec Clunes) as the protagonist in the first two episodes the writers now have to do the same work again with Dan Tempest (Shaw). ‘Captain Dan Tempest’ essentially functions as a handover between Rogers and Tempest establishing the latter as the show’s leading character. Shaw would go on to bigger things in the 60s’ and 70s’ often playing tough and cynical characters so it’s interesting seeing him as a young man playing a conventionally heroic type.

Tempest is initially seen as the antagonist. Having been at sea for months Tempest has no knowledge of the King’s Pardon or that the time limit for accepting the offer has expired. One of the locals tries to warn him Nassau is now under the control of Rogers but he refuses to listen instead demanding to see his girlfriend Lolita. Somebody seems to have noticed that Tempest having a girlfriend and a ship called Lolita in a show aimed primarily at a young audience was ill-advised in an era when Nabakov’s famously controversial novel was banned under the obscenity act. Lolita (Judy Wyler) the girlfriend only lasts for two episodes while the ship’s name was quickly changed to The Sultana.

Tempest is very aggressive at first, threatening to slice off his crew’s ears and rip out their entrails if they damage their haul as it’s being unloaded. This behaviour seems incongruous with the loveable but decent rogue the character later becomes. Tempest’s stubborn refusal to listen to warnings costs him dearly when he boasts about capturing a Spanish galleon in the local tavern without realising he’s confessing to piracy in front of the new Governor. Tempest has heard of Rogers and respects him. “The Spaniards in the Pacific still tremble at the mention of your name.”  But he has no intention of being arrested and chooses to fight.

“Ah, you know that one too,” says Rogers when Tempest blocks a fancy sword manoeuvre and that wee line of dialogue posits them both as being equals. Rogers eventually disarms Tempest and arrests him. Having made Tempest out to be a dangerous figure the writer Terence Moore now has to redeem him in the eyes of the audience. While the sentence for piracy is death, Rogers instead shows leniency and offers Tempest land and a profession cutting down dyewood trees for shipment.

Episodes were only 25 minutes long and each story had to be resolved within that timeframe. So the turnaround from Tempest switching from a snarling thug to a tamed land dweller happily working the land feels a little abrupt. Tempest becomes a figure of fun for his former shipmates who mock his new law-abiding ways. This doesn’t bother him too much because he can always beat them up, but his beloved Lolita turning out to be a pirate groupie and ditching him pushes him over the edge. Grabbing his sword he returns to his ship.  Unfortunately Rogers has had eyes on Tempest the whole time and is already onboard.

It’s interesting to note the difference in post-Empire contemporary retellings of the story of Nassau to this show made back in the 50s’. Starz recent hit Black Sails and the video game Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag present Rogers as a much crueller figure than the kindly overseer Clunes portrays. Indeed it seems the real-life Rogers was every bit as brutal as the pirates. Some who accepted the King’s Pardon and were able to return to sea as privateers with a letter of marque legally allowing them to plunder ships from hostile countries, while others such as the unfortunate William Kidd became pirate hunters and turned on their own. Tempest’s remit is less violent. He’s asked to transport cargo including his own dyewood to another island. This relatively simple journey is complicated by the presence of Blackbeard (George Margo) whom Rogers ran out of Nassau in the season opener and now patrols the waters in his vessel the Queen Anne’s Revenge.

Next up Moore has to set up a Bogart/Claude Raines beautiful friendship between the maverick Tempest and the over-officious Lt. Beamish (Peter Hammond). While he’s often the comic relief in The Buccaneers he’s also a decent sort and the relationship between the two evolves into an effective partnership as the series continues. Beamish’s own delight at realising he’s helped Dan swindle a merchant who tried to underpay them is a particular highlight in this episode.

On their journey back they are forced to pull another con, this time on their own crew who are very eager to join up with Blackbeard and go carousing. Tricking them into chasing Beamish into the hold Tempest locks them in. Outgunned and outmanned Tempest shows his ingenuity by taking out Blackbeard’s mizzen mast with cannon fire incapacitating the Queen Anne’s Revenge and allowing them to break through the blockade. Though the show was clearly filmed on a stage The Buccaneers used a real ship moored off the coast of Cornwall and a part replica built in the studio to make the seafaring scenes feel more authentic.

Back on Nassau as the locals celebrate the crews return, Rogers looks on with an expression that says “my work here is done” and with this final close-up Alec Clunes ends his three episode run on The Buccaneers.