Every First Time Watch Part 5 – Adventure

THE BUSHIDO BLADE (1981, Tsugunobu Kotani)

In the late 70s’/early 80s Japanese director Tsugunobu Kotani made three English language B-movies which all feel like calling cards towards making big budget films in the US but sadly Hollywood never answered. The Last Dinosaur (1977) is a Doug McClure style creature feature with a big game hunter facing off against a T-rex. The Bermuda Depths (1978) a fantasy film about scientists threatened by a giant turtle and a mysterious woman who seems to have come from the ocean. The last of them is The Bushido Blade, a samurai movie set during Commodore Matthew Perry’s negotiations with a Japanese shogun (played by Toshiro Mifune) to allow trade with the US. Frank Converse plays a cavalry officer forced to team up with samurai warrior Sonny Chiba to retrieve a ceremonial sword stolen by factions opposed to opening the country to outsiders. Along the way they team up with a female warrior Laura Gemser, whose mixed parentage makes her an outsider in her own country. I’m not sure how historically accurate any of this is but it’s a lot of fun and ends with three facing off against many in an inventive final battle.

THE IRON MASK (2019, Oleg Stepchenko)

Marketed somewhat misleadingly in the UK as an Arnie fights Jackie Chan movie, this is really a sequel to the Russian film Viy,. I can see why they tried to sell it this way but the film stars Jason Flemyng as a cartographer. That’s not an approach that’s going to please people when they realise they’ve been dealt a sleight of hand. I really liked Viy, a fantasy film based on Russian folklore released in the UK as The Forbidden Kingdom (nothing to do with the Jackie Chan film of the same name) which saw Flemyng’s mapmaker cross the Carpathian Mountains and into the forests of the Ukraine where he finds a remote village tormented by the supernatural. This sequel moves the action to China and feels like a clumsier version of Tsui Hark’s Detective Dee movies but it’s still much better than the reviews suggest. And the few scenes shared by Chan and Schwarzenegger are very funny. There’s also a brief appearance by another 80s’ action legend, the late great Rutger Hauer.

JAGUAR LIVES! (1979, Ernest Pintoff)

Martial arts film intended to launch a movie career for karate champion Joe Lewis. Mimicking the structure of a Bond movie and casting no less than four alumni (Christopher Lee, Donald Pleasance, Joseph Wiseman, and Barbara Bach) in support the film whizzes around the globe pitting Lewis against a drug smuggling ring and their various henchmen. Jaguar Lives! didn’t succeed in its aim, but it’s not for want of trying with Lewis getting into fights on average once every five minutes. While he might not have much range, even for an action hero there’s no doubt about his credentials as a fighter.

THE FIFTH MUSKETEER (1979, Ken Annakin)

It may lack the panache of the Richard Lester movies but this is an entertaining enough take on the Alexandre Dumas The Man in the Iron Mask with a decent cast. A svelte young Beau Bridges plays dual roles of the King and his identical twin brother, while his old man Lloyd Bridges proves to be surprisingly adept with a sword as Aramis. Jose Ferrer and Alan Hale Jr are Athos and Porthos respectively. It’s quite moving seeing ageing swashbuckler Cornel Wilde leading them all as D’Artagnan, and this sense of a connection to a once popular Hollywood genre is added to by the presence of Olivia De Havilland as the Queen Mother. Like most versions of this story it reworks the material so the poorer twin is the nobler of the lookalikes and the King is an arsehole which plays better with modern audiences.

Every First Time Watch During Lockdown Part 4 – Adaptations

DANIEL DERONDA (2002, Tom Hooper)

Mini-series based on George Eliot’s novel about a young man (Hugh Dancy) raised by a rich guardian who becomes increasingly torn between his privileged upper class upbringing and his need to find out more about his mysterious origins. This conflict is mirrored in his relationships with two women. Gwendoline (Romola Garai) a flighty minor aristocrat with a mercenary nature, and Jewish musician Mirah (Jodhi May) he saves from drowning. Kind of wish Hooper had stayed making costume dramas for the BBC because this is easily the best thing he’s done.

DRACULA (1968, Patrick Dromgoole)

Pared down version of Stoker’s novel made as part of ITV’s Mystery and Imagination anthology series. It begins halfway through the book with Dracula already present in England and making his presence felt amongst the local aristocracy. There’s nothing you won’t have seen in other adaptations but it’s worth seeing just for the late great Denholm Elliot as a Mandrake the Magician looking Dracula who clearly detests these Little Englanders and their contempt for his foreign background.

MANSFIELD PARK (1999, Patricia Rozema)

Inventive take on Jane Austen’s novel which manages to weave contemporaneous events and aspects of the author’s own life into the screenplay. I remember this coming out to generally poor reviews most of whom seemed to be from purists upset at the changes writer-director Patricia Rozman made to the original, but this turned out to be great. Up there with Persuasion (1995, Roger Michell) and the Emma mini-series from 2009 which coincidentally also features Jonny Lee Miller.

KIDNAPPED (1978)

This 13-part Anglo-German co-production between HTV and Tele-Munchen is more faithful to Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale than the otherwise excellent 71′ Kidnapped (Delbert Mann) which removed the novel’s ambiguity about who committed the story’s murder. Though it’s filmed in Scotland half the cast including lead actor Ekkehardt Belle are German and dubbed with Scottish accents which was distracting at first. Belle plays David Balfour, a teenager disinherited by his miserly old uncle and sold to a ship’s captain on a vessel headed to the New World. Onboard he meets Alan Breck Stewart (David McCallum), a dashing Jacobite rebel who’s trying to get back to France after surviving the massacre at Culloden. If there’s a ship in a Stevenson novel it will surely sink and so the pair end up washed ashore and on the run in the Highlands from redcoats and from clans loyal to the British Crown. HTV had a great track record producing these kinds of adventure shows in the 70s’ and early 80s.’ Arthur of the Britons, Dick Turpin, Smuggler, and Robin of Sherwood all shared a similar mixture of action and humour with a more reflective and melancholy side.

WAR AND PEACE (2007, ROBERT DONHELM)

I’ve sat through all seven hours of the great Russian director Sergei Bondarchuk’s War and Peace so I think I’ve earned the right to enjoy a really trashy version. This Franco-Italian-German Euro-pudding approaches Tolstoy’s epic novel with all the gravitas of a prime-time US soap opera and is all the better for it. The cast is made up of all different nationalities to suit each market with Clemence Poesy as Natasha, Malcolm McDowell as Prince Bolkonsky Snr, and German actor Alexander Beyer (Deutschland 83/86) as Pierre. In terms of physicality Alessio Boni (Arrivederci Amore Ciao, The Best of Youth) is the perfect fit for the melancholy Andrej Bolkonsky, but unfortunately in the English version he’s been badly dubbed over.

Every First Time Watch Part 3 – Historical Dramas

BEAU BRUMMEL: THIS CHARMING MAN (2006, Philippa Lowthorpe)

Beau Brummell was apparently an impoverished dandy who used his friendship with the Prince Regent (a dippy Hugh Bonneville) to advance his position in society and dodge the many creditors who were knocking at his door. There’s a big glossy Technicolor 50s’ movie starring Stewart Granger and Peter Ustinov which covers more ground but I much prefer this low-key approach. The focus is entirely on the relationship between these two men and a small group of hangers-on. Brummell is stylist and advisor to the Prince Regent, mostly providing fashion tips like don’t wear powdered wigs and go easy on the white make-up. But Brummell overreaches himself and damages the relationship by falling in with persona non grata Lord Byron (Matthew Rhys) then calling his boss fat at a society event. Everybody here is a dreadful snob but the actors make them sympathetic. Pompous though he may be, Bonneville’s Prince genuinely thought he’d made a friend so his cruel response to having his fragile ego damaged is understandable. Brummell is played by a peak-period James Purefoy so it’s difficult not to like him or feel sorry when he’s cast out by all the other fancy wanks.

THE CLEOPATRAS (TV series, 1983)

There’s seven Cleopatras hence the pluralised title and this eight-part series goes through them like a slasher movie. It starts in 145 BC and ends in 35 BC with the death of the most famous Cleopatra of them all. This is such a strange and entertaining show. On the one hand it has that overstuffed feeling common in British television costume dramas of the 70s’/80s.’ Everything’s filmed in a studio and the actors are dialling up the theatricality to the nines. But there’s HBO levels of nudity and violence while the editing uses wipe transitions which I can’t ever recall being used in a BBC costume drama. Philip Mackie’s screenplay has plenty of gallows humour. Kings and Queens die in a variety of gruesome ways and their deaths are treated like a terrible sad joke, then it’s oh well then, on to the next one.

THE LAST PLACE ON EARTH (TV mini-series, 1985)

Mini-series covering the the race to reach the South Pole between the ill-fated Captain Scott (Martin Shaw) and his methodical Norwegian rival Roald Amundsen (Sverre Anker Ousdal). It doesn’t start out as a race. Scott had been punted from the navy for crashing a battleship and only undertakes the expedition in search of glory for the British Empire and to wind up Ernest Shackleton. Amundsen’s original destination was supposed to be the North Pole but he found out his old mentor Frederick Cook was already there so he made a last minute decision to change his route surprising both his financial backers and his crew. It’s an even-handed account giving equal time to both men. The Last Place On Earth offers a revisionist review of Scott’s voyage undercutting the myth of British exceptionalism while also presenting the conditions that breeds that superiority complex. The final episode manages to be incredibly moving and infuriating. Scott fails but gets the glory and his journals are edited to make him seem more heroic. Conversely Amundsen gets to the Pole but makes enemies in high places at home for refusing to fulfil his original journey to the North. Worse still is the condescending attitude he experiences from British and US audiences when he tours afterwards. “You’re the guy who ate the dogs” a New Yorker says to him.

PRISONOR OF HONOUR (1991, Ken Russell)

Ken Russell playing it straight here with this TV movie made for HBO based on a notorious late 19th century scandal. The Dreyfus Affair dragged on for over a decade and divided French society at the time. It also in retrospect feels like a precursor to the conflicts of the first half of the 20th century. Colonel Picquat (Richard Dreyfuss) is appointed to investigate Dreyfus (Kenneth Colley) knowing full well he’s supposed to find evidence of the man’s guilt. Instead Picquat becomes convinced the Jewish army officer is being used as a scapegoat by his superiors. Prisoner of Honour is unusually restrained for late-period Russell but it’s well worth a look. Russell went back to TV after this reuniting with his old Monitor colleague Melvyn Bragg making yearly arts documentaries for The South Bank Show and a well-received adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1993).

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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