Film Review – THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (THE REVENGE OF MILADY) (1974)

Image result for the four musketeers swordfightTHE FOUR MUSKETEERS (THE REVENGE OF MILADY) (Spain/Panama/USA/UK, 1974) ****½
     Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox (USA), Fox-Rank (UK); Production Company: Alexander, Michael and Ilya Salkind Productions / Film Trust S.A. / Este Films; Release Date: 26 February 1975 (USA), 25 March 1975 (UK); Filming Dates: May-September 1973; Running Time: 108m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35 mm (Eastman 100T 5254); Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
     Director: Richard Lester; Writer: George MacDonald Fraser (based on the novel “The Three Musketeers” by Alexandre Dumas); Executive Producer: Ilya Salkind, Alexander Salkind (uncredited); Producer:  Ilya Salkind, Michael Salkind (both uncredited); Associate Producer: Wolfdieter von Stein; Director of Photography: David Watkin; Music Composer: Lalo Schifrin; Film Editor: John Victor-Smith; Production Designer: Brian Eatwell; Art Director: Leslie Dilley, Fernando González; Costumes: Yvonne Blake; Make-up: José Antonio Sánchez, Cristóbal Criado, Charlene Roberson; Sound: Don Challis, Don Sharpe; Special Effects: Pablo Pérez; Visual Effects: Doug Ferris (uncredited).
     Cast: Oliver Reed (Athos), Raquel Welch (Constance de Bonancieux), Richard Chamberlain (Aramis), Michael York (D’Artagnan), Frank Finlay (Porthos), Christopher Lee (Rochefort), Geraldine Chaplin (Queen Anne of Austria), Jean-Pierre Cassel (Louis XIII), Roy Kinnear (Planchet), Michael Gothard (Felton), Nicole Calfan (Maid Kitty), Ángel del Pozo (Jussac), Eduardo Fajardo (Captain), Simon Ward (Duke of Buckingham), Faye Dunaway (Milady), Charlton Heston (Cardinal Richelieu), Sybil Danning (Eugenie), Gitty Djamal (Beatrice), Jack Watson (Busigny), Bob Todd (Firing Squad Officer), Tom Buchanan (Firing Squad Sergeant), Leon Greene (Swiss Officer), Lucy Tiller (Mother Superior), Norman Chappell (Submarine Inventor), Richard Adams (Tortured Thug), Tyrone Cassidy (English Officer).
     Synopsis: D’Artagnan has become a Musketeer. Protestants hold La Rochelle, and the Queen loves Buckingham, who’ll soon send ships to support the rebels. Richelieu enlists Rochefort to kidnap Constance, the Queen’s go-between and D’Artagnan’s love. The Cardinal uses the wily, amoral Milady de Winter to distract D’Artagnan. But soon, she is D’Artagnan’s sworn enemy, and she has an unfortunate history with Athos as well.
     Comment: Shot at the same time as THE THREE MUSKETEERS (THE QUEEN’S DIAMONDS) – originally it was intended to be one long film with an intermission – this segment covers the second half of Dumas’ novel. As such the tone is slightly darker although the spirit of the first half still permeates via some swashbuckling set pieces, battle scenes and nifty pieces of comedy. The stakes have been raised as Dunaway’s Milady seeks revenge on York’s D’Artagnan and Welch’s Constance after they foiled her attempts to discredit Chaplin’s Queen Anne. Once again the sumptuous production and costume design are wonderfully captured by Watkin’s radiant cinematography and enhanced by Schifrin’s boisterous score. Reed and Dunaway come to the fore and their scenes together add significant depth to the drama. The finale as the Musketeers fight Lee’s Rochefort and the Cardinal’s guards contains some of the best sword fighting in screen history.
     Notes: Followed by THE RETURN OF THE MUSKETEERS (1989).

TV Review – THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (2019)

Image result for the war of the worlds bbcTHE WAR OF THE WORLDS (UK, 2019) **½
      Distributor: ITV Studios Global Entertainment; Production Company: Mammoth Screen / British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) / Creasun Media American; Release Date: 17, 24 November & 1 December 2019; Running Time: 3 x 60m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Stereo; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
      Director: Craig Viveiros; Writer: Peter Harness (based on the novel by H.G. Wells; Producer: Betsan Morris Evans; Executive Producer:Jamie Brown, Peter Harness, Minglu Ma, Preethi Mavahalli, Damien Timmer, Craig Viveiros; Director of Photography: James Friend; Music Composer: Russ Davies; Film Editor: Adam Bosman, Josh Mallalieu; Production Designer: Pat Campbell; Casting: Karen Lindsay-Stewart; Costumes: Howard Burden; Make-up: Amy Stewart; Sound: Jonathan Seale; Special Effects Supervisor: Chris Reynolds; Visual Effects Supervisor: Stephen Coren, Sally Goldberg, Ivor Middleton.
      Cast: Eleanor Tomlinson (Amy), Robert Carlyle (Ogilvy), Rafe Spall (George), Jonathan Aris (Priest), Rupert Graves (Frederick), Woody Norman (George Junior), Nicholas Le Prevost (Chamberlain), Susan Wooldridge (Mrs. Elphinstone), Taliyah Blair (Lillian), Reid Anderson (Stall Holder), Philip Gascoyne (Navy Officer), Charles De’Ath (Greaves), Joey Batey (Henderson), Sam Benjamin (Salesman), Freya Allan (Mary), Christopher Hatherall (Naval Lieutenant), Daniel Cerqueira (Stent), Aisling Jarrett-Gavin (Lucy), Bradley Cottrell (Newspaper Boy), Harry Melling (Artilleryman), Kieron Bimpson (Captain), Cokey Falkow (Army Officer), Milo Twomey (Sergeant Major), Michele Donockley (Red Planet Survivor).
      Synopsis: Set in Edwardian England, this new adaptation of H.G. Wells’ seminal tale – the first alien invasion story in literature – follows George (Spall) and his partner Amy (Tomlinson) as they attempt to defy society and start a life together. The War of the Worlds tells their story as they face the escalating terror of an alien invasion, fighting for their lives against an enemy beyond their comprehension.
      Comment: This adaptation of H.G.Wells’ classic novel plays loose with its source material and clumsily attempts to invent its own allegorical agenda with references to British colonialism. Rather than follow the novel’s linear narrative we jump between scenes set during the invasion and three years after into a post-apocalyptic landscape. The latter scenes only serve to slow the narrative and remove any fluidity and excitement that the invasion generates. Split across three hour-long episodes, the story feels overly stretched despite the occasional excitements and moments of tension. Tomlinson is good as the heroine who is conflicted between her bravery and responsibility to her unborn child. Spall is also okay as an everyman out of his depth. Carlyle, however, is wasted in a role that largely consigns him to the periphery of the action. What lets the production down is the writing, which is often stilted and provides a totally unsatisfying conclusion which clumsily attempts to be symbolic. Viveiros struggles to lift the material and settles for long moments of slow-motion action and introspection, which further dilute some of the set pieces. Technical attributes, however, are pretty good for the limited TV budget.

Film Review – THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973)

Related imageTHE THREE MUSKETEERS (THE QUEEN’S DIAMONDS) (Spain/USA/Panama/UK, 1973) ****½
     Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures; Production Company: Alexander, Michael and Ilya Salkind Productions  / Film Trust S.A. / Este Films; Release Date: 25 March 1974 (UK), 28 March 1974 (USA); Filming Dates: May-September 1973; Running Time: 105m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm (Eastman 100T 5254); Film Process: Panavision, Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: U – Contains mild violence and innuendo.
     Director: Richard Lester; Writer: George MacDonald Fraser (based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas); Executive Producer: Ilya Salkind, Alexander Salkind (uncredited), Michael Salkind (uncredited), Pierre Spengler; Producer: Ilya Salkind; Associate Producer: Wolfdieter von Stein; Director of Photography: David Watkin; Music Composer: Michel Legrand; Music Supervisor: ; Film Editor: John Victor-Smith; Casting Director: Miriam Brickman (uncredited); Production Designer: Brian Eatwell; Art Director: Leslie Dilley, Fernando González; Costumes: Yvonne Blake; Make-up: José Antonio Sánchez, Cristóbal Criado, Charlene Roberson; Sound: Don Challis, Don Sharpe; Special Effects: Pablo Pérez; Visual Effects: .
     Cast: Oliver Reed (Athos), Raquel Welch (Constance de Bonacieux), Richard Chamberlain (Aramis), Michael York (D’Artagnan), Frank Finlay (Porthos / O’Reilly), Christopher Lee (Rochefort), Geraldine Chaplin (Queen Anna), Jean-Pierre Cassel (King Louis XIII), Spike Milligan (M. Bonacieux), Roy Kinnear (Planchet), Georges Wilson (Treville), Simon Ward (Duke of Buckingham), Faye Dunaway (Milady), Charlton Heston (Cardinal Richelieu), Joss Ackland (D’Artagnan’s Father), Nicole Calfan (Kitty), Michael Gothard (Felton), Sybil Danning (Eugenie), Gitty Djamal (Beatrice), Ángel del Pozo (Jussac), Rodney Bewes (Spy), Ben Aris (1st Musketeer), William Hobbs (Assassin), Gretchen Franklin (D’Artagnan’s Mother), Francis De Wolff (Sea Captain).
     Synopsis: The young D’Artagnan (York) arrives in Paris with dreams of becoming a King’s Musketeer. He meets and quarrels with three men, Athos (Reed), Porthos (Finlay), and Aramis (Chamberlain), each of whom challenges him to a duel. D’Artagnan finds out they are Musketeers and is invited to join them in their efforts to oppose Cardinal Richelieu (Heston), who wishes to increase his already considerable power over King Louis XIII (Cassel). D’Artagnan must also juggle affairs with the charming Constance Bonacieux (Welch) and the passionate Lady De Winter (Dunaway), a secret agent for the Cardinal.
     Comment: A joie-de-vivre permeates every frame of Lester’s definitive adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ classic adventure novel. This represents the first half of the story with the second following a year later. The result is a supremely entertaining swashbuckler filled with great sword fights, delicious humour, authentic production design and costumes. The whole cast enter into the spirit of the production with note-perfect performances, whilst Lester’s spirited direction and Watkin’s sumptuous cinematography make for a visual delight. York, Reed, Chamberlain and Finally are well cast as the Musketeers whilst Welch demonstrates a gift for comedy as York’s love interest. Heston is obviously enjoying himself as the scheming Cardinal Richelieu and Dunaway shows promise of what she would go on to deliver in the follow-up.
     Notes: Lester shot the film in conjunction with its sequel, THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (1974). Originally intended as a single film, the split prompted a lawsuit from the cast demanding payment for both films.

TV Review – BERGERAC: ALL FOR LOVE (1991)

BERGERAC: ALL FOR LOVE (UK, 1991) ***½
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) / Seven Network; Release Date: 26 December 1991; Running Time: 106m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby; Film Format: 16mm; Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1; BBFC Cert: 12.
      Director: Terry Marcel; Writer: John Milne; Producer: George Gallaccio; Director of Photography: John Walker; Music Composer: Ray Russell, Kevin Townend; Theme Music: George Fenton; Film Editor: Bernard Ashby; Production Designer: Merle Downie, Stephen Sharratt; Costumes: Jacky Levy; Make-up: Pauline Cox; Sound: Simon Wilson; Stunt Arranger: Rocky Taylor.
      Cast:John Nettles (Jim Bergerac), Terence Alexander (Hungerford), Deborah Grant (Deborah Bergerac), Simon Williams (Rupert Draper), Suzan Crowley (Cressida Draper), Bill Nighy (Barry), Roger Sloman (Inspector Deffand), John Telfer (Willy Pettit), Al Ashton (DC Ramsden), David Kershaw (Ben Lomas), Jane Downs (Petra Crowe-Smith), Peter Watts (Ronnie), Philip Glenister (Philip), Bruno Madinier (Pascal), Charmaine Parsons (Ellie), Catherine Rabett (Jane), Iain Rattray (Club Waiter), Malcolm Gerard (Dentist), Gordon Salkilld (Barman).
      Synopsis: After receiving a letter from Danielle ending their relationship, Jim Bergerac starts drinking again. To keep him out of trouble, Charlie takes him to Bath, where art dealer Rupert Draper will be buying a painting that Charlie was given as payment for a debt. Once in Bath, Jim falls for the charms of Rupert’s faithless wife, unaware that she is using him to take the rap for a murder, back in Jersey, where a body is found in the burnt-out remains of Rupert’s shop.
      Comment: The last of six feature-length Bergerac specials and the last ever episode of the series was broadcast at Christmas 1991. Series 9 had seen a major shift in the series with Bergerac operating as a private investigator. As a result the series lost much of its charm and the constant switches of locale between Jersey and France did not help. However, for this final feature-length special the noir-ish elements hinted at through the preceding season finally gelled into one of the series’s strongest episoides. Nettles gives his best performance in the title role, with Bergerac having drifted back in to alcoholism and being made the patsy for an insurance con.  Crowley makes a strong impression as the scheming femme fatale. Nighy is also on hand as a hired assassin who also falls under Crowley’s spell. The climax may feel a little contrived, but the episode delivers a compelling story and points to where the show could have gone had it not been cancelled.

Film Review – LAST CHRISTMAS (2019)

Image result for last christmas 2019LAST CHRISTMAS (UK/USA, 2019) ***
     Distributor: Universal Pictures; Production Company: Calamity Films / Feigco Entertainment / Perfect World Pictures / Universal Pictures; Release Date: 8 November 2019 (USA), 15 November 2019 (UK); Running Time: 103m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: DXL RAW; Film Process: DXL RAW (8K); Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: 12 – moderate sex references, language.
     Director: Paul Feig; Writer: Emma Thompson, Bryony Kimmings (based on a story by Emma Thompson and Greg Wise); Executive Producer: Sarah Bradshaw; Producer: Erik Baiers, Jessie Henderson, David Livingstone, Emma Thompson; Associate Producer: Simon Halfon; Director of Photography: John Schwartzman; Music Composer: Theodore Shapiro; Film Editor: Brent White; Casting Director: Alice Searby, Fiona Weir; Production Designer: Gary Freeman; Art Director: Tom Still, Richard Hardy; Set Decorator: Raffaella Giovannetti; Costumes: Renee Ehrlich Kalfus; Make-up: Pippa Woods; Sound: James Mather; Special Effects: Michael Dawson; Visual Effects: Scott Dougherty.
     Cast: Emilia Clarke (Kate), Henry Golding (Tom), Michelle Yeoh (Santa), Emma Thompson (Petra), Lydia Leonard (Marta), Patti LuPone (Joyce), Ingrid Oliver (Police Woman Crowley), Laura Evelyn (Police Woman Churchill), Rebecca Root (Dr. Addis), Sue Perkins (Ice Show Director), Boris Isakovic (Ivan), Maxim Baldry (Ed), Bilal Zafar (Oscar), Michael Addo (Fit Looking Guy), Peter Mygind (The Dane aka ‘Boy’), Rob Delaney (Theater Director), Peter Serafinowicz (Theater Producer), Sara Powell (Casting Director), Ritu Arya (Jenna), Ansu Kabia (Rufus), Fabien Frankel (Fabien), Angela Wynter (Ice Show Casting Director), Ben Owen-Jones (Danny), David Hargreaves (Arthur), Joe Blakemore (Army ‘Tom’), Calvin Demba (Nathan), Anna Calder-Marshall (Dora), Amit Shah (Andy).
     Synopsis: Kate is a young woman subscribed to bad decisions. Her last date with disaster? That of having accepted to work as Santa’s elf for a department store. However, she meets Tom there. Her life takes a new turn. For Kate, it seems too good to be true.
    Comment: A largely tick-box Christmas movie played out against the music of George Michael and Wham makes for diverting entertainment. Thompson and Kimmings’ script crams in all the traditional smarts of the modern-day rom-com whilst offering a twist late in proceedings that is the one genuinely surprising moment. Clarke tries hard, perhaps too hard, in the lead role and as a result, her character struggles for empathy from the audience. Thompson delivers a funny turn as her Yugoslavian mother, but their implied conflict is too easily resolved. Yeoh also scores as the dedicated Christmas store manager where Clarke works as an assistant. The songs are timeless and significantly add to the feel of the movie. Ultimately, despite its final twist, this feels like it wants to be a traditional seasonal feelgood movie to which the occasional political messaging comes across a bit off-key.

TV Review – BERGERAC: THERE FOR THE PICKING (1990)

Image result for bergerac "there for the picking"BERGERAC: THERE FOR THE PICKING (UK, 1990) **
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) / Seven Network; Release Date: 26 December 1990; Running Time: 99m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby; Film Format: 16mm; Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1; BBFC Cert: 12.
      Director: Gordon Flemyng; Writer: Desmond Lowden; Producer: George Gallaccio; Director of Photography: David Whitson; Music Composer: Ray Russell, Kevin Townend; Theme Music: George Fenton; Film Editor: Bernard Ashby, Paul Garrick; Production Designer: Bob Cove; Costumes: Barrie Sedwell; Make-up: Ann Ailes-Stevenson; Sound: Simon Wilson; Stunt Arranger: Clive Curtis.
      Cast: John Nettles (Jim Bergerac), Terence Alexander (Hungerford), Sean Arnold (Crozier), John Telfer (Willy Pettit), David Kershaw (Ben Lomas), Thérèse Liotard (Danielle), Michael Mellinger (Albert Leufroid), Warren Saire (Roderick), Melanie Thaw (Sarah), Kenneth Cranham (Gascoigne), Simon Chandler (Sumner), Lawrence Davidson (Police Inspecteur), Leslie Clack (Cafe Owner), Altay Lawrence (Chris), Julian Freeman (Air Traffic Controller), David Hargreaves (Hazelton), Paula Topham (Mrs. Hazelton), Rupert Holliday-Evans (Baz), David Keyes (Hippy), Tim Meats (Bank Manager), Adam Morris (Bank Clerk), Graham Fletcher-Cook (Deggsy), Grant Oatley (Jake), Luke Hanson (Killick), Bill Moody (Laborde).
      Synopsis: Jim Bergerac is now at the vineyard and it is grape-picking time. One of the young casual workers is English boy Roderick. However, he is also a computer hacking genius who is able to transfer 90% of the previous day’s takings on the Tokyo stock exchange into his own account. The son of the wealthy Hargreaves, he also targets Charlie and other Jersey residents. In addition to Roderick’s activities Jim is recalled to the island when a consignment of hand grenades is discovered in a cargo of whiskey and a French connection is suspected.
      Comment: The fifth of six feature-length Bergerac specials, was broadcast at Christmas 1990 ahead of the final series of the show (series 9). With Bergerac now out of the police and relocated to the vineyards of France with his French girlfriend the series lost its core hook and charm. The result is this rather listless elongated episode, in which the only redeeming factor is Cranham’s charismatic performance as an arms trader also seeking insider deals on the stock market. The story gets bogged down in its shifting locations between Jersey and France. The separation of Bergerac from his job leaves nettles with little to work with as the lead. The finale and pay-off is weak and the show seemed to be running out of steam. This would be Sean Arnold’s last appearance in the series as Crozier. Melanie Thaw (daugher of John Thaw and Sheila Hancock) has an early role as one of the students working at the vineyard. Veteran TV director Flemyng also helmed the two 1960s Doctor Who feature films.

Book Review – THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1844) by Alexandre Dumas

THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1844) *****
by Alexandre Dumas
Translated by Lawrence Ellsworth (2018)
This edition published by Pegasus, 2018, 814pp (760pp)
Interior Design by Sabrina Plomitallo-Gonzalez
ISBN: 978-1-64313-040-8
includes an introduction by Lawrence Ellsworth; Dramatis personae: Historical Characters; Notes on the Text; Illustrations by Maurice Leloir.
      Blurb: A new and vibrant translation of Alexandre Dumas’s renowned The Three Musketeers, following the adventures of the valiant d’Artagnan and his three loyal comrades. The novel’s fast-moving story is set in the royal court of Louis XIII, where the swaggering King’s Musketeers square off against their rivals: the crimson-clad Guards of the dreaded Cardinal Richelieu. The Red Duke rules France with an iron hand in the name of King Louis and of Queen Anne, who dares a secret love affair with France s enemy, England s Duke of Buckingham. Into this royal intrigue leaps the brash d’Artagnan, a young swordsman from the provinces determined to find fame and fortune in Paris. Bold and clever, in no time the youth finds himself up to his Gascon neck in adventure, while earning the enduring friendship of the greatest comrades in literature, the Three Musketeers: noble Athos, sly Aramis, and the giant, good-hearted Porthos.
      Comment: This brand new translation of Dumas’ classic adventure is by Lawrence Ellsworth, a student of Dumas’ fiction who had translated the Dumas rarity The Red Sphinx for the first time into the English language the previous year. Ellsworth’s expertise is evident throughout this vibrant new take on Dumas’ most celebrated novel. Having previously read the novel in a translation by Lord Sudeley, I was impressed by Ellsworth’s slant on the prose making it immediately more accessible whilst staying honest to Dumas. Any translation is reflective of the period in which the translator is operating and the only other recent translation was Richard Pevear’s 2006 take on the story. That too was well-received, but most commentators now acknowledge Ellsworth’s as the definitive version for a contemporary readership. The story seems to open up more and the often clumsy dialogue interpretations from previous versions are replaced with flowing, witty and elegant wordplay that more accurately reflects the characters. Re-reading the book has further cemented it as the classic it undoubtedly is – with its sweeping themes of romance, courage, vengeance, war, political intrigue and bold adventure irresistible. The dramatic finale is unforgettable and Ellsworth expertly captures the building tension. The intention is for Ellsworth to work through the remaining novels featuring Dumas’ musketeers, with Twenty Years After having just been re-published in hardback. For anyone who has never read The Three Musketeers, this is the version to go for.

TV Review – BERGERAC: SECOND TIME AROUND (1989)

Bergerac Second Time AroundBERGERAC: SECOND TIME AROUND (UK, 1989) ***½
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) / Seven Network; Release Date: 23 December 1989; Running Time: 97m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby; Film Format: 16mm; Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1; BBFC Cert: 12.
      Director: Peter Ellis; Writer: Ian Kennedy Martin; Producer: George Gallaccio; Director of Photography: John Walker; Music Composer: Ray Russell; Theme Music: George Fenton; Film Editor: Bernard Ashby; Production Designer: Martin Methven; Costumes: Barrie Sedwell; Make-up: Christine Greenwood; Sound: Malcolm Campbell; Stunt Arranger: Gareth Milne.
      Cast: John Nettles (Jim Bergerac), Terence Alexander (Hungerford), Sean Arnold (Crozier), John Telfer (Willy Pettit), David Kershaw (Ben Lomas), David Schofield (David Mason), Jenifer Landor (Elizabeth Dufresne), Donald Sumpter (Harry Tilson), Prentis Hancock (Arthur Medley), Richard Hawley (Michael Fulton), Chris Langham (Devas), Andrew Sachs (Moise Davidson), Rupert Frazer (Ted Grob), Sarah Neville (Sally Collins), Derrick Branche (Damian Shore), Elizabeth Bradley (Mrs. Maurice), Lisa Climie (Wendy), Pavel Douglas (De Lavarre), Clare Byam-Shaw (Dr. Bonham).
      Synopsis: David Mason murders Ted Grob by throwing him into a swimming pool, handcuffed to a patio recliner. Jim returns to duty to solve the murder and is asked by an ex-con who believes he was framed to go back over the details of the robbery of a courier company some years earlier which has a connection with the recent death.
      Comment: The fourth of six feature-length Bergerac specials, this one broadcast at Christmas 1989 ahead of series 8. By this time changes were afoot in the series with Nettles’ Bergerac a much more reflective character following his split with long-time girlfriend Susan Young (an absent Louise Jameson); Sean Arnold’s Crozier has been promoted to Superintendent and is operationg from police HQ, without the services of secretary Peggy Masters and Jim’s ex-family are long gone to London. The stories had become tougher and the new approach is no more evident than in this flashy, violent heist thriller with its explosive finale. It’s well-written and typical of Kennedy Martin’s hard-nosed approach to crime series – he did, after all, create The Sweeney. There’s a strong performances from Schofield – in one of his unhinged bad guy roles – and Landor briefly gives Bergerac hope of a new love interest. Producer Gallaccio may have been trying to move the series away from its cosier approach by giving it the edge of the more action-orientated dramas of the period, but in doing so he had taken something of the character of the series away.  As a result, the series lost some of its charms whilst gaining a bigger budget and slick action set-pieces.

Albums worth revisiting #1 – THE MOODY BLUES: LONG DISTANCE VOYAGER

THE MOODY BLUES
LONG DISTANCE VOYAGER ****
MoodyBluesLongDistanceVoyager.jpgReleased: 15 May 1981
Label: Threshold
Recorded at Threshold Studios and RAK Studios, London, 19 February 1980 – 14 April 1981.
Produced by Pip Williams
Engineered by Greg Jackman
UK Chart: #7; US Chart: #1.
Justin Hayward – lead vocals (1,3,4,5,6) backing vocals, guitars; John Lodge – lead vocals (2,3,6,7), backing vocals, bass guitar; Ray Thomas – lead vocals (6,8,10), backing vocals, flute, harmonica; Graeme Edge – drums; Patrick Moraz – keyboards; Dave Symonds – narrator (9); The New World Philharmonic – string section
Track List:

    1. The Voice (Hayward) – (5:21) **** (US #15)
    2. Talking Out of Turn (Lodge) – (7:18) **** (US #65)
    3. Gemini Dream (Hayward, Lodge) – (4:09) ***** (US #12)
    4. In My World (Hayward) – (7:22) *****
    5. Meanwhile (Hayward) – (4:08) ****
    6. 22,000 Days (Edge) – (5:25) ***
    7. Nervous (Lodge) – (5:45) ****
    8. Painted Smile (Thomas) – (3:18) / Reflective Smile (Thomas) – (0:36) / Veteran Cosmic Rocker (Thomas) – (3:18) ***

The Moody Blues are best known today for their 1967 mega-ballad “Nights in White Satin”, although they had a UK #1 with their second single “Go Now” back in 1964. By 1981, in the post-punk/new wave era, the band had come to be viewed as something of an anachronism with its penchant for gentle acoustic and orchestral arrangements at odds with the more simplistic and electric approach being championed by the days’ top bands. Indeed, the Moodies had only released one new studio album since 1972, that being 1978’s OCTAVE, which had been largely undistinguished, despite hitting #5 in the UK album chart. This made LONG DISTANCE VOYAGER, released three years later, all the more surprising for its consistently high quality of songwriting and updated sound. The album heralded the arrival of former Yes-man Patrick Moraz on keyboards to replace founder member Mike Pinder. The result was a more modern approach, whilst still retaining the trademarks of gorgeous acoustic guitar arrangements and sympathetic orchestration. The most impressive aspect though was the quality of the songs.

The album opener, “The Voice”, begins with an atmospheric synth refrain from Moraz before launching into an up-tempo acoustic guitar-driven song typical of Hayward. The listener can lose themselves in the lilting harmonies and melodies of “Talking Out of Turn” and the wonderfully glowing ballad “In My World” – possibly Hayward’s best since “Nights in White Satin”. These two songs have extended sections that may seem a little self-indulgent but are not unwelcome because they transport you into their world with a warm glow in your heart. “Gemini Dream” channels Jeff Lynne and ELO extremely effectively with its bouncing synth lines and melodic hook make it the catchiest tune on the album.  “Meanwhile” is another winner of a ballad, more up-tempo this time with a prodding bass line. “22,00 Days” opens like a Pink Floyd mid-tempo rocker with its pounding rhythm and has a big chorus. “Nervous” is another strong melodic mid-tempo tune with slide guitar and heavy orchestration that again echoes ELO. The album’s three-part closer is perhaps the only misstep with its eccentric mix of music hall, eastern melodies and bombastic rock at odds with the more graceful music that precedes it. This was no doubt the intention and on a good day, Thomas’ quirky mini-opera of court jesters and backstage antics can raise a smile through its sheer impudence.

LONG DISTANCE VOYAGER was to be The Moody Blues’ last top 10 album in the UK. It may sound a little dated today production-wise, but so does much of the music from the 1980s and here it is the songs that shine through with a warming glow.

Don’t just take my word for it:

 “Progressive rock bands stumbled into the ’80s, some with the crutch of commercial concessions under one arm, which makes the Moody Blues’ elegant entrance via LONG DISTANCE VOYAGER all the more impressive.” – Dave Connolly, All Music Guide

“LONG DISTANCE VOYAGER is one of the most seamlessly embroidered records I’ve ever heard. The Moody Blues’ musical canon doesn’t always go boom, but it’s dignified, eloquent and, like good sherry, should warm the hearts of their veteran cosmic fans–and any others who choose to listen with fresh ears.” – Parke Puerbaugh, Rolling Stone

Film Review – CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954)

Image result for creature from the black lagoonCREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (USA, 1954) ***½
     Distributor: Universal Pictures (USA), General Film Distributors (GFD) (UK); Production Company: Universal International Pictures (UI); Release Date: 12 February 1954 (USA), 9 December 1954 (UK); Filming Dates: 13 October 1953 – 15 November 1953; Running Time: 79m; Colour: B&W; Sound Mix: Mono (Western Electric Recording); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Universal 3-D (dual-strip 3-D); Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
     Director: Jack Arnold; Writer: Harry Essex, Arthur A. Ross (based on a story by Maurice Zimm); Producer: William Alland; Director of Photography: William E. Snyder; Music Composer: Henry Mancini, Hans J. Salter, Herman Stein (all uncredited); Music Supervisor: Joseph Gershenson; Film Editor: Ted J. Kent; Art Director: Hilyard M. Brown, Bernard Herzbrun; Set Decorator: Russell A. Gausman, Ray Jeffers; Costumes: Rosemary Odell (wardrobe for Miss Adams); Make-up: Bud Westmore; Sound: Leslie I. Carey, Joe Lapis.
     Cast: Richard Carlson (David Reed), Julie Adams (Kay Lawrence), Richard Denning (Mark Williams), Antonio Moreno (Carl Maia), Nestor Paiva (Lucas), Whit Bissell (Dr. Thompson), Bernie Gozier (Zee), Henry A. Escalante (Chico). Uncredited: Ricou Browning (The Gill Man (in water)), Ben Chapman (The Gill Man (on land)), Art Gilmore (Narrator (voice)), Perry Lopez (Tomas), Sydney Mason (Dr. Matos), Rodd Redwing (Louis – Expedition Foreman).
     Synopsis: A strange prehistoric beast lurks in the depths of the Amazonian jungle. A group of scientists try to capture the animal and bring it back to civilization for study.
     Comment: Late contender in the classic Universal monster series has a basic plot and variable performances from its cast. These deficiencies are countered by the excellent creature design and some effective and tense underwater footage. Adams also makes for a strong heroine, with whom the creature has become fixated (echoes of “Beauty and the Beast”). The music score was compiled from work by three different uncredited composers as well as stock material, but the memorable (if oversued) creature theme was written by Stein.
     Notes: Underwater sequences were directed by James Curtis Havens and the creature was designed by Milicent Patrick. Originally produced in 3-D. Followed by REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955) and THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US (1956).