QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (UK, 1967) ****
PRODUCTION: Distributor: Warner-Pathé Distributors (UK), Twentieth Century Fox (USA); Production Company: Hammer Film Productions; Release Date: 29 September 1967 (UK), 7 February 1968 (USA); Filming Dates: 27 February 1967 – 25 April 1967; Running Time: 97m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono (RCA Sound Recording); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: 12.
CREW: Director: Roy Ward Baker; Writer: Nigel Kneale (based on an original story by Nigel Kneale); Producer: Anthony Nelson Keys; Director of Photography: Arthur Grant; Music Composer: Tristram Cary; Music Supervisor: Philip Martell; Film Editor: James Needs; Casting Director: Irene Lamb; Art Director: Kenneth Ryan; Costumes: Rosemary Burrows; Make-up: Michael Morris; Sound: Sash Fisher, Roy Hyde; Special Effects: Les Bowie, Sydney Pearson.
CAST: James Donald (Doctor Roney), Andrew Keir (Quatermass), Barbara Shelley (Barbara Judd), Julian Glover (Colonel Breen), Duncan Lamont (Sladden), Bryan Marshall (Captain Potter), Peter Copley (Howell), Edwin Richfield (Minister), Grant Taylor (Police Sergeant Ellis), Maurice Good (Sergeant Cleghorn), Robert Morris (Watson), Sheila Steafel (Journalist), Hugh Futcher (Sapper West), Hugh Morton (Elderly Journalist), Thomas Heathcote (Vicar), Noel Howlett (Abbey Librarian), Hugh Manning (Pub Customer), June Ellis (Blonde), Keith Marsh (Johnson), James Culliford (Corporal Gibson), Bee Duffell (Miss Dobson), Roger Avon (Electrician), Brian Peck (Technical Officer), John Graham (Inspector), Charles Lamb (Newsvendor).
SYNOPSIS: An ancient Martian spaceship is unearthed in London and proves to have powerful psychic effects on the people around.
COMMENT: Splendid feature film adaptation of Nigel Kneale’s 1958 6-part BBC TV serial with, despite budget constraints, impressive visual and special effects work. Baker directs with flair and with inventive use of the camera. Keir adds gravitas in a strong performance as Quatermass, whilst Glover plays the typically closed-minded army captain. Donald and Shelley are the scientists who work alongside Keir to prevent the alien threat from being released. The thrilling final act makes for an exciting conclusion.
NOTES: Originally released in the USA as FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH. Followed by THE QUATERMASS CONCLUSION (1979).
JAWS (USA, 1975) *****
PRODUCTION: Distributor: Universal Pictures (USA), Cinema International Corporation (CIC) (UK); Production Company: Zanuck-Brown Productions / Universal Pictures; Release Date: 20 June 1975 (USA), 25 December 1975 (UK); Filming Dates: 2 May 1974 – 18 September 1974 and October 1974 – December 1974; Running Time: 124m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono (Westrex Recording System) | Dolby (Dolby Digital Surround 5.1) | Dolby Surround 7.1 (Blu-ray release); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Panavision (anamorphic); Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: 12.
CREW: Director: Steven Spielberg; Writer: Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb (based on the novel by Peter Benchley); Producer: David Brown, Richard D. Zanuck; Director of Photography: Bill Butler; Music Composer: John Williams; Film Editor: Verna Fields; Casting Director: Shari Rhodes; Production Designer: Joe Alves; Set Decorator: John M. Dwyer; Costumes: Louise Clark, Robert Ellsworth, Irwin Rose; Make-up: Del Armstrong, John Chambers, Jim Gillespie; Sound: John R. Carter, Robert L. Hoyt; Special Effects: Robert A. Mattey.
CAST: Roy Scheider (Brody), Robert Shaw (Quint), Richard Dreyfuss (Hooper), Lorraine Gary (Ellen Brody), Murray Hamilton (Vaughn), Carl Gottlieb (Meadows), Jeffrey Kramer (Hendricks), Susan Backlinie (Chrissie), Jonathan Filley (Cassidy), Ted Grossman (Estuary Victim), Chris Rebello (Michael Brody), Jay Mello (Sean Brody), Lee Fierro (Mrs. Kintner), Jeffrey Voorhees (Alex Kintner), Craig Kingsbury (Ben Gardner), Robert Nevin (Medical Examiner), Peter Benchley (Interviewer).
SYNOPSIS: When a gigantic great white shark begins to menace the small island community of Amity, a police chief, a marine scientist and grizzled fisherman set out to stop it.
COMMENT: Brilliantly filmed and edited with not a minute of screen time wasted. It was credited as the movie that created the summer blockbuster, but this remains an everyman movie full of thrills. Spielberg’s inventive framing and decision to leave the shark largely unseen until the final act demonstrate his astute approach to genre direction. Great performance from Shaw, Scheider and Dreyfuss and memorable music score from Williams helps to heighten the tension. The movie remains today a textbook example on how to shoot a thriller and maximise character empathy through great direction to actors.
NOTES: Won three Oscars – for Editing, Music and Sound. Extended version runs to 130m. Followed by three sequels beginning with JAWS 2 (1978).
THE MUSKETEER’S SEAMSTRESS (2007) ***
by Sarah D’Almeida (Sarah Hoyt)
Published by Berkley, 2007, 332pp (315pp)
Cover Art: Rick Farrell
Cover Design: Steven Ferlauto
Interior Text Design: Tiffany Estreicher
includes 10-page preview of THE MUSKETEER’S APPRENTICE.
Blurb: Aramis emerges from the water closet to find his lover, a duchess, murdered on her bed. The room is locked, and Aramis is the only one who could have entered it. He’s sure he didn’t do it, but no one else believes him. Even Monsieur de Treville, Captain of Musketeers, doubts Aramis’s word. Aramis must leave Paris and go on the run, entrusting the solving of the murder, and the defence of his honour, his freedom and his very life to Athos, Porthos and D’Artagnan. Can “one for all” carry the day when every powerful person in France believes Aramis a murderer and when powerful interests would gladly frame Aramis for it?
Comment: Being a huge fan of Alexandre Dumas’ THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1844), I was delighted to find a series of books featuri8ng the characters written by Sarah Hoyt under the pseudonym of Sarah D’Almeira. THE MUSKETEER’S SEAMSTRESS is the second book in a series of five, in which Dumas’ Musketeers effectively act as detectives looking to solve mysteries in 1620s France. The books are set within the timeframe of Dumas’ novel and so include real-life historical figures as well as original Dumas characters. This particular story is basically a locked room mystery, with Aramis seemingly the only possible suspect in the murder of his mistress, necessitating the Musketeers having to work to clear his name. The writing style emulates that of Dumas without being slavish to it. Whilst written in the third person, the story is told from the point of view of each of the Musketeers as they look for clues to unravel the mystery and fight duels with the Cardinal’s guards who are looking to hunt down Aramis. Whilst this approach retains the key mystery novel device of putting the reader in the head of the detective, it also constrains the story by not opening it up to the wider cast of characters. Cardinal Richelieu, who is at the centre of the investigation, only appears in the closing chapter. This robs the story of the scale and tension between the characters that Dumas managed to create in his original novel. That said, this is still an enjoyable read and is recommended to fans of Dumas and historical mysteries.
The Musketeer Mysteries series:
1. Death of a Musketeer (Berkley, November 2006, ISBN 0-425-21292-0)
2. The Musketeer’s Seamstress (Berkley, April 2007, ISBN 978-0-425-21489-3) ***
3. The Musketeer’s Apprentice (Berkley, September 2007, ISBN 978-0-425-21769-6)
4. A Death in Gascony (Berkley, April 2008, ISBN 978-0-425-22101-3)
5. Dying by the Sword (Berkley, December 2008, ISBN 978-0-425-22461-8)
ARABIAN ADVENTURE (UK, 1979) **½
Distributor: British Lion Film Corporation (UK), Associated Film Distribution (AFD) (USA); Production Company: EMI Films / British Lion Film Corporation / Major Studio Partners; Release Date: 19 July 1979 (UK), 21 November 1979 (USA); Filming Dates: 24 July 1978 – October 1978; Running Time: 98m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: U.
Director: Kevin Connor; Writer: Brian Hayles; Executive Producer: Kevin Connor; Producer: John Dark; Director of Photography: Alan Hume; Music Composer: Ken Thorne; Film Editor: Barry Peters; Casting Director: Allan Foenander; Production Designer: Elliot Scott; Art Director: Jack Maxsted; Set Decorator: Terry Ackland-Snow; Costumes: Rosemary Burrows; Make-up: Yvonne Coppard, Robin Grantham; Sound: Jim Atkinson; Special Effects: George Gibbs; Visual Effects: Cliff Culley, Charles Staffell.
Cast: Christopher Lee (Alquazar), Milo O’Shea (Khasim), Oliver Tobias (Prince Hasan), Emma Samms (Princess Zuleira), Puneet Sira (Majeed), Peter Cushing (Wazir Al Wuzara), Capucine (Vahishta), Mickey Rooney (Daad El Shur), John Wyman (Bahloul), John Ratzenberger (Achmed), Shane Rimmer (Abu), Hal Galili (Asaf), Elisabeth Welch (Beggarwoman), Suzanne Danielle (Eastern Dancer), Art Malik (Mamhoud), Jacob Witkin (Omar, the Goldsmith), Milton Reid (Jinnee), Roy Stewart (The Nubian).
Synopsis: An evil magician seeks to gain power by obtaining a magic rose. A peasant boy and a Prince join forces to stop him.
Comment: The last of five fantasy adventures made by director Connor with producer Dark. This hokey Arabian Nights tale owes much to the strong cast headed by Lee at his villainous best. However, Tobias lacks charisma and acting chops as the hero prince. Samms makes for an appealing princess whilst Rooney adds some comic relief and Cushing some gravitas in cameo roles. The action scenes are plentiful, but often sub-par with obvious choreography. The visual effects are average at best, as is evident in the climactic magic carpet battle. A fun adventure nonetheless for the undemanding.
Notes: Feature film debut of Emma Samms.
CRACKER (TV) (UK, 2006) ***½
Distributor: Granada Television; Production Company: Granada Television / ITV Productions; Release Date: 1 October 2006; Running Time: 109m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Stereo; Film Format: Super 16; Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
Director: Antonia Bird; Writer: Jimmy McGovern; Executive Producer: Andy Harries; Producer: John Chapman; Director of Photography: Florian Hoffmeister; Music Composer: Gillian Gilbert, Stephen Morris, Conboy Corker; Film Editor: Chris Barwell; Casting Director: Andy Pryor; Production Designer: Tom Bowyer; Art Director: Anna Pritchard; Costume Designer: Rhona Russell; Make-up: Jessica Taylor; Sound: Dennis Cartwright.
Cast: Robbie Coltrane (Fitz), Barbara Flynn (Judith Fitzgerald), Anthony Flanagan (Kenny Archer), Nisha Nayar (DS Saffron Saleh), Richard Coyle (DI Walters), Rafe Spall (DS McAllister), Kieran O’Brien (Mark Fitzgerald), Andrea Lowe (Elaine Archer), Stefanie Wilmore (Katy Fitzgerald), Lisa Eichhorn (Jean Molloy), Demetri Goritsas (Harry Peters), Sara Roache (Chief Super), Matt Rippy (Molloy – American Comedian), Leo Gregory (Wallet Thief), Rosina Carbone (Maria Fitzgerald).
Synopsis: Fitz returns to Manchester for his daughter’s wedding, but is soon involved in another murder investigation when an American comedian is killed, apparently without motive.
Comment: Ten years after the last special (CRACKER: WHITE GHOST) was broadcast, Cracker returned along with its creator and chief writer, Jimmy McGovern. The result is an absorbing and heavily political portrait of a former soldier struggling to come to terms with PTSD. Faced with self-loathing and a hatred for Americans due to their perceived support of the IRA and their response to Nine-Eleven. There are echoes of McGovern’s masterpiece TO BE A SOMEBODY in this story’s portrayal of the soldier’s descent into murder in order to extract his own form of justice. Coltrane slips easily back into his role of psychologist Fitz, called in by the police to help track down the murderer. Flanagan is also excellent as the damaged soldier. Where this story falls short in comparison to the series is in its portrait of the detectives – who here are two-dimensional in characterisation and lacking in the dark humour of their earlier counterparts. On the whole, though, this is a satisfying conclusion to the series and significantly better than the last couple of stories – although the finale, which again resorts to genre convention, lacks the finesse seen across the rest of the story.
WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS (UK, 1978) **½
Distributor: EMI Films (UK), Columbia Pictures (USA); Production Company: EMI Films / British Lion; Release Date: 5 May 1978; Filming Dates: 5 September 1977 – 13 January 1978; Running Time: 96m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
Director: Kevin Connor; Writer: Brian Hayles; Executive Producer: Jim Brown (uncredited); Producer: John Dark, Kevin Connor; Director of Photography: Alan Hume; Music Composer: Michael Vickers; Film Editor: Bill Blunden; Casting Director: Allan Foenander; Production Designer: Elliot Scott; Art Director: Jack Maxsted; Costumes: Lorna Hillyard, Monica Howe; Make-up: Robin Grantham; Sound: Jim Atkinson; Special Effects: John Richardson; Visual Effects: Charles Staffell.
Cast: Doug McClure (Greg Collinson), Peter Gilmore (Charles Aitken), Shane Rimmer (Captain Daniels), Lea Brodie (Delphine), Michael Gothard (Atmir), Hal Galili (Grogan), John Ratzenberger (Fenn), Derry Power (Jacko), Donald Bisset (Professor Aitken), Ashley Knight (Sandy), Robert Brown (Briggs), Cyd Charisse (Atsil), Daniel Massey (Atraxon).
Synopsis: Searching for the lost world of Atlantis, a professor and his associates are betrayed by the crew of their expedition’s ship, attracted by the fabulous treasures of Atlantis.
Comment: The last and weakest of McClure’s four fantasy adventure movies with director Connor. The story and plot are derivative, but at least Connor keeps the action coming thick and fast and the set-pieces are well shot and edited. Monster effects are variable, with the best being the giant octopus. The inhabitants of Atlantis are stoic and bland with Gothard and Charisse giving one-note performances. However, McClure and Gilmore work well together as the heroes of the piece, echoing the former’s work with Peter Cushing on AT THE EARTH’S CORE (1976). Aka: WARLORDS OF THE DEEP.
CRACKER: WHITE GHOST (TV) (UK, 1996) **
Distributor: ITV – Independent Television; Production Company: A&E Television Networks / Granada Television; Release Date: 28 October 1996; Running Time: 100m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Stereo; Film Format: 16mm; Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
Director: Richard Standeven; Writer: Paul Abbott; Executive Producer: Sally Head, Delia Fine; Producer: Hilary Bevan Jones; Director of Photography: Dick Dodd; Music Composer: Rick Wentworth; Film Editor: Tony Cranstoun; Casting Director: Andrew Hall, Marilyn Johnson; Production Designer: Chris Wilkinson; Art Director: David Butterworth; Costume Designer: Tudor George; Make-up: Sue Milton, Anastasia Shirley; Sound: Nick Steer.
Cast: Robbie Coltrane (Fitz), Ricky Tomlinson (D.C.I. Wise), Barnaby Kay (Dennis Philby), Freda Foh Shen (D.C.I. Janet Lee Cheung), Michael Pennington (Commander Gordon Ellison), Rene Liu (Su Lin Tang), Benedict Wong (Peter Yang), Glen Goei (Dr. Frank Sunny), David Bradley (Frank Carter), Pik Sen Lim (Wei Wei).
Synopsis: A British businessman operating in Hong Kong has feelings of inferiority and turns to murder when he faces bankruptcy.
Comment: The first post-series Cracker special suffers from its location transfer to Hong Kong. Whilst this adds a sense of international scale, the production lacks the gritty northern interplay between the cast and is based around a storyline that is pure genre formula. Fitz again too easily comes up with the right deductive answers and this is a problem for maintaining any level of authenticity or dramatic tension. Tomlinson’s appearance is a token gesture and largely played for comedic effect – devaluing the character. This would be the last appearance of Coltrane as Fitz for ten years, until 2006’s CRACKER, which saw the return of creator and scriptwriter Jimmy McGovern.
CRACKER: TRUE ROMANCE (TV) (UK, 1995) **½
Distributor: ITV – Independent Television; Production Company: A&E Television Networks / Granada Television; Release Date: 20 & 27 November 1995; Running Time: 100m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Stereo; Film Format: 16mm; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
Director: Tim Fywell; Writer: Paul Abbott; Executive Producer: Sally Head; Producer: Hilary Bevan Jones; Director of Photography: Dick Dodd; Music Composer: Rick Wentworth; Film Editor: Anthony Ham; Casting Director: Marilyn Johnson; Production Designer: Stephen Fineren; Art Director: Mark Stonehouse; Costume Designer: Tudor George; Make-up: Sue Milton; Sound: Phil Smith.
Cast: Robbie Coltrane (Fitz), Barbara Flynn (Judith Fitzgerald), Geraldine Somerville (D.S. Penhaligon), Ricky Tomlinson (D.C.I. Wise), Emily Joyce (Janice), Rosemary Martin (Irene Jackson), Robert Cavanah (D.C. Temple), Wil Johnson (D.C. Skelton), Clive Russell (Danny Fitzgerald), Kieran O’Brien (Mark), Fleur Bennett (Nena), Tess Thomson (Katie), Will Knightley (Pathologist).
Synopsis: A lab technician, working at the same university as Fitz, begins to electrocute male students in order to gain the attention of the psychologist.
Comment: The final story of the regular series run for Cracker is an overly-contrived thriller with strong echoes of FATAL ATTRACTION (1987) and BASIC INSTINCT (1992). As such it comes across more as derivative than innovative, separating this production from the best stories of the series by some distance. Joyce as the besotted and twisted killer lacks subtlety and depth in both the characterisation and performance. Coltrane’s Fitz acts out of character at numerous points in the story, betraying Abbott’s detached nature from Jimmy McGovern’s creation. Two specials followed – CRACKER: WHITE GHOST (1996) and CRACKER (2006).
CRACKER: BEST BOYS (TV) (UK, 1995) ***½
Distributor: ITV – Independent Television; Production Company: A&E Television Networks / Granada Television; Release Date: 6 & 13 November 1995; Running Time: 99m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Stereo; Film Format: 16mm; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
Director: Charles McDougall; Writer: Paul Abbott; Executive Producer: Sally Head; Producer: Hilary Bevan Jones; Director of Photography: Dick Dodd; Music Composer: Rick Wentworth; Film Editor: Tony Cranstoun; Casting Director: Marilyn Johnson; Production Designer: Stephen Fineren; Art Director: Bill Crutcher; Wardrobe Supervisor: Michael Richards; Make-up: Anastasia Shirley; Sound: Phil Smith.
Cast: Robbie Coltrane (Fitz), Barbara Flynn (Judith Fitzgerald), Geraldine Somerville (D.S. Penhaligon), Ricky Tomlinson (D.C.I. Wise), Liam Cunningham (Grady), John Simm (Bill), Robert Cavanah (D.C. Temple), Wil Johnson (D.C. Skelton), Clive Russell (Danny Fitzgerald), Annette Ekblom (Diane Nash), John Langford (Brian Nash), Edward Peel (Chief Superintendent), Kieran O’Brien (Mark), Tess Thomson (Katie), Paul Barber (Ian McVerry), Will Knightley (Pathologist).
Synopsis: Stuart Grady, a lonely factory foreman, befriends a young male employee and the disturbed runaway involves them both in murder.
Comment: The second story of the final full season of Cracker is written by Paul Abbott (later famous for creating the TV series Shameless). Whilst Abbott fashions another solid psychological crime drama, he dumbs down some of the detective work with most of Fitz’s deductions requiring a substantial leap of faith. The strength of the show lies in its excellent performances and this story is well served by a very strong cast – with Cunningham and Simm particularly notable in early roles. The finale drops back into genre convention and the scene’s climax is predictably shocking. Technical credits are strong with Wentworth’s moody score adding to the atmosphere.
AT THE EARTH’S CORE (UK/USA, 1976) ***
Distributor: British Lion Film Corporation (UK) / American International Pictures (A.I.P.) (USA); Production Company: Amicus Productions; Release Date: July 1976 (USA), 22 August 1976 (UK); Filming Dates: 26 January 1976 – mid April 1976; Running Time: 90m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
Director: Kevin Connor; Writer: Milton Subotsky (based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs); Executive Producer: Harry N. Blum; Producer: John Dark, Max Rosenberg, Milton Subotsky; Director of Photography: Alan Hume; Music Composer: Michael Vickers; Film Editor: John Ireland, Barry Peters; Production Designer: Maurice Carter; Art Director: Bert Davey; Costumes: Rosemary Burrows; Make-up: Robin Grantham, Neville Smallwood; Sound: Jim Atkinson, George Stephenson; Special Effects: Ian Wingrove; Visual Effects: Charles Staffell.
Cast: Doug McClure (David Innes), Peter Cushing (Dr. Abner Perry), Caroline Munro (Dia), Cy Grant (Ra), Godfrey James (Ghak), Sean Lynch (Hoojah), Keith Barron (Dowsett), Helen Gill (Maisie), Anthony Verner (Gadsby), Robert Gillespie (Photographer), Michael Crane (Jubal), Bobby Parr (Sagoth Chief), Andee Cromarty (Girl Slave).
Synopsis: A Victorian era scientist and his assistant take a test run in their Iron Mole drilling machine and end up in a strange underground labyrinth ruled by a species of giant telepathic bird and full of prehistoric monsters and cavemen.
Comment: Scatty, juvenile and low-budget fantasy adventure gets by on its camp approach to the material with Cushing excelling in one of his lightly comic and eccentric scientist roles. McClure makes for an effective and likeable hero and Munro is stunning as one of the scantily clad natives. The monsters betray the lack of funds, but the action is well-edited to disguise some of the limitations this presents the production. The script is tight but lacks any depth or set-up. Vickers provides an eerie electronic score and Connor directs with a great sense of fun which he balances with the eerie atmosphere created by the imaginative production design and Hume’s photography.
Notes: Last film produced by Amicus, Hammer’s chief rival during the 1960s and ’70s.