Friday, August 31, 2018
The Persuaders (1971-2)
Perhaps the last (or one of the last) classical British shows before everything took a turn for more down-to-earth fare, The Persuaders is a highly enjoyable show. Fanciness exudes from every frame with all of its glitz and glamour, beautiful women, fast cars, and two playboy leads. The plots can get sometimes over-the-top, and not all are as good as each-other, but they're usually fun times, and overall this is certainly worth the praise it's received over the years.
The biggest fault of the series in my eyes is that more often than not it fails to live up to its premise. It started out as two powerful men with the potential to make a difference, but are too lazy and unmotivated to do anything beyond having a good time until stirred into action by Judge Fulton's influence. Instead, the majority of stories feature the duo simply stumbling into adventures by accident, usually by being on the wrong place at the wrong time, rather than intentionally seeking trouble out. Taking the first episode as an example, the plots could've had the duo go on missions directly from the Judge, or simply investigate suspicious goings-on in tandem with him (perhaps a better choice, that wouldn't reduce Fulton to an exposition box and the heroes to errand boys) We could've had a healthy mix of those types of stories, and those where criminal stuff just so happens to befall our heroes by complete coincidence.
I think the reason why Fulton wasn't a bigger presence was perhaps because the writers didn't want the two larger-than-life stars to be always knowing less than another character, and to avoid Fulton becoming like an exposition machine who always knows what going on.
Another thing I think doesn't really feel in place are the cold war centric episodes. They're good, but I'm not sure I feel like such stories fit the general tone of the series
Something a little confusing is the order of episodes. Persuaders was aired in a specific order, but the DVD's arrange it differently, perhaps in the original production schedule, since we witness Tony Curtis' hair gradually go grey rather than switching back and forth between episodes. I prefer the DVD's arrangement, although one drawback is that a lot of the European adventures are all clumped together, leading to several set in England in a row, so perhaps the variety of the TV airing wasn't all bad.
The acting in The Persuaders is all fine. Roger Moore and Tony Curtis are great leads, embodying their characters well. Laurence Naismith is practically the only other recurring actor, and while he only shows up in about half the episodes, he's always a pleasant sight.
As with most shows involving two lead actors, there's been lots of gossip about whether or not Moore and Curtis got on on set. Some reports are negative, others are positive, and Moore and Curtis themselves quashed any such idea that they hated each-other. If I had to guess, perhaps the reports are true in that they didn't quite get on, but it was more a case of clashing personalities and work ethics rather than them full-on hating each-other. That would probably explain why they looked back on the experience positively and spoke nicely about each-other.
The music in The Persuaders is definitely something to speak about! Many jovial, rousing, and bouncy tracks that really complement the series.
The effects are usually well, but there are amusing constants such as the often bloodless shootings, and the obvious rear-projection during car rides, some occasions moreso than others. The beautiful filming locations are a lovely sight to behold, and there's rarely a moment where you look at the action on screen and sarcastically go "Yeah, I totally believe these were shot in the same place. Nice soundstage, guys!".
The Persuaders only lasted for one season. Despite its huge success in the U.K., wider Europe, and good ol' Australia, the series wasn't popular in America, therefore cancelled. Goddammit, America! In any case, producer Lew Grade cared for the show so much that he was willing to foot the budget for a second season, but by that point Roger Moore had finally accepted the role of James Bond, and while some workaround solutions were bandied about (such as finding a replacement character), the show was ultimately ended.
Interestingly enough, the foreign dubs of the show were very different to the original! Since the translators threw up their hands and figured the jokes and cultural stuff was too hard to translate effectively, they rewrote huge swaths of the dialogue, making not only the characters totally different, but the comedy a lot broader. I don't know if the DVD releases of Persuaders in those respective countries are released with those dubs, but I certainly hope so, 'cause I'd sure like to see them someday!
One last thing to mention is how this show, like a few others of its time, was re-edited into movies for a second release (mainly for tv, I believe). What they'd do is take two episodes and splice them together, then act as if they were the one story all along. This worked better with some series' than others. A more serialised show like that Planet of the Apes one for example didn't go too terribly. As for Persuaders, I haven't watched these efforts in full, partly because I've only just rewatched the series proper and don't wish to see these episodes again so soon, but also I can't be bothered. From what I can tell from skimming through, they seem like hatchet jobs, as clumsy as they are pointless.
Ok, now it's time for a more in-depth look into this show's run...
The former Judge Fulton is unwilling to let his retirement stop him from taking a part in putting criminals behind bars. To this end he gets together two bored millionaires-English Lord Brett Sinclair and American businessman Danny Wilde. He views each as having vast potential, but use it for nothing but womanising, drinkin' booze, and getting into brawls. After receiving mystery invitations to Cote d'Azur, Brett and Danny meet and almost immediately start coming to blows, culminating in their arrest. Faced with 3 months of jail time, Fulton offers them the chance to take up a job for him-Investigate a beautiful woman...
Overture is a great first episode, and perhaps my favourite in the entire run. It does a great job introducing us to the leads, as well as the series' style and tone, not to mention the beautiful scenery of the French Riviera.
By far my favourite scene is the chase between Brett and Danny, scored to the fabulous song Gotta Get Away by Jackie Trent and Tony Hatch, and utilising split screen technology to great effect.
Where the episode excels at is the character introductions, but less satisfying is the remainder of the plot. It's by no means bad, but after the womanising section is over, it's just a bit routine, and we see so little of the villain that he doesn't really leave much of an impact.
To the Death, Baby
Independent young heiress Shelley Masterton is being manipulated by the Lothario con-man Carl Foster, convinced he's reformed his past misdeeds and loves her for real, and isn't just after her money. Her concerned legal guardian is hardly convinced, and pleads his case to the vacationing Brett and Danny, who each take turns trying to romance the girl themselves, and persuade her away from Foster, while also proving his ill intentions...
To the Death, Baby is a mostly good episode, with some fun twists and turns, but first you have to suffer through some more annoying moments, almost all courtesy of Shelley. She's smart in some scenes but a bit of an idiot in others. She's determined to even if he is a con-man because 'At some point I've got to be allowed to make my own mistakes'. Yeah, but not ones you're actively warned about and can tell is a mistake going in, and that'll cost you your entire $30 million dollar fortune! Stupid girl.
The leads interact decently enough with Shelley, but there's no introduction to Danny and Brett meeting her. They witness an altercation from afar and talk with her guardian, and the very next scene everyone's already acquainted. As annoying as it is that such an important moment remains unseen, I suppose this was at least partly a good decision, so things don't resemble last episode too much. As for the duo's bet, it could perhaps be seen as a bit creepy depending on how you see it, but it's mostly fine, mainly since Shelley knows what game they're up to, and they know she knows (hope I didn't just kill you with that ).
As the plot rolls on, and you wish you could hang Shelley out a window, there's an interesting reveal, which puts everything that came before in a new light. I definitely approve!
The Spanish setting is quite pretty, but there are a couple of obvious rents in the seams. While the majority of the episode was indeed shot in Europe, a bullfighting scene early on is obviously lower quality stock footage interspersed with the leads and a few extras sitting in an obvious stadium set.
Jennie Linden is good at showing off her character's exasperation, Thorley Walters does well, and the deceptively Harold Innocent plays a deliciously evil baddie. Roger Delgado shows up briefly, which is a treat. It's especially interesting seeing him play a Spanish character, as that was his heritage (though not recently enough for his Spanish accent to not be put-on).
Five Miles to Midnight
A wanted criminal in Italy, Frank Rocco is not only on the run from police, but also the mafia. Willing to testify against them for the U.S. government, he's to be smuggled out of the country by Brett and Danny, on the instructions of Judge Fulton. Coming along for the ride is a plucky photographer, and after a chase to distract the police in the city, the gang head out into the wide open mountains and valleys, journeying on foot. Their plan runs into several snags, and it seems like the two millionaires bitten off more they can chew...
Five Miles to Midnight is one of those breakneck on-the-run type stories, usually set in an approximation of real time. This can go either way. When done well it's very good, but when done poorly it's leaden. This is thankfully a good example, and even if it was rock boring, we'd be taken through beautiful Italian hills and mountains, which would more than make up for any boredom.
The story is simple but effective and to the point, though it seems a bit weird how literally everyone in the Italian countryside seems to be working for the mafia. There's a great reveal at the end, though the climax itself is a bit anticlimactic, with the threat of over half a dozen goons being upturned by the entrance of one guy with a gun on Brett and Danny's otherwise defenseless side.
The leads have fun banter, and we get some insight into their characters and motivations...sort-of. We get none into Danny's, but in an effectively mysterious way, and as for Brett, he's probably telling a half-truth. While these risky venture perhaps do make him feel more alive, I'm sure he does genuinely do it for noble reasons too.
Joan Collins' character Sidonie is either sexually liberated or a cheap floozy, depending on how you see her. I found her to be quite annoying. She's fun at first, but she goes from vociferously insisting on coming along to whining about being stuck on this venture, despite having been warned away at repeated intervals and told about the risks involved.
The remainder of characters are ok. Frank Rocco is a probing crim who's sometimes more trouble than he's worth, but overall does well. Judge Fulton only gets a couple of scenes and makes the most of them, and the baddies are basically all just lackeys, so not really all that interesting.
While in Cannes for the film festival, Danny meets an old childhood friend from the Bronx, Angie. He's overjoyed to have met the guy again, but Brett and Judge Fulton are skeptical, suspecting Angie of being a contract killer hired to assassinate a popular union leader. Danny tries proving them wrong, but finds to his horror that Angie isn't who he thinks he is anymore...
Angie...Angie is a good episode, with plenty of dramatic moments for Tony Curtis, and things are entertaining enough that you forgive the contrivances that drive the story, such as how fortuitous it is that Danny just so happens to find Angie again, not only because his girl friend is the suspicious woman Brett and co. are looking for, but because Angie himself is the hitman operating the whole scheme.
Despite it being awkward watching him trying to defend a friend who the audience knows really is a murderous lunatic, the episode paints Danny in a good light, showing him as someone who doesn't forget his old friends from the slums just because he's made it big
Angie is ostensibly the story's main villain, but there's a man behind the curtain. Something a bit weird is how determined they are to kill Angie for a single botched assignment, when according to him this is his first ever failure. Although given Angie's desperate demeanour as the episode progresses, maybe he was lying? In any case it's a bit contrived and overly dramatic that this just so happens to be Angie's last assignment before he can retire.
Something that does kinda thankfully this is only Episode 4 in run, but given how that doesn't fully gel, particularly since the duo got over their general enmity for working with Judge Fulton after Overture. Still, it's not like The Prisoner, where the jumbled episode order actually creates inconsistencies
Tony Curtis gets the spotlight here while Moore is more proactive, though not a huge amount. Laurence Naismith barely appears, with just a couple of scenes before disappearing at the halfway point. Known for more silly roles such as Corporal Agarn in F Troop, Larry Storch delivers a neat performance. He's good at the part of both a sincere old friend and that of an unhinged murderer, even if he is a tad over-the-top in places (especially the climax).
The actress who plays Angie's sidekick is weird, always looking like a still photograph rather than a real human being, and she has this creepy look on her face like she's an alien unconvincingly trying to seem human (no offense to said actress, I swear!). Even when she moves, she seems to stay perfectly still, if that makes any sense.
A local dancer and prize swimmer is found dead in the French bay by Brett and Danny, and after the highly suspicious death is rebuked by the authorities as a 'clear suicide or accident', the enraged duo decide to investigate the case themselves, accompanying the dead woman's friend Pekoo, eventually finding themselves facing a dangerous conspiracy...
Powerswitch begins with a very effective intro, switching well from comedy to more serious matters, all without a single line of dialogue. It's a case of superb visual direction! This keeps up throughout, namely in the clifftop finale.
There's an intriguing plot, and it only gets more interesting the more you find out, with a thrilling climax, unfortunately followed by a very rushed ending. I dug Fulton's role in the story's events, too. While I don't normally like how he manipulates his two agents from behind the scenes, since the first episode kinda established their willingness to assist him by the end, I really liked his role here as a show of his wiles and intelligence. I didn't however appreciate that Fulton once again only gets one scene, at the start, and that's it. Not even a moment where we see Brett and Danny find out the truth behind their involvement in the case. At least we do get the return of a more appreciative Inspector Blanchard at the end.
The villains here are a pair of cunning bastards, while Koestler is presented as a more sympathetic player. The actors all do their jobs very well, with Terence Alexander being menacing from the get-go, and Melissa Stribling being convincingly easygoing and nice at first, then cold and calculating once her true colours are revealed.
Her weird name aside, Pekoo (played by the lovely British tv stalwart and Aussie traitor Annette Andre) is a worthwhile sidekick, much better than Joan Collins in Five Miles to Midnight. Her motivation is strong, and she does just enough to warrant her presence, never feeling like a useless addition.
One thing I found cool is the amount of unsubtitled foreign dialogue there is, rather than the show taking the easy way out and having everyone in France speak English. It also shows off Brett's lingual capabilities.
The Gold Napoleon
Danny is about to board a plane back to America when the woman next to him is struck down by sniper fire. He believes the round was meant for him, but it soon becomes apparent that the girl is mixed up in some serious trouble, thanks to her uncle's reluctant involvement in a gold smuggling operation...
The Gold Napoleon is a good episode, with a few little hiccups. It's strange how Danny is so jetset to leave and unwilling to receive protection despite someone trying to kill him. Then as soon as there's another attempt on his life, his opinion reverses, despite adamantly refusing to stay in the very preceding scene. The episode actually brings attention to his indecisiveness, which sounds good on paper, but that whole exchange between Danny and Brett is just a bit mind-melting.
My least favourite part of the episode is the exchange when Brett is talking to the girl's uncle under the guise of a German. It's not only annoying, but his actions net him zero results, but he also totally gets the uncle killed! On that note, his death feels pointless, and doesn't really effect the story. After it happens, the rest of the cast are still pretty chipper about everything.
overdramatic music stings
While both heroes certainly get their funny moments, they're also annoying in equal measure, from Brett's somewhat painful German impression that lasts nearly 5 minutes, and Danny's insistence on yammering on to the Judge when he's on the phone. Time and a place, Danny boy! Shut the hell up! The whole scene where Danny sneaks in the foundry is pretty unbelievable, but despite that it's very well executed, and Tony Curtis is clearly the one performing these stunts for most of it (maybe even all, assuming a stuntman wasn't procured for the narrow building-to-building walk).
This episodes villain is a pretty typical Italian/Spanish mobster (the fact that the actor Alfred Marks is neither made it a tad unclear), but he does the job well. Regarding said baddie, for a guy who doesn't exist, he sure talks in the third person a fair bit. His main henchman is ok, but a total idiot, not noticing Wilde sneaking about in the foundry right in front of him, the very man he suggested the murder of. Harold Goldblatt is ok, but I guess the actor had something better to do since he abruptly dies partway through and is barely spoken of again. Susan George is quite good as far as this show's female side characters go, as she spends a lot of the episode being proactive on her own, even before the events of the episode (hence her getting shot to begin with).
The Gold Napoleon features one of the lesser effects in the show's run. It's a recurring thing in the series, but exacerbated here. It's the typical rear-projection car scene, except for someone on a motorbike, making the facade so much more obvious when there's not the back of a car to hide at least some of it. There was also a gunshot wound that we seem to plainly see there's no blood, but on close examination there is. I was just a dope looking in the wrong place.
The Old, the New, and the Deadly
Danny and Brett are staying at a French hotel, where Suzy, an old flame of Danny's shows up with her new husband. The daughter of a disgraced French politician who's believed to have sold his country out to the nazis, she's happy to be hitched to someone who doesn't hold that against her. Also present in the hotel crowd is a mysterious man with a suitcase that breaks open, revealing a statuette of a bird, which Danny helps put back. A photographer snaps up the event while focusing on the blushing newlywed, and the following newspaper gives off the impression that Danny is the bearer of the statue, leading to several attempts on his life, orchestrated by a sinister count who very much desires the bird for himself...
Rather than be a more open and sprawling adventure, The Old, the New, and the Deadly is all in the one location (still in pretty France though!) over a shorter length of time. While I prefer a greater variety in places to visit, I still like this format, and this is a decent episode, though hampered by a couple of things.
The villains talk tough, but are a bit bumbling in practice, having to constantly rely on an endless stream of assassins who are all conveniently in the Paris area At least Groski (an overdramatic dandy who comes off like an evil Jason King, if my memory of that show is serving me correctly) actually plays a sizeable role in the story, unlike the first, who gets dispatched almost as soon he appears.
There is one thing that stops me from enjoying this episode, and that's Suzy's husband. He's a jealous and vindictive prick, who makes rash assumptions, sweeping demands regarding his wife, acts aggressively, drags his wife around, etc, and he never apologises either! I suppose you're meant to assume he did at some point after the credits roll, but we of course never see that, so we're still left with a sour taste. His presence also kinda spoils a lot of the episode's comedy too, as there's a lot of funny moments, particularly the ending, until he shows up.
One of the funnier moments is Brett's family anecdote about his ancestor's bad luck in the French Revolution. You have to wonder if his family history really is this downbeat, or if he's just screwing with Danny.
Patrick Troughton doesn't let a silly wig and accent detract too much for his performance, and is a fine villain. The episode's opening shot is rather terrifying, to boot.
A young heiress is shocked when her long thought dead brother Mark shows up, claiming control of the estate At the behest of Judge Fulton, Danny and Brett investigate the hostile new heir, believing him to be a fraud...
Take Seven is a change for the series, with a more homegrown British feel to it rather than a European one. The story is entertaining enough...Riiiight up until the twist at the end, and then the whole thing falls apart. It feels like a shock reveal just for the sake of one, and doesn't gel with the previous events at all, such as Mark's behaviour or actions throughout It also puts Judge Fulton's judge of character in a pretty bad light! A good twist is one that makes you rewatch the episode and see everything in a whole new light, with these revelations apparent now that you have that knowledge, and you can see all the clues leading up to the climactic reveal. Instead, Take Seven literally never mentions or sets up any such twist save for one little clue that's not anywhere near enough to guess anything from, and the first we hear about the switcheroo is at the very end.
Sinéad Cusack is good up until the last act, whereas Christian Roberts does well at being an annoying git until becoming suddenly likeable in the last 10 minutes. Also here is a surprisingly young Richard Hurndall (well, younger). I've only ever seen him before in The Five Doctors, where he was a good decade older, and possibly making his voice and general demeanour different in order to act like William Hartnell.
Someone Like Me
Brett is on his way to a family jumble sale when he's lured out in to the woods and assaulted. He wakes up in what seems to be hospital, but soon realises that there's more to the place than there seems, eventually almost escaping his false surroundings. Once Brett regains consciousness, he's back in his car, and the whole hospital experience feels like a dream, but mysterious phone calls that cause him to experience missing time make Brett realise that something serious is gong on...
Now this is a weird 'un! The Persuaders is usually a lighthearted show, and even the more serious episodes like Angie...Angie are still normal. Someone Like Me however is just plain weird! It feels like a cross between The Manchurian Candidate and the Schizoid Man episode of The Prisoner. While it's a bit less freaky on second viewing as opposed to when you go in completely unexpected, it's still a pretty compelling watch!
While well written, this episode does still fall into the same problems as The Schizoid Man, to an extent. Just like we know the No. 6 we're following isn't really an imposter, we know that this really is Brett doing these things under hypnotic control, though we at least don't know what's up with the whole plastic surgery angle until late in. It's also very late in when we finally learn about Brett's relationship with Sam Milford (or indeed hear about him at all). It's a shame because the dialogue he gets goes quite a way to establish and inform their relationship, but we don't actually see them interact until the last 5 minutes, or even hear Brett so much as speak his name before very nearly the last act.
The villainous scheme is good, but a tad overcomplicated. For all the trouble they go to, it'd be much easier if they cut out all this brainwashing and plastic surgery stuff. After all, as a private secretary or something the main bad guy has access to Milford, so you'd think he could just come up to his office, say 'Hey, here are some new cigarettes, straight from Havana!', then scarper while they either poison or blow up his target. Also feeling a bit tacked on is Milford having gotten engaged/married to the female conspirator, as that just raises further questions. As his wife, she'd surely have unfettered access to his life. If introduced earlier, this could have been a fine plot point, and quite dramatic, but because it's first raised in the last 3 minutes, it feels unnecessary.
The acting is quite good all round, and we even get to see Bernard Lee as Brett's targeted friend. He does well as you can imagine, although suffers from a lack of screentime. The standout performances come from Moore and Curtis, who do well with more dramatic material, playing off well against their often more playful attitudes.
Chain of Events
While out on a camping trip with Brett, Danny stumbles upon a dying parachutist, who uses his last moments to handcuff a mysterious suitcase to the American's wrist. This instantly marks Danny for trouble, as several parties are now after him, determined to take the suitcase for their own country's secret service, regardless of what befalls its wearer...
Chain of Events is another 'on the run' episode, with all the action taking place in the one short stretch of time, though we've got a little more room than a hotel this time. It's amusing watching how our two heroes are just out camping and yet still find themselves embroiled in a life-or-death manhunt. it's frustrating however that the macguffin the whole story was centred around ends up being entirely pointless. There's nothing interesting inside, to the point where it retroactively made the rest of the adventure less exciting for me.
There are quite a few over-the-top moments here, and most are forgiveable, though the intro's a bit silly (however, it does have some interesting moments of possible foreshadowing on rewatch). One moment that had me chuckling was Brett trying to break the chain on Danny's wrist by hooking it to a car and barred stone wall. Thank god the wall gave out first, because the only other alternative would've involved something breaking, and it wouldn't be the handcuffs!
The onscreen villain of the piece is the freelance spy Schubert, and as you can tell from that German name, he's played by a British actor. Does a good job at least. As for the ep's lady guest star, a tough British intelligence agent, I wouldn't say she's introduced too late since she's a constant, albeit a somewhat infrequent constant. I Suppose the issue is that we only get properly introduced to her later on when she finally meets Danny and is convinced of his innocence. and see her begin interacting with fairly late in. Aside from a crack about Brett having given her measles as a teenager, there's zero insight into her personality, and they're only onscreen together during the final minute, where they barely interact.
While it was seemingly filmed in a wet and muddy season of British weather (would it be mean of me to suggest there's any other kind?), the scenery is nice.
Brett has taken Danny to the Sinclair family estate of Greensleeves, a previously run-down place that has since been completely refurbished, in Brett's name, despite him having no such involvement. The duo discover that the house's occupants are looking for an actor bearing a close physical resemblance to the seemingly absent Lord, so Brett decides to volunteer and impersonate himself, discovering a secret plot to manipulate the idyllic leader of a new African nation...
With its conceit of Brett impersonating himself, Greensleeves is very interesting on paper, and it mostly lives up to the premise, even if I wish that angle had gone on for a little longer. Also neat is Brett's relationship with the now-Prime Minister of an African nation. Less intriguing though is how mundane and almost dull the villains' motives are. They're not unrealistic for a big evil corporation, but they're hardly complex, especially when compared to the effort they've gone to to plan this whole affair.
While neither the African leader or his spunky daughter get a great deal of screentime (nor any in the denouement), they make the most of their roles. I still wish they'd appeared more though, particularly the daughter. I liked her interactions with Danny, especially involving Hungary!
The Greensleeves estate where the majority of the episode takes place is quite a pretty place to be, and I feel like slapping Brett upside the head for letting it fall into a state of disrepair. Thank goodness for this evil plan!
The Ozerov Inheritance
While holidaying in Geneva, Brett and Danny are sent a secret message by an aristocratic Russian family, who are desperately trying to prove their connection to the royal Ozerovs and thus get their long unclaimed inheritance. There's clearly something to their assertions when armed thugs ransack their duo's hotel room and people start dying...
The biggest drawback to The Ozerov Inheritance is how talky it is to begin with. The first 10 or so minutes are mainly just an exposition dump, and it's only after that's over when the episode properly begins. Once it does finally get going, it's pretty good, with a good plot, and pretty Swiss scenery. I especially like how noble Brett and Danny's goals are this episode, simply to restore dignity to an old woman and her family.
The villain is probably the next biggest fault. Firstly, he's just not that interesting, but another part of what makes the story lacking in this department is because it offered what could've been a clue to someone else unexpected being the baddie, but no, it's the predictably evil nephew. His hired assassin was more enjoyable, despite the lack of much screentime, or how he's kind-of all talk given how easily Danny disarms him. On that note, a later scene of Brett and Danny breaking free from captivity is a bit embarrassing. No-one can be as stupid as this goon is, surely!
One last plot point to touch on comes in the last few minutes, and while it does live up to a previously alluded to guess I'd made, it came a bit too late for me, and reduced much of the episode's journey pointless. All these issues aside, this is hardly unenjoyable, and is a fun watch.
The Morning After
Brett wakes up one morning in Sweden with a massive headache and no recollection of the night before, only to find he's now married. Concerned about the affair, he believes he's been drugged as part of a scheme, and he and Danny try and find out why...
The Morning After is a decent episode. Danny gets the lion's share of the action, while Brett is saddled with his potentially duplicitous new wife a lot of the time. Just a shame that Brett's scenes are a bit awkward, and Danny's scenes are somewhat held back by his eyesore of a fashion choice. The villains aren't an interesting bunch, but Bibi, the sidekick for the story is better, played well by Danish beauty Yutte Stensgaard. A shame her character disappears from the story after both leads are back in Britain. I also liked Brett's butler, so it's a shame he gets killed! Doubly a shame the episode forgets this, too! Lastly, Judge Fulton is present but doesn't really do anything, and one has to wonder if he's only in the episode because the writer couldn't be bothered establishing who this intermediary was and just figured 'Eh, judges are involved in organising political meetings, right? Let's just stick Fulton in there'.
Given this is an episode of The Persuaders, it stands to reason that at least one of the duo has to escape from some sort of bondage. As for whether the way it happens is silly, it's not, and actually pretty clever, albeit relying on the convenient presence of a boiler, and the luck that it doesn't full-on blow up and kill Danny and Bibi. There is one amusingly dumb moment earlier when Danny is in the wedding registrar's office, having been knocked after the man's murder and had a gun stuck in his hand to frame him. Upon waking up, Danny's first thought after checking the door is to stuff the pistol in his pants! As crazy as this is, it does at least come in handy for his method of escaping the police (don't worry, it doesn't involve taking potshots at them).
Element of Risk
While at the airport, Danny is in the wrong place at the wrong time and ends up being mistaken for an American criminal by the organisation that's hired his services. With the real Harvey Lomax in the hands of airport security, Danny plays along with his newfound 'compatriots', while trying to get in contact with Brett and tell him what's going on, before the crime of the decade can occur, with Danny at the helm...
Bloody hell, another episode about Danny being mistaken for someone else? Why does this never happen to Brett?!
Element of Risk is a very enjoyable episode. While it can get a bit awkward at times due to the whole misunderstanding nature of the episode, it's still a cracking good time, with intrigue, tension, and a decently thrilling final act, although it's resolved perhaps a bit too easily.
The denouement's a bit weak though. The criminal girl gets the short end of the stick with her implied jail time, which is perhaps deserved, but then again she did aid the duo in saving the day. Also, not only does Danny totally screw over Brett's planned double date, but we're also subjected to Roger Moore attempting to disco dance. There are some things Lords shouldn't do...
Getting to the antagonists, Lomax takes his sweet ass time properly showing up, but once he does we really do get a glimpse at the studious and methodical planner the others had been talking about beforehand, and he has a commanding presence. Peter Bowles does a nice job too, in his joviality, and his more steely-eyed moments.
One bit of potential set and music recycling from episodes past I noticed is the disco we visit a few times over the course of the story.
Brett is getting back into motor racing, but his efforts are halted when attempts start being made on his life, with a mysterious link to the past...
Someone Waiting is a mixed episode. It's partially very good, taking a sometimes more serious approach, and telling an intriguing mystery that you're keen to see uncovered. The problem for me lies in how a totally unrelated plot about fixing a race seems a bit crammed in and takes away screentime from the much more interesting main story. It's also a bit of a confusing subplot to take in, especially when compared to the much simpler main attraction.
There are a few entertaining and odd touches to the episode. There's an amusing dynamic we see with Brett cooking for Danny like a housemaid. Coming to the odd, there's a bizarre exaggerated silent film style fight at one point, where it's very difficult to tell what's even going on (just that Brett and Danny are the winners). There's also a somewhat hilarious moment when Brett opens the curtains in a dark room, and the 'daylight' floods in so much the light turns on!
The acting is all fine. Donald Pickering is weird but alright as the effete and bungling career-criminal, and John Cairney is very good in the first half of his role, but overacts too much in the second.
Anyone Can Play
Brett and Danny are out at a casino looking for a good time, and when Danny inadvertently utters a secret paymaster codeword, he's making a killing at the games table, not realizing he's being covertly given the funds for a communist ring's paymaster. Making things worse for the group is that a secret handler was watching the whole thing, and will be following and relaying information about the organisation members' whereabouts to Danny, not the real paymaster...
Anyone Can Play starts off a tad boring, with not terribly exciting casino fluff, but it quickly gets very interesting as soon as the plot becomes clear! Also, really, Danny? Another case of mistaken identity? This is thankfully less cringy than previous occasions, due to Danny not getting caught in tricky situations as much (until the end, of course, when he has to give the big rousing speech that only the real paymaster knows).
Despite starting off strong, there's a bit of a weak ending. Also, depending on how safe or fatal being thrown off a train is, the communist ringleaders at the end either all got away, or Brett and Danny have quite the amount of death on their consciences!
The special police bureau that shows up this story are...strange. The majority of them just come across like regular cops, but their leader comes off like a cross between Judge Fulton (in that he's presumably a fill-in for that stalwart character in absentia) and John Steed of The Avengers at his more exaggerated.
The villains are an ok bunch. It's interesting that we see the bad guys from such a vulnerable perspective, with them having completely ballsed up, spending the entire runtime trying to rectify their mistake. Next up is Danny's Russian contact. I know she's an enemy agent and all, and I really shouldn't be siding with her, but I like her spunk! I kinda hoped she'd turn good, but alas.
The acting's all pretty good. Playing one of the casino gang is an Aussie actor (Ed Devereaux), which you'd better believe I appreciated!
The Time and the Place
While out for a relaxing country drive, Brett and Danny are stopped by a mysterious hitchhiker, who promptly leaves the two alone. Danny finds a dead body, but when he goes back to get Brett, not only has it disappeared, but the dead man is purported to be alive at the house of one Lord Croxley. A convenient car accident soon after confirms Danny's suspicions that a murder has taken place, and he and Brett seek to uncover the political machinations behind the man's untimely death...
Time and Place is another episode that gets off to a really intriguing start, with a strange central mystery. Things kinda kinda stall a bit at the halfway point, with plenty of action, but little in the way of actually furthering the story. Thankfully we do eventually find out what's going on, and it's a pretty interesting plan.
Despite being a case of 'show don't tell', the ending was funny, although it doesn't really offer any satisfactory answer or conclusion to the main story, and what became of the antagonists and their scheme. Less funny and more painful (or the other way around depending on your opinion) is Tony Curtis' attempts at impersonating a Scotland Yard detective.
The baddies are an ok bunch, with the most rounded being the lady (if she was named, I clearly missed it). I like that her being a woman doesn't make her eventually side with the heroes. That happens a fair bit in this show, the female co-conspirators turning on their bosses after realizing the error of their ways and siding with Brett and Danny. It's almost like those episodes of the 1960s Batman series! Here though, the woman shows sympathy, but never hesitates to accept deadly force, nor reneges on her part in this attempted revolution. She even sorta becomes the defacto villain in the final minutes, until thrown in a clothes hamper.
Roger Moore is in the director's chair this time round, and he does a somewhat stylish job.
The Long Goodbye
While out on a Scottish wilderness trek prompted by Judge Fulton, Danny and Brett stumble upon a decaying old plane wreck hidden in some underbrush, containing a skeleton, and a written plea to destroy the 'formula' on the body's person. Upon their discovery, several 'somewhat overeager' parties now wish to either kidnap or buy the duo in order to steal the formula. Brett and Danny's only hope is to find the dead man's long lost daughter, before her father's fears come true...
The Long Goodbye is quite good. It really nails the repressive feeling that comes from suddenly being the centre of attention of half a dozen different groups. Unfortunately this section takes up a good chunk of the episode. I suppose it's understandable, since the elements and players of the story are already in place, only needing conversations to further the story, but still. Right up about the point the real Carla Wilkes shows up is when things properly start to progress.
The ending is a case of real life dictating the story. While it would be nice for the world of The Persuaders to receive a perfect fix for the oil crisis, it of course can't seeing as it's trying to mirror reality, and thus can't present such a boon, since it didn't happen in real life I kinda wish shows would break from the present day's history more often. It'd be unpredictable at least!
There are far too many characters to keep track of here, and that's gotta be the ep's biggest downfall. With all the different Carla Wilkes, I wondered if the rocket car lady would show up again as the story's sidekick, revealing herself to be the real Carla. If so, that'd be welcome since I liked her, godawful taste in vehicles aside (technically not her choice, I know), but it would be incredibly contrived. She does end up making a brief return though when Brett employs her assistance in breaking-and-entering the bad guy's lair. He does this of course despite her protestations to his presence by kissing her, because that's how the minds of women work, right? Lastly, Judge Fulton makes a welcome return, even if he is rendered immobile by gout. I wonder if Laurence Naismith really did have some sort of malady that necessitated the plaster cast.
Speaking of a different sort of cast, there are a few familiar faces, and voices. Peter Sallis briefly shows up as a baddie, and I instantly recognised his voice! Then there's the ethereal beauty Madeline Smith, marking the second Hammer babe to show up in an episode of The Persuaders (though her role is much smaller than Yutte Stensgaard). There's also Deborah Moore, daughter of Roger. I'm not sure I'd say she's a great actress, but moreso in the sense that she talks like an unscripted kid, so not that good, but also not unconvincing.
The Long Goodbye is another episode directed by Roger Moore. His work is mostly fine, though a vehicle accident at the end is a bit confounding.
A Home of One's Own
Danny has just purchased a ramshackle cottage out in the English countryside despite skepticism from Brett, but his plans of refurbishing the property are threatened by an arrogant neighbour who wishes to own the cottage for himself, and a dangerous cult...
A Home of One's Own shapes up to be a most interesting episode thanks to the presence of a sinister cult, but the execution is disappointing for two reasons. First is that there's about a 40 minute gap between their appearances, and second is that they're only disguises for enterprising smugglers and nothing more. Awww! I know an episode about an actual cult threatening the heroes would perhaps have been a bit unrealistic and potentially silly (moreso than usual), but it'd be better than leading the audience on only to pull the rug out from under them with the reveal that the spooky goings-on are less fun than previously thought. While amusing in a way, the ending's a bit depressing and unlikely for poor Danny and his homeowning dreams.
Danny seems like a weird sort to get into such a homeowning spree, but his American stubbornness is certainly believable in the face of the intense adversity he faces from all sides. Brett gets his 'suave' moments, such as his pick-up line to Lucy, where he's basically like 'What are you doing this evening? No, don't tell me. We're going to have a nice pheasant over sauce with a drop of champagne'.
Lucy is a good character, but only after a certain point. She's effectively mysterious early on, but it's eventually frustrating to watch in how often she fobs Brett and Danny off about how she's doing something important but 'don't ask me what', or 'I'll tell you later, when the time is right'. How about you tell us now instead of dragging this out, lady?! What's most disappointing is that she ends up being something perfectly mundane, and didn't have much reason to be so secretive with what she knew (at least not to the leads). I grew to like her more after we find out her identity.
Danny's new neighbour is overtly and cartoonishly evil, not exactly presenting a good villain.
I suppose this could be explained by them not being a real cult, but isn't is rather unfair and improper to stick pins in a voodoo doll if you're gonna kill the person yourself?! That's cheating!
That's Me Over There
An anonymous source has spent the last few months feeding information regarding the corrupt and untouchable businessman Thaddeus Krane to Brett, and has just retrieved the last piece of information needed to indict the man. Things go awry when he's caught on a security camera, and Krane has his treacherous employee murdered. With the dead man's evidence now in the hands of his collaborator, she follows her friend's last instructions by setting up a meeting with Brett and only Brett to hand over the data. Unfortunately things take another turn for the worse when Krane discovers Brett's involvement in the whole affair and has him kidnapped, leading to Danny having to impersonate his Lordship...
That's Me Over There is a fun time, and you really feel the thrills as the leads try and take down a seemingly unbeatable crime lord.
The auction section drags on a tad too long, not because it's bad or poorly paced, but because it perhaps overestimates the difficulty in handing over a 1 inch microfilm in a densely crowded room. It takes over 10 minutes to accomplish what should've taken 5 seconds. The ending is funny, though I kinda wish we'd gotten a proper denouement with the two women, seeing as they are important and all.
Danny is one again guilty of an awful 'pip pip cheerio' accent when he answers the phone as Brett, but he uses a more restrained one when impersonating his friend in person. It's still not good, but it's at least more subtle than Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins...almost.
Brett's contact is a bit of an idiot in his final scene. He's scared senseless when at work, so if he's gotten the last evidence he needs to send his boss to jail, he should've just immediately left, but not only does he not, he accepts the ominous call up to Krane's office, where the predictable happens. At least when he's caught out, the guy does at least make a decent attempt at escaping, but it fails when he makes the boneheaded decision to run up to the roof instead of a lower floor. Oops!
Something weird is how neither Brett's contact or his friend ever use their own home phones to contact Brett, or even a random pay phone but always the one in Krane's office. Also, where in god's name do you buy a mummy, sarcophagus and all, for only 30,000 pounds?!
There are a lot of familiar faces here. Geoffrey Keen and Derek Newark turned out to only be known to me from other movies and programs (James Bond and Doctor Who, respectively), but Juliet Harmer did indeed appear in a previous episode, as the same character! It's nice to see a bit of continuity like that, in a show where the main three characters are the only constants among a sea of ever changing faces.
Read and Destroy
British freelance spy Felix Meadowes has written his memoirs, and each side is tetchy about the contents of his book. He's content to play the East and West off each-other and sell the manuscript to the highest bidder, and Brett and Danny are each approached by their respective governments to try and get ahold of Felix's book before it sees print...
Read and Destroy is a bit of a weird episode. It's another cold war thriller, perhaps moreso than anything that's preceded, and it opens with an out-of-place narration by a tertiary character. Despite this, the story starts out interestingly enough, but then the intrigue dissolves away when we find out all this fuss is just over a memoir. Brett and Danny don't really get much to do, and the conceit of them being pitted against each-other doesn't really go anywhere. Eventually the plot just sorta fizzles. The ending is decent, though since Felix vanishes from the story in the final act, we never see the look on his face as he realises his plans are up in smoke. Also, in-case you were wondering, the odd narration at the beginning courtesy of an American spy leads nothing, and it doesn't even act as decent exposition, since it tells us practically nothing we either don't already know, or can't infer for ourselves.
The majority of the story is confined to the one house, which is mostly a dull decision, but made up for partially by the house being nice from the inside and exceptionally beautiful from the outside.
As the episode went on and I saw one of the women, I thought to myself "...Is that Kate O'Mara? Hey, that makes three! Now all we need is Ingrid Pitt and the Collinson twins!". Funnily enough, there's another actor in this episode who I struggled to recognise at first, until remembering he's also from The Vampire Lovers! Unfortunately he's saddled with an awful Russian accent, complete with 'comical' moments such as calling unhelpful cats 'capitalists'.
The two British agents who try to get Brett to retrieve the memoir are extremely British in a borderline phoney way (with their monocles, umbrellas, and bowl hats, as well as them talking about 'sticky wickets', and heavy use of the word 'wot'), which is quite impressive for an English program Finally, George Merritt is eminently enjoyable as Brett's manservant Chivers, and he even gets to play an important role in the climax! When Brett declares needing an experienced thief, and that he knows just the man, I jokingly said 'Chivers!', but as it turns out I was bang on the money!
Brett has just arrived in Spain to meet Danny, who's set up a double date for the two of them. There's barely enough time to swap names when one of the women, Lisa, is kidnapped. Danny gets in his car and gives chase, leaving Brett in the unenviable position to explain to Lisa's powerful father what happened and that Danny is not involved in the abduction. Failing to convince him, Brett has only 24 hours to find not only Danny, but Lisa too, and bring her home safe and sound before his friend
Nuisance Value starts out with the character of Lisa acting similarly to the heiress from To the Death, Baby, thus immediately earning my dislike for her choice in men, but thankfully she improves come her very next scene (the double date), so we seem to be saved her prattling about how much she loves her beau Michel and that he's not just after her money...until the twist, which spoils the story and any sympathy I had for Lisa's character.
There's also a second twist, technically a third depending on how you count these things. Both of these feel unnecessary as I was already interested at least in seeing how the plot would resolve itself after the first reveal, but instead it just takes the cheap way out.
Despite all these setbacks, the story does at least all come together, and the ending is very funny, as well as satisfying, with every important character present and getting a final moment.
We're back to Spain this episode, and the locale provides some exceedingly pretty sights as the cast whizz by.
A Death in the Family
A relative of Brett's is killed, and any doubts about whether it was an accident or not are dashed when more relations start biting the dust. Brett and Danny have to figure out who the killer is before the next target is ...
Ugghhhhhh, not this episode! Ranked as my least favourite by far the first time I watched the series (it was the only one I outright disliked), I haven't been looking forward to seeing it again, save for the chance to finally tear into it a bit.
My second biggest problem is the gimmick of casting Roger Moore as other member of his family. My first biggest problem is that it goes to the trouble of setting this gimmick up, yet one of said characters dies in the intro with barely any dialogue, another is slathered under tons of make-up to the point where he's nearly unrecognizable as Moore, and doesn't say so much as a word before quickly getting killed, while the final role is a one scene joke character. The rest of the relations (i.e. the important ones) are played by other actors.
Another issue with Death in the Family is that it's awfully depressing! At least half a dozen of Brett's family have been brutally murdered, yet it's played off like a big joke. Also, what kind of dope commits murder to get an inheritance when he's 11th or so in line?
This is one of those murder-mysteries where the killer is only caught after they've killed off just about everyone they wanted to, which are always frustrating. Another drawback to them is that eventually the identity of the killer becomes plainly obvious because there's no-one left it could be besides the only surviving suspect!
The climactic revelations are a cheat reveal. Firstly there's a whodunnit no-no involving who the killer turns out to be, and then there's a fake-out 'Oh no, Bret just died!' moment, where it's clearly Roger Moore in the shot where he's 'killed', but an obvious mannequin in the next. Lastly, the killer's motive is rubbish, and his plan is ridiculous. The actor is bloody awful, too, and sounds about as Australian as Bela Lugosi.
Some of the jokes work, but the majority aren't that funny, and are sometimes cartoonish, or tonally awkward. One weird choice is the goofy mask the killer wears, which surely has to be a teensy bit conspicuous?!
A Death in the Family is definitely an episode worth skipping, that's for sure!...
Man in the Middle
After an espionage mission for Judge Fulton goes wrong, Brett finds himself forced to impersonate a defecting British agent selling secrets to the East. With the Russian spies keen to nab him, and the local authorities not realizing he's really undercover, the only people Brett can safely rely on are Danny, and his clumsy cheapskate relation...
I'm not quite sure what to think about Man in The Middle. It's good, I guess. The story is decent, but I'm not sure if it's a bit uneven or what. There's not really one villain for a lot of it, and Brett and co. are mainly trying to avoid everybody, and getting kidnapped by everybody. A lot of the episode is getting shanghaied then rescued only to be nabbed once more, all the while we're treated to comic relief courtesy of Brett's not distant enough relation.
Judge Fulton thankfully does show up one last time, but acts like a total dickhead. He can certainly be a wily type, but he's surely not this much of an ass.
Terry-Thomas runs the fine line between amusing and annoying, partly because of his own goofy demeanour, but also because of his characters' tendency to sometimes be a total louse. He's somewhat endearing at times though.
As far as final episodes go, Man in the Middle is a decent one. I wish we'd gotten a better last episode, but overall this won't leave you too unsatisfied. It didn't for me the first time I watched it, despite the skeptical mood Death in the Family had put me in.
While not every episode is perfect, The Persuaders is a really good show, and is a great example of what British tv used to be. Whether or not what it used to be is your cup of tea might vary, but as for myself I miss programs like these. While I lament that this show only lasted one season, at least 24 whole episodes is plenty to enjoy
Saturday, August 25, 2018
Who Finds a Friend Finds a Treasure (1981)
Alan is having trouble with a gang he owes money too. After betting on a shady horse race and losing his one chance to repay them, he goes on the run with his uncle's treasure map, to find the island of Bongo Bongo. He stows away on the boat of Charlie, a grumpy sailor under contract with a marmalade company to trek across the world. Soon discovered after his repeated attempts to steal food go awry, Alan is tossed overboard, but Charlie makes the decision to not let him be eaten by sharks, and reluctantly agrees to take him to the nearest island. Taking his new position to his advantage, Alan messes with the ship's compass to direct it straight to Bongo Bongo, causing the two to be separated from the boat in the process. Now stuck together on the island with no apparent way out, the two go exploring, finding a friendly native tribe, a Japanese holdout from World War II who doesn't realise the war is over, and a band of menacing pirates...
Who Finds a Friend Finds a Treasure is a wonderful movie. Lighthearted, barrels of fun, and has plenty of the typical Hill and Spencer cartoon action. While it takes a decent amount of time to get there, the tropical island setting is a nice change of pace from the often more city-bound adventures the duo would usually find themselves in, and this is a unique treat in their filmography.
The story here is simple, but effective. The setup is good, taking its time and not rushing things. There are a couple hints of cool foreshadowing, too!
There are only a couple of frustrating moments present, such as stowaway Alan's way too overt devouring of Charlie's food (and pinning the blame on the bird at first too!), and the part where Charlie mistakenly thinks Alan's selling him out later on. Ugh, I can't stand misunderstandings!
Regarding the native characters, the movie doesn't indulge much in stereotypes or cliches. They're mainly only present in the one character of Anulu, and it's made apparent that his more loopy behaviour is down to him being a dope. An endearing dope of course, and one who doesn't take racism from pirates standing up!
There are actually surprisingly few fights in Who Finds a Friend..., but they're all spaced out well enough and each are delightfully staged spectacles. With the sheer volume of opponents to overcome, cartoon logic, and goofy sound effects, they're a joy to watch, even if some of the punches clearly don't hit their target.
The villains aren't a complex bunch, but that's not necessary in this case. They're a goofy lot, with the pirates looking like they've just stepped out of a leather bar. Kamasuka starts out as a baddie, and his fort makes him a genuinely formidable opponent. He's quite a neat character in how he grows beyond the initial joke behind his appearance
The score to Who Finds a Friend... is definitely the highlight of an already great film! A mix of Caribbean riffs, tranquil island beats, and 80s synthesiser tracks reminiscent of The Buggles' more experimental tracks (I'm not the most up and up of people with techno robot voice music, so that was the best example I could think of). The highlight by far is the main theme, by Oliver Onions (who else!)-Movin' Cruisin'. With its nice singing and groovy calypso beat, it's a tune you'll be dancing to for hours, and'll be stuck in your head for ages, in the good way of course. It's also repeated juuust enough, rather than overused.
The acting here is plenty of fun. The two leads show off their usual charisma, with Hill being the charming and traditionally handsome one, while Spencer is the bulky and strong silent type. Louise Bennett is nice as the tribal queen, Mama. while Sal Borgese's role is not exactly what you'd call a dignified one, but entertaining regardless. Despite not showing up until nearly an hour in, John Fujioka is a fun and endearing presence as Kamasuka, playing more manic moments well, as with calmer and subdued ones, and he makes it into just about every scene once he appears.
Perhaps the weirdest thing about this entry in the Hill and Spencer canon is that Bud Spencer's dub voice is different! This is only a problem I'm sure for those watching the English version You get used to it fairly quickly, but it really throws you through a loop at first when you're used to hearing him speak in one voice, then hear him in another.
While we're on the subject, let's chat a bit about English localisations of these flicks. Some were dubbed just because they were in Italian, but quite a few were actually a mix of languages. The Hill and Spencer movies are great examples of this, as Terence Hill is not only doing his own dialogue in just about all of 'em bar the earlier westerns, but it's clear that he's speaking English first on set, and he dubbed himself into Italian in post-production. Then there's the presence of English actors like David Huddleston, and little touches like notes and signs we see which are written into English (whether or not they're different in the Italian versions, I'm not sure).
Sergio Corbucci of all people is the director behind this movie, and he does a good job, proving that just because your stock and trade is violent westerns, doesn't mean you can't cut loose with a lighthearted comedy.
Lastly, the mystery location Who Finds a Friend... was filmed at is a truly beautiful spot, and it complements the film so well. It makes one wistful for the quiet life.
This is a highly enjoyable watch, and whether you're new to the works of this duo, or are familiar, but just haven't gotten around to this gem yet, I wholly recommend it! I'll leave you with two points. Firstly, never say 'There's only two of them' when you're a thug in a Terence Hill-Bud Spencer picture. And secondly, the closing message of Who Finds a Friend Finds a Treasure is definitely one worth taking to heart. "The director and the entire production sincerely thank the people and the authorities of 'The Island' for their courteous and generous collaboration during the shooting of this film, and they solemnly promise never to return nor to reveal to anyone the location of this last unspoiled paradise"...
Monday, August 6, 2018
Minik Cadı (1975)
Having watched and reviewed all 10 seasons of Bewitched, I can consider myself juuust a little familiar with the show (Yes, I am aware I have not in fact reviewed Bewitched yet, but it's my blog, so I'm allowed to break the laws of the space-time continuum if I want). I naturally assumed it saw popularity in other countries, but shame on me for not realising sooner that those ever-industrious Turks remade that too!...
Murat is a businessman and doting father, liked by many, but also loathed by others who wish to see him thrown from his company. when his son is seemingly killed in a traffic accident. Despondent, he tries committing suicide, but is saved by a mysterious little girl. The quirky Çiçek insists on coming home with him, and makes things happier for him and his kind but beleaguered maid, while making life difficult for his spiteful family, eventually uncovering the truth about his son's disappearance...
Minik Cadı is like if Bewitched tripped some acid and slipped into another dimension. It's got enough qualities of the tv show to be recognizable (a nose-twitching witch (well, lower jaw in this case), her somewhat meddling relation, as well as your typical 1960s sitcom tropes like the nosy neighbours always seeing the magical hijinx but never being believed, etc), but also plenty of differences too. This feels like a genuinely original take on the Bewitched story, and is enjoyable from start to finish. Its biggest drawback is that it comes to a natural conclusion an hour in, and there's still 20 minutes left. At least what we get following that is still entertaining, and I was never clawing for the remote going 'When will this end?!'. You know, it just came to me what this feels like. It's as if you watched a two-parter of Bewitched, followed by the next episode, so you'll get just about an hour of one story, then an extra 20 minutes of other stuff.
The weirder qualities to Minik Cadı are for sure its shockingly adult themes. From apparent child loss, to attempted suicide, attempted rape, kidnapping, and sexuality, and nudity, it has quite the laundry list of things ensuring no Western parent would let their kid anywhere near this film! As for what I think, it's suitable I suppose. It might be pretty heavy subject matter but it's not like you're watching The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This is still a children's film after all.
Samantha in this version is a cosmic prankster who you do NOT wanna mess with! An endearing (if terrifying) presence, Çiçek is way more proactive than her American counterpart! Quick to punish those who commit a wrongdoing, but kind and rewarding of those who deserve it, in such a way that you wouldn't expect from a kid. She comes across as wise beyond her years.
Poor Murat and Ayşel meanwhile are stuck with a family borne from the seventh circle of hell. Cheering when they think Murat's son has died (caring so little about their decorum that they're pretending to openly weep, then switch to raucous laughter as soon as the couple exit the room, not switching back when they come back in!). Thankfully these scoundrels quickly get their just desserts, so the movie's not a horribly frustrating watch. It's quite rewarding, actually! There is, however, one thing stopping one from totally enjoying the movie depending on how good their perception is, and that's the status of Murat's son. He's ok, just being held captive by thugs (on second thought that's not really 'ok', but you know what I mean!), but unless you're fluent in Turkish and notice other little half-details, you may well think he's actually dead!
The romance here is pretty good, even if Murat is a bit of a dope for taking almost an hour plus a skimpy costume change to Ayşel courtesy of Çiçek to realise that his maid is hot and fancies him, and he should really pursue her affections before it's too late. The two actors have a decent amount of chemistry together.
The acting in Minik Cadı is reportedly marked by weird accents, as pointed out to me by a Turkish pal who I showed a few scenes to, but seems good, albeit sometimes over-the-top. The highlight is by far Çiçek Dilligil, who exudes a devious charm, a brilliantly sarcastic expression, and a level of cuteness unparalleled in Turkish cinema. Her acting really impressed me, because the expressions that she's able to convey isn't the kind of behaviour I imagine you can coach a kid, at least not easily. They have to either actually be like that, or be familiar enough with the behaviour to imitate it. Massive props to Dilligil for doing so well!
Bülent Kayabaş gets a pretty surprising role! Given he has nearly 200 credits, I suppose it's not odd for him to be in a more serious part, but I've only seen Kayabaş in more manic and comedic ones, so for him to be a grieving father and genuine romantic lead was a surprise. He does well, too, showing a bit of versatility as an actor. His moustache though. Ugh, the 70s'... Meral Zeren is good as Ayşel, and gets a few great moments. She's a badass in the climax even before being granted with karate powers by Çiçek.
In the Gladys Kravitz role is Yeşilçam stalwart Hulusi Kentman, known as the ever grumpy yet lovable grandfather figure of Turkish cinema, with some 300 to 500 roles to his name. Adile Naşit is in the Endora role, which is an utterly bizarre yet very fitting combination if you're familiar with both Turkish movies, and with Bewitched. Her character is a lot more helpful than Endora, mainly because there's no sexist Darren to gum up the works, I imagine.
On the effects front, Minik Cadı is pretty on par with Bewitched. Objects move on their own convincingly enough, while the 'vanishing' edits usually aren't too bad, and the animals present are cute. What surprised me most were the scenes at the end when Çiçek is driving. There's no hidden 'real steering wheel' anywhere I could see, nor is there a sign of and stuntpeople, and the vehicle is actually in motion!...Oh god, they actually let the 6 year old child drive the car, didn't they! There was one moment where I noticed an older shot being re-used, where it was clear due to Çiçek wearing different clothes in the close-up than the long shot (this being one of the only scenes where she is wearing something else). Finally, the opening and ending credits are decent animation and very reminiscent of this movie's inspiration.
The music here is nice, with a healthy amount of rescorings of the leitmotif. As for the main theme proper, it's a nice enough song, but...errr...Çiçek Dilligil is a lovely actress, but she also cannot sing. Then, as if to answer my doubts about whether she was actually good but let down by misleading poor sound quality, we get a reprise from her, proving to me that she is in fact the problem. The main theme isn't repeated much for a Yeşilçam movie, pleasantly enough! We get the little instrumental tunes here and there, but the theme proper mainly just plays at the beginning, then around the 50 minute mark. Quite a restrained use, you may say! Well unfortunately it's no sooner than that first reprise ends that the second begins! The fact that the first reprise was sung by a different vocalist does not in fact make it less repetitive to hear it twice in a row. We hear a couple of snippets at the end too, but that's fine.
Minik Cadı is a very enjoyable piece of Turkish cinema, and proof that just because a movie from Turkey is weird, doesn't mean it always had to look cheap or badly made. Bewitched couldn't have asked for a better remake!...No, seriously, it couldn't. I mean, what the heck was the official one we got, my god!...
Sunday, August 5, 2018
Adam Khor (1991)
Man eating beasts drinking the blood of the innocent, women who can change their outfits at the drop of a musical number, monkeys on horseback with hand grenades! It's time again to jump into the weird world of Pashtun cinema!
For some time, a fearsome monster has been stalking the countryside of Pakistan. Slaughtering anyone in its path and eating their flesh, it seems unstoppable, but opposing the malevolence is a noble bandit seeking to avenge his lost spouse, and clear his name in her death. Teaming up with another woman seeking revenge, they take the battle to a local crime lord, who may know more about the sinister goings-on than he lets on...
Adam Khor is a typical example of a Pakistani b-movie (or z-movie, depending on your point-of-view), and for what it is, it's decent. The plot is pretty scattered in how its told, but is otherwise quite straightforward. There's a monster on the loose, and the protagonists are trying to get him. What's less normal is the rapidity in which characters are introduced and killed shortly after we meet them. This happens to two seemingly important characters early on, coming as a bit of a surprise.
Something I found quite interesting and amusing is how each set of characters perceive the story's events. The cops think there's a human serial killer on the loose, the heroes think they're in a gangland tale, while the villain knows he's the main attraction in a monster movie!
The climax isn't hugely satisfying, but it's serviceable. The final development is absolutely crazy, in a good way. Very nearly in the negative though considering it was coming across like a deus ex machina, but then I realised the hero was only being gifted a weapon, rather than having the villain gift-wrapped for him. One thing to note is that Adam Khor thankfully does have a denoument. Granted, it's only 15 seconds long, but it at least has one! It probably sounds like I'm kidding, and I partially am, but it legitimately is at least a little satisfying, despite being rushed (which a 2-and-a-half hour film has no business being).
Speaking of crazy, this film has that in spades. It's not as bizarrely random like others of its type for the most part, but it does still have its strange moments, such as the aforementioned grenadier monkey, the climax, or the hero's introduction, where he busts out of the Earth like he's a demigod.
Coming to Adam Khor's status as a monster feature, I'd say the film sticks to the 'rule of Jaws' very well, in that it shows just enough of the creature to keep your attention, but not too much so that you lose interest too soon. Its full introduction is something nifty too. It's super cheesy, but entertaining in how thick the movie lays it on with the ooky skeleton props, cobwebs, the sound effects, and other assorted creepy imagery.
Badar Munir cuts an imposing enough figure as the main hero, but he does an incredibly poor job at protecting the women in his life from horrible deaths. Also, for an innocent man, he gets discovered by slashed-up corpses an inordinate amount of times. It's no wonder the police keep thinking he's guilty of being the cannibal!
The villain is a gang leader and head of a satanic cult, yet the fact that he's also the monster is a surprise even to his henchmen. On that note, his transformations often seem like a Jekyll and Hyde affair, which is...strange. So he's an evil crime lord, but rather than deliberately transform himself into a demonic killing machine, the process happens against his will and his underlings don't know about it? He spends quite a while in the film's midsection being in a more vulnerable state, before abruptly shifting back into a vicious gangster for the last act.
The women in this movie are quite varied. The most notable is Shehnaz, who's a badass partner to Munir, netting her fair share of kills, though she ends up sitting the final battle with the man eater out, since she momentarily forgets how to aim her gun. The other woman we see are either victims, bystanders, or singers. Also of note is that these Pakistani women are curvy and proud of it, strutting their stuff and knowing full well they've got the goods.
Adam Khor is full of familiar faces of Pakistani B-grade cinema, though Badar Munir is as of yet the only one I'm able to confidently name, along with Shehnaz...Khan(?). Those two do competent enough (albeit overacted) jobs, while everyone else ranges from hammy to positively manic, chewing vast amounts of scenery.
The songs here are typical of South Asian cinema. Not great, but tolerable, albeit often very shoehorned in. There's usually no proper segue into them, feeling very rushed as we're flung from a serious (perhaps even sombre) moment straight into a cheery tune. One I dug was when the imprisoned police officer gets his time to sing near the climax, and I also liked the dramatic way his girlfriend joins in at the end. It actually felt like this number had a purpose in the narrative, and endeared these two characters more to me.
As stated, the songs were enjoyable, though the fact that each of the women singing seem to die after almost every one in the early parts of the film did put a bit of a damper on the fun. Quite a shame given all the effort the characters put into their lavish productions, only to meet a grisly fate. Another running theme is that a lot of the guys being serenaded walk away at the end of the numbers disinterested, having shown little interest in their sweethearts' show.
My favourite song was the number at about the hour-and-a-half mark. It was fun and peppy with nice singing and melodies, neat dancing and choreography, and it was steamy in a borderline homoerotic way, which is a very nice sight for such a movie, not just because it left me going "Niiiiiiiiice", but because it's potentially a progressive sign.
Adam Khor is a very violent film, with lots of fake blood being spilled, flesh being torn off or punched out. A lot of it's pretty unconvincing, but fun, and some looks good. The make-up/costume design for the titular man eater is good, in the sense that it's pretty funny to behold, but effort has at least been put into it, regardless of how silly he looks. Far less inspiring are the dogs/wolves, which look like papier mache and are laughable when eating people. Finally, some of the scenes (namely the musical numbers) are shot in the rain, with it even playing a big part in a few of the musical numbers. While for all I know Pakistani movies may well have been able to simulate rain, that probably would have been beyond their budget and resources. With that in mind it's impressive that they had the tenacity to film in rain, and the patience to wait for it! Especially having timed choreography around it!
The editing here is pretty crazy. Characters doing jump cut disappearing tricks are not unexpected in the musical numbers, but it's still weird seeing the laws of reality break every time people start singing. Other scenes have multiple quick cuts with flipping frames and gunshot sound effects, feeling somewhat disorienting. Some moments are not only not well lit, but also tinted (often a dark blue), making some parts a bit hard to make out, including the final battle. Finally, there's so much slow motion that it sometimes feels like the characters are legitimately stuck in a time bubble.
Of all the Pashtun movies I've seen so far (which isn't many I'll grant you), Adam Khor is perhaps the best. That's not to say it's good in the traditional sense, but if you're blessed with patience in abundance, it's worth a watch...
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