The Saint – The Golden Journey

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Belinda Dean (Erica Rogers) is a beautiful, albeit incredibly spoilt, heiress.  Indulged from a very young age, she’s developed a shocking temper (hapless waiters tend to wilt under her intense all-out attack).  Since Belinda is shortly due to marry one of his best friends, Simon has developed a professional interest in her and decides she needs to be taught a lesson in humility before the big day.  So he forces her to join him on a hundred mile trek through the unwelcoming Spanish countryside …..

One of the more notorious Saint episodes, The Golden Journey is a rum old tale.  I have to confess that my jaw dropped and my eyebrow raised during the opening few minutes after Simon confided to the audience that his friend Jack could easily tame the wild Belinda (but alas, he loves her too much to hit her).  Strap yourselves in, I think it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Was it just a coincidence that Simon and Belinda were staying in the same hotel?  Or did he decide to stalk her?  I’ve a feeling it’s the latter, which makes his behaviour slightly more creepy than it already is.

Whilst she’s sleeping (again with the creep factor) Simon burgles her hotel room and steals her money and passport, leaving her stranded and helpless.  This is the first step in the Saint’s somewhat cruel plan to strip her of her self assurance, but not the last – as Simon then drops a heavy hint to the hotel manager (a fleeting appearance by the wonderful Roger Delgado) that she’s a criminal!

Goaded by Simon’s manipulation, she does then break the law – by attempting to steal a scooter – which means that she’s bonded ever closer to Simon after he bails her out of prison.  So the scene is set for their journey, where she will learn about the true values of life …..

Although we’re only around a dozen episodes in, it does seem a little strange that various actors have already popped up twice in different roles.  We’ve already seen Bill Nagy and Shirley Eaton return, today it’s the turn of Erica Rogers whilst the following episode features another appearance by John Carson.  Some – like Carson – take very different parts, but both of Erica Rogers’ appearances to date have seen her cast as fairly annoying females.  But whilst Joss Hendry in The Pearls of Peace was irredeemable, Belinda Dean is another matter altogether.

Left with no alternative, she’s forced to follow the impossibly smug Simon as he sets off on his walking trip.  He’s nattily attired of course – sensible clothes and shoes – whilst she’s wearing an expensive, if scanty, dress and high heels.  No doubt the fact that she’s not dressed for the occasion is all part of Simon’s “treatment”.

Apart from a few fleeting appearances from others (the aforementioned Roger Delgado, Stella Bonheur as Belinda’s Aunt, Paul Whitsun Jones as a cackling woodcutter) The Golden Journey is essentially a two-hander.  Lacking any sort of crime element, it’s simply an exercise in who will crack first (need you ask?)

The action switches from location (it’s not quite Spain, but the Welsh mountains are very striking) to studio on a regular basis, often from scene to scene.  This isn’t surprising for an ITC series of this vintage as they tended to be made on a very strict timetable and budget, meaning that a lengthy location shoot with the stars would have been impractical.  Therefore we see plenty of back-projection studio shots of Moore and Rogers mixed in with film footage of their doubles striding across the countryside.  They do feature in some location footage though, and after a while this mix and match approach becomes less of an issue.

Given Belinda’s misadventures (plunging into a raging stream, tumbling down a steep hill) it’s remarkable how her white dress stays pretty clean throughout.  True, it does get a little grubby but it holds up remarkably well.  Though I guess in the name of decency it couldn’t be allowed to get too frayed.

Half an hour in, we have the story’s most infamous scene.  Simon, tiring of Belinda’s backchat, puts her over his knee and treats her to a firm spanking.  There’s not a lot you can say about this, except that Simon seems to be enjoying himself enormously.

It’s not Moore’s fault, but Simon is written throughout as remarkably irritating and obnoxious (but then it’s true that the Saint is attempting to goad Belinda).  The locations are lovely, as is Erica Rogers. although the ending is remarkably predictable and pat (she learns her lesson and no doubt will be a good girl from now on).

There aren’t too many changes made from the original story (although in Charteris’ tale, Simon isn’t an old friend of Jack’s – he had only met him and Belinda a week before.  This of course, makes his behaviour towards her, a virtual stranger, even less admirable).

It’s hard to defend the strong misogynistic tone of The Golden Journey, but since it’s an entertaining travelogue I feel it just about scrapes three halos out of five.

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Douglas Wilmer in Sherlock Holmes – The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax

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Holmes muses to Watson that in his opinion “one of the most dangerous things in the world is the drifting and friendless woman. She may be perfectly harmless in herself, but all too often, she is a temptation to crime in others.  She is a stray chicken in a world of foxes, and when she is gobbled up, she is hardly missed. I very much fear that some evil has befallen the Lady Frances Carfax.” This monologue is a preamble to Holmes’ request that Watson travels to the hotel in Lausanne (where Lady Frances was last seen) so he can investigate her sudden disappearance.

Holmes is convinced that the trip will do his friend good, since he’s observed that Watson has been feeling run-down lately.  Watson, of course, is amazed that Holmes knows this – and Holmes’ explanation (involving the way Watson’s shoe-laces are tied) is a classic Conan-Doyle moment.

Watson travels to the hotel and speaks to the manager Moser (Roger Delgado).  Moser mentions that Lady Frances seemed to be worried by a bearded stranger and there’s also the question of why she gave a cheque for fifty pounds to her former maid.  The manager is also able to tell Watson that Lady Frances spent some time in the presence of Dr. Shlessinger and his wife.  This seems to be a dead-end though, as Dr. Shlessinger is a man of piety and devotion who surely can have connection to the case.

Watson’s investigations continue, but it’s maybe no surprise to learn that all of his efforts turn out to be futile.  Luckily, Holmes is on hand to shed some light on this tangled mystery.

The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax
was originally published in 1911. Like the preceding story adapted for the series, The Retired Colourman, it’s memorable for depicting an independent Watson, sent off to investigate by Holmes.  It’s just a pity that since this happened so rarely, the two were broadcast one after another.

But no matter, as once again we can enjoy the sight of Nigel Stock’s Watson in investigative mode.  As ever, Stock plays these scenes so nicely (witness the moment when Moser wonders if Watson is a detective and you can see Stock visibly grow in stature).  Of course, things don’t go very well and he has to be rescued by Holmes after he gets into a tussle with the bearded stranger.

Despite Holmes’ claims that he was too busy to make the trip, he has (after reading Watson’s initial reports) decided to come over after all – and Wilmer’s sudden appearance is delightful.  Holmes is wearing a very effective disguise and his ironic comment of “Dear me, Watson. You have managed to make a hash of things, haven’t you?” is one of the episode’s many highlights.

For those brought up with the efficient and unflappable Watsons of the Granada series, this may be a little difficult to take – but it’s totally consistent with Conan-Doyle’s original story.  As good as the Granada series was (for the most part) it’s fair to say that on occasions, their eagerness to redress the perceived imbalance in some of the previous portrayals of Watson sometimes pushed the character too far the other way (making him rather too capable).

This excerpt from the Conan-Doyle story is interesting –

To Holmes I wrote showing how rapidly and surely I had got down to the roots of the matter. In reply I had a telegram asking for a description of Dr. Shlessinger’s left ear. Holmes’s ideas of humour are strange and occasionally offensive, so I took no notice of his ill-timed jest.

The clear inference from this is that Watson is heading for a fall, since we know that Holmes never makes a frivolous request.  And the fact that Watson, after all his years of experience, should think so doesn’t reflect well on him.

It’s also worth viewing the Granada adaptation, which takes many liberties with the original story – including completely removing the plot-thread of Watson being sent to investigate Lady Frances’ disappeance (in the Granada version he’s already present at the hotel and sends for Holmes when he becomes concerned for Lady Francis’ safety).  All of Watson’s mis-deductions are therefore absent, which isn’t surprising since they would have jarred with the efficient and capable picture of Watson presented since series one in 1984.  It’s a valid decision, but it sits rather uneasily with the Granada’s original claim that they would return to the original stories and present them authentically (undoing the harm they considered was done by earlier portrayals, such as Nigel Bruce’s).

Thanks to Holmes’ intervention, it becomes clear that the bearded stranger is a friend not foe.  His name is the Hon. Philip Green and had Lady Frances’ family not objected, he would have married her years ago.  Joss Ackland (as Green) is completely unrecognisable (he’s sporting long black hair and a black beard).

One of my favourite actors, Ronald Radd plays Peters, the villian of the piece and a brief appearance by another favourite, Roger Delgado, is just the icing on the cake.  Holmes and Watson return to London and track down Peters (the erstwhile Dr. Shlessinger).  I love the moment when Holmes and Watson confront him.  Holmes warns Peters that Watson is a very dangerous ruffian and, after a moments pause, Stock raises his stick in a mildly threatening manner!  It’s only a little throwaway moment (possibly worked out in rehearsal) but it never fails to raise a smile.

Location filming in France helps to give the story a sense of authenticity and whilst there’s the odd production misstep (the body in the coffin looks very odd) all in all this is a very strong end to the series.

This would be Douglas Wilmer’s final appearance as Holmes in the series, as various factors made him decide not to return for a second run.  These included problems with scripts, directors and the news that series two would be made to an even tighter production schedule than the first.  For Wilmer (who considered that the quality of the series was already compromised) this was unacceptable, and it would be Peter Cushing who would have to deal with numerous production difficulties when the series returned in 1968.

It’s fair to say that the series suffers from the same problems of virtually every series of this era.  Boom shadows are a regular presence and the sets sometimes wobble (and so do the actors!).  The stories only had a limited amount of studio-time (with over-runs strictly frowned upon) so occasionally we will see scenes with technical problems (line-fluffs, malfunctioning props) that could have been resolved had the time been available for another take.

But the series also has all the strengths of television of this era – and the main strength is the sheer quality of the actors.  Peter Wyngarde, Patrick Troughton, Patrick Wymark, Nyree Dawn Porter, James Bree, Anton Rodgers, Leonard Sachs, Derek Francis and Maurice Denham are just some of the fine actors to grace the stories prior to this one.  And that’s not forgetting the numerous smaller roles which were equally well performed.

It’s not surprising that the lavish Granada series tends to be regarded as the definitive Sherlock Holmes television version as the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes will never be able to compete in a visual sense (the BBC series was much more studio-bound and therefore lacked the visual sweep of the Granada Holmes).  But these adaptations were as good (and as faithful, if not more so) to Conan-Doyle’s original stories.  Plus the first BBC series has an obvious trump card – Douglas Wilmer.

Few actors have ever been able to capture as well as Wilmer the icy, logical nature of Holmes.  Watson once called him “the perfect reasoning machine” and it’s this precise, mechanical nature that Douglas Wilmer portrays to perfection.  Many actors would have sought to soften him, but Wilmer stays true to Conan-Doyle’s original.  It’s a performance that never fails to impress, as Wilmer (even in the scenes where he has little dialogue) is always doing something that’s worth watching.

He’s complimented by Nigel Stock’s Watson.  It’s, at times, a rather comedic turn, but as I’ve mentioned it’s probably not as far removed from the original text as some people would think.

If you love Sherlock Holmes or you love 1960’s British television then the BFI DVD is a treasure.

Quatermass II – Episode Four – The Coming

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The opening few minutes of The Coming sees Quatermass speculate about the form, nature and intention of the aliens.  He surmises that each meteorite contains some form of life, which expires seconds after it’s been exposed to the Earth’s atmosphere.  But within that short period of time it’s able to latch onto a human host and essentially take command of them.  He further speculates that it’s probably a colonial organism.  “Imagine a group mind. A thousand billion individuals, if you like, with a single consciousnesses.”  This was yet another element cribbed by Robert Holmes for the Doctor Who story Spearhead from Space (the Nestene Consciousness existed in a similar way).

If these points are fairly reasonable deductions, others seem to have been plucked out of the air somewhat – such as his reasoning that in its own atmosphere the alien could change in size, mass and shape.  And his suggestion that they come from one of the moons of Saturn is another surmise that seems to have no particular evidence to back it up.  Since the theme music for the serial is Holst’s Mars – The Bringer of War, it seemed a missed opportunity not to have them originate from Mars.  Even odder is that when the Martians feature in Quatermass and the Pit, it doesn’t use Holst’s theme!

This opening scene is a little bit of a nightmare for Robinson, who stumbles on several lines.  But the nature of live television is that you simply have to keep ploughing on, which he does and eventually things get back onto a more even keel.  We then see the Quatermass II rocket for the first time since episode one.  The prototype Quatermass II rocket exploded in Australia, but there’s a second one – currently being worked upon in the UK.

Quatermass tells Dr Pugh to make it ready.  Pugh, remembering the explosion in Australia, is naturally incredibly reluctant.  He tells Quatermass that it could very well turn into an atomic bomb, but maybe that’s what Quatermass wants.  Is he planning to use it as a weapon?  Quatermass is remarkably angry during this scene, barking out “I’m not listening to reason!” to Pugh and generally acting in a pretty foul manner (he’s also very abrupt to Paula).

He only perks up when he receives a call from a journalist called Hugh Conrad.  Quatermass believes that Conrad can help him to break the story, so he arranges to meet him at Winnerden Flats. Conrad was played by Roger Caesar Marius Bernard de Delgado Torres Castillo Roberto, better known as Roger Delgado.  Delgado was, of course, best known for playing the Master in Doctor Who between 1971 and 1973 and prior to that had enjoyed a successful career, again mostly playing villains.  So his appearance in QII, as a good guy, is a nice change.  Anybody who’s interested in more detail on his career should check out the documentary on the DVD of the Doctor Who story Frontier in Space.  There’s a wealth of clips from his many BBC appearances, of which far too many, sadly, are not yet available on DVD.

A new ally, like Conrad, is obviously what Quatermass needs, since his old ones have been dropping like ninepins.  The latest to succumb is Fowler, who finds himself gassed by an alien booby trap once he’s back at the ministry.  It’s a slightly sloppily directed scene (but as previously mentioned, it’s live television – so cutaways and effects shots were simply not possible).  We see the device and we see Fowler react – but we never see anything emerge from the device, so we have to use our imagination and assume that something did.

Quatermass shows Conrad the plant and afterwards the two of them visit the pub on the outskirts of the prefab town.  The prefab town houses the plant workers and both Quaternass and Conrad hope to pump them for information.  They share a drink with Paddy (Michael Golden) and Mr and Mrs McLeod (John Rae and Elsie Arnold).  Mr and Mrs McLeod are celebrating the eve of their silver wedding anniversary and Quatermass congratulates them, buys them a drink and tells them that a silver wedding was something he never had the fortune to reach.  This is the first time his wife’s been mentioned, but whether she’s dead or if they were divorced isn’t clear – although it’s interesting that Mrs McLeod says he has a sad face.

The regulars view the questions of Quatermass and Conrad with suspicion, although when a meteorite falls through the pub roof it does give them pause for thought.  Security guards enter, take it away and Quatermass and Conrad follow them.  This is a slightly odd part of the episode, as somehow Conrad’s been infected – although it’s difficult to see when this happened.  Even odder is that whilst he’s clearly not the same man he was, he’s not completely taken over and later he’s able to phone his paper in London and provide them with a succinct summary.  “Subjugation to the intention of the thing is widespread. It’s given rise to the production of a protected colony at a place called Winnerden Flats. It’s not synthetic food! It’s the re-creation of a world 800 million miles away!”  Did Conrad glean the last piece of information from Quatermass earlier or is this something he’s learnt from his association with the group mind?

Quatermass has re-entered the plant.  The last few minutes of the episode, shot on film, are very effective  – there’s no dialogue, just an ominous toiling sound as Quatermass ventures deeper and deeper into the plant.  Eventually he opens an inspection hatch and is greeted by the sight of a strange creature.  True, it’s obviously only a few pieces of plastic slowly moving about – but thanks to the music and Cartier’s shot selection, it’s still a rather eerie sight and a good cliff-hanger.

The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes – Madame Sara

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John Fraser as Dixon Druce in Madame Sara by L. T. Meade and Robert Eustace
Adapted by Philip Mackie.  Directed by Piers Haggard

Jack Selby (William Corderoy) approaches private detective Dixon Druce (John Fraser) with a strange story.  His new wife Beatrice (Jasmina Hilton) is one of three people who have a chance of inheriting their family fortune (which stands at two million pounds).  The other two are Beatrice’s sister Edith (Caroline John) and their step-brother Silva (Roger Delgado).

The capital is held in trust and will go to the last surviving family member.  Dixon quickly sees the danger that the sisters may be in – and this seems to be confirmed when Edith dies, poisoned in a most mysterious manner.  Silva would seem to be the prime suspect, although Inspector Vandeleur (George Murcell) favours Dixon’s client, Jack Selby.  If Selby disposes of the other two, then he (through his wife) will have access to the money.

But what part does the mysterious Madame Sara (Marianne Benet) play in this devilish affair?  She’s a friend of both Beatrice and Edith (although Edith seemed to live in fear of her).  According to Selby, she’s “a professional beautifier. She claims the privilege of restoring youth to those who consult her. She also declares that she can make quite ugly people handsome”.  She captivates Dixon Druce with her beauty and he confesses that he’s somewhat in love with her.  But Madame Sara is a complex creature, who isn’t quite all that she seems ….

Dixon Druce tangled with Madame Sara over the course of six short stories which were published as The Sorceress of the Strand in 1902.  The tales were written by L. T. Meade and Robert Eustace.  Although there had been female criminals before (such as “the woman” Irene Adler) Madame Sara is of particular interest since she’s very much in the super-criminal mode, which is much rarer.  During the six stories, she appears each time with an outlandish scheme, Dixon Druce gets to hear about it and stops her – but always she lives to fight another day.  For those who want to sample the original tale, Madame Sara can be downloaded here.

As Madame Sara was the first story in The Sorceress of The Strand, it made sense to adapt it for The Rivals, since it sees Dixon and Sara meet for the first time.  Sara is a strange figure, seemingly ageless (thanks to her many mysterious potions) and there’s no doubt that she captures Dixon’s heart, which makes the fact that he has to hand her over to the authorities something of a wrench for him.

John Fraser is forthright and upstanding as Dixon Druce.  To be honest, he’s not the most interesting or charismatic detective we’ve seen so far, so Fraser does sometimes struggle to make an impression (and the somewhat florid dialogue is also a problem at times).  Marianne Benet doesn’t act evil, which is a good thing – her Madame Sara is a businesswoman, rather than a cackling villain.

For any Doctor Who fans, there’s two good reasons to watch this one.  Caroline John is Edith (a subdued performance) and Roger Delgado, even though he’s confined to a wheelchair, dominates the scenes he’s in (playing the apparently invalided Silva).

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Whilst Dixon appears to be more of a thinker than a man of action, he can still make the odd surprising move – such as when he wrenches a tooth from the unfortunate Beatrice with a pair of pliers (it makes sense when you’ve watched the story).

Not the strongest story, but it’s entertaining enough and the further adventures of Dixon Druce and Madame Sara would have made a decent (if short) series.

Next Episode – The Case of the Dixon Torpedo