lost_spook: (james maxwell)
[personal profile] lost_spook
To start at the end, as it were, before I forget everything. The theme for this week in my old telly adventures seems to have mainly been Bad Stuff Happening to Planes.*

First off, I finally purchased (in the Network sale) and watched Ransom (1975; aka The Terrorists in the US). The film has been on my radar for a long time as one of the remaining things available with James Maxwell in, but I've held off getting it because it had rather bad reviews on Amazon, didn't sound like my thing, and also because a person can't buy all the James Maxwell things and not have at least hope of getting something else. (I managed to find another TV series in which he guests, though, so it wasn't the last available any more. \o/) Also, it was directed by James Maxwell's friend Casper Wrede, and a person can't help being interested in what the work of an aristocratic Finnish demi-god looks like in practice.

The reviews on Amazon were all complaining about it not being a very good action thriller and laughing at Sean Connery as a Scandinavian, but action films did't sound like Casper Wrede's thing, so I wondered if it was one of those films where it wasn't what people expected it to be, and I've watched enough old telly by now not to be scared off by a dodgy accent.

Anyway, yes, it was actually a very talky political piece that could easily have been a TV thing if it wasn't a film and I enjoyed it more than I expected. It was shot in Norway with some pretty nice cinematography in it. (There's a particular sequence where there's a plane chase through the mountains that's a highlight.)

The main cast is all British, but the characters are a mix of British and 'Scandinavian' (this being an alternate universe where Scandinavia seems to have become a country. I'm not sure why it couldn't have just been Norway, but sometimes you need a fictional state, I suppose), so it's a little unfair to laugh only at Sean Connery for not doing an accent - the decision seems to have been not to put on accents and just allow the script to make it clear who's British and who's not. (I mean, James Maxwell is sounding more terribly British than ever, but he's supposed to be Scandinavian and is really American anyway, what do you do?) If people instead wish to mock Sean Connery's big hat and moustache, though, I can't argue with them.

He has a nice appropriate cardi, though:

Anyway, some British terrorists are in Scandinavia holding the British Ambassador to ransom, so the British and Scandinavians are trying to deal with their demands, but when the terrorists realise their planned escape route has become compromised, another set of them hijack a Scandinavian plane, and so the basic plot is Sean Connery trying to stop them along with his British counterpart, while the person from the ministry (James Maxwell) wants him to concede to their demands and get this whole business with over before anybody gets hurt. The main hijacker is a young Ian McShane, who seems to be up to Connery's every move...

There is a twist, which makes it, so obviously I can't tell you what it was, and I quite liked it, and it certainly doesn't deserve such rubbish reviews. It just is more of a tense/earnest political piece with interesting scenery, that's all. (It's like the Doomwatch film, which got bad reviews because people expect a horror film, but it's not: it starts off with all the horror tropes and then explains them with science and is sad and angry and pretty much what you would expect if you'd watched the TV series, and Ransom is definitely a better film than Doomwatch.) I would even watch it again some day!

Nobody liked James Maxwell, though, and they shut him out of the ops room. Quite right, too: when he finally got in by sneakily dashing into a lift with Sean Connery, he then went and blurted out stuff with the radio link live and had to go and sit in the corner and look pretty for a bit.

But he was in the first scene proper and there were some pretty shots, which is only right and proper if you are going to be in things directed by your friends:

(Holding his own hands again. It is the only thing to do when trapped on the other side of a desk and unable to reach other people's.)

(I just like this shot.)

2. I have also started watching Secret Army, the 70s BBC drama that is now most famous for being parodied by Allo Allo. The Drama channel recently repeated it, and it is full of British airmen bailing out of crashing planes. (If Nouvion had had that many British airmen, Rene would have had a heart attack and Lieutenant Gruber might have been forced to use his little tank in distressing ways. It doesn't bear thinking about.) It's very watchable, but not as good as Manhunt, and, yes, Bernard Hepton's character is distractingly similar to Rene, although nobody else is as yet. (He alternates between dispensing reassuring hugs, having an affair with his waitress, and casually bringing death to hapless inconvenient airmen in a manner that would make Rene jealous.)

It's probably unfair to watch it after Manhunt, which after its rough start, got down to being interesting, and twisted and psychological and genuinely angry about war and what it does to people. (I'd add that it's also nowhere near as good as Enemy at the Door, but they're two different things. (EatD is essentially a study of human beings in a particular situation, whereas Secret Army is at least partly emphasising the thriller-aspect of the French Resistance. Manhunt also shares that, though, as I said, it's also a very psychological piece.) Anyway, it is a bit clunky in comparison, but it does have Jan Francis as Michelle of the Resistance Lisa/Yvette. Michael Culver is the obligatory decent German, and also likes stripping off for Vichy policeman, (but that episode was written by a Manhunt writer, so I'm not surprised), while nobody likes Christopher Neame as the unwanted British agent, or Kessler, the Gestapo officer.

3. Upstairs, on DVD, I have moved onto Department S and the first few episodes have featured multiple things happening to aeroplanes, including the plane that arrived six days late but everyone on board thought it was 30 minutes early, and the one that arrived completely empty with all the passengers having vanished mid-flight.

Last year (I think?), [personal profile] swordznsorcery was kind enough to send me several episodes of The Champions (which didn't take, although I very much appreciated getting to see James Maxwell being a dodgy spy, chatting up sailors and stealing submarines before getting blown up), but he also sent two episodes of Department S because I'd mentioned liking Rosemary Nicols in the SF drama Undermind, and Dept S turned out to be that rare thing - an ITC film serial I actually like!

The irony of it having Peter Wyngarde's Jason King and his epic moustache and womanising is not lost on me, but there's no denying he's entertaining as part of a team, despite that. (Not that I could ever overlook the moustache; I am judging all the women who are happy to be chatted up/go off with him, because how could you? Even if he is a rich and famous playboy author etc. etc.)

But on the plus side, Rosemary Nicols gets way more to do and more respect and professionalism than any other ITC female lead I've yet seen, and, amazingly, their boss is Sir Curtis Seretse, played by Dennis Alaba Peters, who is a black diplomat, which makes it at one leap the most continually non-racist UK 60s thing I have ever seen. It's nice to know it could be managed at least once somewhere. He is most often seen handing out assignments before dashing off to an important international meeting/the opera and occasionally getting kidnapped.

Jason's hobbies are fashion, dangerous stunts, dodgy novel-writing and attempting to sleep with every female in sight except Annabelle. And incidentally mentioning Oscar Wilde at every possible opportunity.

Rosemary Nicols, using skeleton keys and rescuing Jason King. Later, she'll tell him how he can rewrite the incident to make his hero Mark Caine look good by improbable means, because snarking at Jason is one of her hobbies. (He turns pale at the idea of marrying her and she shows no sign of being especially keen on the moustache.)

And the team's token American (ITC was a cross-atlantic outfit, making British TV to be sold to US networks, so they usually contain, sometimes very randomly, an American, or at least a Canadian if they couldn't find a real American that week), Joel Fabiani is very likeable, too, and I often find the typical 'hero' member of the trio to be tiresome, so that just rounds everything off nicely.

His hobbies are bantering with the other two and getting himself kidnapped, drugged, and beaten up as often as possible per episode.

At any rate, it is more cheerful than Thriller, which is not a thing a person can watch too much of at once, and at some point, I will get bonus 1960s Juliet Harmer, Barbara Murray and Caroline Blakiston in colour and you can't say fairer than that.

The first episode with the flight overdue by six days featured Bernard Horsfall as the aircraft captain, which was a positive start. He was nice, but a little dim:

Peter Bowles, as one of the villains, died in his arms. I suppose there are worse ways to go! (He also made one last dying clutch at his hand. You really do have to hold somebody's hand...)

* I wrote this post five days ago. Since then it has mainly be dummies in cars that have been having a bad time. Planes are safe again! All plastic dummies, however, should stay well clear of cars and not try to drive them anywhere. You wouldn't think this needs saying, but...
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