The Dobermann Always Rings Twice

The Dobermann Always Rings Twice

Rogue Male from the BFI

RantPosted by Dobermann Sun, February 10, 2019 16:41:07

Rogue Male, the 1976 BBC adaptation of Geoffrey Household’s 1939 novel, has just been released on DVD/BluRay by the British Film Institute. I probably enjoyed Clive Donner’s film more now than I did back in 1976. Back then I'd not had a chance to read the original novel, so my only point of reference was a 1969 broadcast of Man Hunt – Fritz Lang’s 1941 adaptation of Household’s novel. Screenwriter Dudley Nichols followed the lead of Alfred Hitchcock in The 39 Steps by inventing a female character to accompany the book’s lone hero.

Peter O'Toole - Rogue Male Walter Pidgeon - Man Hunt

Unfortunately, Joan Bennett’s character is written and played in a style that anticipates Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. Older viewers rightly felt that this undermined the credibility of the story, but back in 1969 I didn’t know any better and was enthralled by the romantic sub-plot and the ingenious paraphrasing of Household's final act. In 1976, with only hazy memories of Man Hunt I was disturbed by what I thought was BBC adapter Frederic Raphael's downplaying of the Joan Bennett character! I didn’t realise that the lost love played by Cyd Hayman and glanced only in flashbacks was closer to the ideal in Household’s novel.

Rogue Male is set before World War Two and concerns an English sportsman caught aiming a hunting rifle at Hitler. He is tortured, and then dropped off a cliff in a fake hunting accident. But he falls into a small patch of marsh and survives. Using his hunter’s skills, he makes his way back to England. But he is pursued, and eventually tracked down to a hide in Dorset where British fascist Quive-Smith tries to make him sign a document that he was acting on behalf of the British Government.

Raphael’s 1976 adaptation acknowledges the strengths of Dudley Nichols’ 1941 screenplay. Both films open with Household’s un-named hero – Alan Thorndike (Walter Pidgeon) and Sir Robert Hunter (Peter O’Toole) discovered taking aim at Hitler. Nichols’ script brings Quive-Smith (George Sanders) into the opening interrogation scenes –making him a Nazi (presumably British educated) huntsman who knows Thorndike by reputation and offers him a chance to escape further torture by admitting he is a British agent. In the 1976 version Raphael has the interrogation carried out by a sadistic but business-like Nazi (Michael Byrne), educated at Charterhouse ( which Hunter derides as a “mousy little middle class school.”).

In the 1941 version, Nichols also makes Thorndike the brother of Lord Risborough (Frederick Worlock), an appeasing diplomat in the Chamberlain government. In the Raphael screenplay Hunter is the nephew of government minister Alastair Sim (in his last performance). Both relatives tell the hero the Government would be obliged to extradite him to Germany (still not at war with Britain). These characters don’t exist in Household’s novel. The narrator is merely a friend of the German ambassador and has pals in the Foreign Office. He is well aware of his precarious legal position.

Time has proved how well-cast Donner's production is: Mark McManus as the mate the vessel on which O'Toole escapes (Vaner had been played by 12 year old Roddy McDowell in Man Hunt (!) and according to the interview with Clive Donner on the disc had expressed an interest in playing Vaner again in the BBC version). Philip Jackson and Nicholas Ball as drunken sailors, Maureen Lipman as a cyclist, Ray Smith as a friendly German ("those people (the Nazi's) they're scum"). Muller, the Swiss assistant of Major Quive-Smith is played by Ian East, who had just played the ambitious Maurice Wrigley in The Nearly Man.

And was the casting of Cyd Hayman (Nina, the resistance heroine of LWT's Manhunt TV series) a piece of short-hand for what is a very iconic (ie briefly sketched in flashback) role as Hunter's lost love – a victim of the Nazi firing squad?

John Standing (Mark Von Sturm in The Psychopath ) plays Major Quive-Smith in the 1976 version. After a wordless introduction, leading the agents who pursue Hunter through London, we see Quive-Smith reading Hunter’s textbook on rough-shooting in an attempt to get into his mind . Applying Hunter’s methods, Quive-Smith tracks him down. Superficially charming and engaging, Quive Smith picks up the theme of the opening interrogation – that someone of Hunter’s class should welcome the new order (“I wish this country great – just as you do!”). Standing is affable and amusing as he delivers Raphael’s lines, at one point paraphrasing Harry Lime when he describes the Swiss as “a people of quite astounding dullness and rapacity – a combination nurtured by generations of democratic government and milk chocolate.” (Household’s Quive-Smith says, “a people of quite extraordinary stupidity and immorality. A very rare combination which only a long experience of democratic government could have produced.”)

Going Underground Man Hunt 1941 and Rogue Male 1976

At 103 minutes, Rogue Male moves along well, using montage and quick cuts to gloss over the boring bits : making his escape from Germany, we see Hunter (perfectly lit, despite being in 'darkness') in an empty water-tank listening to the ship's captain singing hymns. Then the tank hatch is opened and Vaner tells Hunter he's nearly home and we see the underside of Tower Bridge. Then we see Hunter limping off the docks. Just the essentials because they've got a full and incident-filled story to tell. The climax of the movie is right out of Saturday Morning Cinema - bang on target!

Order An Extra Pinter

RantPosted by Dobermann Fri, February 01, 2019 23:41:13

Dr Terror witnesses the culmination of Pinter at the Pinter

To confuse tourists from, say, Bradley, London will occasionally change the name of one of its theatres, resulting in the creation of The Gielgud or The Noel Coward. This is accompanied by adorning the theatre with pictures of Gielgud or Noel Coward. When they renamed the Comedy Theatre (as was) The Harold Pinter Theatre, however, the ambition was rather loftier and has resulted in Pinter at the Pinter, seven collections of plays (sometimes two, sometimes more) showcasing the much-admired author's work.

I have missed out my usual paragraph telling you what the plays are about because, of course, it's hard to put your finger on what any Pinter play is actually ABOUT. The actors don't seem to know and neither, it seems, did Pinter himself. Whereas it's generally clear what, for example, a Tom Stoppard play is about (the fact that, while he might have dropped out of university, he's still convinced he's much cleverer than you are - see Woody Allen), the mystery surrounding the meaning of Pinter's plays - if any - is in many ways their unique selling point: in a world far, far beyond satire, where each day's news appears to have been penned by a madman from the Twilight Zone, they are entirely at home.

But, while The Pres and an Officer actually featured Jon Culshaw (plus, on some nights, different guest stars) doing Trump - a president Pinter did not live to see - most of the plays were simultaneously of their time and timeless. Russell Tovey and David Suchet out-camped one another in The Collection; Lee Evans and Tom Edden got to grips with hilariously convoluted component names in Trouble in the Works (no longer than a Month Python sketch but none the worse for it); Gemma Wheelan and John Heffernan in A Slight Ache started out doing a very Cowardesque radio play which quickly transmuted into something much darker and much funnier and everyman Martin Freeman and Michael Caine de nos jours Danny Dyer (who has done a lot of Pinter before, to many people's evident surprise) excelled themselves in the menacing, unsettling but still enormously funny The Dumb Waiter.

Above all, I think people forget just how funny Pinter was. In an anecdote in the accompanying book he reveals that he once wrote a poem which went

'i saw Len Hutton in his prime

another time

another time'.

He sent it to Simon Gray. When he phoned to find out what he thought of it, Gray replied that he hadn't finished it yet.

He might have ruined Sleuth but he was still one of the greats.

The Lady Vanishes from Windsor's Theatre Royal

RantPosted by Dobermann Sun, January 13, 2019 10:55:04

Vanishing Act - Dr Terror reviews The Lady Vanishes starring Juliet Mills and Maxwell Caulfield at the Theatre Royal, Windsor prior to a nationwide tour

A good choice? I wasn’t sure at first. The Agatha Christie Theatre Company, having spent a decade exhausting the possibilities of Agatha Christie plays, has since mutated into The Classic Thriller Theatre Company and is casting its net wider. The previous decade also saw the huge success of The 39 Steps, adapted from the early Alfred Hitchcock film. It had been played for laughs, the major conceit being that four actors should, between them, play every single character in the film, even if they only got one line. A few mild liberties with the script and ingenious use of shadow puppets for the chases across the Scottish highlands and the audiences loved it.

The Lady Vanishes came shortly afterwards in Hitchcock’s canon – in 1938 to be precise. The war hasn’t started yet so references to German expansionism are implied but slightly coyly. Hitchcock had, after all, picked up many of his skills as a director working in Germany. The underrated seventies Hammer remake (the last film that studio made before their rebirth) was less reticent and this play goes further still, blasting the audience with Wagner before curtain up, having the ‘turn off your phones’ announced in German and opening on a waiting room in Nazi-occupied Austria festooned with more swastikas than in Springtime for Hitler in The Producers. This invites further parallels: a spineless lawyer on board has deliberate echoes of Neville Chamberlain and pays the price.

If this all sounds a bit heavy-handed, fear not: Hitchcock’s wry humour is all there, not least in the cricket-obsessed characters of Charters and Caldicott, deftly played by Robert Duncan and Ben Nealon. As for Mrs Froy, the vanishing lady herself, Juliet Mills gives a fine performance, though it’s a sobering reminder that none of us are getting any younger that I sort of expected her still to look like she did in Avanti! [Unavoidable editorial note - or The Mindreader with Patrick Wymark..)

Her husband, Maxwell Caulfield (Dynasty, Casualty), is also along for the ride as the Freudian Dr Hartz. Lorna Fitzgerald and Matt Barber as the two leads are very strong too.

Some of the company’s productions have felt a bit static and claustrophobic but this wasn’t the case here: the whole thing was animated and dynamic from start to finish with some very ingenious staging and gunshots loud enough to wake the sleepiest of audience members. In fact, I was half expecting the director to walk on for a cameo – given that it was Roy Marsden, he would have been as recognisable as Hitch himself – and I’m even wondering whether, right at the end, he might have done just that…but to say more would spoil it for you.

I’m now wondering which other Hitchcock films they might adapt in the future. Dial M for Murder started out on stage and Rope would present little problem. I could see them doing Rear Window and, although it would be a challenge, even Psycho. The Birds is probably pushing it, though.

The Brexiteers - In Praise of Theresa May

RantPosted by Dobermann Wed, December 19, 2018 17:56:14
As The Brexiteers reaches mid-season, it's time to praise the character of Theresa May. May, the lead character in The Brexiteers has drawn a wide range of criticism: 'duplicitous', 'weak', 'evil' and 'stupid' are just some of the insults levelled at May. But the charges may be misdirected.

During the opening episode, Referendum, May was portrayed as a vocal Remainer. Critics view this as a fatal flaw in her subsequent premiership - either because she is a Remainer uncommitted to Leaving the European Union or because she so easily betrayed her original beliefs to seize the top job.

But if May is viewed as a character whose true goal is ultimate power, her behaviour becomes easier to understand. In the series opening, May was number three behind David Cameron and George Osborne. It wasn't surprising that she followed her leaders in arguing the Remain case.
With the shock result of the Referendum in favour of Brexit, and the departure of Cameron and Osborne, May seized the previously unattainable role of Prime Minister. Throughout the subsequent episodes, May has ducked and weaved against every obstacle thrown up against Brexit. She has shown remarkable determination in "delivering the will of the people." And this is not surprising because she owes her power to the Brexit vote.

It's been said that May doesn't know what she wants, because she appears to adopt contradictory positions as the Brexit negotiations continue. But if you accept that her main objective is to Remain in power Theresa May's behaviour becomes understandable.

As The Brexiteers continues towards its climax only one thing is certain. There are no certainties.

John Le Carre - The Man Who Haunted Himself

RantPosted by Dobermann Sun, December 16, 2018 16:23:07
Bravo, John Le Carre. The veteran spy novelist has obviously viewed the trends in modern publishing. Even though he's spent 30 years trying to create new characters in modern day arenas, the Cold War of George Smiley is what he's best known for. He's obviously also realised that sooner or later, after he's gone, some enterprising publisher will bring The Circus back in town.

With A Legacy of Spies, Le Carre has become his own "ghost writer" - literally "the man who haunted himself". The new novel is a work of "fan fiction" - on the same level as a "Doctor Who New Adventure" - tying together characters and incidents from Call For the Dead , The Spy Who Came In From The Cold" and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Just as Sophie Hannah created a new narrator to smooth over the narrative voice in her recent Poirot novels, so Le Carre adopts the straightforward first person of Peter Guillam to relate the new story. Starting with the premise that both Alec Leamas and Liz Gold separately had children before the events of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, the novel imagines that the children got together after the fall of the wall beneath which their parents died, to sue the British Security Service for operating without due care and attention.

The book is fine: like the later Parker novels you at least have the satisfaction of knowing that this is the original author and this is indeed what the original author would have intended. Although set "long ago" and narrated by a Peter Guillam looking back in time, Le Carre does allow himself a passing comment on Brexit in one of the novel's final chapter. "Was it all for England?..whose England? Which England? England all alone, a citizen of nowhere? If I had an unattainable ideal, it was of leading Europe out of her darkness towards a new age of reason."

Cookie Club for Christmas

RantPosted by Dobermann Sun, December 16, 2018 15:37:20
Hot on the heels of Cooking with Columbo comes The Cookie Club Cookbook. It seems that a group of Exeter Rugby Club players meet each week after training to bake cakes. Last year the players met at a kitchen showroom called The Room Works to take part in a celebrity bake-off against Exeter City Football Club. In player Phil Dollman's testimonial year they decided to get together with Mad Cakes of Exeter to produce this fundraising cook book.

If you live outside of Exeter you'' have to take my word that I've seen the book. It sounds like the sort of feature they would have published in the old TV Times Christmas Extra and it's worth checking out. As Debbie from Mad Cakes comments, she was expecting lots of, "nutritious and healthy bakes, expecting recipes with fruits, nuts, vegetables and seed." Instead she found, "the general order of the day was to empty a sweet shop into a bowl and find something to stick it together."

The recipes include "Moray's Gorgeous Stout Cake" ("pour the stout into a large saucepan, add the butter gradually and heat until the butter is melted..") "Dolly's G'nT Cake" ("cool for 5 minutes, strains, then pour in the remaining gin and set it aside.") and "Tom's Brownie Delight" ("pour the brownie batter on top of the Oreo layer and make sure it is evenly spread").

The book also features a history of the Devon Cream Tea and examines the dispute with Cornwall as to whether the jam should go on the cream, or the cream should go on the jam.

The Cookie Club Cookbook is raising funds for the Exeter Foundation and Devon Air Ambulance at the RRP of £9.99. You can buy a copy via Amazon here.

Switzerland - Ambassadors Theatre

RantPosted by Dobermann Tue, December 04, 2018 21:29:32

The Talentless Mrs Ripoff

Dr Terror eviscerates Switzerland at the Ambassadors Theatre

I hadn’t been expecting such a Doctor Whoish evening: as I sat in seat K9 to watch a play starring Phyllis Logan who is also about to star in the as-yet-unbroadcast season finale this Sunday, in walked Peter Capaldi and sat down five rows in front of me. Is he a good man? I don’t know, but he certainly had a better seat.

This, unfortunately, was the highlight of a distinctly underwhelming evening. Doctor Who had paired up Agatha Christie with a gigantic wasp and, in this lukewarm double-header, crime writer Patricia Highsmith, in the twilight of her years, was visited by a young man keen to get her to write another Ripley book. Author Joanna Murray-Smith has definitely written better stuff. It’s a shame because, as evenings out go, the play had a lot going for it: impeccable research, a fine performance by the aforementioned Phillis Logan and competent if unexciting direction by Lucy Bailey (who directed the superior Christie vehicles Love from a Stranger and County Hall’s Witness for the Prosecution earlier this year). As I always maintain, though, if the script’s not up to much, you’re fighting a losing battle and here the script was so derivative that I began to wonder on several occasions whether I’d actually seen the play before.

The fact that Highsmith was portrayed as so vastly unpleasant tended to be alienating. It might have been an accurate portrayal (hard though it is to imagine anyone quite so bitter and misanthropic) but it was unlikely to win an audience over. A bigger problem, though, was the location – transferred from Bath (where this kind of thing probably finds a more appreciative audience), it has ended up at the Ambassador’s Theatre. Next door, at the St Martin’s Theatre, Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth was first performed and the similarity is very striking: a young man finds himself in an arrogant and somewhat psychopathic thriller writer’s lair and some pretty metatextual things soon start happening. Interestingly, Highsmith’s habit of collecting snails as pets to watch them mate could well have inspired the scene of snails doing just that in the director’s cut of Shaffer’s The Wicker Man.

It’s hard to say much more without giving it away completely but if you’ve seen, say, David Stuart Davies’s Sherlock Holmes…the Last Act with Robert Llewellyn or perhaps The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse, then you’ll spot the twist hurtling towards you like a runaway train. With strangers on it.

Old Vic: A Christmas Carol

RantPosted by Dobermann Sat, December 01, 2018 23:52:46

Being a Ghost Story of Christmas'

Dr Terror reviews A Christmas Carol at the Old Vic

I've never been a soft touch for Christmas sentiment. In 'It's a Wonderful Life' when George Bailey realises how Bedford Falls would look if he had never lived - full of bars, strip clubs and casinos - I'm sure I'm not alone in pausing briefly to consider whether that might be an improvement. Every American who mourns the passing of small towns like Bedford Falls even as they board the plane for Vegas feels the same - the writers of 'Riverdale' realise this only too well.

Furthermore, the Old Vic's refusal to let anyone get to their seats until some ten minutes before curtain up, leading to the theatre lobby resembling a packed tube train, resulted in a lot of us feeling as misanthropic as Ebeneezer Scrooge himself. But fear not, gentle reader: the mood was short-lived. I defy anyone, even the Antichrist Boris Johnson himself, not to have their heart melted by Jack Thorne's innovative and engrossing production.

Thorne, of course, wrote 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' so has some form when it comes to the paranormal. He also gave us television's dark and timely 'National Treasure'. This was never going to be sugary mush. It is sometimes forgotten that Dickens wrote the novella in a mood of anger at the injustice of the world, particularly where children were concerned.

The ghosts are genuinely scary: Marley's chains have never felt longer or heavier; a scene in which the Ghost of Christmas yet to come multiplies recalls the Dementors faced by Harry Potter; at one point, a lantern that swings over Scrooge's body reminded me of 'The Pit and the Pendulum'.

In fact the lighting, by my former classmate Hugh Vanstone, is a triumph. Its many lanterns show some similarity to his design for Patrick Marber's 'Closer', itself set in the City of London, and are just as powerful. Everything else follows suit: the bell-ringing and singing of not just Good Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen but many carols, the utterly convincing acting - not least by Stephen Tompkinson as Scrooge - and the very immersive nature of the staging.

Not only might Scrooge actually shake your hand, you're likely to be offered a mince pie, be snowed on from above wherever you sit and maybe even catch a parachuting Brussels sprout.

I left the theatre a man transformed. I can't recommend it strongly enough.

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