Blake’s 7: Trial (1979)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

While Travis is court martialled by the Federation, Blake decides he needs some time away from his Liberator colleagues…

Series B, episode 6. Written by: Chris Boucher. Directed by: Derek Martinus. Originally broadcast: 13 February 1979, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Servalan (7) is pleased that Travis is about to be court martialled for his role in a civilian massacre. She sees no reason why a guilty verdict won’t be found and even nobbles Travis’s fascist-chic defence lawyer. And the reason she wants her former favourite out of the way? Her failure to deal with Blake may lead to an enquiry and Travis’s evidence could embarrass her.
* Travis (8) is standing trial for the murder of 1,417 unarmed people on the planet Serkasta. He says he’s not guilty, but then spends the bulk of the legal proceedings staring into the middle distance. Eventually he’s convicted, stripped of his rank, dishonourably dismissed and sentenced to execution. But just as his fate is being sealed, Blake and his friends attack the space station. Everyone in the courtroom is killed… except Travis, who is able to escape.
* Earlier in the episode, Blake (19) teleports down to what he thinks is a safe and empty planet. He needs some alone time to think. Recent failures and setbacks, including Gan’s death, have hit him hard. However, he encounters an alien creature called Zil and then the planet – which turns out to be one gigantic living organism – begins to devour all the life on its surface. Eek! After being rescued by the gang on the Liberator, Blake comes to some conclusions. The team need to make a big impact to restore their reputation and power, so he now wants to strike at Servalan’s space station. Unbeknownst to Blake and the others, however, they attack *just* as Travis is being sentenced to death and they cause a distraction allowing him to escape.
* Zen (17) finds the planet for Blake’s sojourn after Blake requests somewhere quiet and out of the way. Good job, Zen!
* Avon (18) snipes at Blake in an early scene, pointing out that he (Avon) doesn’t get their friends killed. When Blake suddenly teleports down to a nearby planet with no explanation, Avon suggests to the others that they simply leave him there and get on with their lives.
* Jenna (19) – wearing a very fetching red leather outfit that makes her look like some kind of space-age Suzi Quatro – admits that she doesn’t know Blake’s motives any more.
* Cally (16) is tricked into letting Blake teleport off the Liberator in such a way that his colleagues won’t know where he is. (Well, they know he’s on the planet below, of course. But planets tend to be rather large.)
* Later, Orac (6) reveals a deduction: the planet is alive! Blake is in danger, so the others mount a rescue attempt.
* Vila (19) wishes Gan were still around; he was straightforward and trusted people, Vila says, and would have asked whether the missing Blake had left a message… Zen then reveals that Blake *has* left a message. In it he asks for 13 hours on his own then let’s meet up again, okay?

Best bit: Avon invents a revolutionary piece of technology that allows the Liberator to remain undetected by Federation scanners. “Avon’s gadget works!” cries Vila. Rather than pride, Avon just feels sadness at his friend’s lack of poetry.

Worst bit: Because there’s a perceived need for both futuristic and fascistic detailing to the world of Blake’s 7, Travis’s trial lacks the courtroom drama you assume you’re going to get. The scenes have no tension or jeopardy. All the characters – and all the viewers – know he’ll be found guilty.

Review: There’s a minor character in this episode played by the actor Kevin Lloyd, who later found fame in ITV police drama The Bill. His role here is Parr, a Federation solider whose rank is trooper. In other words, he’s called Trooper Parr. (Say it out loud. Do you now have a super ABBA song running through your head?) I once saw Kevin Lloyd on a train as we pulled into Derby station. He was pissed, poor bloke. Alcoholism killed him later that year. Anyway, the episode… There’s a split focus this week. Two plots run side by side and are unrelated until the final few minutes of the episode. Both, however, contain more examples of Blake’s 7’s cynical toughness. Perhaps the freshest thing about the Liberator crew is that they don’t fully trust each other. They’re not a Star Trek-style team of friends who happen to be colleagues and who love each other deeply. There’s a more interesting, more complex dynamic going on. The Federation characters, meanwhile, can’t stop plotting against each other. It’s a shame all this gritty drama is undercut by Trial’s hopelessly awful sci-fi subplot. Blake’s time on the living planet feels like it’s been transferred over from a 1950s B-movie, while the character of Zil combines a terrible alien costume with an irritating, drama-school performance.

Seven philosophical fleas out of 10

Next episode: Killer

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Blake’s 7: Pressure Point (1979)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

When Blake decides to strike at Control, the Federation’s central computer system, it leads to a tragedy for the Liberator crew…

Series B, episode 5. Written by: Terry Nation. Directed by: George Spenton-Foster. Originally broadcast: 6 February 1979, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Travis (7) and Servalan (6) have been waiting in a secret bunker for 18 days – inside it’s all white, cold and sterile; outside it looks like a ramshackle cottage. Travis has laid a trap and insists that Blake will arrive soon. They then capture a local rebel leader called Kasabi (who coincidentally knew a young Servalan when they were cadets together) and torture her into giving away where and when she’s due to meet Blake.
* Blake (18) has set course for Earth without telling his crewmates because he wants to attack Control, the Federation’s chief computer bunker. Destroying it would cause the authorities real damage, he says. But when his local contact, Kasabi, fails to get in touch he starts to worry. Then the signal finally arrives. Unbeknownst to Blake, it’s been sent by Travis…
* Cally (15) – not for the first time – is the one colleague of Blake’s who agrees with his dangerous plans. She thinks his idea is a sound one, which makes sense given that we first met her as a guerrilla revolutionary. Despite this support, Blake doesn’t actually give her anything to do in the mission: she spends the whole episode aboard the Liberator.
* Avon (17) had guessed that Blake’s stated intention to skirt the solar system was a lie. But he nevertheless goes along with the idea to attack Control. His logic: if Blake’s rebellion takes hold he’ll be busy managing it and Avon can take command of the Liberator.
* Jenna (18) – as the de facto second-in-command – is the spokesperson for the others when they agree to Blake’s plan. Later, when there’s no word from Blake, Gan, Avon and Vila, who have all teleported down to Earth, she realises something’s gone amiss. She beams down too and saves the day.
* Vila (18) takes part in phase two of the mission. He and Avon teleport to a spot close to Control and recce its defences. The area is known as the Forbidden Zone, which raises the idle thought that perhaps Blake’s 7 and Planet of the Apes are set in the same fictional universe.
* Zen (16).
* Gan (17) joins Blake on his trip down to Earth. They find Kasabi’s daughter, Veron, who says her mother and all their colleagues have been killed. Gan is fatherly and protective towards her – so much so, he fails to spot that she’s lying. After Vila and Avon arrive, she knocks them all out with gas, steals their teleport bracelets and locks them in a church. (Earlier in the episode, Gan mentioned that he doesn’t know what a church is. ‘A place of religious assembly,’ explained Blake. ‘The Federation had them all destroyed at the beginning of the new calendar.’ What a lovely piece of writing. It implies lots of backstory without labouring the point.) Later, while escaping after a confrontation with Travis and Servalan, Gan is killed when a grenade explodes nearby…

Best bit: Blake and his friends return to Earth for the first time since the show’s opening story. Blake has changed in the 18 episodes since and his arrogance has grown and grown. ‘I think I can do it,’ he says as he pitches his fait accompli plan to the others. His fixation on the personal pronoun then returns when the Liberator team finally break into Control’s central room. ‘We’ve done it! We’ve done it! We’ve done it!’ Blake starts to say before adding: ‘I’ve done it!’ But then he realises the awful truth: the room is empty. It was a ploy, a decoy. Even Avon shows sympathy for Blake’s devastation.

Worst bit: The costumes in this show really are dreadful. Various members of the Liberator team (Vila and Cally in particular) are now dressing like demented hipsters, while Servalan has decided that her mission is so important she needs to wear a cocktail dress, a baroque collar and a wide-brimmed hat.

Review: Gan’s dead – the first of the gang to die. In truth, it’s no great loss. He never felt like a vital character and the small insight into his past we once got never really went anywhere.

Seven pacemakers implanted in my heart out of 10

Next episode: Trial

Secret Agent (1936)

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An occasional series where I review a randomly selected movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock…

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

A British spy is sent to Switzerland on a deadly mission…

The story begins on 10 May 1916. It’s the First World War and London is being bombed. A British officer, Captain Edgar Brodie, is given a fake funeral, a new identity, and an enigmatic mission by his boss – an avuncular man known as R (Charles Carson). Assuming the name Richard Ashenden, the officer travels to a hotel in Switzerland to find and kill a German agent.

Cast as Ashenden was John Gielgud, who reportedly didn’t enjoy the filming process, and you do quickly sense that the actor would rather be somewhere else. Despite its spy-film trappings, Secret Agent is sometimes written like a screwball comedy or a romantic thriller. Dialogue should be swatted back and forth, yet Ashenden is such a colourless character that it sometimes falls flat. Much more fun are his two cohorts.

As a sidekick, Ashenden has help from ‘the General’, a flamboyant, grotesque assassin played by Peter Lorre. (This meant a swift return to the Alps for Lorre: his only other Hitchcock movie, 1934’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, also has scenes set there.) The character is a livewire and an outrageous flirt. He wears an earring, has a natty moustache, and recites his long name when introducing himself (‘General Pompellio Montezuma De La Vilia De Conde De La Rue’). It’s a big performance – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it adds plenty of energy and interest.

Then, when he arrives at the Swiss hotel, Ashenden is startled to learn that his ‘wife’ has already checked in. She turns out to be a fellow British agent called Elsa Carrington (Madeleine Carroll), who he discovers in his room wearing a towel and flirting with an American she’s met at the hotel called Robert (Robert Young). As the plot develops, Ashenden and Elsa fall in love – it’s easy to see why from his point of view – and consider quitting their espionage lifestyles.

Meanwhile, there’s a vaguely diverting spy plot going on. Ashenden and the General identify a man who seems to be English but they think is a German agent en route to the Middle East to cause problems for the Allies. Luring him up into the mountains, the General kills him while the more delicate Ashenden watches from afar. (Back at the hotel, the man’s dog whines in psychic sympathy.)

However, then comes the movie’s one real shock: they had the wrong man… They’ve murdered an innocent person. Elsa is distraught, but the General just laughs at the absurdity of the situation. It’s hard to discern what Ashenden thinks, though, because of Gielgud’s overly stoic performance.

The restarted investigation finally leads to a local factory and a sequence where the noise of industry masks any dialogue (you get the sense that Hitch is enjoying an old-fashioned ‘silent’ scene). Ashenden then learns the identity of the German agent: it’s Elsa’s American friend, Robert, who at that very moment is leaving town… And Elsa, wracked with guilt over the Englishman’s death, is going with him.

The film now gets bigger in scale as it races towards a climax. Ashenden and the General catch the same train as Robert and Elsa – a train that heads into Turkey (i.e. enemy territory). We see some charmingly primitive model shots of the train and there’s an impressive action sequence as the Royal Flying Corps attack it causing a huge crash! Ashenden and Elsa survive and retire from the profession; the General is killed.

As previously mentioned on this blog – in my wildly off-topic review of Psycho – there’s something very familiar about Secret Agent. It’s a film about a British military officer turned intelligence agent who’s given an overseas mission by a superior whose codename is a single initial. The agent then encounters outlandish characters, has a relationship with a sexy woman, visits a casino and boards a train across Europe. There’s also a big action climax…

Secret Agent may be based on stories written by W Somerset Maugham, but sixteen years before Ian Fleming sat down at a desk in Jamaica to write his first novel, and 26 years before Sean Connery pulled on a Savile Row suit to play his most famous character, it feels like Alfred Hitchcock presciently made a James Bond movie.

Seven church organists out of 10

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017, Matt Reeves)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Where, when and what: It’s 15 years since the events of the series reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011). So therefore we’re a few years into the ape/human conflict that started in its sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) – let’s say it’s now the late 2020s. The events take place in a post-apocalyptic North America. Under threat from the approaching human forces, the apes decide to relocate to a desert. But when a US Army colonel infiltrates the camp and kills the wife and son of the ape leader Caesar, Caesar heads off to seek revenge…

Humans: There are remarkably few human characters in the story. The unnamed US Army colonel is played by Woody Harrelson, who’s clearly taking a lot of inspiration from Marlon Brando’s similar character in 1979’s Apocalypse Now. Also, on their trek to hunt down the colonel, Caesar and co encounter a young, mute girl (Amiah Miller). They look after her and call her Nova; the name is a reference to the 1968 Apes movie.

Apes: As with the previous films, the CGI apes are an absolute marvel. You soon forget that they’re anything other than physical, textured, *alive* characters. After the opening scene, we cut to Caesar (again played via mo-cap technology by Andy Serkis) and from now on, we see events through ape eyes. It’s a brave decision, especially as few apes can talk and even fewer speak in proper sentences. (You get very used to reading subtitles.) Caesar has a command staff, including the soulful Maurice (Karin Konoval), and a family who are soon killed by the colonel. There are also apes who are working for the humans, acting as scouts and spies, who are disparagingly referred to as donkeys (a pun on Donkey Kong?). But the simian who makes the biggest impact in this film is a chimp called Bad Ape (Steve Zahn). Caesar and co find him hiding out in an abandoned zoo. He’s mostly a comic-relief character, but a comic-relief character with plenty of heart and childlike innocence. It’s a tremendously watchable performance.

Review: We start in the point of view of human survivors as a troop of soldier stealthily creep through woodland. One has ‘Monkey killer’ graffitied on his helmet, another ‘Endangered species’. To the sound of Michael Giacchino’s droning score and woodland noises, we follow them handheld as they approach a group of apes. It’s a marvellously atmospheric sequence, which then explodes into an intense battle scene. But after this opening, the movie takes a number of surprising turns. For a start, as mentioned, this is the apes’ story and we’re experiencing events with them. The humans are the aggressive, unreasonable bad guys, which is a switch from the more measured storytelling in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Another surprise is how sedate the film is: after the initial bursts of action and crisis, we’re into lengthy travelogue sequences in some remarkably beautiful landscapes. There are forests, waterfalls, beaches, scrubland; the weather ranges from sun to blizzards. In fact, this ‘war’ movie often feels more like an old-school Western as Caesar and others ride their horses across country on a heartfelt mission. Significantly, the locations all feel real and big and vivid. They suit the story, which is soulful and engaging – and also not afraid to take its time and soak up the atmosphere. This narrative debt need to be paid off in the second half of the movie, but sadly War for the Planet of the Apes starts to drag once the characters reach the colonel’s compound.

Seven eyes (almost human) out of 10

Blake’s 7: Shadow (1979)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The Liberator crew attempt to contact a powerful organised-crime syndicate…

Series B, episode 2. Written by: Chris Boucher. Directed by: Jonathan Wright Miller. Originally broadcast: 16 January 1979, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Blake (15) and his colleagues approach a giant space station called Space City, which is a pleasure palace run by the Terra Nostra crime organisation. He wants to exploit their resources in his fight against the Federation. However, the initial meeting goes badly – Blake, Jenna, Avon and Gan are taken prisoner. After they escape, Blake decides to target the Terra Nostra’s biggest revenue source: a drug called Shadow, which is cultivated on the planet Zondar. He, Avon and Jenna teleport down to its surface, all wearing Luke Skywalker cosplay outfits, to set some explosives…

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* Vila (15) is gutted not to be going aboard Space City (Blake orders him to stay on the ship) because he’s wanted to visit it ever since he was old enough to the read toilet-block graffiti. So, unable to resist its hedonistic temptations, he disobeys his leader and teleports over. Much later, he has a stonking hangover and can’t remember the last few hours.
* Cally (12) is left alone aboard the Liberator after everyone else goes to Space City. When Blake gets in touch and asks for all their money to be brought over, she’s able to use her telepathy to confirm that it’s a trap. She then mounts an aggressive rescue attempt which involves threatening to destroy the entire space station unless her friends are released. In the second half of the episode, Cally has the focus of a subplot that goes for full-on weirdness: aliens from another dimension taken over Orac’s interdimensional circuits (or something) and this has a negative influence on the telepathic Cally, who descends into a surreal madness. (She soon gets better after a visit to Zondar, where the kinda-sentient Shadow plants help her. I think.)
* Jenna (15) has history with the Terra Nostra’s agent on Space City, Largo, who once tried to employ her to smuggle some Shadow. Being a criminal with a conscience, she turned the job down.
* Gan (14) objects to Blake cosying up the Terra Nostra. By using their resources, he argues, the Liberator crew will be no better than drug pushers.
* Avon (14) leads the negotiations when he, Blake and Jenna meet with Largo on Space City. They want access to the Terra Nostra high command, but the talks break down. When our characters make to leave, they’re taken prisoner. Later, Avon voices the opinion that they’ve tracked down the Shadow planet far too easily – if they can find it, why haven’t the Federation? The answer soon becomes clear: the Federation and the Terra Nostra are two heads of the same Hydra.
* Zen (13) clearly doesn’t like the crew’s new portable supercomputer, Orac. And with good reason, it seems…
* Orac (3) is switched on when a desperate Vila wants help in secretly teleporting aboard Space City. However, the machine then begins to act very strangely: he takes over Zen’s functions, threatens to crash the ship, and causes Cally a lot of trauma. He’s been possessed by an alien intelligence from another dimension, you see. Cally’s telepathic abilities eventually put a stop to the crisis.

Best bit: Cally contacts Vila while he’s on Space City. We only hear his side of the conversation and he’s clearly indulging in some kind of pleasurable activity…

Worst bit: Sadly, guest actor Karl Howman. He plays Bek, a man whose sister is a Shadow addict and who stole from Largo. It’s not a great performance.

Review: This episode, the show’s 15th, was the first not to be written by Blake’s 7 creator Terry Nation. Chris Boucher – who was the show’s script editor and had, by all accounts, done a fair amount of uncredited polishing to Nation’s work – provides plenty of sharp, crisp dialogue. And the story starts off entertainingly. Blake is getting increasingly puritanical and unwilling to listen to reason, an interesting thing to do with an adventure show’s lead character. He’s so determined to bring down one set of bad guys, in fact, that he’s willing to parley with another. The Terra Nostra are fairly obviously the Mafia (who in real life are sometimes called the Cosa Nostra – Italian for ‘our thing’). At one point, crime boss Largo even denies the organisation exists, a reference to the US government’s naive position on the Mafia in the 1950s. There’s a boo-hiss performance from Derek Smith as Largo and there are plenty of pleasing shots and visual interestingness. All this helps to keep the episode together when it starts to fly off into some very peculiar territory. Increasingly, the Mafia has to move over to make room for muddied mysticism, and Orac’s subplot is rather too obscure, needing a scene near the end where all the characters ask questions and explain it to each other.

Seven moon discs out of 10

Next episode: Weapon

Blake’s 7: Deliverance (1978)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

When the Liberator spots a spaceship crashing onto a planet, they look for survivors – but the search leads to some crewmembers being taken hostage and others making a shock discovery…

Series A, episode 12. Written by: Terry Nation. Directed by: Michael E Briant. Originally broadcast: 20 March 1978, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* From her clinical, cold office aboard a spinning space station, Servalan (3) is keeping tabs on a spaceship. She seems pleased when it begins to break up above a planet – and we later learn why. One of its occupants, Ensor, had offered to sell her a technological marvel called Orac for 100 million credits; rather than pay up, Servalan has plotted to kill him. She then tasks Travis with recovering Orac in secret.
* When Blake (12) and his team spot a ship crashing, they find a badly injured survivor – Ensor. He has some energy cells with him, which must be rushed to his dying father. He also says the Federation are going to pay him a fortune for something called Orac. But when Blake refuses to travel to Ensor’s home because some of his colleagues are still down on the nearby planet, Ensor blackmails him into leaving. Ensor dies from his wounds before they get there.
* Avon (11) leads what another sci-fi show might call the away team who look for crash survivors. They locate Ensor and take him back to the Liberator. But Jenna has gone missing, so Avon, Gan and Vila return to the planet to search for her. When attacked by caveman-like natives, the trio take refuge behind a metal door in a hillside. Inside they find a beautiful but naïve women who thinks Avon is a long-prophecised god…
* Jenna (12) also goes on the search team. She and Gan find an escape capsule with a dead body in it, then she’s accidentally left behind on the planet and attacked by the savage locals. They tie her up in a tent, in the way that generic savage locals often do in adventure stories.
* Cally (9) gets to operate the teleport controls this week. In one of Blake’s 7’s more off-the-wall moments, she also puts on a pair of VR goggles and listens to some jaunty piano jazz! Later, Ensor points a gun at her head to make Blake set course for his home planet.
* Zen (10) is acting much more helpfully these days. He seems to have shrugged off the petulant streak he had in earlier episodes. It’s almost as if he can sense that his role in the drama is about to be usurped by another computer…
* Gan (11) ain’t gonna win any friend-of-the-year awards after losing track of where Jenna is. When he later takes part in the mission to rescue her, he has to remind Avon and Vila that his limiter means he can’t kill any of the natives.
* Vila (12) spots a large footprint when it’s clear Jenna has gone missing. You’d think that’d be an important plot point, wouldn’t you?
* Travis (4) has – since we last saw him – gone through an enquiry due to his failure to catch Blake. He desperately wants his command back and tells Servalan he’s willing to do anything to get it.

Best bit: The episode takes a pleasingly bizarre turn when Avon, Gan and Vila are being chased by the natives. They attempt to break into the metallic door Gan found earlier – then it’s opened from inside by a woman called Meegat. She’s beaming with joy because Avon has finally arrived; she believes him to be her Lord, whose arrival was foretold in a prophecy. Our heroes soon deduce that Meegat’s home is actually a long-abandoned control room; they find a rocket ready to take banks of genetic material to a far-off world. (No phallic symbolism there at all!) Not only are there plenty of comedy looks between the regular characters – Vila and Gan can’t believe that Avon is humouring the poor woman – but the subplot has a nice beginning, middle and end. It’s also another chance for Paul Darrow to *shine* as Avon. You wouldn’t call it a naturalistic performance but it’s so, so watchable. (The number of times that Meegat genuflects by ducking down in front of Avon’s crotch is probably an unintentional gag, though, right?)

Worst bit: Not for the first time, the Liberator crew fail to notice when one of their number doesn’t teleport back from a mission. There are only six of you, guys!

Review: An uneven watch, in part because it’s doing two things. Deliverance is the first half of a two-parter to end the season, so the main plot can’t shake off the feeling that it’s just set-up for next week. But the episode is also trying to tell its own story, so some scenes form a self-contained little scenario. The latter strand is more enjoyable. (Note: I’m writing this blog on 6 February 2018, the 100th anniversary of women being able to vote in the UK. I can’t help noticing that this episode’s main action features three female characters. Two are taken hostage and one is a childlike simpleton.)

Seven micro power cells out of 10

Next episode: Orac

Spellbound (1945)

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An occasional series where I review a randomly selected movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock…

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

A psychiatrist falls in love with her colleague but then discovers he’s not who he says he is…

The enjoyable but rather far-fetched Spellbound is one of three films Hitchcock made for legendary Hollywood producer David O Selznick. Selznick wanted a movie that explored psychoanalysis, which had recently helped him in his private life, but Hitch was too cynical, too impatient or maybe just too British and instead delivered a film where the psychology shouldn’t be considered too closely. It’s more about the thrills and the suspense.

We start in Green Manors, a psychiatric hospital somewhere in America. Dr Constance Petersen – all sterile and aloof in a white coat and glasses – is dealing with a succession of patients and colleagues needing her attention. In the book on which the movie was based, the character is called Sedgwick. However, that surname was changed once an actress with a light Swedish accent was cast. Ingrid Bergman was then a big star thanks to cultured performances in Casablanca (1942), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943) and Gaslight (1944). Hitchcock had found his latest leading lady, one with a natural, Nordic freshness. They went on to make two more films together.

The plot kicks into gear when Dr Anthony Edwardes shows up to take over running Green Manors. (Presumably he’s recently had a stint in an ER.) He’s played by Gregory Peck, and straightaway you know something isn’t right. The character is nervous and feels out of place, like a teenager wearing his dad’s suit. But as he meets Constance, the music swells, the camera lens fills with Bergman’s rapturous face, and we’re into a melodramatic romance. This is a relationship with a difference, though. These characters are psychiatrists; they notice each other’s tells and subtexts; they can see through the flirts. Perhaps that’s why they fall in love implausibly quickly.

Things then turn Hitchcockian when it’s revealed that Anthony is not the real Dr Edwardes. He actually has amnesia. He *thinks* he killed Edwardes and took his place. Constance wants to help and doesn’t tell anyone what she’s learnt, but during the night he leaves, not wanting to cause her more worry. He writes her a note, pausing over which name to sign it. And it’s a fantastic scene the following morning when Constance spots the piece of paper on the floor but her colleagues walk in before she can collect it. It gets trodden on by Green Manors’ former boss, Dr Murchison (Leo G Carrol), and others. Constance is terrified of someone spotting the note and realising Edwardes wasn’t Edwardes… then Murchison simply picks it up and hands it to her unread.

The scene works so well because the movie does such a good job of putting us in Constance’s shoes. Point of view is always an important factor in cinema (or at least it should be), and Hitchcock was the best there’s ever been at showing us events from a certain character’s perspective. Here, we feel Constance’s turmoil because it’s *her* story. Even if melodramatic, we understand that she’s in love and is willing to do anything to help the man who’s now calling himself John. So she follows him to New York and tracks him down at a hotel. Both are now on the run – his secret has been rumbled and he’s wanted for murder.

The couple then visit Constance’s old mentor, Alex Brulov (played by Michael Chekhov, Anton’s nephew). He’s a happy-go-lucky, professorial type. ‘Happy dreams,’ he jokes as they go to bed, ‘which we will analyse over breakfast.’ In fact, Constance is now overseeing a rolling therapy session as she and John try to piece together the clues of what’s happened: John has a burnt hand, medical knowledge, a vague memory of Rome, and a pathological fear of dark lines on white backgrounds. What does it all mean? Did he really kill Dr Edwardes?

Later, a tortured John does recount a dream, one full of symbolism and significance. The strikingly odd sequence was masterminded by Salvador Dalí (no, really) and is a glorious burst of surrealism unmatched in the Golden Age of Hollywood. It was reportedly 20 minutes long as filmed, though we only get to see a couple of minutes. It’s a trippy, dislocating experience: there are huge eyes painted onto drapes, a gambling den, a man with no face, expressionistic sets that could be from The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. Fantastic stuff.

Eventually, John remembers: he was at a ski resort when the real Edwardes died in an accident. The pair head to the resort, which unfortunately means we get some very naff shots of Bergman and Peck ‘skiing’ while standing in a studio against some unconvincing backgrounds. (Hitchcock never seemed to be embarrassed by obviously artificial shots like this.) But then the truths start to tumble out – John has a flashback to his childhood, when he accidentally killed his brother. His inherent guilt complex meant that, when he witnessed Dr Edwardes’s death while skiing, he compensated by taking Edwardes’s place and therefore keeping him ‘alive’. We even get a pat explanation scene where Peck details the plot for us.

However, then the cops show up to reveal that Edwardes’s body has been found… and it contains a bullet. John is charged with murder and the movie then positively races through a trail sequence (it takes just five shots and 30 seconds for him to be found guilty on no actual evidence whatsoever). Hitchcock just isn’t interested in the legality. He wants the emotion. And the speedy conviction does set us up for a grandstanding finish.

Constance returns to Green Manors, distraught over what’s happened to her innocent boyfriend, and is supported by her kindly colleague Dr Murchison, who’s now back in change of the institution. But she has Leo G Carroll over a barrel when she catches him in a small lie: despite earlier claiming that they’d never met, he now says he knew the real Edwardes…

It’s a terrific showdown scene as Murchison maintains his silky, calm, avuncular charm, despite the fact Constance (and the viewer) has worked out that he murdered Edwardes to get his job. The two characters discuss and unpack the meaning of John’s elaborate dream, and eventually Murchison admits he shot Edwardes – it’s gripping because Carroll plays it so controlled and icy. Then the scene ends with an image of real invention. We cut to Murchison’s point of view – his actual, first-person POV, seeing the room through his eyes. He’s pulled a gun and it’s large in the frame pointing at Constance. But she gambles that he’s not prepared to kill her and slowly walks away. The gun then slowly turns round to face the camera. Murchison pulls the trigger and there’s a FLASH of red: the only sight of colour in an otherwise black-and-white movie.

Seven men carrying a violin case out of 10

Blake’s 7: Seek-Locate-Destroy (1978)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

A mission to steal a Federation cypher machine results in the loss of one of Blake’s team. Then a space commander is tasked with hunting him down…

Series A, episode 6. Written by: Terry Nation. Directed by: Vere Lorrimer. Originally broadcast: 6 February 1978, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Blake (6) and his pals teleport down to the planet Centero to steal a device that will allow them to eavesdrop on Federation communications. He again acts like a team leader on a management-training course, coordinating his colleagues and chivvying them along without actually doing much himself. The mission seems to go well, but when they return to the Liberator it becomes clear that Blake didn’t count everyone back in: Cally has been left behind, seemingly killed in the explosion our heroes set to cover their tracks. Later, Blake is shaken further when he learns his old nemesis Travis is still alive.
* Jenna (6) spends the episode aboard the Liberator, manning the teleport machine like some kind of receptionist.
* Vila (6) helps in the mission on Centero, where his lockpicking skills come in very handy. He also gets a comedy moment or three.
* Gan (5) plants the explosives on Centero, then uses his brute strength to detach the cypher machine the team are stealing.
* Cally (3) has a key role in the mission: she keeps watch on the Federation scientists and stormtroopers while the others half-inch the cypher device. However, her prisoners overpower her, she loses her teleport bracelet, and she’s caught in the explosion. Her colleagues assume she’s dead, but she actually survives and is found by the Federation investigator… (Don’t worry: Blake rescues her at the end.)
* Avon (5), being the computer expert, is the one who identifies the cypher machine and then makes use of it back on the Liberator. Conveniently, one of the first secret messages he hears tells him and the others that Blake’s old enemy Travis is on their trail.
* Zen (4) imparts some exposition now and again.
* Supreme Commander Servalan (1) is a Federation bigwig in a position of authority below the unseen president. She’s a relatively young woman who dresses in a Princess Leia-like, all-white frock. Aboard her spinning space station, she’s briefed about Blake; her underlings fear that he’ll become even more powerful if the myths and legends about him continue to spread. So she appoints an officer called Travis to seek, locate and – that’s right – destroy him… Actress Jacqueline Pearce plays against the writing and gives a languid performance. This is clearly a character of enormous power and strength, but she’s not going to rant and rave about it.
* Space Commander Travis (1) has been the subject of an inquiry after he oversaw a civilian massacre. But Servalan is satisfied that the deaths were necessary so appoints him to track down and kill Blake. Travis – a man dressed all in black leather with an eye patch, a robotic hand and a John Wayne walk – was involved in Blake’s pre-amnesia arrest, and the two men clearly hate each other. He’s played by a committed Stephen Greif.

Best bit: On Centero, Vila needs to distract two guards. So he breezes up to them and says with a smile, “Hello there! How are you? Excuse me wandering about your premises, but I wonder if you can help me. I’m an escaped prisoner. I was a thief but recently I’ve become interested in sabotage – in a small way, you understand, nothing too ambitious. I hate vulgarity, don’t you? Anyway, I’ve come to blow something up. What do you think would be most suitable?” Then Blake creeps up behind the guards and whacks them over the head.

Worst bit: The Centero sequence also contains a laughably awful robot sentry – a cheap-looking, juddering, postbox-shaped machine that totters about the power station being used for the location filming.

Review: The mission-of-the-week is a MacGuffin, and neither Cally’s apparent death nor her subsequent return to the Liberator seems to affect her friends that much. Instead, the main purpose of this episode is to introduce two new recurring characters: it’s the series putting faces onto the previously nebulous Federation. There’s also a significant change of tone going on. In episode one, the Federation was represented by cold, cynical, humourless bureaucrats. Now, however, we have Servalan and Travis, two camp, moustache-twirling, pantomime villains. Travis even gets a hammy, maniacal soliloquy at the end of the episode (paraphrase: “I’ll get you, Blakey!”). But at least the pair complete the Robin Hood theme that’s been building across these episodes: Blake is an outlaw on the side of the downtrodden masses; his cohorts include equivalents of Maid Marian, Will Scarlet, Little John and so on; they even dress in green jerkins. Well, now we have King John and the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Seven laseron destroyers out of 10

Next episode: Mission to Destiny

Murder! (1930)

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An occasional series where I review a randomly selected movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock…

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

A woman is convicted of killing a colleague, but after the trial a member of the jury begins to doubt her guilt…

There’s a brilliant opening shot to this enjoyable crime thriller. The camera tracks along the windows of a row of houses as, in sequence, people are awoken by some nearby loud banging. And that sets the tone. As the story develops – young touring actress Diana (Norah Baring) is found in a daze next to the dead body of her colleague Edna; she says she has no memory of what happened; she’s arrested and charged with murder – Hitchcock has tremendous fun in the filmmaking playpen.

Visually, the movie never stops impressing and there’s a real sophistication to the framing and camera moves. An early example sees two women discuss the murder while walking back and forth between two connected rooms, the camera swinging back and forth (seemingly through a wall) as if it’s anxious not to miss a moment of the conversation. Later, there’s a terrific scene at the local theatre as the police question actors who constantly have to break off because they’re needed on stage – it’s dynamic, well-staged stuff that tells the story and has fun at the same time. Hitch is also experimenting with the then-new technology of sound: in her jail cell, actress Diana imagines her play going on without her; later, a character’s internal monologue is set to music, while another scene is played over the constant noise of a crying baby.

Diana’s court case comes 14 minutes into the story… and we’re into the jury room for deliberations after 17. The movie then becomes a kind of Twelve Angry Men precursor. The foreman leads his colleagues into discussion, and initially there are three not guiltys. The most assertive advocate is Sir John Menier (Herbert Marshall), a famous actor-manager, and the sequence of him being questioned by the others is a marvel: the timing of the dialogue builds like music, with the lugubrious Kenneth Kove playing a nervous juror who repeats the same line as if it were a chorus.

Ultimately, though, Diana is found guilty and will be hanged. The sentence weighs heavy on Sir John’s shoulders, who then begins his own investigation into the murder. After his stint as Juror 8, he now becomes Sherlock Holmes. Eventually, he fathoms what really happened and corners the actual killer in a trap inspired by the Mousetrap scene from Hamlet. It’s entertaining stuff, though Diana is played so clipped, stoically and melodramatically (and is so rarely seen on screen) that at times you do wonder why Sir John is bothering.

Seven men walking past the house out of 10

Note: While shooting Murder!, Hitchcock was simultaneously filming another version of the same script on the same sets. This second production was Mary (1931), a German-language equivalent (no dubbing for foreign territories in those days of course). It featured a mostly new cast, though Miles Mander played the role of Gordon in both films.

Blake’s 7: Time Squad (1978)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

En route to a Federation communications installation, the crew of the Liberator stumble across a mysterious space pod containing cryogenically frozen people…

Series A, episode 4. Written by: Terry Nation. Directed by: Pennant Roberts. Originally broadcast: 23 January 1978, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Blake (4) has a plan: the first ‘mission’ for the newly assembled team. He’d clearly rather not discuss it, however, and forces through the idea that they travel to Saurian-Major and destroy a vital Federation communications node.
* Jenna (4) teaches the others how to pilot the Liberator, then after a mystery pod is found floating in space, she teleports aboard it with Blake. In the second half of the episode, she gets a big subplot mostly to herself: the pod’s cryogenically frozen occupants wake up and attack her.
* Avon (3) is vocally cynical and obstructive when Blake pitches his plan to knock out a Federation installation. But he knows that he’s better off aboard the Liberator than on his own so eventually goes along with it. Despite the antihero vibe, Avon even saves Blake and Jenna’s lives when they’re running out of oxygen aboard the pod.
* Zen (2) behaves very strangely, refusing to help and speaking in a fractured manner…
* …so Gan (3) suggests that the computer might have a ‘limiter’ that restricts how much he can help them. Later, Gan admits to Jenna that he killed the man who murdered his partner. He now gets headaches and we see that he has an implant in his head – presumably the same kind of ‘limiter’ he mentioned earlier.
* Vila (4) gets a few droll lines, then is coerced into accompanying Blake and Avon to the planet Saurian-Major, where they encounter…
* Cally (1) is a solo guerrilla fighting the Federation on Saurian-Major. She’s from the planet Auron and can communicate telepathically (though not read people’s thoughts). At the end of the episode, she accepts Blake’s offer to join the Liberator crew, meaning the team is now up to the number promised in the series title (as long as you count Zen, which is the intention). Actress Jan Chappell doesn’t get a massive amount to do in her debut; it’s just an introduction.

Best bit: Investigating the pod, Avon attempts to deduce its purpose. “No sign of any weapons,” he says. “In fact, there isn’t much equipment at all. Either they were headed for a civilised destination where they expected a friendly reception or…” – he grins a fantastic, shit-eating grin – “…we are missing the point entirely.”

Worst bit: The spell-it-out-for-the-viewers chat to clarify the extent of Cally’s telepathic abilities.

Review: There are two plots this week, which don’t especially have anything to do with each other. Sadly, in both cases the set-up promises more than is delivered. Cryogenically frozen people from the past being found and thawed out is an idea that crops up in several science-fiction TV shows: Star Trek (Space Seed, 1967), Star Trek: The Next Generation (The Neutral Zone, 1988), Red Dwarf (Justice, 1991), Babylon 5 (The Long Dark, 1994), and more. The Blake’s 7 take on the concept leads to some good horror-movie-esque scenes of Jenna trapped alone in the cargo hold with the newly awoken people. It’s creepy, well shot, and Dudley Simpson’s incidental music is spot-on. But it’s all a bit superficial because the frozen people are just character-less plot devices. Meanwhile, the action story down on the planet sees Blake, Avon, Vila and new pal Cally complete their mission remarkably easily. At least it gets the show out on location, ticking off Blake’s 7’s two favourite landscapes: a quarry and a power station.

Seven paraneutronic generators out of 10

Next episode: The Web