Monday, August 21, 2017

Morbid Anniversary

Anniversaries and such things have been on my mind of late.  Partly because I'm feeling extremely smug about having correctly remembered a friend's birthday (an increasingly rare event - I even have to be reminded of my various great nieces' birthdays: usually by them), but mainly because the media keeps banging on about how we're approaching the twentieth anniversary of Princess Diana's death.  I always find this desire to fixate on the anniversaries' of peoples' deaths perplexing, if not downright morbid.  To be quite frank, it borders on necrophilia.  In fact, the whole cult thing which seems to surround dead celebrities is, aside from being downright creepy, in itself, a form of necrophilia.  Still, I've no doubt that, over the next couple of weeks, the media will be full of celebrities and reality TV stars telling us what they were doing when they heard that Princess Diana had died.  Actually, I can tell you what I was doing when I heard that she'd been involved in an accident: I was watching a late night screening of the English language version of Borsalino on BBC1, when, during the casino robbery sequence, it was interrupted for a newsflash.  If finished watching the film when it resumed and went to bed.  When I woke up the next morning, every radio station was playing mournful music, so I assumed she'd died.

I'm sure that we'll have lots of 'what if?' programmes, speculating on what might have happened if she hadn't died.  Or if the car Princess Diana was in crashed into a bus full of school children.  Or, if when the car crashed, the boot lid sprung open and half a dozen naked illegal immigrants kept as sex slaves by the Princess jumped out and ran off.  Of course, the big 'what if' is what would have happened if she'd lived, a divorced Charles had married Camilla, then the Queen died and he took the throne with Camilla as his Queen.  Would Diana have tried to force her way into the Coronation and Westminster Abbey, demanding to be Queen consort instead of Camilla?  (There's sort of an historical precedent for this: George IV's estranged wife Princess Caroline of Brunswick tried to gate crash his coronation and assert herself as Queen consort).  Then again, we should probably speculate as to what would have happened if Diana had survived the crash, but was so severely traumatised that she became a psychopathic killer hell bent on murdering various members of the Royal family.  Would she have taken an axe to the Queen Mother?   Or garrotted the Duke of Edinburgh?  Or even decapitated Her Majesty with a sword?  These questions deserve an answer, I feel.

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Friday, August 18, 2017

Protect and Survive


I know that the threat of a nuclear exchange between North Korea and the US has receded now, I thought that, just in case Trump stokes things up again, I'd give you some idea of what to do if nukes are inbound to the UK.  I know that these public information films commissioned by the UK government in the eighties were designed to reassure people that a nuclear strike was survivable, but they fail miserably. Even veteran radio DJ Alan 'Fluff' Freeman can't disguise the fact that the advice they give is pretty useless.  Hiding in your house's 'safe area' (which, if you'd followed the advice of previous broadcasts, would have consisted of a 'shelter' constructed from internal doors taken off of their hinges and propped against the wall), would only have any chance of helping you survive if you lived many miles from the actual blast.  (Of course, you could have tried the Indiana Jones method of surviving a nuclear blast by hiding in a fridge, but other public safety films were always telling you not to hide in fridges as you'd suffocate). 

As for their advice on surviving a nuclear blast if caught in the open - forget it, you'd bee doomed.  As for those warning sirens, well, when I was a kid back in the early seventies, in the town I grew up in, they used to test the alert siren every Tuesday morning.  You could hear it all over the town and, once you were old enough to understand what it signified, you were scared shitless every time it sounded.  I can't remember when they stopped the weekly drill, it might have been the late seventies or even the early eighties.  It certainly went on long enough for my younger brother (who was born in 1972) to remember it.  Whenever it was, that sound still disturbs me whenever I hear it.  At this distance in time, it seems incredible that the authorities obviously thought the possibility of nuclear war real enough as late as the seventies that they sanctioned such drills - I know that my home town wasn't unique in carrying out these weekly tests.  By the eighties they obviously thought that 'Fluff' Freeman telling you to hide in a ditch if the bomb went off was a more effective use of resources.

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Ecco! (1964)


An early Italian Mondo known under a plethora of titles (it was called This Shocking World in the UK), Ecco! occupies an interesting place in the evolution of the Mondo movie.  It's original Italian title was Mondo di Notte 3 - the first two films in this series have been mentioned here before, in that they were part of a films which were effectively 'proto Mondos'.  like the contemporaneous Europa di Notte and America di Notte, they were a body of films which focused on presenting various night club acts from around the world to cinema audiences, in the days before you could see that sort of thing nightly on TV.  Their focus on 'forbidden' content (the sort of acts they presented would often have been considered 'risque' at the time), puts them in similar territory to true Mondo movies.  Unlike the late Mondos, however, they stopped short of presenting grotesquery as entertainment and simply presented the acts 'as were', rather than engaging in the sort of fakery their successors were accused of doing.

With part three of the Mondo di Notte films, the series morphed nto a full on Mondo.  Clearly, the producers realised that simply showing night club acts was no enough for cinema audiences in the wake of the likes of Mondo Cane.  They obviously felt that, if you can't beat them, then join them.  As with all Mondos, the film's trailer strives to give the impression that this is actually a perfectly legitimate documentary.  The English language version even sports a 'name' actor in the form of George Sanders to provide narration.  (Although by this point in his career, Sanders was appearing in lower and lower rent movies, rapidly eroding his standing as a 'serious' actor).   But other than Sanders' presence, Ecco! is pretty much a standard Mondo movie, albeit one more easily available in English than many others.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Dangerous Dog Days of Summer

So, here we are in the middle of August - my favourite Summer month - and that 'August feeling is finally sinking in; the feeling that the entire world is on holiday, that we are in some kind of hiatus, with nothing happening.  It is like time is standing still for a few weeks.  Except, of course, that things are happening, quite disturbing things.  Right now the White House is occupied by someone who, when he isn't trying to ramp up the tension with North Korea, is defending racists and neo Nazis.  I'd like to say that it is unbelievable that, in the twenty first century, he have a President of the United States trying to draw a moral equivalence between Confederate generals who fought to break up the Union and the US' own founding fathers.  But with Trump, anything is believable.  When the President gives a press conference where he argues that the Nazi protestors in Charlottesville (one of whom, let us not forget, killed someone by driving a car into a crowd)  are no different to those who were on the streets objecting to their presence, which draws praise only from David Dukes, the leader of the Ku Klux Klan, then you know that western civilisation is in trouble.  Trump has gone beyond simply being an incompetent and ignorant buffoon, to being a living, breathing, affront to deceny and human values. 

Unfortunately, there's little I can do about the disgraceful apologist for racists that Trump is, other than fume about him from the opposite side of the Atlantic.  At least the prospect of him initiating a nuclear exchange with North Korea seems to have receded.  It looks like I might be able to get through the other two weeks of my Summer leave without being fried to death in a nuclear holocaust.  Speaking of which, (the leave, rather than the holocaust, that is), this week at work separating the two parts of my time off this August is proving as exasperating as expected.  I'm just trying to keep my head down at work - I've managed to avoid speaking to nearly everyone when I've been in the office so far this week.  I'm hoping that I can continue doing so for the rest of the week.  There seems to be a growing consensus among people I know that I should jack this job in - fuelled by how awful I looked before I took last week off.  They are undoubtedly right - I felt even worse than I looked - but I still don't quite feel right about walking away at this juncture.  I need something to walk into, rather than just wandering into the wilderness.  Right now, though, my main objective is just getting through this week at work so that I can get back to the beach.  Unless Trump starts a war, or something to derail my plans.  This August isn't so much the dog days of Summer as the dangerous dog days. 

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Monday, August 14, 2017

A Dose of Reality

We all have foolish dreams and fantasies.  You know the sort of thing: those flights of fancy we use to idle away a few minutes from time to time, as we imagine the things that might have been, how our lives could have gone down a different path or some future where our circumstances are different.  But all too often these idle pipe dreams can come crashing down around our ears when they collide with reality.  You know what I mean: all those years that you've fantasised about meeting that girl you used to idolise again and starting some kind of relationship with her, for instance, only to discover when you do meet her again by chance that she's happily married to someone else and has two kids.  Suddenly that future with her you used to dream about collapses into dust.  Somehow, the dose of reality you've just suffered prevents you from ever rekindling that once pleasurable fantasy.  Well, I suffered such a dream dampening dose of reality the other day.  Not to do with some extended fantasy crush on some female acquaintance I'd pined over for years, (although I have had at least one similar experience), but to do with a house.

That's right, a house.  For several years, in a village just outside of Crapchester, I'd drive past this detached house, set in its own garden, a driveway leading up to the front door.  It seemed to be empty, (although there was never a 'for sale' sign outside), as the garden always looked a bit tatty, with the grass on the lawn too long.  It was significantly larger than the house I own and live in, having, at a guess, three or four bedrooms.  But it wasn't the size which attracted me so much as the 'look' of the house.  It was the sort of place I could imagine myself sitting in the garden of, relaxing in a deck chair on a Summer's afternoon, or lounging in the living room, watching the shadows gather on an Autumn afternoon.  There was just something about it which piqued my imagination and I quickly started dreaming a fantasy future living there.  The other day, I as in the area and realised that I hadn't looked at 'my' house in some time, so I took a slight detour down the road on which it was situated.  To my horror, it had been demolished.  The land it had sat on was now for sale - no doubt to be bought by some developer who has seen too many episodes of Homes Under the Hammer and will spend the next three years trying to get planning permission to build a whole village of cramped houses on the plot.  Needless to say, my dreams came crashing down around my ears - my whole imagined future in that house vanished in an instant.  I just felt so disappointed.  Worse than that actually: devastated to have that dream snatched from me.  I still haven't really recovered.

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Soho Goes Gay


Things were very different back in 1955.  For one thing, Soho could go 'gay' without right wing nut jobs bombing pubs.  Being part of a 1950s newsreel, the segment above has to focus on Soho as a 'cosmopolitan' area of central London, (as did most feature films set there), with no mention of the strip clubs, clip joints and brothels that dominated its night life.  I haven't been to Soho in many, many years, but back in the nineties, when I worked on Whitehall, it was a regular haunt of mine during lunch hours and after work.  Not for the sex trade, although there was still plenty of that openly on display back then, but for the pubs and bars and the general atmosphere.  Back then it was refreshingly full of life - all forms of life.  There's no doubt that the very visible sex trade gave it an edge not present in other parts of the capital.  You really felt that you were rubbing shoulders with all aspects of human life, from high to low.  It made you feel alive and in touch with the reality of life.

I keep meaning to get back there for visit, although I'm told that it has been 'cleaned up' considerably, taking away a lot of its atmosphere.  Which is a real pity.  I have fond memories of pubs like The Coach and Horses in Greek Street and, deeper into Soho, The Admiral Duncan and the Pillars of Hercules.  Maybe during the next bit of my leave, the week after next, I'll manage to work in a trip to London (although the current engineering works at Waterloo and the subsequent cutting of off peak train services might make that difficult).   To get back to the newsreel, it's fascinating how, back in the day, we celebrated multiculturalism.  Nowadays, of course, we'd have the Brexiteers and their ilk denouncing these filthy foreigners for tempting good English people into sampling those sinful exotic foreign food and entertainments.  Ironically, taken out of context, the film's narration - with all its jokey references to the lack of English people in Soho - wouldn't be a million  miles from the sort of thing we heard in all those 'Leave' propaganda films during the EU referendum.

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Lazy Day

Apparently it was National Lazy Day today (there's a day for everything these days).  As I haven't been at work this week I was able to embrace it fully (and unwittingly, as I didn't see it trending on social media until I got home this evening).  The larger part of my day was spent on the beach doing very little, other than watching the ships go by.  Actually, this is the second day this week I've spent at the beach:  I was at a different one on Monday and ended up so relaxed I ended up eating an (over priced) ice cream.  I know I've harped on about my work situation quite a bit of late, but it is worth noting the difference it makes being away from the stress.  Not only do I feel happier, but also healthier.  It took a couple of days, but the tension has gone from my body, I'm no longer feeling anxious every minute of the day and I'm sleeping better.  Even the intermittent tinnitus in my left ear seems to have taken an extended vacation.  I'm still dreading going back on Monday, but it will only be for a week, before I take another fortnight off.  (An odd leave pattern, I know, but as taking three consecutive weeks off is nowadays frowned upon by management, it is the best that I can do).  Where we go after that, I really don't know.

But to get back to Nayional Lazy Day, I've said it before and I'll say it again: laziness is greatly underrated.  Increasingly, we seem to live in a world where everything has to be done yesterday, speed is supposedly of the essence and not a minute is to be 'wasted' doing unproductive things like relaxing, let alone sleeping.  The reality, of course, is that doing things faster doesn't mean doing them better.  Quite the opposite, it engenders more errors.  Indeed, a combination with this obsession with running around like headless chickens and lower and lower staffing levels, meaning that most of us are running around like headless chickens three times over to try and cover, simply results in stress, fatigue and, consequently, mistakes. The trouble is, though, that even when we do get free time, we're nowadays encouraged to use it 'properly' by running around doing 'stuff'.  Which simply isn't relaxing.  People have forgotten the simple joy of doing nothing.  There is nothing better than spending a day lounging around the house doing very little, or going on utterly aimless walks.  Such things are relaxing because you aren't trying to mirror the work experience by putting pressure on yourself to meet leisure-related 'goals'.   I find that the best days off I have are those which are completely unplanned: I just see what happens.  Sometimes it is nothing, sometimes it is something.   You never know. 

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Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Pick Up on Dodgy Street

Is it just me, or are things like Uber basically well dodgy?  I don't mean their business model as such, (although I do think that it is entirely exploitative), but just the very concept of allowing any Tom , Dick or Harry to go around picking up complete strangers for money, in whatever vehicle they might be driving.  I mean, from a customer point of view, you just don't know who is going to pick you up.  f you are lucky, you might just find yourself sharing the backseat with a freshly dug up corpse if you are picked up by the local necrophiliac, (unless, of course, he's hijacked a hearse before picking you up, in which case the corpse will be neatly boxed).   If you are unlucky, you could get a pick up from the local serial killer, who takes you on a detour to find a convenient place to bury his latest victim.  More seriously, bearing in mind that even some black cab drivers - who have to licenced and vetted - turn out to be sex offenders - and let's not mention the number of mini cab drivers who have turned out to be sex murderers - then how can Uber, with its army of unlicenced drivers (the only criteria they seem to have to meet is to have access to a car) possibly assure customers that they are safe?  To be quite blunt, you might just as well use an app which promises to hook you up with a sex offender (if someone hasn't already come up with such a thing in reality) - you'd probably be putting yourself at less risk (you can be sure that a significant percentage of those registering with the app as sex offenders will be bull shitters).

It isn't just Uber which seems dodgy to me - what about Airbnb?  Does anyone other than me think that renting your house out as a holiday home to complete strangers simply isn't a good idea?  Again, you could end up with just about any freak or weirdo living in your home while you are away.  You could come home to find that the holidaying 'family' you rented it to for two weeks were actually a bunch of Hell's Angels who have set up meth lab in your bathroom.  Or you could find that those nice Nuns from Austria who you let to were actually running their traveling international knocking shop out of your bedroom (and probably every other room in the place - you'll be scrubbing for months to get those stains out of the lining room carpet).  Not to mention all the acid bath murderers and assorted crazies using your bath to dissolve bodies or your kitchen to dismember them.  Oh, and be prepared to recognise your house in various online porn loops.  You might as well just leave your door unlocked when you go away yourself and allow the world and his wife to wander in and out of your house at will.  not, of course, that I'm at risk from any of these eventualities, even if I were foolish enough to put my property on Airbnb, as nobody is ever going to want to spend their holidays here in Crapchester.  Not even the criminally insane weirdos.

Yet, despite the obvious - to me, at least - lunacy of these so called services, they seem to be making someone, somewhere, money.  So, what similarly whacky ideas could we come up with to try and emulate their success?  With the cost of funerals rising, why not have an Uber-type app which will allow you to dial up a hearse?  Well, I say hearse, in reality you'll probably find your loved one's casket traveling to the crematorium or cemetery in an ice cream van, or strapped to the roof of a Ford Mondeo estate.  But what the hell - it'll be cheaper than using an undertaker. 

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Monday, August 07, 2017

The Strange Affair (1968)


A truly forgotten British movie from the swinging sixties, I've spent a long time trying to see The Strange Affair, finally succeeding this weekend.  Of course when we eventually catch up with stuff we've spent an age searching for, we often find that they don't live up to our anticipations.  So, was The Strange Affair a disappointment?  Perhaps surprisingly, it wasn't.  In fact, I'd say that it exceeded my expectations, proving to be a well made, atmospheric and intelligently made, if somewhat unconventional, crime movie.

At some point in the dim and distant past The Strange Affair was described as 'fragmented treatment of a conventional novel' (by Bernard Toms, who, as far as I know, only wrote two novels, of which The Strange Affair was the more successful) and, because of the film's unavailability has become the standard description of it whenever the movie is mentioned.  The term 'fragmentary' rather implies that it is one of those swinging sixties films like Blow Up, which eschew conventional narrative structures and plotting, instead presenting the viewer with a series of scenes and images from which a 'story' might be discerned.  This is most certainly not the case with The Strange Affair.  It is only 'fragmentary' in the sense that, unlike conventional British crime films of the fifties and early sixties, it doesn't feel the necessity to include endless dialogue heavy sequences in order to facilitate plot and character exposition.  Instead, it presents us, from the off, with multiple plot lines headed by characters whose paths intersect as the film unfolds, eventually leading to a catastrophic - for several of them - climax.

The centre of the film is PC Peter Strange (Michael York), a naive young university graduate who has joined the Metropolitan Police with the idea of 'doing good' for society.  Determined to be a 'straight' copper, from the off Strange finds himself surrounded by corruption and rule bending.  On his first day on the beat, he makes his first arrest but forgets to caution the suspect - he's rescued by his more experienced partner who lies and tells their Sergeant that he had cautioned the suspect.  The suspect is an informant for Detective Sergeant Pearce (Jeremy Kemp), who occupies a parallel plot strand.  Pearce, when we meet him, is working for one of Scotland Yard's elite squads and is obsessed with bringing down the Quince clan, a family of criminals involved in all manner of rackets and headed by a former colleague of Pearce.  The latter is hampered in his quest by his superiors: his Chief Inspector is a regulation obsessed by-the-book functionary, while his Inspector is on the take from the Quinces and succeeds in tipping off the Quince brothers that a drug bust (set in motion by Pearce on the basis of a tip off from his informant) is imminent.  Pearce is consequently kicked off of the squad and transferred to the Divisional CID at Strange's station.

In another parallel strand, Strange becomes involved with a wild underage girl, Fred (Susan George) who lives with her aunt and uncle in a mansion.  In spite of this veneer of middle class respectability, Fred's aunt and uncle's lifestyle is financed by pornography: they film her various sexual encounters and sell the resultant porn movies.  Pearce, meanwhile, despite his avowed hatred of bent coppers, finds himself using illegal methods to try and frame his former inspector for corruption.  When this fails, he finds himself presented with another opportunity to try and convict the Quince brothers, this time for murder (of Charlie, the informant) after Strange chances upon a tramp who witnessed the killing.  When they are acquitted - due to the supposed unreliability of the witness - Pearce, who is clearly in the early stages of a breakdown, comes into possession of stills from a film of Strange and Fred having sex.  A disgusted Pearce, who had previously thought of Strange as an upright young copper, blackmails Strange into framing Quince senior by planting drugs on him.  At Quince's trial, Pearce begins to unravel under interrogation and subsequently admits framing Quince with Strange's assistance to a colleague who is secretly wearing a wire.  Strange, who has already handed in his resignation, is arrested and goes down for two years for Perverting the Course of Justice.

Put plainly, the plot sounds reasonably straight forward, but its actual execution in the film is anything but, th web of corruption and deceit is gradually woven, with an unwitting Strange at its centre.  We know that his down fall is inevitable - the film opens with him being taken to prison, before flashing back to his first day on the beat - the question is how the too-honest-for-his-own-good new recruit ends up disgraced.  As the film makes clear, it only takes a couple of mis-steps - primarily becoming involved with Fred - for Strange to begin his downward spiral.  It isn't as if Strange doesn't have opportunities to avoid the path to destruction, but like a character in one of Jean-Pierre Melville's crime films, he seems locked into his inevitable fate: no matter how much he twists and turns, he will always end up at the same destination.  Once he falls into the orbit of Pearce, a man whose obsessive pursuit of the Quince family results in him becoming the thing he most hates: a bent copper, he is doomed.  Except that Pearce clearly doesn't see himself as bent - in his logic it is OK to use any means to bring down the bad guys.  Unlike his Inspector, he hasn't taken back handers to derail justice, he's just cut some corners to bring down a villain.  But like Stange, he seems locked into his self destructive path.

The whole film exudes an atmosphere of inevitable doom, from the neon-lit faceless interiors to the demolished streets and run down estates which seem to dominate Strange's beat, decay and hopelessness is everywhere.  Indeed, the portrait of late sixties London presented by director David Greene is, in many ways, the real star of the film.  Shot on location in West London, we are presented with vistas of whole streets of derelict or demolished houses, piles of rubble strewn across roads and huge, dug out foundations.  The whole thing looks like a bomb site, as if World War Two is still in progress.  In reality, the demolition work and dug out foundations are in aid of the construction of the A40 fly over, the concrete supports for the roadway of which can be seen being put into position, ready to be lifted on to their supports.  This isn't the cosy (usually East End) London of regular British police movies, full of terraced back-to-back houses.  This is a London of tower blocks, modern red brick pubs and concrete multi-storey car parks: cold and dehumanised.  It underlines the idea of fundamental change occurring.  But it isn't the sort of change you see portrayed in many other British movies of the era - this certainly isn't a 'swinging London',  It's Satyrday nights are characterised by rucks between bikers and hippies rather than free love and happenings.

Whilst the physical decay of the streets mirrors the creeping corruption within the police force, so the changing urban landscape mirrors the changing nature of the police and the way in which it is perceived.  Traditionally uniformed Bobbies operate out of newly built modernist stations - their antiseptic interiors and anonymous exteriors exuding none of the warmth and sense of protection of the traditional 'nick'.  (Even the villains aren't the usual bank robbers and racketeers: drugs and pornography are the new criminal currency).  This is a new police force motivated by targets and politics and isolated from the community it is meant to police.  It's aim seems to be to protect its own reputation rather than the public and officers who don't grasp this, like Strange and Pearce, are ultimately doomed to become sacrificial lambs.

The film benefits enormously from the performances put in by York and Kemp in these roles.  York, usually an actor of limited range, rises to the occasion as the initially idealistic Strange, effectively recording his gradual disillusionment with the job, despite his valiant attempts to stay 'straight' and do things the 'right way'.  Kemp, a graduate of TV's Z-Cars, is magnificent as Pearce, whom despite his years on the job, shares something of Strange's naivety, still convincing himself that it is possible to convict villains the 'right way'.  Everything about Kemp's characterisation - his speech patterns, his posture,the way he walks even the modest car he drives - underlines the character's determination to stay 'straight' - and he more than effectively conveys the character's internal anguish when he fails to secure the Quince brothers' conviction.  Pearce's inability to stick to his principles is the film's true tragedy.  Kemp's performance makes clear the breakdown which engulfs Pearce as he fatally compromises himself in the latter part of the film.

York and Kemp are more than ably supported by George, whose Fred is an engaging mix of manipulation and childish naivety.  Other good performances come from the likes of veteran British character actor Jack Watson, who make the elder Quince a smoothly menacing yet charming villain.  This really is a film which deserves to be more widely known.  Sure, it has problems, largely in the timescale - York has handed in his resignation some time before Quince is arrested, for instance, yet is still on the force when the latter's trial comes up, something which would takes months to get to court.  Moreover, as York has already handed in his resignation, it is unclear why Pearce's threat to send the photos of him with Fred to the Superintendent should worry him: suspending or sacking him would hardly be effective as he was working his notice anyway and Fred would have been over the age of consent by the time the photos were taken, (when she meets Strange she tells him she is two weeks away from her sixteenth birthday and the film's internal timeline implies this period has elapsed by the time he sleeps with her).

I find it interesting that whilst lots of more conventional portrayals of the UK's police, ranging from Dixon of Dock Green on TV and the Scotland Yard series on film have survived and are still shown, The Strange Affair has all but vanished.  If I were paranoid I might suspect that it had been suppressed.  It took TV a good few years to catch up with the film in its portrayal of the police.  If you get the chance to see this heady mix of underage sex and police corruption (all under pinned by a great Basil Kircher score) , grab it with both hands.


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Saturday, August 05, 2017

"Have You Ever Murdered Anyone?"


Scotland Yard was a series of short films, usually running around the half hour mark, which were produced in the late fifties, originally used as programme fillers for cinemas (those were the days when you got an A feature, a B feature, a newsreel, adverts and a short film for the price of a ticket), later migrating to TV.  Indeed, I remember them still turning up in late night slots on ITV in the seventies.  Chronicling the tireless work of Scotland Yard in protecting us from murderers, arsonists and assorted other miscreants, the series purported to faithfully portray some of the Yard's greatest cases.  It makes for strange viewing today, taking us back to an era when the police were apparently incorruptible defenders of the law, trusted by all law abiding citizens.  even back then, behind the clipped dialogue, trilby hats and rain coats lay a surprising degree of corruption and rule bending.

The highlight of every episode, though, was undoubtedly Edgar Lustgarten's introduction, delivered in plummy tones from behind his desk.  The presence of 'one of the world authorities on criminals and crime' was clearly intended to lend an air of gravitas and verisimilitude to proceeding, yet his straight-faced delivery of often camp or just bizarre introductions now seems unintentionally hilarious.  To modern eyes Lustgarten seems a parody of what he was actually meant to stand for when the films were made: the embodiment of the establishment that Scotland Yard was intended to maintain and protect.  Lustgarten also provided the introductions and epilogues for a follow up0 series in the sixties, The Scales of Justice.  Deprived of his desk and office, forced to present his monologues at various LOndon locations, he looked somewhat uncomfortable and out of place in the new decade, which was to be characterised by an increased questioning of established values and ideas.

But to get back to the fifties and Scotland Yard, one of the most charming aspects of the series was its reuse of the same actors, not necessarily in the same roles, in multiple episodes.  Russell Napier, for instance, was frequently cast as a senior detective, but not always with the same name.  Whilst this probably wouldn't have been noticed by many viewers during the series cinema run, when shown on TV on a weekly basis, it becomes more obvious and more than slightly confusing.  The era the stories were set in varied from the forties to then present day of the sixties, but always looked much the same.  The series wasn't just shot in black in white, its perspective on the crimes it showed was equally straightforward: there was little ambiguity in its portrayals of the criminals and their motives.  They were simply bad people, motivated by lust and greed and deserved to be caught and punished.  As I said, it's fascinating to watch now, as the right tries to steer society back towards such notions of criminality as a character trait, or even a social class, for which there is no cure other than imprisonment and punishment.  Anyway, you can watch it all for yourselves, as Talking Pictures TV are screening the whole series starting later this month.  Oh, and to answer Edgar's question, no, I've never murdered anyone, but I did once have dealings with someone who did eventually murder someone.  But that's another story.

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