jump to navigation

TV Tomb: Tales of the Unexpected – Season 1 February 7, 2008

Posted by Ian W in : TV Reviews , add a comment

This first season of Tales of the Unexpected was made up exclusively of Roald Dahl’s stories (later seasons would include adaptations of Ruth Rendell and Jeffrey Archer, amongst others). Dahl also introduced each tale during the first few seasons, sitting by a fireplace all nice and cosy.

In this day and age, with the likes of M. Night Shyamalan making a career out of the twist ending, the stories presented here should really be called Tales of the Occasionally Surprising, but watching them again, what is really surprising is how many have stayed in my memory.

“The Man from the South”, “Lamb to the Slaughter” and “Neck” all brought back fond memories. The best stories are those with a healthy dose of black humour to go along with the twist ending and all of these fit the bill nicely.

The series featured a surprisingly starry cast. “Neck” gives John Gielgud a dry run for his butler role in Arthur while “Edward the Conqueror” sees Joseph Cotton go to extremes in order to dispose of the feline reincarnation of Franz Liszt. Other notables include Jose Ferrer, Joan Collins and Jack Weston.

They’re nothing special to look at, particularly those shot on video, but it’s the story that’s the main attraction. Julie Harris stars in the dullest of the tales, Mrs Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat (she made a second appearance in the episode “The Way Up to Heaven” at the end of the season) but even this features a wryly amusing, if unsurprising, conclusion.

The best of the stories though is the deliciously amusing (and amusingly titled) “Lamb to the Slaughter”. Susan George’s husband is murdered and Brian Blessed is the copper who’s leading the investigation. Both are very good, particularly George, but what makes this one such a joy is the ending. It’s not that you don’t see it coming, rather that you do, with the audience one up on the befuddled police.

Also memorable is Ron Grainer’s theme tune. Grainer is responsible (or at least partly responsible) for the greatest theme tune to a TV series everDr Who – and he also wrote the opening music for The Prisoner. Tales of the Unexpected doesn’t come close to matching them and is, at least partly, memorable for not really fitting the series it introduces; it’s far too upbeat and jolly.

There’s nothing here that will give you sleepless nights but they will provide the odd surprise and more than a few chuckles and, for those of a certain age, they’ll doubtless bring back fond memories.

Watching the Detectives: Stanley Baker is Inspector Harry Martineau in Hell Is a City

Posted by Ian W in : Film Reviews, Thriller , 4 comments

This 1960 Hammer production gives film noir a touch of Northern grit as Stanley Baker hunts an escaped convict through the streets of Manchester.

Inspector Harry Martineau put Don Starling away and, when he hears he’s escaped, he knows in his gut he’ll come back to Manchester. Sure enough Starling does return and organises a robbery in order to get some going away money, but things go wrong and a girl is killed. Knowing he faces the death penalty if caught he’ll do anything to avoid capture but Martineau closes in on him and the film climaxes with an excellent rooftop shootout between the two men.

This is Baker’s film, bringing Martineau to life both as the dogged professional cop and the man whose home life is falling apart. There’s none of the histrionics you might expect, with the film doing a decent job of presenting real(ish) police work. Martineau gets his man through belligerence and intimidation and hard work not beating confessions out of people.

There’s a good supporting cast backing Baker up. Donald Pleasence gives the part of Gus Hawkins (the man whose money gets stolen) his own unique touch (he’s constantly blowing his nose with a large white handkerchief) and as Hawkins much younger and unfaithful wife Billie Whitelaw won herself a most promising newcomer BAFTA nomination.

The only bum note is provided by John Crawford as the violent criminal Starling. It’s not that the American is bad in the role, he does menacing quite well, just that he feels out of place, with Baker’s comment about growing up with him and going to the same school leaving you wondering why he sounds like a Yank.

Baker’s main co-star in the film though is the city itself. The film was shot on location and it helps bring the story to life. Arthur Grant turned in some great work for Hammer (Plague of the Zombies being a personal favourite) and his widescreen “Hammerscope” cinematography here is among his best.

Director Val Guest’s career had its ups and downs; the first two Quatermass films ranking among his best while his final film, The Boys in Blue (starring Cannon and Ball), must rank as the ultimate low. Hell is a City is among his best work, capturing the times brilliantly and yet still feeling fresh and involving today.

Login     Film Journal Home     Support Forums           Journal Rating: 4/5 (9)