Thursday February 14, 2013

KEENE, N.H.

Doolittle Raid -- After Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt wanted a direct hit on Tokyo to accomplish two goals. The first was retaliation for the "day of infamy"; the second to dispel the notion that Japan was too far from any land base for an aerial attack. And so 46-year old Jimmy Doolittle came out of retirement to plan a mission impossible: an aerial attack from aircraft carriers. He had 90 days to make this mission possible.

After long planning and trying to take into account everything that could go wrong, in April 1942, 80 men on 16 B-25 Mitchell medium bombers were sitting tight on the deck of the carrier USS Hornet. They were heading for Japan, hoping against hope not to be spotted by any Japanese vessel or aircraft. They were, and the planes had to take off earlier than planned; and then it became a matter of sufficient fuel supply and not being intercepted.

A two-DVD boxed set from Athena Learning, "The Doolittle Raid" (part of the Missions That Changed the War television series) tells the entire story in four episodes of 44 minutes each. I don’t want to spoil things for those not familiar with what happened, other than to say that Doolittle fully expected a court martial should he ever return alive to his country.

The details of the preparation, carrying out and disastrous aftermath of the raid are carefully and interestingly arranged in the series. At the time of filming in 2011, there were only six survivors, whose first-person accounts of the events are invaluable towards understanding not only what happened but what went through the minds of those involved.

Above Suspicion 2 -- In the middle of "Above Suspicion 2," the humorless DCI James Langdon (Ciaran Hinds) asks his more emotional DI Anna Travis (Kelly Reilly) if she ever wondered why they had had no contact since their last case (in Series 1). She answers that he didn’t think about her; he replies that the trouble is that he did. This is a good case of strongly characterized leads making yet another British police show worth the watching.

I keep mentioning how alike mystery plots have become over the years. Without spoiling anything, I hope, this three-part series has the police getting in the way of not only the narcotics squad but also the fraud squad. And since there is no communication among any of these groups, the situation is not surprising.

Here is much ado about drugs, sparked by the killing of an ex-police officer, complicated by a plastic surgery job on one of the villains. The ending is a most unusual one for this sort of series--in two different ways. That is a strong point in making "Above Suspicion 2" worth the watching.

Each episode runs 46 minutes, the picture is in widescreen, and there are subtitles.

Partners in Crime -- Compared with the Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries, the "Partners in Crime, The Tommy & Tuppence Mysteries" series is lightweight fare but quite enjoyable. Now Acorn Media has re-released them in a more compact format with three DVDs holding all 11 tales.

The best thing about this series is the outrageous costumes Tuppence (Francesca Annis) gets to wear. Now this is featherlight Agatha Christie, so do not expect the complex kind of case that other sleuths have to solve. The inside joke of the T&T novels is that in several episodes they emulate the techniques of a famous fictional detective. For example, in one episode Tommy (James Warwick) is dressed as Father Brown and another mystery is described by the team as a real Edgar Wallace case.

"The Case of the Missing Lady" is probably the silliest of them all, and even Tuppence is required to do a comic turn that is frankly embarrassing. "The Unbreakable Alibi" has a solution that is utterly predictable, while the same could be said about the culprit in "The Man in the Mist." "The Crackler" is probably the most satisfactory.

All in all, good lightweight fun, as I said, but few thrills. And the Annis character can get a little "too too cute" now and then, which starts to grate in a way that does not in the novels. 

Frank Behrens reports on classical and Broadway music as well as recordings of books and plays for the Arts & Entertainment section.