Thursday July 11, 2013

KEENE, N.H.

North and South -- Not to be confused with a 20th-century novel about the American Civil War, Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1855 novel "North and South" is about the horrid conditions of mill workers in northern England at that time. The 1975 television adaptation is now available in a two-DVD set from Acorn Media.

Mrs. Gaskell (as she called herself on the title pages of her books) creates a plot in which a young Margaret Hale (Rosalie Shanks) and her parents (Robin Bailey and Kathleen Byron) have to move up north, because Mr. Hale, a Dissenter, lost his calling and hopes to earn a living teaching Greek.

As it turns out, his only student is the master of the local mill, John Thornton (a very young Patrick Stewart with a full set of hair). Of course, he falls in love at first sight with Margaret; while she falls in dislike for him, because of the cruel way in which he seems to treat his workers. The rest is the stuff of mid-19th century novel romance, very much predictable, right down to a misunderstanding that considerably modifies Thornton’s passion.

Special mention must be made of character actress Rosalie Crutchley, who plays the Mother Thornton, with all of the righteousness that any bigoted snob displays to those who show any humanity to those "lower" than themselves.

So the plot is creaky and the theme obvious. But the acting is good and the four 50-minute episodes go by quickly and entertainingly. The subtitles help considerably.

Falcon -- I could imagine the conversation in some boardroom. Let’s create another cops-and-robbers show. How to make it different? Set it in Seville. We can base it on some books by Robert Wilson about a detective named Falcon (accent on second syllable). This means at least one scene in a bullring. That can be managed. But the standard plots could take place in any location in England or the continent. So make this non-standard. How?

Falcon could have trouble with his separated or divorced wife. Been done. That means it works. Hey, why not make the mystery relate to all of his family with a real twist towards the end? And draw it out to three hours in two 90-minute episodes.

The results can now be seen on a two-DVD set from Acorn Media. Marton Csokas plays Chief Inspector Javier Falcon with as little energy as I have ever seen in a police series. The plot is extremely convoluted, and that surprising twist toward the end is almost predictable. Both episodes, I want to make clear, are devoted to the same story. By the time I finished the first, I was actually disappointed to see that the second was a continuation.

The actors all speak standard English, as is the custom with British films when characters are supposed to be speaking some other language. This merely adds to the lack of local coloring. Others might find "Falcon" more stirring than I did. To each his own.

The running time is 179 minutes and the subtitles help.

Pryor Band -- Few of my chronological companions have not have heard of the Sousa Band, and there are several archival recordings of performances by that group. However, Arthur Pryor’s band was a serious rival, and happily they left many of their numbers on recordings, 25 of which are gathered on a magnificent Archeophone CD called "Echoes from Asbury Park: Arthur Pryor and his Band" (ARCH 5008).

The first two pages of the information-packed booklet list two concerts given by Pryor at Asbury Park, N.J., in 1904, and the CD duplicates it from the original recordings of those pieces made in a studio. The sound is, by the way, remarkably clear, because band instruments were friendly to the big horns into which they had to play to move the needle along the surface of the cylinders or of the flat discs that rotated more or less at 78 rpm.

Among the selections are "Dixie," "Louisa," "Auld Lang Syne with variations," "Glow Worm" and several excerpts from operas and operettas. In brief, another gem from Archeophone. Their fascinating catalog is available through www.archeophone.com or e-mail sales@archeophone.com

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