Two old films are remade for television



It is rare when two DVDs of made-for-television versions appear at the same time, and both were done before as films directed by Alfred Hitchcock. And by chance, they both are being reviewed in the same article.

Under Capricorn -- Helen Simpson’s 1937 Novel "Under Capricorn" became a rare Hitchcock dud when filmed in 1949. A new version was televised in 1982 in two 100-minute segments, and Acorn Media has made the latter available on a two-DVD set. It is worth the watching.

Not for the plot, by any means, which is in some of its aspects a mixture of "Rebecca" and "Jane Eyre." It concerns a young Charles Adare (Peter Cousens), who comes from England to New South Wales in 1831 to seek his fortune. He runs into the always frowning and taciturn Samson Flusky (John Hallam), who offers him a bribe to engage in some dishonest venture (which never comes off) and brings him into his home. There Adare meets the alcoholic Lady Henrietta (Lisa Harrow).

The housekeeper Milly (Julia Blake) is like the one in "Rebecca," except this one has an eye on slowly doing away with Henrietta and possibly marrying her master. And then there is the convict-on-probation William Winter (Jim Holt), who tries to serve his master well ... Need I go on?

It is all soap-operatic but it is saved by the superior acting of most of the cast. Except, I feel, by Cousens who simply lacks presence as half the romantic interest. On the other hand, I must mention an interesting if a bit clichéd characterization by Catherine Lynch as Susan, daughter of an ex-hangman and a contrast to Henrietta.

And at 200 minutes of running time, things do drag a bit. But I did appreciate seeing how toilet accommodations were set up at a grand ball back then!

The 4:3 picture shows some slight flaws from the 1982 original stock; and as always, the subtitles are most welcome.

Lady Vanishes -- Ethel Lina White’s 1936 novel "The Wheel Spins" is known mostly for Alfred Hitchcock’s film treatment "The Lady Vanishes" (1938) with Michael Redgrave and Margaret Lockwood. It certainly is not known at all for the 1979 version with Elliott Gould and Cybill Shepherd. The recent made-for-television version (2013), now available as a BBC DVD with the same title, will not keep many viewers from returning to Hitchcock.

In this latest telling, a young girl, Iris Carr (Tuppence Middleton), is conked on the head before boarding a train to leave Croatia in the post-World War I days, meets a kindly matron named Miss Froy (Selina Cadell) who casually mentions a strange meeting with an important person. The two women share a compartment with several other people, only one of which, a Baroness, speaks some English.

Waking from a sleep, Iris finds that not only has Miss Froy vanished from her seat but has apparently vanished from the train. Several English types, for reasons of their own, do not wish the train to be held up and deny ever seeing this Froy. Among them are two elderly women played with a twinkle in the eye by Gemma Jones and Stephanie Cole. (In the Hitchcock version, they are two male cricket fanatics.)

Someday, when I read the novel, I can be more helpful in pointing out changes. But I read from some sources that this version sticks fairly close to the original.

She, of course, meets a handsome young man, Max Hare (Tom Hughes). The acting of these two, as with every character in this version, is just adequate. Hitchcock knew how corny the plot was and injected a deal of humor into the proceedings. This director, it seems, decided to take the plot seriously. That approach would have worked had the characters been more interesting.

Yet I must be fair. Those who haven’t seen the 1936 film may very well enjoy this one. I did, to a large extent, but then I was writing this review in my mind as I watched. To each his own.

The running time is just short of 90 minutes and the English subtitles are most welcome.

Frank Behrens reports on classical and Broadway music as well as recordings of books and plays.


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