Network on Air (studio)
11 February 2019 (released)
22 February 2019
Here we have the great Orson Welles introducing 13 stories of mystery and suspense in this much sought-after anthology series from the early 1970s, made for Anglia TV. The stories, based on tales by writers such as Wilkie Collins, Honorè de Balzac, Arthur Conan Doyle, O. Henry and many more feature an array of British talent including Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Susannah York, Ian Holm and many more while almost all of the episodes also feature the token American actor (Eli Wallach, Clarence Williams III, Jack Cassidy etc) – in order to sell the series to the American market.
To put it upfront, none of the stories (25 min each) can be described as a ‘great mystery’ nor are they truly eerie though it would be fair to say that more often than not, a macabre undertone prevails. Perhaps the one real mystery is why the selected stories have been chosen, given the fact that there are so many stories out there considerably more, er, mysterious? Each story is introduced by Orson Welles after the opening sequence (with its recognisable tune theme by the great John Barry) fades out. Speaking of Welles’ introduction: unfortunately it’s a bit of a let down as within seconds is becomes apparent that this great thespian is obviously reading the lines from an ‘idiot board’ – his eyes wandering off left, right and centre and only occasionally looking at ‘us’ – the viewer. Could this be the greatest mystery of the series? Who knows, perhaps Anglia didn’t pay him enough to learn his lines, or perhaps he just didn’t have the time to learn them in between all his other engagements. Indeed, who knows!
We begin with ‘A Terribly Strange Bed’ - the story of a young American gambler named Faulkner (a hopelessly miscast and far too modern looking Edward Albert) who, together with his friend George Barclay (Colin Baker) wins a game of Rouge e Noir in 19th century Paris. Instead of taking the money and leaving the establishment, the outwardly friendly (but in reality deeply shady) proprietor Lemerie (Rupert Davies) offers our ‘lucky’ gambler some hot soup and minutes later he feels too unwell to leave. Lemerie kindly suggests to Faulkner he spend the night in the establishment’s guest room upstairs, though little does our gambler know what lies in store for him, including a four-poster bed with a slowly descending top, apparent suicide notes and the terrifying awakening that he may not be the first one to be crushed to death by the bed’s contraption… making Lemerie richer and richer…
What stands out here is some sumptuous period feel as far the interior design goes.
Another tale that oozes a proper period feel is ‘Captain Rogers’ in which a disgruntled and lice-ridden stranger named Cawser (Donald Pleasence) arrives in an inn somewhere in 18th century England to pay the apparently oh so respectable owner Mullet a surprise visit. While Mullet is held in high esteem by patrons and business colleagues alike, Cawser knows that in reality Mullet is none other than Captain Rogers, the once notorious pirate, and sets out to blackmail him…
Eli Wallach excels as penniless and alcoholic bum Fuzzy whose fortune is about to make a turn for the better after returns a precious stolen rag doll to a wealthy family and claims the reward, though the lady of the house (Hildegard Neil) has no idea that it was the family dog who ‘stole’ the doll to begin with.
Absolute stand-outs are ‘La Grande Breteche’ (after a story by Balzac) in which a cruel and jealous Peter Cushing walls up the Spanish lover of his bored wife (Susannah York) in his aristocratic mansion during the 19th century Peninsular War. Tautly directed by Peter Sasdy, this is one of the undisputed highlights.
You might argue that Christopher Lee cannot be far behind when Cushing turns up and rightly so: ‘The Leather Funnel’ (after a story by Arthur Conan Doyle and directed by Alan Gibson – ‘The Satanic Rites of Dracula’) sees the late Sir Christopher as the mysterious Arnaud, a wealthy man who welcomes young clerk Stephen Barrow (Simon Ward) in his luxurious French home. Stephen has an alternate motive for his visit as he hopes to deepen his romance with Veronique (Jane Seymour), a young student he knows from London and he now hopes to propose marriage to. While engaging in small talk Stephen can’t help noticing a peculiar leather funnel that has a particular grim history… a history that is then revealed in flashback after Arnaud drugs Stephen and his hallucinations take him back to the Spanish inquisition, where a murderess and witch called Veronique d’ Aubray is about to be tortured… This one is as sinister as it can get, with menacing and doom-laden incidental music heightening the terror.
Other highlights include ‘Trial for Murder’ (story by C.A. Collins/Charles Dickens) – a 19th century ghost story in which juror Charles Stubbs (Ian Holm) literally sees ghosts… as they begin to influence his judgement in a murder trial (though the murder also sees ghosts) we know there won’t be a happy ending. ‘The Ingenious Reporter’ sees American reporter Harry Langley (David Birney) coming up with an apparent fool-proof and genius plan to trace a serial murder in turn-of-the-century France… by pretending to be him and then find out more while imprisoned, with exclusive stories for the newspaper he writes for. However, the plan backfires in spectacular fashion when an angry lynch mob decides to take the law in its own hands…
On a par is the well-known story of ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ – here set in contemporary rural England (make that the early 1970’s) – in which Cyril Cusack refuses to listen to Patrick Magee when he tries to warn him that three wishes granted by the cursed paw will have catastrophic consequences.
Everyone will have their own faves though it must be said that compared with other 70’s anthology series (such as the superb BBC series ‘Supernatural’ or its American counterpart ‘Night Gallery’) this offering somewhat pales due to a lack of consistency and some lacklustre and predictable stories.
Please note that this title is currently ONLY available via the www.networkonair.site as part of a marketing initiative!