Thursday, May 26, 2016
'Francis Durbridge Presents' V1 DVD Vintage PBS Style Mysteries
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Watching this Region-Four DVD set from Australia in North America requires a worth-buying international DVD player.]
These musings on the recently reviewed Madman Entertainment DVD set "Francis Durbridge Presents: Volume 1" correct the error regarding inadvertently watching (and reviewing) V2 of this set before turning attention to V1. These very popular serials, which can be considered the British version of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," are from the titular legendary British mystery writer.
The serials span from the '50s through the '80s,. The four offerings in "Volume One" are from the '60s.
"Desperate People" from 1963 starts things off with a tale that is pure Durbridge, Like many such stories, it begins innocently enough in the form of on-leave British Army officer Philip Martin arriving at the studio of his famous photographer brother Larry.
Philip cutting the visit short by announcing plans of a mission of mercy sets things in motion in the "things are not as them seem" style of Durbridge, The reality is that the life of Philip abruptly ends far from his stated final destination. His apparently nefarious dealings in the period before said demise further deepen the mystery.
On investigating the circumstances of said death, Larry learns that his brother has many secrets. An increasing Hitchcockian sense of not knowing whom to believe or trust develops as the story progresses. The nature of the body count and the evidence of the complex conspiracy throw in great elements of the classic 1963 John Huston thriller "The List of Adrian Messenger."
Larry uses unusual cunning and intelligence even for a Durbridge hero to sort out everything. This is not before more corpses show up, his own demise is imminent, and others actively attack his sanity.
Madman follows up "People" with "Melissa" from 1964. This one has more elements of an Agatha Christie drawing room "Whodunit" than a spy novel. It centers around unemployed journalist/aspiring author of the Great British Novel Guy Foster trying to solve the mystery surrounding the death of his wife. The evidence that Guy is the guy adds to the suspense.
Great stylish '60s elements come in the form of the best friends of the currently "comfortable" Fosters being the even more comfortable married couple Felix and Paula Hepburn. Hearing this catty pair gossip about the financial challenges facing the Fosters is highly entertaining.
Other amusement comes in the form of indications of Melissa having a secret live that includes a highly unlikely boyfriend, playboy friend Don Page apparently playing a role in the abundant malfeasance in the story, and nothing else being what it seems. The extent to which all this is a case is exceptional even compared to other Durbridge tales.
The third member of the Volume One quartet is titled "A Man Called Harry Brent," but also could have used the same title as the Hitchcock film "The Trouble with Harry." This one, which your humble reviewer has not watched as of posting this review, has the rivals in a love triangle find that every day is like survival when they get tangled up in investigating the death of someone close to the femme fatale object of their affection.
The also unwatched fourth member of this collection "A Game of Murder" has an especially apt title. The "fore" play in this one ends with former professional athlete Bob Kerry dying in an apparent golfing mishap. The detective this time is Bob's son Jack, who is a Scotland Yard detective.
The solution to the mystery regarding whether adding these Durbridge volumes to your DVD collection makes sense is "Scooby-Doo" simple. They are well-written and acted in a manner that makes many of them seem like a live-stage production. Further, the twists and other reveals are as good (if not better) than anything from the mind of Hitchcock.
Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Durbridge" is strongly encouraged to either email or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.