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Friday, May 20, 2016

'Francis Durbridge Presents Vol. 2' : British TV Answer to 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents'

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Playing this Region-Four DVD from Australia in North America requires a well-worth-buying international player.]

User stupidity (rather than a Durbridge-style nefarious plot) is behind these thoughts on the recent Madman Entertainment DVD release of Volume 2 of the BBC television series "Francis Durbridge Presents" preceding a post on the concurrently released Volume 1 of this series. It simply is a matter of accidentally picking up Volume 2 first. A post on Volume 1 will appear by the end of May 2016.

"Durbridge," which the English mystery author for whom the series is named writes, is a terrific British cousin of the 1955-1962 American series "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." The better-recognized British Master of Suspense behind that one truly does not better than Durbridge.

Two distinctions are that Hitchcock includes more wry humor than Durbridge, and the serial-style Durbridge tales have more chapters and are longer than the Hitchcock tales. One similarity is that the stars of the day and the future star in the anthology-style stories in both series.

"Volume 2" starts out with the aptly titled "Bat Out of Hell," which has an unsually high level of Hitchcockian dark humor, from 1966. This one stars well-regarded British actress Slyvia Syms and the better-known John Thaw of "Inspector Morse" fame.  Their respective characters Diana Stewart and Max Paxton respectively are the unhappy wife and the colleague of successful estate agent (my people call them realtors) Geoffrey Stewart.

The plans of lovahs Diana and Max to commit the perfect murder seemingly succeed until a caller credibly claiming to be Geoffrey rings up Diana and asks her to meet him. This is on top of the body of Geoffrey travelling around, a threat to the inheritance of Diana showing up, and abundant lack of honor among thieves.

"The Passenger" from 1971 also involves Durbridge/Hitchcock style manipulation. Toy manufacturer David Walker offering the titular pedestrian a ride results in his getting caught up in the subsequent investigation when said walker is reported missing.

The twists this time include an apparent suicide and related confession possibly not being what they seem, evidence of a prior close relationship between Walker and the aforementioned damsel in distress, and mutual relationships of the driver and the passenger being significant.

The 1975 offering "The Doll" puts a wonderful '70s spin on the classic Hitchcock tale "Gaslight." This one has Peter Matty becoming infatuated with Phyllis du Salle during a chance(?) meeting at the Geneva airport and a subsequent shared flight sans a Mile High Club adventure.

The pair reunites on Peter returning to England, but things get weird when du Salle disappears and her story is inconsistent with the reports of those to whom Peter speaks regarding that vanishing act. Highlights include a mysterious photo, a possibly not-so-honorable nobleman, and indications both that Matty frere Claude knows more than he is saying and that du Salle is involved in her own nefarious dealings.

Unlike the subterfuge of several Durbridge characters in the aforementioned episodes, your reviewer openly confesses to not yet watching the two "Breakaway" episodes that round out Volume 2. These revolve around murder cases that hit close to home in their own way during a time that Detective Superintendent Sam Harvey is looking to retire from that job to fully pursue his career as a children's books author. Highly prolific actor Martin Jarvis, whose IMDb profile lists 140 roles, portrays this investigator who is experiencing feelings that there is way out once they pull you in.

The bonus feature is a wonderful caper-style episode of the series "Paul Temple," which revolves around the titular best-selling author/amateur detective who is a Durbridge character. This offering begins with an aging movie star and his entourage, which includes the hunky young pretty boy who is close on the heels of the soon-to-be has-been, greatly annoying a vacationing Temple and Mrs. Temple.

Achieving a fragile peace leads to the entourage effectively kidnapping Mrs. Temple with her husband in lukewarm pursuit. This escalates the bon vivants ensnaring the Temples in their practice of involving innocents in dangerous games that are intended to amuse said party people.

A fed-up Temple creating his own challenge awesomely turns the tables and provides a good lesson regarding not always knowing which folks who are living off you truly are your friends.

The grand reveal regarding all these Durbridge tales is that they combine the cleverness of Hitchcock, the awesome quality of British television, and the stylized suspense of the '60s and groovy vibe of the '70s.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Durbridge" is strongly encouraged to either email me or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.