Monday, July 30, 2012
Secrets of the Manor House
Produced by Pioneer Productions
Aired on PBS
If you're like me and doubtless many other Americans who aren't quite sure exactly what an English manor house is or how one works you owe it to yourself to take a look at Secrets of the Manor House. I was lucky enough to catch a rerun on my local PBS station recently. The connection to the sort of fiction and film we feature at this site is a pretty obvious one, but the show helped put a lot of things in perspective for me. Here's an excerpt from the PBS blurb for the show:
Exactly 100 years ago, the world of the British manor house was at its height. It was a life of luxury and indolence for a wealthy few supported by the labor of hundreds of servants toiling ceaselessly "below stairs" to make the lives of their lords and ladies run as smoothly as possible. It is a world that has provided a majestic backdrop to a range of movies and popular costume dramas to this day, including PBS' Downton Abbey.
But what was really going on behind these stately walls? Secrets of the Manor House looks beyond the fiction to the truth of what life was like in these British houses of yesteryear. They were communities where two separate worlds existed side by side: the poor worked as domestic servants, while the nation’s wealthiest families enjoyed a lifestyle of luxury, and aristocrats ruled over their servants as they had done for a thousand years.
Sunday, July 22, 2012
Wobble To Death
By Peter Lovesey
I haven't read any of Peter Lovesey's Peter Diamond novels, but I gather that they're more widely read than the series of eight Sergeant Cribb novels he turned out in the Seventies, if only because they're more recent. Wobble To Death is the first in this earlier series and I have to admit that I was drawn to it primarily because of the subject matter. Thanks to Mike at Only Detect, who reviewed this one a while back and without whom I wouldn't have been aware of it.
I'd bet that Lovesey publishing a nonfiction book in 1968 called The Kings of Distance and the fact that Wobble to Death deals with ultra marathon running is no coincidence. Ultra marathon running is alive and well today but Lovesey's novel deals with similar events from the latter portion of the nineteenth century that were sometimes known as wobbles.
The particular wobble under consideration takes place in London, in late fall, in a cold and drafty hall where a dozen or so athlete/masochists have convened to see how much mileage they can rack up over the course of six days. It's no small feat to win one of these contests, given that top contenders often tally more than five hundred miles over the course of a race.
Succumbing to poison is one thing contestants don't typically have to concern themselves with but in this case this is exactly what happens to one of the front runners. Which is the cue for Sergeant Cribb and sidekick, Constable Thackeray, to appear on the scene. Though the spectacle is quite well attended and even more so as the days pass, Lovesey makes it clear that there are essentially a limited number of suspects, one of whom is knocked off not much further along in the proceedings.
I refrained from reading Mike's review until I'd finished the book but it looks as though we arrived at pretty much the same conclusion. I found Lovesey's book to be a very entertaining look at a little-known segment of history and a passable but not particularly dazzling whodunit.
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Francis in the Haunted House
Starring Francis, Mickey Rooney
I think I can honestly say, without any reservations, that Francis in the Haunted House is the best movie that I've ever seen that featured a talking mule investigating a murder in a haunted house.
I don't know if there's anything else I can say but I'll certainly give it a try. For those who may not be aware, Francis the Talking Mule was apparently quite a hit back in the Fifties. "He" starred in a series of seven movies, of which this is the last of the bunch. Co-star Mickey Rooney, the human lead here, took over for Donald O'Connor, who played that role in the first six films. All of which took place, it should be noted, about five years before the debut of TV's (the famous) Mister Ed.
If you guessed that the proceedings take a rather lighthearted tone here, well duh. After witnessing a murder early on, Francis enlists the help of Rooney in investigating it. Which leads to complications for the latter since the police are wondering how he came to know so much about the crime. Since he can't really reveal where he got his info this leads to numerous scenes (overdone a bit, if you ask me) of Rooney being hauled off to the police station and given the third degree. Of course, everything gets sorted out in the end.
None of which makes for great art or even a particularly engaging mystery story but what would you really expect from a movie starring a talking mule? Though I will say that if you can put your brain on hold for a while there are probably worse ways to spend about an hour and a half.