Sunday, October 30, 2022

Murder She Wrote: Night of the Headless Horseman ( 1987 )

Angela Lansbury, that wonderful actress of the stage and screen, passed away on October 11th at the age of 96. She was one of those rare actors who was equally well known for her work in film ( The Portrait of Dorian Gray, The Manchurian Candidate, etc ), in the theater ( Mame, Sweeney Todd ), and on television, where she played one of the most beloved sleuths in television history -  Mrs. Jessica Fletcher in the long-running series Murder, She Wrote

Murder, She Wrote premiered in 1984 and ran for 12 seasons, ending in 1996. There were over 260 episodes made and if you ask fans of the show which is their favorite, few can name just one. In fact, it would be difficult to narrow the choice down to a top ten list. However, since Halloween is just around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to share a review of one of the eeriest episodes made and certainly one of my top favorites: "Night of the Headless Horseman". 

"Night of the Headless Horseman" was the eleventh episode from season three, a season that was filled with juicy episodes. It tells the story of Dorian Beecher ( Thom Bray ), a young poetic English teacher at a private school for boys. He is in love with Sarah DuPont ( Karlene Crockett ), daughter of the president of the school, but he has a rival for his affections - the nasty Nate Findley ( Barry Williams ), one of the school's riding instructors. Several times Dorian has encountered a "headless" horseman on the old wooden bridge near the village and he believes the apparition to be Nate playing tricks with him. 

One evening, after having a row with Nate at the local inn, Dorian decides to walk home across the bridge and, once again, the masked rider on horseback comes charging out of the night, this time pushing Dorian down to the ground. 

When he awakes, hours later, the town is abuzz with the news that Nate Findley's body was found near the bridge...with his head cut off! 

Suspicion naturally points to Dorian, but luckily for him, Mrs. Fletcher is there to defend him and uncover the clues to discover the real murderer. 

While all of the Murder, She Wrote episodes featured a murder ( some had as many as three ), none were so ghastly as this beheading. 

"Oh Jessica, if I were going to kill anybody I certainly wouldn't decapitate them. That is really disgusting!" - Dorian

What reason was there to behead, Nate? Was it to embellish the legend of the headless horseman? Could be. But Mrs. Fletcher had an even stranger puzzle on her mind. Nate Findley's boots were on opposite feet when his body was found. 

"Night of the Headless Horseman" has a number of good clues to help television viewers piece together the puzzle but whether you solve the mystery or not, you will enjoy watching this story unfold. 

The setting is picturesque ( a fictional Vermont village in autumn ) and the guest stars are great to see. Hope Lange ( The Ghost and Mrs. Muir ) plays the principal of the school where Dorian teaches. Fritz Weaver is Dorian's employer and the father of his beloved Sarah. Charles Siebert plays a local dentist, Judy Landers a waitress at the village inn, Guy Stockwell a groundskeeper, and best of all, Doug McClure stars as the town sheriff. 

Of course, like in all Murder, She Wrote episodes, it is Angela Lansbury who takes center stage and she is particularly fun to watch in this episode. Knowing that his potential father-in-law is anxious to meet his mother, orphan Dorian brings Mrs. Fletcher out to the school and introduces her as his mother. Angela Lansbury's various expressions of surprise as she is called Mrs. Beecher throughout the episode are delightful to watch. 

Susan Littwin, an editor for TV Guide, was invited backstage to see this episode being made and she wrote about it in the January 3-9, 1987 issue of the magazine. "Putting this almost-movie on the air every week, 22 times a year, is one of the fast-food miracles of television," she writes. Littwin goes on to say that this episode cost a surprising figure - $1.3 million dollars - and involved a staff and crew of 76 and a cast of 14. 

Lansbury worked 12-hour days, nine months a year. It is easy to forget that when you see how effortlessly she plays Mrs. Fletcher. Luckily, with the instantaneous wonder of DVDs and streaming, we can enjoy episodes like Night of the Headless Horseman over and over again and appreciate the work and talent involved. This one in particular is great to watch on an autumn afternoon cuddled up with a warm sweater and a cup of tea. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

From the Archives: Werewolf of London ( 1935 )

Henry Hull, who usually plays kindly men in films, turned vicious in Universal Pictures' Werewolf of London ( 1935 ). Luckily, his friends and family only had to put up with his fierce lycanthropic side when the moon was full. 

From the Archives is our latest series of posts where we share photos from the Silverbanks Pictures collection. Some of these may have been sold in the past, and others may still be available for purchase at our eBay store :

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Check it Out! - Preparing for Bedknobs and Broomsticks

On October 7, 1971, Walt Disney's Bedknobs and Broomsticks, a delightful and magical musical starring the late great Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson, had its world premiere in London. Earlier that day, John Noakes, the host of Britain's popular children's series Blue Peter, was in Leicester Square, helping the owner of the famed Odeon Theater prepare for this event. 

It takes quite a bit of doing to hang up those large BEDKNOBS letters outside the theater, not to mention suspending from the roof the lifesize mockup of Angela Lansbury as the witch Eglantine, so it is hard to believe that they undertook this task the very morning of the premiere! John was his usual brave self and climbed up those amazingly long ladders with ease. Check out the clip here: 

BBC Archive - Bedknobs and Broomsticks ( 1971 )

Unlike most Disney-related promo clips, this one did not follow up the news bit with footage from the film. I was hoping to find some newsreel clips of the actual premiere but had no luck, so you will just have to imagine what it was like that evening. 

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Orson Welles' Great Mysteries

Orson Welles always loved a scary tale. In 1938, he and other players of his Mercury Theater company put on a radio play of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds" for Halloween that scared the heebie-jeebies out of most of his listeners. Then in 1951, while taking a break from filming Othello in Ireland, he filmed a short horror film called Return to Glennascaul about a man who unknowingly gives two ghosts a ride on a deserted country road. 

While most of his films steered clear of horror or suspense, he delved deep into the muddy waters of mystery in 1973 when he played host to a British anthology series entitled Orson Welles' Great Mysteries. The series was very similar to the classic Alfred Hitchcock Presents and, like Hitchcock, Orson Welles merely had to act as host, introducing and closing each episode with some pithy words. Unlike Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the episodes of Great Mysteries were all based on famous works or short stories by authors like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Wilkie Collins, HonorĂ© de Balzac, and Charles Dickens. 

Orson Welles had a long career as a director, producer, screenwriter, and actor, but by the early 1970s he was in debt ( owing money to the IRS for back taxes ) and, unable to fund his latest docudrama F for Fake, he began to do numerous television appearances to help raise money. In the early months of 1973, he crossed the pond to England to film the intros/outros to the series at the Anglia Television studios in Norwich ( East Anglia ).

Welles was known to be a difficult person to work with and the production team at Anglia studios found this to be true ( in fact, the Sky Arts series Urban Myths made an entire episode in 2020 about his visit called "Orson Welles in Norwich" ). Nevertheless, he gave a marvelous performance as a mystery host. He donned a black cape and hat and, purring sardonic wit, he beautifully introduced each tale of the macabre in his deep silky voice. 

Orson Welles' Great Mysteries ran for two seasons with a total of 26 episodes being produced. Some of the titles included were "The Monkey's Paw", based on the short story by W.W. Jacobs, and "La Grande Breteche" by HonorĂ© de Balzac. What made the episodes entertaining was all of the stories selected had unexpected endings, usually with a sting.

John Barry composed a haunting but typically 70s theme for the series ( it could have worked equally well for a James Bond and the Haunted House film ) and the episodes were similarly chilling like other popular British anthology series of the time ( namely Brian Clemens' Thriller and Hammer House of Horror ) but not nearly as violent or gory. 

With a 25-minute runtime, the tales entertained without getting boring. Plus, there was the added bonus of playing spot the actor with each episode featuring numerous British character actors plus acting legends such as Eli Wallach, Joan Collins, Christopher Lee, Richard Johnson, Claire Bloom, Peter Cushing, Jane Seymour, Dean Stockwell, Jose Ferrer, and Shirley Knight. 

Network Distributing released the entire Orson Welles Great Mysteries on DVD in two volumes.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

We have an eeeeeerie screenshot here since it is the bewitching month of October. If you have been watching Halloween classics then you probably have seen this scene flash before your eyes just reach past the cobwebs into your memory vault and see if you can pull out the title of this film.

As always, if you are not familiar with the rules to the Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie game or the prize, click here!


Congratulations to Karen for correctly identifying this scene from Ladies in Retirement ( 1941 ). Just before the end credits roll, Ida Lupino dons a cloak and steps out into the foggy marshlands of England to see what her fate will be. 

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Bejewelled ( 1991 )

Eustacia "Stacy" Orpington ( Emma Samms ) is entrusted by her boss Gordon ( Dirk Benedict ) to deliver the famous Orpington jeweled crown from the Thringsby Museum in Massachusetts to the prestigious London Museum in England. Instead of having the jewels securely packaged, Gordon thought it would be better - "no...cheaper" - for her to carry them on the jet in an inconspicuous black hatbox...the same black hatbox which just about every other passenger is carrying.

On exiting the jet there is a mix-up with the passengers' luggage and all those same-looking hatboxes get shuffled. When Stacy finally opens the hatbox she was given by the stewardess, she finds that it is the wrong one! In one short weekend, Stacy must track down the passengers from her flight to find the missing jeweled crown and return it to the museum by Monday. 

Aiding her in her search is fellow passenger and budding investigator Alistair Lord ( Denis Lawson ), and the two youngsters he is chaperoning: wise-cracking American Marvin ( Aeryk Egan ) and the little French countess Eloise ( Jade Magri ). This foursome soon finds themselves in a deeper mystery than jewel robbery when they discover the dead body of their stewardess at her apartment. 

Bejewelled was a made-for-television film released by Walt Disney Pictures in 1991. The movie is clearly aimed at a juvenile audience but it has comedy, romance, and mystery for all ages to enjoy. This was a film that my sister and I grew up with and, like two other Disney favorites - The London Connection and Diamonds on Wheels, I find Bejewelled especially fun to watch because it is filmed entirely in England, primarily London, and features a great cast of English actors. 

"Al, we better not let this lady out of our sight!.... After all, we're talking murder here."

The opening credits are marvelous with that memorable theme song playing while the camera slowly pans over the treasured jewels. It is also refreshing to see a film where a family solves a mystery. In Bejewelled, Stacy and Alistair are not married and the children are not their own, yet they act like a family group, sticking together in all they do - and squabbling while they do it.

This patchwork family spends one madcap weekend together tracking down key passengers from their flight, not knowing who may be a suspect in the theft, nor who may be a murderer. And what a motley group they are! An elderly spinster ( Jean Marsh ) who likes to knit socks seems willing to help them, as does a glamourous fashion model ( Jerry Hall ), but there was also a policeman escorting a handcuffed prisoner onboard. "He probably murdered somebody," Marvin deduces. 

Everywhere they go, someone seems to be one step ahead of them and Stacy constantly finds her room being ransacked, which she finds puzzling. "I don't even have the jewels!" she exclaims. "I don't have any jewels!.... I don't even wear earrings."

Emmas Samms is delightful as the befuddled Stacy Orpington. It is odd to find her cast as an American visiting England when she herself is English. Ms. Samms was good in comedy and the same year co-starred with John Candy in the comedy Delirious.

Denis Lawson is equally wonderful as Alistair, the wanna-be detective. He has a soft spot for Stacy from the start but it takes a bit of courage on his part - and a lot of prodding from the children - to get him to express his feelings. 

As well cast as these two were, the children who play Marvin and Eloise are the ones who really deserve mention. These youngsters not only got some of the best lines in the film but were very natural actors acting just like, well, children their age would act. As Stacy put it, "Eloise is adorable" and quite a level-headed little girl. She admires and puts her full trust in Marvin and his clever mind, impetuous as he may be at times. Marvin has a big mouth but is willing to take risks when it counts. Also in the cast are Chris Langham, Trevor Peacock, Frances de la Tour, John Bird. 

Tom Astle penned the script for Bejewelled which was based on the book of the same title by Marian Babson. It's a very witty script but it has its moments of silliness that juvenile viewers will enjoy but adults may find corny. This includes Dirk Benedict getting a plate full of onion pudding dumped on his head. 

Unfortunately, Bejewelled has not yet been released on DVD so if you want to check out this Disney rarity you will have to hunt down an old VHS copy on eBay or view the film on Youtube