Tuesday, July 25, 2017

"4.50 FROM PADDINGTON" (1987) Review

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"4.50 FROM PADDINGTON" (1987) Review

The 1957 Agatha Christie novel, "4.50 From Paddington" aka "What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw" has been a favorite of mine since I was in my early teens. There have been one film and two television adaptations of the story. I never saw the film adaptation, which starred Margaret Rutherford. But I have seen the two television versions. One of them was the 1987 BBC adaptation that featured Joan Hickson as Miss Jane Marple. 

"4.50 FROM PADDINGTON" begins when Mrs. Elspeth McGillicuddy, an old friend of Miss Marple, travels by train to visit the latter in St. Mary's Mead. When her train passes another on a parallel track, she witnesses a woman being strangled inside a compartment of the latter. Mrs. McGillicuddy reports the murder to Miss Marple, who suggests that she contact the police. But due to her age and inability to see the murderer's face, Mrs. McGillicuddy is ignored by the police. Miss Marple decides to take matters into her own hands by tracing Mrs. McGillicuddy's rail journey. The elderly sleuth's investigation leads her to the Rutherford Hall estate, where the railway borders at a curved embankment. Miss Marple recruits an acquaintance of hers, a young professional housekeeper named Lucy Eyelesbarrow, to hire herself out to the family that resides at Rutherford Hall, the Crackenthorpes, to continue the investigation. 

Considering that the 1957 novel happened to be a favorite of mine, I had hoped this adaptation by T.R. Bowen would prove to be very satisfying. Needless to say . . . it did not. I am not one of those who demand that a movie or television adaptation adhere closely to its source. But some of the changes made by Bowen in his adaptation proved to be rather annoying to me. And I do not believe these changes served the movie very well. Among Bowen's changes were:

*No one was stricken by food poisoning

*Only one member of the Crackenthorpe family was murdered, instead of two

*The above mentioned victim was killed in a hunting accident, instead of being poisoned

*The nature of the romantic triange between Lucy Eyelesbarrow, Cedric Crackenthorpe and Bryan Eastley has been changed considerably

*Instead of Detective Inspector Dermot Craddock investigating the case, Detective Inspector Slack from three previous "AGATHA CHRISTIE'S MISS MARPLE" productions served as the main investigator

*The addition of Chief Inspector Duckham, who was an invention of the screenwriter, was added.


As I had stated earlier, the novel featured the second appearance of Dermot Craddock as the chief investigating officer in a Miss Marple mystery. But instead of hiring John Castle to reprise his Detective Inspector Craddock role from 1985's "A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED", the producers brought back David Horovitch to portray the irritating Detective Inspector Slack. Horovitch had already portrayed Slack in two previous Miss Marple movies, "A BODY IN THE LIBRARY" and "MURDER IN THE VICARAGE". Horovitch is a first-rate actor, but the character of Detective Inspector Slack has always annoyed me. I would have preferred if Craddock had made his second appearance in this movie. To make matters worse, actor David Waller, who had worked with T.R. Bowen for "EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON", was added to portray Chief Inspector Duckham, a character who never appeared in the novel.

Screenwriter T.R. Bowen made matters worse with more changes. Instead of two, only one member of the household ended up murdered - Harold Crackenthorpe, who was a banker. And his murder was disguised as a hunting accident. Harold was murdered with poisoned pills. Bowen completely left out the scene featuring a mass case of food poisoning from which the family suffered. Although the subject of Martine was brought up, Bowen never made the connection between her and the best friend of Bryan Eastley's son, Alexander. And instead of following Christie's portrayal of the "love triangle" between Lucy, Cedric Crackenthorpe and Eastley, who happened to the widower of the late Edith Crackenthorpe; Friend decided to settle matters by having Lucy fall in love with Eastley, who was portrayed as an infantile and suggestible man. Even worse, Lucy seemed to have lost her sense of humor, thanks to Bowen's script and Jill Meager's uninspiring performance. Friend also transformed Cedric into an annoying and oozing ladies' man who tries to hit on Lucy every chance he could. In the novel, Cedric never openly displayed his attraction to Lucy, when he was swapping witty bon mots with her. Yet, Christie made it obvious that he was attracted. And the novel left the matter open on whom Lucy would choose open. 

But the one change made by Friend that really annoyed me, turned out to be the big revelation scene. After Miss Marple identified the killer to the police, the Crackenthorpes and Elspeth McGillicuddy; a ridiculous action scene was tacked on by Bowen, allowing Eastley to run after and have a fight with the fleeing killer. It was quite obvious to me that this scene was nothing more than a setup for the audiences to approve of the unconvincing love story between the humorless Lucy and the infantile Eastley. What an incredibly stupid ending to the story!

But despite these flaws, I still managed to somewhat enjoy the movie. One, Joan Hickson was great as ever as Jane Marple. She was supported by solid performances from Joanna David as Emma Crackenthorpe, Andrew Burt as Dr. John Quimper, young Christopher Haley as Alexander Eastley, Robert East as Alfred Crackenthorpe, David Waller as Chief Inspector Duckham, Mona Bruce as Elspeth McGillicuddy and even David Horovitch as Inspector Slack. Slack may have struck me as an annoying character, but I cannot deny that Horovitch gave a competent performance.

Another aspect of "4.50 FROM PADDINGTON" that impressed me was its production design. Raymond Cusick did a first rate job in transforming television viewers back to the mid-to-late 1950s. He was ably supported by Judy Pepperdine's convincing costumes - especially for Jill Eager and Joanna David's characters. I was not that impressed by most of John Walker's photography. However, I must admit that along with Martyn Friend's direction, Walker injected a great deal of atmosphere and mystery into the scene featuring the murder that Mrs. McGillicuddy witnessed.

It really pains me to say this, but despite Hickson's first rate performance and the production design, "4.50 FROM PADDINGTON"does not strike me as one of the best Miss Marple movies to feature the late actress. Another version was made in 2004 and quite frankly, it was not an improvement. Hopefully, someone will make a first-rate adaptation of one of my favorite Christie novels.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

"PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES" (2017) Photo Gallery



Below are images from "PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES", the 2017 entry in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movie franchise. Directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, the movie stars Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow: 


"PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TELLS" (2017) Photo Gallery




































































































Tuesday, July 18, 2017

"POLDARK" Series Two (2016) Episodes One to Four




"POLDARK" SERIES TWO (2016) EPISODES ONE TO FOUR

Following my viewing of the 1975 series, "POLDARK" and its adaptation of Winston Graham's 1950 novel, "Jeremy Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1790-1791", I decided to view Debbie Horsfield's recent adaptation of the same novel, spread out in four episodes during its second series. Needless to say, my experience with this adaptation of "Jeremy Poldark" proved to be a different kettle of fish. 

Series Two's first episode began a day or two after the final scene of Series One - namely Ross Poldark's arrest by the local militia for instigating a riot between his tenants/employees and the citizens of another town, who were salvaging the goods from a shipwrecked ship. The ship happened to belong to a noveau riche family named Warleggan and one of its members, one George Warleggan, went out of his way to ensure that the law would charge Ross with the crime. To make matters worse, Ross and his wife, Demelza Carne Poldark, had to endure the death of their only daughter from Putrid's Throat.

At the beginning of the second series' Episode One, Ross faced one of his old nemesis, the Reverend Dr. Halse , in court in order for the latter to determine whether Ross would stand trial for his crime. Considering the two men's previous clashes, it was not surprising that Halse ordered Ross to stand trial during the next assize in Bodmin. Not only that - audiences were treated with an energetic scene between star Aidan Turner and former Poldark leading man, Robin Ellis. After Ross returned to his estate, Nampara, he set about getting his business in order. Meanwhile, Demelza tried to encourage him to seek help or patronage in order to ensure his acquittal. Being an incredibly stubborn and self-righteous ass, Ross refused. Demelza was forced to go behind his back to seek help from the judge assigned to his case and a wealthy neighbor named Ray Penvenen. Needless to say, Demelza failed to gather support from both men. Her cousin-in-law and Ross' former love, Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark attempted to acquire George Warleggan's help by arranging a meeting between the men at her husband's estate, Trenwith. She also failed, due to Ross' unwillingness to speak to the latter. George's major henchman, Tankhard, managed to recruit Ross' former farmhand, Jud Paynter, to testify against Ross. Although Jud had intially agreed to testify, he changed his mind at the last minute, while on the stand. Due to a rousing pro-labor speech, Ross was acquitted by the end of Episode Two.

During those first two episodes that focused on Ross' trial, other events occurred. His close friend, Dr. Dwight Enys met Ray Penvenen's flighty niece, Caroline Penvenen during the azzis and election in Bodmin and sparks flew between the pair . . . despite the latter's arrogant demand that he treat her pug. Francis, while in despair over estrangement from Ross, Verity and Elizabeth, attempted suicide in Bodmin and failed, due to a falty pistol. Elizabeth also appeared in Bodmin for the trial. Although she had appeared to support Ross, she and Francis ended up reconciling. Unfortunately, I was not pleased by this development. I wish Elizabeth had never forgiven Francis, since he had never bothered to offer any apology for five to six years of emotional abuse and the loss of his fortune and their son Geoffrey Charles' future. Unless I am mistaken, Elizabeth never really forgave Francis, despite his "new lease on life", following his suicide attempt. Good. I never thought he deserved it. 

I have read a few articles and reviews of the episodes that covered the adaptation of "Jeremy Poldark". While everyone else seemed impressed by the hullaballoo over Ross' trial, I felt more impressed by the third and fourth episodes. One, I was never that impressed by the trial storyline in the first place. Due to Ross' social standing as a member of the landed gentry, I suspected he would be acquitted, when I first read the novel. Unless he had committed murder (against someone from his own class) or treason against the Crown, I never really believed he would be convicted. If Ross had been a member of the working-class or middle-class, chances are his closing speech would have guaranteed conviction of the charges made against him. By the way, was that a closing speech? Or was that merely a speech inserted into Ross' own testimonial? I hope it was the latter, because he seemed to possess a barrister who barely said a word. 

And if I must be brutally honest, there was an aspect of the first two episodes - especially Episode Two - that I found disappointing. I had been more impressed by the 1975 adaptation of Ross' trial, due to its strong ability to recapture the atmosphere of an assize during the eighteenth century. I never sense that same level of atmosphere from this latest adaptation. Showrunner Debbie Horsfield seemed more intent upon creating tension over the possibility conviction. In a way, this seemed appropriate considering that the story should matter. But would it have hurt for Horsfield to add a little color or flavor in her portrayal of the Bodmin assize? For me it would have made up for my disinterest in Ross' trial.

While many complained about the "dullness" of Episodes Three and Four, I found it interesting. Once Ross and Demelza dealt with his arrest and trial, they were forced to deal with the aftermath of their daughter Julia's death. While Demelza openly faced her grief, Ross finally got the chance to focus his attention on dealing with his possible financial ruin. But in doing so, he ended up emotionally distancing himself from his wife. It was easy to see that the honeymoon was over for Ross and Demelza. Like many couples in real life, they found it difficult to deal with a child's death, which they were forced to face after Ross' acquittal. And like many couples, their relationship suffered, due to their grief. Although Demelza had discovered she was pregnant, Ross made it clear that he was not ready to deal with another child before she could reveal her news. I have to commend both Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson in conveying the growing estrangement between Ross and Demelza with great skill and subtlety. And I suspect that they benefited from Debbie Horsfield's writing, who managed to capture this roadblock in the couple's relationship without turning it into an over-the-top ham fest.

Both Episodes Three and Four also focused on Ross' financial problems. Many critics seemed uninterested in this turn of events. Apparently, they were more interested in watching Ross and Demelza behave like "the perfect couple". I was not bored. It was interesting to watch an upper-class landonwer deal with looming poverty without the benefit of securing the hand of an heiress. You know . . . like aspiring politician Unwin Trevaunance. And what many had failed to point out was that the Nampara Poldarks' financial situation was a result of Demelza's matchmaking efforts for Verity, Francis' resentment and anger, and George's malice. The die was cast in Series One's eighth episode and the consequences reared its ugly head in Series Two. Ross and Demelza were bound to face these consequences sooner or later. Worse, Ross found himself dealing with a vindictive George Warleggan, who was finally able to purchase enough shares to assume control over Wheal Leisure, Ross' mine. 

I never understood why Demelza had kept her fishing trips (to provide food for Nampara's larder) a secret from Ross. Personally, I thought she could have informed him that someone needed to fish to prevent them from starving, due to their money problems. If Ross had dismissed the idea, then I could have understood her need for secrecy. But knowing Ross, he probably would not have supported the fishing trips or bothered to find someone to provide fish for Nampara's inhabitants. He could be rather stubborn and proud. And I must admit that I did not care for how Debbie Horsfield changed the circumstances behind Demelza's last fishing trip. Instead of allowing her to reach shore on her own, while going into labor; Horsfield had an angry Ross come to her rescue and carry her ashore:

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It looked like a scenario from a second-rate romance novel. And I found it a touch sexist. Ugh.

Other matters threatened to endanger Ross and Demelza's marriage even further. One, Demelza seemed to have become the center of attraction for men like fellow landowner Sir Hugh Bodrugan, who has set his eyes on Demelza ever since the Warleggan ball back in Series One; and the Scottish-born militia officer, Captain McNeil, who happened to be one of Ross' former military comrades from the Revolutionary War. Mr. Poldark seemed unaware of Sir Hugh's attention, but did not seem particularly thrilled by Captain McNeill sniffing around his wife. Yet . . . he did nothing. Two, Ross gave permission to allow a smuggling ring led by a Mr. Trencomb to use the cove on his beach to store their stolen goods. Fearful that Ross might face arrest again and this time, prison, Demelza expressed her disapproval. 

However, she seemed relieved that Ross and Francis had finally made their peace following their estrangement over Verity Poldark's (Francis' sister) marriage to a former alcoholic sea captain in Episode Three, thanks to Elizabeth's machinations. In fact, she was more than happy to attend Francis' harvest ball at Trenwith. What she did not like was the conversation she had overheard between Ross and Elizabeth, later that evening. A part of me was fascinated by Ross' bold attempt to seduce Elizabeth. Especially since it featured some excellent acting from both Aidan Turner and Heida Reed. Another part of me felt disgusted by his actions. Ross had not merely flirted with his cousin-in-law. He made a strong effort to seduce her . . . after her husband had retired to his bedroom, upstairs. Fortunately, Elizabeth put a stop to his action before it could get any worse. 

Interesting consequences resulted from Ross' attempt at seduction. It finally led Demelza to reveal her pregnancy to Ross . . . who did not seem particularly thrilled. And although Demelza seemed willing to dismiss her husband's behavior, her cool attitude toward Elizabeth during their encounter in the woods seemed to hint that she seemed willing to place most of the blame on her cousin-in-law. In other words, Demelza seemed willing to use Elizabeth as a scapegoat for Ross' indiscretion. Or . . . perhaps Ross' attempt to seduce Elizabeth had simply increased Demelza's insecurity. After reading several articles on this story arc, I was . . . not particularly surprised that most fans and critics had ignored this little scene between the two cousins-in-law, especially since Demelza is such a popular character and Elizabeth is not. Many years have passed since I last read "Jeremy Poldark". But I do not recall such a scene in the novel. What made Horsfield add it? Was this the producer's attempt to portray Demelza in a more ambiguous light than she did in previous episodes? Or was this an attempt to set up Elizabeth as partially responsible for an upcoming event in a later episode? I have no idea. I am confused.

Many fans seemed thrilled by the budding romance between Dr. Dwight Enys and heiress Caroline Penvenen. Personally, I found it rather interesting . . . and romantic in a way. Both Luke Norris and Gabriella Wilde seemed to have a strong screen chemistry. My problem with this relationship is that I am not a fan of Caroline. I never have been. I have the oddest feeling that although she may be in love with Dwight, she also regards him as something new or different that she wants to acquire . . . or collect. Her constant requests for his medical services and her assistance in acquiring oranges to help him deal with an outbreak of scurvy strikes me as seductive foreplay on her part and nothing else.

However, the reunion between the Nampara and Trenwith Poldarks resulted in two positive consequences. Following the loss of Wheal Leisure, Ross recalled Mark Daniels' (one of the saga's two wife killers) claim of discovering copper inside his family's other mine, Wheal Grace and managed to convince Francis in investing in the mine. And the latter invested the six hundred pounds that he had received from George Warleggan for exposing the Carnmore Copper Company investors (the majority of whom were indebted to the Warleggan Bank), back in Series One. 

Speaking of Francis' six hundred pounds, I am confused about something. When George Warleggan learned about Francis' investment in Wheal Grace, he vindictively revealed to Ross how Francis had acquired the money in the first place. Naturally, Ross lost his temper and the pair engaged in a brawl. But I could have sworn that Ross had figured out Francis' betrayal of the company ever since he learned about Demelza's meddling in Verity's love life around the same time that Carnmore Copper Company had folded. The sequence from Episode Eight seemed to hint this. Unless I had misread it. Judging from Ross' reaction to George's revelation in Episode Four of this season, apparently I did. However, I need to re-watch that Series One sequence again.

George's revelation of Francis' betrayal did give Ross the opportunity to manipulate the latter into finally accepting Verity's marriage to Andrew Blamey in a very clever scene that featured first-rate performances from both Kyle Soller and Aidan Turner. As for that brawl between Ross and George . . . the scene sizzled from Aidan Turner and Jack Farthing's performances. And many fans and critics cheered over Ross emerging victorious over his nemesis. However, I noticed that George made that victory difficult for Ross to achieve. I guess George's boxing lessons proved to be beneficial after all. Some have expressed confusion over why George went through so much trouble to bring down Ross. Perhaps these fans had forgotten Ross' rude and insulting response to George's genuine offer of condolences over young Julia's death near the end of Series One. Not only had Ross dismissed George's sympathetic overture, he also insulted the latter's cousin Matthew Stinson, who had drowned when the Warleggans' ship foundered. Apparently George never did.

It was nice to see Ruby Bentall as Verity Poldark Blamey again . . . even though her presence in the production was diminished in compare to Series One. Verity served as a reminder of Francis' unwillingness to accept her marriage to the former alcoholic (and wife killer) Captain Andrew Blamey . . . which I can understand. Episode Three (or was it Four) featured a minor story arc that featured Verity's problems with her stepdaughter, Esther Blamey. I must admit that it was not that difficult to understand Esther's hostility. Her father had killed her mother in a fit of alcoholic rage (during an argument). Although he had served a few years in prison, he was released, managed to rebuild his profession as a sea captain and marry a woman from an upper-class family. If dear Esther was seething with inner rage over this series of events, I honestly could not blame her. However, her brother James, a midshipman in the Royal Navy, seemed more than willing to accept Verity. Oh well.

I have one last topic to discuss . . . Jud Paynter. As many know, Jud was bribed by George Warleggan's minion, Tankard, to testify against Ross about the riot on the beach. Instead, Jud refrained from doing so once he had reached the stand. In retaliation, George hired a couple of thugs to give him a beating. Only they went too far and nearly beat Jud to death. I say nearly, because for some stupid reason, everyone from his wife Prudie to both Ross and Demelza believed that Jud had died. No one had bothered to check his body to see whether he was alive or not. I have liked this little story arc. Mind you, it revealed that Jud had taken money from George to testify against Ross. But the whole "poor Jud is dead" routine struck me as completely ridiculous and hard to believe. I alway enjoy Phil Davis' portrayal of Jud and even Beatie Edney gave a rather funny performance in this story arc as the "grieving" Prudie Paynter. But I still dislike this story arc. Yet, I am grateful that Horsfield did not allow it to stretch out over a long period of time, as the producers of the 1975-77 series did. Thank goodness for some miracles.

I might as well be frank. I am not really a fan of Winston Graham's 1950 novel, "Jeremy Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1790-1791". For me, it seemed like a transitional novel. It concluded the story arc that began with Ross' arrest for inciting a riot and it set up the Poldark/Warleggan family drama that eventually exploded in Graham's next novel. I realized that Debbie Horsfield and the cast did all they could to make this adaptation of "Jeremy Poldark" work. There were some scenes that I found interesting - especially in Episodes Three and Four. But I must be honest . . . I did not find it particularly captivating. How could I when the source material had failed to captivate me, as well?

Monday, July 17, 2017

"SLEEPING MURDER" (2006) Review




"SLEEPING MURDER" (2006) Review

I might as well say it. The 1976 novel, "Sleeping Murder" is one of my favorites written by mystery writer, Agatha Christie. In fact, it is such a big favorite of mine that when I learned about the recent 2006 adaptation that aired on Britain's ITV network, I made a great effort to find it on DVD. 

Although the 1976 novel proved to be the last Christie novel featuring elderly sleuth, Miss Jane Marple, the author wrote it during the early years of World War II. In fact, she did the same for the 1975 Hercule Poirot novel, "Curtain". Christie wrote both novels and placed them in a bank vault, in case she failed to survive the Blitz. During the early 1970s, the author authorized the publication of "Curtain" for 1975 and "Sleeping Murder" for 1976. I never warmed up to the 1975 novel, but I became a fan of the latter one. The novel produced two television adaptations and a radio version. Just recently, I watched a DVD copy of the 2006 television movie that featured Geraldine McEwan as Miss Jane Marple.

"SLEEPING MURDER" begins in 1933 India, where British diplomat Kelvin Halliday receives news that his wife Claire had just been killed in a traffic accident. The widower returns home to England with his three year-old daughter Gwenda and meets one Helen Marsden, a singer with a troupe of music performers known as "The Funnybones". Nineteen years later, a recently engaged Gwenda Halliday returns to England in order to find a home where she and her future husband Giles, who is a wealthy businessman living in India, can live. Accompanied by Giles' assistant, Hugh Hornbeam, Gwenda finds a house in Dillmouth, a town on the south coast of England. While workmen set about repairing the house, Gwenda realizes that it seems familiar to her. Hugh suggests she speak to an old acquaintance of his, Miss Jane Marple of St. Mary Mead. Gwenda and Hugh meet with Miss Marple at a local theater showing the John Webster play, "The Duchess of Malfi". During one of the play's climatic scenes, Gwenda screams in terror , as she remembers witnessing a pair of hands strangling a woman. Along with Miss Marple and Hugh, Gwenda realizes she may have witnessed a murder when she was a child living in Dillmouth. All three also discover that the murdered woman may have been Gwenda's stepmother, Helen Marsden Halliday.

I . . . did not dislike "SLEEPING MURDER". I thought this adaptation featured fine performances from a cast led by the always superb Geraldine McEwan. The television movie also featured memorable performances from Sophia Myles and Aidan McArdle as Gwenda Halliday and Hugh Hornbeam. I was also impressed by Julian Wadham as Kelvin Halliday; Martin Kemp, Dawn French and Paul McGann as three of Helen's Funnybones colleagues; and Phil Davis as Dr. James Kennedy, Kelvin's original brother-in-law. It was nice to see Harriet Walter give a cameo as an actress portraying the lead role in "The Duchess of Malfi" production. The rest of the cast gave solid performances, aside from two struck me as slightly problematic. Sarah Parish's portrayal of Funnybones wallflower-turned successful singer Evie Ballatine seemed to be an exercise in character extremism . . . and a bit over-the-top. I could say the same about Geraldine Chapln's portrayal of the gloomy Mrs. Fane, mother of Walter Fane, a mild-mannered lawyer who knew Gwenda's mother.

"SLEEPING MURDER" also benefited from colorful and sharp photography, thanks to Alan Almond's cinematography. I also found Frances Tempest's costume designs for the early 1950s sequences rather gorgeous to look at. However, her designs for the 1930s scenes seemed to be something of a mixed bag. Overall, I had no complaints about the movie's production designs and the performances. But I did not love this movie. In fact, I barely liked it.

The problem - at least for me - is that the positive aspects of "SLEEPING MURDER" failed to hide or compensate what proved to be the movie's real problem . . . namely the screenplay written by Stephen Churchett. I do not completely blame him. The producers of "AGATHA CHRISTIE'S MARPLE" and director Edward Hall were willing to use it. I have no problems with a screenwriter changing certain aspects of a source novel or play for a screen adaptation. Especially if said change manages to improve the story or make it more effective for a screen adaptation. But the changes Churchett made to Christie's story did not improve it in the end or made it effective for the television screen. Personally, I found Churchett's changes more convoluted than a novel written by James Ellroy.

First of all, Churchett, Hall or both allowed the Gwenda Reed character from the novel to become the unmarried Gwenda Halliday, engaged to be married. The Giles Reed character was reduced to Gwenda's unseen and wealthy fiancé, who turned out to be a jerk. Churchett and Hall decided to create a new love interest for Gwenda, the quiet and faithful Hugh Hornbam, who works for her fiancé. Why did Hall and Churchett give Gwenda a new love interest? What was wrong with using the original Giles Reed character from the novel? Was it really that important to inject a new romance, which seemed to be the hallmark of many "MARPLE" productions? Also, a musical troupe known as the Funnybones was introduced to this story. Three of the original suspects - Richard "Dickie" and Janet Erskine, and Jackie Afflick - became members of the Funnybones, along with Helen. The addition of the Funnybones also produced another suspect for the story - a singer named Evie Ballatine. Why did Churchett create the Funnybones in the first place? Perhaps he and Hall thought the musical troupe would make Helen's character more "colorful". On the other hand, I found the addition of the musical troupe UNNECESSARY . . . like other changes and additions to this story. 

The above changes seemed nothing to me compared to the changes made to the Helen Halliday character. It is bad enough that Churchett transformed her from a nice, young woman who became a stepmother and wife to a professional singer. Go figure. Worse . . . Helen Marsden Halliday was eventually revealed to be Kelvin Halliday's first wife, Claire. In other words, Gwenda's mother and stepmother proved to be one and the same. How did this happen? Well, when Claire Kennedy went to India to get married, she changed her mind and became a thief. She met Kelvin Halliday, married him and gave birth to their only child Gwenda. However, when the police in British India became suspicious of her, Claire and Kelvin plotted her fake death, she returned to England and joined the Funnybones, and "married" Kelvin as Helen Marsden, following his and Gwenda's return to India. Confused? I was when Miss Marple revealed all of this to Gwenda, Hugh and the suspects. When this whole scenario regarding Claire/Helen's background was revealed, I could only shake my head in disbelief. What on earth was Churchett thinking when he created this confusing background for her? What were the producers and Hall thinking for accepting it? In fact, all of the changes made for this adaptation proved to be unnecessary, but also transformed "SLEEPING MURDER" into one convoluted mess. 

What else can I say about "SLEEPING MURDER"? It featured some pretty good performances from a cast led by Geraldine McEwan. I liked its production values very much, especially Alan Almond's photography and Frances Tempest's costume designs for the 1950s sequences. But . . . I feel that screenwriter Stephen Churchett made a lot of unnecessary changes to Christie's original story that left the movie into a big, narrative mess. And I cannot help but wonder what director Edward Hall and the producers were thinking to allow these changes to happen.

Friday, July 14, 2017

"Double Emnity" (R) - Chapter 4



"DOUBLE EMNITY"

(Warning: Strong sexual situations)


Chapter 4


Music blasted from the local rock band that performed on P3's stage. Phoebe and Piper sat in two of the private chairs reserved for the sisters, as they watched the nightclub's patrons gyrate to the music. 

"Not a bad group," Phoebe commented. "Who are they, again?"

Piper replied, "Id Control." Phoebe stared at her. "Hey, it was their idea, not mine. I had heard about them from one of my bartenders." She inhaled sharply, catching Phoebe by surprise. "Oh my God," she murmured.

"What?" Phoebe demanded. Her eyes scanned the crowd.

"Don't you see him?" Piper nodded at the customers on the dance floor. "The good-looking guy with the light blond hair. He's dancing with a redhead."

Phoebe's gaze returned to the dance floor. She finally spotted a pale blond man dancing – rather badly – with a leggy redhead. Memories of a deadly female wizard and a magical sword flashed in her mind. "Ohmigod! It's that demon! What's his name?"

"Cirhan," Piper answered. "From the Gimle Order." She waved at the demon several times. He finally caught sight of the two sisters and waved back. "Oh look, he's spotted us."

Phoebe muttered, "Oh great." She had spent their last encounter with Cirhan in a state of hostility toward the demon. If Phoebe had to be honest with herself, most of that hostility stemmed from her own resentment against Cole and Olivia's recent wedding. Cirhan reminded her of how much Cole had grown as an individual . . . and that his relationship with Olivia had been even more responsible for fulfilling his potential than Phoebe's own past with the half-demon. And all because she was too afraid to accept Cole for himself.

"Phoebe," Piper muttered back, "be nice. He's not evil or anything like that."

The younger woman retorted, "I know!"

The music finally stopped. The Gimle demon detached himself from his red-haired companion – much to her obvious displeasure – and joined the two Charmed Ones. "Miss Halliwell," he greeted politely.

Piper invited him to fill the empty seat next to hers. "Call me Piper. And you remember my sister, Phoebe, don't you?"

The Gimle demon regarded the middle Charmed One with slight wariness, before he sat down. "Oh. Yes. Phoebe."

In an attempt to put Cirhan at ease, Phoebe regarded him with a warmer attitude. "It's nice to see you again," she said with a bright smile.

Cirhan's own attitude melted. "Thanks." Then his smile disappeared, as he added, "Weren't there supposed to be three of you?"

"Paige is at home," Piper answered. "With my son, babysitting. I'm the owner here and every now and then I like to be here and make sure that everything is running smoothly."

Surprise lit up Cirhan's light green eyes. "You own this place? It's very nice, but . . ."

"But what?" Piper demanded.

The demon hesitated slightly before he continued, "Well . . . you don't exactly strike me as the type who would own a nightclub."

Phoebe snuck a side glance at her older sister. Piper looked slightly taken aback by Cirhan's comment. She wondered if he was a telepath . . . and knew about her sister's dream to own a successful restaurant.

A tight smile briefly appeared on Piper's lips. "To be honest, I never really saw myself as a nightclub owner, myself." Then she quickly changed the subject. "So, what are you doing here, besides enjoying a night on the town?"

"I'm here in San Francisco on business," the Gimle demon replied. "Another assignment. You know Marbus, right?"

The sisters nodded. "Cole's uncle," Phoebe pointed out.

"Well, he wants me to gather as much information as I can on the Magan Corporation. I started working there about three weeks ago. Since the attempt to destroy the Whitelighter's Realm and the theft of the Haldane Sword has been tied to the Magan Corporation, the Gimle Council has become suspicious of them. Especially since the corporation is controlled by the Khorne Order."

Piper frowned. "So it does have ties to a demonic order."

Cirhan continued, "Oh yes. Actually, I have spotted a few members of that order. I only hope they haven't spotted me." He paused to glance at his redheaded partner, who now stood near the bar. "I've also seen this attorney. A mortal named Cedric Lloyd."

"Olivia's old schoolmate," Piper added. "We've heard of him. I guess it's only natural you would spot him there, considering that he's their attorney."

Phoebe asked, "Do you think it's possible that this Lloyd guy knows that he's working for demons?"

"Oh, I'm quite certain." According to Cirhan, Cedric Lloyd had been in danger of being disbarred over suspicions of bribing a witness, three years ago. "Then the law association for this state suddenly decided they had been mistaken and dropped the charges. Around that time, he began working for the Magan Corporation. He even has a contract with the company."

Both Phoebe and Piper exchanged brief smiles. The sisters found Cirhan's ignorance of mortal customs rather amusing. "I wouldn't worry if I were you," Phoebe said. "Mr. Lloyd had probably signed some employment contract with them. It's quite normal. I had to do the same with the newspaper I work for."

This time, Cirhan glanced at the dance floor. Phoebe noticed that his interest in his red-haired dance partner had not abated. Then he said to the Charmed Ones, "Oh, I'm not talking about the usual employment contract."

"Then what . . .?" Piper began.

"A demonic contract," Cirhan finished grimly. "Between Lloyd and an upper-level daemon named Prax from the Khorne Order. I just came across this information from another daemon named Hazika in the Eshu Dimension. She has a great deal of information on many magical beings – demonic or otherwise. I'm certain that Lloyd knows the exact nature of his employers. And I've also discovered something else. Mr. Lloyd has been seen in the company of two men . . . mortals, I think. They look like officials for some local government. I would have to check. Meanwhile . . ." Again, he glanced at the redhead. Phoebe saw that she was dancing with another man.

Piper added, "Yes? What were you about to say?"

His eyes still fixed upon the dance floor, Cirhan murmured, "Uh, noth . . . I mean . . . that's all I've learned so far. I just need to make a report to Marbus for . . ."

Phoebe glanced at the dance floor. "Um . . . why don't we finish this conversation, some other time?"

"Huh?" Cirhan regarded the two sisters with wide eyes. Phoebe nearly burst into laughter.

Piper's mouth twisted into a slight smile, as she added, "You seem very interested in that girl. The redhead."

"Oh. Her." The demon's face flushed pink with embarrassment. "It's nothing. I, uh . . . I had noticed her at the bar. Well . . . we had noticed each other. And I asked her to dance. That's it."

As delicately as she could, Phoebe added, "But you keep looking at her. Are you still interested in her?"

After a brief hesitation, Cirhan replied, "Um no, not . . . I mean . . ." He sighed. "Yeah, I think I am."

"Then why don't you ask her for another dance?" Phoebe insisted. "It won't hurt. Unless . . . you don't get involved with mortal . . ."

Cirhan quickly added, "Oh that won't bother me. I mean . . ." Again, his face turned crimson. "There was this girl, whose father was a wizard. We uh . . . It didn't end well. Although we had never . . ." He paused, as his expression became more embarrassed. "You know what? Never mind."

Piper quietly said, "Maybe you shouldn't get involved with this gi . . ."

With surprising speed, Cirhan replied, "Oh, but I'm not interested in her that way. I mean, I'm not serious about her. The redhead, I mean. I just . . ."

Phoebe took the bull by the horns. "Cirhan, do yourself a favor, okay? Ask her for a dance. I'm sure that it won't hurt. Trust me."

The fair-haired demon flashed an uneasy smile at the two women. "I guess you have a point. Well . . . wish me luck." He immediately stood up and made his way back to the dance floor.

The moment they were alone, Piper shook her head with disbelief. "This is certainly a first!" she exclaimed. "A shy demon! Who would have thunk? I wonder if he's ever had . . . you know . . . sex with a human?"

"There's a first time for everything," Phoebe replied. An image of Cirhan struggling with the mechanics of human sexuality caused her to burst into laughter.

"What's so funny?" Piper demanded.

Phoebe sighed. "If you only knew."

Piper continued, "Speaking of demons, you're still not planning on talking to Cole about Holly McMillan, are you?"

Phoebe sobered quickly. "So much for enjoying my evening," she muttered.

"Honey, I don't like the idea of Cole defending that woman anymore than you do," Piper continued quietly. "But I don't think that Cole is going to allow you to nag at him about her. As far as he's concerned, you're an ex-wife. He's not concerned about winning your approval. He hasn't been in nearly two years."

Resentment crept into Phoebe's mind. Her lips pressed together, she retorted, "This isn't about Cole, Piper! It's about Holly McMillan. That woman had killed her husband and the last thing she needs . . . or deserves is a defense attorney, capable of getting her acquitted."

"Say that Cole does decide to drop her case?" Piper continued. "What's to stop Holly McMillan from hiring another prominent attorney who can get her acquitted?"

Phoebe realized that she had no answer to Piper's question. And this galled her. But despite her sister's little scenario, she felt determined that her ex-husband would not be the one responsible for that woman's acquittal.

----------------- 

Inside the Turners' bedroom, Olivia laid stretched out on their wide bed, with Cole on top of her. Their mouths were locked in a deep, wet kiss. While their tongues met in hot passion, Olivia allowed her fingers to run through the dark hair on her husband's chest. A pleasure-filled sigh escaped her mouth. She could do this all night.

Then Cole gently turned Olivia on her right side. His body spooned against hers. When she felt his member twitched against the crack of her backside, Olivia allowed herself a satisfied smile. He felt as ready as she did.

Olivia slightly raised her left leg, allowing Cole access into her. He gently nipped her shoulder before impaling his member into the wet folds of her flesh. Deep moans rose from both hers and Cole's throats. One of his hands gripped her thigh and forced her to match the rhythm of his thrusts.

In and out, Cole moved. Faster and faster. Olivia moaned with pleasure, as she felt him stab deeper within her. One of his hands traveled up past her waist, until it cupped one tender breast. His thumb pressed against a taunt nipple and again, she moaned. Then it moved to another breast. Her moans grew louder. So did his.

As their bodies moved faster, Cole's thrusts became harder. Deeper. Until his entire length filled her walls. Unable to hold back any longer, Olivia climaxed and the muscles within her folds ruthlessly constricted his member. He cried out her name and exploded inside her. As she finally fell over the edge, she threw back her head and called out his name.

A peaceful silence enveloped the couple on the bed. Cole slowly removed himself from inside Olivia . . . much to her disappointment. Then he rolled her flat on her back and lowered his mouth upon hers. Aroused, Olivia pressed one hand against the back of his skull, forcing him to deepen their kiss. Once they had parted lips, Olivia commented, "I'm surprised that you're not exhausted right now."

An affectionate smile touched Cole's lips before he kissed the side of her neck. "Trust me, if I wasn't tired, I would be doing a lot more right now." His lips continued to caress the side of her neck, until they finally moved to the hollow of her throat.

"Well, at least you're now in a good mood." A moan escaped from Olivia's mouth as Cole's tongue flickered across her collarbone.

Cole's mouth hovered above Olivia's left breast, as his blue eyes stared into hers. "I've been in a good mood since I came home."

"Is that right?"

The half-daemon leaned down to plant a kiss on her breast. "Yes ma'am. Couldn't you . . .?" A frown appeared on his face. He paused, staring at Olivia's chest.

"What is it?" the redhead demanded.

To her surprise, Cole chuckled. "Did you know there is a freckle right above your left nipple, shaped like Australia? Funny, I never noticed before. No wonder you have such an affinity for that country."

"I never said that I loved Australia," Olivia lightly retorted. "Just . . ."

"Yeah, I know," Cole said, interrupting. "You just happen to like Australian men." He spoke the last sentence in an accent straight from Down Under, surprising Olivia.

She stared at her husband for a long time with feign delight. "Wow! For a minute you were really turning me on with that accent. Why don't you keep it for the rest of the night?"

Cole grabbed Olivia close to his body in a quick move, causing her to squeak. Then he lowered his mouth upon hers. The couple kissed long and hard. "I don't need an Australian accent to turn you on," he murmured against the side of her mouth.

A seductive smile curved Olivia's lips. "Prove it." Cole slipped one hand between her legs, producing a gasp from Olivia. Then he lowered his mouth upon hers one more time and set about doing just that.

---------------- 

Around the same time, two nude figures occupied a large, cast-iron bed inside the master bedroom of an apartment in the city's Marina District. One of them, the fair-haired Cirhan, laid stretched across the bed. His red-haired companion from P3 straddled his waist. The pair moved in unison to the throes of passion.

It had been a long time since Cirhan had sex with anyone, let alone a human. His last visits to Earth had usually lasted three days or less. And they were usually focused upon his current assignment. But this latest assignment regarding the Magan Corporation had kept him in the mortal plane for nearly three weeks. Long enough for him to feel bereft of any companionship.

Meeting the redhead at P3 had been a stroke of luck. Despite his personable appearance, Cirhan possessed an intense, yet reserved nature that did not seem to attract many females. But the redhead – one Briana Morgan – seemed quite taken with him.

"Uh . . . oh! Faster!" Briana gasped between heavy breathing. "Harder!" Cirhan tightened his grip of her hips. Breathing just as heavily, he allowed himself to plunge deeper into her body.

In Himerus' name! She felt good! Hot and tight. Her muscles seemed to literally have his member in a vise. And the sight of her full breasts hovering above his face only increased the passion he felt. He had never met anyone like Briana Morgan – mortal or otherwise.

Loud moans filled the bedroom as Cirhan and Briana's tempo increased. The Gimle daemon felt as if his heart would explode any minute. He could honestly say about the flesh that now thrust into his companion's body. "Oh . . . I don't think . . ." Cirhan's breathing increased. "I don't think I . . . that I can hold . . ."

"Let it go, baby," Briana mumbled between breaths. "Just let it . . . ahhhh!" Unable to contain himself any longer, Cirhan let out a roar as he climaxed and allowed his seed to flow into Briana. A cry fell from her lips, as her torso formed arched upward. The deep rose tips of her breasts hovered in the air.

Then it ended. Briana's body fell upon Cirhan's. His fingers combed through her thick, red curls. She planted light kisses on his damp chest. "I . . . uh," Cirhan tried to control his breathing. "I don't . . . don't think I . . . I can breath. I've never enjoyed . . ."

Briana lifted her head to stare into Cirhan's eyes. There seemed to be a wild glint in those golden brown orbs that he found exciting. "Neither have I," she murmured. The she chuckled before planting another kiss on his chest. "Had sex like that. You know, for someone with such a geeky exterior, you're quite something." She resumed kissing.

When Briana's lips hovered above his left nipple, her tongue flickered across its tip. Cirhan groaned. "That's funny. I'm still . . . having trouble breathing," he declared heavily.

Again, Briana chuckled. "Is that supposed to be a metaphor for something?" Her mouth encircled his now erect nipple.

"No, I . . . I mean I can't . . . I can't breath!" Sure enough, Cirhan felt as if his chest was about to truly explode. A rather odd, post-coital sensation that he has never experienced in the past. Surely . . . Bolts of pain struck his chest. It felt as if it was about to collapse any moment. "Briana! Please . . . I can't . . . my heart . . ."

Briana removed her lips from Cirhan's chest. Her brown eyes now regarded him with a coldness he found unsettling. A disturbing thought flitted across the daemon's mind. He wondered if she was responsible for his condition. He tried to physically remove her from his body, but his arms refuse to budge.

"Don't fight it," the redhead whispered. "It will soon be over."

Dizziness and pain assailed Cirhan's senses. Again, he tried to move. And failed. "Wha . . . what . . . are you . . . doing . . .?" He could barely speak.

"I'm crushing your heart," Briana replied softly. "With telekinesis."

Panic struck the now barely conscious Cirhan. "N-n-no . . . sto . . . Aah!"

---------------- 

The red-haired warlock morphed back into her natural form. She stared into the daemon's lifeless eyes. Then she felt his pulse. Dead. A gust of breath left her mouth. Perhaps she should have considered incinerating him with fire. It would have probably being a lot easier. Only . . . well, she had never even thought about it until now. Still, death by telekinesis seemed to have worked very well.

The idea of killing someone had never bothered Olivia. At least not since she had killed her cousin Dafydd Morgan, two years ago. Using her telekinesis, she had shoved him out of an open window from the Fremont Hotel, because of a scurrilous remark he had made about someone she cared very much about. Both the McNeills and the Morgans went into an uproar and Olivia found herself kicked out of the family circle. Then her former whitelighter, Leo Wyatt, tracked her down to Manhattan. It took several hateful words from his mouth to convince Olivia that she wanted him dead. He had already severed his ties with the Charmed Ones nearly a year earlier. So, she hired a darklighter to kill Leo. And he succeeded.

The deaths of Cousin Dafydd and Leo had eventually set Olivia on the road to becoming a warlock. And she never looked back. When Artemus requested that she kill this Gimle daemon, Olivia felt no remorse over the latter's possible death. But she did dislike the idea of killing someone on the behalf of others. Which explained why she never became an assassin. She reasoned that if she was going to kill, she would rather do so for her own benefit. But the Gimle daemon's death did serve a personal purpose. Or least she hoped it would.

After donning her clothes, Olivia picked up the telephone on the night stand. She dialed the number given to her by Artemus' assistant. "Yes?" a groggy voice answered.

"It's me, Ms. McNeill," Olivia said. "Your Cirhan is dead. Just as Artemus had requested. When will he have the information I need?"

A sigh followed. "It's nearly two in the morning, Ms. McNeill," Prax replied. "Normally this would not bother me . . . if we were somewhere other than the mortal plane. Call me back in the . . ."

"Listen! I have no intention of remaining in this dimension any longer than I have to!" Olivia retorted. "I will meet with Artemus at his home around eight o'clock, sharp. Good night, Prax."

Before the daemon could respond, Olivia hung up. She stared at Cirhan's corpse. Odd. She had expected him to disintegrate upon death. Perhaps it took a certain element to disintegrate a daemon. Or a spell or portion. Olivia's eyes examined the daemon's nude form. She could not help but admire how he kept himself in shape. Surprisingly, he turned out to be a pretty decent lover. It almost seemed a shame to kill him. On the other hand . . .

Olivia waved her hand over the corpse. It disintegrated under a stream of fire. On the other hand, his death also meant access to the other Olivia's home. And she had no intention of spending one more minute with a corpse than she had to.


END OF CHAPTER 4