Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The '80s - 1: Those mini-series

Its rather jolly to settle down on a wet afternoon with an '80s mini-series, full of glitz and artificial glamour, those hairstyles and costumes, ageing stars camping it up, clunky wooden dialogue, "exotic" locations and a cliff-hanger every 10 minutes in time for the commercial break. Some of these series were very successful in their time and in endless repeats: THE THORN BIRDS, RICH MAN POOR MAN etc. as well as those DYNASTY and DALLAS serials. We would not have looked at them much at the time, being sniffy about such popular entertainment (ok I confess to enjoying my weekly dose of DYNASTY!) - but they are fun now. Here's some of the more exotically lurid Trash-with-a-Capital-T ones:
HAREM - a 1986 farrago as follows:  Jessica, a young British girl, goes off to Arabia with her father to be with her fiancĂ© when he's called there suddenly on diplomatic duty. On a tourist journey she's kidnapped by what appears to be a Beduion tribe and sold into the harem of the Sultan. The man that took her captive is not actually a Beduion but an Oxford educated revolutionary who traded Jessica for the release of his friends from the Sultan's prison. As her fiancĂ© struggles to free her from the harem he inadvertently hires the very man who put her there to get her out. Meanwhile, Jessica is fending of the Sultan's advances and coming to know a new way of life. Romance, political intrigue, and the jealousies of the harem all threaten Jessica's narrow view of the world. If she escapes will she actually be able to return to life in Victorian England?

This is all deliriously entertaining. Nancy Travis, our Victorian heroine Jessica, is  a Barbie Doll to the life, with that sculptured poodle 80s hairstyle and nothing seems to phase or change her, whether fending off kidnappers, getting used to life in the harem, or joining the revolutionaries! Laugh out loud as she is put into a sack and tossed from the castle into the sea ... as she swims free.The fun here is the rather good cast: Sarah Miles is a treat as Lady Ashley, being wickedly camp and maybe sending the whole thing up, and Ava Gardner in one of her last roles is the Sultan's discarded first wife who will brook no replacement - Cheri Lunghi is another harem girl who takes a shine to our heroine and ends up drinking a fatal cup of coffee Ava had prepared for Jessica (Cheri later starred in coffee commericals here!).
Omar Sharif goes through the motions as the Sultan (Ava was his mother in MAYERLING!), Julian Sands is the stuffy fiance and the young Art Malik is the rebel who initially kidnaps Jessica but then saves her .... the ending is sheer kitsch as he rides out of the desert to carry her off - I imagine its pure Vilma Banky or Agnes Ayres being taken off by Valentino in those 20's silents. It is supposed to be set in the Ottoman Empire, but the locations are all over the place from desert scenes to moorish and moroccan interiors. A feast of fun then as directed by William Hale. Its quite an expensive production with large cast of soldiers, revolutionaries, harem girls, whirling dervishes, the stuffy British expats etc.

QUEENIE, a 1987 series is even more delirious:  A half-caste beauty emigrates from India to Great Britain, pursues fame and fortune at the cost of personal happiness, and becomes a Hollywood movie star while suppressing the truth of her heritage. This is based on the true story of Merle Oberon, that rather forgotten '30s star - Anne Boleyn in THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII, THESE THREE, the unfinished I CLAUDIUS, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, etc. Merle always claimed she was from Tasmania, but it seems she was Eurasian. It is one of the great success stories - she married mogul Alexander Korda who starred her in his films, and later became a great society hostess. The tele-movie by Larry Peerce trowels it on - Sarah Miles again is Lady Sybil here, Kirk Douglas is David Konig the Korda surrogate, Mia Sara is Queenie our Merle to be (called Dawn Avalon here) and best of all Claire Bloom is her Indian mother, whom Queenie passes off as her maid!  
Merle Oberon
I suppose in that pre-internet age it was not too difficult to cover up one's past .... the cast also includes Joss Ackland, Martin Balsam, Joel Gray, with a score by George Delarue. In all a treat for those who love a weepie melodramatic love story, with a box of chocolates by their side. Based on Michael Korda's book about his aunt it has lavish sets and costumes and is hilariously amusing. Sarah Miles and Joss Ackland also did the equally stupendous WHITE MISCHIEF in Africa that year (Trash label).

MALIBU - here is a lulu from 1983, I have only just got the disk, but will file a report in a day or two. Its got everyone: Kim Novak, Chad Everett, Troy Donahue, James Coburn, George Hamilton as William Atherton and Susan Dey move to the Malibu colony from the mid-west. Should be a lot of fun!

THE TWO MRS GRENVILLES, another 1987 lurid melodrama: Ann, a former chorus girl marries above herself into a rich society family, but her mother-in-law regards her with great suspicion and disdain from the start. When Ann shoots her husband dead, claiming she thought he was a prowler, the older Mrs. Grenville decides to back the woman she despises, to protect the family image.  
This is another delicious treat now with Ann-Margret sensational as usual, and sterling support from Claudette Colbert as the family matriarch who despises Ann, but does what she has to, to maintain the family image. Ann suffers in diamonds and furs as she tries to clear her name and sinks into a sea of booze, losing her son on the way, But did she intend to kill her wealthy husband (Stephen Collins) when he intends to divorce her?   The  1930s period detail is a lot of fun, as is the wonderful Sian Phillips doing a turn as the Duchess of Windsor!  It is a very opulent series, directed by John Erman, and it certainly ramps up the melodrama, from a novel by Dominic Dunne. Anne-Margret of course is terrific as the chorus girl who marries above her station, while Claudette coming out of retirement, delivers one last great role.

LORD MOUNTBATTEN: THE LAST VICEROY is another one, from 1986, again opulently set in India during the last days of the British Raj, with intriguing casting of Ian Richardson as Nehru, Nicol Williamson as Mountbatten and Janet Suzman as his wife Edwina - great actors all and they certainly deliver. Of course there is a lot more to the Mountbatten story than his role in the partition of India, but this is intriguing enough for now and its interesting seeing quality actors dressing up pretending to be historical figures in this kind of tosh and presumably earning big pay-cheques.

1 comment:

  1. I have a special memory of Mrs. Grenvilles. I spent a couple of months backpacking through Great Britain in '86 and started in London. On my first day of the trip while I was walking past Westminster Abbey they were filming a scene of the mini with Ann-Magret and Stephen Collins right next to it! The scene ended up being just a tiny snippet when the show aired but it took me right back there when I saw it.

    Queenie had its moments and Mia Sara was a great match for Merle Oberon too bad she wasn't a better actress.