A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 536 – The Big Six

The Big Six – August 18th, 2011

You know, if we were going to watch a short movie last night, we really should have watched this back to back with its companion piece. But the plans we’d had last night, and the reason for watching Laserblast fell through and we watched it anyhow and saved this for tonight. I guess that’s actually a good thing, because this right here washed all the horrible aftertaste from Laserblast clean away. It’s another story from Arthur Ransome, again with Dick and Dot and their friends on the Broads, including Mrs. Barrable and her dog and Tom and the twins and the Death and Glories. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as much fun for me as the first one and I’m not sure if I can put my finger on why, but we’ll see.

It certainly isn’t because of the scenery or the acting or the overall tone of the piece. Those are all pretty much exactly the same as Coot Club. However, where the first movie was more an adventure story with mischief taking place, this story is definitely a mystery right from the outset. Maybe that’s it. Or maybe it’s not the mystery so much as that in film format, there’s not as much room for explanation for why these characters act the way they do. The tension of the story requires that the vast majority of the village and the surrounding villages believe that the Death and Glories are entirely likely to do what they’re accused of, but if the events in the first movie are anything to go by, they’re well liked by just about everyone around. In a book – and especially in a book as densely written as Ransome tends towards – there’s ample space to explain events that have might have happened in between, or in the past. Likewise for George Owden, who’s clearly a bad sort in the first movie and clearly a bad sort in the second, yet believed far more easily by the adults than one would expect.

The mystery involves someone on the river casting boats adrift and framing the Death and Glories for it. Of course the Death and Glories have nothing to do with it, but wherever they go, boats lose their moorings overnight and people start to get pretty damn pissed. They go up the river to another village entirely, thinking they can hide out somewhere out of the way to prove their innocence when other boats go adrift. Except the villain of the story is specifically targeting them, so they only spread their problem. The rest of the children try to help them in various ways, hiding them, giving them assistance and so on and so forth. It only makes things worse when they help a fisherman land an enormous pike and an innkeeper pays them a hefty sum for it, but only if they keep it a secret so he can make a big unveiling of it once it’s mounted. So they’ve got money and no alibi and some stolen good are planted on their boat and it all seems like they’ll never be able to clear their names when Dick comes up with an idea using the amazing new technology of a flash pan for night photography!

Really, it’s a simple story. And you know from the outset that it can’t have been the Death and Glories, and it’s pretty obvious that they’re being framed. There’s no question there. And there’s no real tension either. It’s just a matter of waiting until Dick has his brilliant idea to solve everything. But between when they realize they’re being framed and then it just feels like there’s a lot of sailing up and down the river. They go up one way, then turn back. The twins go up by a sort of river-based hitchhiking to meet the Ds, Tom and Mrs. Barrable, then they get called back by their father. The Death and Glories go to one village, then have to run for it when more boats are unmoored and go to another village. Not that I really mind seeing a whole lot of sailing scenes on the river. That’s where a lot of the charm of the whole thing lies. It’s just that it starts to feel as though the story is an excuse to show a lot of sailing as opposed to the sailing being an integral part of it all.

Now, this is an issue with the story, not the movie specifically (since I can’t recall if it’s addressed in the book), but part of my issue with mysteries like this one is that there’s often something in the way of the truth and had it been revealed earlier a lot of fuss would have been avoided. In this case it’s the pike. The innkeeper tells them to keep it a secret, which is all well and good when it comes to the general public on the river, including the boys’ friends, but why not tell the police Constable who’s convinced they’re at fault? It would give them a solid reason for having the mysterious money everyone assumes they got from selling stolen goods and it would establish their whereabouts for at least part of the time. But they say nothing. This is something that comes up, frequently in children’s mysteries, and always bothers me. It’s a convenient and in my opinion cheap way to keep a mystery a mystery.

Anyhow, Dick saves the day with his camera and flash pan and with a photo of George Owden and his friend shoving a boat off its mooring the Death and Glories are off the hook. Their pike is revealed and hooray for the boys! Just like we all knew it would go. Truly though, it’s not the story that’s the point of watching this. The point is the boating and the setting and scenes like the kids all trying some smoked eel and finding it revolting and Port and Starboard hitching their way up the river by traveling with random boaters who take them on for a bit. It’s the atmosphere that I love here. And I’ve got to say, I do love the three Death and Glory boys. They’re good fun to watch and clearly having a good time with it. So despite my issues with the story, I still greatly enjoyed this. I think I’d put in its companion first, but I’f probably pop this in right after just to keep the mood going.


August 18, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Big Six

August 18, 2011

The Big Six

Back to the Broads today for more sailing and adventure for the children from Coot Club which we reviewed on Tuesday. After that movie, which felt like a vacation in itself, I was very much looking forward to spending more time in Arthur Ransome’s world full of young children having adventures and camping and sailing. This movie has all that, and the small-town British charm, and gorgeous scenery, but I actually found myself slightly disappointed. I didn’t enjoy this movie quite as much as the other one, and I’m having a hard time putting my finger on exactly why.

Most of the same characters from Coot Club are back for this story. There’s Tom, of course. There’s Dick and Dot, on vacation again. Mostly, however, this is a story about the Death and Glory boys Pete, Bill and Joe. I think part of my problem is that I don’t find these boys as compelling as characters as the other Coots. For one thing, they’re very ill defined. They seem to live full time on their boat completely without adult supervision of any kind. (I had begun to wonder in fact if they were orphans, but then there is mention of telling their parents what they’ve been up to, so that’s not the case.) Now living without adult supervision is pretty much the entire point of the Arthur Ransome books, but most of the kids have to at least go home once in a while. (A common thread seems to be that girls in the Ransomeverse are under constant threat of having to wear dresses and gloves and behave themselves.) Pete, Joe and Bill however seem completely independent.

We get to see them fishing, shopping, cooking (poorly) and generally living their lives. They’ve even started their own business – working as a salvage company recovering boats in distress on the river. I think they’re meant to be like boys on a grand adventure living in a floating club house and being blissfully free of parents. What comes across for me, however is a strange sense of responsibility. They are like little adults – not so much like boys on vacation.

Anyhow, things start to go bad for the Death and Glory boys when somebody begins un-mooring boats and setting them loose on the river at night. It always seems to happen wherever the boys are staying and very soon everybody on the river is convinced that it is the boys themselves behind this nefarious action. Even worse – there are thefts at local businesses that the boys get blamed for as well. So this movie is less an adventure and more of a mystery. Dick and Dot and Tom all have to find a way to exonerate the Death and Glory boys, so they form their own Scotland Yard. (Scotland Yard has their Big Five, says Dot, so they will be the Big Six.)

Dick and Dot do most of the detective work, really. It almost feels patronising at times that the two city kids spend so much time ordering the simple minded country kids around and lecturing them. Dick in particular seems particularly well suited to detective work since he seems obsessed with the meticulous inspection of minutia. And he owns a camera.

I can see what this movie is trying to do. It’s all about kids pretending to be detectives, in the same way that other Swallows and Amazons books involve pretending to be pirates or explorers. I just didn’t enjoy watching this as much as I enjoyed Coot Club. With the constant threat of being caught and framed for something they never did this movie ends up being less enjoyable than the other. Perhaps my issue is that in this movie just about everybody except for the Coots believes that the Death and Glory boys are up to no good. In the first movie you could get well behind hating the Hullabaloos and their loud and obnoxious ways, but in this movie there’s a sense that the whole river is against our heroes, which makes it less fun for them to gallivant around.

Still, there are some special treats in this film. For one thing there’s an old eel fisherman played by Patrick Troughton which means that since Tom’s father is played by Colin Baker there are two Doctors in this movie. (Indeed I would say I enjoyed it more than the Doctor Who story “The Two Doctors” which also starred these two actors.) And of course there’s sailing and birds and British countryside and lovely music. This is a pretty and enjoyable movie – I just didn’t like it quite as much as I like Coot Club. Oh, well.

August 18, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment