Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mrs Amworth {1975} – review

Directed by: Alvin Rakoff

First aired: 1975

Contains spoilers

This UK short was a pilot for the TV series “Classic, Dark and Dangerous”(EDIT *please  note the comment below, from Brad, about the series itself, and how it aired) and was later edited into the film “Three Dangerous Ladies” (1977). I came across the film when I was researching the 2007 version and the first thing to say is that this is much closer to the original E F Benson story. This is both in story content and in feel – though the fact that it was a UK production probably helped generate the genteel English atmosphere.

I managed to find the VHS of this on E-Bay and, as far as I know, it is only available in that format. It runs at 29 minutes and begins with Mrs Amworth (Glynis Johns, yes – the mother from Mary Poppins) driving along in her little sports car, humming Greensleeves. The first impression one gets is of a fun, slightly ditzy woman with erratic road sense.

She spots Benson (Derek Francis) at a bus stop meeting a young man, his nephew David (Pip Miller), and offers them a lift. During the journey she mentions the epidemic that holds the village in its grip. When she drops them off she ensures David is aware of the garden party she is holding that day. She goes on to the graveyard and leaves flowers at a grave, all the time watched by Urcombe (John Phillips). He looks at the grave, it belongs to Elizabeth Chaston who died in 1644.

At the party much of the conversation is geared around the epidemic – though Mrs Amworth tries to steer the conversation away from it. The local doctor, Ross (Rex Holdsworth), has a theory that it might be caused by the gnats plaguing the village. He has sent to London for specialist advice. Later we discover that the first symptoms are like anaemia, though standard treatment doesn’t work. David is bitten by a gnat.

The next day he is unwell, but puts it down to hangover. A visiting Mrs Amworth insists that he, his Uncle and Urcombe visit her for cards that night. During the game Mrs Amworth admits that she has not been to the hospital for a blood test – they are testing everyone who is willing, to search for an answer to the mystery illness. She also admits that her ancestors, the Chastons, came from the village. We discover that, since leaving Oxford as a Professor, Urcombe has become somewhat of an occultist. The next day there has been a break in at the hospital and the blood is gone. David is also really ill.

Urcombe is researching. He hears a noise at a window and sees a hand push it open. He slams it shut trapping the hand. He sees a figure – clearly Mrs Amworth – running across his lawn. He knows the truth now but also knows no one will believe him.

He visits Benson the next day and tells him of his research. There was a plague in the village in the 1640s, similar to that occurring. The people spoke of witchcraft and suspicion fell upon one Elizabeth Chaston. Mrs Amworth comes to the door, her hand bandaged, and he makes the sign of the cross at her, causing her to back off into the path of an oncoming car.

Two months have past. The gnats have gone and David is well enough to return home – though he still seems fascinated by Mrs Amworth, despite the fact that he hardly knew her. Urcombe, of course, realises, that a vampire cannot die through a car crash and she will soon return.

The lore in this is interesting. Mrs Amworth is obviously voracious in her appetite – there are 23 cases of the epidemic mentioned at one point. There is a mentioned, though generally unexplored, connection with gnats, an association fairly rare in the genre. However, between the gnats and the epidemic we return to the old favourite of the vampire as plague carrier.

She can become insubstantial, much like a ghost, probably explaining why the VHS cover mentions ghosts when it is clearly a vampire movie. She is immune to the effects of sunlight but can be killed by piercing the heart – the manner and method of piercing seems unimportant.

The performances are all good UK drama performances but special mention must go to Johns who treads a fine line between ditzy and thoroughly malevolent. There is a look to camera which just smoulders with hatred and a laugh she gives, when caught feeding, contains pure malice in its timbre.

The short really contains nothing resembling gore, even the feed doesn't show blood at all. That said it manages to generate a tangible atmosphere, in a very ghost story type of way. A fine short that (fairly) accurately tells the original tale. 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Derek Tatum said...

I must say, that is one embarrassing video cover. It looks like they were marketing it as some kind of kiddie flick.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Derek, can't argue with that (in fact it is the one aspect in which the 2007 version is superior) - guess they were trying to cash in on a Mary Poppins connection

MadeInScotland said...

Oh MY GOD. "Emptied the blood".

Sings Greensleeves.

I loved this. The quote I hope you will remember as also the blood curdling scream.

DVD now, I wish.


Taliesin_ttlg said...

I do remember the quote and the scream was marvelous. I can't see a DVD release of this solo, but maybe the film it was put into might be.

cheers for the comment

Brad Middleton said...

I really enjoyed this one, especially the performance of Glynis Johns! I also wanted to mention that the series "Classics, Dark and Dangerous" was indeed produced, and was made up of 6 half-hour dramas. I believe each eventually aired on TV, but it was pretty sporadic. All six, however, were made available to public school systems and libraries at the time, mainly on 16mm film. The other tales are "The Silver Blaze" (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle); "The Rocking Horse Winner" (D.H. Lawrence); "The Island" (L.P. Hartley); "The Ugly Little Boy" (Issac Asimov) and "The Mannikin" (Robert Bloch). THREE DANGEROUS LADIES combined "Mrs Amworth" with "The Island" and "The Manniken," while another video release, THREE TALES DARK AND DANGEROUS, gathered the other 3 stories (and it was broadcast on TV in North America in October 1982). Cheers! :)

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers for that Brad, I stand correct. Research suggested that the series went unmade but perhaps more correct to say it was unaired in the first instance (though aired, as you point out, sporadically later).

I'll look to editing the review given the info provided, and gratefully recieved :)

Prodosh said...

Andy, Hemendra Kumar Roy did book-length adaptations of what Stephen King called the three core horror stories in English: Frankenstein, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Dracula. Admittedly, Jekyll and Hyde really being a longish story, the Bengali book had to combine with the rendering of another horror tale 'The Monster-God of Mamurt'. As you note here, he has Indianized Benson's short story too. His favourite sources for adaptation were Conan Doyle and Poe. I know of just one Agatha Christie he did: that of And Then There Were None. His other Indianizations include one of the first Saint novel by Leslie Charteris, and several others for which he hasn't specified the exact source. There is a good one of Le Fanu's A Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter, as also one of Marryat's The White Wolf of the Hertz Mountains.

Prodosh said...

Andy, call me a tad disappointed with the screenplay. Mrs Amworth, surprised by Benson while she is feeding on David, now knows that he - and Urcombe - are on to her. Surely she would have attacked Benson! Just 'in the name of God' is enough to repel her! And then she literally plays the sitting - rather lying - duck for the two of them to destroy her. The whole thing is much more logically put in the story, and for that matter, in Roy's Bengali version of it.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Prodosh, thank you for the info on Roy - perhaps better placed with the actual Bengali short film version - readers can find that here

I have obviously not read the Bengali version by Roy but, if the short follows it accurately, then she leaves herself a sitting duck, as you put it, by returning to her coffin in that also.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Prodosh, I think it also worth noting that the arrogance of the vampire - return repeatedly to a victim even when detected - is a genre staple. One could argue that Dracula should have moved on from Lucy when they started treating her and certainly should have avoided Mina, as his jig was up at that point - but that obsessiveness is inherent in the vampire's very DNA