Saturday, April 10, 2010

Mr. E. Reviews: Armchair Thriller Set 2

Mr. E. reviews mystery, suspense, thriller, and crime drama television and film for Omnimystery

Armchair Thriller Set 2
Director: Various

Original air date(s): April 1978, April 1980, and December 1981.
DVD release: 03/16/2010.
Studio: Acorn Media.

Cast: The Chelsea Murders: Dave King, Anthony Carrick, Christopher Bramwell, and Michael Feast. The Circe Complex: Trevor Martin, Alan David, and Beth Morris. Quiet as a Nun: Maria Aitken, Renee Asherson, and Brenda Bruce.

Rating: Not Rated.
Running time: 547 minutes.

The Chelsea Murders is based on the novel of the same title by Lionel Davidson. The Circe Complex is based on the novel of the same title by Desmond Cory. Quiet as a Nun is based on the novel of the same title by Antonia Fraser.

Armchair Thriller Set 2 (DVD Cover)
More information about Armchair Thriller Set 2

Review: I was somewhat excited to receive this set of three made-for-television novel adaptations, in particular since I had read one of the books from which one of the movies was based. Each of the films was originally commissioned as 6 episodes (approximately 25 minutes each in length), but one, The Chelsea Murders actually was slightly re-edited and aired as a feature-length movie. However, both versions of this latter title are included in this set, hence the four discs.

I watched them in the order suggested by the disc numbers, but strongly suggest that you do not. The Chelsea Murders is, in a word, dreadful. Nearly unwatchable. The plot involves a series of murders (in Chelsea) that have the police baffled. The only clue is a number of letters that arrive at the police station that seem to be identifying the next victim … but in some sort of cryptic manner. The victims are all associated in some way to the producers and actors of a silent film being made in the area, one involving clowns and cops played in the manner of the era’s Keystone Kops. The acting in The Chelsea Murders is alternately wooden and over-the-top. It would be comical if it weren’t so awful. Little money was spent on sets, which appear to be a random mix of rooms left over from some other production. The plot isn’t all that terrible as a whodunit, but the pacing is all wrong and there seem to be some continuity issues.

I confess I had never heard of Lionel Davidson, the author of the book on which the movie is based, and had to do a little research. Originally published in 1978 in the UK (and later published under the title of Murder Games in the US), it went on to win the prestigious Crime Writer Association Gold Dagger Award for that year. I have to believe some substantial liberties were taken by the screenwriters in adapting this book.

My fear is that anyone starting this set of Armchair Thrillers with The Chelsea Murders will abandon the effort within 10 minutes. And that would be too bad because the other two movies are much better.

The Circe Complex starts out with a man who has just committed a crime (we soon learn he stole his own inventory of jewels from a shop he managed), and kills a policeman trying to get away. In prison for 18 months, he still refuses to tell the authorities where he stashed the jewels. His wife, who was in on the crime from the beginning, is unwilling to wait any longer and schemes to break her husband out of jail so they can live happily ever after on the proceeds. Needless to say, things don’t go exactly as planned. The plot here is well developed, intricate without being overly complicated, though this movie, at 149 minutes, could easily have been cut by a third without sacrificing anything. The acting is much more credible when compared with The Chelsea Murders, and the production values appear to be higher as well.

The third and final entry in this set is adapted from the first book in the Jemima Shore mystery series by Antonia Fraser, Quiet as a Nun – and the only one of the three books I have read (albeit many years ago). Jemima Shore is a newswoman and host of a popular television show. A former classmate from the Catholic school Jemima attended as a teenager, now a nun at that same convent where the school is located, is found dead, locked in a tower, a presumed suicide. The Mother Superior of the convent asks Jemima to look into the circumstances surrounding her death, especially since the dead woman was heir to a large fortune – and her intentions with respect to its proceeds in doubt. Quiet as a Nun is clearly the best of the three movies here, though it, too, is a little overlong at 2½ hours.

Given that two of the three Armchair Thrillers are definitely worth seeing, it’s unfortunate that The Chelsea Murders is so bad that it makes recommendation of the overall set difficult – especially since it’s included as two versions. Consider renting the set for The Circe Complex and Quiet as a Nun.

Below is a synopsis of each movie provided by the studio:

The Chelsea Murders

Episode 1: Three murders in Chelsea yield only one clue: a poem mailed to the police before the latest crime. As the cops search for a connection, a reporter looks for a scoop.

Episode 2: A second letter arrives, mocking the police with the identity of the next victim. Somehow, the Gazette writer also knows about the letters—could she be involved?

Episode 3: The police zero in on a hard-pressed filmmaking team. Their suspicions mount when the killer attacks again, dressed in a theatre costume.

Episode 4: The police grow increasingly frustrated, especially after one of their main suspects gets assaulted himself.

Episode 5: The police find a video of the most recent killing, but the reporter is a step ahead. Then a vital piece of evidence allows them to close the net.

Episode 6: The police finally figure it out, but the journalist puts herself in harm’s way trying to solve the case.

The Circe Complex

Episode 1: Tom Foreman kills a policeman after stealing jewelry worth a fortune. Caught and incarcerated, he refuses to reveal the loot’s whereabouts, even to prison psychiatrist Ollie Milton.

Episode 2: Ollie and Tom’s wife, Val, enlist the help of ex-con “Cat" Devlin in their plot to locate the hidden jewels.

Episode 3: Ollie takes harsh measures to get Tom to talk, but things go dreadfully wrong. Cat realizes it’s his word against that of the respected Dr. Milton.

Episode 4: The case against Cat looks watertight, but Detective Bannister has doubts. Why does Cat stick so doggedly to his story—and insist his relationship with Val wasn’t strictly business?

Episode 5: Bannister remains suspicious about Tom’s death but starts an affair with Val, who is more than happy to provide an easy out for the conflicted detective.

Episode 6: Ollie finally learns where the jewels are stashed, but his quest to recover them spirals out of control.

Quiet as a Nun

Episode 1: Television journalist Jemima Shore investigates the death of her old friend, a nun who starved herself to death in her convent’s tower.

Episode 2: Shore learns that Sister Miriam had recently inherited a fortune. While one nun warns Shore to get out while she can, another is all too eager to confide her suspicions.

Episode 3: Shore hears of an apparition that haunts the hallways at night and seems to portend death. Flashlight in hand, she goes off in search of the “Black Nun."

Episode 4: The schoolgirls speculate that Sister Miriam wanted to leave the convent and had recently changed her will.

Episode 5: Shore finds an underground passageway from the crypt to the tower and discovers a link between the dead nun and a missing schoolgirl. Unfortunately, the Black Nun is also on the hunt.

Episode 6: With Shore’s life in danger and the future of the convent at risk, help arrives from an unexpected source.

Armchair Thriller Set 2

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Mr. E. Reviews is your source for mystery, suspense, thriller, and crime drama reviews of television and film.

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