Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

THE WORLD, THE FLESH AND THE DEVIL

Harry Belafonte
THE WORLD, THE FLESH AND THE DEVIL (1959). Director: Ranald MacDougall.

Ralph Burton (Harry Belafonte of Odds Against Tomorrow) is an engineer working underground when he is trapped for several days. When no one comes to rescue him he manages to make his way to the surface, and discovers that everyone has vanished. Newspapers report that millions fled the cities because of a radioactive dust that flooded the world after an apparent nuclear holocaust. Ralph makes his way to a deserted Manhattan where he moves into a luxurious apartment building, turns on a generator so he can have electricity, and sends out radio messages in the hopes of finding someone else alive. Then he meets Sarah (Inger Stevens), who was in a decompression chamber. As the two grow closer she claims that the difference in their races doesn't matter to her, but Ralph isn't sure he can believe her. Then new arrival, Benson (Mel Ferrer of Born to Be Bad), comes to town, and a melodramatic triangle situation develops.

Inger Stevens and Mel Ferrer
As contemporary critics noted, the first third of World, with Ralph discovering (more or less) what has happened and exploring his vacant surroundings, is the best part of the movie and suggests that something powerful might be in the offing. But unfortunately, the movie begins to fall apart with the arrival of Sarah, and pretty much collapses altogether with the introduction of Benson. Benson claims he has no problem with "negroes," but he's just a civilized racist, and his actions are ludicrous, occurring only because the filmmakers needed some suspect "drama." Although Belafonte -- who is top-billed -- and Stevens give good performances, neither they, Ferrer, or the film itself ever quite gets across the depth of their emotions as it pertains to this apocalyptic scenario -- there are times it's hard to believe this story is happening post WW3. Ferrer's performance is unbelievably poor and perfunctory -- when he talks about his missing wife and child he might as well be discussing a trip to the supermarket!

Abandoned cars on bridge -- where did all the people go?
Because World turns into a schlocky B Movie when it could have been so much more, the bored audience has time to ponder a variety of things that the script never addresses. How come there is not a single corpse anywhere? Did anyone besides Benson make it out of the cities? Why no mention whatsoever of radiation sickness?  What about people in nursing homes and hospitals? And so on. Why introduce a potential end-of-the-world scenario and then virtually ignore it completely? Even a Grade Z item wouldn't make that mistake, and this is an expensive MGM CinemaScope production (albeit in black and white).

Menage a trois? Belafonte, Ferrer, Stevens
There are some good things about the movie, however. Belafonte's character is a positive and sympathetic African-American, the hero -- not just the protagonist -- of a film made late in the fifties, which alone makes it of note. Harold J. Marzorati's cinematography is striking. Miklos Rozsa wrote the score for the film but there isn't enough of it. The title of the film is completely appropriate if pretentious. This being the fifties, Belafonte and Stevens aren't allowed to touch, let alone sleep together, and while the two should have kicked Ferrer out of New York altogether, in that time period the film couldn't end with an interracial couple going off together. However, the finale, which is meant to show hope for racial unity, instead unintentionally suggests something even more controversial: a menage-a-trois!

On the Beach was released the same year, and Five, which also included racial tensions in its storyline, came out eight years earlier. Ranald MacDougall also wrote and directed Queen Bee with Joan Crawford.

Verdict: A major missed opportunity but not without points of interest. **1/2. 

THE SET-UP

Robert Ryan
THE SET-UP (1949). Director: Robert Wise.

Bill Stoker (Robert Ryan) is a 35-year-old boxer at the end of his game. He rarely if ever wins his matches, but he still has dreams even though he knows that 35 is old for a fighter. His wife, Julie (Audrey Totter), whose heart breaks for him, can't stand to see him being literally and figuratively beaten up in the ring and wishes he'd do anything else for a living. Although Bill wants her there, Julie resists going to the ring -- Paradise City in Atlantic City -- that night. Unbeknownst to Bill, his manager, Tiny (George Tobias), has made a deal with fight promoter "Little Boy" (Alan Baxter) for Bill to take a dive during his fight with newcomer Tiger Nelson (Hal Baylor of This Is My Love). Tiny is sure that Stoker hasn't got a chance against Tiger, but the determined Stoker may give everyone a surprise. But this may come with a terrible cost.

Audrey Totter and Ryan
The Set-Up, beautifully directed by Robert Wise, is one of the best boxing films ever made. With sharply observed vignettes of other boxers and hangers-on, fight fans, promoters and others, it pulls us into this insane bloody world of triumph and defeat and never lets go. The film is supposed to take place in real time -- 73 minutes for both him and the audience -- although this may not be entirely accurate. Whatever the case, Robert Ryan, who was actually forty at the time of filming, gives perhaps his most outstanding performance. Whether he's mirroring the disappointment he feels when he sees his wife's empty chair or dredging up untapped reserves in order to fight his much younger opponent, he is on top of every scene. Tall and handsome, with the look of a winner, Ryan is still able to get across his character's desperation and fear of being a loser. Totter is also excellent, especially in a silent sequence over a railroad track when you can nonetheless tell everything that she must be feeling as she ponders her future with the man she loves and seems unable to help. Her smile when she sees something amusing in an arcade, a smile that fades when things remind her of her life and marriage, is touching.

Baylor vs. Ryan
There are also good turns from George Tobias, Baxter, and Baylor, as well as Wallace Ford [The Breaking Point] as Gus, who oversees things backstage; David Clarke as the sadly defeated Gunboat; Percy Helton cast in another sympathetic part as Tiny's associate, Red; Darryl Hickman as young boxer Shanley; and James Edwards as black boxer, Luthor Hawkins; among others. The film also benefits from Milton R. Krasner's expert cinematography. Absorbing and well-detailed, The Set-Up also boasts a satisfying and moving conclusion, and the match itself is quite exciting and even suspenseful -- both Ryan and Baylor had done some boxing in real life. The script was inspired by a poem about an African-American boxer.

Verdict: More powerful than Raging Bull and half as long. ***1/2. 

HENRY BRANDON: KING OF THE BOGEYMEN

HENRY BRANDON: KING OF THE BOGEYMEN (BearManor Media; 2018). Bill Cassara and Richard S. Greene.

This labor of love looks at the work of actor Henry Brandon, who never attained stardom but was a working actor in films, on TV and on the stage for decades. Because of his association with Laurel and Hardy due to his playing nasty old Barnaby in Babes in Toyland, he later became a film-buff favorite because he often appeared at various conventions for the comedy duo and others. Not a biography as such, which the authors make clear, there is a lot about Branden's life which is not covered in this book. Just when I thought the writers were indulging in some "gay erasure" they do mention that Brandon, after a very brief marriage and a child, had a boyfriend in Mark Herron, who himself was briefly married to no less than Judy Garland. (The whole business behind this might be fascinating but it is not covered in this volume.) In any case, there is a definite downplaying of Brandon's sexuality among some of the people interviewed, but then, this book is really about his talent, which was prodigious. Brandon appeared in a great many films and TV shows and was also an accomplished Shakespearean actor. He performed with Judith Anderson in Medea and other vehicles as well.

There are separate chapters on Brandon's most notable roles in such films as The Searchers with John Wayne, the serial The Drums of Fu Manchu, in which he portrays the Oriental arch-fiend, and When the North Wind Blows, among others. The section on his appearances at film conventions gets a little tedious, but the rest is interesting enough. What comes across is how hugely admired Brandon was by his many fans and those who got to know him through his film-buff convention appearances.

Verdict: In general this is strictly for fans of Henry Brandon, but those who admire his work will enjoy this thorough look at his career. ***.                                                     

FOUR BOYS AND A GUN

Hinnant, Franciscus, Sutton, and Green -- with the gun
FOUR BOYS AND A GUN (1957). Director: William Berke.

Four young neighborhood buddies have their problems. Eddie (Tarry Green) learns that his girlfriend, Marie (Diana Herbert), is dating their boss, who fires him. Ollie (Frank Sutton) has gambling debts that could get his legs broken. Johnny (James Franciscus of I Passed for White), who has a wife and baby on the way and has high hopes for a boxing career, is told he's strictly an amateur with no future. Stanley (William Hinnant) is a little nerd who can't get a girlfriend. To make matters worse, the proceeds for a dance they put together, hundreds of dollars, are stolen by some hoods.

James Franciscus
The "boys" -- with the exception of Johnny -- go on a nasty spree where they mug a cab driver and walk out of an expensive restaurant without paying. They then importune Johnny in joining them in a robbery of the arena where he had his last fight. Unfortunately, during the botched robbery, a police officer with a family is shot and killed. Although technically all four of the participants are guilty of murder, the DA wants to know specifically which one fired the gun. Amidst flashbacks showing events leading up to the robbery, the boys contemplate their future and try to blame each other for what happened.

Frank Sutton and Tarry Green
Four Boys and a Gun is an unusual feature with an intriguing storyline. None of the characters are especially likable, however, even the more sympathetic Stanley and the more mature Johnny. In fact, most of them come off like total creeps. The boys develop some very unlikely nobility at the end, which is otherwise uncompromising. The dialogue as they analyze each other's shortcomings in crude fashion rings true, although the legal aspects are suspect. The performances are too stagy at times, with Sutton making the best impression. Of the four actors, Franciscus had the biggest career, although Sutton eventually played the nasty marine on Gomer Pyle. This was the only film Tarry Green appeared in, although he did have a couple of TV credits. William Hinnant had a few more credits and also did a lot of stage work. He died at 42 in a drowning accident. Smaller roles are played by Frank Campanella as a cop, Nancy Devlin as Eddie's sister, who likes Ollie, and Patricia Bosworth as Johnny's pregnant wife.

Verdict: Something different. **3/4. 

LOUSY NEW MOVIE: KNIVES OUT

The family of Knives Out
KNIVES OUT (2019). Written and directed by Rian Johnson.

Popular author Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer of The Fall of the Roman Empire) is found dead, apparently of a slit throat, the night of his birthday party in his beautiful mansion. His death is initially thought to be a suicide, but his caregiver, Marta (Ana de Armas), may know a lot more than she's saying -- at least at first. A private investigator named Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) has been hired -- although he doesn't know by whom -- into investigating Thrombey's death, so he speaks to all of the relatives -- and Marta. Then at the reading of the will, everyone finds out just who Thrombey left his money to and pandemonium ensues.

Daniel Craig as a southern private eye
I'm not at all certain what writer/director Rian Johnson was thinking of when he put together this movie, which is not a witty comedy and certainly not a serious drama or even clever mystery. If he was trying to come up with a master sleuth along the lines of Hercule Poirot with Benoit Blanc, he comes a cropper. Although Daniel Craig [Spectre] does a convincing enough southern accent and gives a good performance, Blanc is a completely one-dimensional and uninteresting detective. If this is an Agatha Christie pastiche, it's a petty poor one. One of the worst elements of the film is that the heroine literally pukes whenever she tells a lie, which is often. This business is not only disgusting but gets tiresome very quickly. Some elements of the plot are mildly clever, but Rian Johnson is certainly no Christie.

Barf Baby: Ana de Armas
What's worse, the film is almost completely devoid of memorable dialogue. Some viewers complained that the movie's politics were too leftist -- some of the family members have conservative views, some don't, but in either case these are mere attempts at characterization, which the film has all too little of -- but I found it ironic and amazing that the African-American cop assigned to the case, Lt. Elliott (LaKeith Stanfield), is both literally and figuratively shunted aside the minute the southern P.I. shows up, having very little to do or say thereafter! This is progressive!

The minute I saw that Jamie Lee Curtis [Halloween] was in the film I feared it would be a stinker, and I was right, although Curtis' performance is actually okay. As the lead character, Ana de Armas is competent but she completely lacks distinction as a performer, at least in this film. However, I was impressed with the performances of Christopher Plummer (seen in flashbacks), Don Johnson, Chris Evans, and Toni Collette [Fright Night], among others, as various members of the Thrombey family. The worst thing I can say about Knives Out, however, is that it's overlong and becomes tedious with only a few spurts of minor excitement along the way. It's easily thirty minutes too long.

Verdict: Puke on this movie and read a great Agatha Christie novel instead. **.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW

Harry Belafonte and Ed Begley
ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW (1959). Director: Robert Wise.

With some difficulty ex-cop Dave Burke (Ed Begley of Sweet Bird of Youth) puts together a small team to pull a bank job in the town of Melton. There is initial resistance from musician Johnny Ingram (Harry Belafonte), and especially Earle Slater (Robert Ryan), a racist who at first refuses to work with a black man. But Ingram's family has been threatened by Bacco (Will Kuluva of To Trap a Spy), to whom he owes money, and Slater is tired of his wife, Lorry (Shelley Winters) paying all the bills, so they ultimately decide to go along with the plan. Everything seems to go like clockwork, until the actual robbery.

Robert Ryan and Shelley Winters
Odds Against Tomorrow, like all good caper films, spends a lot of time concentrating on its characters, so their fates have a little more meaning. There are still things we don't learn about these three men, however. The performances help make them three-dimensional: Begley is superb; Ryan again proves what an excellent and under-rated actor he was; and Belafonte also proves that there's more to him than just good looks and musical ability. Shelley Winters, in the early phases of her slovenly phase, is also excellent, and there is a very, very well-played scene between Ryan and Gloria Grahame [Blood and Lace], playing a lusty neighbor, in the former's apartment. Will Kuluva scores big in a fine turn as the menacing Bacco.  Richard Bright is cast as Coco, an associate of Bacco's who is clearly meant to be an old-fashioned pre-Stonewall "faggot" -- nasty and queeny -- not the only element that at times makes Odds seem a bit dated. Coco makes flirtatious comments to Johnny, who only looks upon him with homophobic disdain. (Not the first or last time a movie looks at one minority group with sympathy while being unsympathetic towards another.)

Robert Ryan
Kim Hamilton, a lovely actress, makes an impression as Ingram's ex-wife, who couldn't put up with his gambling and the type of people it put him into conflict with. There are also smaller roles played by people who would go on to bigger parts: Wayne Rogers as a tippling soldier, and Zohra Lampert as a young lady he's trying to impress in a bar. Hefty black songstress Mae Barnes also has a good scene when Belafonte cuts into her act. I also spotted Cicely Tyson as a bartender. Joseph C. Brun's cinematography of New York City and environs, including the Hudson river and Melton, is of a high order, and there is an interesting and quirky score by John Lewis, full of dissonance, which occasionally veers into uncomfortable shrillness. Odds is fast-paced but conversely takes its time telling its story. It has a literally explosive finish, although at the end some viewers, along with the characters, might think it was all a little pointless. A slightly jarring note is the too comic delivery of an actor who plays a man whose car is somewhat demolished during a gun battle. Watching the scenes in "Melton," I was pretty sure they were filmed in Hudson, NY, and it turns out I was right.

Verdict: Highly interesting, absorbing and extremely well-acted caper film with a difference. ***. 

ROBERT WISE: THE MOTION PICTURES

ROBERT WISE: THE MOTION PICTURES. J. R. Jordan. Newly Revised and Updated. BearManor; 2020.

Although Hitchcock, John Ford, Billy Wilder and William Wyler, among others, may get the lion's share of the attention and critical kudos, the fact remains that Robert Wise was not only a solid and highly-skilled director who worked in many genres, but the architect of many successful and famous motion pictures. Beginning as an editor -- Wise worked on Welles' Citizen Kane and Magnificent Ambersons, among others -- his first professional directorial credit was for producer Val Lewton's Curse of the Cat People. (He returned to the horror genre with The Body Snatchers and the marvelous Haunting). Although today Wise is probably best remembered for directing the box office blockbusters The Sound of Music and West Side Story, in his younger days he helmed such gritty film noir-type pictures as Born to Kill, Odds Against Tomorrow and The Set-Up. Wise also did two major science fiction films, The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Andromeda Strain. He also helmed Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the unfortunate Star!, among others. Some of his other notable films include Three Secrets and Tribute to a Bad Man, and there was the very occasional stinker, such as Executive Suite.

J. R. Jordan's well-written tome finally gives Wise his due with an illustrated book that covers all of his motion pictures. Each essay gives a background to the film, why Wise chose the project, his working methods on the set, synopses, important highlights of each picture, and lengthy quotes from people, including crew and cast members, who worked with Wise. Aside from one man who claims Wise was unsympathetic when he was injured on the set, everyone's recollections are positive. Wise was no martinet, a la Otto Preminger, but a reasonable and well-adjusted craftsman and artist who didn't need to scream at or belittle people to get what he wanted from them. Like Hitchcock, he was always fully prepared for each scene, choose his actors with great care, and only gave them direction when it was required. Wise left behind an impressive body of work and this well-researched tome will remind readers of the director's long and distinguished career. This is by no means a gossipy book, but Janette Scott's comments on Rossana Podesta when they were working together on Helen of Troy are amusing.

 Verdict: For Wise fans and film enthusiasts in general. ***1/2.



Addendum
The book is dedicated to the author's father. Joseph C. Jordan Jr. suddenly passed a short time following the publication of this article. In Robert Wise: The Motion Pictures the author wrote, "Those I interviewed for this book generally described Robert Wise as noble, patient, validating, and a class act. Such words, in short, apply to Dad."

Mr. Jordan's wife, Rosetta, preceded him in death by 37 years (see photo). He missed her terribly and never remarried. The author was fortunately afforded the opportunity to be at his father's bedside on the day of the passing. Prior to the moment of death, the author faced his father and said, "This is a special day. You're going to be with Mom again." Mr. Jordan's face lit up, as his excitement was clearly apparent. He passed a short time later.

THE GUN RUNNERS

Hemingway hero: Audie Murphy
THE GUN RUNNERS (1958). Director: Don Siegel.

Sam Martin (Audie Murphy of World in My Corner) has a charter boat operation that is barely squeaking by, and a pretty wife named Lucy (Patricia Owens of The Fly). One day a supposed fisherman named Hanagan (Eddie Albert) charters his boat and brings along his girlfriend, Eva (Gita Hall, who was introduced in this film). Hanagan makes Sam a proposition: to take him on an illegal voyage to Cuba, Sam is wary, but his boat is on the verge of being dispossessed, so he agrees, but he has his regrets as bodies begin to pile up.

Audie Murphy and Gita Hall
The Gun Runners is yet another adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's novel "To Have and Have Not," originally filmed as To Have and Have Not and later under the title The Breaking Point, the best and most faithful version of the three. On its own terms The Gun Runners -- even without Bogie and Bacall -- is at least as entertaining as To Have and Have Not. Murply's acting got better with each picture, and he's fine as an essentially decent man who makes some unfortunate decisions. Eddie Albert [On Your Toes], cast against type, is superb as the villain of the piece, and makes the most of his very nasty portrayal.

Everett Sloane
Another actor who almost steals the picture is Everett Sloane [The Big Knife], generally cast as executives and solid citizen types, herein also cast-against-type as an old rummy, Sam's alcoholic first mate, Harvey; he is outstanding. Alas the ladies in the cast don't fare as well. Patricia Owens simply doesn't have enough screen time to really register, and Gita Hall, although sexy and adequate in her femme fatale role, made only one other movie the same year and had one television credit fifty-five years later! Also in the cast are Richard Jaeckel and Paul Birch.

Verdict: Not the best version of the story, but Murphy makes an appealing and more-than-competent leading man. **1/2.

BORN TO KILL

Lawrence Tierney and Claire Trevor
BORN TO KILL (1947). Director: Robert Wise.

In Reno for a divorce, Helen Brent (Claire Trevor) encounters Sam Wilde (Lawrence Tierney), an aptly-named sociopath who murders a rival for his girlfriend, Laurie's (Isabel Jewell), affections, and then kills her, too. Helen discovers the bodies but keeps mum about it so as not to upset high-toned fiance Fred Grover (Phillip Terry). Helen's foster sister Georgia (Audrey Long) is rolling in dough but Helen, the poor relation, sees Fred as her ticket into prosperity. But the animal magnetism of Mr. Wilde -- "most men are turnips, but you're not a turnip," she tells him -- upsets her equilibrium to such an extent that she covers for him no matter how disturbed she becomes over what she finds out about his true nature.

Esther Howard and Walter Slezak
Born to Kill is what might be called ferocious film noir. Once it starts it never lets up under Robert Wise's adroit and classy direction. Lawrence Tierney probably delivers the best performance of his career, and Claire Trevor nearly walks off with the movie with her sterling portrait of the psychologically damaged Helen Brent, who is terribly afraid that her association with Wilde will allow her to give full vent to her very worst instincts. Walter Slezak [Lifeboat] scores as the casually amoral private detective hired by landlady Mrs. Kraft (Esther Howard), a friend of the late Laurie, to find her killer, while Howard herself offers a fascinating portrayal of the beer-tippling, likable, but rather off-putting old woman. Phillip Terry [The Lost Weekend] again proves that he was more than just one of Joan Crawford's exes, and Isabel Jewell and Tony Barrett (as her ill-fated date, Danny) are also notable. Although he seems artificial at first Elisha Cook Jr. makes a decidedly positive impression as Wilde's best friend, although a lot about him remains unexplored. Audrey Long is fine as the fairly superficial heiress who comes to marry Wilde.

Claire Trevor and Phillip Terry
The film is full of memorable sequences, such as the chilling and well-handled double murder of Laurie and Danny, and especially a great sequence when the feisty and tenacious Mrs. Kraft nearly meets her maker in an isolated sand dune. In general the film is taut and fast-paced and holds the attention throughout. I do have a couple of quibbles, however. The police do not make their presence known until the closing moments of the film, but surely there would have been an investigation into the aforementioned double murder, and surely Mr. Wilde would have been the chief suspect. The private eye is clued in to this but not the police? Another problem is that the ending to the film seems rushed and overly melodramatic. It also should be noted that Sam Wilde is also one of your dumber sociopaths; just the fact that he's so unconcerned over his actions and their repercussions makes this abundantly clear. Still, Born to Kill is an exciting and suspenseful picture with some unpredictable moments. The contributions of composer Paul Sawtell and cinematographer Robert de Grasse should also be noted. Both gentlemen also worked on Bodyguard, which also starred Lawrence Tierney.

Verdict: Memorable crime drama with some sensational performances. ***1/2. 

THE CHARMER Revisited

Nigel Havers
THE CHARMER (6 part mini-series/1987. Director: Alan Gibson.

"Why did you do it -- any of it?" -- Clarice 
"Because I wanted to be like you." -- Ralph
"But my God, I'm bloody awful." -- Clarice

The time is England in the 1930's just before WW 2. Ralph Gorse (Nigel Havers) is a charming, attractive young man who only wants what others have by birthright, and he's willing to resort to rather anti-social methods to achieve his goals. Staying in a friend's house in a small village, he becomes acquainted with the middle-aged Donald Stimpson (Barnard Hepton) and the widow Joan Plumleigh-Bruce (Rosemary Leach). Donald and Joan have an "understanding" which may or may not result in marriage. But when Ralph enters the scene, Joan realizes how conventional and comparatively dull the solid Donald is.

Rosemary Leach and Nigel Havers
Donald is suspicious -- and jealous -- of Ralph right from the start. To Rosemary, Ralph represents romance, passion and excitement, and she all too eagerly becomes his business "partner." After sex, Joan enthuses "I feel alive again!" Therefore when Ralph disappears with her money she is inclined to be gullible and forgiving whereas Donald is strictly out for blood. Ralph winds up selling cars for the father (George Baker of Curse of the Fly) of an old girlfriend, Pamela (Abigail McKern), and is soon trapped in a loveless marriage, a situation that our boy will not let stand for very long. In the final episodes of the series, Ralph impersonates a soldier, romances a lonely war widow (Judy Parfitt), and is still pursued by Donald and an ever-smitten Joan. All the while he carries on a torrid romance with the upper-crust Clarice (Fiona Fullerton), who can't marry him because he has no money of his own.

Loves not wisely but well: Rosemary Leach
The Chamer was based on a novel entitled "Mr. Stimpson and Mr. Gorse" by Patrick Hamilton, also known for Rope, Gaslight, and Hangover Square. This mini-series, which I believe may have been broadcast on Masterpiece Theater, takes some liberties with the source material but is essentially faithful, if memory serves me, to the spirit of the novel. In the book Joan only appears in the early chapters but she is all through the mini-series, which -- considering how likable the character is and how excellent Rosemary Leach's performance -- is all for the better. Bernard Hepton is similarly marvelous as Donald. The series is full of fine character portrayals, as well as exemplary work by Fullerton, McKern, Baker, Parfitt, Gillian Raine as Pamela's mother, and others.

Bernard Hepton
And then there's Nigel Havers, who is simply outstanding. Ralph is not a person one should feel sympathy for, but Havers' emoting draws you into his world and psychology and almost makes you root for him. Havers is a busy British actor who appeared in Chariots of Fire and many other vehicles. Rosemary Leach was a similarly busy character actress, amassing over 130 credits, Bernard Hepton, who also mostly appeared on British television, had nearly as many. Fiona Fullerton was previously a Bond girl in A View to a Kill. The  Chamer beautifully illustrates how con artists give themselves enough rope to hang themselves, and also explores why people can be so forgiving of them -- because for a little while they bring some excitement and romance into their lives -- at least until the boom drops.

Verdict: Superb British mini-series with top-of-he-line performances. ****.