Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Blu-ray Review: The Orchard End Murder

As with Saxon Logan's wonderful "Sleepwalker" (reviewed elsewhere on this blog), the story of "The Orchard End Murder" will surely strike a chord with aspiring directors and lovers of British Cult Cinema.
Christian Marnham's 49m 43s film was released in 1980, and was screened as support act to Gary Sherman's "Dead and Buried."
Now, almost 40 years later, "The Orchard End Murder" has been resurrected as part of the BFI essential 'Flipside' series, beckoning newcomers and those who caught it first time round.
As well as directing, Christian Marnham also wrote the screenplay which was inspired by a local murder case which came to his attention.
The result is a black comedy with some wickedly funny lines, and also genuinely disturbing in places.

A crane shot of a village cricket game in Kent introduces a stunningly beautiful locale, where Mike Robins (Mark Hardy) romps with new love interest Pauline (Tracy Hyde)
while waiting his turn to bat.
Pauline is very much a city girl and soon becomes tired of her escape to the country, keen to be released from a ritualised setup where familiarity is all.
Her wanderings lead to the railway station where the stationmaster (Bill Wallis) invites her in for tea and cake.
This cosy English tradition is made increasingly disconcerting by the close attention of her new acquaintance, and things come to a head with the arrival of Ewen
(Clive Mantle):house guest of some three months standing who horrifies Pauline with a brutal act.
Now the scene is set for a particularly graphic murder, which launches a police investigation in this sleepy village.

For a mini-feature running under 50 minutes, "The Orchard End Murder" packs so much into its running time.
First of all, the characters are beautifully drawn and complex. Bill Wallis' station master belies his initial appearance as a simpleton, exhibiting a cool, devious mind and well
capable of talking himself out of almost anything, while Clive Mantle also excels, with Ewen's mentally unstable mind carrying him just short of Buttgereit territory.
Tracy Hyde also delivers an excellent performance as a sexually active female who finds the countryside can be even more of a threat than her beloved towns and cities.
Of course, the graphic murder is hard-hitting in the extreme, but there's plenty of quite wonderful humour to be found elsewhere in the film - do listen out for the side-splitting 'apples' gag - and even the story about the double railroad suicide is told with a twinkle. The location is almost a character on its own, combining beauty with a sense of dark foreboding with the scent of murder hanging heavy in the air.
This really is a small gem, and fully deserving of its place in the 'Flipside' collection.

The BFI Blu-ray presentation unveils a lovely transfer, with the bold, bright countryside colours looking like they were shot last week. Kudos to Peter Jessop's photography
which is beautifully captured by this 2K remaster taken from an original 16mm positive element.
The supplementary feature begin with "The Showman" (25m 45s).
This entertaining short from Christian Marnham tells the story of 63 year-old Wally Shufflebottom. Wally is the 'Last Showman', who gives the public what they really want by devising and staging a striptease knife-throwing act with flames thrown in for good measure.
We bear witness to Wally's methods of drawing in the crowds, how he enlists the girls to participate and the shows themselves.
At the outset, Wally makes some pretty bold claims, but actually keeps to most of his promises to deliver an entertaining show.

"Christian Marnham on The Orchard End Murder". (37m 26s)
Christian recalls his first job (in rep theatre); tells of his progression to the cutting room and how he graduated into television.
We hear about his partnership with Julian Harvey - who suggested doing a film for the cinema - and there's much praise for cast and crew, including Tracy Hyde, DOP Peter Jessop and Sam Sklair who did the score.
Christian is refreshingly honest about mistakes made along the way, and has some good news concerning future projects.

"Christian Marnham on The Showman." (4m 40s)
Christian explains how the idea for "The Showman" began after a chance meeting at a fairground, and talks about his utmost confidence in Wally who emerged as an expert in this dangerous craft.
We're also privy to a huge problem which reared up before the shoot, and the steps that were taken to overcome it.

"From Melody to Orchard End Murder: An interview with Tracy Hyde." (11m 19s
Tracy talks about her career, recalling the Orchard End shoot and "Melody": the film that won her 'Best Actress' in Japan, at such a tender age.
She returns Christian's praise, speaking well of her director and has good memories of the film, even accepting some of the less glamorous aspects of the shoot.

"An Interview with David Wilkinson." (12m 28s)
David recalls how Christian persuaded him to appear as a batsman in Orchard End, and gives a resume of his prolific career.
He talks about his fellow actors in the film; how impressed he was with the production and has some surprising news about the financial result earned by Orchard End.

The BFI includes a booklet with this dual format release, which contains a beautifully written essay from Josephine Botting; a fine piece on "The Showman" by Vic Pratt; colour stills, credits, notes on the transfer and an original review from Tim Pulleine.
"The Orchard End Murder" will be available to buy on 24th July .

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