The Mind of Mr J.G. Reeder DVD Review
|REVIEWS - DVD REVIEWS|
You're unlikely to have seen this patchy but interesting period crime show...
Network DVD have been trawling the forgotten archives of British TV, and have come up with a bizarre series of detective stories made from 1969 to 1970, and set in London in the 1920's. They feature Hugh Burden as Mr. J. G. Reeder, a shy civil servant who's really a super sleuth. I couldn't believe I'd missed it, so I was very happy to step into the Shadowlocked time machine to check it out.
The writer of the original stories from which the show is dramatised is Edgar Wallace, a classic name to men of a certain age. My father recounted to me the story of the man himself, forced into a life of production-line detective creativity by his own dire financial circumstances. I spent my youth watching Tales Of Edgar Wallace - 1 hour black & white stories, drenched in atmosphere and usually with a twist in the tale, sometimes absurdly unbelievable, and sometimes emotionally shocking. The episode 'Face of a Stranger' where Rosemary Leach plays a blind woman, and Jeremy Kemp plays the ex-con who falls in love with her, is a classic of absolutely outstanding quality. The show is a kind of British Twilight Zone of the detective genre, and even had a version of its theme tune recorded by instrumental combo The Shadows. It was the first track to be recorded at Abbey Road at midnight!
But the Edgar Wallace phenomenon didn't stop in the English-speaking countries. In Germany his stories were made into feature-length adventures, with villains played by the likes of Klaus Kinski. The productions endured for years, and new series were produced in more recent years, along with a parody film 'Der Wexxer' (the original being called 'Der Hexxer' - the wizard - I'll leave you to guess what the parody is called when translated). Better yet, there are murder mystery dinners running in Germany to this day, where you can dress up like characters from the films and witness a light-hearted live recreation of a film-like murder mystery whilst consuming an impressive dinner. The music from the shows, written by German film music supremo Peter Thomas, accompanies the dinner!
Against that background, I was in excited frenzy to see this forgotten show, penned by the man of mystery himself, to see if it bore the hallmarks of greatness.
It's getting a little bit hard to believe, despite being numerically obvious, that the sixties were around fifty years ago. Despite the massive changes in our world and our lifestyles - mobile phones, cheap flights, the internet - you could be forgiven for watching an old Thames TV show, like the Mind Of J. G. Reeder, and thinking it was much like any series that might be made today (aside from being in black & white for most episodes). The 1920's lifestyles portrayed in the show are only set a further 50 years in the past, but by that stage we seem to be inhabiting a different planet where daily life seems barely recognisable.
So are we engaged by the story? Well, for my part it was a considerable shock to watch the first episode (dramatised by Donald Churchill) and find it confusing, elliptical, heading off in seemingly eight directions at once, and yet not arriving at any of them. Ulp! The central plot was about a man accused of murdering his wife, but it rapidly became about Reeder's use of criminals to help him obtain evidence.
There were very long side-tracks about his relationship with his rotund boss (Sir Jason Toovey played by distinctive character actor Willoughby Goddard) and his admiring secretary, and some play-acting policemen supporting his work. Some parts were horribly laboured and this didn't bode well for the rest of the series. Mercifully the next two episodes, penned by Prisoner episode scribe Vincent Tilsley (writer of 'The Chimes Of Big Ben'), found their feet considerably more successfully.
The subsequent episodes featured some TV stalwarts, such as Tony Anholt and Windsor Davies, and had some interesting period obsessions with issues of the time like communism and women's emancipation. There were some recurrent stylistic touches, such as the psychedelic opening graphics (in the Poirot 20's style but considerably more clunky) and the strange linking music (on what sounded like solo banjo).
All in all it's a weird anachronistic piece, probably only enjoyable to die hard cult TV collector fans such as myself, but a pleasant diversion from today's slicker noisier TV shows nonetheless.
Picture galleries of stills from certain shows.
Running Time: 800 minutes approximately
No of discs: 4
Starring: Hugh Burden
The Mind Of Mr JG Reeder is released on July 5th
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