Wendy Hughes

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012) s01e03 – The Green Mill Murder

There’s a lot going on this episode for star Essie Davis even though it’s not entirely clear to the audience until much later in the episode. Just before the mystery resolve, actually. This murder case has hit close to home for Davis, who’s on the scene when it happens—she’s meeting old friend Toby Schmitz at a nightclub to discuss buying his plane—the promise of Miss Fisher with an airplane is an early delight in the episode. Davis gets distracted with the band leader, though notices Schmitz getting into an argument with Stephen Whittaker… minutes later, Whittaker drops dead in the middle of the dance floor and Schmitz hightails it.

Coppers Nathan Page and Hugo Johnstone-Burt arrive and declare Schmitz suspect number one. Lamming it being suspicious and all.

Schmitz’s mother, Wendy Hughes, hires Davis to look into matters, apparently not expecting Davis to discover Whittaker was a successful blackmailer. He wasn’t just blackmailing Schmitz and club singer Deni Hines, but also Hughes. Everyone has their secrets, everyone has a reason to kill Whittaker. Davis has to unravel them all and figure it out while contending with the various fallouts from the secrets being revealed.

Page doesn’t make it easy—going so far as to arrest Davis at one point, which leads to the most adorable finish when he’s mooning over her mugshots—and she’s also got to worry about getting she and Page’s sidekicks, Ashleigh Cummings and Johnstone-Burt, respectively, on their way to the police and fire department ball. Johnstone-Burt’s initially too shy, but then he’s worried Cummings is too Catholic. Cummings gets a great prayer at one point on that conflict. It’s very funny when Davis and Page are at odds in the case and still working together to get the young folks’ romance going.

The mystery resolve itself isn’t great… the murderer’s motive is a bit of a shrug after all the drama the episode’s been through, but Davis’s character arc through it is quite good. She’s knew the case meant something but she had no idea how much (and neither did the audience because of where that reveal’s plotted).

Hines is really likable but not particularly good. Simon Lyndon’s a step-down from the usual as Davis’s Bond Girl #2 this episode, both in terms of interest and charm.

There’s also the case of the missing new regular cast member, established last episode, who gets no mention here. Kind of strange.

But it doesn’t really matter because Davis, Page, and crew are still wonderful together, the production design’s still there, and so on. The show can survive a less than thrilling mystery solution, which is always important.

Warm Nights on a Slow Moving Train (1988, Bob Ellis)

Tedious. Tedious is a good word for Warm Nights on a Slow Moving Train. The polite way of saying tedious is deliberate–as in, the filmmakers very surely lay it out, taking their time and making sure they get it right. After fifty minutes of Warm Nights–it’s a ninety-minute film–I finally realized what was so damn tedious about it. Until an hour in, the whole thing is a first act. The film immediately introduces its protagonist, a teacher (played by Wendy Hughes) who moonlights on weekends as a hooker on a train, and proceeds to show us her experiences with three johns. Interspersed are scenes of her life as a teacher (brief, like thirty second scenes) and a little bit of her taking care of her disabled brother. But there’s nothing in terms of character development–she tells each john a different lie and those short scenes of her “real” life are mostly in summary, not detail.

The dramatic vehicle–the event to get the story started–happens around minute fifty, when she finally talks to Colin Friels’s mysterious man on the train. For most of the film, Hughes’s male costars look like they’re out of a 1970s Atlantic City casino–so when Friels, even if he is sporting an iffy South African accent, looks real good. Except the film doesn’t get going then. It continues on at its awkward pace and, knowing the running time, I kept trying to figure what, if anything, could happen with twenty-six minutes remaining or whatever. Well, the solution is simple–if you’ve got a forty-five minute first act in a ninety minute film, just skip a second act and go straight to the third. First and third, with a snap of the fingers.

The film isn’t frustrating to watch and it’s not quite boring, because it’s well-acted, well-written, and well-made, but there’s nothing going on. Hughes’s performance is fantastic, but it’s fantastic in the film as a whole–she’s not an actor who does a really good scene here and there, it’s the development–in the tedious film. Even when the film introduces a sense of danger, it doesn’t move any faster. Everything comes together at the end–and it’s never bad enough to stop watching in the opening half–but if you aren’t alert at the end, you might miss the whole thing.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Bob Ellis; written by Ellis and Denny Lawrence; director of photography, Yuri Sokol; edited by Tim Lewis; music by Peter Sullivan; production designer, Tracy Watt; produced by Ross Dimsey and Patric Juillet; released by Western Pacific Films.

Starring Wendy Hughes (The Girl), Colin Friels (The Man), Norman Kaye (The Salesman), John Clayton (The Football Coach), Rod Zuanic (The Young Soldier), Lewis Fitz-Gerald (Brian), Steve J. Spears (The Singer), Grant Tilly (The Politican) and Peter Whitford (The Steward).


Newsfront (1978, Phillip Noyce)

Newsfront is hard to describe. It’s a sincere attempt to lionize Australian newsreel cameramen, mixing in melodrama, bad music, and some good performances and direction. It’s a film very excited with itself–there’s beautiful production design and costumes of late 1940s to middle 1950s Australia–and very sure of itself. It unabashedly ends with a shot of the newsreels superimposed over the dutiful, incorruptible newsreel cameraman, turning his camera to get the real news, while grandiose music swelling.

On one hand, the film’s so unaware of itself, it’s hard to find fault with the melodrama, on the other hand, it’s so incredibly melodramatic–music frequently swells in ludicrous places, during two person conversations, ruining potentially good moments–it’s hard not to get upset with the film. There wasn’t much potential to Newsfront, so it’s hard to get too angry and the film barely varies in quality throughout (the end strikes a nasty hit, however), but it’s somehow very watchable.

The film beautifully mixes original newsreel footage with black and white photography, but then for scenes without the newsreels, switches to color. While the color shows off the production design, it ruins the visual continuity of the film. Newsfront‘s direction is particularly bothersome, because many of Noyce’s shots are unspeakably wonderful. Except he has a habit of moving the camera–swirling it around the room–during conversations, drawing all the attention to the camera movement, forcefully pulling the viewer’s attention from… the story.

Besides Bill Hunter’s infinitely perplexing existence as a heartthrob (is this guy really considered good-looking by Australian standards, I can’t believe it, William Bendix was better looking), he turns in a decent performance as the ostensible protagonist. It’s not enough to surmount the script, but it’s good. Chris Haywood is good as his sidekick and has a few nice scenes. Bryan Brown shows up–a young Bryan Brown–and turns in some good work. The film’s also got a really good death scene in it.

I watched the recent Blue Underground DVD release and I can’t think of a better looking presentation of a 1970s film. Maybe the Australians just take better care than anyone else, but this transfer was wonderful. Blue Underground’s run by Bill Lustig, who produced for Anchor Bay back when Anchor Bay was really something. Newsfront is a beautiful disc.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Phillip Noyce; written by Noyce, David Elfick, Bob Ellis and Phillipe Mora; director of photography, Vincent Monton; edited by John Scott; music by William Motzing; production designer, Lissa Coote; produced by Elfick; released by Roadshow Entertainment.

Starring Bill Hunter (Len Maguire), Wendy Hughes (Amy Mackenzie), Gerard Kennedy (Frank Maguire), Chris Haywood (Chris Hewitt), John Ewart (Charlie), Don Crosby (A.G. Marwood), Angela Punch McGregor (Fay), John Clayton (Cliff), John Dease (Ken) and Bryan Brown (Geoff).


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