Monday, 18 October 2021

MAGELLAN (COMMISSAIRE MAGELLAN): MORTEL REFRAIN (FRANCE 3)

The beloved French mystery series Commissaire Magellan comes to an end with its 38th episode.
 
Created by Laurent Mondy (Les Cordier, juge et flic), Commissaire Magellan was launched on pubcaster France 3 in 2009. Produced by Jean Luc Azoulay's JLA Productions with France Télévisions (and 13ème Rue) and set in the fictional northern town of Saignac, it stars Jacques Spiesser as Commissaire Simon Magellan. Selma Kouchy plays Lieutenant Selma Berrayah, his deputy. The other regulars are Nathalie Besançon as Magellan's companion Florence Higel (a journalist for the local paper La Sentinelle), Franz Lang as Simon's nephew Ludo and Marie de Stefano as Cordelia (the commissaire's younger daughter).
 
Commissaire Magellan crossed over twice (in 2016 and 2018) with Mongeville, another hit of the channel. Jacques Spiesser is brilliant as the debonair detective in those old school whodunnits, built according to a proven formula, which deliver what the fans like and expect. In many respects, this  heir to Les cinq dernières minutes, Navarro (a production of Jean-Luc Azoulay) or even Derrick (1) is France's answer to Midsomer Murders. In February 2021, Mongeville and Commissaire Magellan were officially axed by France 3 in spite of their healthy ratings (even in repeats). Written by Anton Voyl (2) and directed by Stéphane Kopecky (Joséphine, ange gardien),  Mortel refrain was filmed between October and November 2020 in the Département du Nord.

Mathieu Deschamps, a singer famous 15 years ago, prepares his return with a new album and a tour when he's killed in a recording studio. Commissaire Magellan and Lieutenant Berrayah investigate in the victim's entourage, starting with his wife, his stepdaughter and his producer.  It's Simon's birthday soon and Paul Gavrillac, his longtime friend, arrives at his house without warning. He's quickly followed by Barbara, Magellan's ex-wife, who didn't warn either. Both are depressed for the same reason. The plot of Mortel refrain looks like it has been done a gazillion times but at least Jacques Spiesser and his character make a proper goodbye, subtle and elegant. 
 
Series favourites Bernard Alane (Paul) and Agnès Soral (Barbara) provide the highlights of this episode with Franz Lang. The guest cast includes Anne Caillon (Demain nous appartient) as Elsa Deschamps and Jean-Pierre Michaël (Ici Tout Commence, R.I.S. Police Scientifique) as David Gordon. Also with Avy Marciano (Stéphane Larrieux), Éric Boucher (Mathieu Deschamps), Julien Crampon (Corentin), Bertille Chabert (Juliette), etc. Produced by Richard Berkowitz. Exec produced by Olivier Guedj. Jean-Marie Aumont is the production manager for JLA. Elizabeth Bonnay is the production manager for France Télévisions. Music by Frédéric Porte. Cinematography by Jonny Semeco. Commissaire Magellan is available in the U.S. and Canada on SVOD service MHz Choice under the title Magellan
 
(1) Not to mention, Les Cordier, juge et flic (naturally).   
(2) Most probably a pseudonym (a reference to La Disparition, the novel by Georges Perec). Thomas Luntz is credited as the writer in the press release which announced the filming of this episode.

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

MCDONALD & DODDS - SERIES 1, EPISODE 2: A WILDERNESS OF MIRRORS (ITV)

Created by scriptwriter Robert Murphy (DCI Banks), McDonald & Dodds is a British mystery drama set in the beautiful town of Bath — in the west of England and launched in 2020. The series is produced by Mammoth Screen (Endeavour) for ITV and Britbox.
 
McDonald & Dodds is a most pleasant take on the mismatched detective duo, where the crime-solving genius isn't in the foreground. The smart and effective DCI Lauren McDonald teams up with the unassuming DS Dodds (no first name known), a middle-aged man who dips his chips in butter and has a keen eye for details.
 
« Back home, we had a massive argument about Spotify etiquette.
- Spot...? »

Series 1 of McDonald & Dodds  consists of 2 x 90 minute episodes. The ever brilliant Jason Watkins (The Crown, The  Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies) is Dodds, alongside an excellent regular cast: Tala Gouveia (Cold Feet) as McDonald, James Murray (Cucumber, Primeval) as Chief Superintendent John Houseman and Jack Riddiford (DC Darren Craig). Pearl Chanda (DC Laura Simpson) was replaced by Lily Sacofsky (Sanditon) as DC Milena Paciorkowski in Series 2 (1). Jane Crawford, a patient of an expensive rehab clinic, is found hanged in her room. DCI McDonald rules out suicide when Sergeant Dodds notices an important detail... at the cost of a water pipe.
 
« Have you ever met anyone who's evil?
- Twice. »

The detectives meet Kelly Mulcreevy, the therapist in charge of the group which included Jane. They interrogate the remaining members: Miles Stevens, Mary Costair, Alison Speirs and Maheeda Abaasi. Lauren and Dodds must find out what is "the 13th step". Their investigation is complicated from the inside of the police station, and not only because of Houseman's management. McDonald "weaponises" the little sergeant, who knows the game of boules, the History of Bath and reads French. The likeable tandem faces a devious adversary in A Wilderness of Mirrors, thoroughly written by series creator Robert Murphy.
 
We learn a bit more on Lauren's life with her (unseen) boyfriend but also about Dodds.  McDonald & Dodds is an affectionate homage to Columbo in a superb setting reminiscent of Inspector Morse's Oxford. Of course, the guest cast of this episode is first class: Caroline Catz (Doc Martin) as Alison Speirs, Hugh Dennis (Not Going Out, Outnumbered) as George Holden, Michele Dotrice (Mary Costair), Freddie Fox (Miles Stevens), Suzanne Packer (Jane Crawford), Charlotte Ritchie (Call the Midwife) as DS Irene Ross, Joanna Scanlan (Kelly Mulcreevy) and Kiran Sonia Sawar (Murdered by my Father) as Maheeda Abaasi.

Produced by Amy Thurgood. Co-produced by Sarah Lewis. Exec produced by Preethi Mavahalli, Robert Murphy and Damien Timmer. Music by Blair Mowat (Happy!). Cinematography by Tim Palmer BSC. Editing by Andy Morrison. Titles by Liquid TV. Distributed by ITV Studios. McDonald & Dodds will premiere in Switzerland on RTS Un on Saturday, October 23rd and in France the day after. Filming of Series 3 has started this week. A Wilderness of Mirrors was helmed by Laura Scrivano.

(1) 3 x 90 minute episodes.

Friday, 24 September 2021

ARSÈNE LUPIN - SEASON 1, EPISODE 2: VICTOR DE LA BRIGADE MONDAINE (ORTF, 1971)

In the Netflix series Lupin, Omar Sy follows the steps of Arsène Lupin, the literary gentleman thief created by Maurice Leblanc (1864-1941). Amongst the previous adaptations of the author's work, the best known is Arsène Lupin (1971-1974). Starring Georges Descrières in the title role, this version remains one the most popular series in the History of French television. 

Europe in the 1920s. Charming and elegant, Arsène Lupin steals without violence. He's a master of disguise who ridicules the authorities and the best sleuths, though himself enjoys to play the detective. Particularly if a beautiful woman is involved. 

« Voler oui! Et encore, à condition de ne voler que des nantis, que des injustes ou des exploiteurs. Et d'ailleurs Lupin ne vole pas. Il rétablit l'équilibre.  »

Maurice Leblanc's iconic character first appeared in 39 short stories and 17 novels between 1905 and 1939. Several actors portrayed Arsène Lupin for the cinema, including Robert Lamoureux in 1957 and 1959. In 1960, Jean Gascon played Lupin in a 13 x 25-minute adaptation of the novel L'Aiguille creuse for Canadian TV (1). During the decade, writer and director Jacques Nahum tried to convince French state television about an Arsène Lupin series. Nahum, who adapted The Saint with the film Le Saint mène la danse (1960), actually had Simon Templar in mind but couldn't get the rights.

At the end of 1968, L'Office de Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française (ORTF) commissioned Jacques Nahum's Mars International Productions and Pathé to produce 13 one-hour episodes of Arsène Lupin with them. Theatre and movie actor Georges Descrières (of the Comédie-Française) was chosen for the role in 1969. Germany's WDR, Radio-Canada, Austria's ORF, Belgian TV, Dutch pubcaster NCRV, Italy's RAI and Swiss TV joined as co-producers. This international funding ensured classy production values and allowed Lupin to travel in Europe with his chauffeur Grognard (French Canadian actor Yvon Bouchard) (2).  

« Monsieur, dans la police on sait mourir.
- Dans la banque aussi, monsieur. Mais on est pas impatients. »

The ORTF 2nd channel aired Arsène Lupin from March to June 1971 and its reception prompted the commission of a second 13-episode season (1973-1974). The writers loosely based their scripts on Leblanc's stories to favour a lighter Arsène, like in Victor de la brigade mondaine. While Paris only has eyes for Josephine Baker, a man pretending to be Arsène Lupin robs a bank. Commissaire Guerchard, archenemy of the gentleman thief, is called on the scene but the new Préfet de police (« J'ai réfléchi, j'ai examiné, j'ai computé et j'ai la solution. ») thinks someone could get better results: Victor of the Brigade mondaine, an inspector working in Africa and whose face is unknown to everyone in Metropolitan France... even the préfet.

Except it's Arsène Lupin who arrives in Paris as Victor to expose a plan to the Préfet de police at the Eiffel Tower. He will impersonate Lupin disguised as a British burglar named Andrew Lorchester in order to catch himself! Not without making exorbitant demands to the gullible official. Later, Lorchester/Lupin meets Countess Natacha, the accomplice of a someone she believes to be Arsène Lupin. This is actually Bressacq, the man who robbed the bank. Helmed by Jean-Pierre Decourt, Victor de la brigade mondaine was penned by journalist, scriptwriter and playwright Claude Brulé (Angélique, marquise des anges, Les liaisons dangereuses).

Georges Descrières shines in a splendid tribute to les Années folles full of fabulous dialogues and numerous references (including a nod to Louis Feuillade). This second episode introduces Commissaire Guerchard (3), Arsène Lupin's nemesis, portrayed with brilliance by Roger Carel (1927-2020). His career spanned more than 60 years during which he became a reliable comedy actor for the stage, television and cinema. Most of all, Roger Carel earned a status of French national treasure in the art of dubbing. He lent his voice to Jack Lemmon, Peter Sellers, Astérix, Kermit the Frog, Benny Hill, David Suchet in Poirot, Jerry Lewis and so many others.

« Vous êtes vraiment sûr que vous êtes vous? C'est tellement incroyable»

Guerchard was for Carel an opportunity to display onscreen  the full extent of his talent in one of those serious roles he could get more easily with dubbing. Countess Natacha (« Je vous hais. ») is played by Swiss actress  Marthe Keller before La demoiselle d'Avignon (1972) made her an instant TV superstar. Then she did several Hollywood films like Marathon Man or Bobby Deerfield and pursued a long career. Bernard Lavalette, a familiar face from the théâtre de boulevard and television, is the unfortunate "Préfet of the week". Also with Pierre Massimi (Les secrets de la Mer rouge) as Bressacq, Jean Berger (4) (Ministre de l'intérieur), etc.

Repeats helped to establish Georges Descrières as the definitive Lupin for generations of viewers, although Leblanc's fans may disagree. His nonchalant charisma and his disguises make the series a special treat. Arsène Lupin's popularity also owes to the music composed by Jean-Pierre Bourtayre. The theme, arranged by José Bartel, is on a Bondian title sequence designed by Jean Fouchet for Eurocitel. L'Arsène, the sublime end title song, was composed by Bourtayre and Jacques Lanzmann for French hit singer Jacques Dutronc. Cinematography by Pierre Petit. Production designed by Lucien Aguettant with Charles Finelli.

Editing by Francine Grubert, Claude Pérol and Anne-France Marboeuf. André Deroual is the production manager. Costumes of Georges Descrières designed by Création Georges Bril. Cars provided by the Autorama museum. Last June, Nouveau Monde Éditions published in France the first 20 stories of Arsène Lupin by Maurice Leblanc in their original form (as published in the magazine Je sais tout) and with their original illustrations. A second volume with 16 more episodes followed this month. The first season of Arsène Lupin will be available in the United states and in Canada on October 5, thanks to SVOD service MHz Choice .

(1) From 1960 to 1961, stage, movie, TV and dubbing actor Michel Roux lent his distinctive voice to Arsène Lupin for the French state radio. 
(2) Yvon Bouchard is dubbed by Francis Lax in some episodes.
(3) The character was called Inspecteur Ganimard in Maurice Leblanc's work, except in the 1908 play Arsène Lupin, where he's called Guerchard
(4) Jean Berger was also a dubbing artist. He was the regular French voice of Patrick Macnee (amongst others).