Multilingual Movies and TV

September 30, 2022

By George Bass (Contributor New York Times | The Guardian | New Scientist)

September 30th is International Translation Day, a practice many of us take for granted in our era of imported box sets and auto-generated subtitles. Before these became popular, a huge amount of international film and TV passed the English-speaking world by (or at least anyone who couldn’t tune in to BBC Knowledge). To those who like their movies to double as a tour guide, or who just enjoy seeing their heroes learning a few stock phrases, here are some of our picks:

Dad’s Army: The Lost Episodes [2019]

The members of the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard might appear parochial at first glance, but these modern day recreations of lost episodes of Dad’s Army show how tolerant Captain Mainwaring’s men can be. Originally transmitted in 1969 before being wiped to save BBC tape space, ‘Under Fire’ stars Kevin McNally, Robert Bathurst, and Kevin Eldon as Mainwaring, Wilson and Jones, who along with the rest of the company, are trying to survive a wave of German fire-bombs. They’re also interrogating a stranger who may be a saboteur. His accent sounds suspicious. He has a dog named Fritz. Should he be arrested for war crimes, or should he be listened to?

Blue Money [1984]

Between his star turn in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) and his mischievous performance as Wadsworth in Clue (1985), Tim Curry starred in this London-set caper about a taxi driver and part-time cabaret performer who finds a suitcase full of cash on his back seat. It may not sound exotic on the surface, but Curry takes us through a smorgasbord of musical impressions as he goes on the run from mobsters and the IRA. Along for the ride is Billy Connolly as Des: a psychotic (and borderline indecipherable) hitch-hiker.

Man in a Suitcase [1967]

When star of Danger Man (1960) Patrick McGoohan decided to make a spy series of his own ­– the iconic The Prisoner (1967) – many of the original crew felt there was still an appetite for tales of American secret agents battling British villains. The result was this series about disgraced US intelligence operative McGill (Richard Bradford) forced to earn a crust as a detective for hire in London. “Mac” finds himself lured into unscrupulous missions, and doling out a great deal of graphic violence for the time. If the show’s theme tune sounds familiar, Chris Evans recycled it for his ‘90s magazine programme TFI Friday.

The Tamarind Seed [1974]

Needing some R&R after a dalliance with a married man, government administrator Julie Andrews takes herself to Barbados, and meets lothario Omar Sharif. Though unattached and very much available, he’s also a Soviet attaché, and sets alarm bells ringing back in Westminster. Against an exotic backdrop, the pair must test each other to see whether their feelings are genuine, or whether they’re both being groomed by their respective superpowers. The film didn’t earn the pile that financier Sir Lew Grade hoped it might, but it was warmly received by one viewer: Queen Elizabeth II, for whom the movie was screened via a Royal Command Performance.

Heli [2013]

Before Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario (2015) unflinchingly showed us the destruction left by a Mexican drug cartel, this independent crime drama from director Amat Escalante imagined what could happen if bystanders are dragged into the conflict. Young factory worker Heli (Armando Espitia) finds a stolen brick of cocaine in his house, concealed by his sister’s boyfriend. Choosing to do the right thing and dispose of it, he becomes embroiled in a bloodbath, and must defend his family from the cartel to whom the drugs belonged and the corrupt officials who purloined them. Authentically brutal, Heli earned Escalante the Best Director gong at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.

Journey of a Lifetime [1960]

In what might be the UK’s first “structured reality” TV programme, this drama-documentary series follows newlyweds John and Ana as they explore Israel and the Holy Land, visiting Nazareth, the Dead Sea, Jerusalem, the River Jordan and beyond. Not only do they connect with their heritage (and in John’s case, question the plausibility of its stories), but they also become part of history themselves: Journey of a Lifetime was only broadcast once and in black and white, but has now been restored in colour for this HD release.

Contraband Spain [1955]

When he wasn’t starring in hit TV series The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955), Richard Greene found time to make this, a spy thriller set on the French-Spanish border. Greene plays the hardboiled FBI agent closing in on a gang of smugglers who run stolen watches into Spain – and forged dollar bills into Britain that are then laundered as bullion. Can he appease the representatives of the four affected governments and still manage to get close to the gang member who murdered an accomplice: Greene’s own brother? Or will he succumb to the relaxing majesty of Barcelona and a very sultry Anouk Aimée?

The Count of Monte Cristo [1976]

Alexandre Dumas’ epic tale of revenge has been adapted many times, perhaps most originally as a 2000 novel by Stephen Fry. But no interpretation is as swashbuckling as this version fronted by former teen idol Richard Chamberlain, and produced by ITC (effectively remaking their previous adaption from 1956). This feature-length version gave us a smouldering Edmond Dantes, and proved so popular that it was translated into Telugu for Indian audiences before sparking a raft of further classic adventure productions (including The Four Feathers and The Man in the Iron Mask).

Maigret: The Complete Series [1960]

When the BBC broadcast their adaption of the iconic Parisian detective stories, they got the best feedback they could hope for: from the author himself, Georges Simenon, who famously exclaimed “At last, I have found the perfect Maigret!” It’s true that Rupert Davies’ performance as the pipe-puffing Commissaire is easy to fall in love with; the show’s restoration last year marked over 70 years since it was last seen – and the first time it could be watched in HD. Driving a Citroen Traction Avant along cobbled Parisian streets has rarely looked so cool.

Order Dad’s Army: The Lost Episodes (2019)   

Order Blue Money (1984)

Order Man in a Suitcase (1967)

Order The Tamarind Seed (1974)

Order Heli (2013)

Order Journey of a Lifetime (1960)

Order Contraband Spain (1955)

Order The Count of Monte Cristo (1976)

Order Maigret: The Complete Series (1960)

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