Beating the January Blues

January 6, 2023

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

The first month of the year is apparently peak time for Seasonal Affective Disorder, AKA ‘Winter Blues’. January sales can take the edge off, but what overstretched consumers might need more is some empathy: wouldn’t it be nice to know that there are others out there who are down, and have found a way to pick themselves up? Many of our film & TV titles see characters beating impossible challenges. Here are nine of our favourites to help shake off the winter gloom.

Noose for a Lady [1953]

Anyone who enjoyed Wolf Rilla’s nail-biting Village of the Damned (1960), will love this more earthly tale of a looming atrocity. Released two years before the hanging of Ruth Ellis (the last woman in Britain to receive capital punishment), Noose for a Lady stars Dennis Price as a would-be detective forced to up his game when cousin Rona Anderson is sentenced to death. With a week to prove she’s not her husband’s poisoner, Price interrogates the suspect’s circle of friends, and takes his cues from vintage Poirot as he gathers those with a motive in a single room, praying that’s he’s found his culprit …

Anchor & Hope [2017]

There’s a different kind of peril in this romantic drama: one of manners. Eva (Oona Chaplin) and Kat (Natalia Tena) live carefree on their London canal boat, but struggle to come to terms with the death of their beloved ship’s cat. When Eva decides she wants to have children, a solution seems to present itself in the form of Roger (David Verdaguer), who volunteers as a surrogate father. But is he mature enough to be a parent, even if it’s just on paper? And is Kat happy to be a mum-in-waiting should the conception goes ahead?

Danger Within [1958]

An Italian PoW camp at the height of World War 2. After an escape attempt is thwarted, imprisoned Lieutenant Colonel David Baird (Richard Todd) remains determined to go ahead with a moonlight flit for his “committee”. The snag: there’s almost certainly an informant amongst them, which would explain why the sociopathic Capitano Benucci (Peter Arne) is always one step ahead of any breakout. Predating both the iconic Great Escape (1963) and cult Sean Connery thriller The Hill (1965), Danger Within is as much a whodunnit as it is a prison flick.

Widows [1983]

What do you do if you find your joint income halved, and your co-earner dead? That’s the dilemma facing Maureen O’Farrell, Ann Mitchel and Fiona Hendley when their criminal husbands are killed on the eve of a major robbery. The widows’ solution is a bold one: team up with hired gun Eva Mottley and pull off the heist themselves. Written by crime queen Lynda La Plante, this collection shows the eighth stage of the grieving process: bury your spouse, get tooled up, see how much you can add to their life insurance payout. 

A Run For Your Money [1949]

There may be a far smaller sum of money at the centre of this Ealing caper – a then-whopping £100 – but the loot is nothing compared to the allure of con artist Moira Lister, who’s looking to swindle miners Meredith Edwards and Donald Houston out of their newspaper winnings. One of the Welshmen can see straight through her; the other is besotted despite having a girlfriend back home. The trio’s misadventures take them from a rugby match at Twickenham into central London, and an encounter with Alec Guinness. But will they return to their beloved village of Hafoduwchbenceubwllymarchogcoch with true love or empty wallets?

The Mind of Mr J. G. Reeder [1969]

24 years before the late Robbie Coltrane played profiler Fitz in Cracker (1993), this detective series gave us his roaring ‘20s counterpart. Mr Reeder (played by the ever reliable Hugh Burden) is an unassuming bureaucrat who has somehow been blessed with criminal insight, able to think just like a villain – and aid in their capture. With its jazzy cartoon titles (which typically cut quickly to a gruesome murder), The Mind of J. G. Reeder offered an irresistible cocktail of crime, comedy and police procedural.

Wrong Number [1959]

How do you trace an unseen killer in the pre-digital era? That’s the dilemma facing the police in this Merton Park thriller from veteran director Vernon Sewell. A gang of thieves have robbed a mail van: one guard is dead while the other has heard the gang leader’s name spoken out loud. But so has the delightfully dotty Miss Crystal (Olive Sloane), a bystander who accidentally misdialled and connected to one of the gang’s accomplices. It now falls to the police to work out which number she hit on her rotary telephone before the thieves slip the net.

Follow Me [1972]

It’s not the film’s characters that here face insurmountable odds, but the movie itself: directed by the great Carol Reed, there were high hopes for this Mia Farrow-fronted comedy about a wife who spends long hours away from home, and the uptight husband (Michael Jayston) who suspects her of adultery. But the film underperformed on release, and was written off as a dud and denied a worthwhile restoration – until we gave it the deluxe Blu-Ray overhaul in 2019. Bond composer John Barry’s twinkling score is now the perfect accompaniment to Follow Me’s crisp shots of 50-year-old London, around which Farrow skips while pursued by macaroon-munching private eye Julian Cristoforou (Topol).

Armchair Theatre Volume 4 [1958]

This collection of the landmark ITV anthology series covers 1958 to 1966, and gives us a different trap with each episode. Susannah York is convinced she suffers from hyper-empathy; The Avengers’ Patrick Macnee and Steptoe’s Wilfrid Brambell square off in an Oscar Wilde adaption; Terry-Thomas decides his wedding day is a drag, and decides to spice it up with a murder. It seems low moods can be easily changed.

Order Noose for a Lady (1953) 

Order Anchor & Hope (2017)  

Order Danger Within (1958) 

Order Widows (1983)

Order A Run for Your Money (1949)

Order The Mind of Mr J. G. Reeder (1969)

Order Wrong Number (1959)

Order Follow Me (1972)

Order Armchair Theatre Volume 4 (1958) 

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