The Guardian July 23, 2003


TV programs worth watching
Sun July 27 Sat August 2

The vast Amazon rain forest constitutes the lungs of our planet. In 
1992, the World Environmental Summit was held in Brazil, largely because of 
international concern about the burning of the Amazon forest.

But as Cutting Edge: Fires Of The Amazon (SBS 8.30pm Tuesday) shows, 
the fires may have been stopped (or at any rate reduced) but now an even 
greater threat looms.

The Brazilian Government's planned "Avanca Brasil" development program will 
fund the paving of half a dozen highways through the Amazon rainforest. A 
recent report in the American journal Science estimates that this will 
leave Amazonia 28  42 percent deforested by 2020, with vast additional 
areas of forest degraded.

At the same time selective logging of reserves, while leaving most of the 
trees standing, thins out the density of the forest and punches holes in 
the canopy, making the forest vulnerable to fire.

In the past, standing Amazonian forest was too damp to be flammable. But 
now, Dan Nepstad of the Institute for Amazonian Environmental Research 
estimates that in periods of drought induced by the regular weather event 
El Nino, 30 percent of the forest is vulnerable to a "really mega fire 
event".

The British Meteorological Office's Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction 
predicts that thanks to global warming, drought alone will have killed off 
most of the forest before the end of the century. What is President Bush 
doing about this threat to the American way of life?

Gregory Peck died the other day and the ABC is re-running a tribute 
program, Famous Faces: A Conversation With Gregory Peck (ABC 9.30pm 
Saturday). It is an interesting program, based around his live shows, in 
which they ran clips from his films and then Peck would come out and answer 
questions from the audience. All very relaxed and friendly.

But the ABC also has some of Peck's feature films. Instead of giving these 
an airing at a reasonable hour, however, they are running two of them in 
the wee small hours. Setting your video recorders is clearly expected.

The better of the two is on late Tuesday night The Purple Plain (ABC 
12.45am Wednesday). Made in Britain in 1954, it is a very Peck sort of 
film, in which the hero has to come to grips with his own racial prejudices 
before he can accept being in love with a Burmese girl.

He does this while struggling through the jungle to safety after crashing 
his plane during WW2. The girl is the beautiful Win Min Than, and there is 
capable support from Bernard Lee and Maurice Denham.

The second Peck film, screening late Thursday night, was also made in 
Britain in 1954. An adaptation of the story by Mark Twain, The Million 
Pound Note (ABC 1:05am Friday) sees Peck miscast: he is stiff and ill 
at ease, although to some extent this actually suits his bemused character.

Peck plays an out of work seaman given a million pounds in the form of a 
single banknote, which is his to keep provided he can contrive to live for 
a month without actually spending any of it.

Twain made it the opportunity for much satire about greed and snobbery, but 
the film aspires to be a simple romantic comedy. Mild would best describe 
it.

On Tuesday night, while you've got your video recorder on, you could do 
worse than copy Anthony Pelissier's film of H G Wells' novel The History 
Of Mr Polly (ABC 4:30am Wednesday).

Made in 1949, it has John Mills in a characteristic "northern" portrayal as 
Mr Polly, the draper's assistant who dreams of romance and poetry. He 
marries a shrew (Betty Ann Davies) and burns his shop down when attempting 
suicide.

He finally escapes and finds a safe haven in a rural inn run by a widow 
(Megs Jenkins) but must survive the onslaught of her brutish brother in law 
(Finlay Currie: "I'll do things to yer  'orrible things") before 
happiness will be his.

It's a clever adaptation (by the director) that captures the book's spirit 
rather well. Mills is excellent, as is the photography of Desmond 
Dickinson.

And while in the mood to use the video recorder, don't overlook the 1939 
film of The Mikado (ABC 4:30am Thursday). Made with some of the 
D'Oyly Carte opera company's most celebrated members in excellent form, 
this is classic Gilbert & Sullivan.

It's an excellent antidote to the poisonous versions of G&S the Australian 
Opera dishes up these days.

For a witty, observant and pungent critique of the values of George Bush 's 
USA you can't do much better than Daria (ABC 5:30pm Thursdays). 
Amongst a host of targets, it pillories the culture of "dumbing down", 
exposes the intellectual pretensions of advertising and sales executives, 
and revels in the evils of commercial sponsorship of education.

Daria, whose refusal to be sterotyped as an airhead, like the kids around 
her, makes her a "weirdo", is a delightful heroine, and the series is often 
very funny indeed.

The Big Steal (ABC 11.10pm Saturday) is a vigorous comedy thriller 
from 1949. Crisply directed by Don Siegel, from the story The Road to 
Carmichael's by Richard Wormser, it is basically a chase movie, in and 
around Mexico City.

The film was shot on location in Mexico City which gives it, as Variety so 
characteristically says, "added sight interest as well as strengthened 
melodramatics".

Unusually for the time, the script, by Gerald Drayson Adams and Geoffrey 
Homes, dives straight into the action, leaving the audience in the modern 
manner to sort out what is happening (and why) as best they can.

A relaxed and rather playful Robert Mitchum is the US Army officer accused 
of stealing an army payroll, Patric Knowles is the man he's chasing in 
order to clear himself and William Bendix is the relentless Army cop on 
Mitchum's trail.

Silent movie idol Raymond Novarro, star of the original Ben Hur and second 
only to Valentino as a screen lover, plays the astute Mexican cop.

Caught up and taken along for the ride is Jane Greer. A minor star at RKO 
at this time, Greer saw her career come to a dead stop when she refused to 
give studio boss Howard Hughes a tumble.

Multi-millionaire and notorious womaniser Hughes owned RKO so when Greer 
refused to come across he simply ordered that she be given no more work. 
Greer was under contract so she could work for no one else.

By the time her RKO contract expired she had been off-screen for so long 
her career was effectively over. More like feudalism in action than 
"capitalist free enterprise"!

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