Acorn Media // 1997 // 990 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // September 24th, 2011
"So you do suspect some naughtiness?"
John Nettles recently left Midsomer Murders, where he had been playing Inspector Tom Barnaby since 1997. While Acorn Media's releases will take a while to catch up to his departure, Acorn has released Midsomer Murders: Barnaby's Top 10, a farewell collection of Nettles' favorite episodes from early seasons, with introductions. Some of these episodes appeared on A&E.
Midsomer Murders: Barnaby's Top 10 contains well over forty deaths (a couple are even natural causes) in ten movie-length mysteries, each on its own disc:
* "The Killings at Badger's Drift" -- The first-ever Midsomer Murders finds Inspector Barnaby looking for a flower that could hold the key to the murder of a retired schoolteacher. Emily Mortimer (Match Point), whose father penned the long-running Rumpole of the Bailey, and Selina Cadell (Doc Martin) are among the cast of suspects in the story adapted from the Caroline Graham novel. "This must be the first police search organized for a flower."
* "Blue Herrings" -- Barnaby takes a vacation to paint his new home, but soon finds himself investigating deaths and burglary at the nursing home where his Aunt Alice is recuperating from an illness. "There seem to have been a lot of sudden deaths at Lawnside lately."
* "A Worm in the Bud" -- A young girl and boy who found a woman dying in Setwale Wood take an interest in Barnaby's investigation. Soon, a body outline in flowers ominously shows up on a lawn. Wendy Craig (Butterflies) guests. "May we see some detecting?"
* "Dark Autumn" -- A postman who's been ringing more than twice is stamped out, with more murders following. Witnesses said they heard music around the times of the killings. Robert Glenister (Hustle) guests. "Why does everyone in the village seem to be...at it?"
* "Dead Man's Eleven" -- With a cricket bat turning out to be deadly as a murder weapon, Barnaby doesn't even want to visit Fletcher's Cross, but his wife Joyce wants to move there. Terence Rigby (The Beiderbecke Affair) guests. "Every time I go into any Midsomer village, it's always the same thing -- blackmail, sexual deviancy, suicide, and murder."
* "Death of a Hollow Man" -- Joyce has a bit part in a local play, so naturally there's a death onstage, as a prop knife turns out to be real and an actor slits his own throat without realizing it. Caroline Graham adapted the script from her own novel. "You've got a wide field. The man was a heartless shit."
* "The Electric Vendetta" -- The author of Close Encounters of the Midsomer Kind proves a nuisance for Barnaby as he investigates a series of murders that look otherworldly. "How are you going to arrest an extraterrestrial?"
* "Murder on St. Malley's Day" -- Barnaby and Joyce are visiting Devington School with friends on the day of the annual foot race. Naturally, one of the boys comes back bleeding to death. "The eyes and ears of Devington School are everywhere in this village."
* "A Talent for Life" -- An widow (Honor Blackman, The Avengers) who enjoys fast driving and champagne picnics has a lucky windfall just before her bloody beating death. Weighted fishing lures find their way into the plot somehow. "The village has lost quite a character in Isabel."
* "Strangler's Wood" -- A wife (Phyllis Logan, Lovejoy) suspects her husband of killing a cigarette spokesmodel. The latest string of murders interferes with Barnaby's attempts to bond with his daughter Cully. "Carla the girl. Carla the cigarette. Kill the one, and you probably kill the other."
You might have trouble watching any detective series after hearing John Nettles talk about Midsomer Murders; I had a few chuckles while watching the season premiere of Hawaii Five-O after hearing his comments. While he has warm reminiscences about actors he's worked with and the hard work of series extras, Nettles is irreverent. He's fond of pointing out plot holes, including a murder that Barnaby didn't bother to explain, as he jokes about the general "lunacy" of the series. Some of the themes are familiar from his commentaries elsewhere, but Nettles is still a most engaging host.
I haven't seen the first seasons of Midsomer before, but the episodes probably are the best -- or at least the most unusual -- of the early seasons. My favorite was "Dark Autumn," which had the particularly memorable gimmick of having the killer bring along his own theme music. Beyond that, "Dead Man's Eleven" ends on a particularly creepy note, and Honor Blackman's widow in "A Talent for Life" may remind viewers of her widow in The Avengers. Viewers could also be amused by the fact that the girl in "A Worm in the Bud" seems to be doing as well as Barnaby in solving the mystery or the irony underlying "Strangler's Wood."
The must in the collection, however, is "The Killings at Badger's Drift." It starts on a gentle, peaceful note, with a schoolteacher on a bicycle riding through the village, past the "Badger's Drift: Midsomer's Best Kept Village" sign. The mood changes, as expected, when she heads into the woods to capture an unusual orchid in a photo. She hears a groan. When she sees what's happening, she rushes home to make a phone call. Soon, there's a knock at the door, and the schoolteacher is dead. The body count gets up to seven (although only five are murders), and the movie is full of odd notes: bees being told of their keeper's death, a sandwich tray that viewers will come to associate with sinister doings, and that search for the orchid. The performances are broadly hammy, as they still are on Midsomer. Here, Barnaby isn't just his normal singleminded self; he has a strange nightmare as he pieces together the case details.
These are early Midsomer movies, so it's not hi-def. The picture looks good, but it's 1.78:1, and I don't think those were the original dimensions back in 1997. I didn't notice anything obviously cut off, though.
You might want to watch John Nettles' intros after watching the mysteries, since he's often giving away solutions or other plot details.
You also should realize that this isn't family fare. Barnaby always at least finds an adulterer, and incest is involved in one of the cases. There's a lot of blood, and some nudity.
While I enjoyed John Nettles' comments, I wouldn't double-dip for them. Instead, Barnaby's Top 10 provides a crash course in the early seasons for newcomers to the series, something that might be better than buying the whole early season sets. It also provides a good selection for anyone who has watched Midsomer on television and wants to skip to its oddest moments on DVD.
Not guilty, although there's lots of naughtiness.
Review content copyright © 2011 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 990 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Introductions