Acorn Media // 1993 // 357 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // May 18th, 2011
"I love you, Ben. You're suspicious of everyone." -- Maggie
John Mortimer's name is familiar, so much so that the people doing the title credits for Under the Hammer let it linger on the screen longer than the show's title. If you don't remember Mortimer's name, you probably remember Horace Rumpole, the British barrister he wrote into existence. Ben Glazier (Richard Wilson, Merlin), an art expert working for Klinsky's auction house and pining after colleague Maggie Perown (Jan Francis, Anne of Green Gables), appeared in 1993, just after Rumpole of the Bailey departed ITV.
Like Rumpole, it features a legendary character who doesn't quite fit into a clubby, politicky setting despite his expert knowledge of the world and his job -- and manages to solve a few mysteries. With a motorcycle riding art expert protagonist who gives chase now and again and has an awkward friendship with a woman committed elsewhere, it could also remind you of Lovejoy.
Under the Hammer has seven episodes on two discs:
* "The Fatal Attribution"
Ben and Maggie investigate the authenticity of a painting brought in by a woman on a bicycle. John Gielgud (Arthur) appears.
* "Wonders of the Deep"
A robbery leads Ben to investigate the possibility that Klinsky's is selling wine with false labels. Ian Carmichael (The Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries) plays a wine lover with a Puritan wife.
* "The Virgin of Vitebsk"
Where is the legendary icon? Ben and Maggie travel to Moscow to find it. There, Ben runs into an old friend and Maggie befriends their guide.
* "The Jolly Joker"
As Klinsky's organizes a charity auction, Ben and Maggie investigate when someone spots a very new hybrid plant in a painting by a dead artist.
* "After Titian"
Stress proves to be a killer for a man who's concerned about the tactics at Klinsky's New York branch, and Ben soon becomes concerned, especially when asked to lie about an appraisal. Ben and Maggie meet "the old man," Klinsky himself.
* "The Spectre of the Feast"
To investigate a possible Rubens, Ben, Maggie, and Nick visit a lecherous MP (Martin Clunes, Doc Martin). Ben, snooping, finds a lost Dickens story, but it's lost again when it's stolen from his bedroom as he sleeps.
* "Treasure Trove"
Nick decides "the stock needs renewing," so he proposes to Maggie. While she's deciding, the boss is looking for a replacement. Meanwhile, a Venus is brought in, and Ben takes a leave to write a book.
He may wear a motorcycle jacket, but Ben Glazier is more Rumpole than Lovejoy. Ben doesn't fit into the upper-class atmosphere of Klinsky's, but he's not an outsider; he enjoys the comforts -- whether they be a brand-new motorcycle or a cocoon filled with art and music -- that working at an auction house provides. Thus, he prefers a workplace like Klimsky's, even if he's not quite a part of it. He also shares Rumpole's detestation of pretension and natural curiosity, which puts him in conflict with his colleagues.
Ben's affection for Maggie seems like a gag when he's trading barbs with Nick the "cad," but the mutual relationship of the two colleagues comes through in small ways. Ben remembers Maggie's birthday, while her boyfriend Nick can't be bothered, and they're usually of one mind when pursuing the questions that form the mystery part of the story. They also enjoy going out together now and again, and look like a couple when they do slow turns around the dance floor -- and Maggie has her own helmet when getting a lift on Ben's motorcycle. Maggie, for her part, isn't quite settled on Ben or Nick, preferring her work to married life, a point brought directly into the final episode as she weighs Nick's proposal. In the end, Ben and Maggie are only friends, but they're friends who you know will grow old together.
Although there's always a mystery, Under the Hammer pays more attention to the goings on at the auction house. You know, things like what happens when the boss' wife and mistress finally get together. Viewers could close their eyes and mistake this for Chambers.
The picture and sound quality are good. The only extra is a text bio on John Mortimer.
Richard Wilson is good, but he's simply not Leo McKern. Under the Hammer often feels like a retread of John Mortimer's big success, even if it's a relatively good one.
While Under the Hammer is familiar stuff, Richard Wilson and Jan Francis work together well as Ben and Maggie. Fans of John Mortimer and Rumpole of the Bailey will likely enjoy it if they do check it out. Still, this time around, Mortimer didn't come up with an enduring classic.
John Mortimer's writing expertise gets a not guilty verdict once again.
Review content copyright © 2011 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 357 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Not Rated