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Case Number 22611: Small Claims Court

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The Riddle Of The Sands

VCI Home Video // 1978 // 102 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // October 26th, 2011

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge James A. Stewart doesn't want Erskine Childers anywhere near his vacation plans.

The Charge

"The last place I would have even considered for a vacation would have been the muddy shallows of the northwest coast of Germany."

The Case

Presumably also, the last things you'd put on a must-do list for a vacation would be dealing with attempts on your life and wandering about a brickworks looking for clues to German war plans, all the while turning clever phrases in first-person narration. However, you're not the hero of The Riddle of the Sands, the movie adapation of a 1903 Erskine Childers adventure novel.

Charles Carruthers (Michael York, The Three Musketeers) wasn't planning on doing those things during his leave from Britain's Foreign Service, but he got an urgent letter from his friend Arthur Davies (Simon MacCorkindale, Manimal). It seems Davies ran into a German that he somehow figured out is really British, and once the man tried to kill him, he started puzzling over it—instead of getting the heck out of there like a real-life person would do, of course. This is all taking place in 1901, before the first World War. Naturally, there's a beautiful woman involved, namely Clara (Jenny Agutter, An American Werewolf in London), the daughter of the above-mentioned not-so-German German guy (Alan Badel, Salome).

Carruthers isn't much for adventure at first; he brings way too much baggage, or rather, luggage, and he's very surprised that Davies is sailing solo on his lifeboat-turned-yacht instead of having hired a crew to do all that sailing stuff. However, Carruthers does somehow get into the spirit of adventure after a tussle with a baddie.

The Riddle of the Sands doesn't have a breakneck pace or overly elaborate action sequences. It has the more relaxed pace of an older novel, and feels very much in keeping with what you'd expect from John Buchan or Edgar Wallace. York and MacCorkindale manage to convey the plucky spirit of ordinary people caught up in a wild adventure, and the eventual plot they uncover is a little on the wild side.

Even if the novel's rather old, it has a familiar odd couple, buddy vibe to it that carries the day. Although they both can go into battle when needed, York's Carruthers is effete, while Davies is daring and rough. These things are caricatured in the script, but the actors flesh out those caricatures just enough.

The picture quality is mostly good; night scenes are muddy, and there's an occasional fleck. Sound quality is decent. There's a 1.85:1 widescreen option and a 1.33:1 option for your basic, old-fashioned TV set. A photo gallery set to music is the only extra.

The Riddle of the Sands is hokum, but it's fun hokum. I'd probably feel good if I bought it as an impulse purchase on sale, but I wouldn't go out of my way for it.

The Verdict

Not guilty, even if it's a vacation that even Anthony Bourdain would avoid.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 84

Perp Profile

Studio: VCI Home Video
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1978
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
Genres:
• Action
• Drama
• Foreign
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• Photo Gallery

Accomplices

• IMDb
• Project Gutenberg








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