01
Sep
09

DVD Review: Manhunt – The Complete Series: Part Four

The final part of Walter Dunlop’s mammoth review of 1960′s drama Manhunt comes to an end with more shocks, surprises and double dealings from wartorn France.

Please note that this is not a review in the normal sense, much space given over to understanding a series mostly forgotten by today’s viewers. As such there are spoilers within the text, so please be careful if you don’t want to know what happens in the series.

Parts one, two and three of this review are also recommended if you haven’t yet read them.

Back again for the final stretch. It’s been a little while since the last report, and it’s simply because there’s a lot in these four episodes to process. So much happens, and I really couldn’t come to grips with it at first. I needed time to gather my thoughts.

As we rejoin the gang, there’s another escape plan in progress. Alfred Shaugnessy’s The Train May Be Late sees several of the cast regulars making their way to the coast by rail. Vincent and Adelaide are attempting to get the piece of metal they nicked during Intend To Steal out and across the English Channel.

With typical audacity, they’re doing it by travelling on a train packed with Germans. Adelaide’s the one with the responsibility for carrying the metal, and she’s doing it with characteristic elan – even accepting help from one of the soldiery as he offers to place her basket in the luggage rack for her.

Adelaide eyes the other occupants of the carriage with amused detachment, and a touch of the predator. Every time the train went through a tunnel, I kept expecting the camera to cut back and reveal one less occupant, and Adelaide sitting back with a happy burp.

Further up the carriage, Vincent is stalking the corridors. Presumably there as lookout and general aide to Adelaide in case anything goes wrong, he’s unfortunately reckoned without Manhunt’s resident chaos magnet.

Yes, several carriages up, Nina is on board. Rather sensibly Jimmy’s sitting this one out, said to be working back at the factory. A factory which, lest we forget, was bombed to oblivion last week. Presumably there’s a lot of sweeping up to do.

It’s interesting the way this episode is framed, switching between carriages. Nina and Adelaide are more or less in the same position, each having acquired a high-ranking German officer who won’t leave them alone. In Adelaide’s case, she handles it effortlessly, carrying out polite conversation (and dropping Lutzig’s name into the conversation occasionally when things get too fresh).

Predictably, Nina handles things with considerably less skill, unravelling at the seams so fast that it’s a surprise the carriage isn’t full of wool by the end of the episode. She’s got a younger officer draped over her – one who gets violently drunk as the episode wears on (presumably to stave off the boredom, or maybe it’s the only way he can stand to be anywhere near Nina. I know how he feels).

Of course, this being Manhunt, Nina’s pulchritudinous charms bring him under her spell almost immediately and he’s trying it on before the first advert break. Meanwhile, across the carriage is Spiegel, Geoffrey Whitehead making a welcome return to the series after Degrade and Rule. He’s watching with an eagle eye – in fact, he doesn’t take his eyes off Nina. But it’s all a feint on the part of the writer – he’s actually after the officer, who turns out to be a Polish escapee, making a break for it in disguise.

All of which is a hindrance to poor old Vincent, who continues to have the worst luck of anyone in television drama – as the train is boarded by Special Intelligence Officers, his slight resemblance to the description of the Pole is enough to cause him to be arrested and taken for interrogation. Poor sod.

Of course, he’s acting suspiciously because he’s been thrown into a tizz by encountering Nina again – there’s a veddy veddy British encounter in a not-veddy veddy British location, as the two reacquaint themselves in the train’s lavatory. It’s all cheek to cheek embraces and extremes of quivering, restrained emotion on Vincent’s part. Poor man – no good can come of this.

As is now traditional with Manhunt, the tension ratchets tighter and tighter, until Spiegel finally twigs that there’s something going on here. With Nina constantly flaking out and “feeling unwell” and Vincent stalking the corridors looking worried, he’d have to be a fool not to. Before too long, all of our protagonists are held at gunpoint in a single carriage by Spiegel, and it looks like the series may come to a premature end.

Thankfully, the British choose this moment to mount an air raid. In the darkness and confusion there’s another close-quarters scuffle, ended decisively by Adelaide shooting Spiegel.

Adelaide’s proven to be a total revelation as this series has progressed. Initially seeming to be a one-shot interruption to the main plotline, her Mae West-esque persona is merely the start of it – by turns flippant, steely, matronly, playful… Adelaide really does seem to be the one character who has her head screwed on. When anyone needs something done, you can be sure if she’s involved there’s a chance it might actually happen.

Here, she takes control when no-one else will, and proves to be the only thing that stops Nina and Vincent coming to a bad end. Admittedly, it’s self defence, since Spiegel’s got his sights on her as well – but even so, her level-headedness, common sense and general refusal to play the submissive downtrodden female have made her one Manhunt’s trump cards. A wonderful character.

The RAF’s timely intervention may have saved Adelaide, Vincent and Nina’s skins, but it has meant that the trainline is bombed to oblivion, and everyone has to turn back to Bordeaux. In a series of wasted efforts and futile gestures, this is merely the latest setback, and our heroes set their shoulders grimly as they head back to square one.

While we’re waiting for them to get there, the spotlight swings onto our resident scene-stealers as Gratz and Lutzig finally get an episode to themselves.

Little Man, What Next? (Part 1) sees Vincent Tilsley return for another of his forensic locked room examinations of the human psyche and it initially seems somewhat jarring – with only three episodes to go, why is the focus suddenly switched from the three leads for an entire episode?

On reflection though, this episode is absolutely necessary, as events have to be set in motion to bring about the conclusion of the series. Gratz needs to be maneuvered into a position where he is able to interact with the fugitives and Lutzig needs to show some degree of progress to keep him onside with his superiors.

As it is, he comfortably sees out another higher ranking officer this week (I think that’s his third, over the series run – there’s something to be said for keeping your head down), and ends this episode in the strongest position possible.

Barkworth, Lynch and Hayman are totally absent this week, meaning the spotlight shines firmly on the ancient and venerable firm of Hardy and Madoc. Can they shoulder the burden? What do you think? Of course they can.

We’re greeted to the remarkable sight of a trouserless Robert Hardy as the episode opens, as Gratz has been picked up for suspicious behaviour, wandering the streets with a fistful of money he can’t account for, and travel plans he can’t justify.

Lutzig – seizing the opportunity to lord it over the man who’s spent several months outthinking and outmanoeuvring him, decides to extract as much information out of Gratz while he has the chance – finally, we might find out just how much Gratz has managed to extract from Nina’s noggin.

And so begins a most elegantly choreographed dance, as each man flip-flops from interrogator to victim and back again over an engrossing fifty minutes. Apart from Madoc and Hardy, the only other named characters are Gratz’s wife Sarah and Lutzig’s superior, Zander.

Unfortunately, both show up a unique weakness in the way Manhunt is presented – when you’ve got a topline supporting cast, if any of the performers who come in for one or two episodes are anything less than perfect it really shows.

There are scenes here where Gratz is confronted by a brutally anti-semitic wife on the warpath. Having discovered exactly who her husband is sleeping with – it’s never clearly revealed whether she found out by other means, or whether Lutzig took great pleasure in telling her – Jane Jordan Rogers portrays her disgust with her husband by shouting. A lot.

What she’s shouting is horrendous, vile, nasty sentiments all the more disgusting for coming from a normal human being. Sarah isn’t some twisted evil character, she’s an ordinary woman, and these attitudes are what she’s been brought up to believe. It’s horrible, and it would be even more so were the performance a little more accomplished. As it is, it’s powerful,  just not as much as it could be.

Meanwhile, Lutzig’s confrontations with his boss are perfunctory at best, because Jack Watson’s style of acting is to alternately rattle-through-his-lines-at-breakneck-speed – his answering-the-telephone acting is a masterclass in how not to do it – or to bellow so loudly I swear you can see Madoc’s facial muscles ripple backwards under the onslaught.

After weeks of everyone underplaying, it’s a real shocker to see these two in full flight, and it’s a shame, as Hardy and Madoc…well, you can’t get better than these two, you really can’t.

Lutzig’s smugness is almost his undoing, as Zander loses patience with his methods (having threatened to force Lutzig to torture Gratz as a means of speeding him up, Zander ends up doing the job himself).

While Lutzig soliloquises to himself over a fag break – patting himself on the back before the job’s done, Gratz is taken away and has his fingers broken – all of them. While on the rack, he manages to damn all of German High Command as traitors – even under extreme duress, Gratz just can’t keep his mouth shut.

What follows next is another high point a series that’s composed almost completely of high points. Taken back to his cell, Gratz confronts Lutzig – and the sanity appears to leave Robert Hardy’s eyes completely. He switches characters, seemingly thinking that Lutzig is himself, and he is the interrogator.

Seeing an opportunity, Lutzig takes on the persona of Gratz and waits to see what happens. All of Gratz’s insecurities and thoughts about himself, about Nina, about his conduct and place in the war come tumbling out, as Gratz lays it his soul completely bare – all the while attempting to take repeated swipes at Lutzig’s head with his mutilated hands.

It’s electrifying, as Lutzig gently takes Gratz through this “confession”, admitting in character to anything Gratz wants him to, leading him through the labyrinth until everything’s out in the open and Gratz kneels at his side, a shattered husk.

Seemingly satisfied, Lutzig sits back… at which point, the spark appears to reignite in Gratz’s eyes and he switches personal pronouns and becomes himself again – revealing himself to be far more in control of events than you might think.

Even now, I’m still unsure as to whether Gratz’s sanity does actually desert him here – my initial reading was that this is the only way his mind can achieve a kind of stability after what he’s been through.

By detaching itself completely and allowing Gratz to completely humiliate himself and lay his innermost self open, it’s as if he brings himself back from the edge of insanity. Now, I’m not altogether sure that Gratz hasn’t been in there all along – still the master game player, even at this point. Whichever it is, the end result is the same – Lutzig and Gratz seal one final bargain and are now propelled into one last final search for Vincent, Jimmy and Nina.

The second part of Little Man, What Next? brings everyone together. The plotlines which have been working away for the previous twenty four weeks converge, and everyone gets the chance to shine.

With one exception.

It became obvious some weeks back the writers have run out of things for Jimmy to do, and poor old Alfred Lynch’s main plotline is more or less forgotten about as things begin to shudder to an ending. He will remain very much involved from this point on, but we never find out about his remaining time in the factory with Tony Beckley.

All of a sudden, he’s just there, as if he’s never been away. He remains sitting in the background dispensing quips and doing any legwork that’s necessary to keep the main focus of the episode on the big confrontation that’s been building up for weeks.

This is the episode where Gratz and Vincent finally come face to face, and it doesn’t disappoint. The man with bandaged hands meets the man with bandaged hands and it’s obvious that these two are closer than they’d like to admit – both determined to follow their own course, both mutilated by the SS… and both in love with the same woman.

Shame that woman is Nina, really. It’s a shame that in a series which is blessed with two very strong, very likeable female characters (Adelaide and Francine) and many other powerful supporting turns, that Nina’s the dominant one.

I wish, I really wish, that I could find a spark of sympathy for her. Unfortunately, her character is almost totally without redeeming features. Selfish, devious, manipulative, a ruthless streak a mile wide and a total indifference to anything that doesn’t directly involve Nina, there have been moments in this series where I’ve wondered if Vincent wasn’t right on the money with his initial analysis of the situation.

Maybe they’d all have been better off shooting her in episode one, especially given the swathe of destruction she leaves behind. I’d feel a lot better about her if she showed any sign of remorse – but there’s nothing. Not one jot. Which makes what happens all the harder to take.

Gratz appears to be back to his old tricks, playing both ends against the middle and somehow ends up in the lion’s den. Having endured a remarkable first confrontation that ends up with Vincent hammering his broken fingers and triggering off a hallucination that ends with Nina breaking his fingers all over again (fingers, yes – but it’s the lower part of the anatomy that she removes completely and throws away), Gratz comes to and finds himself surrounded by Vincent, Jimmy and Typhoid Mary.

Even from a position of powerless, he radiates confidence, and is soon back on top, negotiating a route back to England for the terrible trio – and leaving a possible escape route out of the war for himself (I’ve never, ever been able to understand Gratz’s motivation, and I feel it’s hampered my understanding of Manhunt somewhat – even at this late stage, I can’t read him. Not one bit. I can only assume that many of his actions are coloured by some lingering sense of affection for Nina, even long after she’s made it plain that its not reciprocated).

In the course of setting this up, he attempts to lead Lutzig away from the trail – and instead, leads him straight to Nina and Jimmy, who have gone to Adelaide for help. This leads to a hold-your-breath moment – with Lutzig talking to Adelaide in the living room, Gratz goes prowling, and stumbles on Nina and Jimmy, hiding in the bathroom.

Will he give them away? It’s touch and go for a moment, but all roads eventually lead back to the safehouse that’s acting as temporary HQ, and a touching reunion for Nina and Vincent.

Jimmy’s been sent off to play marbles for a few moments, which gives our male and female leads the chance to finally declare their feelings properly. The scales fall from Nina’s eyes at last. They greet each other as if it’s the first time they’ve ever met (“Hello, Nina”. “Hello, Vincent”).

Everything seems set for a happy ending, but all is not as it seems, for Vincent’s seen his future, and there isn’t much of it. He sends Nina out to join Jimmy, and the stage is set for one final confrontation.

I truly believe that if Gratz hadn’t overheard Nina and Vincent’s final declaration of devotion, there’d have been a chance for Vincent to survive. I also believe that Vincent knew that, from the moment the words left his mouth.

Unfortunately, Gratz is the sort of man who can’t stand the idea that the other man wouldn’t be as miserable as he was (believe me, he would have been. Give it a few weeks, and Vincent would be clawing at the walls to get out).

In the end, only one person can walk out of that room, and Gratz shoots Vincent in the midst of yet another dirty, vicious scuffle. I’d love to tell you what happens immediately after that, but there was something in my eye that was obscuring my vision.

Vincent became a character I absolutely fell for. Confused, yes. Inclined to rash action, certainly. But possessed of a nobility, a strong moral centre and a vulnerability that couldn’t help but get you on his side. He – and at this point I’ll repeat the spoiler warning at the start of this piece if you don’t want to know what happens next, you have been warned – dies in the end, for a love that was never meant to be in the first place, and he never even knows if it was worth it.

As a result, Jimmy gets the single finest line in the entire 26 episodes, as outside in the car a gunshot is heard. Nina immediately flies off the handle, despite not knowing who’s been shot and who’s survived. She struggles to get out of the car and go back in, and with the elan that Jimmy has displayed throughout the series, he smacks her one and knocks her out. “Whichever one it was, you were the one who pulled the trigger”, he mutters as he drives off with an unconscious Nina beside him. Amen to that, Jimmy boy. Amen to that.

And so, we reach the series conclusion. The episode title should give a few pointers to the content. Exactly six months after we first met them, The Losers finds Nina and Jimmy making for the coast one last time. Lutzig’s hot on their tail, and it really does seem to be the end. Or is it?

There’s one last roll of the dice. The head of the Paris Resistance turns up again – Raoul, which means that we are able to welcome back John Savident and his own peculiar brand of gravitas to Manhunt. Also back for a final lap of honour is Stefan, the serving boy in the restaurant used by the resistance. He’s provided memorable support for everyone else over 26 episodes, so it seems only right to credit Christian Rodska for his sterling work.

With these two on their side, surely things will finally start to go right?

Don’t you believe it. The final episode builds into a convoluted chase involving the gang masquerading as a wedding party (Jimmy looking fearfully uncomfortable in a penguin suit, Nina looking altogether too happy to be in a wedding dress), several roadblocks and an eventual rendezvous at the Coast.

Yes, they finally make it. No, it doesn’t end well.

Their boat awaits, and all seems to be running smoothly – in one final terrible twist of the knife, it’s an ambush. Nina and Jimmy get away. Raoul and Stefan are gunned down, running interference. Adelaide makes a run for the getaway boat, and almost makes it, but is shot in the back and collapses onto the beach. And we fade to black.

The next morning, Lutzig can be seen turning over corpses on the beach, including Adelaide. His lover, lest we forget. It’s an awful way for someone so full of life to breath her last, but that’s Manhunt.

Back in the early part of the Season, Nina tells Vincent the story of the Frog and The Scorpion, which at the time seems a clear warning from her to Vincent about her own nature. It can just as easily be applied to these two – he may have been fond of her, but in the final analysis Lutzig’s a killer and Adelaide… is just another body.

Later, back in England. Nina finally finishes her debriefing. After six months of death and horror, she’s finally made it, and is free to deliver her vital information. But in six months, the war has moved on. People die, faces change. And she’s been carrying round a head full of useless information. It’s all been for nothing. She steps out into the street, ready for her new life.

Meanwhile, Jimmy’s in the pub. At long last free to grow his moustache again, he’s holding forth. Promoted upwards to a cushy deskjob which he doesn’t actually want, he’s not happy. Neither are any of the chaps he’s with, all of whom appear bored rigid by him and desperate to get away.

At least one of them should listen more closely. Jimmy’s friend Eddie is played by a certain Mr Paul Darrow. As a man who will shortly become famous playing a character intimately familiar with the phrase “pointless sacrifice”, old Avon could have gained some valuable pointers.

Nina walks in, and there’s a final twist of the knife. Despite all that they’ve gone through together, she snubs Jimmy, striking up conversation with a handsome American airman. The only reason they know each other at all is because of a chance encounter in France and for Nina, that’s not enough. They part coldly, strangers once more.

And then, with a final flourish of Beethoven on the credits, it’s all over. Vincent, Adelaide, Raoul, Stefan, Anton, Allard and a cast of hundreds of extras are all dead. Lutzig continues in the SS, Gratz is free to start a new life (may he rejoin Sarah again, that couple deserve each other, if only to protect anyone else from getting emotionally entangled). It’s all been for nothing.

But it’s not as simple as that. If nothing else, Manhunt shows you the nobility of the poor sods who struggled against overwhelming odds in World War II. It shows you the little victories. It confronts you with difficult dilemmas, and then doesn’t provide you with a pat answer or a quick resolution.

Most of all though, it shows you just what can be achieved with a dedicated production team, and a cast of quite brilliant actors, giving their all in the name of a series that they quite obviously care about.

Is this the finest show that ITV have ever produced? I think it might very well be. Right now, it stands as a massive tribute to the talents of all concerned. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Go buy. Watch. Fall in love.

But prepare to have your heart broken.

Walter Dunlop

Thanks to Walter for taking the time to both watch and write about this brilliant series.

Manhunt is available now from Network DVD.


3 Responses to “DVD Review: Manhunt – The Complete Series: Part Four”


  1. November 3, 2009 at 12:37 am

    I’ve never known a TV drama series to be so scrupulously and intelligently reviewed as Walter Dunlop’s masterly overview of Manhunt.

    I wrote five of the episodes, a oner and two doubles – “A Sort of Love”,then “Little Man What Next?” and “Little Man, Big Gun” – and of all the 100+ TV drama scripts I wrote in 20 years, I can’t think of anything that satisfied me more. The relationship between Gratz and Lutzig was perhaps the most powerful of the lot, and though I worked with a lot of fine actors over those years, the Robert Hardy/Philip Madoc relationship was top.

    It’s been a real treat to watch it after all these years, and when Walter Dunlop asks the question, of himself and everyone else, was Manhunt the best TV drama ever? – well, I’ve never been grasped so deeply by any other.

    Let me add that of all the drama producers I worked with in those years, some were ok, some good, some very good – and then there was Rex Firkin. I didn’t just admire him, I loved him, and when I remember him, I still do. Thank you, Rex.

    Vincent

  2. November 3, 2009 at 9:46 am

    Hi Vincent,

    Thanks so much for your response to Walter’s epic Manhunt review/overview, I know it was a labour of love for him.

    I too loved the series when I watched it earlier this year and found it frustrating that I couldn’t discuss its stunning twists, turns, cliffhangers, character developments, themes and sheer quality of the series with friends in much detail as they hadn’t seen or heard of it.

    I still wonder how audiences at the time reacted to having main characters vanish for weeks on end before returning with new stories to be told and found it refreshing that the writers were brave enough to try new things with the potentially tired espionage/war thriller format.

    After viewing the series and trying to find out more on the internet I realised it was sadly neglected by TV scholars, which is when I turned to Walter to offer his services – I’ve passed your comments on to him.

    Thanks again for taking the time to read these articles and, of course, for providing such entertaining scripts which still work 40 years later, putting much of today’s television output to shame.

    Regards,

    Jonathan

  3. 3 Walter Dunlop
    November 3, 2009 at 10:52 am

    Dear Vincent,

    It was nothing but a pleasure to write this review, and it’s an even bigger pleasure to have you comment on it. Thank you very much indeed.

    Some months after concluding my initial viewing of Manhunt, it still resonates. I find myself coming back to it repeatedly, wondering if we’ll ever see anything comparable to it again. I mentioned somewhere in my review that I’ve long felt that ITV used to have a real knack for producing quality, populist drama that refused to patronise the viewer – stuff that didn’t just entertain for the fifty minutes or so it was on screen and had a tendency to haunt the mind long afterwards. I see no reason to change my opinion now, and I do lament the loss. British television is all the poorer for the shift in thinking to “let’s make ‘em like blockbuster movies…” – there’s absolutely no shame in simply pointing a camera at several actors, giving them a humdinging script to work with and letting them go. There’s no substitute for a dedicated team of television professionals, all pointing in the same direction and giving it their absolute best.

    Manhunt’s a prime example of television made with love and care, and much of that is down to you, Sir. The episodes you wrote – along with the ones by Roy Clarke and Arden Winch – were the ones that stood out for me above the rest of the series, in that they seemed to kick the series a little further along a path I never expected it to go. I still can’t fathom Gratz out at all – perhaps I never was meant to – it’s interesting how someone who initially appears to be a single episode character can end up driving an entire series.

    As Jon says, it shows what can be done with even the most seemingly tired of formats, if someone is but willing to see how much further they can go. I thank you for your contributions to British television over the years, and I’m so chuffed that you enjoyed my work on reviewing Manhunt. Thank you so much.


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