Director: Christian Marnham | Run time: 50 mins | BFI | On sale 24th July
A young woman from the suburbs (Tracy Hyde), bored by a countryside tryst, wanders off to explore her surroundings. When she meets a gnome-like stationmaster and his towering, half-witted railway-worker friend (played by Casualty’s Clive Mantle), an initially strange encounter turns sinister among the trees of a nearby orchard.
BFI releases haven’t been featured on Infernal Cinema in a while, but The Orchard End Murder is an upcoming title to be issued by their Flipside label. A short film, it packs a lot into it’s 50 minutes.
Released at UK cinemas back in February 1980, this is the first time since then that the short has been made available. It has never had a re-release, never been on any home video format and it has never been screened on television. So this dual format edition from Flipside is a bit more special than the normal releases they have put out. This really is the first time in decades anyone has laid eyes on it.
Was it worth the wait? Yes, this is one short film that takes several twists and turns, with a powerful ending. The direction of Christian Marnham is solid and the lead actors all give brilliant performances. It also feature the big screen debut of an actor that would go on to much bigger things in UK television.
The central roles, not that there are many other characters anyway, see Tracy Hyde as Pauline, Clive Mantle as Ewen and legendary comic actor Bill Wallis as the ‘gatekeeper’. Any scenes involving a combination of these three actors is worth watching. This is the first film role for Mantle, he is intense and is intimidating.
The late Rik Mayall briefly appears a policeman. This was his first time on the silver screen.
But enough about the cast, now for the feature itself. It has aged well, with it’s quaint English countryside setting and almost postcard like depiction of life. There’s the titular orchard with children happily picking apples in the sun. There’s the local men playing cricket, all hooray Henrys and having a splendid time. Plus the young lady sneaking off to see her lover, which takes the story away from it’s cheerful moorings and leads towards murder.
Once the killing happens, the plot becomes a lot more interesting. The panic of the murderer trying to conceal his crime, yet begin to lose his marbles, takes up the remaining run time. It comes in some strange directions, such as the culprit hiding the body in a shed and talking to her as if she were his girlfriend, that makes the ending all the more powerful.
Here is a look at some of the most notable extras…
The Showman (20 mins) – A short documentary by Marnham on bizarrely named Wally Shufflebottom. Wally is part of a travelling funfair and does a show where he throws knives at naked women. Marnham mainly concentrates on his ability to stand outside of his hut and lure in punters with his sales drivel. This includes girls dancing in bikini’s and Wally promising inside they won’t be “wearing a stitch of clothing”. His elderly wife sits between these women, while a Gary Glitter song blares out of a speaker. Surreal. The booklet that accompanies this release has a good article about this extra.
Christian Marnham on Orchard End Murder (37 mins) – The director talks about his beginnings in cinema, gypsies, his discovery of Wally Shufflebottom, production of Orchard as well as the real life murder that inspired him to create the story.
Tracy Hyde (11 mins) – The star speaks in a new interview about her career starting young, Melody, success in Japan, filming the murder scene and being happy to see Orchard again for the first time since it was released.