'Van der Valk Mysteries, Set 1'
(Barry Foster, et al / 2-Disc DVD / NR / 2009 / Acorn Media)
Overview: Commisaris Simon "Piet" van der Valk (Barry Foster, Frenzy, Smiley’s People) has the air of a man who has seen it all. And he probably has. As a detective with the Amsterdam police, his daily caseload brings him into regular contact with the seamy underside of the Dutch capital. From brothels to transvestite clubs to drug dens, Van der Valk moves in the city’s dark corners that tourists rarely see.
DVD Verdict: Weirdly, and just like the recent Wallander series were Sir Kenneth was a Swedish detective working with a crime force in Sweden, where everyon had Swedish names, ... and yet EVERYONE spoke the Queen's English, well the same happens here too! Set in the early '70s of Amsterdam, Holland, the stories unfold where Commissaris van der Valk - a drinker at work, a drinker before work, a drinker after work, gets himself involved in cases with drugs, sex and murder elements.
The six hour-long episodes star Commisaris Simon "Piet" Van Der Valk (Barry Foster) and his underling, Johnny Kroon (Michael Latimer), who, as stated above (which is great to see them crack a bottle of beer before they get a suspect brought into their offices for questioning!, solve crimes in the most laid back of manners.
The great '70s TV intro welcomes us to episode 1, 'One Herring's Not Enough,' where a sculptor/art school teacher walks in to confess killing his wife and her young lover, but there's no sign of such a crime. With an office that stinks of cramped soundstage set, and Foster not with his feet fully on the ground and running at this early stage, all is a little wooden. Slow pacing for the storyline doesn't help it either, lost of close-up facial zooming gets tiresome, but the ending twist is worth waiting for, at least!
In episode 2, 'Destroying Angel,' an unknown man living above a seedy bar is poisoned to death. Commisaris Van Der Valk considers it a woman's crime, and suspects one of the sex workers in the brothel next door. Here the plot moves faster, we get to spend more time with Van de Valk's wife, there's some excessive shot/beer drinking on duty, and the episode comes complete with a great '70s-like quote, from Van der Valk to his underling: "Kroon, baby. You're doing it all wrong!" Very Austin Powers!
In episode 3, 'Blue Notes,' a world-famous Dutch violinist returns to Amsterdam for a rare performance. Someone smashes his Stradivarius, and then he ends up dead. This is a more by-the-book caper, but the fact that even the out of town foreigners with names you couldn't pronounce on paper ALL speak the Queen's English just makes you shake your head after a while! Anyway, nicely woven together, the ending was NOT expected in the slightest!
On disc two we get episode 4, 'Elected Silence,' the daughter of a controversial right-wing journalist disappears but where's the ransom note? By now Foster has his feet under the table of the Van der Valk role and is walking around very confident in his character's shoes. Indeed, out of all the episodes here in season one, this is the one that shows his raw emotion - especially whilst in the dead girls flat.
In episode 5, 'Thicker than Water,' a well-to-do young Englishman shows up dead in an Amsterdam canal, and his powerful mother doesn't seem to care. The dead man's trail leads Van Der Valk through the city's seamiest gay, transvestite, and sado-masochistic bars. Yes, we get outside here, although the canal boat shots are all (inside) soundstage set ups! The underground scene of the swingin' '70s in Amsterdam is at full pelt here, but don't worry, we don't see anything that would make a 16 year-old blush! Great acting from the culprit, but I won't give it up who I'm talking about - you'll know, three quarters of the way through, trust me!
In the final episode, 'The Adventurer,' a fatal accident; the dead man, a Lebanese, is carrying a gun and a picture of an anonymous local stonemason. Now, as much as a) the fatal car crash couldn't/shouldn't have happened in all logic, and b) one of Britian's beloved older actors (Paul Eddington) gets an early starring role here, the episode is still mired down by too much he said she said. The story itself is so sloooooooooow too, so that doesn't help either. And, as you might have guessed, the Italian, the Dutch, the German, the French characters ALL speak fluent, Queen's English!!!!
FYI - The memorable signature tune, Eye Level, composed by Jack Trombey and played by the Simon Park Orchestra, reached number one in the UK singles charts in 1973. Also that year, Matt Monro charted with a vocal version titled "And You Smiled." These are all Full Screen Presentations (1.33:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and come with the Special Feature of:
Biography of Van der Valk creator, novelist Nicolas Freeling.