Tuesday, 8 April 2008

GUMSHOE (1971)

Stephen Frears' GUMSHOE is an absolute gem. It was made the same year as that other classic British crime movie, GET CARTER, but unlike that film GUMSHOE seems to have been virtually forgotten. I saw it first at the time of its television premier and quite liked it. It turned up again as part of a season of British films a year or so ago at which time I recorded it and filed it away until now. GUMSHOE is from a very clever script by actor/writer Neville Smith (who has a cameo in the film) and tells of small-time Bingo caller and wannabe stand-up comic Eddie Ginley (Albert Finney) who is addicted to hard-boiled America detective stories by the likes of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Eddie puts as advert in the paper offering himself as a Private Investigator (no divorce work) and much to his surprise is called to a hotel where he is met by a mysterious fat man who gives him a packet containing £1000, a gun and a photo of a girl. At first Eddie thinks it is a birthday joke by his friends but he is inexorably drawn into a world of gun smugglers, drugs, kidnapping, hired killers and South African politics. The scene shifts from the mean streets of Liverpool to London and back again as Eddie unravels the mystery which leads him down some dark streets as the corpses begin to pile up. What is clever about Smith's script is that one might expect that Eddie, living in his attic flat with his collection of green Penguin crime novels, would be depicted as a loser, totally out of his depth. Eddie have dreams, live in a crummy flat and have a dead end job but he certainly isn't out of his depth. Eddie is well-read (check out his bookshelf) and the world into which he is plunged may not be the world in which he lives but it is the world of his fantasies and he knows exactly how to cope - he's been reading this stuff foe years! The dialogue fairly crackles as Eddie delivers the hard-boiled one-liners(in a knowingly bad American accent) as if born to it. Along the way he encounters a host of expert players : Billie Whitelaw, Frank Finlay, Fulton MacKay, Wendy Richard and Maureen Lipman. Lipman appears in a scene that approximates the famous bookshop scene in THE BIG SLEEP but here is played at in the famous Atlantis Bookshop near The British Museum, which, as here, specialises in occult books and was once frequented by Aleister Crowley (not to mention Dean Stockwell, who went there while researching his role in THE DUNWICH HORROR) - I was there last year with my American friend Dave. Stephen Frears has made some good movies but few, if any, better than GUMSHOE. Seek it out. Rating ****

No comments: