A star with scarcity value
ALBERT Finney is likely
to delight audiences at least as much this Christmas in Gumshoe ("AA".. Warner West End) as he did last year in "Scrooge." though in very different vein.
By good management as well as good luck. Finney has achieved that scarcity value which can be an asset to such great stars as Garbo and Hepburn. Finney seems, to have acquired it without shows of temperament or pretension. At a preview of "Gumshoe," both its producer. Michael Medwin and director. Stephen Frearc, assured me that Finney was no
difficult star, just a straightforward actor safeguarding his own independence.
One result of his scarcity value is that Finney's every film performance has been memorable: "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning," "Tom Jones," "Scrooge" and of course "Charlie Bubbles" (which he directed himself). Finney and Michael Medwin founded Memorial Enterprises to produce the kind of films they believe in. One of the first things that impressed me about -Gumshoe" was that one of the first credit titles was the single one saying "Written by Neville Smith."
Not that I had read any of his work. But director Freare told me he and Smith had worked together on the script from the outset. Hence a wholly original creation of a movie.
The idea is an appealingly nostalgic one to anybody who remembers with delight the heyday of Humphrey Bogart in such marvellous movies as "The Maltese Falcon." It succeeds at once in being a brilliantly funny evocation and, as all affectionate caricature should, in emulating the excitement as well as the fun of the original and giving it enough up-to-date touches to bring it to life.
Eddie (Finney) is a thirtyyear-old Merseyside caller in a bingo hall. Bored, and lamenting the loss of his girl-friend (Billie Whitelaw) to his odious brother (Frank Finlay) and fancying himself as a Bogarttype "private eye," for his thirty-first birthday he adver tises to that effect. To his surprise he gets a serious answer, summoning him to a hotel room where, bulging out of the armchair are the fleshy shoulder and paunch of a figure irresistibly reminiscent of Sidney Greenstreet.
The package he hands Eddie contains the picture of a girl, a fid of notes and a gun which falls disconcertingly to the floor of the bus. Failing to get rid of the gun, Eddie tilts his hat and follows a trail which takes him full speed into every byway of Liverpool and eventually Bloomsbury underworld, among such shades of Hitchcock or Graham Greene or Chandler as a seedy Scots rival, an American widow (Janice Ryle but recalling May Astor) to a Bloomsbury bookshop specialising in the occult, with calls at railway stations and public lavatories before a sensational murder with heroin.
True to tradition, the plot is too complicated to matter. But it is conducted at the right machine-gun tempo and Finney has mastered every trick of the clipped throwaway speech and the essential genial charm. "Gumshoe" isn't a film to analyse but to revel in. Go and enjoy it; and I hope it may inspire revivals of "Charlie Bubbles" which for some unaccountable reason suffered from one of those mishaps of distribution and was scarcely shown.
Secrets ("X", Curzon) represents the increasingly frequent attempts to repay, or at least acknowledge, TV's debt to the cinema. Philip Saville has long been a distinguished TV director. Now with producer John Ilanson he has launched a new process. "Super 16mm," calculated to cut time and so costs of production. It certainly also produces the most natural colour I remember seeing. The green grass of Hyde Park is especially refreshing, though the horses do seem to pass up and down the Row as often as a stage army.
"Secrets" has come in for rough handling by some of my colleagues, and Rosemary Davies' story is perhaps a rather naïve one of a husband, wife and a small daughter who go their separate ways for a day and return home supposedly refreshed by their more and less sexy encounters with strangers. But I liked the handling of the individual episodes: the child's with a Park gardener, the wife's (Jacqueline Bisset) with a mysterious Swede (Per Oscarsson) who picks her up in the Park because she reminds him of his former wife and takes her home to find out the likeness, and the husband's (Richard Powell) with a computer's young lady (Shirley Knight).
An Italian film of considerable style is Metello ("A", Cameo-Poly). The story of a young Italian trade unionist at the turn of the century is rather pedestrian, his family or love life being intermittently interrupted by military service. strikes or spells in jail. But the photography of Florence is beautiful -to watch, and the sense of place and period splendid.
Several Granada theatres round London are showing as a Christmas holiday attraction a French cartoon film, Aladdin and His Magic Lamp. Without being wildly original or inspired, it is an amusing enough pantomime to provide welcome holiday entertainment for hard-pressed parents and their very young.
At the Everyman, Hampstead, "What's New Pussycat?" will be followed on Monday 20th by the almost perfect holiday programme of "Genevieve" (with Kenneth More and the late, sorely lamented Kay Kendall) and Albert Lamorisse's lovely children's film "The Red Balloon"
One of the legitimate functions of television is of course to reproduce, million-fold the works of other media. The only trouble is that the more successful programmes are in this respect, the less we are likely to see of original television, Frequently the best programmes are what television reproduces of music, art, film
and of course, drama or literadure (leaving sport aside). I
welcome the increase of Music on I and 2 and greatly enjoyed last week's so-called Royal concert for St. Cecilia's in the presence of Princess Anne (not one of the stars, though the billing might almost suggest so). It was an occasion also because of the beautiful piano performance by John Lill and a magnificent "Ah Perfido" sung by Elizabeth Simon, replacing Heather Harper at short notice.
Gerald Scarfe made a bold attempt with his film for Omnibus to combine the real art of Hogarth with television by suggesting modern models for the great caricaturist. But I found the mixture of the famous eighteenth century caricatures with today's Covent Garden or Hogarth's Bedlam with Harley Street comment on today's permissive society pretty uncomfortable, and would
have preferred straight television reproductions of Hoga rth.
Looking around for real television programmes I lit on two modest and familiar series. University Challenge has all the fascination of a good quiz programme and roust be one of the longest surviving. Bamber Gascoigne, too, must be one of the most effective chairmen not to be replaced. I suspect the programme's appeal lies partly in the fact that most of the questions are fairly enough within middlebrow grasp to give viewers the desired illusion of participation with the young contestants.
Braden's Week too, is fairly elementary, even sometimes crude. Braden all the same has his finger on the pulse of common demands for justice, truth and sanity; and his team seems to do honest research.