Director: Stephen Frears
Script: Neville Smith
Cast: Albert Finney, Billie Whitelaw, Frank Finlay, Janice Rule, Carolyn Seymour, Fulton Mackey, Billy Dean, Bart King, Maureen Lipman, Wendy Richard
Running time: 85 minutes
Nightclub announcer, Bingo caller, and have-a-go comedian, Eddie Ginley (Albert Finney), is obsessed with his favourite author’s private eye heroes, and puts an ad in the local paper advertising himself as one. He, somewhat amazingly, gets a client who asks him to pick up a package from a very weighty man in a hotel room, and to check himself into another hotel and await further instructions. Said instructions turn out to be an order to use the package (a gun) to kill a young woman that a mysterious group want dead. Eddie might be a bit shifty, but he’s no killer and soon finds himself up to his neck in intrigue and people wanting to kill him.
Gumshoe is a one-of-a-kind movie, and one that is very much a product of its time. With a hero who constantly narrates his day-to-day life in the same way that his favourite author, Dashiell Hammett, might have his central characters do, and who is as irritating as his ex-wife makes him out to be, Gumshoe stands out from the crowd of modern day detective films with its rather anarchic tone and anything goes dialogue.
As with many a hard-boiled detective story, the pacing is as fast as Eddie’s quick-fire dialogue, and the plot somewhat labyrinthine, especially with Eddie’s own brother’s involvement in all the activities he’s investigating, which includes the smuggling of drugs and guns. His ex-girlfriend, Ellen (Billie Whitelaw), who’s now his brother’s wife, is also implicated, just to muddy the waters further.
As you’d expect with a film populated by the likes of Finlay, Whitelaw and Albert Finney, the acting is excellent, and the human chemistries are electric at times. And there’s lashing of humour, although some of it didn’t really work for me. I did, however, enjoy some of Eddie’s running commentaries, for example, at one point he describes the first hotel he goes to as ‘the sort of place where the Axminster tickled your knees and you wore a black tie to take a bath.’ However, at times the dialogue does become a little too ridiculous, pulling you out of the film to scratch your head in bemusement.
The soundtrack is rather sporadic – film noir music roars in during some pivotal scenes, but the rest of the time there is no music – which can take a bit of getting used to. Somewhat surprisingly the score’s composer is Andrew Lloyd Webber, who also co-wrote (with Tim Rice) the songs that bookend the film.
The film is full of thriller tropes including the way many scenes are lit, which gives rise to some great usage of shadows. Gumshoe is full of interesting characters, (including the city of Liverpool itself), colourful language (some of it racist), and situations that I’m sure never made it into the private investigator’s handbook! However, despite a generally unlikeable central character, and a somewhat ‘hit-and-miss’ plot, it kept this viewer engaged, overall, so I must award it kudos for that.
Powerhouse Films are distributing Gumshoe on Blu-ray. Special features include:
Stephen Frears on Gumshoe (16 mins) – the director talks candidly about the film from which we learn that lead actor, Finney, was shocked when the film turned out not to be a great success at the box office, and that it was a ten-week shoot. We also learn that Bernard Hermann refused to do the soundtrack as there were ‘too many close-ups’, but Frears liked working with Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Neville Smith on Gumshoe (16 mins) – the writer talks about how he was taken down to a vicarage in Arundel so that he could turn the script around really quickly. He got somewhat frustrated by the producer and director kicking a ball around outside while he was trying to concentrate!
Michael Medwin on Gumshoe (2 mins) – the producer sees the film as a witty pastiche on the works of Raymond Chandler and the like.
Charles Rees on Gumshoe (25 mins) – the editor reveals that it was director Lindsay Anderson who suggested him for the job, and he and goes on to talk about his technique for editing; editing in multiples of three frames.
Michael Seymour on Gumshoe (2.5 mins) – the production designer talks about his time on the production and how he created the bookshop interiors.
Tony Kempinski on Gumshoe (1.5 mins) – the actor reveals that he primarily did it for the cash because the daily film rate was the equivalent to his weekly theatre rate. Honest, I guess!
The Burning (32 mins) – a short film, written by Roland Starke and directed by Stephen Frears, set in Tangier during white colonial rule, in 1967. An interesting snap-shot of ‘another kind of life’. Nicely shot and put together with some good performances.