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  Gumshoe Mystery Man
Year: 1971
Director: Stephen Frears
Stars: Albert Finney, Billie Whitelaw, Frank Finlay, Janice Rule, Carolyn Seymour, Fulton Mackay, George Innes, George Silver, Bill Dean, Wendy Richard, Maureen Lipman, Neville Smith, Oscar James, Joe Kenyon, Bert King, Christopher Cunningham, Ken Jones
Genre: Comedy, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Eddie Ginley (Albert Finney) is a Liverpudlian bingo caller who dreams of better things for himself, or more romantic things at least. He may be delusional, but he is aware of the unrealistic nature of his ambitions, as he outlines to his psychiatrist, who he has been visiting for about a year. The shrink doesn't know how to help him by this time as their chat proves, but today is Eddie's 31st birthday and to celebrate he's placed an advertisement in the local newspaper. He is promoting himself as a private detective - "gumshoe" it says - just like in the classic crime fiction he loves to read, but he's still surprised when he receives a call from a would-be client...

The United Kingdom has had a love affair with the United States for decades, and as there was little demand for a British western (it had been tried before and wasn't really successful) scriptwriter Neville Smith fashioned a hardboiled murder mystery not unlike the kind that Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe would have encountered. Only this time, the setting was Liverpool and London in the early seventies, and a very dingy atmosphere replaced the glamour of Humphrey Bogart movies as Eddie negotiated his way through the double crosses.

He does prove himself to be worthy of his aspirations by the end, but before he reached it there was a convoluted tale of gun running, drug deals and kidnapping to contend with, not to mention a murder or two. This was Stephen Frears' first feature length film, and you can see from it why he was much in demand on television projects throughout the 1970s as this could have fit comfortably into a Play for Today slot on the BBC with a little editing down. The sense of place is vivid in the recent kitchen sink tradition of the decade just gone, but there's a snap to the production that makes it stand out.

Along with that, there's a nice evocation of the working men's clubs of the day as we see Eddie in his natural habitat as bingo caller with hopes to be a stand up comedian (actually his hopes are to play Las Vegas, yet even he knows this will never happen). We even get to see glimpses of the other acts like the magician and jazz band, all with a downbeat glitz that suits the film perfectly. Eddie's boss is the longsuffering Tommy (Bill Dean), and in a nice detail, one of many, his office is plastered with photographs of himself along with various American celebrities, none of which are remotely convincing.

But to the plot, which stays close to the private eye formula, and Eddie is sent for to the Plaza Hotel by a mysterious fat man (with deliberate shades of Sydney Greenstreet) who offers him a package wrapped in brown paper. Eddie opens it on the bus, and finds three things inside: a photograph of a student, Alison (Carolyn Seymour), a wad of cash, and a loaded gun. Now he knows this is serious, but when was the last time Eddie took anything seriously? Add to that a femme fatale in the shape of his sister-in-law Ellen (Billie Whitelaw), his businessman brother William (Frank Finlay) who makes no bones about his loathing for Eddie, and a few heavies including Fulton Mackay, and the stage is set for intrigue. The good one liners dry up after a while, and the casual racism nettles nowadays, but as far as a tribute that takes its idea and runs with it, Gumshoe is worth seeing for Finney at somewhere near his best. Emphatic music by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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