The Singing Detective
A case of writer’s block (Double Dare, dir. John Mackenzie), compounded by great physical torment partly treated with psychotherapy (Moonlight on the Highway, dir. John MacTaggart).
Philip Marlow, writer of detective fiction, laid up in an NHS hospital, his childhood memories, the adventures of Phil Marlow the big-band crooner and private dick in The Singing Detective, being read by another patient in the ward.
Tune in Tomorrow...
Tune in Tomorrow... is a pure test of film criticism, in that its theme is art (a charming development of Henze’s opera, Elegy for Young Lovers) and its technique somewhat flawed. The first is loathsome to our scribes, and the last beyond their competence to discern. It leaves criticism behind in its evocation of the writer as artist, rabbi, chambermaid, surgeon, fireman, cardinal and spy.
Simply put, Amiel has not the grasp at this stage to rein in his lighting director (Robert M. Stevens, whose work on Pecker seven years later is exemplary). Your English dilettante feels that Panaglide and a full-service lighting director will do the trick, but no.
Fortunately, Amiel has some genius. He lets Peter Falk invent a combination of Max and Professor Fate hiding under bushy hair and a false mustache his uncanny resemblance to Rod Serling, and then Amiel gets this resemblance in close-up at the typewriter where Falk’s character writes radio soaps with a touch of inspiration.
Similarly, Barbara Hershey in 1951 fashions braves the apparatus to get what is required on film (standing in a phone booth at night to catch the light hitting the pom-poms on her woolen dress in just the right way).
The messianically savage script somehow or other hits upon a silly joke of one’s youth, the one about Albanians for some reason.
The Man Who Knew Too Little
The critical response is a drug on the market. We now have David Denby’s American Sucker to prove it, do we not?
A Russian doll is fitted with a charge and timer as the credits run. An American investment banker (Peter Gallagher) in London rehearses his presentation to the CEO of a German firm called Globus, whom he will be entertaining for dinner. “Diversification” for “diversity” gives him trouble.
His brother (Bill Murray) arrives from America. Murray is a naïf who works for Blockbuster Video at a rental outlet in Des Moines, Iowa. Like Jean Arthur in Billy Wilder’s A Foreign Affair, he knows where he’s from, not where he’s going.
It’s a surprise visit for his birthday, Murray’s own. The stern British customs official at the airport finally has to wave him on in after being taken to a small town in a figure of speech by the Yank. Murray embraces the Spanish maid by mistake, as she answers the door. The dinner dealings are afoot, Murray must be gotten rid of for a few hours. Gallagher lays out a small pile of quid to put him on a hot new telly series called Theatre of Life.
You play the innocent bystander in an assault case, making up your bit as best you can. It starts with a call for help to the phone box you’re standing by, across the street from the crime scene. Cameras are at the ready, you rush in and save the damsel.
Murray is agreeable, but he answers a ring before the actress’s ring, and goes on a merry goose chase involving the actual Minister of Defence, blackmail letters, a hit man, Russian assassins and a plot by British and Russian security men to revive the Cold War by exploding that Russian doll at a peace treaty banquet. He plays along, all the time thinking he’s on camera.
Even if, as the critics dutifully gave notice, The Man Who Knew Too Little actually were a one-joke affair and not a masterpiece, they didn’t get the joke, but what did you expect? Denby got taken to the cleaners, but that was unscripted, or was it?
Dr. Ludmila Kropotkin, the Russian torture expert, is a matron who reads romance novels. Being There and The Fourth Protocol are precedents. The careful restraint shown pretty much throughout (this is Britain, as the advert-encrusted phone box shows) is finally relinquished in the coda. Two company men are made to walk on all fours in a tryout for “Cats, with people.”
Connery’s resemblance to John Huston is the cream of the jest. It could be, at first blush, that the film is a craven retrenchment after the incredible failure of The Man Who Knew Too Little, and there is the further complication of a perennial misunderstanding about Jewison’s The Thomas Crown Affair, but then an Englishman would have it all a lark, perhaps to finance a new bog in the Junior Common Room, designed by Sir James Stirling, sweet charity.
Such a colloquy suggests rather the possibility that, having set himself to make a film as well as he possibly can, Amiel has obligingly done the reverse in hopes of pleasing the clientele. “We can make a bad film,” Huston would say to a contrarious producer, “costs more, but we can do it.”
Still more likely, after all, is a jest on the sort of woman who absconds with a Rembrandt.