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John Francis Dillon
Ginley (Albert Finney) is a nightclub bingo caller eager for a career change. On his thirty-first birthday, he advertises himself as a private eye in the newspaper. He dons a trench coat, and begins engaging others in rapid-fire dialogue as if he were Humphrey Bogart, or some Dashiell Hammett creation. Soon after, Ginley is phoned by a fat man, who gives him a package containing a gun, a photograph, and a large sum of money. Eventually Ginley is investigating a case involving smuggling of weapons as well as drugs. Ginley also finds himself at odds with his unsupportive brother, who offers Ginley payment to break off his investigations. Eventually Ginley learns of his brother-in-law's involvement in the crimes at hand. Ginley faces a series of daunting tasks: solving the crimes, bringing justice to the smugglers (and a murderer), as well as maintaining his safety and sanity in the process. Written by
Produced early in Stephen Frears's nearly forty-year career, "Gumshoe" is an affectionate take on the Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler film adaptations that were popular in the 1940's. The movie is great fun, and Bogie aficionados will be especially pleased, if they can decipher the often-impenetrable British accents. Like "The Big Sleep" and other films of the private-eye genre, the plot is a series of seemingly unconnected events that, in this case, almost literally come together at the denouement. The smart banter between Bogart and Bacall echoes in the breathless quips that Albert Finney and Billie Whitelaw trade in some of the film's best moments. A Sydney Greenstreet wannabe is known simply as the fat man, and a dangerous beauty in the persona of Janice Rule is the requisite duplicitous fatale.
As handsome as he was in "Two for the Road" a few years earlier, Finney appears to be having fun as Eddie Ginley, an English Sam Spade. He has the appropriately rumpled demeanor and looks good in a trench coat. His deadpan film-noir-style narration enhances the 1940's feel, although, despite the gritty color, the film cries out for the velvety light and shadows of black-and-white photography. Short, entertaining, and well made on all counts, "Gumshoe" is a minor gem that merits more attention. The film predates "Prick Up Your Ears" and "My Beautiful Laundrette," the director's two breakout films from the mid-1980s, and, after the success of "The Queen" in 2006, viewers owe themselves the pleasure of discovering the talent on display in Stephen Frears's early efforts.
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