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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
"Listen little lady, you and I better go for a walk..."
Stephen Frears was the ideal choice to direct this quirky little gem. His first film before a prestigious career in television and then in Hollywood shows off his sensitivity, compassion and efficency as a film maker beautifully. Albert Finney gives an astounding performance as our hero, Eddie Ginley, whose life on the surface is far from glamorous. An unemployed Liverpudlian who gets by as a bingo caller and wannabe comic, he is loved by everyone except his repulsive brother William (Frank Finlay) and has recently had to suffer his girlfriend (Billie Whitelaw) leaving him and marrying the sinister William. Eddie however has a boyish love for film noir, the stories of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, and the music of Elvis. When he decides to advertise his services as a private detective, he finds himself up to his neck in murder, drug dealing and South African politics! Finney manages both a weathered Scouse accent and a remarkable impression of Bogart incredibly. He is a lovable character, excellently written and played, who could have sustained a whole series of films. Billie Whitelaw is the Lauren Bacall style femme fatale, and the outsanding Janice Rule the seductive villainess. A fine array of British character actors like Bill Dean, Fulton Mackay and George Innes sprinkle the whole film with colour and eccentricity. The in-jokes for fans of Bogart films are spot-on but anyone can enjoy this film, with some superb one liners and very touching moments. But the whole film is stolen fair and square by the soundtrack, courtesy of Andrew Lloyd Webber of all people! From fifties style rockers, to pensive strings to huge, grandiose thirties style epic themes, the score is a delight. The finest moment is suely Eddie's outwitting of the irreplaceable Fulton MacKay on a tube train. Writer Neville Smith (who plays a small role) showed a less humourous approach to a loner's hero worship of his idols in his 1979 tv play Long Distance Information, in which he played the lead character, Christian, an Elvis obsessed DJ who is working on the night of the King's death. Gumshoe is not really a comedy though, but a pastiche, affectionate and observant. It does have it's dark moments though, including a heroin suicide and a couple of moments of violence. And like any good Raymond Chandler, the plot is unbelievably complicated and the least important element!
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