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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I've seen this 1984 Joan Hickson version several times over the years, and I always like it, which is why I give it an "excellent" 10-level rating.
But last night on seeing it again, it struck me: how can it be that the "rock solid" alibi for several characters is that they were in the presence of the murder victim, with many other witnesses seeing all of them together, while the victim was alive? An alibi has to apply to the period of time during which the victim was killed, not earlier, while everyone knew the victim was alive.
Yet this is how the alibi for the eventual killers is described several times by the police.
The real way the alibi worked is that the killers were seen in the presence of the victim while the victim was alive, and then remained in public, visible to many witnesses, continuously for at least an hour after the victim left everyone's presence, right up to and beyond the very latest time that the police later state is the latest moment that the victim (being elsewhere) could have been killed.
Think about this strategy for a moment from the viewpoint of the killers, in planning their murder. They have to get a double, whom they will dress-up to impersonate the victim, and kill the double early enough in the day that when the police find the body and do their estimate of the time-of-death, the latest time-of-death the police will come up with happens to be within the window of time after the real victim leaves public view but while the killers are still in public view. But they also have to wait long enough before killing the double that the moment of the latest time-of-death is after the victim has left public view of the witnesses. That's cutting it pretty fine, and requires the killers to have a very good idea of how the police go about determining a victim's latest time-of-death.
They also have to gamble that one of them will be called to view the body and make the identification (calling the substitute the real victim) and that no one else will be called on to make an identification. Otherwise, the substitution trick fails, and with it, so too fails the determination by the police of the latest time-of-death.
One other interesting point: the killers planned to frame the film-studio man for the murder, leaving the body of the "double" at his house. He foils this temporarily by moving the body to the Bantry home - home of the rich squire of the county. Inadvertently, this saved him from the frame-up -- because it brought in and focused the excellent detectives on this case. It brought in not only Miss Marple, as friend to the Bantrys, but also the regional police Chief, because he was a neighbor to the Bantrys, and because the Chief would give special attention to anything affecting the Squire. Moving the body anywhere else, or leaving it in his own home, would have left the film-studio man at the mercy of the bone-headed detective who fell for the frame-up, because Marple would not have become involved and the Chief would not have given the case so much attention.
Thus the film-man's moving the body to the Squire's house proved to be a disaster for the killers, because it brought in a swarm of detectives along with Miss Marple, all looking to find the killers. The killers certainly never expected that.
The inadvertent lesson for us: if you want a murder to get solved, drag innocent rich people into it -- they'll have the money and insider connections to bring vast resources to bear on finding the real killer, not so much to pursue justice, but to clear their own names.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Spoilers ahead! This episode skillfully interweaves 4 mysteries: 1)
German spy lands from submarine -- who and how? 2) items looted from
blitzed houses -- who and where is loot hidden? 3) man found shot on
beach -- suicide or murder? 4) obnoxious rich American has mysterious
British aide -- political games afoot?
A nice thing about the script for this episode is that the supporting characters, Milner and Sam, are not merely errand-runners and "foils" who make the detective voice his thinking aloud. In this episode, each contributes original insights that Foyle did NOT think of.
Milner makes the key observation about the distinctiveness of the items NOT looted as compared to those looted, which leads Foyle to realize where the loot is hidden -- and thus to expose who stole the loot.
Sam makes the key observation about the item the beach-death victim had in his pocket -- she knows what it is, while Foyle does not -- and once Foyle hears this, he understands the connection between the beach-death and the obnoxious rich American.
The German spy also provides the key information that enables Foyle to figure out how the spy got to be landed on that particular beach -- although it was not the spy's intention to reveal that fact.
In none of these three instances did Foyle expect that the particular conversation that led to the information would produce such information -- in each case it is an accident that the information given happens to be relevant to solving a crime. But the information is quite logical to have been mentioned in these conversations, it is not artificially stuffed-into the character's mouth just to move the plot along. This is excellent quality story-craftsmanship and deserves recognition.
As to the actor playing the obnoxious American, I'm a born and 60-years-life-long American who has lived in many parts of the US, and I thought his accent was fine. I thought he was an American actor.
The most interesting part of the episode is the political context -- focused on the mysterious British aide. At the end of the episode he explains to Foyle that the obnoxious American is a key pro-Britain supporter in America, working to get lend-lease and the "50 Ships" -- 50 destroyers -- transferred to Britain. Because of the American's importance to forming the British-American alliance, he must literally be allowed to get away with murder of the man on the beach.
The greatest irony, which is not explored or recognized by the episode, is that it is the testimony of the German spy that gives Foyle the key evidence he needs to realize that this vital American is the murderer. That German spy thus unexpectedly almost gave Hitler the greatest assistance any one human being could possibly have given to Hitler's effort to defeat Britain -- because it was that German, by bringing about the discrediting of the strongly pro-British American, who could have destroyed the American-British alliance from even forming. And Foyle himself, upstanding, honorable Foyle, would have become the means whereby Hitler would accomplish that grand strategic goal. It is similar to the British Colonel in "Bridge Over The River Kwai," who is so focused on his role of keeping his men in good military form, that he overlooks that his efforts will aid the enemy in the broader strategic situation. The mysterious British aide (really an high-level military intelligence agent) is on the scene, however, and prevents this from happening.
One bit of writing that is a bit of a cheat is that at the end, when Foyle confronts the American, Foyle says he has two witnesses, the man who saw sleeping in a car, and a man in a boat. He talks more about the man in the car, but says nothing about the man in the boat. The American would surely have asked about this second witness, and if Foyle had said, honestly, "he is a captured German spy who is about to be shot," the American would have burst out laughing -- no British government prosecutor in war time would put up as a prosecution witness an enemy spy whom the government itself is about to put in front of a firing squad. Foyle would have had to say "I can't tell you who the witness is," and the American would have known from this that there was something fishy about Foyle's case. The screenwriter just dodged all this, which is a little bit of a cheat.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I first saw this yesterday and found out this is the episode I saw
filmed, back in fall 1977. This episode is in Venice, LA, where I lived
at the time, on Rose Ave. I went for a walk one afternoon and noticed
some cameras: Rockford Files was filming a scene. But I did not watch
television much in those days, so I never knew what episode the scene
was in -- until yesterday.
The part I saw was the car-crash and capture of the bad guys. Rockford tells the bad guys to meet him at "Navy and Lincoln," a real intersection, and there is park "Ozone Park" practically right next to that intersection, and also near Rose Ave. I think it was shot at Ozone Park.
First: the scene as shown is late at night, but it was filmed in a slight overcast afternoon.
Second: James Garner was there, and there was an incident that showed he really is a nice guy. The cameras were set up at Ruth & Dewey, looking northeast up Dewey. The hot-dog stand that the car crashes through was in the park, where google maps street view shows a sandy enclosed play area for little kids, which was not at the filming site. The car was going to speed down Dewey toward the cameras and veer off into the hot-dog stand. Dewey was all cleared and they were about to shoot the action when, on the right, just about where Bernard dead-ends into Dewey, a homeless guy rolled out from under a bush where he had been sleeping all this time, stood up right in the middle of Dewey, and mumbled "Say, wha's going on?"
James Garner, standing beside the camera, happened to be the closest person. Rather than expect somebody else to deal with this, he casually walked over to the guy, put his hand on the guy's shoulder to gently turn him around, and said, with no irritation at all, something like "hey buddy, we're shooting a scene here, could you head off over there," and aimed him down Bernard Ave. The homeless guy sort of wobbled away in that direction, and Garner just walked back to beside the cameras.
While I was there I wandered over to the hot-dog stand and noticed that it was all pre-cut into pieces, like a giant three-dimensional jig-saw puzzle. This was to ensure that pieces would fly everywhere when the car hit it. I also noticed that along the curb, where the car was going to jump the curb and hit the hog-dog stand, they had put a long triangular insert, so that the wheels of the car would have a smooth path, rather than crash hard-on into the curb, and maybe bounce off, or blow-out the tire.
They got the car-crash-into-the-hot-dog stand in one take, and the car screeched to a halt on its mark. Now it was time to shoot the bit where the guy in the hot-dog-stand costume runs over, and Rockford gets out, and they have an exchange over the top of the car while cuffing the bad-guys. Since I knew nothing about the episode, I always assumed that the hot-dog-guy had been working in the stand that got smashed, and that they had already filmed a scene where he jumps clear. Now I know he was working in a fast-food place across the street from the hot-dog stand (but on the real filming site, there was no such place).
Somehow I knew that the hot-dog guy was an undercover friend of Rockford -- maybe somebody mentioned it while we were standing around. But I didn't know he was a cop, and I didn't know he was a regular character in the series. I couldn't figure out how or why Rockford would have a friend, with a gun, disguised and operating a hot-dog stand in Venice. I assumed he was a character just in that episode, played by an actor hired just for that episode.
The hot-dog-stand guy ran over to the far side of the car, Rockford (Garner) got out on the near side of the car, and the hot-dog guy was supposed to say a short line once Garner stood up and turned to look at him across the roof of the car. First take -- the actor blew the line. Cut! Re-set. Garner gets back in the car. Take two: hot-dog-guy runs to the car, Garner gets out -- hot-dog guy blows the line again. Cut! Re-set. Something like five more times, this happens. I felt so sorry for the hot-dog-guy actor. I was thinking, "This poor guy, his career in Hollywood is over. Word's going to get around, he's never going to be hired again." And poor James Garner -- the number of times he had to get out of the car, stand up, turn, and then: blown line from the other actor, Cut, back in the car -- Garner was so patient, he never got angry. Finally the hot-dog guy got it right and they finished the scene. I had no idea, until yesterday, that the hot-dog-guy actor was actually one of the vitally-important series regular actors, Joe Santos, who has had an excellent and long career. I must have just caught him on a bad day.
The Venice scenes in the episode are all real Venice Beach locations; I could have been in the background of any of the outdoor scenes. When they showed the front of an apartment building I thought: I think that's my apartment building (I checked google street view, no it wasn't). The dingy interior hall of the apartment building was a bit worse than my place, but the apartment where the witness lived was a bit bigger and better than mine -- except that my apartment did not come with a dead body in it ....
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The screenwriter of this episode, Alan Pater (a prolific and
accomplished dramatist who wrote this in his 70s) deserves a lot of
credit for this very interesting study of creativity. But first: the
A professor of the Romantic Poets (man) and a professor of mathematics/probability (woman) both have a personal susceptibility to gambling and are associated with a kind of "alcoholics anonymous" program, but for gamblers. They become a couple. The literature prof. harbors an ironic resentment of the poets in whom he is an expert, because his life is drab and theirs were exciting. The math professor knows a vivacious, risk-taking art student, Nell, who among other things makes funky-looking necklaces; the math prof. typically wears one of them. Nell is also a performance-artist, who is known around Oxford for leading free "tourist tours" where she tells a series of fantastic lies about various Oxford landmarks and famous people, that tourists only slowly figure out are all fake and silly.
Nell shares a house with several other students, including a painter and drawer with an odd personality: he has excellent ability to paint and draw what he sees, but is unable to make things up -- to imagine. Nell likes to lead him around and tell him to do things, which he complies with; she has the imagination he lacks. One of the clever art projects they do together exploits the painter's talent at antique handwriting; they make obviously fake ancient documents, such as a grant application written by Shakespeare. Nell likes to read Romantic poets aloud, including Shelley. Another house-mate is a math student of the math professor, and he makes extra money by working for a betting-shop.
A down-and-outer engineer, his life ruined by gambling, is reduced to being a book-clerk at the Bodleian Library, which has original Shelley letters and many books from Shelley's time. He calls the "gamblers anonymous" hot-line and gets the math prof., who refers him to her boyfriend the literature prof. The student who part-times at the betting shop also gets to know him, and thus Nell hears of him. The two professors conceive a plan to get rich by taking a big gamble. The down-and-outer steals original Shelley letters and also cuts blank end-papers from books of the time, and passes these to the betting-shop boy, who passes them to Nell. She gets the artist to copy the Shelley letters onto the blank end-papers, and the fakes are then put into the Bodleian in place of the real ones. The math prof. then sells the originals to collectors. The two profs. then get Nell to expand the scheme, so as to "discover" a long-rumored but never-found cache of Shelley letters about his wife's famous novel, Frankenstein. They will sell these letters -- which will all be fakes, but on authentic paper of the day, done by the obedient, uncomplaining artist. When this scheme is in danger of being exposed, the profs kill first the down-and-outer (planting the murder-gun in the painter's room), and then Nell. The betting-shop boy flees in fear of his life. The profs. have no fear of the painter; he is so uncomprehending and detached that he has no idea what documents he has been making or any comprehension that fraud is going on -- he thinks it is all another art project conceived by Nell.
Thus we have the resentment of the uncreative (the literature prof) for the creative (the poets), the difference between talent without invention (the painter) and inventiveness without talent or judgment (Nell, who only thinks of herself and never of how her actions may upset other people).
When Nell's dead body is discovered, she is washed-up onto a river-bank, young, broken and bedraggled. The ending of the episode is at Shelley's Oxford death-monument, on which is a marble sculpture of him, washed-up on the beach (he died young, by drowning), sprawled in the same posture as Nell was on the river-bank. The painter sits before it, a lost soul -- "I wish I could make things up" he says.
And thus we realize that the literature prof., in killing Nell, was killing one of those Romantic poets of whom he was so jealous, and whom he so hated, yet whom he could not escape, because his livelihood depended on his being an expert on them. The fact that he could get rich only by forging their letters, and not via writings in his own name, further deepened his frustration.
This screenplay was one of Pater's last works, a fitting meditation on the fact that inventive people (as he was) are vitally needed in the world, but they must develop judgment, to sense the effects that their inventiveness may have on those around them. Nell's lack of judgment makes her the unwitting villain of the piece; she treated manipulating the painter as a game, and forging letters as just another art-project lark, but the literature prof knew it was a serious crime -- Nell got herself killed for not realizing in advance that she was playing with real fire.
I should add, I produced avant-garde theater and performance art for ten years, in San Francisco, so I have known some real-life Nells in my time.
I am with the critical reviewers here -- this doesn't have the right
feel. We are all so accustomed to seeing Jimmy Stewart as a wonderful
actor, but in this, his role doesn't work. The fault lies either with
the screenwriter or with Stewart himself, but for a screwball comedy to
work, the lead characters have to have a kind of happy zest, a
playfulness, even if it is underneath some more obvious motive like
getting money or getting one-up on someone who's put you down, and his
character just doesn't have it.
Claudette Colbert, by contrast, is wonderful -- just what is needed. The plot, the setting, the other characters, all are excellent for screwball comedy. The problem is Jimmy Stewart -- earnest, annoyed with just about everyone, and no hint of playfulness.
All of the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes stories are worth watching, but
this particular story is weaker than most -- his goal is to keep a
deluded young woman from marrying a dastardly Baron.
The reason I leave this note is to note a clever bit in the beginning. In the first scene that shows the Baron together with the young woman, they are in his study. Over the mantle-piece is an oil portrait of the Baron.
"Who painted it?" asks the woman.
"Claus of Innsbruck" answers the Baron, and he adds, as he strokes a bronze sculpture on the desk, "Claus also did this sculpture."
This is a clever contribution by the screenwriter, because "Claus of Innsbruck," a fictional character, is the painter of the portrait in the famous poem by Browning, "My Last Duchess." The speaker in the poem is a cold-hearted nobleman who crushes the spirit of his wife (the last duchess) because it does not please him that she is so joyful. The speaker mentions that "Claus" not only did the portrait for him, but also a fine bronze sculpture for him. The screenwriter thus shows that the Baron in this episode is a heartless noble on a par with the noble in Browning's poem -- reference that will be caught only by viewers who also know Browning.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In this review I am going to give everything away.
I saw this last night and was surprised -- I usually don't find Poirot very appealing. Too little heart. But in this he is all heart. Where did this come from? I haven't read the book, so I read reviews of it. It is poorly thought of. So I researched the screenwriter, Peter Flannery -- turns out he is a playwright, was writer-in-residence for the Royal Shakespeare Co. Everything good in this adaptation comes from him. He made this a story about the psychological mistreatment of a young girl and Poirot's compassion for her and his outrage at those who mistreated her with such emotional cruelty. Here's Flannery's story:
Norma is the only child of Andrew Restarick and his wife (Mommy), who is heiress to a grand country-house estate. They have a nanny (nanny 1). Andrew's older brother runs a family firm in London. When Norma is about 5, Andrew and 'nanny 1' have an affair. 'Nanny 1' gets pregnant and leaves suddenly, and is replaced by 'nanny 2'.
Then Andrew deserts his wife and Norma, for South Africa to seek fortune. Mommy is so distraught she destroys every picture of Norma's father. One afternoon she decides to get into a warm bath and cut her wrists; her timing indicates that she might be counting on Norma and nanny 2, who are out on an excursion, to be home in time to save her. Mommy has given nanny 2 firm instructions to be home by a particular time. But Norma and nanny 2 pass an ice-cream vendor on the way back, and Norma insists on getting some, which makes them late. 5-year-old Norma gets home, goes happily running upstairs with her ice-cream to see Mommy, and discovers Mommy dying; Mommy's last words to her daughter are "save me" -- but it is too late. Norma blames herself; if only she had not insisted on ice-cream, she would have been there in time to save her mother.
"Nanny 1,' having kept her pregnancy secret, has founded a girls' school, and Norma is sent there. Norma grows up deeply troubled and unhappy. Presumably, Norma's secret half- sister, 5 years younger, and not openly acknowledged by her mother the headmistress, also goes there. The half-sister becomes consumed with jealousy over Norma's vast inheritance, which she feels she could get if Norma were dead.
15 or 20 years pass, during which Andrew never comes back or contacts Norma. 'Nanny 2' has become mostly-unemployed, tending to alcoholism, in a London flat. Then Andrew's older brother dies, and Andrew returns to take over the business. Except it is not really Andrew; Andrew had also died, in South Africa, shortly after his older brother. A friend of his in South Africa, having heard from Andrew that Mommy had destroyed all pictures of Andrew and then killed herself, decides to impersonate Andrew, sell the business quickly, and disappear with the cash. He finds Norma and pretends to be a repentant father. An uncle of Mommy, Sir Roderick, who lives at the estate with Norma, who would have seen the deception, has gone blind, so is not a danger. The fake Andrew finds 'nanny 2,' who might expose the deception, and bribes/threatens her into silence. He also finds the half- sister. But the business turns out to be worthless; it still has an impressive office, and one secretary, but this is an empty front. The fake Andrew starts thinking that if Norma died, he could split the inheritance with the half-sister. The fake Andrew and the secretary start a romance, the secretary thinking he is the real Andrew.
Sir Roderick now takes-up with a younger woman and Norma, excluded, decides to seek lodgings in London, as the 'third girl' sharing a flat. The fake Andrew persuades the secretary to take a flat in the same building as 'nanny 2.' The half- sister (her relationship to Norma still secret from Norma) moves in as the second girl, and Norma the third. Another flat in the building is occupied by an older woman, a famous mystery- novelist, who takes an interest in the girls, who is a friend of Poirot.
The half-sister goes to work on Norma's fragile emotional state, serving ice cream at a party and flirting heavily with Norma's boyfriend. She wants either to drive Norma to suicide, or to get Norma into such a state that it will be easy to make a murder look like suicide. When 'nanny 2' sends a note to the fake Andrew threatening exposure, he tells the half-sister, and the half-sister decides to murder 'nanny 2' in a way that looks like wrist-slitting (the same way Norma's mother died) with Norma so confused that Norma will think she murdered 'nanny 2'. Thus Norma will think herself guilty of two bloody deaths, of her mother and her nanny. Before the death is discovered by anyone else, a distraught Norma asks the mystery-writer for a referral to a detective and Poirot is named. Without an appointment, Norma bursts in on Poirot, then suddenly flees without explaining anything.
This is the story of a child born to utterly self-centered parents, living with a self-centered and thoughtless great-uncle. Their emotional mistreatment of her leaves her vulnerable to be taken advantage of by two unscrupulous deceivers, a false-father and a false-friend. Poirot's goal here is not so much to solve a murder, but to protect an abused girl and give her a chance to restore her emotional well-being -- which he does! Thank-you Peter Flannery for transforming a second-rate novel into a first- rate drama.
I am a longtime fan of the hour-long Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes
dramatizations, but the three longer ones I have seen -- this one, The
Sign of Four, and The Hound of the Baskervilles -- have left me
disappointed. I was going to give this one a pretty negative review,
until I went on-line and read the original story, Charles Augustus
The faults are almost all in the original, which Doyle wrote in 1904 and which feels pretty rushed and mechanical. Holmes does hardly any deducing or reasoning in this, but then he doesn't in the original, either. The dramatists have done an excellent job in creating a new foreground story and interweaving the central blackmail plot from the original story into several other blackmail plots. They have also developed the Watson character much more, and have fleshed-out Holmes' romance-in-disguise with the housemaid (the ever-excellent Sophie Thompson). Robert Hardy gives a masterful performance as the villain.
As to the core scenes of the original story -- they are all here, practically verbatim.
A pet peeve of mine is when dramatists take a classic character from literature and in an attempt to modernize and flesh-out the character, have the character do and say things that contradict the values of the original character. I thought that a bit of that had happened in this version, but again -- the Holmes here is the Holmes in the original story.
It seemed to me that Holmes here was a bit too quick to go along with the lady's desire to hide the embarrassing letters from her about-to-be husband. After all, she wrote the letters, so doesn't the groom have a fair claim, at least, not to be deceived about his future wife? If the letters are really not so embarrassing, but the groom would terminate the wedding anyway, doesn't that tell us that perhaps he isn't so very suitable? That maybe this marriage should not happen? Is she really marrying the man for money and title, and not for love? The Holmes in the earlier stories would at least have given some thought to these questions, and the Doyle who wrote the earlier stories would have re-shaped his plot to answer all these concerns. But not in this story.
While the dramatists did a good job in expanding the story, it would have been even better had they expanded it by developing the moral and romantic issues in the impending marriage that the original story overlooked.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This review is full of SPOILERS and is meant for those who've seen this
1. Major plot flaw. The police would have identified the "painters" almost immediately, and this is hidden from the audience by the way in which the interrogation scenes are handled.
The criminals' strategy for escape was to blend in with the other hostages and be unidentifiable. The video surveillance cameras were disabled only 2 minutes before the "painters" entered. By checking the videos the police would see what customers had entered the bank before then and could rule them out as "painters." The police could also rule-out all employees, not only because employees would be on tape, but even if not, the employees would know who of their number was in the bank at the time they were seized.
This means that the "painters" could only be customers, and could only be among those customers who walked in during the two minutes between disabling the cameras and the entry of the "painters." Look at the number of customers already in the bank before the cameras went out -- a lot. Not many came in during those 2 minutes, even if some left during those 2 minutes. At most, let's say that 12 people came in during those 2 minutes, including the "painters."
Then get physical descriptions of the "painters'" height, weight, sex, etc., from all the hostages. Compare those with the physical details of the 12 people. Of the 12 people, how many match each description? If one, the police have spotted a "painter" already. If 2 or 3 or 4, the police have a very small number of people to investigate further to expose which of that small group is a "painter."
Moreover, every customer has to have a reason for being there: either to deal with an existing account, or open a new one. But a person opening a new account would go to an employee to start the process. So the "painters" each had to have already established an individual account with that bank. When did those 12 people open their accounts? The police would look at the time each of the 12 first opened an account. More recent accounts, opened at about the same date, would indicate who the "painters" might be.
Now, why were each of the 12 at that downtown branch at that time, as opposed to a different branch or a different time? It must be, either they work nearby, or live nearby, or are running an errand where the route includes that branch.
What friend or relative saw them in person before they left to go to the branch? How did they get to the branch -- walking, or subway, or taxi? How were they planning to get to their next destination? Where did they plan to go after their errand at the branch was finished? Who was expecting to see them at that place? Did anyone who was expecting to see them later that day wonder what had happened to them, or call the police to ask whether they were among the hostages?
Recently opened accounts, near the date of other accounts, by people who neither live nor work near that branch, or have a plausible errand, who can't tell a plausible tale of how they got there or where they planned to go next, or who was expecting them: these are the prime suspects for "painters."
The police very swiftly will have a very good idea who the "painters" are. Investigate them in detail and they are exposed; then pressure them to reveal the identities of the other criminals.
This is what real police would do, but the movie, by showing the police pursuing a different, useless approach, leads the audience to think the "painter" masquerade would work. This movie operates on the old principle "the criminal plot looks brilliant because the police are made to act like idiots yet look intelligent."
2. Major moral blindness. 50 innocent citizens are terrorized, held hostage, assaulted, battered, for a day, a very significant crime, and yet at the end we are told that because nothing was stolen from the bank, the government and the police are just going to drop the whole affair. But what the criminals did to those people was a far more serious crime than any theft of bank property would have been. This movie passes-off that crime as if it were nothing, nothing at all. The terrorized hostages are pushed off the stage like so many plastic dolls who've served their role in the filmmakers' story. But those characters are human beings. The criminals, supposedly motivated by an idealistic desire to act against a Nazi profiteer, commit a horrific moral injustice on innocent people, whose rights and dignity they are blind to, in the pursuit of their own moral mission. This is a profound moral flaw in this film. The criminals are narcissists, so focused on their own desire for justice in their cause that they are blind to the injustice they inflict on others as they pursue their mission.
3. Unbelievable characters. A billionaire bank president anguished over his past exploitation of the Holocaust, but who is trying to hide his past, by hiring a real estate agent who has a side-line as a high-level "fixer" of rich people's problems, who is herself disgusted by his pro-Nazi past, yet takes his pay-off check anyway, and whose only attempt to "fix" the problem is a short and ineffective conversation with the criminal master-mind? A supposedly smart and honorable police hostage negotiator who is also the chief interrogator of the suspects, and who takes a diamond pay-off from the mastermind with a laugh, and who is completely blind to the serious crime of terrorism and hostage-taking of 50 civilians? None of these characters is believable.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a marvelous and touching movie, a work of philosophy really,
and it does what it needs to do to be popular and effective. My
comments are not really criticisms of it as an effective movie, and
would probably make it a less effective movie, but a more interesting
work taken as philosophy.
First, it is important and valuable because it teaches that to be a good person, you must be attentive to the feelings going on inside other people, and do what you can to make good people feel better. This is similar to what makes Jane Austen so appealing: the recognition that other people's feelings matter, and that it is a moral good for each of us to recognize that, to do nothing that gratuitously makes people feel worse, and to do things that make people feel better.
Second, by confining all the action to the little town, there is a distinct 1950s nostalgic feel to the whole movie. Everyone Phil encounters is a good person, or at least, a not-bad person, even if annoying in parts. The day he lives over and over is in a town full of celebration over a very antiquated event, a very simplified human environment. The movie would have been more interesting had he been in a more troubled, complex, modern environment.
Third, Phil's existence is in effect that of a very wealthy man. He has money to buy anything he wants, since he starts over each day with all of his expenses restored. He never has to fear bad health or worry about the future or fulfill any responsibility to anyone else. And he never ages. The one thing he can carry-over from day to day is learning and training. He puts that to use almost immediately, as he learns all about the different people in the town, and learns to anticipate what each person is going to do, or to suffer, at a particular point in the day. Then he figures out that he can learn skills as well as information, so he learns piano, ice sculpture, and who knows what else. The endlessly repeating day becomes an opportunity for Phil to embark on the mother of all self-improvement, self-education programs, completely funded by God or fate. I think that he would grow to appreciate this so much that he would not want real life to "restart."
Fourth, I think that Phil's own awareness of his growing knowledge and skills, and comparison with the fact that everyone else in town makes no progress at all, would produce a change in his attitude towards the townspeople, and towards his love-interest. According to several other sources, Phil relives the one day more than 3,652 times (ten years including 2 leap- years). Ten years, every morning he sees the same attractive young woman, and she never changes. In the early period, as he gets to know her, he will grow to love her, but will he really be so lastingly enamored of her that he spends ten years trying to become a person who can evoke her to love him? His dedication to winning her love is a part of the movie-imposed context, similar to the fundamental fact that the day repeats over and over. Somehow, it is just a given that he is driven to win her love, no matter how many days he has to repeat in order to do so.
Fifth, the movie's logic is that Phil earns the right to rejoin the normal world only by becoming a person who evokes in the heart of a good woman her sincere love. In the movie, she functions as a sort of proxy for God; if you earn her love, you have earned God's approval to rejoin the human world. This is a beautiful message and a very important one to make, but it raises the question: if she had not been in the town, could Phil ever have escaped? What if his world had not included anyone whose character was so good and sweet, that she or he functioned as a kind of proxy for God's judgment, because her or his feelings towards him were a proper moral judge of his character? And if we apply the lessons of the movie to our own lives -- which is what makes the movie important -- what if there is no person in our lives who is qualified to serve that role? If we live in a world of scoundrels, is there any way in which we can prove our worth? I would like to see a "Groundhog Day" that occurs to a young man in one of our drug-gang-ridden inner cities, or to an associate in a greedy law firm, to examine this problem.
Sixth, once Phil rejoins the normal world where each day is different, where we age, where the money we spend does not magically reappear in our pockets the next morning, etc., his ten-year sabbatical will have left him almost incapable of dealing with it. Given his detailed knowledge of everyone in the town, it seems that he would set himself up as the most insightful therapist the town had ever seen, with apparently supernatural insight into every person and issue, and that he would run for mayor, be elected in a landslide, and become a famous author -- like the real "Doctor Phil" of TV and publishing fame. All this success would be founded on the ten-years' education he had obtained, absolutely for free, in the space of just one day. Phil is really a very lucky fellow.
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