My feature review of the DVD debut of Stephen Frears’ Gumshoe is now up at athe Turner Classic movies website.
Gumshoe (1971), the first feature by Stephen Frears, is an unheralded gem of a film. Part parody, part tribute and all unabashed appreciation of old Hollywood private eye movies and hard-boiled detective fiction, it drops the tough-guy attitude and romantic ideals into the dreary world of 1970s Liverpool. Along these mean streets walks a small-time bingo caller and wannabe stand-up comic who plays private detective for a lark and winds up hired to kill a girl for real.
“I want to write The Maltese Falcon, record ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ and play Las Vegas,” proclaims Eddie Ginley (Albert Finney) to his therapist in the opening scene. He settles for running an ad in the local paper offering his services as a private detective (under the name Sam Spade), a present to himself for his 31st birthday. When he gets a call, he just assumes his buddies are playing along for a laugh, but the package he gets from the mystery client (whom he dubs “The Fat Man” in his best Bogart impression) includes ₤1,000, a picture of a girl and a gun. Eddie’s no tough-guy and he has no illusions otherwise, but he can’t seem to help following the clues and putting the pieces together. Especially after his big brother William (a sneering snob played by Frank Finlay) first warns him off the case and then has him fired from his job at the club. William has clout. All Eddie has is a quick wit and a stubborn streak.
Eddie’s the kind of guy who can’t help but slip into hard-boiled patter (delivered with a touch of Bogie) when the opportunity arises, even if he’s wearing nothing but BVDs and a ratty bathrobe and devouring a bowl of cold cereal between his tough-guy cracks. It’s the kind of touch that makes Eddie Ginley so genuine. Finney plays him as a regular bloke with a non-stop sense of whimsy, a smart retort for occasion and a penchant for narrating his story in the vernacular of an American wise guy.
Read the complete feature here.