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Monday, 13 September 2010

Without a Clue (1988)

While I have always liked Michael Caine, I never really realised how subtle and gifted an actor he is until I saw him in"Educating Rita" (1983). Like many of the great screen actors his roles are often riffs on his own persona, but they exhibit shades of personality and a careful approach to his character, not always apparent at first. Of course 'not many people know' (as the joke goes), that he is willing to appear in some pretty crappy films in exchange for the pay cheque proffered. However even in these, he is never less than watchable and is often the film's one saving grace.

Somehow we acquired -- no doubt through a newspaper promotion -- a set of a dozen or so Caine movies on DVD, largely minor British efforts, rather than big budget Hollywood productions, and I occasionally rewatch these in my downtime. Without a doubt some of these fall into the 'crap' category mentioned above, like "Water" from 1985, where Caine plays the British diplomat on a back-of-beyond Caribbean island, with Billy Connolly as a half-breed rebel fighting for its independence, although even this piece of junk has its moments. Then there is the film above which remains an entertaining amusement.

The movie's clever conceit is that Dr. John Watson was the real brains as a detective and that he paid a ham actor to impersonate his creation, Sherlock Holmes. Caine plays the make-believe Holmes, worshipped by the public, but as stupid as two short planks in reality, while Ben Kingsley (who now insists upon being billed as 'Sirbenkingsley') is the power behind the mask. The equally useless Lestrade is portrayed by the (now disgraced but) always amusing American actor Jeffrey Jones. While the cheeky premise grows a little thin as they investigate the theft of the printing plates for the Bank of England's five pound note, the laughs at Caine's general ineptness are frequent and he certainly throws himself (literally in some scenes) into playing the fool. He is not only a little dim, but also a drinker and a would-be womanizer, but he continues to amaze everyone who subscribes to his myth, while poor Dr. Watson is dismissed as his pathetic sidekick. A witty script supports this witty concept and ensures some minor but very pleasant viewing.

As coincidence would have it, immediately after watching "Wedding in Blood" (1973) last night, I learned of the death of its director, Claude Chabrol. I have always expected his films to be just that little more exciting than they often are, especially as he was supposedly influenced by Alfred Hitchcock's thrillers. His studies of domestic mayhem tend to strike me as somewhat uninvolving, as in last night's selection, which had Michel Piccoli and Stephane Audran (then Chabrol's wife) involved in a torrid love affair and knocking off their inconvenient spouses. However it's always sad losing a creative and prolific talent and the French film world as well as the rest of us can mourn his passing.
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