Archive for the 'writing' Category

Moment #13: Mr. Holmes (2015)

11 June 2017

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It is always interesting watching films about the very old, not least because there are relatively few of them. Mr Holmes, made in 2015, has Ian McKellen playing the 93-year old detective in post-World War II England. He is long retired to a house on the south coast, looked after by a housekeeper, Mrs Munro, and her son, Roger, wrestling with the details of his last case, some thirty years previously. He is trying to work out why the case, “The Adventure of the Dove Grey Glove”, made him retire.

Through some makeup magic by Dave Elsey, the film tells two parallel stories. The ageing and forgetful Holmes looks after his bees, obsesses with things (like Japanese prickly ash) that might postpone his death, while trying to write his own story of the case of the dove grey glove. In flashback, his 60-something self investigates the case, or perhaps reinterprets it. John Watson’s version of the story makes him appear a hero, but he can’t ask him, for Watson is long dead.

As he tells Roger:

SHERLOCK HOLMES; I’ve decided to write the story down; as it was, not as John made it. Get it right, before I die.

Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, of course, were stories inside stories, apparently written by Watson, and as with the Moffat/Gatiss Sherlock, on the BBC, the film plays off Watson’s invention of the character of Holmes. In Japan, while he is collecting the prickly ash, Mr Umezaki asks him:

MR UMEZAKI: My mother, she wonders if you have brought your famous hat.
HOLMES: Oh, the deer stalker. That was an embellishment of the illustrator. I’ve never worn one.
MR UMEZAKI: And the pipe?
HOLMES: I prefer a cigar. I told Watson, if I ever write a story myself, it will be to correct the million misconceptions created by his imaginative licence.

In similarly recursive mode, the McKellen character goes to see a Sherlock Holmes film in Mr Holmes. It seems to be a film based on the “Dove Grey Glove”, which before you ask is an invention of the novel the film is based on.

The moment. The film is built around a triangle; Holmes, the young Roger, whom he’s taken under his wing, and his mother, the housekeeper, who is worried about what will happen to her and her son when Holmes dies. She’s heard about a position in a hotel in Portsmouth. Her son doesn’t want to go. Unknown to the viewer, she’s been to visit the hotel owner that day. After she returns her son asks Holmes to “do his thing… where he tells people who they are and where they’ve been, just from looking.” The ageing detective demurs, then summons up his powers and does his thing.

HOLMES: I’m sure your mother doesn’t need to be told where she’s been.
MRS MUNRO: Let’s not bother Mr Holmes with any foolishness.
ROGER: It’s not foolishness. Here. You come and stand in front of Mr Holmes. Just like that. And he will tell you where you’ve been. Do it.
[to HOLMES] You want her to turn in a circle?
HOLMES: No, that won’t be necessary.
ROGER (to mother): Turn in a circle.
HOLMES: You’ve been away most of the day. The soot on your dress attests that you went by train to Portsmouth, as all other nearby rail lines which might accommodate a return trip of this length are under repair or beyond it. In Portsmouth, you met the couple who run the hotel. Your hair and nails are evidence that you wished to make a favourable impression. They made you an offer, you accepted. You declined tea, and did not see the sister for whom you have no particular fondness, using my indisposition as an excuse to hurry back.
MRS MUNRO: It wasn’t an excuse.
ROGER: You accepted?
MRS MUNRO: Start a week Monday.
ROGER: Both of us?
MRS MUNRO: We’re both going.
ROGER: She wants me to be a bootblack!

One of the things that scriptwriters are taught is to “make your exposition argument”. But this revelation seems, to me, to be done far more cleverly.

The script extracts are from Springfield! Springfield!

Moment#6: The Awful Truth (1937)

8 May 2017

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Moment #6: Still on the screwball trail, this is one of the BFI’s ‘ten great’ screwball comedies. It won its director, Leo McCarey, an Oscar, leading woman Irene Dunne an Oscar nomination, and established Cary Grant as a leading man. And watching it, you can see why: it’s wonderfully written, sharply plotted, moves along at pace, is packed full of fine comic moments, several involving their dog, and it takes you, eventually, to the place you want to be. As a scriptwriter I once worked with observed, you need to take the audience where it wants to go, but not by the route they expect to get there.

The film is set, mostly, in the ninety days from the date of the divorce. I could have picked any one of a dozen moments or more from the film, but the sequence that sets up the plot is a sublime piece of staging. Jerry Warriner, played by Grant, has been away, apparently but most likely not in Florida, and he returns home with some friends to find his wife Lucy (Irene Dunne) away. Well, he finds out that she’s away quite slowly.

First, one of the women in the group scans the table with the mail on it and observes that there are some letters on the table for Lucy, some from yesterday.

JERRY: That’s the trouble with most marriages today. People are always imagining things. (Beat) The road to Reno is paved with suspicions. The first thing you know is they all end up in a divorce court.

GUEST: The broad-minded man from the Rio Grande.

JERRY: If you think I’m going to get a chance to prove my broadmindedness any minute you’re crazy. No, Lucy’s really up at her Aunt Patsy’s cabin, I’ll bet on it.

And Jerry’s on a roll, extolling the virtues of Aunt Patsy’s cabin as we see Aunt Patsy arrive in shot behind him, seen by everyone in the room except for Jerry.

AUNT PATSY (her first words): Any idea where Lucy is? You know she invited me to this…

At which point Lucy arrives, looking stunning in white, followed a moment or two later by her singing teacher, and a long story about how they’d been on their way home from a concert when the car broke down and they’d had to spend the night in “the nastiest little inn you ever saw,” insisting of course that it was all completely innocent.

LUCY: Can’t have a happily married life if you’re always going to be suspicious of each other.

JERRY: Right again […]

LUCY: But I don’t know why I’m boring all of you with private matters.

GUEST: Oh, we’re not bored.

LUCY: No one’s interested in mine except for Jerry, and he knows it’s innocent, just as he knows (pause), well, that he just got back from Florida.

Part of the ambiguity is probably to dance around the restrictions imposed on what films could show or say about sex, under the Hays Code, but the effect is to make the film funnier.

One of the moments I could have chosen is the scene in which Lucy and her new fiance, Dan Leeson, played by Ralph Bellamy, run into Cary Grant at a night club. This clip gives a sense of both the film’s dialogue and the comedy, and a version of this scene plays out in a different way later on in the film at a decisive point in the story.

Intolerable Cruelty riffs off The Awful Truth in several places, and I couldn’t also help wonder if Marilyn’s iconic scene in The Seven Year Itch borrowed from it. Its director, Billy Wilder, would certainly have been familiar with The Awful Truth, and in their way the two films have a similar theme.

Moment#5: Intolerable Cruelty (2003)

7 May 2017

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Moment # 5 The Coen brothers always make their films with a smile on their face and a knowing nod in the direction of Hollywood’s history and genre conventions, and Intolerable Cruelty is no exception. It is a modern version of a screwball comedy, as I realised watching the smartly plotted final act, which I’m not going to spoil for you here.

George Clooney plays Miles Massey, a divorce lawyer at the top of his game (the creator of the best and most ironclad pre-nup agreement in the business, and the President, we later discover, of his industry body, N.O.M.A.N)1 while Catherine Zeta-Jones is Marylin Rexroth, a woman who is trying to divorce her way to enough money to be financially independent. Both characters are compelling, though neither is particularly likeable. When he says to her over dinner, “I assume you’re a carnivore”, she laughs and replies, “Oh, Mr Massey, you have no idea.”

In another age this might have paired Cary Grant and Barbara Stanwyck, or maybe Claudette Colbert. And I think they would have made more of Marylin’s background: given the spelling of the name, we can probably assume she started out on the wrong side of the tracks.

Arguably the film’s a little too knowing for its own good (Roger Ebert wanted the Coens to lay off the ironical detachment and just enjoy what they had created). But there is much to like, including  the way they love their minor characters, including, for example, Zeta-Jones’ second husband, Howard Doyle (Billy Bob Thornton) and –mild spoiler– the reverend who marries the pair of them at midnight in Las Vegas. “Love your minor characters” happens to be one of Robert McKee’s screenwriting rules.

So the moment is about minor characters. It is the only time in the film, a film about law and lawyers, when we see Clooney on his feet in a courtroom. Zeta-Jones’ case is going well until he calls Heinz the Baron Krauss von Espy, the concierge at an exclusive Alpine resort, who arrives in court with his dog. You can see it here:

 


1. National Organization of Matrimoney Attorneys, Nationally. The strapline on the screen at their annual conference is, ‘Let N.O.M.A.N put asunder.’

Moment#3: The Barefoot Contessa (1954)

2 May 2017


Moment #3 Barefoot Contessa is a movie about movies. It was written and directed by Joseph Manciewicz, who had a long and successful Hollywood career, and stars Humphrey Bogart as a writer-director working for a business magnate who has decided to go into moves, and Ava Gardner as Maria Vargas, a Spanish dancer who becomes the “face” of those movies. The film is told in flashback from her funeral, although we don’t know how or why she dies until the end of the film.

There are some curiosities; the flashback sequences are narrated consecutively by Bogart, by the magnate’s PR flack Oscar Muldoon (Edmond O’Brien, who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor), by Gardner’s husband, and finally by Bogart himself. Some scenes replay from the different perspectives of these protagonists. As in Casablanca and Gilda, we don’t see the female star until quite a long way in (about 12 minutes), although the second scene of the film watches the audience as she dances unseen on camera. And, as in Gilda, we hear plenty about her before she appears. The film is also interesting because Bogart doesn’t play the romantic lead. His relationship with Maria Vargas is strictly platonic, more a protector and a confidante.

Along the way, Mankiewicz gives us a unsympathetic picture of the rich at play, especially in the voice-overs, and the relationship between wealth and poverty, though for my money the Cinderella metaphor was laid on with a trowel. I also hoped that the argument about the meaning of the Faust story, which plays out in the long early scene in a Madrid nightclub, might be more woven into the screenplay, but I was disappointed.

At the start of the film, magnate, PR guy and Bogart have gone to a Madrid club to watch Maria dance. They’ve missed her, and eventually manage to persuade her to come to their table to talk to them. It doesn’t go well, Maria leaves, and Bogart is despatched to find her. It’s worth noting how poor Spain was in 1954, still making a slow recovery from the Civil War.
The moment: the scene where Bogart arrives at Maria Vargas’ house (a tenement flat) to ask her to come to Rome for a screen test. Bogart doesn’t go in, and we watch the scene in one continuous shot through the door looking into a cramped front room; her mother denying that she’s here at all, her brother saying she is, her father sitting in the corner of the room, the radio blaring, Maria herself arriving in the room, and a furious argument breaking out between the four of them, mostly in Spanish with subtitles.

MOTHER (in Spanish, to BROTHER): What does he want with Maria? (Beat) Miguel, the radio!

BROTHER: Maria is going to America, to be a star.

MOTHER: I won’t let her. I’ve worked my fingers to the bone all my life, Now it’s her turn. Miguel, the radio!

BROTHER (to BOGART, in English): You don’t understand my nother. Is liar.

MOTHER (to MIGUEL, in Spanish): I won’t tell you again!

BROTHER (to MOTHER, in Spanish): Since she was a child, you made her dance for men and kept the money. Now she’ll keep it for herself.

BOGART (in English): Why don’t you fight this out later, I haven’t got much time… Every minute counts.

MOTHER (walking across the room to the husband, in Spanish): You deaf? I told you to turn down the radio. (And she turns it off)

Maria appears from the back room.

MARIA (still in Spanish): He can play the radio as loud as he wants. (And she turns it on again).

MOTHER: You won’t go to America.

MARIA: I’ll go where I please.

And she sashays across the room towards the door and towards Bogart, touching her brother’s scheek affectionately as she passes him and closing the door behing her.

MARIA (in English): I think we can talk better outside.

The door immediately reopens, and he mother appears in the doorway:

MOTHER (in Spanish): Over my dead body!

MARIA (in Spanish): One more word, and I’ll go even if I don’t want to. Whether you live or die.

It’s a fabulous scene, and the blaring Spanish music on the radio makes it seem even more intense, as does the single two minute take. I suspect the use of subtitles was unusual in a 1954 big budget film, but the scene, and the use of Spanish, manages to convey in an instant the cultural gap, the claustrophobia of her family, the poverty that she’s escaping from, and also a milieu that in different ways she returns to throughout the rest of the film, most notably in the sequence where her husband-to-be, an Italian count, sees her for the first time.

One other curiosity. Bogart doesn’t trust the business magnate he’s working for, so he surrepitiously invites three other big-noise producers to watch the screening of Maria’s first screen test. Their names:ack, Mr Brown, and Mr Blue. Now, I wonder where I’ve heard that before?

City of Glass

1 May 2017


There’s a scene half way through the new theatre adaptation of City of Glass where you realise that you’re watching (spoiler alert) a man disintegrating psychologically rather than trying to prevent a potential crime being committed. But I’d better rewind a bit first. City of Glass is an version for stage of Paul Auster’s novel adapted by the writer Duncan MacMillan and directed by Leo Warner; it is staged by 59 Productions, which specialises in combining technology and art to tell stories in a range of disciplines. The play opened at HOME in Manchester and is playing at the Lyric in Hammersith until 20th May.

It tells the story of a 35-year old writer, once known as Daniel Quinn, who is living on his own after the death of his wife and young son, unexplained in the play, who has given up a literary career to write detective novels under the name of William Wilson, which happens to be the name of a New York Mets player. At least, this may be true. One day he takes a call at home from someone looking for the Paul Auster Detective Agency, who fears that her husband’s life may be in danger. He takes the case. Well, you can see where this might be heading. (And I should add that I haven’t read the book; I’m reviewing the play here.)

In fact Auster appears in the play, as he does in the novel, and has a conversation with Quinn/Wilson explaining an elaborate theory as to why Don Quixote goes to such lengths to pretend that he’s not the author of the book within a book in Don Quixote:

AUSTER: The theory I present in the essay is that Sancho Panza Dictated the story to the barber and the priest, Don Quixote’s friends

AUSTER, talking across the NARRATOR (the script says he’s momentarily drowned out by the narrator): … They had the manuscript translated into Arabic. Cervantes found the translation and and had it rendered back into Spanish, and then published the book The Adventures of Don Quixote.

NARRATOR, talking simultaneously with AUSTER: Auster was obviously enjoying himself, but the precise nature of that pleasure eluded Quinn. It seemd to be a kind of soundless laughter, a joke that stopped short of its punchline.

QUINN: But why would Sancho and the others go to all that trouble?

AUSTER: To cure Don Quixote of his madness. The want to save their friend. [Emphasis in the script.]

The moment you realise that we ae watching a breakdown is when Wilson starts tracing the routes around New York that the routes followed each day by Stillman, the man he’s been tailing–and we see all of this back projected on the stage, for the video design,  isby Lysander Ashton, is a star of the show–spell out the words “The Tower of Babel,” the very same thing that Stillman had written a controversial book about. It reminded me of nothing so much as the sequence in A Beautiful Mind where we start to suspect that John Nash is delusional about working on a top secret national security project.

It’s not always an easy play to watch as much of it is told in voiceover, which I realise now, writing this, may well have been voice in Quinn/Wilson’s head. But it is a compelling piece of theatre, precisely because it disturbs our expectations about theatre and partly because the outstanding lighting and video design give it the feel of a film, or of a hallucination.

The image at the top of the post is courtesy of the Lyic, Hammersmith, and is used with thanks.

Buddies: ending Broadchurch

20 April 2017

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There was a writer’s moment right at the end of Broadchurch (right at the end, so no spoilers here) that said quite a lot about how the writer, Chris Chibnall, thought about the drama.

After three series, and twenty hours of drama, and after solving their latest and last case, Miller (Olivia Colman) and Hardy (David Tennant) are sitting on a bench, not that close,  with the cliffs behind them.

MILLER: I could do with a drink. Do you want one? We could go to the pub, we’ve never been to the pub.

(Pause)

HARDY: Nah.

MILLER: Nah.

(Pause)

MILLER (getting up): I should get back for Daisy.

HARDY (also getting up): I should get back to my boys.

The detective series that always ended with the detectives having a drink, of course, was Morse, and that tradition carries on with its offshoot Lewis. Morse and Lewis are puzzles to be solved, and the pint is like a reward for finishing a difficult crossword.

I think what’s going here is a writer’s side-swipe: Chris Chibnall is saying that those shows where they have a pint as mates after the case is solved are just stories. The narrative gets closed as the case is cracked. Life, on the other hand, isn’t tidy: the case may be over (Hardy says just before , “We did our job, Miller, we got the people responsible, that’s all we can do”) but life carries on. Drama is closed but life is open. In other words, Broadchurch isn’t just another one of those television cop shows.

Of course, it’s a writer’s conceit, since obviously Broadchurch is another television cop show. But because the detectives’ family lives have been so much a part of the story (unlike Morse) it’s a conceit that works.

The image of Miller and Hardy on the poster is by Mikey, and is published here with thanks under a Creative Commons licence.

The Atkin-James song book

12 February 2017


I have been a fan of the songs of Pete Atkin and Clive James for all my adult life, ever since a friend turned up at a flat I was living in in my late teens with a copy of their second LP, Driving Through Mythical America. It was obvious at first hearing that these were songs of a different order, from the very first song, ‘Sunlight Gate’, a lyric about the Vietnam war which never names it and manages, at the same time, to be timeless. And that’s not even one of the best songs on the record, by some way.

So I’ve been looking forward to reading Ian Shircore’s book, Loose Canon on their lifelong collaboration. I wasn’t disappointed.

These lyrics aren’t a sideline for James: while I tend to think that his poetry is over-rated, the constraints of the song lyric seem to suit him well. As he said on the John Peel Show in 2000, “This is the work I’m known least for, but which is closest to my heart.” Atkin’s arrangements, which are given good consideration here, are often rich and subtle.
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Quentin and Roald

5 February 2017

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I’ve always loved Quentin Blake’s illustrations for Roald Dahl’s children’s books. They are the way we see these stories: the two men are joined together in the same way as A.A. Milne and E.H. Shephard, or Lewis Carroll and J.C.Tenniel.

For a few weeks more (until 1st May) the British Library is displaying a set of 10 further portraits of Dahl characters that were commissioned from Blake to mark the centenary of Roald Dahl’s birth in 2016.

No claims for the quality of these images, snapped on a phone.

In a note that accompanies this small (and free) exhibition, Blake says,

The Roald Dahl Centenary Portraits ask you to imagine that a number of Dahl’s characters have been invited to come and sit for their portrait; they are depicted, not quite as they appear in the illustrations, but more formally. The perceptive spectator may notice that one celebrated couple declined to appear together, and another formidable personality obviously disapproved of the whole venture. Nevertheless, I hope you will be happy to see this group of well-known characters treated as though they were real people—which, of course, to many of us they are.

Anyway, Charlie is at the top of the post, and here are two more of the characters that did turn up for their new portraits. Matilda, of course:

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And Danny, the Champion of the World, with his father.

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The Deep Blue Sea

6 September 2016
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National Theatre set designed by Tom Scott. Photo by Richard Hubert Smith

Terrence Rattigan’s play The Deep Blue Sea, which is on at London’s National Theatre, is literally a period piece. It premiered in 1952, and the devices and secrets that drive plot and characters are no longer issues. No spoilers, but attempted suicide is no longer a crime, gas no longer poisons you, a woman who leaves her husband to live with someone else no longer has to lie about it.

Rattigan, who was gay at a time when homosexual acts were illegal, would have known all about the world of secrets, allusion and indirect meanings, which is perhaps one of the reasons why the writing and characterisation are strong. He wrote the play after a lover, Kenny Morgan, had killed himself by gas. There’s no evidence for the claim Rattigan once made in a letter that he wrote an initial version in which Hester, the lead character, was male and gay–such a play would have been unperformable in Britain in the 1950s–there is a later “distaff” version by Mike Poulton that re-works The Deep Blue Sea as if it were Morgan who were the central character and had failed in his suicide attempt.

(On gas suicides, I also recall a play by Alan Ayckbourn, although I forget which one, where he plays this idea for laughs. A woman is lying in the kitchen during a party with her head in the gas oven while party guests traipse through not realising what she’s doing, and engage her in conversation.)

The Deep Blue Sea is a technical tour de force, set in one location and in keeping with Aristotle’s idea of “the unities”, taking place in just 24 hours, or so. The National’s set, seen in the image at the top of the post, makes much of this over-crowded block of bedsits, with its thin walls and well-meaning landlady, although it doesn’t manage to convey one of Rattigan’s stage directions, that it stands in a badly bombed area of Ladbroke Grove.

This is another period piece: for this would have been the Ladbroke Grove of cheap lodgings and Peter Rachman, not of David Cameron’s “Notting Hill set“. Not, in the ’50s, the sort of place that the runaway wife of a wealthy High Court judge would expect to be found.

One other period element of the play that I missed completely in the National’s version: that the struck-off doctor Mr Miller, very much the play’s “centre of good”, was gay and had been disqualified after being jailed for a homosexual act. It’s implicit, but the various reviews of this and other productions seem clear on the point.

But if the play were just a social history, it would not be worth re-staging. It still works in 2016 because at its heart it is a play about desire. Hester leaves her husband, portrayed in the National’s version as generous but not passionate, for a relationship with a younger man, a pilot who is still reliving the war through a haze of alcohol. It’s evident that sex matters to her. Freddy Page, for whom she left her husband, is “the devil” that the play’s title alludes to.

The deep blue sea, in contrast, is the challenge of living with herself, about to be a divorced woman, having transgressed the social and sexual mores of the time.For this is a choice. (And this is a spoiler).

As Terence Davies, who directed a film version of the play, observes of the scene near the end of the play between Hester and her husband Sir William Collyer,

When he asks her to come back, he says, “Can’t you see what I’m offering you?” She says, “Yes, and do you have any idea how difficult it is to refuse it?”

The trangressive women is always a rich theme, and especially so in the ’40s and ’50s, as a decade of film noir reminds us.

And in our cultural stories, perhaps the transgressive woman, or transgressives of any gender, find themselves dead or alone, as the play suggests. Which is one way of making sense of the paean to the virtues of doggedness in Mr Miller’s fine speech to Hester in the final act of the play. Keeping on keeping on is a virtue, no matter how hard it seems at the time.

Reading Wodehouse

7 August 2016

  
I’ve stayed away from P.G.Wodehouse, perhaps because I lack sympathy with the aristocratic milieu that his characters inhabit, but my brother, who appreciates writing, insisted. And so I bought one; not one of the Wodehouse series, such as Jeeves or Blandings Castle, which come now with a heavy precognitive load, but the standalone novel Big Money, published in 1931.

Perhaps I was attracted by the title, or perhaps by the Ben Elton cover quote: “Light as a feather, but fabulous.

And Ben Elton and my brother were right. The thing was a pleasure from beginning to end. 

I’m not going to spoil it, but the plot revolves around a penniless heir, Lord Biskerton, and his schoolfriend Berry Conway, now fallen on hard times and reduced to working for a living, and the arrival in London of an American heiress, Ann Moon, the niece of Conway’s boss, despatched to London for the season to escape an unsuitable match. (As in, “The Season“.)

Here’s part of Chapter 2, describing Ann’s social whirl in London:

“She saw the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Madame Tussaud’s, Buck’s Club, the Cenotaph, Limehouse, Simpson’s in the Strand, a series of races between consumptive-looking greyhounds, another series of races between goggled men on motor-cycles, and the penguins in St James’s Park.

“She met soldiers who talked of horses, sailors who talked of cocktails, poets who talked of publishers, painters who talked of sur-realism, absolute form and the difficulty of deciding whether to be architectural or rhythmical.

“She met men who told her the only possible place in London to lunch, to dine, to dance, to buy an umbrella; women who told her the only possible place in London to go for a frock, a hat, a pair of shoes, a manicure and a permanent wave; young men with systems for winning money by backing second favourites; middle-aged men with systems that needed constant toning-up with gin and vermouth; old men who quavered compliments in her ear and wished their granddaughters were more like her.”     

Unexpected alleys

One of the tricks in narrative is how the author, story, and reader stand in relationship to each other. They can be ahead, or behind, or on terms, as fully informed as each other. In crime fiction, the reader always knows less, is always catching up, as Tony Hancock and Sid James discovered in their classice episode, “The Missing Page“. 

In Big Money the reader is often ahead (you can see where it is going) but just as you think you’re going to get there Wodehouse takes you down an unexpected alley on the way, sometimes poking fun at his characters in a knowing alliance with the reader. 

And when Elton says the book is as light as a feather, it’s probably from passages such as this:

“When the public reads in its morning paper that a merger has been formed between two financial enterprises, it is probably a little vague as to what exactly are the preliminaries that have to be gone through in order to bring this union about. A description of what took place on the present occasion, therefore, can scarcely fail to be of interest.

“J.B. Hoke began by asking Mr Frisby how his golf was coming along. Mr Frisby’s only reply being to bare his teeth like a trapped jackal. Mr Hoke went on to say that he himself, while noticeably improved off the tee, still found a difficulty in laying his short mashie approaches up to the pin. Whether it was too much right hand or too little left hand, Mr Hoke could not say, but he doubted if he put one shot in seven just wehere he meant to. …

“At this point Mr Frisby said something under his breath and broke his pencil in half.” 

Finally, the plot is as elegant a thing as I have seen, with scores of moving parts ticking away unobtrusively in the background. I was reminded of Preston Sturges or the best of the screwball comedies. Unpacking it would, I suspect, be something of a master class.

Of course, it’s of its time. Lunch at the Berkeley costs 25 shillings for two (£1.25 in modern money), with a little change; characters can jump into the two-seater and drive down to Dulwich or Esher from Mayfair at the drop of a hat; Biskerton has run up debts of hundreds of pounds at gentlemen’s outfitters and suppliers across town; a man can’t be seen out without a hat; and everyone who’s anyone knows everyone

And being a comedy, of course all of the characters–and maybe this is a spoiler–get the ending they deserve. Well, most of them do.