JIGSAW

06:06:17

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Jack Warner

Jack Warner was 67 when he made Jigsaw (1962) with director Val Guest, who also wrote the screenplay. Based on the American novel ‘Sleep Long, My Love‘ by Hillary Waugh, it’s not all talk, but when the dialogue sparks up it can be rapid and choreographed to such an extent that the exchanges overlap and dovetail into each other, a trait seen more in American films. The police investigation is detailed and nuanced, so missing a section of rapid fire verbal exchange is something to be wary of. In other words, don’t take chances, pause it if you need a wee.

The crime around which the action takes place occurs in an oddly isolated house overlooked by a caravan park. The idea for the plot came from a true life crime. In 1924 Patrick Mahon murdered his pregnant lover Emily Kaye near Eastbourne, dismembered and hid her body in a locked bedroom in a rented bungalow. He spent the Easter weekend there with another woman who was quite unaware that her predecessor’s remains lay in pieces in the room next door.

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Ronald Lewis

Detective Inspector Fred Fellows (Warner) and Detective Sergeant Jim Wilkes (Ronald Lewis) drive round early 60’s Brighton in a Ford Consul managing to make the town look like it oozes crime and seediness. They pick up pieces here and there to complete the jigsaw, discard them, pick new ones up, go back to the old ones again and gradually get the straight edges in place so the rest can be filled in.

Fellows parks the police car outside a grocer’s shop to question the proprietor:

Fellows: Peck? I’m Detective Inspector Fellows

Mr Peck: Oh, are you? Well let me tell you, I don’t like this at all. You’ll get me a bad name with that stigma parked out there.

Guest began his career as an actor, then a writer, and the screenplay reflects this by allowing characters to become fully formed and fleshed out in seconds because of seemingly throw away lines, maybe lines that a lesser director may deem irrelevant. This leaves the impression of a town inhabited by individuals with lives and thoughts outside the murder investigation. In other words they aren’t just there to advance the plot with a bit of exposition or a grain of evidence, instead they are given reasons for existing.

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In a gem of a scene Fellows and Wilks think they’ve identified the dead woman and they arrive at her place in Greenwich, right alongside the Cutty Sark, and are surprised to find her very much alive. Fellows uses her phone and explains in his loud Dixon of Dock Green voice to the copper on the other end that the dismembered corpse is not Jean Sherman (Yolande Donlan) after all. It dawns on her just how close she came to being dead meat, and how the man she thought was a charming lover was a calculating psychopath.

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Jigsaw is universally well thought of, and for good reason. The acting is exemplary, it is directed with skillful attention to detail and Arthur Grant‘s cinematography is clean and economical. Just to reiterate, it’s a cracking film. Watch it and see if you can guess who the killer is. Award yourself a stick of Brighton rock if you can put the last bit of this 1000 piece puzzle in place before the boys in blue.

Not one for the Brighton Tourist Board.

Link: PATRICK MAHON: The real Jigsaw Murderer

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LUNCH HOUR

25:04:17

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The night is dark and windswept, with rain in the air and an angry sea pummelling the cliffs. A lone figure silhouetted against the darkening sky makes his forlorn way along the desolate cliff top path. This is Chris Corner coming round for another  Film Night. Supersonic Saucer (1956) was the first part of our double bill, and we watched it with childlike pleasure (see previous review). The second film, a far more grown up affair, required quite an extensive brain recalibration to appreciate fully. I’m not sure we achieved that on the night, so I watched it again for the purposes of this blog post, and it certainly benefits from a second viewing.

Lunch Hour (1962) was written by Rumpole of the Bailey creator John Mortimer, originally as a stage play. This is evident in its economy of characters (Girl, Man, Hotel Manageress) and its reliance on dialogue rather than location. It has also been adapted as a radio drama and a BBC Thirty Minute Theatre presentation as Kings Cross Lunch Hour (1972) featuring Pauline Collins and Joss Ackland. The stage play starred Wendy Craig, an apt choice for a piece about an extra-marital fling, as Mortimer had a brief affair with Craig which resulted in the birth of her second son.

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Another Bryanston Films production, the date of the copyright is stated as 1962 in the opening titles, although the IMDb gives the release date as 1961 which seems to be when the stage play was first performed. The credits appear over moving railway tracks intersecting and separating, giving the impression of travel. A visual clue to the unravelling and splitting of the narrative that occurs as the story progresses?

We never learn the characters’ names, but a young wallpaper designer (Shirley Anne Field) and a married man who works at the same company in a less creative capacity (Robert Stephens) are making early attempts at having an affair. Finding it difficult to get any privacy during their numerous lunch hour rendezvous, he books them in at a cheap hotel as a married couple. Their courtship and failed attempts to kick things off are told in flashback, him being hesitant and faux-chivalrous, she more poised and sassy.

The sexual politics of the 1960’s workplace is examined as the communal tea trolley comes round and all the employees congregate around it for a mid-morning break. The females are generally looked on as fair game by the Brylcreemed and suited executive types. As one particularly oily Lothario announces, girls from art school pose no special problems. The factory premises, the design studio where the women paint wallpaper motifs, the offices where the chaps strive to look more important than the next man, and the print room with its presses rolling out huge quantities of finished wallpaper, are an interesting window into the relatively recent past. Airy, light interiors without a computer screen in sight and people walking from one department to the next to convey a message, rather than simply emailing.

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Stephens is somewhat naive and out of his depth as he first meets Field by helping her pick up a folder of dropped drawings from the office floor. Impossibly luminous and magnetic, she is far more assured and knowing, obviously skillful at thwarting greasy would-be suitors. In an interview for Radio 4’s Film Programme, Shirley Anne Field speaks about how much she enjoyed the making of Lunch Hour. She mentions John Mortimer’s numerous changes to the script, which he based on listening to the cast’s casual conversations and altered on the fly. There is certainly a high premium placed on rhythm and language.

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The story concocted by Stevens as to why a respectable man and a 24 year old girl require a room for an hour during the middle of the day provides the springboard for Field to dive into realms of kitchen sink fantasy that seemingly become an alternative reality. An alternative reality that is based in Scarborough, of all places. The tables are well and truly turned by the girl, the question is whether she’s knowingly calculating what she’s doing or just getting carried along on a wave of untruth. I personally plump for the former.

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SHIRLEY ANNE FIELD ON THE FILM PROGRAMME: RADIO 4 2011