DIAGNOSIS: MURDER — not the completely excellent Dick Van Dyke TV show, oh no, but a TV-ish movie from Edinburgh-born Sidney Hayers (NIGHT OF THE EAGLE). I had limited hopes for it but watched anyway due to my quasi-sexual passion for Byronic wonderboy Jon Finch.
I was pleasantly surprised!
Not so much by Finch, who seems to have lost a terrifying amount of weight. He looks like he’s competing for the Miles Mander Cup. His face is pinched and drawn, his movements lack energy, and he’s still sporting that disfiguring Action Man ‘tache from FRENZY. *But* — the script casts him as a wonderfully charmless and acerbic copper, tirelessly insolent to suspects, colleagues, even inanimate objects. It channels some of the impudence of his greatest role (to date), Jerry Cornelius in THE FINAL PROGRAMME. The only dull spots are a subplot involving his married mistress, which requires him to be solicitous and noble, which is hugely disappointing, but about two-thirds through I started wondering if Hayers, who co-wrote, was playing a Long Game. He was, and it all pays off in one of the best-plotted denouements I’ve seen in AGES.
Finch isn’t the whole show, mind you — we get Christopher Lee as an aloof psychiatrist who may have murdered his wife, and the adorably box-faced Judy Geeson as his secretary, who may be his mistress. To say more would be unfair. Fiona describes this one as “LES DIABOLIQUES meets The Sweeney.” Which may take some unpicking.
The twisty thriller thing you probably understand. The Sweeney was a violent slice of televisual thick-ear which ran amuck over British airwaves, an onslaught of bad hair, bad clothing and bad attitudes, accompanied by an aggressive yet campy score by Laurie Johnson (The Avengers).
The show spawned two movies, which are actually not bad — the second in particular deserves attention. It’s arguable that the portrayal of British coppers as surly, boorish and prejudiced, though it was uncomfortably admiring, was a lot more accurate than respectable show’s like the BBC’s Dixon of Dock Green and its polite ilk. Fans of 70s shows perhaps regard them as equivalent to those Warner pre-codes which uncritically serve up a lot of offensive attitudes, but strike a truthful chord at the same time.
Here’s a bit of Finch at his most obnoxious, followed a scene later by Christopher Lee in… unusually ebullient mode. Nice to see him loosen up and enjoy a laugh. The music is by Laurie Johnson.