Diagnosis: Murder. Prognosis: More Murder!

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.


10 Responses to “Diagnosis: Murder. Prognosis: More Murder!”

  1. Finch is a fascinating character. He was teriffic as Polanski’s Macbeth (a highky underrated rendition) and as Hitchcock’s least-likeable anti-hero in Frenzy. But The Final Programme aside, I love him most for his brief but potent turn as Peter Finch’s drunken ex-trick in Sunday Bloody Sunday

  2. Finch looks terrible – on a par with Stacy Keach in THE SQUEEZE, but in a different way. They would probably make a great team.

  3. A pairing of Finch and Keach might be alliterative, but would probably give the audience a vinegar overdose. Need some sweet with the sour!

    I’m still hoping Finch gets the late-career recognition he deserves. There aren’t enough parts for arrogant middle-aged working class fops, which is the kind of role he needs.

  4. He did seem prone to illness losing some key roles along the way. I remember a sad story of his having to leave Alien and be replaced by John Hurt due to illness (you’ve probably covered this already). I love your description of him as a Byronic fop. I wonder if he was ever considered for Withnail & I.

    There’s a nice interview with Roger Christian here that touches on it and (The Final Programme) :


  5. Thanks for that. I’ve heard the theory that the Cornelius books would have made a great series before, but this neglects the fact that only the first book has a plot. I guess a more liberal adaptation could certainly spin off of the various fragments at play in the later books, but I also suspect Moorcock would’ve been even less happy with that. (Fuest’s first two thirds are pretty faithful to the content, even if the tone is subtly skewed camper.)

    I mean, a faithful film of The English Assassin or whatever would be pretty amazing, but it’s hard to imagine a British film industry that would allow THAT to happen. Maybe if Antonioni or someone had wanted to do it…

  6. Finch any good in LADY CAROLINE LAMB?

  7. He’s terrific in it — very sympathetic. Hard as it is for me to process a movie featuring Byron in which Finch doesn’t play Byron, the casting works a charm. I think the movie is underrated, and I’d love to see it in widescreen one day.

  8. I’m sorry to offer what may seem like prickish pedantry – especially after the interesting comments on Finch – but The Sweeney’s music wasn’t by the magnificent Jaunty Laurie Johnson but by marvellous Super Harry South. (imitates melancholy Sweeney closing titles theme, exits pursued by a bear)

  9. Ahah! But Johnson did The Professionals, yes?

  10. Der-dum-dum Der-dum-dum Der-der Der-Der Dah-der-der-Duh! Yes, he did! Jazz-funk action meltdown. Fabulous stuff but not as good as his Avengers theme of course. I don’t know what it was about some ’70s British crime series and spin-offs, why have Diane Keen (Sweeney! featuring Barry Foster’s curious “american” accent) or Pamela Salem (some Professionals episode) only to kill them off? And then only after they’ve been particularly appealing (of course, Ms Keen’s character dies after she had sex with Regan which makes it even worse. Tho’ the fact she slept with him made no sense. The series tended to be better though that film isn’t exactly bad, Troy Kennedy Martin’s Sweeney 2 is better if only for the non sequitur bomb disposal/police piss-up sequence).

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