Without a Clue (Eberhardt, 1988) and Farewell, Friend (1968)

I’m still pairing up blog posts, and trying to do a better job of it.  I’m not so sure that In the Name of the Father has as much in common with Cyrus as I initially thought.  Here are two films that can, in a ‘X degrees of Kevin Bacon’ sort of way, fit together.

Both films co-star cinematic giants – Ben Kingsley and Michael Caine in Without a Clue and Charles Bronson and Alain Delon in Farewell, Friend.  Both begin as tales of friendship not quite realized and loop back around to friendships fulfilled.  Both are criminally underseen.  And both feature a deft mix of suspense and comedy.

Without a Clue

I’m a huge Sherlock Holmes fan (which is the reason I dislike the Robert Downey Jr/Guy Ritchie collaborations.  Also the reason I’m looking forward to starting the Benedict Cumberbatch/Martin Freeman TV series).  Aside from the faithful, appropriately droll, but sometimes a bit too much of both Basil Rathbone films, and the Billy Wilder revisionist work The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, there haven’t been too many cinematic iterations that have caught my eye.

Without a Clue takes the classic Conan Doyle stories and turns them on their head.  The film features enough Holmes-trivia to satisfy the literary geek, stays faithful enough to his character to keep the spirit of the stories alive and kicking, and, though not ultimately as clever as the original stories, still features enough detecting to warrant a second look.

As the title might suggest, this is a comedic take on Holmes.  The title also might suggest spoof, which thankfully, Without a Clue is not.  Instead, it’s a warm, funny reimagining, where Watson (Kingsley) has invented Holmes (Caine), where the latter is in fact a bumbling drunkard, and only plays the part of the sleuth to the public and to allow the real detective – Watson – to investigate and solve the crimes.

Without a Clue succeeds in its script that combines in-jokes (Holmes “plays” the violin, which turns out to be a record as he mimics bowing the instrument) with actual plot and progression.  It also succeeds due to fantastic turns by Kingsley and Caine, both of whom play to one of their multiple types (meaning, they rarely play to type).

Director Thom Eberhardt, who also directed the…I don’t even know how to describe it Captain Ron, pulls off a nice little picture mostly by staying out of the way.  His camera is unobtrusive and unshowy.  His settings are far from the Ritchie-favored moody streets and back alleys of London, but instead have the look and feel of a set.  In some sense, this works.  The plastic, filmy feel of Without a Clue is almost as false as Holmes himself.  It takes itself as serious as Caine’s drunkard, and is taken as seriously as the public takes Watson – a tertiary player.  In another sense, this is certainly a filmmaker lacking a critical eye and rhythm.  I can disparage Ritchie’s films all I want (and I might just do that), but at least he creates some visual tension and really beautiful compositions.  Eberhardt isn’t capable as such.

The fact that Eberhardt’s camera stays out of the way yields little for analysis, but does allow Caine and Kingsley to perform and control the largely steady frames.  A wise decision in the end, as Without a Clue is a solid film on its own, and quite a good film for any Holmes fan.

Farewell, Friend

I recently wrote about two Rene Clement films – Joy House and Rider in the Rain.  The former features Delon, the latter Bronson.  Well, here they are together for the first time (though not the last).  The only thing missing to really make this a close-to-perfect film is Rene Clement.

Still, Jean Herman, who I’m pretty unfamiliar with, does a good job.  Though his camera lacks the Clement flair, and his staging is less kinetic, he still makes a pretty terrific film, with a few twists and plenty of great tension between two cinematic legends.

Delon plays Dino Barran, a former army doctor, fed up with life and money, who decides to help out a friend-of-a-friend put papers she stole back into a safe.  A nice set-up: the reverse robbery.  Bronson is Franz Propp.  He’s arrogant and manipulative…and wants to take the papers and everything else in the safe out of it.  Barran and Propp both find themselves intentionally locked in with the safe over a several days-long holiday.  The problem (aside from their opposite intentions)?  They have fewer than half of the numbers necessary for the combination lock.

At its best, Farewell, Friend is emblematic of French cool.  This isn’t New Wave cool, it’s closer to a Jean Pierre Melville cool.  Here’s a clip from the film.  It’s actually the last 40 seconds.  There is a-

SPOILER-

-here, but in my opinion, it’s nothing you wouldn’t see from the very beginning anyway:

Apart from the incorrect aspect ratio, this is a fine clip, and really defines the idea of “French cool” as I see it in Farewell, Friend.  This clip basically consists of two elements: a long, fluid camera move, and close-ups.  Both of these, in their own way, withhold information – a big part of the nuance and attraction here.

The camera move has to reveal Delon, then avoids showing his face for some time.  When it dollies back in on him (starting at 0:27), it’s like a reveal all over again – we’ve already seen his face in the close-up, but this is the too cool for school reaction.  The way he stands at the corner, the hallways seem to whirl around him as the camera approaches.  He’s the center of the universe at that moment.  And those close-ups that precede this (starting at 0:16), they’re full of looks that don’t tell us anything.  Hell, Bronson’s close-up isn’t even a look.  He’s staring down at his cigarette.  No information is exchanged.  The close-ups here are to a) raise the tension one last time and b) create a rhythm to buffer the camera move.  Nothing more.

Interpret that last awesome shot as you will.  I think it’s one of the most energetic, hilarious film endings I’ve seen.

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About dcpfilm

Shooting, teaching, writing and watching the Phillies.
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One Response to Without a Clue (Eberhardt, 1988) and Farewell, Friend (1968)

  1. Pingback: Night of the Comet (Eberhardt, 1984) and The Loneliest Planet (Loktev, 2011) | dcpfilm

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