The Singing Detective
A GUN, A CAR, A BLONDE. 1997
Director: Stefani Ames

THE SINGING DETECTIVE. 1986
Director: Jon Amiel

THE SINGING DETECTIVE. 2003
Director: Keith Gordon

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl



A Gun, A Car, A BlondeA man with a severe back injury (Jim Metzler), wheelchair bound & in constant pain, deals with his crappy life by escaping into fantasies of a film noir world, wherein he is smart-mouthed private eye on a case involving corrupt cops (Billy Bob Thornton & Paul Barducci) & a gorgeous blonde called Jade (Andrea Thompson, looking a bit worn out for the role).

The tale within this fantasy is not very interesting nor psychologically revealing. The humor in A Gun, A Car, A Blonde is tepid, the acting awful, & the attempt to recapture film noir shadow-art by little more than turning color filmstock black & white fails miserably to get at the look, tone, or attitude of film noir.

When the "fantasy" world finally gets round to capture & torture of the detective, then the pain of his real world intrudes upon the fantasy world, & this at least has a thin psychological meaning, but it arrives too late to matter. The film's quite simply never the least bit interesting, & it comes off as a chintz imitation of The Singing Detective (1986) robbed of all wit, imagination & pathos.

Because the story of the Walter Mitty fantasy-life is inconsequential & all the more suspenseless due to being just a dream or an imagining, that leaves the "real" world of the crippled character as more interesting, if only just.

[SPOILER ALERT] Essentially he has good hired help who come to be more like a family to him than the only remaining member of his blood-family, his screeching grating unctuous appallingly self-serving sister, badly played by Kay Lenz. For a "climax" our hero finally gets up the gumption to make her move out of his house, scant minutes before he drops dead of a heart attack & dies. [END SPOILER ALERT]

The ineptitude of this boring film leaves it with few high spots, though the newly written highly derivative theme song "A Gun, A Car, A Blonde" was kind of cool.


The Singing DetectiveAs for The Singing Detective, the preferred version by far is the original 1986 British mini-series, a rich & imaginative script ably acted. Michael Gambon is Philip E. Marlow, a novelist who has fallen seriously ill in both mind & body, & lays helpless with a skin disease in a hospital while his mind becomes increasingly paranoid & incapable of telling his own memories from his mystery novelist imaginings from what's happening to him in the hospital.

The psychological depth of this tale is matched only by its cynical humor. Marlow's hallucinatory world is part film noir, part musical epic, with people bursting into song at intervals. The hospital number with doctor & nurses & staff dancing maniacally about Marlow's bed singing "Dem Bones Dem Bones" is hilarious but at the same time nightmarish.

To be both this funny, & this terrifying, is an artistic achievement that scarcely seems probable of a made-for-television miniseries, but this is a flawless masterpiece. The film is successful on every level, as a strange film noir mystery, as autobiography cribbed from author Denis Potter's actual life, as a film of madness & illness, as a musical, with a thread of shocking psychological honesty holding it all together as a single piece.

The Singing DetectiveIt is in its entirety six hours long, but is so captivating it is inevitably tempting to stay with it in one long sitting. But I would recommend viewing it in two hour bits on consecutive nights so as to let the parts settle in, rather than as one gigantic bite, as there's a hell of a lot of stuff in this thing truly worthy of pondering.


The cinematic remake from 2003 stars Robert Downey, Jr., as the disease-ridden "Dan Dark" hallucinating tunes & plots from his sickbed. At one-fourth the length of the original, it comes off as a synopsis of the real thing, the Reader's Digest twenty page version of the Bible.

I like Downey a lot (in other films) but anyone who has already seen Michael Gambon perform this role will be disappointed that not only is the story stripped down to very little, the complexity of the character is also gutted. While Downey merely acted another role of many he has done, Gambon became a character in the role of a lifetime.

Even so the story is so original & fantastic that it holds one's attention, & I can only guess that anyone denied the great privilege of viewing the original would find this a satisfying film, but no way could it ever be mistaken for a work of genius, which the original certainly is. The synoptic remake is saved primarily by Mel Gibson as the ugly & cretinish Dr. Gibbon.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl



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