Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased): That's How Murder Snowballs

I realise I'm finding it difficult to write about Randall & Hopkirk, because I've just realised I watch them for all the wrong reasons, for the sixties atmosphere rather than the actual story. It is therefore strange that I like this one a lot, since its milieu is theatrical rather than swinging sixties. On the other hand this one's got to be good, it was written by Ray Austin! And apart from the quibble that it's slightly obvious from the beginning, that it is.
It's interesting in terms of Randall's character, especially as I'm coming straight to this one from Just for the Record: in both of these Randall comes across as a rather sleazy character, or possibly just at his financial wits' end. The ethics of selling his story to the papers are rightly slightly underdeveloped, since it is clear in the context of the series that Randall's business & private coffers are chronically underfinanced. He is painted as - almost - a rogue here, but a loveable one, doing his best to fulfill his obligations, specifically here to Marty Hopkirk's widow as his employee. He is more ambivalent than this though: when apart from dramatic effect, another reason he could be the first person up on the stage to look at that body when the first murder happens, is that, in contrast to the rest of the sudience who are pictured running out in disarray, he is the only one to keep his head. His role as 'only sensible person' continues to the extent of explaining about gunshot blasts to the policeman, who either would have known that or had ways of finding out, & to explaining sleight-of-hand to him, another commonplace.
There's a lot of human interest here, specifically the recurring theme of people being at their wits' ends, & what that will drive them to. I love the description of the episode having something of Scooby Doo about it (http://www.randallandhopkirk.org.uk/programmes_11_thats_how_murder_snowballs.htm), but I feel it is much deeper than that, with a better & more complex of human nature & motivation.
This, to me, is unusual for a Randall & Hopkirk episode, because I feel it actually makes the most of Hopkirk's ghostliness, to make Randall the most convincing mind-reading act in history. There are just a couple of occasions when people don't move as smoothly around Hopkins as they should do, such as one where a man moves seat a little too obviously to allow him to sit down in the auditorium. I do love the bit where he describes not being able to break the habit of sitting at the dinner table, having been to the Savoy & dined with the Prime Minister. Of course it gives Jeannie less scope than later episodes, but the advantage of this approach is that without the ghost hopping about this is a completely straightforward detective story in a closed community, without the Randall & Hopkirk 'thing', even down to the reconstruction of the crime on-stage.
The rest of the cast are a random mixture of conflicting human emotions & motivations: unfortunately it is so obvious, since the murderer is so obviously a woman in drag, that when you consider the male cast, bearing build in mind, it all falls into place. The drag aspect helps the theatrical setting along, of course, & in terms of visuals it's hard to go wrong with setting something backstage in a theatre.
I also like that the episode leaves an apparent unexplained mystery: in the counterpoint of the police & the press, both of whom Randall has dealings with, the reporter is the one who queries how Randall does it, while the policeman is all set on explaining how it was done. I like this Randall & Hopkirk a lot, despite the few failings mentioned above, which are largely compensated for by setting & characterisation, despite being out of the run of Randall & Hopkirk episodes.
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