The McGuffin (1986)

“I wanted something to happen.”

In the British television film, The McGuffin film reviewer Paul Hatcher (Charles Dance) becomes concerned about the well being of an elderly neighbour when he sees her arguing with a young blonde one evening. Paul finds an excuse to go over and visit and discovers a peculiar situation. The neighbour, Mrs. Forbes-Duthie (Ann Todd) introduces the young blonde as her niece, but refers to the niece as ‘he.’ It’s obvious to Paul that the ‘niece’ is a man dressed up as a woman, and it’s also obvious that the ‘niece’ (a young man named Gavin) is terrified.

Paul offers to take Gavin’s dog–a bull terrier named Archie–for walks, but his contact with his neighbour and Gavin remains minimal. One evening, Paul is woken up by screams. Dashing to his window, he sees Gavin struggling with two men. The next day, the newspapers carry a far different story than that witnessed by Paul. When the police drag him in for questioning, it’s clear that there’s something afoot. Paul is followed, his flat is bugged, and then he discovers a roll of undeveloped negatives.

Based on the marvellous book The McGuffin by John Bowen, the film version is a horrible disappointment. The film loses all the intricacies of the book’s plot, and instead what is left is a fairly silly unthrilling story. In the novel, the main character’s methodical approach to unraveling the mystery is riveting, and the author laces the book with allusion to film. The novel reads like the plot to a Hitchcock masterpiece, but the film version relies on a few well-placed allusions to Hitchcock–a poster for the film The Man Who Knew Too Much for example. Ultimately, all the subtleties of the novel are gone. What’s left is a dull pedestrian plot with uninteresting characters, and that’s awful when one considers how fantastic the book is. The most interesting character in the entire film is Archie–he steals the show.

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