Tag Archives: Private detectives

An Unsuitable Job for a Woman Set 1 (1982)

For British mystery fans

When private detective Pryde commits suicide, he leaves his business to protege, Cordelia Gray. Cordelia (Helen Baxendale) struggles to maintain the business and solve the cases brought to her. An Unsuitable Job for a Woman (set 1) is composed of 2 stories on a total of 3 videotapes. The total viewing time for these tapes is 330 minutes.

Fans of British detective made for television films and/or mysteries should prepare themselves for a treat. In the first story, Sacrifice Cordelia is employed to investigate the suicide of a young man named Mark. Mark dropped out of university and took a job as a gardener at a remote house. A few weeks later, he was found hanging in a cottage–an apparent suicide. Mark’s father, a researcher, employs Cordelia to establish the reasons for Mark’s suicide, but Cordelia isn’t so sure that Mark committed suicide. She soon sniffs the possibility of murder.

In the second episode The Last Embrace, the female owner of a huge, fancy hotel employs Cordelia. The hotel owner claims that her husband is a monster, guilty of harassing female staff and then buying them off when they dare complain. Divorce is in the air, and evidence of chronic infidelity will determine who gets possession of the hotel. Cordelia is employed to go undercover working at the hotel, and essentially, she is bait for the husband. The husband is quite a charmer, and he swears his wife is the one with the fidelity problem. Soon, a corpse pops up, and Cordelia’s loyalties are in question.

The title, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman says it all. Early on in the series, a man tells Cordelia that the career of a private detective isn’t very suitable for a female. And that idea remains a tantalizing idea throughout the series. Cordelia isn’t a perfect private detective–in fact she makes mistakes–rather big ones. And these mistakes usually occur when she allows her heart (which isn’t exercised very much in her personal life) to overrule her head. And it’s her head that’s supposed to be running things here. In the first story, Cordelia finds herself becoming inordinately involved in Mark’s death. She realizes that she would have really liked him had she ever had the opportunity to know him, and this makes her leave her objectivity behind. Cordelia also manages to alienate people she questions. Her questions are usually rather naked and invasive. People who could help Cordelia find her annoying or repellent. She remains something of a curiosity to others. Cordelia is a young, attractive woman. In other circumstances, she should have a social life, friends, boyfriends, and family. But Cordelia has no one–nothing, and this exposes her vulnerability. At one point, she visits a university, and it’s a poignant scene. The Elysian days of scholarly pursuit are not for Cordelia. Not a word is spoken about this, but we realize that Cordelia recognizes that she never had this opportunity and never will.

Cordelia does have a faithful sidekick, of sorts. Edith Sparshott (Annette Crosbie) is her secretary–rapidly promoted to the position of personal assistant. Edith plays a protective, motherly figure. She’s savvier than she appears, and what she doesn’t know about Cordelia, she accurately guesses. An Unsuitable Job For a Woman is the sort of mystery in which the mystery itself isn’t of paramount importance; it’s the characters that matter. The stories and characters are based on PD James novels–although apparently, the author does have some problems with the manner in which her literary creation of Cordelia Gray is handled. Fans of British mysteries should really enjoy this well-acted series, and the actress Helen Baxendale delivers a great, yet subtle, performance as Cordelia.

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Satan Met a Lady (1936)

 “A blonde’s been the death of many a man.”

satan-met-a-ladyIn Satan Met a Lady, mystery woman Valerie Purvis (Bette Davis) employs private detective, Ames (Porter Hall) to track down a man. Ames is killed and his partner Ted Shayne (William Warren) takes up the case. Soon Shayne is offered money by various people who all want to possess the legendary Horn of Roland that is reputedly stuffed with gems. Valerie Purvis–one of the people after the Horn–plays fast and loose with ladies’ man Shayne.

Satan Met a Lady is based on the Dashiell Hammett novel, Watch on the Rhine, and that same novel also inspired The Maltese Falcon. Satan Met a Lady made in 1936, is almost unrecognizable as The Maltese Falcon–one of the greats of the film noir genre made only 5 years later in 1941. If you’re expecting to see a different version of The Maltese Falcon, then you’ll be disappointed in Satan Met a Lady. If you’re a Bette Davis fan, you may still be disappointed. It’s not one of her best roles–actually in the line-up of her career, it’s very weak. The lead female role of Valerie Purvis is a role without bite and only a little guile. The role hems in Davis’s talent, and she’s not allowed any great evil scenes, and only luke-warm flirtation. Shayne’s abysmally dense, but ever-faithful secretary, Miss Murgatroyd (Marie Wilson) is supposed to be endearing, but she’s mainly rather annoying. William Warren as the smooth operator, Shayne, calls women “kitten”, “heart-throb”, “precious”, “child” “sister”, and “honey” throughout the film, and after a while, Shayne’s self-adoration becomes a bit tedious. Many of the scenes should be serious (a gun is pulled on Shayne, for example), and this is just an excuse for light repartee and sly jokes that bounce around like after-dinner conversation. The plot can’t seem to make a firm stand–is this a screwball comedy or a thriller? The film is well-paced, only mildly entertaining, and there are a few genuinely funny moments. For me, however, the main interest comes in seeing how the 30s interpreted the novel. Watching Satan Met a Lady and The Maltese Falcon allows the viewer to see how the world changed to a much darker place in just a few years, and these two films reflect that change. From director William Dieterle.

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Farewell, My Lovely (1975)

“You’ll do anything for six bits.”

Set in Los Angeles in 1941, this moody film noir adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel includes a weary Phillip Marlowe played by 57-year old Robert Mitchum. Mitchum’s Marlowe is perfection itself, and Mitchum’s usual laconic style also includes a tired, patient acceptance of the general wickedness of human nature. Dick Powell played Marlowe in the 1944 version titled Murder My Sweet. Watch the two back-to-back, and you will appreciate Mitchum’s style. Farewell My Lovely is Mitchum’s film.

Private Detective Marlowe is hired for a seemingly hopeless quest by an ex-con (named Moose) for his long-lost girlfriend, Velma. Marlowe seems to be humouring Moose more than anything else, but the quest for Velma leads Marlowe through some sleazy LA spots, and of course, there’s a trail of dead bodies along the way. The film oozes with the idea that people somehow wash up in seedy corners of LA. There’s Mrs. Florian (Sylvia Miles), for example, a woman whose alcohol-soaked memories may include some vital information, and there’s a bordello madam who’s big and mean enough to make all her girls behave. It’s not an easy task to produce a film in the mid 70s that smacks of the 40s, but Farewell My Lovely carries off the ambience of the time. My favourite line … “I was having some Chinese food when a dark shadow fell over my Chop Suey.” From director Dick Richards.

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Looking for Kitty (2004)

“I became a private investigator because I like the private part.”

The film Looking For Kitty examines the relationship that forms between two lonely men–high school baseball coach, Abe Fiannico (David Krumholtz) and the New York private investigator, Jack Stanton (Edward Burns–who also directed the film) hired to trace Abe’s runaway wife, Kitty (Ari Meyers). While at first the two men seem quite different from one another, it soon becomes apparent that they have much more in common than they realize.

Abe is still in love with his wife, and he’s reluctant to tell the story of how she left, but Kitty, apparently, ran off with British rock star Ron Stewart (Max Baker). Alone in New York, and faced with the bleakness of an anonymous hotel room, Abe pays an additional fee to tag along with Jack as he digs for clues to Kitty’s whereabouts. There are some uncanny parallels in the lives of Jack and Abe. Both men, for example are creatures of habit–they’re both stubborn and reluctant to try anything new, and they are both still in love with the wives they no longer have. While Abe’s wife simply ran off, Jack’s much-loved wife is dead.

It’s the small details of this subtle, bittersweet film that make it a joy to watch. The camera captures Jack’s emotions as he wakes up to yet another day in an empty bed. Jack’s aching loneliness remains present on the screen–but never mentioned. As a reluctant relationship gradually forms between the two men, Abe and Jack are able to analyze each other’s situation, and they both find it relatively easy to create solutions to the other man’s problems. Sweetly and gently amusing, Looking For Kitty is not Burns’s best film (for that see Sidewalks of New York), but nonetheless for Burns fans, it’s amusing, and well worth catching.

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