Feature Review – 4th Floor of Singapore
Directed by Jim Peakman. Written by Jim Peakman & Michael Smith. Blue Ridge Films (2015)
Filmed in sumptuous black and white, this noir comedy mixes the group dynamics of Clue with the gumshoe antics of Sin City and despite its American tropes and look, actually hails from the unlikely city of Coventry in the Midlands.
Plot wise, after checking in to a murky mansion hotel, Hollywood agent Mr. Baker is soon found dead and the put-upon concierge Mr. Pleasant (Alan Wales) calls in a Bogart-esque gumshoe to investigate the murder. Detective Clive Driver (George McCluskey) arrives and immediately interviews guests about their alibis and backgrounds – from a randy femme fatale with a heaving bosom – who asks how he takes his sugar with his tea (“two lumps”) – to an illusionist who reminiscences on past tricks (that failed both him and his father) as well as many more quirky characters.
Playing on some of the vintage nostalgia and iconography that The Artist tapped into, the authentic “scratches” on the film stock give the appearance of celluloid whilst the period music adds to the authentic experience. The film continues its nods to the past with smoky stairwells, stormy weather and shifty shadows whilst the group dynamic works well although the linear narrative could have done with some more cross-cutting instead of almost exclusively following the private eye.
I did enjoy the comedy throughout the film, where visual gags and back-and-forths between characters are balanced with silly slapstick as portly porters attempt to carry luggage to rooms and sexual innuendoes abound. The film twists some of the style of 1930s Hollywood with battles of the sexes mixing with both the hardboiled and the screwball genres.
The 30’s tropes are all there from the mink scarves, dining tables, (mild) violence and gravel-throated voice-overs as the gumshoe probes all party-going guests in his search for the culprit. The thin but appropriate narrative is also punctuated by pratfalls and the clowning humour is sound-tracked by a great use of period music from swing and jazz to blues trumpet.
The vintage comedy is brought up to date with a smattering of self-aware jokes amongst the dining tables and aristocrats as the film breaks the fourth wall with knowing looks to the camera as well as a scene which culminates into a brief song and dance number. In addition, the sound effects that don’t quite match up or are humorously over the top are all part of the film’s charm and an animation sequence is thrown in for good measure too!
The film uses tricks such as flashbacks and recalled memories whilst Leicester’s own Kenton Hall as the master of magic (and a French accent) steals the best scenes with a clowning and animated performance amongst the standard crime fiction plot beats. The diminutive but hilarious Carsum Din as his sidekick performer, Cormac, was a great touch despite The Amazing Gino’s character’s lack of skill – the Dr. Nick of illusions if you will.
The one thing missing I suppose was some stereotypical fast-talking – a quick fire repartee style oft seen in old gangster flicks which would have physically sped things up in some of the slower scenes. Another issue for me was the slightly strange running time – a bit too fleeting of length (and narrative) for a feature (at 1 hr 13 mins) but far too long for a short. Maybe a choice could have been made between a sharper 45 minute cut or another subplot or two to make it a full feature. Either way, it could have helped make the film stake its intentions a little bit clearer.
That said, whilst the accents vary throughout (it’s clearly “moir-dor”) the fine combination of mismatched couples and conflicts between the varied guests keep the intrigue ticking along. A selection of social classes and an orgy of fighting and calamity at the film’s climax that would make Gatsby proud, recalls the best from the period. And the jokes, whilst not always hitting their mark, come thick and fast enough to overcome the odd miss.
With both vaudeville and the “talkies” being mocked in the opening, it is ironically upon those two foundations the film is successful the most. From misunderstandings to wistful costumes and production design, the humour is always at the forefront, whether it be visual or musical.
Overall, I can highly recommend seeing this terrific trench-coat Chandler-style comedy that parodies the private eye stories of the era and has a brilliant edited musical soundtrack of merry melodies from yesteryear.
Midlands Movies Mike
See the trailer for the film at this link: http://vimeo.com/87010690