For St. Patrick’s Day, RFodchuk and I thought we’d take a look at one of our favorite Irish scenes featuring Patrick Malahide. In “A Man of No Importance” he plays the exceedingly unpleasant Inspector Carson. Despite his hyper-officious manner, he is not a police inspector, but rather a bus inspector. He takes his job very seriously and has a major problem with lovable bus conductor Alfred Byrne (Albert Finney) and the young driver Robbie Fay (Rufus Sewell).
In this scene, Carson stops the bus in order to make sure everything is in order, plus it gives him a chance to keep an eye on those two scoundrels Alfie and Robbie. It is a brilliant scene with a hilarious ending.
[The bus grinds to a halt as Inspector Carson leaps aboard.]
Admin: Carson is standing outside looking very official. He actually has a military bearing which is obviously massive overkill for a quiet bus manned by the kindly and friendly duo of Alfie and Robbie. There is something about the way Carson wears that long coat of his. It is gorgeous, but just adds to his overbearing aura.
RF: He’s a terror with a clipboard. You get the impression that he might spend his evenings posing in front of the mirror in his uniform and long coat, practicing for maximum effect. He’s the sort of guy who takes a teensy bit of authority and milks it for all it’s worth, and then some. No wonder Robbie warns Alfie when he sees Carson waiting to get on the bus.
Admin: I like the image of him posing in front of the mirror. Indeed, there aren’t many who can work a long coat with such draconian elan.
RF: I love “draconian elan”. 😀
Carson: All tickets, please. [Pulls the window shut as both Alfie and Robbie look on nervously]
Admin: Once on board Carson immediately kills the lighthearted mood. The way his hat is pulled down over his eyes makes him look incredibly serious. It just makes his determinedly jutted jaw look all the more fierce. Robbie, Alfie and even the passengers all look very nervous and intimidated. It soon becomes apparent why.
RF: Agreed, Carson kills the lighthearted mood and immediately shuts the window so Robbie and Alfie know his opinion of their shenanigans. There should be no chit-chat on the bus! He also pronounces “All tickets please!” with very clipped, harsh consonants, and in a very peremptory tone, which makes it sound more like an order than a request – which it is.
Admin: There is something about that window closing that makes me think of a fed-up father separating two chattering children.
Carson: [Approaches a frightened woman with a whimpering baby.] This woman has no ticket.
Admin: He doesn’t even ask the young woman for a ticket. Her fear is obvious and it is immediately clear she doesn’t have a ticket. He rudely gestures his head towards her as he addresses Alfie not even bothering to speak to her. His voice conveys a clear challenge as he says, “This woman has no ticket.” Alfie is in some hot water.
RF: Carson reminds me a bit of a Gestapo officer demanding, “Papers, please!” He certainly conveys about that level of intimidation, and he knows it. You’re right, he is rather rude to the woman and he eyes first her, and then Alfie, with an icy stare. He’s hoping someone will crack under the pressure.
Admin: I like the “Papers, please!” analogy. 🙂 That is all very Inspector Carson.
Alfie: Why, Mr. Carson, I must have overlooked this lady. [Reels out a ticket for her.] There you are, ma’am.
Carson: [To the lady] The bus company is not a charity.
Admin: Hooray for Alfie and his quick thinking! But, Inspector Carson is most certainly not impressed. His jaw juts even further in fury and his eyes have a frosty ice-like quality. I felt chilly just looking at them. 🙂 He finally acknowledges the woman by cruelly letting her know he is fully aware of Alfie’s game and reminding her of her obvious poverty.
RF: Alfie saves the day indeed, and he manages to pull it off quite casually. Despite that, you get the impression he’s used this tactic before and Carson is likely specifically looking out for it. Agreed about Carson’s chilly stare; it probably makes some people break down and confess they were riding the bus for free without him even saying anything. He really does exalt in the tiny bit of power he has. But I also notice that Robbie opens the window again just before Carson gets off the bus, in a small gesture of defiance.
Admin: Yes, that was a nice touch with Robbie re-opening the window.
Carson: [Stomps towards Alfie.] If you want to provide free transport for wasters, that’s up to you. [Dings bell to be let off.] But if I come on and find a tinker without a ticket, I’ll put you off the bus, not them.
Admin: He is using pretty harsh language considering the woman and all the other passengers are sitting awkwardly by. But, he certainly makes his point clear with a steely air of authority. It is complete overkill for the scene, but that’s what makes it (and Mr. Carson in general) so enjoyable to watch.
RF: Carson is the sort of guy who doesn’t hesitate to give Alfie a talking-to, whether there are passengers around or not. You also get the sense that he’s getting a big charge out of exerting his authority; he enjoys making the lady feel bad, and threatening Alfie’s job. He’s just not a nice guy. Which makes what happens next all the more enjoyable. 😉
Carson: [Hopping off the bus] Mark me now! [As he disembarks, he is suddenly surrounded a by a group of schoolgirls who grab at him as he feebly yells at them to “Get back.“]
Admin: What the heck was that all about? That was hilarious. The St. Trinians crowd leap on him like he’s in The Beatles or something. Can’t blame them. 😉 Why did it even happen though? Did Robbie Fay put them up to it or something? Robbie gives Alfie a little wink as they drive off, so maybe he did. Plus, he has that Flash Harry vibe going on. Anyway, it is the perfect nutty ending to the scene.
RF: The feral schoolgirl mob is just the best. 😀 I love that they come running from a block away once they spot him. We can’t be sure if it’s admiration or revenge that makes them swarm him; with Carson, it could be either, but I suspect the latter. I bet there was a huge school field trip planned that he put the kibosh on for some reason, deciding they couldn’t use the bus and they’ve never forgotten it. I didn’t notice Carson yelling “Get back!” on previous viewings, but I heard it once I was paying more attention. That just makes it all the funnier. I wonder if anyone came to his rescue? Probably not, if he’s always dinging them for not having tickets.
Admin: Who knew a pack of school girls could be so terrifying? 🙂 I still reckon Robbie put them up it, but you are right, Carson could have called-off an outing or something. Maybe it was a combination. 🙂 Either way, it is one of the best and most delightfully random endings to a scene ever. “A Man of No Importance” is a gem of a film, and that is one of the reasons why.
Admin: So there you have it, a great little scene from a wonderful movie. Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone!
RF: Happy St. Patrick’s Day! 🙂