Christmas is fast approaching, so Admin and I thought it would be fun to examine a scene from one of Mr. Malahide’s more Christmassy movies (for certain definitions of “Christmassy”), 1984’s “Comfort and Joy“. In this scene, radio host Alan “Dickie” Bird (Bill Paterson, who also starred with Mr. Malahide in “The Singing Detective” and “The Killing Fields“), despondent over being dumped by his long-time significant other Maddy (Eleanor David, who also appeared with Mr. Malahide in the “Dead Water” episode of the “Inspector Alleyn Mysteries“) just before Christmas, has inadvertently become involved in a Glaswegian ice cream gang turf war. So, he visits his friend Colin (who also happens to be a doctor) to get his perspective on ice cream – and other things.
[Alan is staring at an X-Files-style diagram trying to figure out the connection between ice cream (“Raspberry?”), the mystery girl he’s infatuated with, and the man in the mask who attacked her ice cream truck while he was there. He seems to realize he’s in over his head.]
RF: I’m really not sure how he thinks that chart will help him, since it looks pretty nonsensical. Maybe it needs an entry for UFOs or something.
Admin: And the word “ice” in the diagram has an arrow pointing to nothing, unless you count the thumb tack. Alan covers that arrow up with his hand though, so even he realizes it is superfluous.
Alan [on phone]: Hello Colin, this is Alan. This is an SOS. Can I come over?
[Alan listens to one of his own radio ads for some kind of chewy mint bar on the way over.]
RF: The movie does a great job of capturing the absolute inanity of early Eighties radio with the jingles and ads. Of course, none of Alan’s ads can even come close to approaching the insufferability of Mr. Bunny’s insidious “Hullo, folks!” jingle. Ugh, that thing still makes me shudder!
Admin: Mr. Bunny’s catchphrase is irritating beyond belief, and the bunny they perch on the motor is weird too. I’d be a Mr. McCool patron for those reasons on their own, never mind the ice cream.
[At Colin’s house]
Alan: How was the operation yesterday?
Colin [poking the fire and not really paying attention]: Eh?
Alan: The operation.
Colin: Oh yeah, it was fine… um… The bugger had eaten a sandwich the night before and not told us. Very nearly sewed his new kidney onto a piece of tomato.
RF: Colin already looks like the epitome of relaxation, kicking back with his whiskey glass. He also seems remarkably calm and in a good mood for nearly having an operation go wrong on him, but the scene does illustrate his laid-back sense of humour and unflappableness.
Admin: I don’t think they could make the scene look more cozy if they tried. It is maximum coziness. And Colin very much looks 100% accustomed to it.
Colin: The one essential is a good, empty gut. But the kidney seems like a good match. What did you do last night?
Alan: I bought some ice cream.
RF: About this time, most normal people would be wondering why Alan would call in an SOS if all he did the previous night was go buy ice cream. But Colin barely bats an eye at the seeming non sequitur.
Admin: I love the way he says, “oh.” He looks mildly disappointed, but remains very polite. I think he was expecting Alan’s SOS to be of a somewhat more ribald nature given the very cute and encouraging smile he gives when he asks about what Alan did last night.
RF: True, he does look as if he was expecting something vastly more interesting than just buying ice cream. But of course, Colin doesn’t yet know that it’s turned into a gang war. 😉
Alan: Do you know anything about ice cream? I mean, professionally? Medically?
Colin: Not a lot, no.
RF: He likes to eat it? It tastes good? 😉 Again, Colin barely bats an eye at getting such a strange question out of the blue. Either he’s used to Alan asking odd things, or he’s used to dealing with strange people at the hospital – or both.
Admin: He does a little lip chewing and looks to the sky as though he is plumbing the depths of his knowledge for any relevant information on ice cream.
[Toddler Katy starts wailing in the other room.]
Colin: You should ask the experts.
[Katy, still wailing, runs in with Lily, drops a partially dismembered doll on Colin’s lap, and runs out again.]
RF: I like how Katy basically dumps the doll unceremoniously on Colin, then runs out again, still wailing. You get the impression this is something they’ve done before, many times, with every expectation that Daddy can fix anything for them. Colin, still relaxed, seems to take the whole thing as par for the course, too.
Admin: That is really funny, and quite sweet, the way she just dumps the doll bits on her dad. And, yep, he remains very calm and serene. No wonder Alan goes to him for advice and help.
Lily: Could you fix Katy’s doll for her, please?
Colin [to Lily]: I’ve left my needle and thread at the hospital, sweetheart. [Examining the doll] This is a real mess, Lily. Now, I’ve told you about amputations. You just watch them closely and only chop if you have to, okay?
RF: I love how Colin answers Lily without talking down to her, describing the doll’s condition as “amputations”. He’s very matter-of-fact and straightforward, even while being subtly hilarious about only “chop[ping] if you have to”. One gets the impression he probably has talked to his kids about amputations and other medical procedures, but in such a way that they weren’t frightened by the descriptions at all.
Admin: That’s right. He seems like a fun dad with his dark sense of humour, but he’s also very gentle and kind so it isn’t ghoulish or alarming.
RF: These are kids who will probably appreciate Edward Gorey or Lemony Snicket when they get a bit older.
[Katy continues crying off camera]
Alan: I wish I could cry like that. I’ve forgotten how to.
Colin: Have another couple of drinks and it’ll all come back.
Alan: Oh, aye.
Colin: That’s serious medical advice. Sometimes there’s nothing like a good skinful.
RF: Colin’s advice is probably pretty good, considering that a large part of Alan’s problem is that he can’t let go of Maddy. He also pulls Lily in for a hug and she’s perfectly content to cuddle up with him – obviously Robin Black (Lily) felt extremely comfortable working with Mr. Malahide.
Admin: Colin is being completely sincere: Have a good drink and a cry and let it go.
[Lily whispers in Colin’s ear]
Colin: Do you want me to ask him? [Lily nods] Okay. Lily says you can get her ready for bed tonight, Uncle Dickie. And that’s a great honour.
RF: There’s a nice little conspiratorial moment between father and daughter when Lily whispers into Colin’s ear. She’s too shy to ask Alan directly (although he seems to be a frequent enough guest that he’s “Uncle Dickie”), but she’s perfectly happy to let her father pass on the message. And again, Colin seems perfectly at ease as a father – very reassuring and loving. I also like how he describes the privilege of being allowed to get Lily ready for bed as a “great honour”.
Admin: A good thing too, because if Alan does have another scotch he won’t want to be driving home. 🙂 But, it is very sweet and it shows that everyone sees Alan as a part of the family.
Fiona: Lily, Dickie on the bed, girls in the bunk, all right?
Colin: Night night, ladies.
Fiona: Kiss Daddy night night.
[Lily and Katy kiss Colin, then leave with Fiona.]
Colin [to Katy, who still hasn’t stopped crying]: Night night, sweetheart.
RF: I wondered if Katy’s crying was in the script or just happened and everyone improvised through it. In any case, both Fiona and Colin seem like extremely capable, loving parents.
Admin: I was wondering that too. It could be that she was overwhelmed and they all just quickly worked through it, or it might have been scripted and looked really natural. It worked either way.
Alan: You lucky bugger. How’d you get it all together? You’re so productive.
Colin [with a smirk]: Reproductive. There’s a difference. Don’t forget, I was always jealous of you at university. Organizing the hops, hmmm? Mr. Showbiz? Pulling girls?
RF: I like Colin’s subtle smirk when he describes himself as “reproductive”. 😉 But he’s also being very modest about what he’s achieved in his life. Interesting that they both have a case of the “grass always being greener”; one can easily imagine the young Colin being jealous of Alan’s social success while studying to be a serious doctor, while Alan was heavy on the par-tay side of things. We get a very evocative picture of what they were like as young men in only a few words.
Admin: That Colin…he already seems perfect and then he goes and adds modesty to his ever growing list of laudable attributes.
Alan: Failing exams.
Colin: Even that made me jealous. I didn’t have the guts to fail exams.
Alan: You’re just trying to make me feel better.
Colin: Well, that’s my job. [snorts quietly] I only hung around with you because you knew all the fast girls.
Alan: Yeah, but you married one of them. You got one of them to keep. I don’t even have a home. You drive around this city and all you see are homes. And I don’t have one.
RF: Well, I suspect there was a lot more to their friendship than that, but Colin is very gently pulling Alan’s leg – although he’s concealing some bits of truth in his words as he’s doing it. He’s certainly being self-deprecating in order to make Alan feel better (and succeeding), but I get the impression he was actually jealous of Alan’s success with girls. Not that he had to worry, because he’s incredibly charming and good-looking as it is. And, as Alan points out, Colin has all the things that he’d now like to have, the things he’s been missing in his life: a successful relationship, children, and a home. Colin is Alan’s touchstone of stability and sanity.
Admin: Colin has a rueful look on his face after he talks about the exams that could show that there was at least one point in his life where he felt a lot of stress and pressure. I think you are right, he really was jealous of Alan back then. But, he is quickly pulled back to the here and now when Alan says he just trying to make him feel better.
Colin: Oh, we’ve all got worries, you know. I have this recurring nightmare about you coming to date one of my daughters in about ten years’ time. It’s awful.
Alan: Well, she will be old enough to know her own mind, Colin.
Colin: Well, imagine… that little madam wanting you to undress her tonight? She’s six years old.
RF: Okay, this is just a wee bit on the creepy side, although I’m sure it wasn’t meant that way. Colin’s still obviously joking, but I think he’d be horrified (and probably furious) if Alan showed up in ten years’ time actually wanting to date one of his daughters. I think there might be a more practical demonstration in amputations if that was to occur. 😮 Equally creepy that Alan says she’ll “know her own mind” and possibly consider him as a possible boyfriend! Hmm, I think Lily can do better.
Admin: Yeah, that sounds a little “hmmm” today, but C&J was made in 1984 so it was meant to be completely lighthearted. But, actually, I think Colin is warning Alan, in his wry way, that he doesn’t want to wind up being a lonely older guy going after much younger women when all he really needs to do is just get over Maddy (who wasn’t that great a person with the shoplifting, anyway) now. And Lily’s comfort with Alan kind of shows that he himself would probably make a good father.
RF: Very true – Colin is actually hinting at Alan, but in such a way as not to bruise Alan’s ego. Now, if only Alan will take his advice.
“Comfort and Joy” Wrap-Up
RF: This is a very sweet, yet very brief little scene that gives us a lot of background on Colin and Alan’s friendship, showing us why Alan regards Colin as a “rock” in his life. Colin provides a sensible, intelligent perspective on Alan’s life that Alan can’t see, because he’s so caught up in longing for Maddy and the weird goings-on of the ice cream gang war. We also get to see Colin as a father, with his lovely, irreverent sense of humour and straightforward way of talking to Lily. He seems perfectly content with his life and the choices he’s made even as he tells Alan he used to be jealous of him, yet all the while he’s actually being Alan’s doctor – and friend – by making him feel better.
Admin: It is a lovely scene. It is so cozy, cute and comforting, but it never crosses into saccharine sweetness which could have been very easily managed. Colin’s sharp wit has a darkish edge that explains why “cool kid” Alan would have taken to him in the first place all those years ago. It is a very subtle performance, and also a compelling one. Patrick Malahide really is playing an almost perfect man, but he never comes off as annoying for it because he is very aware of the needs of those around him, and he assuages those needs in a seemingly effortless, non-patronizing manner. Oh, and his accent is lovely too. 😉