Analysis of a Scene XVII: Singing Detective — Puttin’ On the Ritz

...don't you think you're a teeny bit too old.

The perfect 80s cad.

Here is the final installment of our Analyses of The Singing Detective scenes: A scene from from episode 6, Who Done It, link goes to recap,  featuring 80s cad Mark Finney.

Puttin’ On the Ritz

Marlow imagines himself at Finney’s.

Marlow, in his hospital bed, is once again having a weird fantasy about Nicola and her “paramour” Mark Finney. This time Marlow (meta)physically is a witness to the scene. He sneaks up the stairs and spies a very nifty stereo system blaring “Puttin’ on the Ritz” as Nicola and Mark, in lingerie and a robe respectively, dance while sharing a cigarette (probably not a tobacco one).

Showing her some hot moves.

Showing her some hot moves.

RF:  I couldn’t help noticing that Marlow set this particular scene after any sexual activity had already taken place.  I still think he couldn’t quite bear to imagine it, even though that didn’t stop him from envisioning similar scenes with Sonja/Mrs. Marlow/Nicola and Mark and Raymond Binney.  Also, Finney appears to have rather old-fashioned taste in music for such a modern, up-to-date guy – or is he just being fashionably retro?  😉

Admin:  That’s right, Finney would listen to Duran Duran or the like.  But, since we can safely guess that Marlow doesn’t know Duran Duran from The Bay City Rollers we have to make do with Irving Berlin. 🙂

Admin: Finney’s carpet illustrates the monochromatic color theme that RFodchuk noticed. Even his shimmery robe is gray and black.  He looks fantastic in it, by the way. The dance, though, manages to be a wee bit creepy and sexy at the same time. It is a weird combination, but it really works for these two. I do like them. They are so entertainingly wicked that what happens next is a bit crushing. Stupid Marlow. :-/

Swank!

RF:  You’re right, it’s an oddly creepy dance.  Maybe it’s the incongruity of their attire versus the uninhibited dance they’re doing (must be some cigarette  😉 ), or the fact they’re so nastily gleeful at having put one over on Marlow, or a combination thereof.  But yes, Finney’s love of monochromatic “nice things” does seem to extend to his bedroom apparel.  😉  Once again, Nicola’s necklace provides an accent of red and the only colour in the room (okay, besides the drinks), although there’s even less red than there was before.  This is also the first time we see Marlow physically present (sort of) in order to “watch” the scene he’s creating in his head.

Admin:  It is their OTT approach to evil that I like best.  🙂  I guess it stems from Marlow being a pulp writer which is a genre that often has villains openly discussing their plans.  They really are great together until it goes all wrong.

RF:  Tsk tsk, all because of different priorities!

The phone rings.

The phone rings….
Finney: Turn it down. (Nicola fiddles with the stereo knob while Finney smooths his already smooth hair.) Turn it off! OFF! (Music is now off. Finney picks up his phone.) Featherwheel…who’s calling? (Smiles.) Hi! How are things with you? Oh, around midnight…no, no, that’s OK. What? Fantastic! Oh, obviously….delighted. Yes. (Nicola moves closer to Finney. Marlow continues sneaking into the room.) Thank you. No…no, that’s no problem. No, I can be out in LA at one day’s notice, truly. Yeah! Very exciting indeed.

Admin: Finney’s phone manner makes him sound like a stereotypical schmooze.  The conversation starts off upbeat enough, but it is to take a somewhat sour turn.

Unnecessarily smoothing down his hair.

Unnecessarily smoothing down his hair.

RF:  I love the way Finney self-consciously smooths his hair even though it’s obvious the people in L.A. won’t be able to see him.  Skype hasn’t been invented yet!  😉  Perhaps it puts him in a suitable mood for schmoozing, which he’s no stranger to doing.   He’s very anxious to get everything in the bag, betraying his nervous state by  peremptorily shouting at Nicola to turn the music off.  Then he instantly and seamlessly switches into schmooze mode (combined with more too-loud, excessively garrulous  nervous speech and blatant brown-nosing) when he picks up the phone.  Oooohhh Mark, you’re trying too hard!

Admin:  There is a boyish element to his schmoozing such as with the “very exciting indeed” line.  It makes him seem quite fresh and eager compared to the imagined bigwigs in Hollywood.

You mean the scene in the dance hall?

You mean the scene in the dance hall?

Finney: (Continuing the phone conversation while looking a bit concerned.) Uh-huh. Ahhhh..ummm…you mean the scene in the dance hall? The bar and the balcony? Ummm…no…no…I think you have a point. (Nicola starts touching his sholder.) Yeah, it’s too….umm…enigmatic.  Um…Not…Clear. (He holds the phone away from his ear and whispers at her.) Piss off.  (Puts phone back to ear.) No, no…I can hear you fine. (Nicola walks to fix herself a drink.)  Umm…yes…just too, too….exactly. Yeah, no, I can put that right. Yeah, patch and mend, you know. (The scene briefly cuts to Marlow smiling cruelly in his hospital bed.) Oh, sure, I’ve all the chain of  title documents and, uh, now I know we’ve got a deal I’ll Skypack them out to you first thing. Yeah, there’s my title, the option on the book, and..uh..my screenplay of course.

Too enigmatic..

Too enigmatic..

Admin: I guess the guy on the other end doesn’t know what “enigmatic” means.  The first real cracks are starting to show in the Mark and Nicola partnership when he has to get her off his back with a very ungallant “piss off.”  Though in fairness to Mark, she is being profoundly annoying.

RF:  “Enigmatic” might be too conceptual for the Higher Ups.  😉 Finney seems slightly less sure of himself when it comes to making changes to the screenplay, although he’s still in sucking-up mode and

“Piss off!”

willing to say whatever it takes to put the deal through.  We get flickers of his nerves when he tells Nicola to “piss off!”, just in case there was any doubt he’d jettison her as soon as she was no longer useful, the thought of which causes Marlow’s cruel smile.  Nicola, of course, has her own priorities – namely her career – and is so impatient for Finney to get to the important stuff that she fails to pick up on the warning signs.

Finney: (Nicola moves back to him pointing at herself.) Uh, look, Mervin the other thing, the casting. Oh sure. Well, um, I think it should be Nicola Marlow (She looks ecstatic.) because…Nicola Marlow. Well, she’s, uh, done quite a lot over here. Well, because that’s my understanding. Who?  Oh…fabulous. (Nicola realizes her dream of starring in the film is going away.) No, she’s fantastic. I mean if we could get her…. My God! That’s wonderful! Well, you’ve obviously got a great deal more experience in these things than I have, that’s for sure. Yes..basically your money, you know, control wise. (Nicola walks away broken. Marlow is hiding in the corner smirking.) Well, see you very soon then. Fine…fine. Thank you. Thank you! Bye. (Hangs up phone.)

“Nicola Marlow?”

Admin: Awkward!  He practically gulps when he tells “Mervin” that Nicola Marlow should have the lead female role.  Finney knows she isn’t Hollywood’s idea of a leading lady especially as he struggles to explain who the heck she is.  It gets much worse when he is blindsided and utterly star struck by Mervin’s preference.  The dreamy, ethereal way he says “fabulous” is something else.  It is as though he is thinking of a goddess.  A mere mortal like Nicola doesn’t stand a chance.

"OH fabulous.  Not for Nicola."

“Ohh….fabulous.” — Not for Nicola.

RF:   Oooohhh, you know this is going to go badly as soon as Finney reluctantly gets around to suggesting Nicola.  He’s forced to repeat her name and explain that “she’s, uh, done quite a lot over here,” none of which bodes well. Finney likely knew all along that Nicola’s name wasn’t bankable and she wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell.  He’s clearly uncomfortable as he fulfills his part of the bargain, while Nicola’s so happy just to be mentioned she still doesn’t see the warning signs.  Finney’s far happier to go along with Mervin’s casting choice, abruptly dropping Nicola hard, as we knew he would. Not that it could end any other way, because the entire scene is Marlow’s vicarious revenge.

RF:  Finney changes mood as he fawns all over Mervin’s choice of actress:  “She’s fantastic”, showing all the enthusiasm he lacked when discussing Nicola.  He’s probably already setting his sights on a new target.  Nicola’s crestfallen and dismayed as the penny begins to drop.  She realizes she never really had a chance.  Finney only used her to obtain Marlow’s manuscript and never had any serious intentions to help her career.  He’s also very careful to establish plausible deniability for his lack of support, making sure to mention that Mervin holds all the strings finance and control-wise.

Admin:  Yeah, the way the halfheartedly put her name out there means he knew from the start that she wouldn’t get such a part which means he was just leading her along.  What a snake!

“Whew!” Marlow’s lovin’ it.

Finney: (Looks boyishly hapless at her.) Whew!
Marlow: (From the corner.) You cheap, little bastard.
Nicola: You cheap little bastard.
Finney: Oh, Nicola, listen…you know. I have no power here. Listen.
Nicola: No. You listen. I bought Phillip’s script to you. I conned him to signing away the rights for a tenth of what you are selling it for.
Finney: Oh, honey, you don’t think I’m trying to cheat on you. I mean, you’ll get what we agreed. You’ll get your share. (Marlow listens to that bit with feigned interest.)
Nicola: No, it’s not for the money. It’s not for the money. I play it. It is my part. Me. We agreed, Mark. We agreed.
Finney: But you know damn well, we don’t get control over casting.

What do you think I am? Spielberg?

What do you think I am? Spielberg?

Nicola: NO! (Throws glass of drink on his lovely carpet.) I don’t bloody well know.
Finney: Advice and consultation. That’s what we got. That’s what anybody gets. What do you think I am? Spielberg? (Marlow is enjoying this.) Advice and consultation.
Nicola: That wasn’t our deal. It is my part. I play it; we agreed. (Practically crying she’s so distraught.) It is my biggest chance!!!

Admin:  Marlow is enjoying this.  Finney goes back into his snake-mode with the weird neck contortions as he tries to smooth things with Nicola.  But, it also sounds like he is quite ready to part ways with her by promising her that she’ll get “her share.”  Back to the neck thing, the camera angles are pretty straight forward for Nicola and Marlow, but are more slanted for Finney giving him an off-kilter look.

RF:  I like how Marlow changes expression depending on who he’s mimicking, portraying Finney as a wide-eyed innocent victim of circumstances and Nicola as betrayed and outraged.  Very true that Finney goes back into snake mode as he tries to plead his case.  Of course, this is exactly what he planned all along, probably hoping that Nicola would be appeased by a buy-out.  But ultimately and most creepily, this is Marlow’s version of “just punishment” for Nicola’s imagined misdeeds.  In his mind, she deserves complete and utter humiliation (having a younger actress chosen over her is completely hitting below the belt) for a crime she hasn’t even committed.

Honey...

Honey…

Finney: Honey…don’t you think you’re just a…teeny bit too old now? (Corner Marlow looks delighted. We also see Hospital Marlow who is even more delighted.) Honey…don’t you think you’re just a…teeny bit too old now?
Nicola: Oh. Perhaps. Teeny bit. (She moves towards Finney.) Yes. A teensy-weensy millimeter or so nearer the garbage heap, oh yes. There are a few inky-dinky lines here and there on this dried up parchment rather badly stretched over my crumbling bones. (She touches her face.) See? And my eyes…LOOK…(She pushes his face to look at her.)…bleared and bloodshot, and my mouth, see? (Rubs her finger on her lip.) Look how it drools..blub…blub…blub.

She's freaking him out.  "Stop it!"

She’s freaking him out. “Stop it!”

Finney: Stop it now; stop it!
Nicola: Oh, the sag of it…the creak of it…the used-upness of it!
Finney: Ok, Ok, enough. (Holds up hands.) That’s enough. I’m sorry.
Nicola: First…you oh-so casually throw away my one great chance and then you dig into the sense of my…of my… You’re a killer! (Marlow looks a bit concerned.) My God, you’re a killer. You smash up people’s lives. You are rotten with your own bile. You think you’re smart but you’re very, very sad because you use (she moves towards Marlow now, Finney being left in the background) your illness as a weapon against other people and as an excuse for not being properly human. Ugh! You disgust me. You sick little creep. (The shot returns to Marlow in his hospital bed looking miserable and guilty.) You poisonous, malformed cynical oaf. You…. (Nurse Mills walks up.)
Nurse Mills: Having a good time, are we?

Admin:  Marlow likes the “teeny bit too old” line so much that Finney gets to say it twice and what a patronizing way he says it.  Finney is very freaked out by her rant about aging.  He looks very uncomfortable as he backs away from her.  But, then he simply fades into the background when she switches the focus of her rant to Marlow himself.

I'm sorry.

I’m sorry.

RF:  “Teeny bit too old” is another hit below the belt, aimed at Nicola’s ego.  Marlow knows all of the worst buttons to push (especially for an actress ex-wife) and you’re right, he rubs it in by having Finney repeat it, with a layer of false sympathy on top (I doubt he’s actually “sorry”).  Nicola takes it almost like a physical blow but then goes on the offensive, forcing Finney to look at her (she even yanks his face over) as she lists her physical shortcomings.  The fact she’s in lingerie makes her seem that much more vulnerable (yeah, really nasty and creepy, Marlow).   Finney tries desperately to avoid looking at her directly, swallowing uncomfortably and looking guilty; maybe he actually does have some tiny sense of shame.  Also note his body language:  he throws up his hands in an “I yield!” when he says “Sorry,” then backs as far away from Nicola as he  can get without running into Marlow,  ending up literally and figuratively with his back to the wall.

RF:  Nicola starts to give Finney the castigation he deserves, describing the foulness of his character as he backs away.  In the middle of this (completely justified) tirade, she seamlessly switches from Finney to Marlow; they’ve both behaved abominably towards her in remarkably similar ways.  But this is really Marlow’s way of facing himself, using Nicola as his mouthpiece (though I can imagine she might have said similar things to him while they were married).  Marlow’s worst, most reprehensible flaws are laid out in harsh, unflinching detail, in the most hurtful, damaging language she (really he) can come up with.  It’s not Nicola that Marlow really hates, it’s himself.  He’s just getting to the heart of the matter and his illness’ role when he’s abruptly cut off by Nurse Mills’ ironic “Having a good time, are we?”  He was, up until he realized his real target was himself.

Wrap-Up

Admin:  This is a powerful scene that incorporates a bit of dark humor with insightful drama.  Finney shows Nicola that he really is a self-serving snake through and through.   He is so jaunty with the dancing and initial delight over thinking the deal is done.  I suspect he’s also planning on showing off his hot dance moves to Mervin’s fabulous Hollywood starlet.  But his delight turns to alarmed disgust when Nicola goes into her frightening routine about aging.  Janet Suzman does wonders with the scene by giving it the right combination of grotesqueness and vulnerability.   Honestly, I wish we could have seen more of them together, but by this point Finney has pretty much served his purpose for Marlow and won’t be around much longer.  I like to think, though, that there is still a flicker of him alive in some dark recess of Marlow’s mind waiting to be unleashed once more. 😉

Nicola: "First you oh so casually throw away my one great chance."

Nicola: “First you oh so casually throw away my one great chance.”

RF:  We get some amazing unspoken acting from Mr. Gambon, Ms. Suzman, and Mr. Malahide in this scene, with so much being conveyed by demeanour and expression as well as their words.  Ms. Suzman goes from elation to crushing vulnerability and anger, while Mr. Malahide goes from snaky joy and shameless schmoozing to snaky duplicity mixed with a tiny bit of shame, not that the latter’s likely to slow Finney down much.   He’s certain to go on doing exactly what he’s been doing – if he actually existed, that is.  In the end, he’s just a tool for Marlow to vicariously punish Nicola for…  getting fed up with him and leaving him, I suppose.   However, Marlow has developed enough self-awareness by this time to realize he’s responsible for most of his own unhappiness and he’s actually punishing himself.  I don’t think he’s completely conquered Finney; he’s too useful a demon for Marlow to ever abandon entirely.

Gallery:

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