Admin and I thought we’d revisit an older Alleyn episode for a change of pace, so we’re going all the way back to S01E01 of the “Inspector Alleyn Mysteries“, titled “A Man Lay Dead” (1993), based on the Ngaio Marsh novel by the same name. In this episode, Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn (Mr. Malahide) has two murders and two Maguffins to contend with, which end up being connected. The first Maguffin is a silver chalice stolen from a convent, with the would-be thief left behind, dead. The second Maguffin is an ornate reliquary dagger, used in the murder of its rather unsavory owner, Charles Rankin (Robert Reynolds). Alleyn quickly discovers that a German professor of antiquities, Dr. Hans Hoffner (Nickolas Grace), might somehow be involved in the chalice’s theft, and in turn Hoffner is working with a shady antiquities dealer named Dieter Krantz (Michael Feast). In this scene, in order to track down the missing chalice, Alleyn poses as himself – but a version who’s more than willing to participate in the antiquities black market. However, unbeknownst to Alleyn, he’s been tailed to Krantz’s flat by aspiring-to-be-intrepidish reporter Nigel Bathgate (Matthew Lloyd-Davies), who thinks he might be onto a big scoop. Complications soon ensue.
[Alleyn, looking very businesslike with a briefcase and umbrella, enters a flat. Bathgate watches from across the street in a car he’s “borrowed”, trying to be stealthy.]
RF: It definitely seems like Bathgate is very new to this whole “tailing someone for a big scoop” thing. He might as well have a “LEARNER REPORTER” sign on the back of his car.
Admin: I’m pretty sure Bathgate took a wrong turn on the way to Blandings. 🙂 I like him because he is funny, but he is a tad out of place.
RF: Yeah, I wonder if they were thinking of introducing him as a recurring character and this was his try-out.
[Alleyn and Krantz share a neighbourly drink of whisky together.]
Krantz: So, before we get down to business, there’s someone you’ll be interested to meet.
[Krantz opens a pair of double doors to a study, revealing Hoffner sitting at a desk.]
Alleyn [surprised]: Dr. Hoffner!
Hoffner: Krantz, are you out of your mind??
Krantz: Chief Inspector Alleyn is here to facilitate a business transaction, Hans. We shall both require your help.
Alleyn: Don’t look so startled, Doctor. Surely as a lover of fine things, you can appreciate a policeman with — what shall we say — expensive tastes?
RF: Alleyn seems to put a little extra *zing* on the words “expensive tastes”. He appears to be enjoying this role just a wee bit. He’d make a really good villain if he actually was involved in the black market. Perhaps he could deal in forged Troy paintings? 😉 And unlike book Alleyn, Mr. Malahide’s Alleyn is a lot better at fitting in to the criminal underworld he’s trying to infiltrate. For his part, Hoffner looks absolutely shocked to see him there.
Admin: Yes, Alleyn is so smooth and rakishly charming that is very easy to believe he’s a corrupt official. He makes it seem so second nature. And, yes, he does look like he’s having a good time. Poor Hoffner. His eyes are practically bugging out of his head.
Hoffner: In my life, Chief Inspector, I’ve had to face many reassessments.
Krantz: Dr. Hoffner might feel more… reassured… once you have presented your credentials, Mr. Alleyn.
Alleyn: By all means.
RF: Alleyn seems pretty relaxed in this situation, like he buys and sells stolen artifacts all the time – which is, of course, the point. Krantz appears quite willing to trust him, too.
Admin: Krantz himself is a pretty smooth cat, though he is less smooth than Alleyn. He probably thinks he’s found someone to look up to and is vying for his respect. It is like he is trying to show Alleyn he’s just as cool as he is.
[Bathgate, still spying from across the street in the car, tries to look casual by reading a newspaper and manages to nearly set it and himself on fire when he tries to light a cigarette.]
RF: While Bathgate is not nearly so good at playing it stealthy. 😀
Admin: That bit was funny. Out of place, but funny. Freddie Threepwood couldn’t have done it better.
RF: Freddie Threepwood would’ve ended up setting the entire car on fire, and then crashing it into a tree. 😉
Admin: A bit off-topic (just a bit), but here’s an obligatory link to Freddie and the tree. 🙂
[Back in Krantz’s flat, Alleyn unwraps a black silk cloth to reveal the gold, ruby-studded reliquary dagger.]
Krantz: What price were you proposing, Mr. Alleyn?
Alleyn: I’d prefer to talk about an exchange.
Krantz: An exchange? For what?
Alleyn: The papal chalice.
Hoffner [forcefully]: That is out of the question!
RF: Aha, so Hoffner and Krantz aren’t entirely in agreement as to how this deal is to be made. Krantz definitely seems to be more of the opportunist, and a lot cooler about these negotiations than Hoffner. Alleyn is playing it pretty cool as well; he’s just confirming what he suspects about Krantz’s involvement in the chalice’s theft.
Admin: Yes, Hoffner is blunt and very quick to give his opinion. He has no negotiating skills whatsoever. Of course, that is because he isn’t a snake like Krantz.
Krantz: Quiet, Hans. [to Alleyn] What if I don’t have it?
Alleyn: In that case, nothing doing. [Takes back the dagger.]
Krantz: Before we make any hasty decision, Mr. Alleyn, I would like Dr. Hoffner to authenticate this dagger.
Alleyn: Of course.
Hoffner [examining the dagger with a jeweler’s loupe]: Hmmm… This is definitely the St. Michel dagger. The monastery will be overjoyed.
Alleyn: You’re giving it back to them?
Hoffner: Of course. This had been in their custody for centuries.
Alleyn: And I suppose you’ll be well paid for it, Doctor.
RF: Alleyn is a bit surprised to find out that Hoffner’s intention is to give the dagger back to its original monastery. It’s also evident that Hoffner is a lot more protective of the chalice than Krantz, who’s really only interested in its monetary value. But he’s still playing the part of a villainous illegal antiquities buyer, so he tosses in the remark about Hoffner being “well paid”.
Admin: I like Alleyn’s slight “voila”-esque hand wave when Hoffner confirms the dagger’s authenticity. That is a nice touch and makes him seem even more insufferably smooth. 🙂 Yes, Alleyn is coming to the conclusion that he may have misread Hoffner completely.
Krantz: That’s more my preoccupation, Alleyn. I am commissioned to trace and bring back such items.
Alleyn: And the chalice?
Hoffner: Krantz, that is not yours to barter with!
Krantz: As you can see, Mr. Alleyn, the doctor is an idealist.
Krantz: Please. [They step away, leaving Hoffner holding the dagger.]
RF: Naturally, Villainous Alleyn™ has to chuckle at the idea of Hoffner being an idealist, when the whole reason Alleyn is there is because he’s an idealist himself. And he also now knows he’s hot on the trail of the chalice. Krantz still seems to trust him completely.
Admin: I felt a bit sorry for Hoffner when Alleyn did his sneering chuckle. That was a good one too. He and Krantz are like a couple of bullies. Krantz likes puffing up and playing the cool kid with Alleyn. And Alleyn is just so condescendingly smooth that you can see why Krantz is impressed with him.
RF: That’s true, Alleyn and Krantz are effectively ganging up on Hoffner. Poor Hoffner is the only one in the room who’s willing to try having some principles.
[Meanwhile, Bathgate has gotten tired of waiting. He tries to sneak into the flat around the back. The butler, who’s cleaning his gun in the kitchen (as butlers do) hears something and goes to investigate.]
RF: Yep, Bathgate just really isn’t much good at the stealthy stuff. The butler cleaning a gun in the kitchen also suggests that Krantz is a lot more shady then either Alleyn or perhaps even Hoffner originally thought.
Admin: It sounds like Bathgate upset a cat and a rubbish can. Yeah, not the most stealthy recon job ever. 🙂
Alleyn [examining the chalice]: Well, I must congratulate you on this convent job, Herr Krantz.
Krantz: Praise indeed.
Alleyn: A common thief turning up, rather… inconvenient, what?
Krantz: A complete amateur. He didn’t stand a chance.
Hoffner [shocked]: But Krantz… you said that–
Krantz [calmly]: He was in the way.
RF: Alleyn, playing it very cool, appeals to Krantz’s professional vanity here and gets him to confirm what he (Alleyn) suspects about the murder at the convent, in a very neat, conversational way. Krantz assumes that he’s dealing with a fellow blackguard and tells the truth. It’s nicely ironic that Krantz thanks Alleyn for his “praise” about the convent job; since Alleyn’s a copper, he’d know an effective theft when he saw one. However, it’s also obvious that Hoffner has some morals that Krantz lacks, since the idea of the murder still bothers him.
Admin: The framing for that exchange is beautiful. It features Alleyn (holding the chalice) and Krantz with a heralding angel statue in-between them. Two devils and an angel. Luckily one of the devils isn’t so devilish. That is great cinematography. And of course Alleyn just gets Krantz to dig himself deeper and deeper while poor Hoffner realizes that he’s aligned himself with a real villain.
RF: I like the idea of Alleyn and Krantz being two devils with an angel. It also suggests that Krantz has more interesting loot just hanging around his flat, too.
Alleyn: Well, there you are, you see. A professional can deal with anything. Unlike you, Dr. Hoffner.
Hoffner: What are you saying?
Alleyn: Well, you rather bungled the theft of the dagger, didn’t you?
Hoffner: You think that I murdered Rankin?? No, no!! Krantz! Tell the Chief Inspector all about it!
Krantz: You fool! [to Alleyn] Believe me, Alleyn, if I had gotten into the house, the dagger would’ve been stolen cleanly, not left behind.
RF: Alleyn again appeals to professional vanity, although this time by denigrating Hoffner’s efforts, and Krantz is happy to join in. A falling-out among thieves! But it does tell Alleyn that Hoffner wasn’t responsible for Rankin’s murder, even though the dagger was the murder weapon. At first when Krantz said, “You fool!” to Hoffner, I thought he was catching on to Alleyn’s game and telling Hoffner he’d said too much, but instead he just lauds his own thieving abilities again. Oh, and Alleyn’s comment about “a professional can deal with anything” is about to be tested, in real time. 😉
Admin: Yes, Alleyn is splitting them up practically with zero effort. He simply allows their own true natures to come up to the surface. But, of course, he knows exactly what he is doing.
[Bathgate is caught in the outhouse by the butler.]
RF: Yep, busted! 😉
Admin: Unlike Alleyn, Bathgate has no idea what he is doing.
[Alleyn and Krantz clink glasses to signify they’ve closed their deal. Hoffner looks on disapprovingly.]
Alleyn [takes a sip]: A pleasure to do business with you, Herr Krantz. [Extends his hand to Hoffner] Dr. Hoffner. [Hoffner turns away, refusing to shake hands.]
[They’re interrupted by the butler tossing Bathgate into the room.]
Bathgate: Look, this is a terrible mistake!
RF: Alleyn is giving Bathgate a killer glare here. Just when he had the deal made! Okay, let’s see how a professional handles things.
Admin: And it had been going so well.
Krantz [to Alleyn]: I thought you had more sense.
Alleyn: Nothing to do with me!
Krantz: Hoffner? [More forcefully, when Hoffner doesn’t reply] Hoffner!!
Hoffner: He’s not a policeman.
Krantz: But Alleyn does know him…
Alleyn: I don’t know what this snivelling hack is doing here, but leave him to me. I’ll see he says nothing.
RF: I have to give Alleyn credit for still being able to play it cool. Still in character, he completely disavows Bathgate and moreover, insults him professionally by calling him a “snivelling hack”. 😀 He even puts that little extra *zing* on the words again. Bathgate looks astounded at the fact that Alleyn is throwing him under the bus – but what does he expect?
Admin: I think he was feeling the “snivelling hack” comment quite a bit. 🙂
RF: I kind of wish there was a scene afterwards where Alleyn gave Bathgate a stern talking-to about interrupting undercover operations.
[Krantz snaps his fingers at the butler, who hands over his gun.]
Krantz [to Bathgate, as he’s shoving him into another room]: Get in there!
Alleyn: There’s no need for that! He’s not worth it.
Krantz: I hope you’re not trying to fool me, Alleyn. [shoves Bathgate] Go on! [to Hoffner] Pack as much as you can, Hoffner. You too, Bryant. [Pointing the gun at Alleyn] And you, Chief Inspector, are gonna help me get out of here.
[Hoffner throws a small table at Krantz and they struggle for the gun. Bryant the butler pulls Hoffner off Krantz and they struggle. Alleyn wrestles Krantz for the gun while Bathgate stands, frozen.]
RF: Well, despite Bathgate’s intrusion, Alleyn still tries to save him by saying he’s “not worth it”. We don’t find out what Krantz’s nefarious plan for escape was going to be nor how it was going to involve Alleyn, because fisticuffs break out. Hoffner proves he has some principles by refusing to be party to more violence, although he does throw the table at Krantz. Bathgate is just standing there frozen.
Admin: Alleyn actually looked briefly worried before Hoffner made the save. Everything had been going so smoothly only to get botched badly. But, he quickly rallied and took the opportunity given him by Hoffner’s little table.
Alleyn [desperately]: Do something, Bathgate!!
RF: Alleyn is outnumbered two to one, so I think we can forgive him for sounding a bit desperate. And Bathgate does manage to do something effective.
Admin: That is quite a scuffle, I love the annoyed vexation in Alleyn’s voice as he tries to get Bathgate to do something.
[Bathgate smashes a vase on Bryant’s head, knocking him out. Krantz comes up with the gun as Alleyn backs away. Hoffner leaps in front of Alleyn as Krantz fires.]
Hoffner: Krantz, no!
[Hoffner takes the shot meant for Alleyn and falls to the floor, dead. Alleyn holds out his hand for the gun and Krantz hesitates. Footsteps come pounding up the stairs as Inspector Fox and the cavalry arrive just in time to disarm Krantz. Hoffner is dead and Bathgate is in shock, but Alleyn remains unmussed – and now has both the dagger and the chalice.]
RF: So, Hoffner’s idealism won out. I think he also realized that Alleyn was conducting a sting, as did Krantz, despite Alleyn insulting Bathgate. Alleyn also looks incredibly angry that Hoffner was shot right in front of him. Very gutsy of Alleyn to just hold out his hand to Krantz for the gun when he already knows Krantz is prepared to murder for the chalice; he’s so authoritative about it that Krantz actually hesitates, just long enough for Fox and the rest of the police to get there. And Alleyn manages to emerge from all the fisticuffs relatively unmussed, which is a feat in itself. He’s successfully solved one murder and retrieved the artifacts, now he just has to solve Murder #2. I also like the little nod he gives to Fox after the action is done.
Admin: I’m surprised Bathgate hit the right person. It is horrible that Hoffner had to die, but at least he died a hero. While Alleyn seemed stunned and repulsed at Krantz’s actions, he was incredibly smooth at just reasserting command. And thankfully Fox and the gang made the last second dramatic entry to bring it all to a close.
RF: Well, Freddie Threepwood would’ve for sure hit the wrong person, so at least Bathgate did that much right.
RF: This was a fun scene, especially because it gave us a look at Alleyn’s undercover skills. He was very convincing as a “poor, corrupt official” with “expensive tastes” who was willing to barter for stolen artifacts. He was equally convincing, to Bathgate’s dismay, when he disavowed all knowledge of Bathgate and called him a “snivelling hack”. As Mr. Malahide’s first outing as Alleyn, this scene gave us an idea of just how capable he is and how smoothly he can handle himself while talking with the criminal element – although of course, Fox and the gang had the final save. Mr. Malahide’s Alleyn isn’t quite completely fleshed out yet, but this scene shows that he’s off to a great start.
Admin: It was really enjoyable seeing Alleyn playing at being a sneaky smooth sort. The scene was beautifully shot and well acted all around. Young Bathgate was funny, though he does ultimately prove to be out of place. Yes, it will take just a little while longer for the full Alleyn/Fox dynamic to come together, but this is a solid start overall.