In “The Inspector Alleyn Mysteries” S01E04 episode, “Death at the Bar” (1993), Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn is hot on the trail of a murderer, as usual. His friend, lawyer Luke Watchman (Kevin McNally) dies after receiving a seemingly innocuous wound to the hand from a thrown dart in a silly pub stunt, during a thunderstorm in a Cornish bar. The thunderstorm is actually important, as it caused the lights to flicker on and off and gave the killer his or her opportunity to act unseen. But Alleyn has some difficulty figuring out just how the poison was delivered to Watchman’s wound, and therefore who the culprit could be.
After much hanging around picturesque Cornwall, questioning the local inhabitants and surviving an attempted poisoning on both Inspector Br’er Fox (William Simons) and himself, Alleyn finally narrows his suspects down to one: Robert Legge (David Calder), who threw the fatal dart. Alleyn already knows that “Legge” is a pseudonym, assumed by convicted fraud and embezzler Alex Pringle upon his release from prison. Watchman acted as Pringle’s lawyer during his trial, but allowed him to suffer a much heavier penalty than his co-accused, whom Watchman defended at the same time for the same crime. Alleyn believes Pringle – or Legge – was out to even the score with Watchman, but still needs more evidence before he can make an arrest. So in this scene, Alleyn interrogates Legge to try to shake him into admitting his guilt.
[Alleyn, still wearing black tie for an interrupted dinner at the Chief Constable’s, walks into the side room where Legge is being held. Legge has already failed to make a stunning getaway by crashing his car into a pond.]
Alleyn: Mr. Pomeroy. Do you think you could clean this gentleman’s jacket?
Pomeroy: Reckon so.
Alleyn: Perhaps you’d better empty the pockets, Mr. Legge.
[Legge empties his pockets. The contents seem more or less innocuous.]
Legge: You can’t keep me here.
Alleyn: Is that all?
[Legge resignedly removes his jacket and hands it to Alleyn.]
RF: Alleyn is incredibly polite to start with, and his black tie outfit makes him the best-dressed interrogator ever. Unfortunately for him, this doesn’t impress Legge, who seems to realize that the whole point of getting him to empty his pockets and hand his jacket over for cleaning is so that Alleyn can try to find some evidence. The lighting is also amazing throughout this scene. In particular, the offset, underlit lighting of Mr. Malahide’s face gives Alleyn a somewhat unusual, slightly predatory appearance which is at odds with his polite manner.
Admin: I like the way they give special attention to the pen as it neatly shows a clue. Alleyn is certainly taking control, and I like his hand gesture as he indicates Mr. Legge’s jacket as the lighting, which you mentioned, really highlights his signet ring. It gives him a very mysterious air.
Alleyn: Thank you, Mr. Pomeroy. [hands jacket to Pomeroy, who leaves] Now, Mr. Legge.
Legge: I need a doctor.
Alleyn: I gave express instructions that no one was to leave. Why did you choose to run off?
Legge [faintly]: I had to.
Alleyn: Had to?
Legge [still faintly]: Yes, had to. I couldn’t spend another minute in that room. Everyone looking at me as if I did it… I have bad nerves. I’m highly strung.
RF: Alleyn’s body language, as he sits down, tends to suggest he’s completely at ease and relaxed (and why not, in that gorgeous tux?), while Legge’s suggests he’s frightened and nervous. But they both meet each other’s eyes evenly. Legge’s story about being too “highly strung” to remain in the room sounds just barely plausible, although you’d think it wouldn’t normally lead to a car chase (okay, not much of a chase since Alleyn just followed him until he crashed into a pond). Alleyn also picks up Legge’s fountain pen out of what seems like idle curiosity, but I think he’s more likely using the opportunity to see if it’s connected with the murder in any way. Tension begins to build, with both characters testing each other for weaknesses.
Admin: He is very casual the way sits down. He starts of loud and authoritative when talking about his express instructions, but then he immediately becomes much softer when asking Legge why he chose to run off. That up and down cadence itself is very effective.
Alleyn: Ah yes, of course… your… your illness. Seven years, I think you said. [pauses] Pentonville prison, wasn’t it?
Legge [pauses]: I don’t deny my prison sentence… grotesquely unjust though it was. It’s a hundred times worse than any illness. [angrily] Denatle should’ve rotted in that prison until he died!
RF: Aaahhh, now the gloves begin to come off. Alleyn appears almost diffident at first, or even disarmingly absent-minded when he says, “…I think you said,” as if he’s not quite paying attention. Then his voice perceptibly hardens at the words: “Pentonville prison, wasn’t it?”, revealing that he’s already discovered a significant portion of Legge’s past and is willing to dig to find out the rest. And Legge’s tone changes from apprehensive and submissive to vindictive and dangerously angry in the space of one sentence, when he’s reminded of his grudge against Watchman.
Admin: Yeah, he is totally maintaining the hard/soft/hard vocal strategy. It is very engaging and would be incredibly unsettling for the person being interrogated. And Legge’s reaction seems to indicate it works.
Alleyn [leaning forward]: You murdered Luke Watchman.
Alleyn: Because you believed he got Denatle off with a light sentence at your expense…
Legge: He did.
Alleyn: …by shifting the blame onto you.
Legge [angrily]: He did! And all the time with that damn smile on his face!
RF: Alleyn leans forward, turning up both physical and psychological pressure on Legge with his aggressive body posture while pinning Legge with a formidable, unblinking stare. Mr. Malahide becomes truly intimidating in this scene; his appearance is greatly enhanced by the lighting, which accentuates the intensity of his gaze and planes of his face and gives him an almost sinister quality. However, even though Alleyn has correctly deduced his motives for the murder, Legge doesn’t back down. He meets Alleyn’s gaze with his own while freely admitting he had more than enough motive to hate Watchman.
Admin: Oh, that lighting is amazing. It really highlights that cheekbone unbelievably. And talk about a gimlet eye! He’s certainly getting some good reactions from Legge. It isn’t often you get to see Alleyn quite so intimidating, but he definitely is here. The Alleyn series in general really had some of the best lighting and cinematography I’ve ever seen, but this scene stands out among even that.
Alleyn [quietly]: Perhaps you murdered him… because you feared he would expose your past as a Nazi sympathizer.
Legge [leaning back]: You’re improvising. You haven’t got a case.
Alleyn: Oh, but I have, Mr. Legge.
Legge: It’s the oldest cheat in the book. If you can’t find the guilty one, you pin it on the nearest man with a criminal record.
Alleyn [leaning back]: How dare you.
RF: Legge is correct; Alleyn is totally fishing when he brings up Legge’s Nazi sympathizer past because he still doesn’t have enough evidence to lock down an arrest. Legge leans back in his chair as his confidence returns; he then tries to turn the tables on Alleyn, revealing his awareness of Alleyn’s tactics. Alleyn leans back himself when he realizes Legge isn’t going to crack easily. Although his words are confident (“Oh, but I have, Mr. Legge,”) he’s unsure of his footing and seems to lose some of his earlier momentum. He gives the expected, insulted response to Legge’s calling his tactic a “cheat”, although without much heat to it. But he still hasn’t broken off his gaze.
Admin: Alleyn’s intense gaze would be creepy if you couldn’t see the unwavering determination beneath it. Obviously he is trying to make Legge crack, but I also suspect he is half afraid to blink in case he misses a tell or a clue. No, there isn’t a lot of heat to his “how dare you” but I think I detect a bit of a nostril flare, so I don’t think he liked it. And being a man of honor, Alleyn would not like it all! And we get an excellent eyebrow arch as he leans back. I love it.
RF: Very true! Alleyn does not take kindly to having his honesty or integrity impugned. He is fishing for information, but he’s also doing it with details he knows are true, not because Legge is a convenient suspect.
Legge: Convince me.
Alleyn: I not only know that you did it, I know how you did it. You took the iodine bottle from the upstairs bathroom. You laced it with cyanide from the rat hole, and then, using the pretext of a shaving cut, you gained access to the first aid box in the cupboard in the bar. Luke Watchman died the way you planned it: not from a poisoned dart, but from poisoned iodine. And this evening you got scared and you attempted to poison Inspector Fox and myself. [leaning forward] Now, what do you say to that… Mr. Alexander Pringle.
RF: Alleyn leans forward as he goes on the offensive again, revealing everything he’s determined so far while still holding Legge’s gaze with an unblinking stare, enhanced by the camera’s tight focus. It’s hard to take your eyes away from Mr. Malahide’s in this scene, his eyes are so intense! You’d think it would be enough to rattle any criminal. He’s completely correct in his deductions, but Legge’s face betrays no reaction. Even Alleyn’s final trump card, the revelation of Legge’s real name, doesn’t shake him.
Admin: Yeah, you have to give Legge credit for remaining unflustered. It is very obvious that Alleyn is on the right track, and that he has uncovered a great deal of information about Legge. He does seem to like leaning forward as he makes his reveals. I like the way the camera shifts to his profile as he mentions “Pringle”, you can easily imagine how intimidating for Pringle/Legge it must be even if he doesn’t show it.
Legge: What an intriguing maze a policeman’s mind is. I would like to see that doctor now, please, if I may.
[Alleyn sits back then leaves, wordlessly. Legge looks contemplative.]
RF: Legge reacts calmly, continuing to hold Alleyn’s gaze while insultingly implying Alleyn is delusional – or at least has an overly vivid imagination. And for the first time since the scene began, Alleyn appears visibly unsure of himself. Mr. Malahide conveys this wordlessly, finally breaking off Alleyn’s gaze to look to the side, as if he’s slightly dismayed, and blinking, as though he’s not quite sure what to do next (because he isn’t). Now that his bluff has been called (and I suspect Alleyn’s normally very good at poker), he needs to regroup before he can decide his next move. However, Legge’s not a completely cool customer; he allows himself a moment of visible relief after Alleyn leaves, knowing the pressure is off at least for a short while.
Admin: There is almost a plaintive quality to Legge’s voice as he asks for the doctor, so it seems he is more rattled than he is letting on. Poor Alleyn, he himself is looking pretty flustered. But, perhaps a little change of pace might do the Detective Inspector good in determining how Legge did it. 😉
RF: This was an excellent scene, giving us a sense of Alleyn as an interrogator even when he’s got almost nothing to go on; it’s unusual to see him at such a disadvantage. It’s also a psychological game, a battle of wills with both parties testing each other and neither wanting to give in. You can almost feel the tension in the room as the conversational advantage subtly switches back and forth. And adding to the overall atmosphere is the incredible lighting, highlighting Alleyn’s intensity as he tries to pin down the man he knows is responsible for Watchman’s murder, and who would’ve been responsible for Fox’s and his own if he’d succeeded. Just extremely well done all around.
Admin: It is a very atmospheric and tense scene. And Mr. Malahide does an exceptional job of portraying Alleyn as someone who is maintaining his calm, despite having very nearly lost Inspector Fox to a poisoner. He knows the only way to figure out (with adequate proof) exactly what Legge did and how he did it is to stay in control as much as is possible.
Video clip courtesy of Admin (thanks! 🙂 ):