Analysis of a Scene XIV: Singing Detective — Nice Things

Vamping With a Tiger

We continue our overview of some of our favorite scenes from The Singing Detective with this neat little number in episode 3, Lovely Days.  A recap of the overall episode can be found here, and our previous Analysis can be found here.

Pad pad pad

Pad pad pad

This sequence actually starts a bit late in the scene, but it would be too long to over the whole brilliant thing.  That is kind of a shame because there is some priceless dialogue where Marlow compares Mark Binney to a tiger pacing in his cage, “pad, pad, pad.”  What a neat description.

RF:  Binney does indeed convey a lot of leashed tension as he paces back and forth.  Of course, Marlow then compares him to a lizard as well, although that would seem to be more appropriate for Finney, who’s got more of the serpentine thing going on.

Admin:  Marlow continues to vex Binney with his seemingly nonchalant approach to finding out what happened to Sonia.  Marlow likes to “vamp.”  Vamping, Marlow says, is what the piano guy does as he waits for the band to start.  It seems he figures a similar tactic will work in this particular case.  Binney, the poor dumb tiger, is far from convinced.

Nice Things

Is it nice or hideously expensive?

Is it nice or hideously expensive?

Marlow: You’ve got some expensive things in this flat, Mr. Binney.
Binney: (lifting Marlow’s hat off a vase) I have some nice things if that’s what you mean.
Marlow: No, that’s not what I meant. Nice I did not say, expensive I said, hideously expensive things.
Binney: Tastes differ. You’re more at home in dance halls, I dare say.
Marlow: All the same, you’re not exactly groping in your pockets for your last penny, are you?
Binney: (exhaling smoke) I do alright.
Marlow: Oh, I can see that. But what do you do alright at?
Binney: I buy; I sell.
Marlow: So does the rag and bone man. But what do you buy; what do you sell?
Binney: I rather think that’s my affair, don’t you?

Admin:  I love the way Binney takes care of his “nice things” by removing Marlow’s hat from a vase and then (creepily) caressing a statue.  Notice also that there is an expansive amount of smoke when Binney says, “I do alright.”  It gives him a demonic air which contrasts with the overtly casual way he says those words.

What's that hat doing there?

What’s that hat doing there?

RF:  When we first notice the hat, it’s obvious Marlow threw it onto the vase with the intention of ticking Binney off – which worked, as witness the annoyed way he removes it.  There’s also a bit of a double entendre going on when Marlow comments on Binney’s “hideously expensive things”.  Not only is he saying they’re incredibly expensive, he’s also alluding to the fact he finds them rather vulgar and ugly (not “nice”), no matter how much they cost.  So he’s essentially insulting Binney’s taste, twice.  Binney insults him right back with the “more at home in dance halls” comment, implying that Marlow is too low-class to appreciate his belongings.  This idea is revisited later in the scene, when Binney calls Marlow “cheap”.

I do alright.

I do alright.

RF:  Binney is interestingly defensive, in an understated way, when he says, “I do all right” (on an inhale, which makes him sound more diffident).  The cloud of smoke almost becomes a smokescreen for him to hide behind.  He seems offhanded but he’s well aware that Marlow’s trying to trip him up.  I like the way this exchange is shot so that we can see them both react at the same time.  We see Marlow prying, trying to get under Binney’s skin, and Binney being circumspect, refusing to give anything away.  His face is still, but his eyes convey a lot of intensity and inward calculation.  Ironically, it’s one of the more honest expressions Binney has ever displayed and is likely a reflection of his real self.  His “I buy, I sell” is actually true, but vague enough to avoid telling Marlow too much – although Marlow has already guessed much of what he’s hiding.

Admin:  Anytime he talks about money, Binney seems to take on that forced casual tone.  I like how his expression changes to a much more obviously friendly one when turns around to face Marlow.  It is a bit like a conjuring trick.

RF:  He does that a couple of times in this scene and it’s always fascinating to watch.  Binney’s not quite as seamless about his expression and mood changes as Mr. Malahide is.  ;-)

Something beginning with T.

Something beginning with T.

Marlow: Sure. But maybe there’s a connection of you buying and selling the wrong sort of stuff to the wrong sort of people. Some trades are not healthy.
Binney: Really?
Marlow: Only when the gap is too big between what you pay for the goods and what you get for them. There’s a word for that; it begins with “t”.
Binney: No.
Marlow: No?
Binney: No!
Marlow: Sprechen sie Deutsch?
Binney: Why do you ask?
Marlow: How’s your German, comrade.
Binney: I speak it, a little.
Marlow: How little? I mean can you say auf but not wiedersehen or what?
Binney: A little. Enough to find my way around the rubble.
Marlow: Or to say guten Tag to some fat, old Nazi on the run, maybe.
Binney: What are you getting at, Marlow?

He looks innocent to me.

He looks innocent to me.

Admin:  It is a lot of fun just to see how tense and brittle Binney looks as Marlow starts sharing his suspicions.  T?  I guess it might “trafficking” or maybe “treason”?  At any rate, Binney’s denial is too smooth by far.  Everything about Binney is very taut and controlled.  His pallor adds to that by giving his face a mask-like quality.  The combination of the beautiful make-up and Mr. Malahide’s perfect facial expressions enhance the tension.  When Marlow starts going on about speaking German, Binney has a nice look of puzzled annoyance.  It is a bit funny that he should ask Marlow what he’s getting at when it is pretty obvious what he’s getting at.  Binney’s tight jawed way of speaking is great though and I notice he’s now saying “Marlow” and has dispensed with the “Mr.”

RF:  I was pretty sure that “T” stood for “traitor”, so we’re on the same track.  ;-)  Binney looks as if he doesn’t appreciate being reminded that he’s in a dangerous line of business, but isn’t that the whole reason Marlow is “minding” him in the first place?  Although it’s not quite clear what Marlow means to achieve by this conversation.  Convince Binney to give up smuggling ex-Nazis?  Is he warning Binney out of the goodness of his heart, because he believes Binney’s actually not a bad guy?  That seems doubtful.

Not exactly your typical rag and bone man.

Not exactly your typical rag and bone man.

Admin:  Traitor sounds about right.  That’s probably what he meant.  Yeah, Marlow is probably just initially trying to suggest Binney knock off whatever it is he doing and maybe take up a quiet life on the coast. 🙂

RF:  Very true that Binney’s denial is completely unconvincing.  He really has to work on his acting – he behaved in much the same fashion in our last Analysis.  If he’d stuck with a straight denial he might’ve had a chance, but adding the attempt-at-disarming smile on top of it just made him seem all the more dishonest and insincere.  As it is, we get a somewhat practiced-looking blank gaze when Marlow first asks if he can speak German.  Saying that he speaks German “a little” is his attempt to play down the whole thing, which backfires anyway because Marlow’s already well aware Binney speaks Russian and worked for Army Intelligence.  Horse, barn door, etc.  Asking Marlow what he’s getting at is another attempt at delay that works as well as the first, ie. not at all.  Tsk tsk, how did Binney ever last so long in Intelligence?  But I have to give him credit for keeping a cool, even tone while Marlow is becoming more accusatory and heated.

Not too entertained with Marlow's little tune.

Not too entertained with Marlow’s little tune.

Marlow: Well, now…am I right, or am I right? You see I’m a slow sort of guy. The neon doesn’t flash on my forehead. I can’t even keep-up with a retired tortoise. But I do have funny little tunes that make me tap my toes, and I get there. I get there in the end. Tee-tee-tum-too-tee-tum-tiddly-doo.
Binney: I think…I think I’ve underestimated you.
Marlow: Well, that’s no new experience.
Binney: (discretely unlocks desk drawer) Mr. Marlow..
Marlow: I’m listening. Can’t you see my ears swiveling?
Binney: I have slightly misled you. You see, I didn’t go to the nightclub totally by accident.
Marlow: I’m still listening.
Binney: A club like that, you see, well it’s not just a sort of high class brothel or…well it is an exchange market for girls, yes, but not all those girls are that they seem.
Marlow: Girls are never what they seem.
Binney: I wish I had never got mixed up in it. Murder’s not my cup of tea, I can tell you. But, I think somebody or some organization is trying to pin the girl’s death on me, and I wouldn’t be totally surprised if it was some sort of counter-intelligence thing. Have you any idea what I’m talking about?
Marlow: Go to the window.

Admin: Binney’s patience is really be taxed now, and he probably should be feeling pretty scared though he looks far more angry than scared.  Marlow reminds me very much of Gomez Addams (Raul Julia version) especially as he is being really annoying and is surrounded by that “nice” decor.  🙂  And he is continuing the not-so-subtle hints by tee-tee-tumming Deutschlandlied. Binney tries being honest (hmmm), but he really can’t pull it off.  Still, it is nice to see him try and he brings polite back by saying, “Mr. Marlow.”  Then he starts going on about counter intelligence and you’d think things will start to unravel and maybe we’ll hear the truth.  But, nooooo, because stupid Marlow has to completely ignore that line and start going on about that window. Argh!  Poor Binney.  The way he said “counter intelligence thing” makes me think he’s actually expecting Marlow to be impressed.  But Marlow is always determined to be unimpressed by him.

Marlow is pretty annoying, to be honest.

Time to consider another tactic.

RF:  Hmm, but Gomez Addams is quite a bit more fun than Marlow.  ;-)  I wonder if Marlow uses his weird banter as a distraction so that whoever he’s questioning loses track of the conversation and answers him truthfully, without thinking.  Marlow’s humming the Deutschlandlied is a nice hearkening back to the busker who derisively played the same tune as Binney walked into SkinSkapes in the first episode.  Mind you, that busker wound up dead, sooooo…  Binney doesn’t look at all affable as Marlow hums, either.  Again, his face and body language are very still, but we’re seeing more calculation behind his eyes, borne out by the fact he decided to reveal some partial truths.

Counter intelligence?  Now that sounds cool.

Counter intelligence? Now that sounds cool.

RF:  However, Binney’s making contingency plans even as he partially comes clean to Marlow, hence his unlocking the desk drawer – which we know bodes no good.  It reminded me a lot of Jack Turner doing something similar in “Hunted“, although his weapon of choice was poisoned tea rather than a gun.  In other words, Marlow likely won’t be in possession of his new knowledge for very long.  Mr. Malahide gives Binney a confiding, truthful demeanour with his “I have slightly misled you” dialogue, complete with casually sitting on his desk, forward-leaning posture, and a somewhat abashed smile, all suggesting more friendly openness – and some well-bred embarrassment at being caught in such a pickle.  There’s likely even a grain of truth in the suggestion that some type of counter-intelligence might be responsible.  But this is as close as we’ll get to Binney’s backstory because, as you note, Marlow immediately derails the whole thing (with an air of amusement) by telling Binney to go look out the window.

Admin:  I know, so frustrating, right?  I wanted to hear more about the “counter intelligence thing” (even if it was likely just another Binney smokescreen), but Marlow changes the track completely.

Oh, we're looking out the window now.  Stupid Marlow.

Oh, we’re looking out the window now. Stupid Marlow.

Binney: What?
Marlow: Take a peep.
Binney: Why?
Marlow: Pierce the night and gloom. I’ll lay you any odds there is one of those girls who is not what they seem watching this place.
Binney: A girl? What sort of girl?
Marlow: Take a look? I’m only guessing. I might even be wrong. Well now, am I wrong, or am I wrong?
Binney: (lifts the blinds and sees a blonde woman who looks very much like Philip’s mother Mrs Marlow singing Lili Marlene) Why is she there? What does she want?
Marlow: I’ll be the pickles, you be the ham.
Binney: What are you getting at Marlow?
Marlow: I’m saying in my subtle sort of way that you’re not too good as an actor, Binney. I think you know who it is out there with a pistol in the pocket of her fur coat. I think you know what she is.

Admin:  Marlow is not guessing.  He peeped through the blinds when he was talking about the rag and bone man earlier.  It is a very cinematic moment when she sings, but the best bit is the chirpily innocent way Binney asks why she’s there.  Yeah, Binney is a bad actor alright.

How does this not impress Marlow?

How does this not impress Marlow?

RF:  Oooohhh yeah, we’re back to some bad acting from Binney (but great from Mr. Malahide).  Of course he knows why she’s there, and his protestations of ignorance ring rather hollow.  This is the second time Binney has peered out his window and found a someone watching his flat with nefarious intent; you’d think he’d be used to it by now.  He should set up a little newsstand or cigarette machine for them all, since it’s such a high traffic area.  It also seems a bit strange for a Russian spy to be singing “Lili Marlene”, but I guess there aren’t that many well-known (and public domain) Russian spy songs.

Admin:  That song has been stuck in my head.  It is a total earworm.   But, yeah, Binney’s bad acting is really fantastic acting from Patrick Malahide.  He looks so cute too.  But that just gives Marlow another reason to hate him.

RF:   There’s likely some significance to the fact Marlow has cast his own mother as a glamorous Russian spy who’s [SPOILER!] summarily killed off, gasping her last words as she lies dying in Marlow’s arms, especially in view of Mrs. Marlow’s actual death.  P.I. Marlow offers some comfort to the Russian spy and vows to avenge her, while the real Marlow wasn’t present for his mother’s death and felt responsible for it.  The real Marlow is getting his revenge in a way, but we won’t find out how for a while yet.

Admin:  It’s all so convoluted, isn’t it?

Time for Marlow to leave.

Time for Marlow to leave.

Binney: Alright, what is she?
Marlow: She works for a place with onions on top of its towers. She’s as red as a London bus. She doesn’t trade in Nazis and she wonders why you do.
Binney: Me?
Marlow: Yes, you.
Binney: Get out, Marlow. Get out and don’t let me see you again.
Marlow: What about my fee?
Binney: (laughingly) Fee? What fee?
Marlow: I sing for people who dance, Binney. Let me know the tune you want, I’ll croon it for your dance when your feet go through the trapdoor. I’ll enjoy that, believe me.
Binney: (opens his unlocked desk drawer revealing money and pistol…he chooses the money and hands it to Marlow) You’re cheap, Marlow.
Marlow: Ten cents a dance, fella.

Admin:  I know the noir element isn’t supposed to make a huge amount of sense, but I really like it and want to know what was going on with Binney. 🙂  Anyway, for all his indignation, Binney looks pretty superior as he hands the money over.  He is to forever remain a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a three piece suit.  Either that or he’s just a Nazi trafficker who got in over his head. 😉

You're cheap, Marlow.

You’re cheap, Marlow.

RF:  Binney never raises his voice, but his eyes are unblinking and cold as he tells Marlow to get out.  His tone is unmistakably hostile and full of quiet menace and his gaze is direct; he’s actually rather believably threatening at this point. Interesting turnabout when he was apparently so desperate to have Marlow’s assistance in earlier episodes.  He hasn’t outright panicked at the sight of Russian Mrs. Marlow (as he did when he saw Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in the first episode), but he does seem to have rethought his strategy yet again.

Admin:  Angry and menacing, but it’s worth noting he doesn’t seem offended.

RF:  As for Marlow, playing minder for a traitor appears to be beyond what he’s willing to do, even for money, although he does make sure to demand his fee.  Binney’s scoffing amusement when Marlow demands the money doesn’t reach his eyes, and I was a bit surprised when he actually paid it.  However, despite his bravado, Marlow looks apprehensive when he notices the gun (possibly a Luger?) in Binney’s drawer.  Luckily for him, Binney just hands the money over after carefully rearranging his expression into a contemptuous smirk.  “You’re cheap, Marlow” is a classic line.  😉

Forever a mystery.

Forever a mystery.

RF:  It’s true that the noir element of “Singing Detective” wasn’t meant to make that much sense, but there’s still a lot to it.  ;-)  I’d also like to know what was going on and how it was ever going to be resolved.  However, I think Marlow (the author) came the closest to describing the situation when he said detective stories should provide “all clues, no solutions”.  We’re given tons of clues and hints, but ultimately no resolution – although the clues themselves are a reflection on the real Marlow’s life.

Admin: That’s right. That’s when Nicola visits him in hospital and suggest he write about his experiences there.  He could have spent a whole chapter on Mr. Hall and his grapes. 😉


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