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Larger detectives, smaller screens - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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Larger detectives, smaller screens [Jun. 22nd, 2011|02:38 pm]
Marissa Lingen

I watched A&E's Nero Wolfe series late last year, and I was surprised at how much I liked it. The larger-than-life detective translated remarkably well to the screen: I felt that Timothy Hutton and Maury Chaikin did admirably as Archie and Nero, respectively, although I remain glad that I don't have the problem many people seem to have where watching filmed versions will supplant their imagined versions. (My Galadriel is way better.) (Er. Not in the Nero Wolfe series.)

So, heartened by this success, I watched the first set of the BBC's filmed versions of the Dalziel and Pascoe mysteries.


It's not that they were horrible. It's just that...the volume was too low, in general. Dalziel is a very ordinary man, not a force of nature. When he comes out with words like amanuensis, there is no shock to it; he never does anything particularly beyond what any other character would do. He is not surprisingly reasonable in a pinch--he's just...reasonable. And Wield is vastly insufficiently ugly. Vastly. Wield is supposed to be shatteringly ugly, just horrifically ugly, about as ugly as a person can be without visible deformities. And the actor who plays Wield (David Royle) is...not really Hollywood-handsome. And that's it.

I think part of what worked with the A&E productions of the Nero Wolfe stuff is that they committed to playing it over the top. The entire color palette was heightened, both in the sets and in the costuming. They were not attempting realism, and the Dalziel and Pascoe people apparently were, and so the places where each detective is larger than life contrasted sharply, because Nero Wolfe was, I mean to say, Nero Wolfe, and Andy Dalziel was...some guy.

And it's funny to me to have the contrast, because Dalziel and Pascoe are fairly explicitly trying to do something different than Wolfe and Goodwin--it's rather like a Hornblower vs. Aubrey/Maturin thing--but the contrasts can't be quite the way they are without the similarities. And in this case, trying to do it quietly just didn't work, whereas the mustard-colored suits did. Strange.

[User Picture]From: akirlu
2011-06-22 07:51 pm (UTC)
I love having the Galadriel of the Nero Wolf series in my head. What would that be like?
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[User Picture]From: magentamn
2011-06-22 09:01 pm (UTC)
That would be Lily Rowan, of course.
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[User Picture]From: carbonel
2011-06-22 09:24 pm (UTC)
A couple of years ago, I watched all of the Peter Wimsey productions available on Netflix. There were something like seven or eight of them, with a couple of different actors playing Wimsey (plus whatever else of an ensemble cast there was). I watched them in publication order, so it was rather odd to see Wimsey change from Ian Carmichael (in most of them) to whoever else it might be.

I think Ian Carmichael was wildly miscast (too old, too burly, to hearty), though he clearly gave the role his best shot.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-06-23 12:00 am (UTC)
There is an ad for the Peter Wimsey productions on the Dalziel & Pascoe discs. It had the effect of making me recoil in horror and wish to never, ever see any more of those shows than the included trailers gave me. That was very much on the old, burly, hearty axes.
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[User Picture]From: columbina
2011-06-23 01:47 pm (UTC)
I've never read any Reginald Hill, but all four of my friends who I know to be fervent Dalziel fans (and there seems to be no other kind of Dalziel fan but a fervent one; it's a Boolean - now that I know you like them, should I add you to that count?)

Um. Let's start that over. I've never read any, but four of my friends who have all warned me, at various times, that they considered the characters extremely difficult to film well and would be avoiding any attempts.

I would have thought that Wolfe wouldn't film well either, because he is such a verbal character and so much of the books depends on long blocks of excellent words that, alas, do not make good TV/film. But the Hutton series - and you can safely call it that, because apparently Timothy Hutton was actually one of the masterminds and was responsible for its quality both behind the camera as well as in front of it - does seem to get it right. I do wish Wolfe was a little more Montenegrin, but you know, I have less trouble with Chaykin than I do William Conrad, a Wolfe that several of my friends adored and whose casting I just can't visualize. (Never actually seen him do the role.)

With Lord Peter I have a completely different problem. I have never been able to visualize Lord Peter *at all*. I have utterly no mental image of him whatsoever. The image of him in my brain is entirely audible; I know what he sounds like, but I have no idea what he looks like. I know what Harriet looks like; I know what Bunter looks like; I know what the Dowager Duchess and the Duke of Denver and his wife Helen look like. But Peter himself is a blank. So it seems likely that ANY visual realization of him that I saw would seem wrong to me.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-06-23 03:26 pm (UTC)
Add me. Yes. I am a great fan of Dalziel. And Wield! We must not forget Wield.

I do have a visual image of Lord Peter, but I admit that the auditory one is much stronger.
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