Some people think that a made for T.V. movie should not count when thinking about the greatest movies of all time. Of course, it is rare that a made for T.V. movie might be worth mentioning in that category. Not only does this 1986 BBC mini-series deserve to be noticed as one of the best movies ever, it is without a doubt, my favorite movie of all time.
Trying to put “The Singing Detective” into a nutshell, is pretty much impossible. The story revolves around fictional novelist, Philip Marlow (Notice the drop of the E off the name), played by the great Michael Gambon in his first real starring/lead role. Marlow is bedridden in a hospital in the then present, 1980(s). He suffers from a severe skin disease in which the skin over his entire body is dried up and flaking away. Red from irritation, it leaves him unable to move any part of his body on his own and without pain; it is psoriasis, at its most heightened stage. Dennis Potter, who wrote the movie, which started as a radio program, suffered from this disease and was writing from personal experience. He believed that this disease that tore away at this skin, was a physical representation of the horrible or immoral thoughts he possessed at times, as does the character of Philip Marlow, he is a prisoner in his own skin.
Unable to do anything else while he is bedridden, Marlow begins to “re-write” his most famous novel, “The Singing Detective” in his head. But due to the restraints of not having much else to do, high fevers that cause delusion, unfavorable dealings with other hospital patients and staff and the sudden appearance of his estranged wife, Marlow also begins to think about his past/childhood. Soon, the memories of his childhood begin infiltrating the story of, “The Singing Detective” as well as his experiences in the present. Nurses and doctors break out into lip synching dance numbers and the visions of dead bed mates seem to stream through everywhere. Ultimately, all of these worlds seem to collide as the finale of the movie draws near.
Part drama, part mystery, part musical, part thriller and all powerhouse film making bring this movie of searching, paranoia, and self discovery, into a world of its own. To be frank, most people will not understand the first 3 hours of this 6 hour mini-series as nothing really starts to come together until then. The series is broken up however into 6, one hour-long episodes that can make for an easy viewing. It is a movie that demands your attention and you must watch and listen closely as you may get lost even if you miss the smallest item.
Besides being my number one favorite movie of all time, it is prudent to bring this film review to you now as it shares a very similar theme with movies like, “12 Monkeys” and the current blockbuster, “Inception”. Now, it may share a message closer to, “12 Monkeys” but all three films ride a similar line or thematic tales. For “The Singing Detective”, it can be put simple as this; No matter what you think you remember from your past or not, there is one single moment that changed the person you were and helped form the person you have become.
If you are interested in seeing, “The Singing Detective”, it is available to rent from Netflix. Just remember it is a three disc set with the entire movie split across the first two discs. You can also buy it here, from Amazon. Watch out, there was an independent remake made in 2003 starring, Robert Downey Jr. DO NOT rent or buy this version. They chopped the story to about two hours and destroyed the 1986 classic. The remake gets One ‘Stache out of Five. There was a lot of great talent associated with the remake, but it missed the mark, big time. Feel free to see it after the original and you will see what I mean
Rating: 5 out of 5 ‘Staches