Wednesday, December 28, 2011

War Horse (2011)

When this movie was over, I wept. It was nothing for me to be ashamed of. Steven Spielberg’s War Horse is a painterly masterpiece, woven together with beauty and sadness, strength and heartbreak, triumph and love. It tells the story of a horse that is plunged headfirst into the cauldron of World War I, and the teenage boy who descends into the hells of the trenches to find it and bring it home. But it is more, too. It invited me, like a warm blanket, into its world of green pastures and smoky battlefields, and introduced me to characters—both human and animal—that I began to love and adore with great emotion, as if they were real presences in my own life. It would not be enough for me to say that this is my favorite movie of the year. This is one of the best movies I've ever seen.

All great filmmakers have one thing in common: they expand on ideas that worked for them in the past. From there, they create new and unexpected works of art. Steven Spielberg is no exception: he is our finest poet of communication breakdowns. We remember, from his films, Elliot, Gertie and Michael teaching E.T. how to talk; Nettie teaching Celie how to read; Adams, Joadson and Baldwin teaching Cinque about American customs; Viktor Navorski teaching himself how to speak English. But War Horse is a horse of a different color, and in more ways than one. Spielberg has always had a penchant for challenging his audiences to invest their care in the narratives of unusual protagonists. This time, he has mounted his most compelling narrative challenge for us since A.I., by centering his latest film around a teenage boy learning to communicate—intimately—with a creature that doesn’t talk at all.

Jeremy Irvine plays Albert Narracott, a young English lad growing up on his family’s farm in Devon in 1913. In the opening passages of War Horse, Spielberg and his world treasure of a cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski, soar over the lime-green fields of England, in a merrily nostalgic evocation of John Ford’s The Quiet Man, before settling down to a starry-eyed Albert watching, through a fence, while a pregnant mother horse gives birth to a baby fawn. The boy can hardly hold back his excitement. This could very well be the first time he has ever born witness to an event of profound, natural beauty.

The newborn horse is not as amused with its own surroundings, which Spielberg makes palpably felt in a harrowing little scene where it is taken, kicking and screaming, away from its mother, whom it will never see again. It has been purchased by Albert’s father, Ted (Peter Mullan), who snagged it at an auction for no good reason other than to smite his bourgeoisie landlord, Lyons (David Thewlis), while they were both flexing their muscles in a futile game of prewar class warfare. Spielberg, indeed, bookends War Horse with two sequences set at auctions: the first one, a bet for the horse’s ownership, and the second, a bet for its life. His basic point is that horses, no matter if they’re impressive or unimpressive creatures, will always be at the mercy of us. We are the ones who determine whether they are destined for happy lives or as fodder for the meat grinder, and sometimes, he argues, we do it in the names of greed and masculine pride. In war and in life, just because horses are beings of a lesser intelligence, they are not afforded the luxury of choice.

What Albert Narracott does want to establish, between himself and the new horse, is a system of trust. Remember Elliot having to bait E.T., with Reese’s Pieces, in order to lead him into his house? Spielberg replicates some of that magic here, when Albert realizes he’s going to need to bait the new horse, somehow, in order to earn its friendship. Why not turn his back, and allow the bucket to resonate more like a breakfast waiting patiently for its customer, instead of like an intimidating instrument of force-feeding and torture? Albert tries this out, and it works. The horse quietly steps up, eases its snout into the bucket and chows down, and remains admirably calm while Albert pets it and bestows upon it a name: “I’m gonna call you Joey.”

Albert’s family, the Narracotts, is one of the most lovable movie families in recent memory. Albert is an idealistic young lad; Ted is alternately a drunken fool and an observant farmer who knows what to do in a time of economic panic; and Rose (Emily Watson) is a headstrong wife and mother (the most fully-realized heroine in Spielberg’s career since, well, ever) who maintains the family’s sanity even while struggling to maintain her own. In one of the funniest and, at the same time, most touching shots composed by Spielberg in the film, the director places Rose in the foreground, allowing her to have a private moment all to herself while the farm goose waddles in the lower right-hand corner of the frame, minding its own business. This goose likes to act as man of the house in Ted and Albert’s place, and has the freedom to do what they are in no position to do—that is, chase away unwanted authorities, like Lyons, whenever they descend on the Narracott homestead and give the family a hard time.

The first hour of War Horse is a joyous one, allowing the audience to get to know the Narracotts, and the rest of the village, as they slowly but surely rally behind Albert’s efforts to raise Joey as a farm horse that can plough through even the hardest of stone and mud. But this barely even begins to describe the range of Spielberg’s film, which reaches a turning point after Ted realizes what must be done to save the family farm: sell Joey to the English cavalry. Over the course of the film, Joey will fall into the custody of a host of different characters, all of whom are impressed by the power and strength of this horse, and many of whom, no doubt, would like to take it home with them after the war is over. We follow Joey and, later, Albert—when he enlists in the war in hopes that Joey will be recovered—as their adventures carry them from forests to hillsides, windmills to No Man’s Land, against a nightmarish depiction of trench warfare that invites comparison to Kubrick and Paths of Glory.

The film remains true to the 1982 children’s novel by Michael Morpurgo, which I have already read and covered, and also, presumably, to the recent London stage play by Nick Stafford, which I haven’t yet seen. To adapt Morpurgo’s complicated story, Spielberg has hired two of England’s most talented screenwriters, Lee Hall and Richard Curtis, whose resumes look almost tailor-made for a project of this emotional magnitude. Hall was the one who located the human story in Billy Elliot, making that film one of the surprise indie hits of the late 1990’s. Curtis is more well-known in the industry, perhaps because of his enjoyable romantic comedies (Notting Hill, Love Actually, The Girl in the CafĂ©), although it wasn’t until 2009’s Pirate Radio when I thought he finally managed to reach a kind of cinematic brilliance. Spielberg may have also hired Curtis because of his involvement with the 80's television show Blackadder Goes Forth, which I haven’t watched, but which, evidently, was the work of a filmmaker who already knew a thing or two about the first world war.

Together, Hall and Curtis lay the ground plan for Spielberg’s vision: to make a film about the war in which all sides are granted their dignity. Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston) and Major Stewart (Benedict Cumberbatch) are gentle, commanding officers of the British cavalry who treat Joey and his eventual horse companion—a black beauty named Topthorn—as fellow soldiers deserving of their respect, while the young, sickly Emilie (Celine Buckens) and her doting grandfather (Niels Arestrup) represent the spirit of France, welcoming Joey and Topthorn into their windmill home with open arms. But there is a sympathetic portrait of Germany here, too; Spielberg does not fall into the same trap Howard Hawks and John Huston fell into, in Sergeant York, when they inadvertently reduced Kaiser helmet-wearing Germans to a nameless, anonymous enemy. Gunther (David Kross) and his 14-year old brother Michael (Leonhard Carow) attempt to free Joey and Topthorn from the madness of the war, while risking their own lives in the process. And it is the jolly, bearded gunman Friedrich (Nicolas Bro) who remains by Topthorn’s side at a crucial moment, and screams for Joey to run for his life just when a Panzer is about to unleash all hell on No Man’s Land.

There are no villains in this film. Why would there be? World War I was a superfluous, pointless war, and it would have been a mistake to demonize any of the world powers because none of them were guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors; the war was fought not for world freedom, but for class and politics. As Lyons, David Thewlis plays an antagonist who, despite being an upper-class bully, allows the Narracotts their chance to raise Joey, even while he remains somewhat justifiably skeptical of the horse’s skills. Lyons has a son, David (Robert Emms), who intimidates Albert with his cars and hot babes until he finds himself being rescued—by Albert—in the heat of battle, later on in the film. Brandt (Rainer Bock), the cigar-smoking German major who makes life difficult for Joey and Topthorn, is really just a hardened soldier who has taught himself to adhere by a commonly-accepted rule: don’t ever dote on horses and give them names, or else you’ll get too carried away with grief once you've seen them die on the battlefield.

Spielberg has cast every actor in this movie to perfection. I am tempted to describe how much I admired the performances by all of them, but that way madness lies. I’ll limit to myself to the Narracotts. Jeremy Irvine is quite a refreshing new discovery as Albert; he’s the kind of younger actor that directors like David Lean loved to work with, so I guess it’s not a surprise to learn that Mike Newell has cast him in an upcoming Great Expectations remake. Peter Mullan is an actor who’s never made a great impression on me until now. I don’t seem to recall his role in Braveheart, although I well remember him as the corrupt cop in Children of Men. Here, he bravely takes upon the role of a father who has kept his own memories of war heavily-guarded, and finds himself sometimes having to go against the wishes of his wife and son in order to protect the family. And Emily Watson, perhaps my favorite living actress, is a true blessing in the canvas. In one of the film’s most quietly moving moments, when her husband asks her how she will react if he does the unthinkable, she pointedly replies, “I may hate you more… but I will never love you less.” Even she is prepared to condone that decision which she fears the most.

In the past, Spielberg and his usual team of technical collaborators (Janusz Kaminski, Michael Kahn, John Williams) have managed to tackle extraordinary narratives of an awesome variety, but here they face a considerable challenge: how do you mount an epic in which the main protagonist is an animal? The original Morpurgo book relied on narration from Joey’s inner thoughts, but Spielberg has resisted that approach here, perhaps because the last time DreamWorks distributed a film narrated by a horse (2002’s Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron), it was a resounding box office flop. Spielberg has taken a wiser approach, I believe, by trusting his audience enough to let us figure out, for ourselves, what Joey is thinking in key sequences. When Albert, for example, teaches Joey, through clever visual expression, that there’s nothing dangerous about putting on a harness, Joey is able to silently pass this knowledge onto Topthorn later on, in a wonderfully understated moment. Or consider the climactic scene in which Joey finds himself cornered by the approaching Panzer (in a startling quotation of Saving Private Ryan’s finale), and his frightened neighing conveys to us what narration wouldn’t have needed to. In fact, Spielberg enlisted no less than 15 different horses to play Joey, but you wouldn’t know it from the finished film. By the end, Joey has emerged as the most three-dimensional character in the story.

I went into War Horse expecting Spielberg to mount a war odyssey on the scale of Empire of the Sun. I did not anticipate a film that would both remain true to the source material and surprise me with scenes that came out of left field; the pivotal sequence in which an English and German soldier (Toby Kebbell and Hinnerck Schonemman) must put aside their differences to rescue Joey from a web of barbed wire in No Man’s Land has already been much discussed in other reviews. I went in already familiar with Morpurgo’s story, but was amazed at how captivated I finally was with the way Spielberg had reimagined it. He closes the film, fittingly, with a visual reference to Gone with the Wind (his first tribute to Victor Fleming since Always in ’89) that, I believe, will be remembered as a classic movie ending in itself: one that asks us what Joey and Albert have finally accomplished, even as we are already cheering them on for their accomplishments.

War Horse is Spielberg’s Christmas gift to us. More appropriately, it’s his reward to us—a reward for our natural wisdom as moviegoers. To fully appreciate Spielberg's achievement, however, there is catch: you must see this film with a mass audience. Watch how everybody in your theater falls under its spell, one by one. I know I did. I saw it with an audience that broke into applause after it was over, and I never wanted the applause to end; movies like this deserve all the applause in the world. After the past decade, with the failures of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, what a relief it is to have this film, which states that most wars are not a question of good guys and bad guys. More often, they are a clash of human beings, unsure of why they fight each other and unaware of the common universal ideals which could ultimately unite them. Joey the horse is a represention of that ideal, and it doesn't matter that this story is set during another period in our world's history. War Horse is a movie for our time.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Adventures of Tintin: Red Rackham's Treasure (1945)

A man named Bill walks into a bar, The Anchor, and tells a friend named George that he's sailing aboard the SIRIUS in a few days with Tintin and Captain Haddock. George is familiar with them because they cracked the Bird brothers case, and Bill tells him he's going treasure-hunting with them. They are overheard by a Daily Reporter, who publishes the story in the news the next day (Haddock bumps into a pole while reading the paper, alarmed that an ad on the pole descripes the Daily Reporter as "news which hits you").

A man claiming to go by the name "Red Rackham" drops by Tintin's place and claims he's entitled to half a share; others claiming to go by that name drop by as well (one carrying a "family tree" with him). Haddock scares them off when he reveals himself as Sir Francis' descendant. By the time Thomson and Thompson have dropped by, another man -- Cuthbert Calculus -- has dropped by. He is hard of hearing, and when Haddock demands that he give "YOUR NAME!", Calculus replies, "Gone away?... What a pity! Never mind. I'll come again. I particularly wanted to speak to Mr. Tintin himself..."

Calculus tells Tintin (with some difficulty) that he's invented an underwater sub that could help Tintin avoid sharks during his journey. Much to his annoyance, he practically invites himself along for the ride (assuming Tintin has invited him, even though Tintin has tried to yell to him that he doesn't need him).  After a bit of slapstick at Calculus' place, and accidentally breaking his own sub machine in half, Tintin and Haddock leave, with Calculus assuming (wrongly) that they want him to build a two-seater sub for them.

Some days later, Tintin and Haddock buy a diving suit from a merchant who warns them, "Beware, young fellow, beware! Money is the root of all evil!" and "I see that you intend to go treasure hunting... I read it in your face." Haddock accidentally breaks a mirror in the shop, which makes him paranoid the next day about the voyage. Thomson & Thompson come to inform them that Max Bird has escaped. Haddock receives a latter from his doctor stating that he has a bad liver condition and should avoid alcohol. Just then, Calculus appears and says his ship is ready, but Haddock draws a message on a wall for him: WE ARE NOT INTERESTED IN YOUR MACHINE! Haddock is still resistant about going on the voyage before the Thomsons suggest he is afraid, and he explodes, declaring they'll lay anchors tomorrow.

When they set out the next day, the Thomsons catch up with Tintin/Haddock on motorboat insisting they come with them to make sure Max Bird isn't stalking them during the voyage. "Now that we are aboard you will be able to feel that you are perfectly safe," says Thomson. "To be precise," adds Thompson, "perfectly safe."

There is trouble onboard when Bill accuses Snowy of stealing biscuits and chicken. Meanwhile, Haddock thinks there's a bomb onboard in some crates, when actually it's just steel plates. Haddock also suspects Snowy of stealing whiskey, and although they find Snowy clearly drunk, it's only because Snowy has been licking smashed whiskey from the deck. Up top, they find Calculus sleeping in a lifeboat with a box of biscuits. It turns out Calculus removed the bottles of whiskey from the crates and replaced it with the parts of his sub machine. 

No islands are sighted. The Thomsons insist the Captain may have made a mistake on his calculations, and point to where they think he is on the map. Haddock takes off his hat and "prays", then explains, "I mean, gentlemen, that according to your calculations we are now standing inside Westminster Abbey!" Tintin and Haddock privately try to figure out what they're doing wrong with the calculations, and Tintin realizes that Sir Francis probably used a French chart -- which may mean that they're too far west. 

They finally find an island, but they wait until morning to explore. In the morning, they find the remains of Sir Franc's old jollyboat, which may mean that they're near their goal. In the jungle, Snowy finds a bone and leads them to the remains of jungle natives beside an "idol" of Sir Francis. When Tintin impersonates how Sir Francis might have talked to the natives long ago ("Ration my rum!"), he is replied to by some parrots saying the same thing on the trees above. They also have trouble with some monkeys that temporarily steal Haddock's gun. They decide to take the Francis idol back to the ship.

On the way back, a shark attacks their boat, and others follow suit. Haddock shoots at them, but Calculus appears in his shark-proof sub and scares the sharks off. This persuades Tintin to try operating the sub himself; Calculus tells him a red button can be used to release smoke in the water when he's found the treasure. Tintin descends the sub with Snowy, only for the sub's propeller to get caught in some seaweed. Believing he's found treasure, Haddock and Calculus now out, but are bemused when Tintin fails to rise to the surface. Haddock decides to use the anchor to hook onto the sub and, after some struggling, frees the sub to the surface. Snowy thinks to himself, "Weeds or not, I don't set foot in that thing again!", to which Tintin replies, "Snowy and I are setting out again immediately!"

With his pendulum, Calculus tries to tell Haddock that the Unicorn wreck is not in the area they're searching. However, Tintin does manage to find the wreck, and dives down to it in his diving suit. The air temporarily stops working when the Thomsons stop pumping, which incites Haddock's wrath. When Calculus asks what's going on, Haddock snarks Tintin is "picking daisies down below", which Calculus reads as "having a row." So when Tintin emerges to the surface with a gold cross, encrusted with precious stones and a cutlass, Calculus is rather angry, believing Haddock lied to him.

When Haddock himself dives, he comes up with a bottle of rum, gets drunk, dives back down without his helmet and is prepared to rage at the Thomsons because they "forgot to pump again!" But of course, his suit is now full of water, which Tintin and the Thomsons demonstrate by tipping him over. Having a drink of rum that evening, Tintin expresses disappointment over having not found the treasure, but Haddock says, "Oh, we'll find that tomorrow, won't we Professor Calculus?" To which Calculus, still hard-of-hearing, replies, "Perhaps, but I'm inclined to think it is rum." They then realize the Thomsons are still pumping air outside, and order them off to bed.

The next morning, Tintin finds a casket and wonders if it's treasure when, suddenly, he is attacked by a shark that swallows it. Using a rum bottle as a weapon somehow makes the shark drunk, and Tintin uses the opportunity to tie the ship's rope to the shark and have it dragged up to the deck. When the shark is cut open,  they find the casket in its stomach, and Haddock tries to use a case opener to open it. Inside, all they find are old documents "half eaten away by damp!" More treasure-hunting down below proves useless.

Calculus spots a cross on the island, and they row back to dig under it, which confuses Calculus: what on Earth are they digging for? They find no treasure. Calculus says the pendulum points westwards, but Haddock, in a fury, grabs it and stomps on it (Snowy then treats the pendulum like a fetch ball and brings it back to Calculus). The Thomsons, curiously, stay behind to fill in the hole ("people never look where they're going..."). By the 15th, they are at least able to raise the Unicorn figurehead, which surprises Calculus -- whose pendulum, apparently, was wrong all along. By the time they return on the 22nd, a reporter, Ken Rogers of the Daily Reporter, is desperate for an interview, and Haddock turns his "secretary" Calculus over to him for any questions. The Thomsons, meanwhile, confident that Max Bird never appeared because they were onboard during the voyage, decide to "spend a few days in the country with a farmer friend of ours."

Some days later, Calculus pays a visit to Tintin with the documents from the casket, believing he's been able to figure them out. Indeed, the documents reveal that King Charles II bestowed Marlinspike Hall to Sir Francis. This delights Calculus, who says he has enough government money (for the patent on his sub) to buy the estate back. They buy it, and in the storeroom they find a statue of St. John the Evangelist ("the Eagle of Patmos"), which is equipped with a stone globe that -- when Tintin points to the island they journeyed to - pops out a lid to reveal Red Rackham's treasure. Hearing footsteps, they run and hide, only to realize it's just Caulcus following his pendulum. This allows Haddock to set up a Maritime Gallery, where relics of the Unicorn ship will be on display in Marlinspike Hall.

HADDOCK: Well, what do you say now, my friends? All's well that ends well, eh?

CALCULUS: Just as I always said: more to the west!

HADDOCK: Yes, yes. But I said: all's well that ends well. Don't you agree?

CALCULUS: Your maritime gallery? ... I think it is very successful!

HADDOCK: Thanks. But I was just saying that our adventures had a happy ending. They've ended, and happily!...

CALCULUS: No thank you. Never between meals.

HADDOCK: No, no! Blistering barnacles! All's well that ends well! ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL!

CALCULUS: Without any doubt!

CALCULUS: ...and this is just the moment to quote that old saying: All's well that ends well!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (1946)

Pickpockets are about! Thomson and Thompson are keeping their eyes peeled for the "well-organized gang" believed to be stealing wallets in Old Street Market. There, they run into Tintin, and are about to buy some walking sticks before they realized both their wallets have been stolen. Tintin pays for the sticks himself. When Thomson and Thompson start harassing others in the crowd to see if they are thieves, they are arrested.

Tintin and Snowy come across a ship being sold. "I say, Snowy, isn't that a fine ship!" Tintin remarks. He wants to buy it for Captain Haddock (price is a quid), and is told "it's a very old... er... very old type of galliard." Tintin bids seventeen and six for it and it is sold to him, but then a bearded man comes on the scene and asks to buy it from Tintin, who refuses to sell it. Then a chubby mustached man tries to buy it from Tintin, and he, too, is rejected. Tintin leaves.

A few minutes later, the bearded man appears at Tintin's place again, still asking to buy the ship, claiming to be a collector of models. The man gives Tintin his card and leaves. Snowy accidentally knocks the ship over, and Tintin fixes it just in time for Haddock's arrival. Haddock is alarmed, asks where Tintin bought the ship, and rushes with Tintin back to his own flat, showing him a portrait of his ancestor Sir Francis Haddock... with a similar-looking ship in the background. In tiny letters it reads: UNICORN. This prompts Tintin to rush back to his place to take another look at the model... only to find it gone.

Looking at the card the bearded man gave him (IVAN IVANOVITCH SAKHARINE; Collector; 21, Eucalyptus Avenue), Tintin visits Sakharine's place, where the man claims he's been "expecting" Tintin. Tintin spots a similkar model on the man's table, but Sakharine claims this is a different model that he's had for 10 years. Tintin checks to see if it has a broken mast like his own model, and, lo and behold, it doesn't.

Leaving Sakharine's place, Tintin tries to phone Haddock (annoyed that a fat lady is in the booth already, but only so she and her dog "Fifi" can stay out of the rain for a quarter of an hour), but Haddock doesn't answer. Tintin returns to find his flat ransacked; did the other man from the market do this? "Burgled twice in one day... Not bad at all!" Tintin complains. Nothing, however, was actually stolen.

The next morning, Thomson and Thompson visit Tintin to pay him back for the sticks, only to realized they've been mugged again. Tintin knows it couldn't have been the burly man from the market because he couldn't have stolen their *new* wallets (which they only bought that morning). Meanwhile, Snowy finds a scroll of parchment under the drawers. It reads:

Three brothers joynes. Three Unicorns in company sailing in the noonday Sunne will speak.

For 'tis from the Light that Light will dawn. And then shines forth.
42                                                     A             o                  1   ?

                                        the Eagle's t

"But it's all gibberish!" complains Tintin. "And where on earth did this parchment come from, anyway?" Then he realizes it must have fallen under the ship and rolled underneath the drawers when Snowy knocked it over. Tintin deduces that whoever stole the ship must have been after the parchment. Snowy thinks, "Tintin, you're a real Sherlock Holmes!"

Tintin and his landlady are unable to get into Haddock's room, but after some struggle, Haddock comes bursting out dressed like a ship captain, complete with a hat and sword. He seems to be, in Tintin's words, "play-acting", when in fact he's enacting the journeys of his ancestor, Francis Haddock. It seems Haddock has found his ancestor's old manuscripts from the year 1676 (the Unicorn was a vessel of King Charles II's fleet). He goes on to tell a story of Francis' ship being attacked by the pirate ship of Red Rackham. The ship was hijacked, and Francis was tied to the mast while Rackham and his pirates transfer their cargo to the Unicorn (their own ship is sinking). "Regard me well, dog: I am Red Rackham!"

Haddock continues to tell the story to Tintin while Snowy gets drunk on rum ("That's funny! Now there are two glasses!"). In the story, Francis breaks free, fights Rackham down below (while Haddock tells of Francis extinguishing the fuse on some powder kegs, he steps on Snowy's tail, causing Snowy to yelp, "WOOOAH!"). And then Francis kills Rackham -- "That's that! May heaven forgive your wicked soul!" -- before lighting the power kegs again, fleeing to an island and watching the ship blow up.

According to Haddock, Francis lived w/the island natives for the next 2 years and then was carried home by a ship, but left a Will on the last page of his manuscript bequeathing a model to each of his three sons. His manuscript instructs the sons to move the mainmasts on each model: "'Thus,' he concludes, 'the truth will come out.'" To which Tintin exclaims, "That's it, Captain! ...Red Rackham's Treasure will be ours!"

Unfortunately, Tintin's wallet has been stolen, so he has lost his parchment, but he does remember the message. He knows they will need to acquire all three scrolls. They find Sakharine "murdered" at his place, according to a hysterical old lady, when in fact he's only been chloroformed. But his parchment has been stolen, too. Thomson and Thompson arrive and anger Haddock by accusing him of commiting the crime (they claim it's an "experiment" of theirs). While Sakharine wakes up, Thompson is burned by his own magnifying glass, much to Thomson's amusement. Thomson reveals he's developed a system of keeping an "elastic" wallet in his pocket from now on.

Sakharine claims the burly man from the market came to visit him. Tintin and Haddock go back to Tintin's place, where the burly man is awaiting them and tries to go inside w/them before he is shot in a drive-by, croaking to Tintin, "Take care! ...They... they will kill you... too..." Befofre passing out, he points to some sparrows eating crumbs on the sidewalk. It is made to look like murder in the papers, when in fact he is still alive in the hospital and the press has been lied to in order to fool the crooks. That night in the market, the Thomsons are nearly mugged again, but the elastic trap works. However, the thief escapes when Thomson crashes into a street pole. But they do manage to retrieve his coat as well as Tintin's wallet from him. Tintin reminds them they can identify the thief by which cleaners the coat has been to.

At Tintin's place, Tintin encounters some "dinner service" men who chloroform him and stuff him in their crate. Snowy barks at them from the window, falls and lands in Haddock's arms (he just arrived onto the scene), then chases the thieves' van. The landlady is confused, since Snowy is known never to leave his master.

Held prisoner in their hideout and tormented by an unseen voice claiming to be "the ghost of the captain of the Unicorn," Tintin is confused when the voice accuses him of stealing the other two parchments. Tintin never did have more than one. Wanting to get out, Tintin uses a long beam as a battering ram tied to a ceiling ring with blanket sheets (his handkerchief is stuffed in the voicebox to prevent the thieves from hearing), while Snowy meanwhile treks across the road in the rain and mud, bathing in a creek but still getting splashed by more mud along the way.

The battering ram successfully punctures a hole through the brick wall (this is weirdly similar to that Well of Souls scene in Raiders, isn't it? No wonder critics thought Spielberg was a Herge fan at the time -- even though he wasn't!), and hears music on the other side, coming from a music box. On the other side is a bunch of memorabilia. The thieves play cat and mouse with him, but he staves them off by breaking an abacus that spills some balls which they trip over. Locking them in, Tintin finds out from an envelope in the house parlor that it's the estate of one "G. Bird", explaining the meaning of the burly man pointing to the sparrows earlier. It was his way of identifying his attackers, the Bird brothers, a pair of antique dealers.

From the voice box, the thieves alert their butler Nestor to what Tintin is doing, claiming he's "a young ruffian" trespassing. Nestor wrestles with Tintin while he's on the phone w/Haddock informing him he's atMarlinspike Hall. Tintin escapes to the woods, where the thieves release a dog after Tintin that is caught by the leash in some branches. Tripping the thieves, Tintin takes their gun and makes them go back to the house, but Nestor knocks Tintin out from the window with a bat, and the thieves take him hostage. But Snowy appears, bites one of them, and Tintin punches them out. Haddock and the Thomsons arrive, and Tintin tells them to let Nestor go because he is innocent and was lied to by his bosses.

The more dangerous of the two Bird brothers, however, gets away. But they learn from the one they have captive (who decides to talk when they reveal that the burly man, Barnaby, is still alive) that they had found the Unicorn model in the attic of their house 2 years ago. Barnaby was one of their spies, and was the one who ransacked Tintin's place and chloroformed Sakharine, but broke from the Bird brothers after he demanded more money, which provoked the more dangerous brother, Max, to decide to try to have him whacked. Tintin is then told that Max still has Tintin's scroll.

The next morning, Tintin and the Thomsons visit the home of Aristides Silk, the suspected pickpocket, who claims to be a "kleptomaniac" who takes wallets in order to sort them out in alphabetical order. One of them is  Max Bird's wallet, which already has two scrolls in it. When the Thomsons finally find Max Bird and arrest him (he had been caught trying to leave the country), it is discovered he has the last scroll in his possession.

When Tintin puts the three parchments together, he discovers that they form a latitude and longitude:

20  37  42  N.  70  52  15  W.

With that, they realize that Rackham's treasure is within their grasp. Haddock says they can charter the SIRIUS, which belongs to his friend Captain Chester.

"But of course it won't be easy," Tintin reminds his readers, "and we shall certainly have plenty of adventures on our treasure-hunt... you can read about them in RED RACKHAM'S TREASURE!"

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Adventures of Tintin: The Crab With The Golden Claws (1953)

Tintin and Snowy are walking around one day when Snowy starts digging in a garbage can, finds a can with a crab painted on it inside and digs it out. Tintin scolds Snowy for this, since the can could have cut him, and throws it away. They meet up at a cafe with Thomson and Thompson, who are investigating a case of counterfeit coins. When Tintin follows them back to their office, he notices that they have half a picture of a crab on their table. According to Thomson and Thompson, it came from police headquarters--from a man who drowned at sea and had five counterfeit coins in his pocket.

Tintin rushes out to find the picture, and Thomson & Thompson follow him. They rummage through some garbage cans but are unsuccessful; the garbage man tells a random Asian man notices they are searching for a crab tin and the Asian remarks to himself, "A crab tin! Are they indeed!"

Tintin takes the crab picture back to his house. He tries to examine it with a magnifying glass but initially confuses the glass with Snowy's bone. When he does manage to examine, the picture, it reads: Karaboudjan. Tintin thinks it's an Armenian name. Later, Tintin's landlady is attacked, and she says an Asian man tried to reach Tintin earlier and give him a letter before being kidnapped by some gangsters.

Thomson & Thompson call, saying that the drowned body has been identified as Herbert Dawes; he was a sailor on the merchant-ship Karaboudjan. Tintin and Snowy rush to the docks to find the ship and are nearly killed by a falling crate (which Tintin manages to avoid after being distratced by seagulls). Thomson & Thompson follow Tintin up to the ship to investigate, and while they are busy Tintin is knocked out and imprisoned; Thomson & Thompson leave the ship.

The ship sails, and the gangsters receive a telegram asking to "send T to the bottom". A gangster, "Pedro", has already gone down to Tintin with food, and when Tintin asks to be untied to eat with his hands, he uses the opportunity to tie Pedro up and escape. Tintin and Snowy break into a room filled w/crates of crab tins filled w/opium and bottles of champagne. When night falls, Tintin and Snowy rope they way up to the window on the floor above them, where they run into a drunken Captain Haddock -- who professes innocence to the opium charges. Haddock suspects his first-mate, Allan, is guilty.

The gangsters come upstairs, but Tintin is hiding under the bed, while the gangsters are "shot at" by the champagne bottles downstairs. Meanwhile, Tintin, Snowy and Haddock have escaped via rowboat. While Tintin sleeps, Haddock, drunk, builds a fire in the middle of the boat to keep warm, causing a struggle between him and Tintin that sends the boat toppling over. A seaplane then appears and shoots at them. With Pedro's gun, Tintin shoots the plane down, dives under the water, appears from the surface to take the pilots by surprise and takes control of the plane.

Up in the air, the gangsters refuse to talk, and Tintin tries to steer towards Spain. Haddock, who gets drunk on another bottle of whiskey, throws a fit to seize the controls from Tintin, smashing the bottle against his head. The plane crashes into some sand dunes, but Tintin rescues the pilots from the burning wreck. The pilots  then disappear, Tintin and Haddock suffer hallucinations and fall out cold before being rescued by Muslim riders in the serve of Lieutenant Delcourt, who is in command of the outpost at Afghar. He offers them some spirits, but Tintin says, "No thank you. I never drink spirits." To which Haddock adds, " thank you, Lieutenant, I... I don't either. I... I never touch spirits." On the radio, they hear a report that the Karaboudjan is lost at sea and may have sunken, but they are skeptical. 

They leave that day with two guides, but are shot at by 20 Arab riders. Haddock rushes at them and apparently scares them away, when in fact the Lieutenant's army is the one repelling them. Several days later, they reach Bagghar, a large Moroccan port, hoping to hear news of the Karaboudjan from the harbor master. Tintin thinks he sees one of the gangsters and runs after him, accidentally losing Haddock but also losing the person he's chasing after. Haddock apparently spots the Karaboudjan disguised as the "Djebel Amilah", but gets in trouble with the police during a drunken disturbance at a cafe and is arrested. Then he's released -- only to be captured by the kidnappers, which Tintin witnesses. Tintin's attempt to chase at their car in a cab (while he scares a passenger out of the cab with the "rabid" Snowy) proves unsuccessful.

In the marketplace, Tintin runs into Thomson and Thompson, and together they spot a shop selling crab tins. These tins do, in fact, contain crab, and the merchant says he got them fro Mohammed Ben Ali, who in turn says he got them from Omar Ben Salaad, "the biggest trader in Bagghar." Tintin, dressed as a beggar, manages to locate Salaad's headquarters (Snowy sneaks in through the ventilator shaft), and they find a secret entrance in a barrel that takes them down to where Haddock is being held.

A struggle ensues, and Tintin and Haddock and Snowy barricade themselves in a wine room, where the fumes of spilled wine intoxicate them (and puts Haddock in a drunken rage that sends the gangsters running out screaming). Thomson and Thompson, meanwhile, interrogate Salaad, who is outraged when they accuse him, but the Captain appears from behind a bookcase and Salaad's secret entrance his leg and he accidentally shoots a chandelier that lands on his head, knocking him out. The police take Salaad into custody while Tintin goes on a boat chase after the escaped mate, "the most dangerous of the lot", finally managing to capture him in a fishing net. 

Afterwards, Tintin is approached by Bunji Kuraki of the Yokohama police force, aka the Asian man. He apparently was imprisoned in the hold of the Karaboudjan the whole time. He tells Tintin that the dead man Herbert Dawes had alerted him to the drugs in the Karaboudjan and that Dawes, before getting whacked, had had the label with "Karaboudjan" written on it in his pocket in order to tell Kuraki the name of the ship (but he had never actually given Kuraki the paper itself). 

Some days later, on the Home Service radio show, Captain Haddock is supposed to read a broadcast about "drink, the sailor's worst enemy." At the same time, Snowy receives a package containing an oversized bone ("from an admirer"). On the show, however, Haddock is "taken ill", and when Tintin calls to inquire, he is told that the Captain "was taken ill after drinking a glass of water."