meta-whodunit more parody than homage: a mousetrap for moviegoers?
In 1953 London, Agatha Christie‘s play The Mousetrap celebrates its 100th performance, and the sleazy American director Leo Köpernick attempts to convince the producer John Woolf to allow him to direct the film adaptation … Köpernick is killed backstage by an unseen assailant…
The idea came to Shakespeare with the invention of ‘play within the play’ in Hamlet. Then in the 60s to the directors of the French Nouvelle Vague (remember the unforgettable Godart film Breathless?) and to the American writers and directors of post-modernism; last (and maybe also least) it came to your humble columnist: the intention was to create works of art in which fiction and reality merge, like in a glass house, in order to produce a novel or a film belonging to a genre and, at the same time, play with that genre and show its conventions. The result of this kind of approach is both a homage and a satire. See How They Run plays with the whodunit detective story exactly that way: during a The Mousetrap rehearsal there is the murder of a film director in charge of turning the play into a movie, and everyone at the theatre is declared a suspect and a potential victim. There is a second murder during a performance of The Mousetrap, there is a dinner with poisoning at A. Christie’s home with all the suspects in which the villain is revealed after the unexpected arrival of the inspector (like in The Mousetrap). The motives of the murders are also linked to the real events that inspired A. Christie for The Mousetrap. Inevitably, there is a strange couple of policemen (down-and-out Inspector Stoppard and playing-dumb Constable Stalker), recalling Holmes/Watson, who attend another performance of The Mousetrap together in the finale: plenty of post-modern attitudes, no doubt. But this homage to the classic whodunit is pure parody, too much of it in my opinion. That makes the film easy-going and enjoyable but very very light, more like a TV show than a feature film.
PS: if you allow a personal note, a felt strange seeing the sequence of the murder during the play performance. I felt, somehow, copied: after all, I set a locked-room murder in a cinema during the screening of The Maltese Falcon in my recent novel, a homage to the American noir. As Shakespeare put it, ‘all the world is a stage’. More so in See How They Run. (360 words)