Australia, 1978, 90 minutes, Colour.
James Franciscus, Wendy Hughes, Robert Helpmann, Gerard Kennedy.
Directed by Gordon Hessler.
Puzzle is one of six telemovies, co-productions between the Australian Broadcasting Commission and American Productions. It is one of the less successful of the group. The best was the Ralph Nelson film about a retarded child, Because He's My Friend. She'll Be Sweet was an entertaining variation on the madcap heiress theme - in the Australian bush. A comedy, Barnaby And Me, was a misfire. This film has the overtones of the violent American thriller. The action and the violence seem somewhat incongruous in the Australian setting.
The lead is an American, James Franciscus. The Australian cast do well but seem to be presented with inconsistently-written roles. Their credibility as characters is puzzling. Robert Helpmann, particularly, has a very eccentric as an English art collector and criminal. Gerard Kennedy looks very severe as a mercenary. The film is at times tongue-in-cheek, sometimes serious. The comic and the action elements do not quite jell. Direction is by Gordon Hessler who has made a number of effective thrillers, especially his Vincent Price -Poe stories: Cry Of The Banshee, The Oblong Box. He has made a number of thriller telemovies which have been quite effective e.g. Betrayal. An oddity with a touch of the ludicrous.
1. An entertaining telemovie? American influence and style? Australian influence? How well did the two influences blend? For Australian audiences, American? The emphasis on American style gangsters, crime, violence? Heroes and heroines? Affluent society?
2. Colour photography, the Burmese opening, Macao? The use of Sydney? The harbour, the ocean? The emphasis on Sydney? Musical score?
3. The conventions of the puzzle thriller? The prologue and the robbery and violence, Mr. Shepherd and his dealings, the suicide of Mr. Cunningham? The emphasis on Harry, on Claudine? Their interaction? The police investigation conventions? Diana and her playing both sides? The build-up of double crosses, counterplans and kidnapping? Chase and explosions?
4. The plausibility of this kind of plot? Big money deals? International crime? In an Australian setting? The treatment?
5. Harry and his American background, tennis, his coaching? The marriage with Claudine and its breaking up? Her trying to seduce him into action? His surveillance and being beaten up? His decision to help? His statements about self-esteem? His pursuit of clues? Breaking into the house, the encounter with Diana? The meal together? The mine and the discovery of the gold? The ship and the confrontation with Shepherd? His shooting the old war gun? Making up with Claudine? How consistently-written a hero?
6. Claudine and her glamour, marriage for money, grief at the funeral, greed, the encounter with Shepherd, the inconsistencies of her behaviour with Harry: weak and weeping, strong minded, rebellious? Her pushing him into action? The greed? The kidnapping by Shepherd? The final confrontation and happy ending? A credible heroine?
7. Robert Helpmann's style as Shepherd? In Macao, in Sydney, his manner of speaking, art collecting? Pressure and violence? Fastidious? The double deal and the final explosion? An eccentric villain?
8. His henchmen, especially in the prologue with the raid on the Buddhist temple, the massacre of the monks? The brutality towards Harry? Their being destroyed with Shepherd?
9. Diana and her manner, the beach house. Edwin's mistress, after the gold, plausibility with Harry, antagonism towards Claudine, the connection with Shepherd? Her drawing the gun? Being thrown into the harbour?
10. The suicide situation, the police investigator and his contact with the victim, the surveillance of the house, the murder of his assistant? The arrest and the violent questioning of the intruder? The pursuit of the boat? The solving of the crime?
11. The artificiality and concoction of the screenplay - characters, dialogue, situations? The quality of entertainment?