Some of my favourite films are those that cleverly combine crime with humour. Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry, for instance, a witty story about a man whom everybody seems to have been wanting to get rid of. Or—one of my favourite films, regardless of time and language and genre—I Soliti Ignoti, about a bunch of horribly inept thieves. Charade, How to Steal a Million… and, the latest to join the ranks, the Russian film Brilliantovaya Ruka (The Diamond Arm), which is about a man with an arm wrapped about with diamonds. And other gemstones, and gold.
This work calls itself a ‘screen novel’ and consists, as do so many novels, of not just the main body of the novel, but a prologue and an epilogue as well.
The prologue is a brief one. In a narrow street in Istanbul, two dodgy-looking guys stand in the doorway of an apothecary, and hand over a cane with an ornate handle to a man in a car. This man we see next sitting down in a public area, placing the cane carefully beside him—from where it is swiftly and surreptitiously switched for a replica by another, who rushes off with it.
Years ago, when I was a child, Bronenosets Potyomkin (The Battleship Potemkin) was shown on television. I must have been about 10, perhaps 11—but no more than that. Five minutes into the film and I got bored of the grainy, jerky picture (this was an unrestored version) and the lack of dialogue. A silent film? And that too about a mutiny? Um, no.
For some 25 odd years, that remained my only memory of Bronenosets Potyomkin, even long after I’d discovered that it’s regarded as a sort of cult classic.
An omission, I realised, that needed correction. It was time to dust off Sergei Eisenstein’s magnum opus and see what it was really about.