Charles Ripley
Created by Bruce Pittman

"It's all a bucket of shit, with the handles on the inside."
--Ripley, on the P.I. racket

Confidential (1986, Canada) is a disappointing, overly-earnest attempt at a detective thriller that tries for dark, but just ends up murky.

The year is 1949 and Hugh Jameson, hard-boiled crime reporter for The Examiner, is hungry for a story. We know he's hard-boiled, because we're told his tastes run to "100 proof bourbon and 50 proof women," and we get to see him smoking and drinking a lot, and fussing over his fedora. He latches on to the sad case of Emma Porter, a socialite accused of the axe murder of her father almost forty years earlier. The trail leads Jameson to the intriguingly-named small town of Shakespeare (Stratford, Ontario?), out into the boonies, and the action definitely picks up when the annoyingly glib newshawk disappears.

His long-suffering wife hires CHARLES RIPLEY, a private eye, to find him. For Ripley, it's a dream case. He's bored with divorce work, and starting to have serious second thoughts about having left the police force four years ago to start his own agency. Ripley's search has him retracing Jameson's steps, and eventually leads him to Emma's son, who has his more than a few of his own nasty secrets to protect.

Confidential is a creepy little movie, full of all kinds of vague hints of incest, cannibalism, necrophilia and the like, but it comes to nothing. Like almost everything else in the film, the ending is not so much ambiguous, as just plain unclear. It would have been nice to have a few definite answers, but it doesn't happen. Characters show up, then never reappear. Plot lines wander off, never to return. The pay-off never comes. And the film just looks wrong much of the time. There are plenty of shadows here, but they come off as painfully self-concious, "look-at-me, I'm directing!" attempts at capturing a "film noir" vibe. They don't add to the story, they detract. And the sqeaky-clean period trappings bely the grittiness and worn-down tone of the plot. A gratuitous scene in a burlesque house, where Jameson drinks, smokes and ogles the babes, supposed to set the mood, is so bad it's laughable.

And yet, parts of the film are great. August Schellenberg as the dark, taciturn, middle-aged, quietly professional P.I. is very compelling to watch, and indeed, it's his quiet but solid presence that holds the film together. And there are some great shots of bleak, snow-covered farmland (though the setting is never actually revealed -- at one point American money is passed around). And some of the patter is snappy enough. But one good performance, some nice scenery and a few one-liners aren't enough.

Baby, baby, baby, come back, maybe next week, because you won't get much satisfaction from this one.



Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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