"I just need you to figure out how to... fake a miracle."- Nathan Ford (The Miracle Job, Leverage)
Recently, I learned that BBC One commissioned a fifth semi-series of Jonathan Creek, comprising of three brand new episodes, which are planned for broadcast in 2014, making this years Easter Special, The Clue of the Savant's Thumb (2013), a hors d'oeuvre to the next batch of episodes!
Unfortunately, I still have to muster up some patience before Savant's Thumb airs and we're still a year removed from the new season. However, the news got me in the mood for a touch of crooked magic and decided to take a crack at a series that I wanted to sample for ages – Blacke's Magic. The series ran for twelve episodes, from January to May 1986, starring Hal Linden as stage magician/amateur sleuth Alex Blacke and Harry Morgan as his carny/conman father Leonard. He basically plays the Adam Klaus to Alex Blacke's Jonathan Creek, but apart from that, Blacke is a throwback to detectives like Philo Vance and Ellery Queen with a hint of Ed and Ambrose Hunter.
Ten Tons of Trouble (1986) opens with Blacke being roused from his sleep by a phone call from his dad, who, moments later, is knocking on his door to move in after a misunderstanding at the retirement community he was staying at. Leonard had set up a death-lottery, which is exactly what you think it’s, but was caught peeking at the medical files he always consults before taking a gamble. Needless to say, I took an immediately liking to the old man, but in my defense, I have been heavily indoctrinated by Hustle and Leverage. Anyway, a dandy looking bachelor in a lavishly styled apartment may give the impression of a modern-day Philo Vance, but Blacke has a much friendlier attitude and a sense of humor – and is glad to help his cop buddy when he comes to him with a peculiar problem that might interest him.
The Manhattan Renaissance Museum has a ten-ton marble statue, Vigil of the Shephards, on loan from the Italian government as part of a world exhibition tour and the sculptor is said to have been the best known protégé of Michelangelo and is well protected from theft. A sealed box of bullet-resistant glass covers the sculpture and a CCTV CAM surveys the room like a hawk, and if that wasn't enough, one of the security guards monitoring the screens patrols the room every sixteen minutes, but, of course, it's biggest protection is it's own weight. It's simply humanly impossible to whisk out a chunk of marble under the stated conditions, but that's exactly what appears to have happened and the empty display case is an impressive calling card in itself. But the cut-off marble finger and picture of the stolen statue with that day's newspaper stuck to it was a nice touch as well.
|Vigil of the Shepherds|
Chief of Security, Ben McGuire, is held accountable and a rival detective shows up, Elisa Leigh from Empire Fidelity Insurance, but her only contribution was picking a television network for the news coverage and look very modest into a rolling camera once Blacke had solved the case. I want false solutions from my rival detectives! There was a false solution offered for the disappearing statue, the first one that will probably pop into your head, and Blacke presents it with some crummy television magic (*) to lure the thief/murderer (there's a body halfway through the episode pretty much confirming who the culprit is) out of hiding and this should've been a move on Leigh's part – like a cop-out on the insurance.
Oh, not that it was a ruse that should’ve work on anyone who bothers to look and think before acting, but it would've solidified her as the antagonist.
Blacke's reconstruction of the disappearance, staged at the scene of the crime with all suspects gathered around the display case, shows an impressive amount of trickery and tended to like it at first, however, once you begin to think about it a lot of details begin to bother you – like the size of the sculpture and the narrow sixteen minute window. Why didn't Blacke found the same clues in the museum that he found in the ship? Remember... only sixteen minutes! And if you know the solution, re-watching the opening becomes really bothersome. It’s a good trick to make something of that size disappear, if it takes place in the staged and controlled environment of a magic show. I have the suspicion that the writers reworked illusions and hung everything on those tricks, without even attempting to make them come across as plausible and with very little eye for everything else.
I did not entirely dislike Ten Tons of Trouble, like Leonard applying his griftering skills to help his son nap the killer/thief and the old-fashioned set-up, but it's basically just 50-minute vanishing act with a bit of acting to distract us.