Saturday, 22 January 2011

Fleecing Hergé

Tintin and the Mystery
of the Golden Fleece 1961
Directed by Jean-
Jacques Vierne
BFI Region 2

I remember seeing this movie the two times it got shown on BBC television when I was a kid. According to the write up in the generous booklet in the new BFI release of this film, the second time I saw it was in 1978. It’s a film I always liked and something I always wanted to see again. You can imagine my happiness, then, at finding the BFIs recent release amongst my Christmas presents this year.

Tintin and the Mystery of the Golden Fleece is a great Tintin adventure, for those of you who are familiar with the famous comic albums. It was not based on one of the actual Tintin strips itself, but from one of the Tintin prose stories... however, this doesn’t really matter because it’s a joyous film which perfectly reflects the visual style of Hergé, the characters’ creator, with bright and colourful locations and actors who are “made up” to look like their comic counterparts so naturally that you’d think they’d just stepped off the page. Even the slightly eerie false beard worn by Captain Haddock, brilliant realised by comic actor Georges Wilson, is not enough to distract you from the sheer brilliance of the overall visual look of the people who stridently inhabit this movie... and most of the recurring characters are in here too.

The upturn of Tintin’s quiff and the blue of Captain Haddocks’ anchor laden jersey, the deafness and swinging pendulum of Professor Calculus and the matching bowler hats, suits and canes of Thompson and Thomson... all the characters are lovingly and faithfully portrayed.

Perhaps the least best actor of the lot is Tintin’s dog Snowy. This dog is a menace to continuity all over the picture as it runs around having the best possible fun it can get out of the sets and actors and making matching shots a hard proposition for the editors. It’s obvious this dog had a great time making Tintin... as obvious at least as the fact that in some shots the film-makers have resorted to attaching a bit of fishing wire to him to tug him in the right direction on cue. One of the great joys of watching this movie is, in fact, Snowy spotting... working out where in buggery f*ck that little dog is from shot to shot... usually racing around in the background somewhere, biting someone.

The story of the film is simple... a mischievous and charismatic sailor leaves his rickety, run down old ship, The Golden Fleece, to Captain Haddock in his will. When Haddock, Tintin and Snowy arrive to see the ship it is in such a rundown condition that Captain Haddock is not interested in it at all. However, after an unfeasibly generous offer to buy the ship from Haddock, our three intrepid adventurers are off on a globe hopping cruise to find the secret of why people want the ship they are sailing and... of course... it turns out that “treasure” of some kind has been hidden “somewhere”. Unfortunately for me, even though it’s been 32 years since I’ve had the opportunity to watch it, within 5 minutes I had remembered where the treasure actually is in the twist revelation at the end... something which was a genuine surprise to me as a kid. So I spent the remainder of the film feeling smug and taunting my fellow audience members with loaded questions. Still... good ending though. Professor Calculus’ constantly moving pendulum should help you to discover the Mystery of The Golden Fleece long before the surprise twist is revealed.

And then we come to the music. I remember the music for this film sticking in my head when I saw it decades ago but I wasn’t certain how my memory was with regards to the recall of this jaunty and catchy, melodic score. I needn’t have worried... it was exactly the same as if I’d just been watching it yesterday. A happy little tune and variations for a happy little movie. The leitmotif, four note cue for the villains, whenever anything even remotely sinister is called for, is really laughable in its persistence but not without its own charm. Pretty irritating after a while though.

However, laughable though it is in terms of its musical decisions, Tintin and the Mystery of the Golden Fleece is a fun film filled with exuberance, colour and vibrancy which is a joy to behold. Action, adventure and the improbable, over-the-top-delivery styled insults all make the first of only two (until Spielberg’s new versions get released) live action Tintin films a true joy to watch.

Blistering barnacles! Now I just have to check out the sequel, which I don’t actually remember... so I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen it. Good name though... Tintin and the Blue Oranges. I look forward to getting a viewing of it sometime soon!


  1. Oh, I wish I had seen this as a kid! It sounds fantastic. I have a similar wondrous memory with Jason and the Argonauts--remembering bits of it in bright colors and others only upon re-viewing. Thanks for such a joyous review!

  2. Ooh, yeah. I like Jason and the Argonauts too. I'll have to get around to rewatching the Harryhausens again for my blog at some point. Have you read his books with all his great artwork in them?

  3. I've pored through them at bookstores--if you mean the coffee-table kind of books. have you read them?

    The skeleton army marching...the rusty grating sound as the bronze behemoth turned its head...