Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Today's Lesson: The Birlstone Gambit

Today I want to give away my secret for predicting who the killer is in a great many movies and TV shows.  It works something like this:

If you didn't actually see the autopsy, they're not really dead.

OK, sometimes you don't need the autopsy.  It's going to be a judgment call.  If you see someone actually being beheaded, for example, you can safely assume they're dead.  (Unless you're dealing with sci-fi/horror, for which a whole different set of rules apply.)  But getting shot or stabbed?  Lots of bleeding?  No pulse?  Went into a building that blew up?  Car over the cliff?  Jumped overboard and not seen again?  Fall nobody could survive?  That's not good enough to write them off as dead.  Only if you're fairly certain their brain is in a jar on someone's desk -- then, ok, believe that they're dead.

Like most people, I was pulled in by the use of the not-really-dead-guy-who-is-actually-the-murderer quite a few times -- until I learned that it had a name.  I was reading an Ellery Queen novel, and the preface to the novel described this technique -- pointing out that Ellery Queen used it excessively -- and even gave it a name:  The Birlstone Gambit.  (The name is a reference to a Sherlock Holmes story, from which Ellery Queen apparently snagged the trick.)

Sure enough, I started looking for it, and it was everywhere.  (I don't want to name any movies or TV shows in which the Birlstone Gambit was used -- so as not to spoil them -- but there are many.)  Hollywood uses it a lot.  So, next time you're watching a mystery movie and you see someone who looks kinda dead, think about the Birlstone Gambit, and put that person on the top of your suspect list.

... and for those mystery movies that don't use the Birlstone Gambit, try this:  If you're watching the movie and you see a fairly big-name actor in a fairly small, tangential role, put that person on the top of your suspect list.  (And if it's a big-name actor who gets "killed off" in the first ten minutes?  SCORE.)

1 comment:

rgwindland said...

Never looked at it that way. Makes an odd sort of sense. Rhonda