Gotham (1988) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

On the surface, Gotham is a film noir detective story. A man walks into the office of a down-on-his-luck private eye and spins a wild story. Several details don't seem to make sense, but the detective needs the money, so he takes the job and lowers his shoulder to the wheel.

The beginning of Gotham is very similar to the beginning of Vertigo. In Vertigo, a rich guy hires a detective to follow and possibly protect his wife, whose body seems to have been taken over by a dead women. In Gotham, a rich guy hires a detective to find out why his dead wife is following him. In both movies, the detective is hired to tail a ghost.

The great difference between the two films is that Vertigo respects the rules of the genre, while Gotham does not. In Vertigo, as in almost all such noir films, we understand that there must be an explanation for the apparently supernatural and nonsensical details which confront the detective. If we just hang on to our grasp of the possible, we will soon solve the case along with the shamus. If a noir story is a really great one, the writer and director place key clues right in front of us, so that if we are particularly alert, we may even solve the crime before the detective does. When the curtains were pulled back in Vertigo, there were no ghosts not mysterious pairs of identical. The ghosts were fictions, sleight-of-hand created as part of the usual greedy scam, and the two women looked exactly alike because they were, in fact, the same woman. The detective was hired specifically because of his fear of heights, which was incorporated into the scam when, at a certain point critical to the scheme, acrophobia prevented him from following the people he was supposed to be tailing. The mystery had a perfectly logical explanation.

Gotham, on the other hand, chooses not to play by the rules and conventions. In this film, the reason everything seems to make no sense is because everything really makes no sense. It does no good to hang on to our sense of the possible, because the solution is impossible. The guy's dead wife really is following him. He buried her in her jewels, as per her request. Year later, he needed the jewels, so he exhumed her body, removed the jewels, then re-interred the body. This ticked her off mightily in the afterlife, and she came back for her damned jewels. The detective is simply trapped in the middle of their feud. To make matters even more confusing, the private eye is not only tailing a dead woman, but is having sex with her, and falling in love with her.


Virginia Madsen shows everything.

Tommie Lee Jones shows his butt.

Denise Stephenson, as the detective's girlfriend, shows a breast

It is easy to become irritated with a film which uses such cheap tricks. You can't derive any of the usual pleasures offered by mystery films, because there is no mystery. Unlike most detective films, where everyone is lying and nothing is as it seems, requiring the detective to untangle the web of deceit, everything in Gotham is exactly as it seems. A guy says he's being followed by his dead wife, and that's exactly what is happening. It isn't a detective story at all. It's a ghost story.

DVD info from Amazon

  • no features, no widescreen version, but a beautiful transfer

I suppose you just have to accept what the film throws at you and see if any of it works for you. Tuna didn't really enjoy it that much, but I thought it worked in a lot of ways. It has a lot of atmosphere, a touch of poetry, plenty of cynical dialogue, and a bravado femme fatale performance from Virginia Madsen, who was slim and sleek, and filled out the spiffy wardrobes in magnificent fashion.

This is a movie that may appeal to you if you like something which is off the beaten path.

The Critics Vote ...

  • No major reviews online

  • It was made for cable, and earned a Cable Ace nomination for Virginia Madsen's performance.

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, Scoop said, "This is a C+. An offbeat film which you have to accept on its own goofy terms. I liked it because of the atmosphere, dialogue, and performances, even though I realized the plot was pretty fucked-up". Tuna said "I enjoyed the atmosphere and look of the film, and Madsen was drop dead gorgeous, but the story didn't really engage me. This is a C."

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