15 May 2016

The Girl with the Golden Gun

by Leigh Lundin

I’m seeing another woman. She’s stunning, vivacious, rich and generous, and… she can dance.

Miss Fisher’s fan dance

I told my girlfriend. Surprisingly, she doesn’t mind, which is saying a lot given her antipathy towards the Antipodes. Not our Stephen Ross’ New Zealand, mind you, that other country down under that does horrible things vis-à-vis soccer, rugby, and the purported game of (yawn) cricket, but that’s another story.

Anyway, about my new Australian darling…

But wait. First I’ll tell you why I longed to murder Lawrence Welk. I’ll tie this together, trust me.

Ever since I was a little kid, I despised that dastardly big band leader and his insipid Champagne Bubble Music™. His primary talent was outliving the really good musicians of the swing era, Count Basie, the Dorsey brothers, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Glenn Miller, King Oliver… pretty much everyone other than Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway. Welk’s idea of pop was pap and pablum for the masses. His flaccid phonographic flummery almost ruined the music of the 1920s and 30s for me, one of the most creative eras in the 20th century, and we're not talking Stravinsky, Schoenberg, or Shostakovich. Imagine a modern Clyde McCoy on trumpet, Tommy Dorsey muting a trombone, Viola Smith thumping tom-toms

Listen to this as you read on:

This piece was not written nearly a century ago during the 1920s flapper era… it was written practically yesterday by Greg J Walker for the Australian television production of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. I wouldn’t normally write about television mysteries when I haven’t read the original books, but I confess I’m doing exactly that. That’s how smitten I am and it’s all Dixon Hill’s fault.
original Phryne

MFMM is, if you haven’t guessed already, a period piece and to my eye… and ear… dazzlingly done. It features wealthy flapper Miss Fisher, christened with the appropriate given name of Phryne. (You may recall the suitably scandalous Phryne (pronounced like Friday with an ’n’ instead of ‘d’) from classical studies.)

The rest of the ensemble includes Phryne’s ever-fluid household, primarily comprised of Mr. Butler, Cecil, her ward Jane, and especially gentle Dot. The police presence includes newly minted Constable Hugh Collins and Inspector Jack Robinson.

The young constable is earnest although inexperienced, but the inspector proves highly intelligent and smart enough to give Phryne her head: Her charm, wit, money, and standing in society allow her to access social circles he can’t. As Phryne gives an entirely new meaning to ‘man eater,’ he’s sufficiently wise to let her do the romantic pursuing.

If you’re guessing characterization is key, you’re dead on. Phryne is engaging and entrancing. She carries a gold-plated revolver and is slightly reminiscent of Emma Peel. Inspector Robinson manages to be both firm and lenient with her and sensibly underplays his rôle. Phryne’s imposing Aunt Prudence– every family needs a matriarch like her– is an old dear who represents old school and old money. And then there’s Phryne’s companion/assistant, little Dot– she steals scenes and everyone’s heart.

Miss Fisher’s logo
Lady Detective

Before I stray too far, I must mention that Dixon Hill wrote the original article that intrigued me a year and a half ago. Curiously, two of my female friends expressed no interest in the series but one of me mates (oops, I've been overdosing) has started watching Miss Fisher from the beginning. Miss Marple she’s not. One review said Phryne ‘sashays’ through the stories, something a guy notices. Clearly we males find Miss Fisher fetching.

The historical detail is impressive. I admire many cars built in the 20s and 30s and Miss Fisher drives a beautiful Hispano-Suiza. Other viewers will applaud the costume of the era and Phryne wears at least a half dozen each episode. Indeed, one of the mysteries takes place in a house of fashion.

Sometimes writers imprint our present-day morals and values on the past, often imbuing a protagonist with a superior outlook. Not much of that shows through here– by nature Phryne is open-minded and the flapper era was daring, progressive, and sexually expressive. Thus Phryne’s physician friend Mac who dresses in men’s clothes comes off as genuine rather than contrived, not so much butch but a don’t-ask-don’t-tell person you’d like to know.

Miss Fisher’s Mysteries
The plots? They take second place to the characters and costuming, but even when you guess the culprit, you enjoy how Fisher and Robinson get there.

And the music? Most of it’s straight out of the 1920s and early 30s and thoughtfully offered in three albums (thus far). Wonderful stuff. I’ll leave you with Duke Ellington’s dirge, East St. Louis Toodle-oo.

Legendary drummer Viola Smith is still among the living at age 103½!


  1. Does Velma know you're seeing another woman, Leigh? Watch out!

    Great piece. I love that era too.

  2. I don't love her but that is a great dance photo- not to mention terrific music!

  3. I'm one of those who has been watching since the beginning. (In Canada, we may get these Aussie shows before you do.) And the show is better than the books (rare thing!). Phryne in the books is not quite as likeable. The writing is a tiny bit rushed and stilted, I find.
    But the series - it's delicious. I WANT those clothes! Not to mention, that car...

  4. Thanks, Stephen! Glad you liked it.

    Paul, I expected you might like that era. It would have been fun, wouldn’t it? Velma and Phryne… uh-oh!

    Janice, I like the late-20s and 30s era. Even simple songs like Chattanooga Choo-Choo contain complex transitions. (Glenn Miller recorded multiple versions– not all contain the transitions and other musicians (like Lawrence Welk) left them out altogether.)

    Melodie, thanks for critique of the novels. As you say, it’s rare that film versions are better than the original, but it does happen. The telly show has a lot going for it… girls want the clothes and guys want the girl. What a combination!

  5. I watched the show every week when it played on PBS, but sadly it's vanished from our three stations. I don't know what happened, but I wish they'd bring it back.

  6. Leigh, I agree with you that Lawrence Welk's musical "style" removes all the emotion & personality from the music ... but murder him? He's already dead.

    Vicki, three seasons of the Miss Fisher mysteries are on Netflix right now. Been meaning to watch.

  7. Oh, Vicki! That’s terrible. You have NetFlix, don’t you? I know you watched Longmire. As Elizabeth mentions, one of my friends found it on NetFlix and made it available to me.

    Elizabeth, you made me laugh. Yeah, he’s dead. Maybe he was always dead. Thank you for reminding us– all of us– about NetFlix.

  8. I'm a fan of the books and the television show. What amazes me about this entire discussion was no mention of the author's name: Kerry Greenwood. Give the writer a little credit since she dreamed up the original idea.

  9. Elizabeth, thanks for the heads up about Netflix having the show, but I’ve already watched at least three seasons of it. Good to know though in case I want to watch the shows again.

    Leigh, I forgot to comment on L. Welk. If I remember correctly every Saturday evening he came on the television. Thankfully my mother disliked his music too, so we never had to watch the show. My grandparents were another story though. My grandmother just loved it. Ugh!

  10. Anon, you are correct that we should acknowledge the author, Kerry Greenwood, author in multiple genres. My omission is almost unpardonable, but I ask the author’s and fans’ forgiveness anyway.

    Vicki, you avoided death by audio treacle, music stripped of all expression except sweetness. I hope nobody gets the impression I CAN’T STAND Lawrence Welk.

    Trivia: Welk spoke with a German accent, but despite evidence, he wasn’t German (although the question of a German sleeper remains in doubt). He was hatched and raised in a North Dakota German community.

  11. A Broad Abroad15 May, 2016 16:58

    Thank you for the introduction to Miss Fisher. I'm enjoying the series, despite her unfortunate birthright. Think she and your Velma would be chums.

  12. I guess memories of Lawrence Welk remind me of the ambiguity of life. I don't like his music at all, and I don't think I ever did. But one of my childhood memories is of "dancing" with my father (standing with my feet on top of his feet) to the music of the Lawrence Welk show in what must have been 1956. We must have kept playing it because when I was six years old I had Lennon Sisters paper dolls -- and that sure couldn't have been my own idea. I think there's a part of the Great Plains that's sort of defined by a distinctively eastern-European/Nordic/Russian immigrant culture that has its own flavor. Garrison Keillor addressed that, of course, at least to some degree. But it's like a snow-globe: it's own world within the larger, outer world. And though I dislike Welk's "champagne" music very deeply, I find I somehow treasure what it brought into my life. It's a little like the strange china figurines my grandmother collected: they were not something I would want to have in my home for my own sake, but they breathed of a different way of living, different values and cultures, and a different time and place. And in that way they were precious. Like windows to something else, some place else. Maybe in a way even this TV show is like that, because I'm sure there are those who might not appreciate jazz age culture. (I for one tried to watch this show but could not handle the main character's sex-kitten aspect, however much it may have been assumed for the sake of getting ahead rather than fundamental part of her identity.) This is not to say you shouldn't be able to shout your really negative feelings about Welk and his music from the rafters, though! The discussion simply made me reflect on some things I hadn't thought about. And no, I never ever ever listen to Lawrence Welk music, and never did so on my own. :-)

  13. Well, my mother loved Welk so we did listen to it. And the regular singers he had on were usually pretty good.

    Sorry I haven't seen your new woman series and I probably would like her. I'm trying to watch the Harry Botch series on Amazon Prime. I don't do Netflix but guess I will have to before long.

    Thanks for the article and I do love the Big Band music. There's a local band, aptly named THE FLASHBACKS in a neighboring town that plays that music on the first Saturday of each month. If I only had someone to dance with I'd go every month.

  14. Yes, I know it's *Bosch.* I made a typo and didn't see it until I had posted it

  15. Thanks, ABA. I’m glad you’re enjoying it. I’m starting to think Velma and Phryne could be a dangerous combination!

    Anon, that’s truly poignant and I understand what you mean. For you, champagne music is like a catalyst in the chemistry. By itself, it does nothing, but in the context of dancing with your father, it becomes magical. Your snow globe is a wonderful comparison. Thanks for chiming in; I very much appreciate your take.

    Jan, I’d go to hear the Flashbacks with you. I’ve not seen Harry Bosch yet, although I’m hoping to see it soon. Thanks!

  16. I've had this one on my to-watch list for a while. Need to actually watch it! Thanks for the extra recommendation here. :-)


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