Great Plot Devices Destroyed by the Modern World

04/05/2012 12:34 BST | Updated 04/07/2012 10:12 BST

As well as sapping all semblance of civilization and basic human dignity from existence, this modern world, that you are all so very proud of, has ruined the talkies too. Computers, phones, internet, cyborgs; they've all combined to suck the mystery out of life (especially the cyborgs). And when the mystery goes, cinematic plot holes become very difficult to obscure.

Once it would take five reels to discover the true identity of that alluring femme fatal with the strangely withered arm. Now with two mouse clicks you can discover absolutely everything about everybody. Here's a selection of other invaluable plot devices shattered by progress.

Answering Machines

Every exciting incident encountered by your leading man can now be instantly resolved by use of a Smartphone. Your first act tends to revolve around separating the character from their mobile device before the story can proceed. But I really miss answering machines. Big Rockford Files ones with real cassette tapes, where you press a button and hear a voice that helpfully nudges the story along. "Tony, it's your mother. I'm really worried about Connie. I think she's gone down to the docks again". Voicemail has pissed all over that.

Hanging off National Monuments

Health and safety would have killed the career of Alfred Hitchcock. You can forget all about frantic dashes up and down Mount Rushmore or the Statue of Liberty. You now have to pass through a FULL BODY SCANNER to get into the Statue of Liberty gift shop. Any suspicious looking shenanigans at a place charging admittance and a large uniformed man with a machine gun will be standing on your neck before you can say 'McGuffin'.


Door to door domestics and service personnel of all extractions have evaporated, but milkmen in particular, chirpily dropping off two pints, a full-fat yoghurt and a vital crumb of plot information will be missed. "Morning. Did you hear about the accident at number 12? Very nasty business. You still need that extra silver top on Thursday". That's before we get into all the saucy escapades they got up to in every appalling seventies British sex comedy.

Train compartments

I feel as if a good seventy-four per cent of Two Ronnies sketches took place in train compartments, usually with Ronnie B in a bowler and Ronnie C being annoying. Many a mystery movie featured a sweaty individual frantically trying to pull down the blind as the guard approached down the corridor. Now it's all open plan seating, fluorescent poles and comically non-automatic automatic doors. And as the windows now only open wide enough to allow a small moth through, Brief Encounter would be far more shouty and mimey.

Big maps in small cars

As a man with no sense of direction whatsoever, (I even got lost typing that sentence) one technological advancement that has vastly improved my life has been the sudden near-impossibility of getting lost. Something on my phone tells me where I am, where I'm going and why I should leave ten minutes after getting there. Handy for me and my sprees, bad for cinema. GPS, Sat Nav and apps mean that beloved lines such as "You're reading it upside down!" "That's not the motorway, that's where I spilled my Vimto" and "This is all wrong, let me stop and ask directions from that loner with a scythe" have been excised from all mediocre features. Cannonball Run? Now? Forget about it.

Tense darkroom scenes

How many great films revolve around the location, discovery or destruction of negatives. "Burn the negative!" "Ah Mr Holland, but I still have the negatives". Threatening someone with a memory stick or external hard drive doesn't really have the same oomph. And gone are red-tinged scenes of tension with a print being nervously dropped into a bath of chemicals and slowly witnessing the murderer's face. AND IT'S YOUR OWN MOTHER!

Microfiche/library scenes

All the President's Men, one of my favourite films, would be about four minutes long if they remade it today. Hours pouring over documents in enormous ornate buildings, flirting with a dowdy librarian as you attempt to get your hands on a phone book from 1952, squinting at old newspaper reports projected onto the screens of weird complicated machines with a little turny thing. Now you could do all that on your iPad while riding a rollercoaster. Things used to be looked up in books. Isn't that weird?

Moving the clock forward/back

Stopped clocks, manipulated clocks, inaccurate clocks, hotel wake up calls. It's hard to shoehorn any of those into a story anymore. "The fiendish bastard, he moved the hands of the clock forward. He'll be in Morocco by now". Difficult to employ when the perfectly accurate, to the nanosecond, time is displayed on every phone, computer, domestic appliance and television show at all times.

Quickie divorces

In the black and white days, if you wanted to get rid of your spouse you had to KILL them. Or at least prove your wife was spending a good deal of time in the arms of the poolboy and have the snapshots to back it up. Characters went to EXTRAORDINARY lengths to dispose of their former loved ones, as no feasible options remained. Now you can nip into Curry's and have a decree nisi knocked up while you're extending the warranty on your Breville.

Drama at the airport gate

Many a melodrama featured the lovelorn dashing towards their nearest and dearest just as they're about to jet off to their new life in Brussels, with the intention of begging them to stay with them and little Johnny. Now you can't even look at a departure lounge without having your retinas scraped and your DNA extracted for security purposes. If you appeared all desperate and gasping and clammy as you hurtle towards the gate, trying to catch someone up, you'd be dragged off to a small room and various uniformed officials would insist in looking up your bottom. And where is the romance in that?