Hired to dig dirt on Dylan Thomas during his last visit to New York, a private investigator instead finds the image of his own ruined life in the poet’s.
Stung by a 1953 profile in the coyly unnamed Time magazine, the distinguished but unruly Welsh poet has threatened a libel suit. The obvious defense, private eye Jimmy is assured by his frequent client, Time attorney Con, is to “prove everything in this profile is gospel.” That means tailing Thomas as he makes the rounds of the Big Apple’s fleshpots in order to substantiate a pattern of misbehavior. Following Thomas and watching for bad behavior is like shooting fish in a barrel, and in less than 12 hours, Jimmy has seen the poet meet Shelley Winters and Marilyn Monroe for cocktails, grope Marlene Dietrich, drink his weight in spirits and piss into a plant pot. These discoveries obviously doom the libel suit, but Con’s not satisfied. He’s convinced Jimmy is on to the story of the year and wants more, which is exactly what the poet provides. So does his wife, Caitlin, whose behavior on her home turf, the village of Laugharne, is even more flamboyantly transgressive than her husband’s. Returning home to his wife, Jimmy finds that Beth is unaccountably prickly and remote. Before he can figure out what’s bothering her, she takes off to stay with her older sister. A child could see where this story is headed, but Jimmy, who’s no child, must learn important life lessons from the dying poet in order to save himself.
Gittins (Gimme Shelter, 2013) mines Thomas’ real-life last days for these obvious lessons with sensitivity and devotion. But the whole cast, including Thomas, who barely gets a speaking role, is muffled by Jimmy’s sincere, obtuse reflections and digressions.