Herge, Red Rackham's Treasure, The Secret of the Unicorn

This comment is from IMDB on the film Captain Applejack.

I’m watching this antique Old Dark House mystery on TCM right now and it quickly became evident to me that the film, its first silent incarnation (“Strangers In The Night”) or the play it was adapted from were the first kernel of inspiration for Belgian comic book artist Hergé (Georges Rémi)’s “Secret of the Unicorn” and its sequel “The Treasure of Racham the Red” (1943-1944). More proof that a large part of the inspiration for Hergé’s melodramatic adventures were from rather second-rate Hollywood movies and plots that were very creaky to begin with. What he did with them of course was sheer genius and entirely original. But the basic idea was this: An ordinary man discovers that he is the descendant and inheritor of a famous pirate’s treasure hidden somewhere in an old house. In the process, he has flashbacks of being the pirate himself, which is just what happens to Captain Haddock in those comic books.

A quick Google finds no further information on this, making this comment nothing but pure speculation. Though it is not impossible Herge saw the film, or the original play, it seems unlikely. English language films and plays where not as dominant as they are nowadays. The central idea, that a character has a pirate ancestor with buried treasure is not new either. It is the basis of Treasure Island and is probably much older than that.

Ultimately, this is all just idle, though fun, speculation.

Source: Movie Review: CAPTAIN APPLEJACK (1931)

Daniel Craig, Peter Jackson, Red Rackham's Treasure, Steven Spielberg, The Secret of the Unicorn

The occasionally reliable Daily Mail has some on-set Tintin gossip from Daniel Mays and Mackenzie Crook, who are playing Alan and Ernie – sidekicks to Red Rackham (Daniel Craig). Both are comic actors with Mays having starred in the TV sitcom “Plus One” and Crook is most famous for his part in The Office. The pair of them are the comic relief in Red Rackham’s crew, a role very familiar to Crook after his work in the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy.

‘You’ve got the actors wearing funny tight bodysuits fitted with hundreds of motion-capturing devices and as you act, you can see yourself on a big screen with costumes superimposed on this character that looks like you. . . but isn’t.

‘In front of you there’s a camera that picks up every aspect of your face.

Five people with hand-held cameras are filming you. And Steven Spielberg is sitting there with a camera device manipulating all the images.

‘With all the people on the set and backstage, it’s like a Shuttle launch – just fantastic!’ Mays enthused when we met for drinks at the Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard.

Early on during the production Spielberg, sick with a cold, had to go to see a doctor. ‘We came in and there was Peter Jackson directing us via satellite from New Zealand,’ Mays laughed.

Source: Baz Bamigboye on coffee with Jessica Alba, Tintin’s secrets and school with Keira Knightley

Characters, Red Rackham's Treasure, The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn

A couple of interesting bits of cast news.

Gad Elmaleh, a Moroccan who has achieved success by doing one man shows and very well received French language films is to play Omar Ben Salaad. Interestingly, Salaad only appears in The Crab with the Golden Claw so it looks like the film is going to weave several stories together.

Before the film title was announced I speculated that The Crab with the Golden Claws would be the first film because it introduces Captain Haddock. The appearance of Salaad suggests that the film will cover Tintin meeting Haddock and then discovering the Unicorn’s treasure. This would form a good story arc but leaves a lot to fit in one film.

The other bit of casting news is that Toby Jones, best known as Dobby the House Elf from the Harry Potter films, will be playing the pickpocket Aristides Silk who appears in The Secret of the Unicorn.

Source: Anchors aweigh for ‘Tintin’

Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Jamie Bell, Peter Jackson, Red Rackham's Treasure, Steven Spielberg, The Secret of the Unicorn, Tintin Movie Cast & Crew

Who is Jamie Bell and why is he playing Tintin?

Bell – A Beautiful Mover

Before being cast as Tintin, Jamie Bell was best known for his staring role in Billy Elliot. Bell was just 14 when he took the title role in this story of a working class boy who wants to be a ballet dancer. The film is set against the backdrop of a grim mining town during the bitter, year long miner’s strike of 1984 and was one of the best British films of the last ten years. It has since been adapted into a book and a smash West End stage play.

Following such as huge hit is difficult for any actor, but for a child actor such success can destroy their career and their life. But between Billy Elliot and getting cast as Tintin, Jamie Bell went back to basics and built his career from the ground up. He played a role in the low budget, World War I horror film Deathwatch with his future Tintin co-star Andy Serkis (Captain Haddock). Bell then had a small role in the 2002 version of Nicholas Nickleby.

Jamie Bell and the Youthful Looks

His next film, Undertow, did much to make it clear that Jamie Bell could make the leap from child actor to adult actor. The 2004 film stars the 18 year Bell as a troubled teenager on the run from a murderous uncle. Through the film split the critics, the performance of Bell and his co-star Devon Alan won them Young Artist Awards from the Young Artist Foundation.

There is no doubt that in winning the part of Tintin, Jamie Bell’s youth was significant. Having played one trouble teenager in Undertow, he played a similar role in Dear Wendy. This idiosyncratic film is about a group of gun-totting pacifist and was written by experimental film maker Lars von Trier. The Chumscrubber was Bell’s next film and once again he was playing a troubled teenager, though as a change of pace, this is a dark comedy. Here the focus is prescription medications, video games and the false ideal of middle class American suburbia.

Serkis & Jackson

His next film brought him back together with Andy Serkis. Bell got the part of Jimmy in Peter Jackson’s King Kong. Though only a minor role, it was no doubt that it was directly responsible for the casting of Jamie Bell as Tintin. Working with Serkis, Jackson, motion capture and a massive budget provided a great learning experience for Bell and a chance to shine before Peter Jackson.

Finally breaking through into more adult roles in his next film (though for Jamie Bell, Tintin may be a step back in this regard) with Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood. Flags of Our Fathers traces the story of the men who raised the flag on Iwo Jima and were captured on film by war photographer Joe Rosenthal.

Iwo Jima Flag

Then it was back to playing disturbed characters in low budget, UK films as Bell starred in the award winning Hallam Foe (Mr Foe in the US). Playing a part completely unlike the clean cut, asexual Tintin, Jamie Bell is the eponymous Hallam Foe. A voyeur with dark obsessions about his dead mother. The film won various awards and Bell was nominated for Best Actor in the British Independent Film Awards.

Another CGI, high budget film was next for Jamie Bell in Jumper. This was poorly received by the critics and was summed up by one reviewer as “A tightly made film that could have been so much better. “

Jamie Bell – Dirty and Dangerous

Having played numerous troubled teenagers in various dark film, there was one more before Jamie Bell became Tintin, and this was the Mother of all dark subject matters – the holocaust. Just released in the UK, Defiance is the story of Jewish resistance fighters in Eastern Europe. The film placed Bell alongside Daniel Craig who is to play Red Rackham in The Secret of the Unicorn. </p

Tintin – Once, Twice, Three times?

Jamie Bell as Tintin is a great choice. He is an experienced film actor who can deliver great performances. Of special importance to motion capture films like The Secret of the Unicorn is the ability to move. Billy Elliot showed he has clear control of his body and in action films like Deathwatch, Jumpers and Defiance he has shown the right fighting dynamism to be Tintin. What will be interesting is what human qualities Bell will bring to Tintin. The comic book character is very flat and stereotyped, rarely displaying emotion except when angry at a bully or worried about Snowy. Getting the balance between making Tintin a living breathing character for the audience to empathise with and staying faithful to the books will be a difficult piece of acting.

If Jamie Bell pulls off Tintin, then at least one more film awaits. Peter Jackson is set to direct the second film and there is the possibility of a third. Though not confirmed, it seems likely that production of the second film will proceed soon after the first has finished. Probably adapting Red Rackham’s Treasure, the second part of the adventure started in The Secret of the Unicorn. If studios run to form, this will be released a year after the first. Production of the third film will only start if the first film proves to be a success.

Bell’s Big Chance

As Tintin, Jamie Bell has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Working with Spielberg with a huge budget and an internationally famous character co
uld springboard Bell into Hollywood’s A-List. Becoming an action film hero and a sex symbol along the lines of Harrison Ford and Matt Damon is entirely possible. But that requires the film to be a smash and that is no easy thing to achieve, even when working with Spielberg and Jackson.

Red Rackham's Treasure, The Secret of the Unicorn

Written at the height of the war, whilst Belgium was under German occupation, The Secret of the Unicorn& Red Rackham’s Treasure are two of Herge’s most escapist books.

Starting the Treasure Hunt

Herge’s vagueness about where Tintin & Captain Haddock live is evident at the start of Red Rackham’s Treasure. It suggests that Tintin and friends live in a port city but Brussels is landlocked. However it could be construed that the scenes around the docks could be some distance from Tintin’s home. Or that Tintin and the Captain have taken temporary accommodation in the port.

The Sirius, Captain’s Haddock’s boat in the hunt for Red Rackham’s Treasure, must sail from a port. The ship is specifically described as a fishing traveller and Belgium has three fishing ports: Zeebrugge, Ostend and Nieuwpoort. For the Tintin Map project, I’ve picked Ostend as their home port because of its direct link to Brussels.

As way of providing exposition for those who had not read The Secret of the Unicorn, Herge has two sailors talking in a bar to explain a plot. Shortly afterwards the character of Cuthbert Calculus is introduced. After Haddock has been abused by various of Cuthbert’s contraptions, the Captain loses his temper and describes him as Bashi-bazouk, demonstrating Haddok’s amazing vocabulary once again. The Bashi-bazouk is type of Turkish militia whose name derives from the Turkish word for “damaged head” and generally means “leaderless” or “disorderly”. He later uses the word to describe Thompson & Thomson.

Where is Red Rackham’s Treasure

After setting out, the heros discover a stowaway – Professor Calculus. He had smuggled his underwater craft aboard in place of Captain Haddock’s much loved whisky. Herge love of detail normally meant that the machines in his adventures were copied from real craft. However with Calculus’ shark submersible, this worked in reverse.

Fabien Cousteau, grandson of Jacques-Yves Cousteau, is world expert on sharks. In order to study the great white shark he developed a shark shaped submersible inspired by his childhood reading of Red Rackham’s Treasure. Using the “trojan shark”, he could film the Great White’s natural behavior at close range without running the risk of becoming lunch. The footage he shot became a CBS special Shark: Mind of a Demon. Check out the web site for lots of photos and clips but my favourite was the one below because of its resemblance to a scene drawn fifty years before.

shark submersibleTintin Shark

During the hunt for Red Rackham’s Treasure, Tintin is unable to find the island, despite having the coordinates. They search in vain until Tintin realises that the coordinations could of been based on the Paris Meridian and not the more normal Greenwich Meridian. This source of confusion dates back to 1600s when the issue of longitude was becoming a problem. This was because the discovery and opening up of the Americas required shipping to sail far into open waters where as previously most vessels had stayed near the shore. Being able to work out how far east or west a ship had traveled was vital for accurate mapping and avoiding shipwreck.

North / south measurements (latitude) are based on the equator, which is fixed by the shape of the planet. However the starting point of any east / west travel (longitude) is arbitrary. All the major seafaring nations chose their own place for 0′ Latitude. However by 1884, Greenwich was the dominant meridian and an international conference confirmed it as the prime meridian to be used on all maps around the world. It says something about the French that they abstained from the vote and continued to use the Paris meridian (2° 20′ 14.025″ east of the Greenwich Meridian) for several decades. Herge’s reference to this in Red Rackham’s Treasure is a nice touch of detail.

Back Home Again

After a fruitless search for Red Rackham’s Treasure lasting several weeks, Tintin and his friends return home. With Calculus’ help, Captain Haddock discovers that Marlinspike is his ancestral home and is able to buy it. Yet another coincidence in this tale. The house that the Bird Brothers lived in and had kept Tintin imprisoned in, just happens to have once been owned by Haddock’s ancestor. Knowing this vital fact, Tintin is able to find the real treasure when he spots the statue of St John.

Tintin Movie

The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure are the books most likely to become the first Tintin film based on the casting list. Unlike many of the other books, these two are very focused in their story telling. Tintin’s other adventures often involve him being side-tracked or going wherever fate takes hims. This makes them a lot more unsuitable for a 90 minute movie. I suspect that Herge’s reliance of coincidences will be smoothed out in the film. The introduction of an Editor and other supporting cast will provide other ways of pulling Tintin into the story.

Red Rackham's Treasure, The Secret of the Unicorn, Tintin and Snowy, Tintin's Friends

Herge always relied on coincidences in his stories but in The Secret of the Unicorn, he perhaps relied on them too much.

The Unicorn for Sale

The coincidences start on page one, where Tintin bumps into Thompson & Thomson. The detectives are investigating a pick-pocket who will, by chance, become very important towards the end of book. On page 3 of The Secret of the Unicorn, we have the next two coincidences. Firstly, as Tintin tries to buy the model Ivon Ivanovitch Sakharine also tries to buy the model. Then as those two argue, Barnaby joins in and also tries to purchase the same model.

If having three people (two of them who have been hunting for the model for years) all out shopping in the same place at the same time when the very object they seek happens to be for sale is not coincidence enough, there is more to come. The model is of the Unicorn, the ship of Sir Francis Haddock, Captain Haddock’s ancestors. After this, The Secret of the Unicorn settles down now that Herge has introduced all the characters and established the story line.

The True Unicorn

According to Tintin and the World of Herge, the Unicorn was not based on any specific ship but it was heavily influenced by Le Brillant. This 50 gun warship of the French Navy was built in Le Havre in 1690. A model of the ship can be seen here. Quite why Herge used this ship as the basis for the Unicorn is not clear.

The Secret of the Unicorn makes Captain Haddock unique in Herge’s cast. He is the only character to have any background. There is no mention of Tintin’s ancestry, ancient or modern, or that of any other characters. In fact, it is the only blood relation to a character to feature in the books except the children of various characters (e.g. the Waggs).

It is believed that the pirate Red Rackham in The Secret of the Unicorn was based on the pirate Calico Jack, whose real name was John Rackham. It was Calico Jack’s use of a jolly roger with two crossed swords that popularisied the design of the jolly roger as we know it today. This design was also used in the film Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. This was fitting as Calico Jack was captured and hung in giblet. An image that is also referenced in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

Pests, Marlinspike and Nestor

As well as having amazing ancestors, Captain Haddock has an amazing vocabulary. Reading his rage induced rants always expands your grasp of language. The Secret of the Unicorn is no exception as Haddock refers to the Thompsons as Phylloxera. This North American aphid like creature was responsible for near destruction of the European wine industry in the late 1800s. Brought across from America by accident, this pest destroyed many of the vines. Only with the introduction of vines crossed with resistant stock from America did European wine production survive.

Marlinspike makes its first appearance in The Secret of the Unicon. Later it is to become Captain Haddock’s and Calculas’ home and base for many Tintin’s adventures. But in the beginning it just a prison that Tintin wakes up in. One of the first things Tintin does in Marlinspike is damage it by combining ingenuity with a convenient wooden beam.

Along with Marlinspike, we also meet Nestor for the first time. Innocently caught up in the nefarious affairs of the Bird brothers, Nestor’s first meeting with Tintin results in a fight and almost ends in Tintin’s murder. Nestor’s saving grace is when, once Tintin is rescued by the Thompsons and Captain Haddock, Nestor replaces the Captain’s bottle of three star brandy. Nestor clearly understands the Captain’s needs and Nestor remains the butler of Marlinspike after it is purchased by Calculus and the Captain.

Red Rackham's Treasure, The Secret of the Unicorn

Thanks to Stephen who highlighted that Herge took the name Moulinsart (Marlinspike in English) from the village Sart Moulin and Sarmoulin as I suggested in Where is Marlinkspike? .

I’m still not 100% sure that Sart Moulin exists as Google puts the location in the middle of a quarry.

View Larger Map

Stephen also An entirely different Steven sent me this great picture that morphs the original Château de Cheverny into Herge’s Marlinspike.

marlinspike morphed

Red Rackham's Treasure, The Secret of the Unicorn, Tintin's Friends

Marlinspike is Tintin’s spiritual home and the very real home to Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus. It was purchased by Professor Calculus for the Captain at the end of their treasure hunting trip in The Secret of the Unicorn / Red Rackam’s Treasure and became the starting point for many of their later adventures.

Will the Real Markinspike Please Stand Up

Herge very rarely invented anything from scratch. When drawing a boat or a plane or a gun he preferred to start with an object and then simplify it. See the Junkers JU 52 in The Broken Ear or the Mayan pyramid in San Theodoros for two of the many examples of this approach. When drawing Marlinspike (Moulinsart in the original French) he copied a French chateau and simplified it.

Below is Château de Cheverny, the inspiration of Marlinspike. Compare it to the image from Red Rackham’s Treasure and it is clear that Marlingspike is Cheverny with the two outermost wings cut off.

Chateau De Cheverny Marlinspike Moulinsart

Pinning It Down

But where did Herge imagine Marlinspike was physically? Frustratingly, Herge sometimes placed Tintin in very real and identifiable places (even giving map coordinates on one occasion) and at other times, he was incredibly vague to even which country Tintin was in.

What we can workout from the books is that Marlinspike was in Begium. Traffic drives on the right-hand side of the road and the police wear uniforms very similar to the Belgium police. The estate clearly has a lot of land and is surrounded by countryside so it is outside of any city. We know that Tintin lives in Brussels and he travels to Captatin Haddock’s house via motorcycle (Tintin and the Picaros) and via Marlinspike train station (The Seven Crystal Balls). As Tintin never has any luggage with him it safe to assume that Marlinspike is not far outside of Brussels.

The Final Clue

Marlinspike original French name was Moulinsart. According to Tintin and the world of Herge, this is a reversal of Sarmoulin. A small country town in Belgium. Unfortunately it is so small even Google cannot find it. There is no entry for it on Wikipedia either. Is it real but very, very, small or is the existence of Sarmoulin one of Herge’s jokes?