The Mal­tese McGuf­fin

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QUES­TION The Mal­tese Fal­con, a statue used in the Humphrey Bog­art movie of the same name, has been de­scribed as a McGuf­fin plot de­vice. What is this?

A McGUF­FIN, or MacGuf­fin, is a de­vice for mov­ing a movie’s plot for­ward, while, in it­self, be­ing rel­a­tively mean­ing­less. In John Hus­ton’s The Mal­tese Fal­con (1941), the main char­ac­ters strug­gle to gain pos­ses­sion of an ap­par­ently price­less ob­jet

d’art (pic­tured) with­out the au­di­ence be­ing given much in­for­ma­tion about it.

The statue is car­ried around in old news­pa­per, which scarcely seems ap­pro­pri­ate for a valu­able item. Possessing it is the sole aim of the char­ac­ters, good and bad, and their strug­gles form the plot of the film.

As to the ori­gin of the term, we must thank the master of sus­pense, Al­fred Hitch­cock, who coined the term in a lec­ture at Columbia Uni­ver­sity in 1939.

In 1966, he was in­ter­viewed by French film di­rec­tor Fran­cois Truf­faut and he ex­plained the term McGuf­fin: ‘It might be a Scot­tish name, taken from a story about two men in a train. One man says: “What’s that pack­age up there in the lug­gage rack?” And the other an­swers: “Oh, that’s a McGuf­fin.”

‘The first one asks: “What’s a McGuf­fin?” “Well,” the other man says, “it’s an ap­pa­ra­tus for trap­ping lions in the Scot­tish High­lands.”

‘The first man says: “But there are no lions in the Scot­tish High­lands.”

‘And the other an­swers: “Well, then, that’s no McGuf­fin!” So you see, a McGuf­fin is noth­ing at all.’

While it may have no spe­cific mean­ing, like the se­cret plans ev­ery­one wants to ob­tain, a McGuf­fin’s main pur­pose is to Get­ting the bird: Humphrey Bog­art in The Mal­tese Fal­con and (in­set left) the statue ev­ery­one was seek­ing ad­vance the plot and jus­tify the ac­tions of the pro­tag­o­nists. Kevin J. Last, Hin­ton St Ge­orge, Som­er­set.

QUES­TION Are he­li­copters de­signed to be rel­a­tively easy to land if the en­gine fails?

IF THE en­gine of a he­li­copter fails, the pilot must take im­me­di­ate ac­tion. He has to lower the col­lec­tive pitch lever to de­crease the pitch, or tilt, of the ro­tor blades. The air­craft is then in au­toro­ta­tion, which means it can fly un­der full con­trol as it de­scends, but can­not climb.

The pilot must then seek a suit­able land­ing place and ma­noeu­vre to reach it at the cor­rect air­speed.

If there is an open field, the land­ing is fairly sim­ple and is sim­i­lar to that made by a fixed-wing air­craft. How­ever, land­ing in a con­fined space needs a ver­ti­cal or near-ver­ti­cal land­ing, and this is trick­ier.

The pilot must de­scend ver­ti­cally for the last stage and judge the mo­ment to ap­ply col­lec­tive pitch to cush­ion ar­rival.

It’s amaz­ing how much en­ergy is stored in the spin­ning ro­tor, and this is the main fac­tor in pre­vent­ing a heavy land­ing.

For the ex­pe­ri­enced he­li­copter pilot, land­ings with the en­gine off are fun, es­pe­cially in test­ing your­self in ar­riv­ing at a pre-de­ter­mined point.

I have done thou­sands over the years, in­clud­ing dis­plays at the Farn­bor­ough In­ter­na­tional Air­show.

John Fay, The He­li­copter: His­tory, Pi­lot­ing And How It Flies,

Chard, Som­er­set.

QUES­TION What is known of Han­ni­bal’s eth­nic­ity and phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance?

HAN­NI­BAl Barca (247–183/181 BC) was a gen­eral from An­cient Carthage, a king­dom in what is now Tu­nisia.

The city and em­pire was one of a num­ber of Phoeni­cian set­tle­ments in the western Mediter­ranean that traded with the city of Tyre on the coast of what is now le­banon.

Han­ni­bal is best known for his in­va­sion of the Ro­man Repub­lic, the Sec­ond Pu­nic War, when he marched an army that in­cluded war ele­phants from Spain over the Pyre­nees and Alps into Italy.

The Greek his­to­rian Poly­bius, who lived al­most a cen­tury later, wrote about Han­ni­bal’s ex­ploits, but did not de­scribe his phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance.

The best ev­i­dence is a coin ( right) that is be­lieved to fea­ture the pro­file of his father, Hamil­car Barca (c. 275– 228 BC), who had wavy hair and an aquiline nose.

From this, we can sur­mise that Han­ni­bal looked sim­i­lar to modern Tu­nisians or Si­cil­ians, who are de­scended from the Phoeni­cians.

Mike Cross, Lon­don N10.

IS THERE a ques­tion to which you have al­ways wanted to know the an­swer? Or do you know the an­swer to a ques­tion raised here? Send your ques­tions and an­swers to: Charles Legge, An­swers To Cor­re­spon­dents, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, Lon­don, W8 5TT; fax them to 01952 780111 or email them to charles.legge@dai­ly­ A se­lec­tion will be pub­lished but we are not able to en­ter into in­di­vid­ual cor­re­spon­dence.

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