Homicide: The Decimal Point - Teaser and title sequence
In this teaser, leading in to Homicide’s opening title sequence, convict Edgar Thompson (Roy Alexander) is on the run after escaping from the prison farm at Beechworth. He heads for a shack in the countryside, not realising that a man called Matthew Hawke (actor uncredited) is inside. A confrontation follows. Later, a man driving past the shack finds it in flames – with Thompson’s body inside. Summary by Kate Matthews.
This episode of Homicide opens typically for the series, with a teaser showing a crime and setting up questions for the audience and the detectives to consider. There’s a small twist at the end of the teaser designed to provoke more curiosity leading into the investigation. The audience might expect the body to be Matthew Hawke’s but instead it belongs to his attacker.
The exterior, location-based scenes, shot on film, do not have dialogue, an indication of the technology the Homicide crew were working with at the time, which did not allow good quality sound recording on location. Instead, a narrator (John McMahon) recounts the events illustrated on film. Directors Bruce Ross-Smith and Ian Jones offset this with dynamic visual action.
Homicide went through a number of opening title sequences in its lifetime that evolved to reflect a changing core cast, changing police vehicles, the transition to colour and so on. This one, from the series’s earliest days and featuring its first team of detectives, is dynamic and to-the-point. It makes stylish use of framing, motion and the graphic qualities of the shot. Visual momentum is carried through an aerial zoom towards the car and a cut on action to the car pulling into shot at ground level.
The momentum continues as the detectives exit the car and walk towards the camera. They are shot from a low angle, making them appear monumental, in sharp contrast to the initial tiny aerial view of them in their car. Both the bird’s-eye view of the city intersection and the building behind the detectives as they get out of the car give the shot striking graphic qualities, particularly as captured on high contrast black-and-white film.
Homicide: The Decimal Point synopsis
What starts out looking like a straightforward crime committed in self-defence becomes a complicated double murder investigation and prompts homicide detectives to reopen an old file. One of the murder victims, a prison escapee, was a suspect in a robbery case that was never solved. A large stash of stolen money is still missing. The detectives suspect the hidden cash might be the motive for the murders and focus their investigation on the dead man’s suspected accomplices in the robbery.
Homicide: The Decimal Point curator's notes
Homicide was one of Australia’s earliest drama series and Crawford Productions’s first television cop show, produced in association with HSV7 in Melbourne (later Channel Seven). It came to be regarded as a breakthrough moment in Australian television, a hit drama series that created a demand for regular local drama programming in a medium previously dominated by US dramas. During its 12-year run, the series developed with the industry, reflecting changing technology, industry skill levels and an evolving ‘language’ of television.
‘The Decimal Point’ is episode 12, an example of the program in its earliest days. It combines scenes recorded on video in a studio with location scenes shot on film, an approach common in television in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Good quality dialogue recording was possible only in the studio-based sequences, the location-based sequences instead using narration. At the time this integration of studio and location scenes, film and video, represented an unprecedented level of complexity for its producers and for an Australian drama series. Crawford and HSV7’s previous courtroom drama series, Consider Your Verdict (1961–64), had been restricted to studio scenes, and the production’s video editing technology was very limited.
Different teams directed the film and studio scenes and there is a marked contrast between the two. Studio scenes are dialogue heavy and limited in action. An early guide for Homicide writers recommends that ‘physical action is best handled on film. It is difficult, for example, to produce even a convincing fight in the studio’ – suggesting that the range of movement of studio cameras and the limits of the sets play a part here. In contrast, without dialogue to work with but more freedom in movement and framing, the location scenes demonstrate visual dynamism and experimentation with the possibilities of the form. At the same time though, their voice-over narration has a tone reminiscent of radio drama or narrated silent newsreels. This must have been an interesting time – audiences hungry for local content on television were prepared to suspend disbelief with this rather awkward style, all the while enjoying much more technically advanced Hollywood-produced fare.
While its style now looks quite dated, features of the episode were at the time quite revolutionary. The very fact of a local crime drama was a novelty. For Melbourne viewers, recognising their own suburbs as backdrops to a cop show was a first. Detectives with Australian accents was another innovation. In a 1964 interview, star Jack Fegan acknowledged the previous trend in Australian television dramas, most of them one-off ‘plays’, for actors to adopt international accents:
For ten years, I’ve been cast as an American or an Englishman … In Homicide, we don’t have to act, we’re playing real, and natural, Australians. Too often, when a play calls for an Australian, he’s the CJ Dennis type of character who nowadays is a rarity. We hope to be able to present the average Australian as he [sic] really is … a normal person who speaks and acts in a normal way.
The last part of the episode is a courtroom scene, a common feature in early Homicide episodes. Possibly a carryover from the earlier Crawfords series Consider Your Verdict (1961–64), this early practice of concluding episodes in court was later dropped.
The episode title refers to Australia’s switch to decimal currency from the imperial monetary system (pounds, shillings and pence), which is part of the plot. ‘The Decimal Point’ first screened on HSV7 in 1965. Homicide ran for 509 episodes, from 1964–75.
Notes by Kate Matthews