When I was talking the other day about characters who could provide necessary information yet inexplicably do not, I forgot about an equally important yet less annoying cliché: characters who are killed just as they are about to provide the necessary information. We saw that last night on 24. Jack Bauer is trying to get information on the whereabouts of dead-but-not-really Tony Almeida. Jack is given permission to torture the Irish Information Dude, but he breaks down and agrees to confess before Jack can even start torturing. Irish Information Dude says: “I’ll tell you where he is. He’s…” …and he’s instantly shot dead by a sniper.
The reason this particular cliché is less annoying than the failure to simply provide information is that the writers do come up with a good reason, the very best, why the information is not provided. Sure, we know it’s incredibly contrived that the guy gets shot dead just as he’s about to tell the hero what he needs to know (or gets knifed in the back like that guy in North By Northwest), but contrivance and clichés are an important part of the 24 world; that’s not a problem as long as there is a logical, albeit contrived, reason why things happen the way they do.
One variation on this cliché that I like is having the person get shot after he or she delivers the information. I can’t think of a TV example offhand, but in the Western My Darling Clementine, the Hooker With a Heart of Gold™ tells the good guys the information they need, knowing that the bad guy is hiding in the room waiting to shoot her if she betrays him; she tells them anyway, and is immediately shot by the bad guy.
MAYNARD: It reads, ‘Here may be found the last words of Joseph of Aramathea. He who is valiant and pure of spirit may find the Holy Grai lin the Castle of… aaggggggh.”
KING ARTHUR: What?
MAYNARD: ‘… the Castle of aaggggggh’.
BEDEMIR: What is that?
MAYNARD: He must have died while carving it.
LANCELOT: Oh, come on!
MAYNARD: Well, that’s what it says.
KING ARTHUR: Look if he was dying, he wouldn’t bother to carve ‘aaggggh’. He’d just say it!