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As noted in the onscreen credits, Gumshoe was shot in Liverpool and London and at Lee International Studios, London. News items added that the London bookshop scene was shot in Museum Street at the Atlantis Bookshop, an occult bookshop established in 1922, as well as in the Ladbroke Grove area of London. Liverpool locations included the main train station and the dock area. Red Star Parcel, which was a plot point in the film, was a then recently started package delivery service operated by British Rail and continues to the present time under the name Red Star Express. Gumshoe is a slang term, popular in the 1940s and 1950s, that referred to private detectives, often low-level plodders who wore rubber-soled shoes to soften the sound of their footsteps while on surveillance.
The film opens with a voice-over narration by Albert Finney as "Eddie Ginley." The narration, done in a tongue-in-check, 1940s, film noir style, continues intermittently throughout the picture. The film's dialogue emulated the style found in American detective dramas from the 1940s and 1950s, and included lines that incorporated popular film titles and songs of the period. For example, at one point Eddie welcomes his brother "William Ginley" to "Rancho Notorious" (see below), a reference to the dark, 1952 Fritz Lang-directed Western. At another point in the film, Eddie tells "Azinge," "Get Out, Mighty Joe Young," referring to the 1949 film (see below). When Eddie enters the hotel room and meets "De Fries," he is watching the gin rummy scene from the 1950 Columbia release Born Yesterday. De Fries is referred to as "the fat man" throughout the film, a reference to Sidney Greenstreet's character in the 1941 Warner Bros. film based on Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon (see below). In another scene, Eddie is reading a copy of The Thin Man, which was also written by Hammett, his character's literary hero.
Eddie wears a trench coat, smokes cigarettes and uses detective fiction slang, often speaking in a style reminiscent of "Sam Spade," Humphrey Bogart's character in The Maltese Falcon, and the name that Eddie uses in his newspaper ad. The sequence set in the London bookshop is very similar to a scene in Howard Hawks's 1946 film The Big Sleep, which starred Bogart. At the end of Gumshoe, Eddie says goodbye to "John Straker" with Bogart's signature line from Casablanca, "Here's looking at you, kid."
Columbia Pictures partially financed the picture, which was the third production of Michael Medwin and Albert Finney's London-based Memorial Enterprises, Ltd., according to a August 19, 1970 Daily Variety news item and other sources. Finney and Billie Whitelaw also co-starred in the 1968 Memorial Enterprises production Charlie Bubbles, which Finney also directed. As noted in reviews, Gumshoe was the first feature-length theatrical film directed by Stephen Frears, who previously had worked on television and as an assistant director on feature films and had been Finney's assistant on Charlie Bubbles. Gumshoe was also the first produced screenplay of actor Neville Smith.