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Recap / Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn

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One day while browsing a flea market, Tintin comes across and buys an old model ship, thinking it would make a good present for Captain Haddock, but is immediately approached by two men who both want to buy it back from him. Tintin refuses, puzzled as to why the model is so sought after. When he shows the ship to Haddock, Haddock immediately recognizes the model as the Unicorn, a ship depicted on a portrait he has of his ancestor, Sir Francis Haddock, a captain in the service of King Louis XIV.

When Tintin returns to his apartment, he finds that the model has been stolen. Upon further investigation, Tintin and Haddock discover that the model ship is one of three models that Sir Francis made of his ship that each contains a parchment with a clue to the location of a sunken treasure that Sir Francis got from a ruthless pirate named Red Rackham.

The Secret of the Unicorn is the first in a two-part story that is concluded in Red Rackham's Treasure. Hergé once cited it as his personal favourite Tintin story, though he would later come to prefer Tintin in Tibet. Along with The Crab with the Golden Claws, it is the basis for most of the plot of Steven Spielberg's 2011 film adaptation.


  • Acting Out a Daydream: When Captain Haddock tells the story about his ancestor's fight with Red Rackham and his pirate school. He gets so caught up in the mental image that he acts it out, even to the extent of Tintin and Snowy thinking he's play-acting when they first see him doing it.
  • Adaptational Intelligence: The Nelvana version slightly toned down the deductive abilities of both Tintin and Mr Sakharine: In it, Tintin deduces Sakharine was chloroformed from the latter's account of his aggression; whereas in the original album, not only did Tintin notice chloroform was involved the moment he checked the "corpse", but Sakharine himself mentions "[the rag] must have been chloroform, because I promptly passed out".
  • Adapted Out:
    • Brutus the Great Dane and the two 'delivery men' in the Nelvana version.
    • Barnaby and Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine in the Belvision version.
  • Becoming Part of the Image: After re-enacting Sir Haddock's duel with Rackham a bit too violently, Captain Haddock ends up with his face through Sir Haddock's portrait.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Snowy, Haddock and the Thom(p)sons arrive in the nick of time to save Tintin when he's being held at gunpoint by the Bird brothers.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Haddock is rather startled when Tintin informs the reader that the story is To Be Continued in Red Rackham's Treasure.
  • British Accents:
    • The Nelvana adaptation gives Sir Francis a Scottish accent.
    • The BBC radio drama gives Red Rackham a typical piratical West Country accent, but also gives Sir Francis a similar accent, with the Captain mentioning beforehand that Sir Francis was “one of the West Country Haddocks.” Interestingly, the Captain doesn’t have a West Country accent himself.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Aristides Silk the pickpocket becomes vital to the plot when he steals Max Bird's wallet, containing two of the three parchments.
  • Clear My Name: A very brief example when the Thom(p)sons accuse Haddock of murdering Sakharine. In truth, Sakharine isn't even really dead and Haddock had nothing to do with the attack on him.
  • Composite Character: Red Rackham (Rackham le Rouge, i. e. "Rackham the Red" in the original) is named after John Rackham a. k. a. "Calico Jack", but visually is based on the French buccaneer Daniel Montbars called "Montbars the Exterminator".
  • Dismantled MacGuffin: The three parchments each containing a part of the coordinates of the sunken Unicorn. Sir Francis Haddock wanted his three sons to work together.
  • The Door Slams You: The Bird brothers slam the door into Tintin which helps him stay undetected.
  • The Dreaded: Red Rackham is one of the most feared pirates of his time, and for good reason. He leads his crew to victory over the Unicorn, murders the entire crew except for Sir Francis Haddock, and acquires a massive treasure hoard from all his raids.
  • Dying Clue: Barnaby is too weak to speak after being shot, but he points at a nearby flock of sparrows before passing out. He was, of course, hired by the Bird brothers.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: When Tintin finds the parchment in his ransacked flat, he suddenly realises everything that's been going on (as Snowy puts it: "You're a real Sherlock Holmes!")
  • Forgot to Mind Their Head: Tintin hits his head on an open drawer when he searches the floor of his ransacked flat for a clue.
  • Funny Phone Misunderstanding: While in Marlinspike Hall, Tintin is on the phone with Haddock, trying to say where he is and to bring the police. Haddock, unfortunately, mishears "police" as "Greece", and "Marlinspike" as "Starlings bite" and "Martin's bike". Then, when Tintin tries to correct him, saying, "Marlinspike's the name!", Haddock replies, "What sort of game?".
  • Giving Them the Strip: The pickpocket (whose latest attempt at robbery was foiled by an elastic band attached to the wallet) gets away from the Thom(p)sons by ridding himself of his jacket. However, this jacket ends up being the evidence needed to find and arrest him; it had recently been dry-cleaned, complete with a number stitched into the lining, and once the Thom(p)sons were able to find the dry-cleaner service involved, they were able to track him down quickly enough.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: The Nelvana cartoon shows the shadows of Sir Francis and Red Rackham fighting in the hold of the Unicorn. The scene then cuts back to Haddock recounting the battle to Tintin and Snowy. When it returns to the past, we only see Red Rackham's lifeless feet with a victorious Sir Francis standing over him.
  • Gotta Catch Them All: The Unicorn models and the parchments.
  • Happy Dance: When Tintin and Haddock solve the mystery.
  • His Name Is...: Barnaby is shot before he can tell Tintin the name of his employer. He points toward a nearby flock of sparrows as he passes out. We only find out later that this act was an attempt at cluing in Tintin; his employers were the Bird brothers. Later, he recovers from being shot, and is able to name his employers properly; this allows Haddock and the Thom(p)sons to come to Tintin's rescue.
  • Hufflepuff House: Sakharine, more or less. He is the third party that wants the ship model, though he doesn't seemingly know about the parchments in them.
  • Identical Grandson: Haddock to his forefather Sir Francis Haddock. Turns out they also share a love of drinking, cursing, fighting, and tendency to suffer the occasional Prat Fall.
  • Inconsistent Coloring: The screaming old woman at Sakharine's apartment has a dark green coat in the first panel she appears in, but the coat is blue in every other panel.
  • Info Dump: When Gustav Bird hears that Barnaby isn't dead, he confesses all.
  • Informed Ability: Tintin notes that Max Bird is the more dangerous of the Bird brothers at one point. There isn't really much to back this up at that point, and in fact, it's Gustav who held him at gunpoint and almost shot him from behind mere minutes before. Max's comparative dangerousness is made more explicit in the Nelvana series, where Max is always the one holding the gun while Gustav cowers behind him.
  • Kitsch Collection: Silk the pickpocket has a huge collection of stolen wallets, sorted alphabetically. Every single wallet under "T" belongs to the Thom(p)sons!
  • Knight's Armor Hideout: Subverted. The Bird brothers are looking for Tintin and suspect that he hid inside a suit of armor so they shoot at it and it falls apart. Turns out, Tintin hid behind a desk.
  • Leave No Survivors: In the flashback, after being hit by a broadside, the pirate ship hoists the red pennant, signaling that they would not take prisoners. They do capture captain Sir Francis Haddock when a golden opportunity presents itself, but plan to execute him slowly the next morning.
  • Lost in Character: Haddock gets so wrapped up in the tale of his famous ancestor he runs off some visitors at cutlass-point in the belief they're pirates, and demolishes his room while relating the battle with Red Rackham.
  • Mister Muffykins: Tintin waits for an extended period of time to use a phone box. After what is implied to be at least a half hour, an old woman with a small dog exits, saying "We can go now Fifi, it has stopped raining." She gets an extremely dirty look from him.
  • Nonchalant Dodge: Tintin dodges the fast-approaching Angry Guard Dog who then bumps into the Bird brothers.
  • Ominously Open Door: Tintin is startled when he finds the door to his apartment open. On entering he sees that the flat has been ransacked.
  • Pirate Booty: Combined with a Dismantled Macguffin Treasure Map.
  • Ransacked Room: Tintin's flat is ransacked after his MacGuffin is stolen. He doesn't discover the Plot Coupon which was formerly hidden inside it until afterwards — it had rolled under a chest, where the vandals failed to find it.
  • Red Herring: Sakharine the ship model collector is accused by Tintin of stealing his model, but he is actually innocent.
  • Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: The newspaper reports that Barnaby, the person who was shot outside Tintin's apartment, later died of his wounds, but Tintin quickly confirms with the hospital that Barnaby was in fact still alive. This allows Barnaby to recover and divulge the names of his employers, which in turn allows Captain Haddock and the Thom(p)sons to come to Tintin's rescue. Then, Tintin uses the fact of Barnaby's survival to get Gustav Bird to spill the beans on their plans.
  • Rewatch Bonus: On reading the book again after knowing who the pickpocket really was, you can briefly make out Aristides Silk lurking in the crowd in the very first page.
  • Roadside Wave: Snowy gets splashed with muddy water when a car passes by on a dirt road during rain.
  • Running Gag: The Thom(p)sons' wallets are stolen almost every time they appear.
  • Single Malt Vision: Snowy drinks from Haddock's rum and suddenly sees two glasses instead of one.
  • Slippery Skid: Tintin cracks open an abacus in a chase scene.
  • So Much for Stealth: Tintin is trying to escape the Bird brothers in their antique-filled basement. When he knocks over a big vase, he manages to stop it from falling, but the lid falls on a drum.
  • Spanner in the Works:
    • Silk the pickpocket, for both Tintin and the Bird brothers. He ends up stealing Max Bird's wallet which had the other two parchments inside it, which Tintin recovers from Silk's collection.
    • The local newspaper incorrectly reports that Barnaby had died from being shot, which means the Bird brothers don't try to finish the job; as a result, Barnaby is able to out them later.
  • Spell My Name With An S: In the original French, the name of Captain Haddock's ancestor is Chevalier François de Hadoque. Francophone readers have theorized that this Haddock family left England because they supported the Stuarts during the English Civil War and James II after the Glorious Revolution and for a time gave their name a French spelling before reverting back to the original English one.
  • Stab the Scorpion: Haddock saves Tintin from Gustav Bird in this manner with a thrown whiskey bottle.
  • Sticky Fingers: Aristides Silk is a kleptomaniac who steals Tintin's wallet which contains a Plot Coupon. It turns out that, similar to Real Life kleptomaniacs, he feels rather guilty about his actions; he sorts the stolen wallets by the owner's name. Thomson and Thompson end up walking out with their arms full of their own stolen wallets, and their countermeasures have varying degrees of success and slapstick.
  • Unstoppable Rage: Haddock does not take it well when Thomson and Thompson accuse him of murdering Mr. Sakharine.
  • Villain: Exit, Stage Left: One of the Bird brothers escapes, but Tintin got his car's license plate number and the Thom(p)sons were able to arrest him at the border.