BODYGUARD. RKO Radio Pictures, 1948. Lawrence Tierney, Priscilla Lane, Phillip Reed, June Clayworth, Elisabeth Risdon, Steve Brodie, Frank Fenton. Director: Richard Fleischer.
Bodyguard, a zippy gem of a crime film based on a story co-written by Robert Altman in his first screen credit and starring the always rugged Lawrence Tierney, opens with a sequence of on location shots of iconic landmarks in Los Angeles: City Hall, Union Station, and the Downtown Theater District. This sets the tone for what is to come: a thoroughly enjoyable film noir set against the sun baked, palm tree lined streets of Southern California.
With some great on-location photography, the sixty-two minute film transports the viewer through the world of police officialdom, the rich elite of Pasadena, then off to Hollywood and spots in between. Much like Armored Car Robbery, another gem also directed by Richard Fleischer (which I reviewed here back in 2014), Bodyguard makes the most of its urban setting, allowing it to be as much a presence in the movie as the one and only Lawrence Tierney.
The plot, one based on a framework that film noir aficionados will surely recognize, has enough twists and turns to keep you on your toes. After Mike Carter (Tierney), a rough around the edges Los Angeles police detective working homicide, is terminated for insubordination, he turns to his two true loves: his fiancée, Doris (Priscilla Lane) and baseball.
For it’s at the ballpark that a man, clearly seeking him out, offers him an opportunity to serve as the bodyguard for the executive of a meatpacking empire. After initially refusing, Carter takes up the offer. The cash is good and it doesn’t seem like such a difficult task. Little does he know that the first night on the job he will wake up in his car next to the body of his former supervisor — the guy who fired him, no less!
But who framed him? And what’s the relationship between his former boss and the meatpacking empire magnate? That’s what Carter and Doris attempt to find out.
In nearly every way, Bodyguard is successful in what it aspires to: namely, a compelling, if not particularly philosophically rich story, with a coterie of suspects and questionable motivations. It may not be the best-known RKO crime film, but it’s a very good one nonetheless. Truth be told, I enjoyed this one more than some “classic” films noir that I thought never quite lived up to their reputations. Recommended.
WEED DICKINSON – Dead Man Talks Too Much. J. B. Lippincott, hardcover, 1937.
“If you have a taste for the hard-boiled, after the manner of Dashiell Hammett or Jonathan Latimer, here is a first-class mystery with no punches pulled.” So says the publisher. The Hammett claim is a wild exaggeration, and there’s a mere soupçon of Latimer here, mainly in Circus Ed Haley’s drinking.
Haley, publicity director for Amalgamated Pictures, seeking the missing — and slipping — movie star Maronne Martinez, discovers the body of the untalented and degenerate Donald Durline with Maronne’s dagger in its back. Immediately Hadley calls upon the spitball-shooting Burt Calhoun, New York private eye temporarily in Los Angeles.
Dickinson’s only mystery once again proves that even a major publisher could go wrong in its choice of what to publish. The setting is all that is of interest here.
Bio-Bibliographical Notes: Besides this one-shot novel, (Ashley) Weed Dickinson (c.1890-1954), a long-time newspaperman, also wrote two stories for the detective pulp magazines:
Five Men Take a Bath. Detective Fiction Weekly, Sep 2 1933.
Dead Man Overboard. New Detective Magazine, May 1935.
His wife was Nell Martin (1890–1961), who, according to Wikipedia, was a published writer under the pen name Columbia Boyer and her full name, Nell Columbia Boyer Martin. Her “Maisie” short stories were published in Top Notch Magazine in 1927-1928 and later inspired a movie and radio series starring Ann Sothern. She was at one time the lover of the mystery writer Dashiell Hammett and he dedicated his 1931 novel The Glass Key to her.
ARENA. Empire Pictures, 1989. Paul Satterfield, Hamilton Camp, Claudia Christian, Marc Alaimo, Shari Shattuck, Armin Shimerman. Music by Richard Band. Director: Peter Manoogian.
Here’s a movie that in some circles is thought of as a classic — the definition thereby of a cult classic? — that I had never heard of before, nor most of the players in it, but which nonetheless I found myself enjoying very much.
Plotwise, it would be easy to describe the movie as part of the Rocky series in which the hero (Paul Satterfield) finds himself stranded on a world where the main attraction is a battle arena in which aliens from all over the galaxy take on all comers, and it is has been 50 years since an earthling has been the champion. Is Steve Armstrong the one to break such a long losing streak?
This short synopsis may be all you need to know, either in terms of how the story line goes from there, or whether you decide(or not) that this a movie worth looking out for. To me the fight scenes, as always in fight movies, are something to endure, but even though the movie had a small budget, I thought the aliens were the best I’ve seen since the cantina on Mos Eisley, and what’s more, there were more of them.
The players, except for Hamilton Camp, were all new names to me, although I did recognize Claudia Christian’s face from her later long recurring role on Babylon 5. As it turns out, however, that many of them have had long careers in projects such as this, both in the movies and on TV. They all know what they are doing, and what’s more, they do it with gusto. One scene toward the end, and in particular, is a real knockout.
FIVE GOLDEN DRAGONS. Blansfilm, UK-Germany, 1967. Robert Cummings, Margaret Lee, Rupert Davies, Klaus Kinski, Maria Rohm, Roy Ciao Guest Cast: Dan Duryea, Brian Donlevy, Christopher Lee, George Raft, Maria Pershy. Screenplay Peter Welbeck (producer Harry Alan Towers), based on a story by Edgar Wallace. Director: Jeremy Summers.
If producer and screenwriter (usually as Peter Welbeck) Harry Alan Towers hadn’t existed, Eric Ambler would have had to create him. Like a typical Ambler hero, Towers was a semi-disreputable, sometimes successful, and usually on the run from his creditors, figure in international cinema, whose output runs from the simply awful (Jesus Franco’s Castle of Fu Manchu) to the damn good (Face of Fu Manchu) and the great middle of not too bad (this, Coast of Skeletons). Always on the fringe of British and international film making, sometimes successfully and more often than not disastrously, Towers’ own story is probably more interesting than that in many of his shot off the cuff, high concept mediocre delivery, films.
Here he is working with a big budget in pulp country somewhere between his two favorites Sax Rohmer and Edgar Wallace where he was always most comfortable. The setting is Hong Kong, where the international criminal syndicate known as the Five Golden Dragons are meeting — at least four of them are (Dan Duryea, Brian Donlevy, Christopher Lee, and George Raft), as yet the mysterious fifth Dragon from Hong Kong has called the meeting and has yet to show. Anyone familiar with their Edgar Wallace should recognize that set up from a mile off.
The plot is set in motion when a mysterious man arrives in Hong Kong and is promptly tossed from the 12th floor of a plush apartment building on the Peak (Hong Kong’s prime real estate). Before he dies he leaves an envelope to be delivered to an American named Bob Mitchell staying in Hong Kong, a fact that attracts Commissioner Sanders (no accident that name I’ll wager) of the Hong Kong police (Rupert Davies in Maigret mode) and his top man Inspector Chiao (Roy Ciao) and a chain smoking effeminate killer named Gert (Klaus Kinski).
Mitchell proves to be an aging, somewhat comic, but charmingly naif playboy (Robert Cummings) who claims he met the dead man in Manila and has no idea what the note that reads Five Golden Dragons means. That might be true, but it spooks the two beautiful women he picked up at the hotel pool, Margaret and her sister Ingrid (Maria Pershy and Maria Rohm).
When more bodies show up in relation to Mitchell, including Margaret in his locked bedroom under a robe bearing a golden dragon, Mitchell (who variously claims to sell insurance, be a linguist, and a visitor from small town Kansas) ducks the police and goes to ground to look into things himself, led to a nightclub run by the tough Peterson (Sieghardt Rupp) and chanteuse Magda (Margaret Lee) where he stumbles onto the cave like lair of the Golden Dragons.
Anything beyond that would be a spoiler, though there isn’t much to spoil. Five Golden Dragons is handsomely shot, there are some decent chases, at times it actually is fairly bright, and at other times it tries too hard. I enjoyed it, but if you were looking for much more than a bright colorful diversion you would be disappointed.
Mitchell under gun point to Peterson: “I thought I’d drop in an ask you to introduce me to your boss, you know, Goldfinger number five?”
The big four guest stars are mostly wasted, Donlevy, Raft, and Lee have virtually no dialogue, and once Maria Pershy’s Margaret is dead the feather brained Ingrid (Maria Rohm) is poor substitute though Lee provides some much needed sex appeal. The big reveal about Mitchell is no surprise by the time it comes, and the ending, telegraphed from the start, more than a bit of a let down though that, at least, might have come from an Edgar Wallace thriller, in fact it resembles The Crimson Circle more than a little in that aspect.
On the other hand, if you want a nice tour of Hong Kong circa 1967, with attractive company, a bit of action, a touch of mystery and intrigue, and a few decent quips (“Gert, oh you mean Gertrude, is your fourth man?”) this is a harmless way to kill an hour and a half. For a Harry Alan Towers film that is practically a rave review.
HALLOWEEN SPECIAL, PART ONE:
by Michael Shonk
Welcome to this three-part look at horror, beginning with cartoons. Of course as always I try to avoid the obvious examples. Feel free to mention your favorites in the comments.
Let’s start with one TV series on the silly rather than scary side. COUNT DUCKULA is a small green vegetarian vampire duck. The series was a spin-off of popular British cartoon DANGER MOUSE. With the fun spy spoof DANGER MOUSE a success on American cable network Nickelodeon, those at the network asked for a spin-off and COUNT DUCKULA was created. He appeared in a few episodes of DANGER MOUSE before getting his own series.
COUNT DUCKULA (Nickelodeon, 1988-93, Thames Television, Cosgrove Hall Films)
The Count had been killed many times but his immoral butler Igor had the power to bring the vampire duck back to life. But during the most recent resurrection a mistake made by the Count’s idiot Nanny resulted in a self-centered cowardly Count Duckula with a fondness for vegetables rather than blood.
In this the first episode of the series Duckula, Igor, Nanny and unknown to them some thieving crows travel to Egypt in search of the Mystic Saxophone. The story is a good example of the series style – silly absurd humor that can resemble vaudeville and an art style that is pleasing but limited.
Recommended for all ages.
Next is AMAZING SCREW-ON HEAD. Screw-On Head is a supernatural hero in a steampunk alternative reality.
“Pilot.” Based on comic book by Mike Mignola. Written, Developed and Executive Produced by Bryan Fuller. Directed by Chris Prynoski. Voice Cast: Paul Giamatti as Screw-On Head, David Hyde Pierce as Emperor Zombie, Patton Oswalt as Mr. Groin and Molly Shannon as Patience.
It is 1862, and two old ladies (one a werewolf) and a monkey kidnap the foremost expert on ancient evil text. President Lincoln calls Screw-On Head as the President believes this is the work of Screw-On Head’s arch-nemesis Emperor Zombie.
The animation, Bryan Fuller’s (HANNIBAL, PUSHING DAISIES) script and a talented voice cast all add to a delightfully entertaining horror adventure story. Sadly the Sci-Fi (now Syfy) cable network turned it down.
Mike Mignola has found more success with another of his comic book creation, Hellboy. Hellboy has been in endless comic books, paperbacks, featured in two theatrical films starring Ron Pearlman and two animated direct to DVD films. BLOOD AND IRON is the second animated film.
HELLBOY: BLOOD AND IRON Cartoon Network, 2007; Starz Media in association with Revolution Studio / Film Roman. Based on the Dark Horse Comic Book “HELLBOY” created by Mike Mignola. Creative Producers Guillermo Del Toro and Mike Mignola. Written by Kevin Hopps. Story by Tad Stones and Mike Mignola. Directed by Victor Cook – Supervising Producer and Director Tad Stones. Voice Cast: Ron Perlman as Hellboy, Doug Jones as Abe Sapien, Selma Blair as Liz Sherman, and John Hurt as Trevor Bruttenholm.
A monster from Professor Bruttenholm’s past may be trying to return. The Professor leads a group from the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense to investigate a haunted house. It does not take long for Hellboy and his friends to encounter the supernatural. The house proves to be home for hundreds of ghosts and a variety of monsters including the vampire from the Professor’s past and Queen of Witches who wants Hellboy to leave his human friends and return to Hell.
The movie does have its scary parts and is well directed, but the script offers no surprises. Still BLOOD AND IRON offers something to get you in the mood for Halloween.
Horror is one of the more popular genres in Japanese anime. But a word of warning: most of Japanese anime should be considered for mature audiences. The two shows I picked have more violence and blood than the American audience is used to seeing in a cartoon. Both feature the first episode from a longer series, yet can be enjoyed without seeing the rest of the series. Those wanting more of CLAYMORE and HELLSING can find both series dubbed and subtitled on Hulu.
CLAYMORE. Nippon Television2007 / VAP / Avex Entertainment / Madhouse / FUNimation . Screenplay by Yasuko Kobayaski. Directed by Hiroyuki Tanuka. Voice Cast: Stephanie Young as Clare, Todd Haberkorn as Raki.
“Scene One: Great Sword”
A demon known as a Yoma is killing human villagers. A Yoma has the power to assume the shape of any human so the villagers are forced to ask for the help of a Claymore. Claymores are half-Yoma and half female human. Humans fear and hate the Claymores, but only a Claymore can identify a disguised Yoma, and only a Claymore is powerful enough to defeat a Yoma.
HELLSING. Fuji Television, 2001-02. Geneon / FUNimation- Pioneer L.D.C / Gonzo. Based on the comic by Kouta Hirano. Screenwriter: Chiaki J. Konaka. Directed by Yasunori Urata. Voice Cast: Crispin Freeman as Arucard, Victoria Harwood as Integra Hellsing, and K.T. Gray as Seras.
“Order:01 The Undead”
The British government is helpless against a growing threat of vampires. To keep the secret from the public, they hire the Hellsing Organization to take care of the blood sucking monsters. We are introduced to Arucard a powerful vampire forced to kill his own kind at the orders from his master Integra Hellsing.
Unfortunately the YouTube video cannot be embedded here because it has been rated TV-MA and “may contain content intended for mature audiences.” You will have to follow the link and log in to confirm you are old enough to watch it:
ROBERT BLOCH – The Night of the Ripper. Doubleday, hardcover, 1984. Tor, paperback, 1986.
It just wouldn’t be Halloween without something from Robert Bloch, and this Jack-the-Ripper mystery fits the bill quite nicely: no great shakes as a novel, but fast and readable as always from Bloch.
Mark Robinson, an American doctor studying in London, is the central character, but he shares the stage with Eva Sloane, a dilettante nurse and medical student, and Inspector Abberline, the plodding but canny man from Scotland Yard. Bloch does his usual smooth job of shifting from character to character to generate movement and suspense, and if none of them is terribly deep, they’re at last consistent and believable.
Bloch also does a sturdy job tracing the Ripper’s crimes with historical accuracy and ringing in all the usual suspects and bit-players, politicians, prostitutes and public figures. Which leads to my main carp with the thing: a surfeit of Guest Star walk-ons, as the characters share scenes with Oscar Wilde, Bernard Shaw, Conan Doyle and even the Elephant Man, none of whom contribute materially to the plot.
Ah yes, the plot. I spotted the character who would turn out to be the Ripper pretty quickly, but that’s because I know Bloch from endless reading since my teens. On an objective level he plays fair with the reader, but can’t avoid some of the conventions of the form — like the witness who offers to tell Robinson who the Ripper is if he’ll meet her in a few hours at….. And we all know who dies next, don’t we? And when Robinson and Eva agree to meet later so they can take their suspicions to Inspector Abberline, cliché dictates that something befall her in the meantime, now doesn’t it?
Somehow though, these bits of literary laziness don’t spoil this undeniably fast-moving and vivid tale. Bloch seemed to take pleasure in writing it, and he passes it on to the reader in a form perfect for the season.
JOHN BARNES – Orbital Resonance. Tor, hardcover, December 1991; paperback, October 1992.
A lot of different people have compared Barnes to Heinlein on the basis of this book, and for once the comparisons seem to have a modicum of validity. If you liked Heinlein’s “juveniles,” or any of his books before he went weird, you’re very likely to enjoy this.
It chronicles the life of a 12-year-old girl living in an asteroid colony thousands of miles from a devastated earth, if you want a bare-bones summary. You might call it a coming-of-age story, but that wouldn’t do justice to it. For one thing, it presents one of the more believable self-contained environments I’ve come across, both physically and sociologically as well.
For another, the lead character is both likeable and credible, an all too uncommon juxtaposition. It’s a well-paced story that will hold your interest, and excellent science fiction of a kind too seldom seen nowadays. Try it.
— Reprinted from Fireman, Fireman, Save My Books #5, January 1993.
THE MUMMY. Universal Pictures, 1932. Boris Karloff, Zita Johann, David Manners, Arthur Byron, Edward Van Sloan, Bramwell Fletcher, Noble Johnson. Director: Karl Freund.
It’d been a couple of years since I last saw The Mummy, but that was on DVD. Seeing the 1932 Universal film on the big screen, as I had the opportunity to do last weekend, was a particularly enjoyable experience.
The classic horror film begins with the famous Universal Pictures propeller airplane flying around the Earth (see below), before quickly transitioning into the opening credits set to the hauntingly familiar score taken from Tchiakovsky’s “Swan Lake.” First, the names Carl Laemmle and Boris Karloff, now so familiar to classic movie fans everywhere, appear on the screen. Then soon, the players are introduced and the movie’s narrative begins.
Directed by Karl Freund, The Mummy not only is a thoroughly enjoyable pre-Code thriller, but it also set the template for mummy and Egyptian supernatural themed movies yet to come. Boris Karloff portrays Imhotep, a resurrected mummy, now lurking about modern Cairo, all in the hopes of bringing his lost love, the princess Ankh-es-en-amon, back to life – or at least a living death! When he encounters the lovely half-British, half-Egyptian Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann), he realizes that she is the living reincarnation of his long lost love. What diabolical schemes will the cursed Imhotep come up with so he can reunite with his ancient love!
An altogether enjoyable film, The Mummy nevertheless progresses at a noticeably slow pace. Indeed, reaction shots interspersed through the film clearly indicate that the movie was produced at a transitional time for commercial cinema when silent films were giving way to talkies. Karloff and Johann, however, have some unique and expressive faces that long reaction shots and close ups only enhance the viewer’s immersion in the story.
Here’s the title track from The Poppy Family’s 1969 LP Which Way You Goin’ Billy?, their first album. Based in Vancouver, British Columbia, the band featured Susan Jacks on lead vocals and Terry Jacks on rhythm guitar.
ADAM HALL – Quiller. Jove, paperback; 1st US paperback printing, December 1985. First published in the UK as Northlight by W. H. Allen, hardcover, 1985 (shown).
After reading Michael Shonk’s recent review of the Quiller novel The Tango Briefing, along with the episode of the TV series based on it, I thought I’d give one of the books a try myself. I’m glad I did.
It’s only a guess, but I assume the name change made by the US paperback publisher was an attempt to get a bit more name recognition out there where a would-be buyer could see it. Even in the UK all of the titles after Northlight began with Quiller as the first word. I do not know why the first US publication of the book was in paperback. The Quiller Memorandum came out as movie in 1965, so interest in the series by hardcover publishers may have diminished greatly in the 20 year meantime.
Northlight, as you may be wondering, is the name of the mission that Quiller is given in the book. An American atomic sub has been attacked and destroyed by a trigger-happy Russian naval officer, acting on his own initiative. The problem is that a peace conference between the US and Russia is about to convene in Vienna. What Quiller is asked to do, with the British government acting as a middleman, is go underground behind the Iron Curtain and retrieve the double agent up above the Arctic Circle who has a tape recording detailing the incident in detail.
All is not what it seems, however, and not unexpectedly Quiller is often left on his own and unaware of all of the intrigue going on at levels far over his head. He has to be wary of everyone he meets, including a cell of operatives who seem to be an extremely interested third party in the operation.
This is a tough, suspenseful book from beginning to end, even at a length of over 350 pages. Quiller tells his own story, so it is hard to pinpoint who he is exactly, but he is basically world-weary and dedicated, suspicious of everybody and everything at every turn. tough-minded and resourceful, terse and not very good at James Bondian repartee. I assume so, at least, for he does not even try. There is very little humor in the story he tells, making George Segal, somewhat offbeat as an actor, seem to me to be an unusual choice to portray him in the movie, which I have net seen in over 50 years.
The book does not make for very relaxing reading, which is exactly as it should be, with cliffhangers at the end of almost every chapter. I had a good time with it.