BERNIE GUNTHER, P.I. STILL COMING TO HBO
by Gilbert Colon

   At Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop in April to promote his twelfth Bernie Gunther private eye novel, Prussian Blue, author Philip Kerr was asked by an audience member about whether a Bernie series or movie was still in the works.

   “Like everything in film, it’s glacial,” he answered. The project (which would draw from the Berlin Noir trilogy) was at HBO in 2016 when Kerr was at the same venue while promoting his previous entry, The Other Side of Silence.

   Since then, HBO experienced a change in management, “and the new management was going to sweep it out with everything else that was old.” But to Kerr’s surprise, it turns out that it remains in “quite active development, whatever that means,” that concluding qualifier dripping with a cynicism worthy of Bernie himself.

   Maintaining a hopefulness from the jaded romantic side of Bernie, he adds, “It took Harry Bosch 20-25 years to get where he is.” Tom Hanks was connected with the Bernie project as executive producer at least as far back as 2012 when, per Kerr, “He came to my house in Wimbledon for dinner.”

   More recent industry news indicates that he likely is still involved. If that remains the case, perhaps Hanks, who directed the Raymond Chandler episode “I’ll Be Waiting” for Showtime’s superb but forgotten Fallen Angels series (1993-1995), should direct one episode. At last report, Peter Straughan, who scripted the 2011 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, was mentioned as screenwriter.

   Bernie Gunther, for those who do not know, is an ex-SD officer who worked for Reinhard Heydrich before becoming a private investigator. Kerr has taken Bernie through three decades, five continents, and a dozen novels to date. Prussian Blue sees him in both 1939 and 1956. As Kripo’s superlative homicide detective, Bernie is assigned by Martin Bormann to the murder case of a low-ranking bureaucrat at Obersalzberg, home to an elite Nazi community and Hitler’s mountaintop retreat.

   The clock is ticking before the Führer returns to celebrate his fiftieth birthday and discovers a shocking crime has been committed on the terrace of his own residence. The past explosively collides with the present when, seventeen years later on the French Riviera, the freelance Bernie is strong-armed by East German Stasi to poison a female agent in London with a vial of thallium.

   Questioned about casting Bernie for any adaptation, Kerr rattles off the same list of names he did last time, as reported in The Strand Magazine: Klaus Maria Brandauer (Mephisto), Arnold Schwarzenegger (“believe it or not”), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones), and Michael Fassbender (A Dangerous Method). (Fassbender, incidentally, will be playing another series character this year, Jo Nesbø’s Detective Harry Hole, in The Snowman.)

   New names surface during this appearance though. “Jon Voight wanted to be Bernie, and Woody Harrelson said so in magazines. For all I know they’ve cast [Bernie] already.” The author is always the last to know.

   “I won’t be doing any cameos,” he assures, “the way Lee Child does in the Jack Reacher movies. Except if they offer me a scene as a really nasty Gestapo officer. I could really bring something to that.” With a smart-alecky smirk, he wisecracks, “I really just want one of those leather coats, that is the bottom line.”

   While Kerr has a wicked sense of irony, he is never flippant about the grave historical aspects of his series. When the question is raised about comparisons between Bernie Gunther and Philip Marlowe, Kerr says, “Chandler [and his L.A.] had corrupt politicians and nightclub owners, but my novels have the crime of the century – the millennium – as a backdrop.

   “I don’t think I’m exploiting the subject matter. The books are an essay in understanding.”

GILBERT COLON has written for several print and online publications, including Filmfax, Cinema Retro, Crimespree, Crime Factory, and Strand Mystery Magazine. He is a contributor-at-large for both the St. Martin’s Press newsletter Tor.com and bare•bones e-zine. You may reach him at gcolon777@gmail.com.

RAY RING – Peregrine Dream. Henry Dyer #2. St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, 1990. No paperback edition.

   What Henry Dyer is, when it comes down to it, is your basic open range environmentalist PI. He lives in Tucson, formerly worked for the Arizona Department of Game and Fish, and this, his second adventure, centers around a pair of kidnapped falcons — and murder. (There is apparently a thriving black market in rare animals, especially those of an endangered species.)

   The story is not all that complicated, merely cluttered. Lots of characters, including Dyer’s former girl friend. She is about to get married to someone else, but she is still deeply involved in Dyer’s life. There are also some fairly ugly villains and lots of intense action. Solving the mystery sometimes comes in second best.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File #23,, July 1990. (slightly restructured and revised).


Bibliographic Notes:   The first Henry Dyer novel was Telluride Smile (1988). There was not to be another, but Ray Ring, a noted award-winning journalist, did write a very noirish third crime novel called Arizona Kiss (1991).

COMMENTS BY BARRY GARDNER:


WILLIAM F. NOLAN – The Black Mask Murders. Black Mask Boys #1. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1994. No softcover edition.

   There’s probably no one better suited to do a novel featuring Dashiel Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Erle Stanley Gardner as detectives than Nolan, a Hammett expert of the first order and [editor] of The Black Mask Boys (1985), a homage to the pulp. This, the first book in a projected series, is narrated by Hammett, and plans call for the narration to rotate among the three in future volumes.

   I’m not going into the plot any more than to tell you it involves gangsters and a maguffin, as I didn’t enjoy the book enough to finish it. Though obviously a labor of love on Nolan’s part, I couldn’t reward it with the same feeling.

   It isn’t badly done, I just don’t particularly care for the type, and using mystery writers for the characters didn’t change my feelings as I’d thought it might. Nolan’s a competent writer, and if you like Kaminsky’s Toby Peters books I think you’d like this too.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #14, May 1994.

             The Black Mask Boys series —

The Black Mask Murders (1994).
The Marble Orchard (1996).

Sharks Never Sleep (1998).

From Wikipedia: “[James Morrison] is a multi-instrumental Australian jazz musician. Widely known for his trumpet playing, he has also performed on soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones, clarinet, flugelhorn, bass trumpet, trombone, euphonium, tuba, double bass, guitar and piano.”

“Snappy Doo!” is the title track of his 1991 big band CD released by Atlantic Jazz.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


HOUSE OF WAX. Warner Brothers, 2005. Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray, Brian Van Holt, Paris Hilton, Jared Padalecki, Jon Abrahams, Robert Ri’chard, Dragitsa Debert. Director: Jaume Collet-Serra.

   For a movie that has more than its share of borderline amateurish acting, a plot with holes you could drive through, and characters that are essentially horror movie archetypes come to proverbial life, House of Wax is nevertheless a thoroughly entertaining, if absurd, thrill ride.

   Under Jaume Collet-Serra’s skillful direction, this occasionally graphically violent horror movie retains an atmospheric sense of impending doom, dread, and sheer creepiness. Top notch production design, along with the movie’s implicit inter-textual references to past horror films, makes it one of the more unusual horror movies I’ve seen in a while. That’s not to say it’s an excellent movie. It’s not. But it’s at least trying to do something different, and, in a world where so many contemporary horror films feel the same, House of Wax stands out from the pack.

   The plot. You’ve surely seen this before: a group of college students on a road trip find themselves stranded in a rural area. Soon enough, they realize that they’re trapped in a sparsely populated area and that there’s a serial killer hunting them. What you haven’t seen before are the two primary villains who are the movie’s antagonists. They’re not quite like anything I’ve seen in a horror movie apart from maybe Chuck Conner’s character in the 1977 cult classic Tourist Trap (reviewed here ).

   Two twin brothers, one of whom wears a wax mask covering his disfigured face, run a wax museum in an abandoned small town somewhere in the Deep South. It comes as no surprise that the wax figures are or, better yet, were once human. Somehow – it’s never explained – these maniacs have been able to hole up in a small town that law enforcement doesn’t even know exists. Make of that what you will.

   You also have the final girl trope – because of course. The attractive, feisty college student who defeats the monster here is Carly Jones (Elisha Cuthbert who many will recognize from her portrayal of Jack Bauer’s daughter on 24) who, along with her twin brother Nick (Chad Michael Murray), defeats the monsters. Their friends are not so lucky. But make no mistake about it. You want to root for Carly all the way. And she lives up to your hopes.

IT IS PURELY MY OPINION
Reviews by L. J. Roberts


NICK PETRIE – The Drifter. Peter Ash #1. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, hardcover,January 2016; paperback, March 2017.

First Sentence: He walked into Harder’s Grange, announced by a chrome-plated bell mounted to the doorjamb.

   Iraq and Afghanistan veteran Peter Ash suffers from PTSD and severe claustrophobia which manifests as a loud buzzing in his head. While helping out the widow of a fellow-Marine he finds a huge, mean dog under her porch, and a suitcase filled with cash and explosives. Investigating their source could kill him.

   From the very outset, there is no question that there’s going to be trouble— “It was dark and musty under the porch, the smell of wees and forgotten things, with an animal stick on top. Not a dog smell, but something wilder. Something feral. The smell of the monsters in the oldest of fairy tales, the ones where the monsters sometimes won.” And if that doesn’t catch one’s attention…

   There is a good twist right at the beginning. However, rather too much is made of Peter’s warewolf eyes, constant motion, and feeling of static at the back of his brain. Although one understands the author trying to convey symptoms of PTSD—“How fucked up was it that walking inside freaked Peter out, but the prospect of a fistfight or shoot-out calmed him down?”—a better editor was to be desired for several reasons.

   Petrie does have a very good, captivating voice. Within all the suspense and violence, there is also humor, particularly from the dog, Mingus— “He would have a nice bruise tomorrow. It was traditional to put a steak on it, but Mingus would just eat it, then lick him to death. A bag of frozen peas would be better. The dog was not a vegetarian.”

   The characters, and there are quite a lot of them, good and bad, do all come to life. They are interesting and complex. It is nice always refreshing that they also don’t all play to stereotype. A word of caution for those to whom it matters, there is also a lot of profanity. It’s realistic considering the characters, but perhaps not to everyone’s taste.

   The Drifter definitely keeps one reading, although the ending seemed abrupt. But it’s an exciting ride.

— For more of LJ’s reviews, check out her blog at : https://booksaremagic.blogspot.com/.


Bibliographic Notes:   The Drifter was nominated for for both the Edgar and the Barry award in the category of Best First Novel. The next two in the seroes are (or will be) Burning Bright (2017) and Light It Up (2018)

HOLLYWOOD OFF-BEAT
by Michael Shonk


HOLLWOOD OFF-BEAT. Syndicated, 1952; United Television Programs. Cast: Melvyn Douglas as Steve Randall. Executive Producer: Marion Parsonnet. Produced by Theodore Lewis.

   This series reminds me much of Cases of Eddie Drake as another example where DuMont gets credit when it deserves none. Eddie has been a personal crusade for me for awhile, and I have written about him here four times (here, here, here and here ) and finally at the website “Criminal Element.”

   Hollywood Off-Beat was always a syndicated series. United Television Programs (number two in TV syndication behind Ziv) had “already started a test run in some cities” before its “official opening” March 30, 1952 (Broadcasting 3/17/52). DuMont is credited with airing the series November 17, 1952 through January 30, 1953.

   Besides the episode that Steve just reviewed (“The Trial”) there is another episode available to watch on YouTube:

“The Unlucky Three.” Guest Cast: Berry Kroeger, John Griggs and Marion Brash. Original screenplay by Franz Spencer. Directed by M. Milton Schwarz. *** Did the famous actress kill herself or was she murdered?

   The script gives a nice peek at behind the scenes of Hollywood filmmaking, as well as a serviceable mystery. Fortunately Douglas doing narration in third person is limited to the opening, with the rest of the episode narration is the typical fourth wall breaking talk to the audience.

   The only place I found the series called Steve Randall was in one article in Broadcasting (12/8/52) reporting the series would air on DuMont as Steve Randall at Friday 8-8:30pm.

   The article in Broadcasting (3/17/52) named Rip Van Ronkle (Destination Moon) as writer and Marion Parsonnet (Gilda) as producer. It reported the series filmed its background shots in documentary style in Los Angeles and the rest of the series in Parsonnet Studios (according to screen credit Long Island NY).

   Both Broadcasting and Billboard always called Hollywood Offbeat a syndicated series. The ARP ratings printed in Billboard had it as a “Non-Network” TV Film Drama series. Hollywood Offbeat got honorable mention in poll for popular non-network film drama series (Billboard, 9/6/52). The press listed the series as Hollywood Offbeat but the on air screen title spelled it Hollywood Off-Beat.

   Now about the confusion over its time on CBS, the answer can be found in Billboard (9/13/52). The trade paper was reporting on the networks problems with “clearance” – number of local affiliates that would carry the network program.

   The makers of Serutan owned the CBS Saturday at 10:30 to 11 pm slot. The series CBS carried was Battle of the Ages that only 12 CBS stations aired. CBS could not find a series that Serutan wanted. Serutan decided it wanted Hollywood Offbeat. CBS TV Films, CBS syndicated side, negotiated with UTP for a temporary deal for the series to appear on the CBS network. The series had only 13 episodes and it gave CBS time to find another series that more affiliates would carry and would make advertiser Serutan happy.

   It is hard to actually know what a true DuMont series is as the network often used syndicated shows to fill its schedule. CBS TV Films’ Cases of Eddie Drake and UTP’s Hollywood Off-Beat are just two examples of series misremembered by history.

HOLLYWOOD OFFBEAT “The Trial.” Syndicated / Dumont Network / CBS. 11 September 1952 (WJZ). Dates: 30 January 1953 (Dumont). Not aired on CBS. Episode 13 of 13. Series also known as Steve Randall. Melvyn Douglas (as Steve Randall). Guest cast: Olive Deering, Neil Fitzgerald, Steve Gethers, Melville Ruick, Harry Sheppard, Ed Peck. Executive Producer:Marion Parsonnet. Produced by Theodore Lewis. Original story by Frederick Stephanie. Screenplay by James Cavanaugh. Directors: M. Milton Schwarz & Frederick Stephanie.

   All of the information above came from the Classic TV Archive website. The credits themselves I am sure are correct. The complicated history of when the series was on, where, and under what name is perhaps more iffy.

   That this is the final show of the very short-lived series is definite. The premise is that Steve Randall (Melvyn Douglas) is a disbarred lawyer is is now working as a Hollywood PI, but in this episode he is promised by the D.A.’s office that he will be reinstated if he helps persuade a balky female witness to testify in an upcoming murder trial.

   Which indeed he does. The story is somewhat confusing at the beginning, with each of the several characters and the basic story line needing to be introduced all at once, in only a few minutes time. Compounding this are the flashbacks in time used to set the stage for the trial that takes up most of the less than 30 minutes running time.

   Although the names of the cast members were totally unknown to me (other than Melvyn Douglas, of course), I thought the acting was much better than most of similar relics of early low budget TV. The gimmick that cracks the trial wide open is one of the oldest in the books, but all in all, I’d watch another in this series, if there was one that’s available to watch.

   You can see this one at www.archives.org.

HURRICANE SMITH. Paramount Pictures, 1952. Yvonne De Carlo, John Ireland, James Craig, Forrest Tucker, Lyle Bettger, Richard Arlen. Screenplay by Frank Gruber, based on the novel Hurricane Williams by Gordon Ray Young (1922).

   Yvonne De Carlo was a special kind of beauty, the kind that turns men’s minds to mush. (If not lust.) She is the only woman in this movie, and when she wears a low-cut of-the-shoulder blouse, there is very little mystery as to what keeps it up.

   And watching her stay inside her clothes provides for about 95% of the suspense involved. This sailing adventure of the South Seas is filled with slavers, sharks, mutineers, and a fortune in buried gold, but of actual story, there is very little.


— Reprinted from Mystery*File #24, August 1990. (very slightly revised).


Editorial Update:   Of the book this movie is said to be based on, I have not been able to find an actual copy for sale, only several Print on Demand versions. Hurricane Williams appeared in several short stories and serialized novels in the pulp magazine Adventure between 1918 and 1931, but none with this specific title.

JEOPARDY. MGM, 1953. Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan, Ralph Meeker, Lee Aaker. Director: John Sturges.

   Four years before they were cast as rivals in Samuel Fuller’s Forty Guns (1957) (reviewed here ), Barry Sullivan and Barbara Stanwyck portrayed a married couple whose dream vacation turned into a living nightmare. Directed by John Sturges, Jeopardy features Sullivan and Stanwyck as Doug and Helen Stilwin who, along with their son Bobby, are headed to a remote area of Baja California for a vacation. Along the way from California to their Mexican destination, they are stopped, for reasons not clearly indicated, by the Mexican police.

   For persons well immersed in the world of crime films and films noir, however, it’s fairly obvious that the police must be looking for someone. And sure, enough, that person happens to be a wily scoundrel by the name of Lawson (Ralph Meeker). An escaped convict on the lam in Mexico, Lawson’s a thoroughly charming villain. He’s a sociopath, to be sure. But he’s also got a soft side, one that Helen Stilwin is more than willing to exploit so as to save her family.

   As the title indicates, the main theme of the film is about persons in imminent peril. Helen finds herself a captive, while her husband Doug finds himself imperiled by the rising tide after a beam falls on him, trapping him on the beach, all the while wondering where his wife might be. If the plot seems somewhat artificially constructed and forced, well that’s because it is. But for a programmer that clocks in at less than 70 minutes, it works well enough to make this a rather spunky, if not overly memorable, entry in the film noir genre.

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