Reviewed by DAN STUMPF:         

CALL OF THE SAVAGE. Universal, 1935. Serial: 12 episodes. Noah Beery Jr., Dorothy Short, H. L. Woods, Bryant Washburn, Walter Miller, Fred MacKaye. Based on the novel by Otis Adelbert Kline. Director: Louis Friedlander (aka Lew Landers).

   One of the other things I do every year is watch an old-time time movie serial. One year not too long ago it was Call of the Savage, a competent and quite enjoyable trifle from folks who knew how to properly do a trifle. The writers — whose names would mean nothing to you — were all seasoned serial hacks, who based the story around Otis Aldelbert Kline’s classic Jan of the Jungle, though how faithfully I cannot say.

   Call was directed by Lew Landers, a director who knew enough to keep this thing moving before anyone looked too closely at it. Landers serves up all the improbable thrills — lions, tigers, shipwreck, stampede and volcano — mismatched stock footage and laughable back-projection with a commendably straight face, even dragging in sets and props from Bride of Frankenstein for the obligatory Lost City with nary a giggle.

   And then there’s the thespians. Harry Woods, normally a baddie in Westerns, gets to play a mysterious good guy for a change, his type-cast history lending a certain ambiguity to the character, and Dorothy Short, who spent her life in B-movies, looks quite fetching in a leopard skin.

   But best of all is Noah Beery Jr. as the Jungle Man. That’s right. Noah Beery Jr, the loveable sidekick of a dozen westerns, James Garner’s dad in The Rockford Files. Yep, he plays a cut-rate Tarzan here, and he plays it as a likeable half-wit, not so much Noble Savage, but more like Old Mose in The Searchers. And somehow the incongruity just adds to the dopey charm of a movie I liked in spite of itself.

HENRY KITCHELL WEBSTER – Who Is the Next? Perennial Library, paperback reprint, 1981. First edition: Bobbs-Merrill, hardcover, 1931. Also: Garland, hardcover, 1976.

   For a book first published fifty years ago, Who Is the Next? is amazingly fresh and up-to-date. The subdued, unacknowledged love interest between a guardian and his much younger ward would not be played quite the same today, but Webster’s version of this scenario has an attraction that is both pleasing and frustrating, as it was meant to be then, and as it still is today.

   Nor would Camilla Lindstrom’s airplane be of the same model and vintage, but in the process of becoming a woman, there’s no better symbol of her budding independence, even today. Her childhood is in the process of disappearing, and as it does, her guardian, Prentiss Murray, realizes that he is falling in love with her.

   Well, of course it’s more than a love story. (Need you ask?) Camilla’s aged grandfather is murdered, and almost immediately afterward so is Miss Parsons, his newly acquired secretary and companion. Also soon on the scene is Camilla’s prodigal brother, and of course there are numerous mysterious strangers seen lurking around the estate.

   There is a good reliance on fate (on the part of the murderer), and some good detective work (on the part of the police). My only real complaint is that too much of the latter is done behind the scenes, and it comes out only in retrospect, at the end.

   But for mystery, vintage atmosphere, and romance, with one of the spunkiest heroines you’d ever want to meet, this book would be hard to beat. I read the last one hundred pages in twenty minutes. That’s three times my usual reading speed.

Rating:   A.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1981 (slightly revised).

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

KUNG FU ZOMBIE. Eternal Film Co., Hong Kong, 1981. Original title: Wu long tian shi zhao ji gui. Billy Chong, Lau Chan, Kang-Yeh Cheng, Kei Ying Cheung, Wei Hu. Screenplay and director: Yi-Jung Hua.

   Imagine you are in the process of filming a hybrid action-horror movie today. The powers that be would likely encourage you to utilize the most up-to-date CGI special effects, to procure the highest quality makeup available, and to score a memorable soundtrack. Maybe even a scene with some dark, brooding industrial dance music.

   Then imagine how exceptionally polished and sleek the final product might look.

   Because that’s definitely not what Kung Fu Zombie looks like. Not in the least.

   Directed by Yi-Jung Hua, Kung Fu Zombie stars Indonesian-born martial arts star Billy Chong as a man caught between his domineering father, a reincarnated zombie criminal, and a kung fu kicking vampire.

   It’s an absolutely silly, heaping mess of a movie, no question.

   But that’s what it’s intended to be. The martial arts movie relies on slapstick comedy, bawdy humor, and (intentionally?) comical special effects to achieve something that far too many overly produced, overly computerized action films fail to do: thrill and entertain, with a tongue firmly in cheek throughout the proceedings.

   I’ll confess that I have nostalgia for these types of films. You know, the ones where people fight for the sake of fighting. Where the symphony of martial arts mayhem plays on. Where villains announce their intention to kill the hero before the fighting begins.

   The general public, if they ever knew him much at all, has largely forgotten Billy Chong. That’s a shame, because with his boyish charm, impish handsome looks, and quick action moves, he’s the real deal. I watched this particular Billy Chong movie on DVD, but it’s probably even better on a grainy VHS rental tape, if you know what I mean.

by Marv Lachman

FRANCIS BEEDING – Death Walks in Eastrepps. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1931. [Insp. Wilkins]. Mystery League, US, hardcover, 1931. Reprinted several times, including Norton, US, hardcover, 1966; Dover, US, trade paperback, 1980.

   Francis Beeding’s Death Walks in Eastrepps comes well recommended. Vincent Starrett called it one of the ten best mysteries of all time when it came out, and he repeated this as late as 1965 when he did an outrageously bad introduction for a hardcover reprint in Norton’s ill-fated Seagull Library of Mystery and Suspense.

   I had better document my charge. Though he doesn’t actually disclose the killer, Starrett gives away almost every other surprise. This, mind you, is not in a critical work dissecting a classic but in the introduction to a new edition that readers are presumably ready to start.

   Starrett even commits a careless error, claiming that Beeding’s famous numbered series of Colonel Granby novels were published in order, e.g., The One Sane Man, The Two Undertakers, The Three Fishers, et al.

   Actually, the first book in the series was The Six Proud Walkers (1928). It was followed by The Five Flamboys (1929). The One Sane Man did not come along until 1934, by which time Beeding had already used five numbers in his titles.

   Just because Vincent Starrett had an off day is no reason to miss Death Walks in Eastrepps. The edition to buy and read is the brand new paperback by Dover. It has no introduction and needs none. The book speaks for itself, a throwback to a time when authors felt the need to provide mysteries that were long, inventive, and contained many surprises.

   A series of murders takes place in an East Norfolk resort town. The puzzle is a good one, though the identity of the killer is far from impossible to guess. Things move at a fast pace, and a bonus is the excellent description of the effect of these murders on a resort during its summer season.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1981 (slightly revised).

BARBARA & MAX ALLAN COLLINS – Bombshell. Five Star, hardcover, 2004; trade paperback, 2005.

   Did you ever hear the story of how Marilyn Monroe saved Nikita Khrushchev’s life while he was making his famous visit to the US in 1959? Me neither, so either (a) it was hushed up really, really well, or (b) could it be? – in this, their latest venture into historical mystery fiction, the Collinses are completely making it all up.

   As a matter of fact, it was in September of that year when I left home for college for the first time, and given that as an understandably overwhelming distraction, I simply did not remember, until reading this book, that Nikkie, as Marilyn fondly begins to call him, even went to California. His outburst of annoyance when he discovered that he was not going to be allowed to visit Disneyland, for example, must have made headlines at the time, but until I checked it out on the Internet, I wasn’t sure if it happened, or if it is only one of the totally misguided urban legends that spring up from time to time. It is not.

   It is Marilyn Monroe herself who is the detective in this book, beginning when she accidentally visits one of the men’s room at Fox Studios – don’t ask, read the book – and overhears two plotters discussing their upcoming assassination attempt on the Russian leader’s life.

   And of course she is the book’s star attraction all the way through, although the title may have another interpretation or two as well. The Collinses have done their homework – they always do – and that their leading character is Marilyn Monroe, full in equal measure of self-confidence and self-doubt, well, they certainly convinced me. I don’t think any male of a certain age can read this book without falling in love with her all over again.

— June 2004

THE DRUMS OF JEOPARDY. Tiffany Productions, 1931. Warner Oland, June Collyer, Lloyd Hughes, Clara Blandick, Hale Hamilton, Wallace MacDonald, George Fawcett, Florence Lake, Mischa Auer. Based on the novel by Harold MacGrath. Director: George B. Seitz.

   One of the oddest things about this film, a small gem in its own way, is the name of the villain played by Warner Oland: Dr. Boris Karlov. From what I gather from Wikipedia, and what the heck, I might as well quote:

    “The name ‘Boris Karlov’ was used from MacGrath’s book and for the 1922 Broadway play, but by 1923 with actor Boris Karloff using the similar sounding variation, the film version renamed the character, played by Wallace Beery, ‘Gregor Karlov.’ In the 1931 film version, however, with Warner Oland playing the character, the mad scientist’s name is restored to ‘Boris Karlov,’ less than a year before Frankenstein would make Boris Karloff a household word for generations.”

   The reason Dr. Karlov is the villain is because of his totally irrational and demented hatred of the men of the Petroff family, one of whom seduced his daughter, leading directly to her death by suicide. Not knowing which one, father and three sons, he vows vengeance on all of them, even to the extent of following them from Russia to the US in his determined quest for revenge.

   The drums, by the way, come into play in a strange fashion. In the dead girl’s hand was found a necklace with charms in the shape of drums, with legend having it that if anyone is given one of the drums, that person will die within 24 hours.

   It is a good premise for a story, and the cast goes all out with it, especially Warner Oland in an early pre-Charlie Chan role, and June Collyer as art student Kitty Conover and Clara Blandick as her aunt Abbie, whose Manhattan apartment two of the Petroff brothers have sought a safe haven in.

   Fleeing further, but not out of the reach of the crazed Dr. Karlov, the fugitives head for a secluded cottage and nearby boathouse filled with spooky rooms and staircases, dank cellars and dangerous trap doors. And of course, as I recall, it was dark and stormy night.

   Perhaps I should not tell you this, but the villain of piece certainly gets what’s coming to him, and more. The acting is somewhat of a drag at times, as was common in talking movies produced as early as this one, but the action is always fast and furious.

   One could only wish for a better print than the one from Alpha Video that I watched, in terms of both picture and sound quality, but who’s going to spend money in restoring an old forgotten movie such as this one, no matter how fun it is to watch?

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by George Kelley & Marcia Muller

DESMOND BAGLEY – Flyaway. Doubleday, hardcover, 1979. First published in the UK: Collins, hardcover, 1978. Detective Book Club, hardcover 3-in-1 edition [no date]. Fawcett, paperback, 1980. Also: HarperCollins, paperback, 2009, paired with Windfall, also by Bagley.

   Picking the best Desmond Bagley high-adventure novel is difficult because they are of uniformly high quality; most critics agree that in the past ten years, Bagley has surpassed the old masters such as Hammond Innes and Alistair MacLean with such expert novels as The Vivero Letter (1968), set in the remote Mexican jungle; The Snow Tiger (1974), a tale of an avalanche in the mountains of New Zealand’s South Island; and The Enemy (1978), which deals with computer technology. Bagley’s novels mix carefully researched background detail with a great deal of action and momentum, involving his reader thoroughly in his adventurous plots.

   Flyaway may be Bagley’s finest work, a slight cut above the others. When Paul Billson disappears into the Sahara Desert,aircraft-industry security chief Max Stafford departs London for Africa to track Billson down. Max learns that Billson, whose father was a legendary there some decades ago, intends to clear the Billson name; the public still believes Billson’s father deliberately vanished over the Sahara so his wife could collect a fortune in insurance benefits. Max catches up with Billson — after much difficulty — but then both men find themselves hunted by forces intent on protecting the secret of Billson Sr.’s disappearance.

   This novel is superior high adventure; Bagley’s attention to technical detail and his evocation of the desert milieu are impeccable. Bagley drew upon personal experience in the aircraft industry for this novel, which gives it added substance and credibility.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

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