COUNTERPLOT. United Artists, 1959. Forrest Tucker, Allison Hayes, Gerald Milton, Jackie Wayne, Richard Verney, Miguel Ángel Álvarez. Director: Kurt Neumann.

   Here is a rare movie from the 0s filmed on location in Puerto Rico, perhaps for budgetary reasons, but it’s where Brock Miller (Forrest Tucker) has found a haven, on the run from a framed up murder rap back in New York it. Assisting him in his abandoned house hideaway is Manuel (Jackie Wayne), a young street urchin who has taken a tremendous shine to him.

   So much so that when Connie Lane (Allison Hayes), a night club singer and Brock’s very close lady friend, come to the island in search for him, he does everything he can to keep them apart. Also in the picture is Bergmann (Gerald Milton), a shady lawyer who plays both sides of he street for as much money as he can get. Brock and the insurance agent on one side, the real killer (Richard Verney) on the other. The agent is convinced Brock is innocent, but neither of them have any proof.

   In spite of several viewers on IMDb who found this movie incredibly boring, I see what they’re saying, but I’d place it in the category of “a whole lot better than it had any right to be.” Forrest Tucker and Allison Hayes make a great pair; at 6’4″, he’s one actor who towers way above her, even at 5’8″ not counting the two inch heels she seems to always be wearing. She’s a statuesque brunette in the Jane Russell mode, if you’ve never come across her in a film before, and since she never made it out of B-movies such as this, perhaps you have not.

   Even better is the relationship between Brock and young Manuel. It’s mostly a one-sided but a very real one, with Brock always quick on the temper and annoyed at him – but only momentarily. While apparently often in Broadway shows, this was Jackie Wayne’s only film credit. Add in Gerald Milton’s fast-talking performance, channeling Sidney Greenstreet for all he’s worth, and you have a group of players who add up more “plus points” together than the story itself.

   

DUFFY’S TAVERN “Archie Gets Engaged.” CBS-East Coast/Syndicated. 31 August 1954 (Season 1, Episode 18.) [I am using Martin Gram’s log for this information.]  Ed Gardner (Archie), Pattee Chapman (Miss Duffy), Alan Reed (Finnegan), Jimmy Conlin. Recurring: Veda Ann Borg (Peaches La Tour). Guest Cast: Barbara Morrison. …

   “Hello, Duffy’s Tavern, where the elite meet to eat. Archie the manager speakin’. Duffy ain’t here — oh, hello, Duffy.”

   Duffy’s Tavern, very much a one-man operation, that of creator, director, writer, producer and star Ed Gardner, was a long running radio for many years (1941-51), a movie (Ed Gardner’s Duffy’s Tavern, 1945) before a one season run (26 episodes) in 1954 co-produced by Hal Roach, Jr.

   While the radio show was noted for its well-known guest stars every week, the radio show was a bare bones operation, with very little movement outside of the tavern itself. “Archie Gets Engaged” was in all likelihood not the official title of this particular episode, but it is what it is generallyl known by. It can be seen here.

   It begins with Archie thinking of matrimony, and in particular with a stripper he knows by the name of Peaches La Tour (the most delightfully voluptuous Veda Ann Borg). Being more interested in monetary matters than love, she most sensibly turns him down, since love is all he has to offer. Being so emphatically turned down in such a fashion, Archie decides to bite the bullet and proposes instead to the very rich (and not nearly as voluptuous) Mrs. Van Clyde (Barbara Morrison) instead.

   The complications that follow are amusing, but not laugh-out-loud funny, except for Alan Reed’s slapstick portrayal of the slow-witted Finngan, one of the tavern’s regular habitues. (Possibly not an acceptable character today, but allow me this indulgence. I grew up when a lot of comedy was built around the antics of The Three Stooges, Lou Costello, Red Skelton, Jerry Lewis, and so on.)

   Another aspect of the show was the use of well-mangled wordplay. In the opening conversation Archie has on the phone with Duffy, he asks the latter for his advice on “maritime” relations. Talking about the chances that Peaches will accept his proposal, he says he’s not sure she will accept him or not, “With a dame like that, things are on one minute, off the next.”

   The jokes and the reactions to them are reflected by a lot of exaggerated eye-rolling. Worse, from my point of view, is the fact that Ed Gardner, never the greatest of actors, was an aging 53 when the TV series was filmed, and it shows. The show was meant for radio. As a television series, it may be best to call it a relic of its era and leave it at that.
   

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:

   

RONALD TIERNEY – The Concrete Pillow. “Deets” Shanahan #4. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1995. Worldwide, paperback, 1997.

   Does anyone have any idea why St. Martin’s would price this one at $23? I didn’t know Tierney had that kind of cachet.

   Deets has a case he’s not sure he wants (do PI’s ever get one they love?) – a heroin addict thinks someone’s trying to kill him, and wants Deets to find out why. The young man is one of quadruplet brothers who were Indiana basketball phenoms, and one’s already dead (a “suicide”), and one’s crippled (an “accident”). The rest of the quite strange family is not happy with Deets’ involvement. Deets isn’t happy with his own family, because the son he hasn’t seen in 30 years is coming to visit and bringing Deets’ grandson along.

   I like this series very much. Shanahan by virtue of his age is a refreshing change from the “typical” PI (though that’s a dying breed now), and Tierney does one of the better jobs around o integrating his character’s personal life with the story. Tierney is also excellent in the creation of secondary characters, particularly Shanahan’s younger lover, Maureen, and in this story his one and grandson.

   The identity of the murderer was no great surprise, but neither was it unbelievable. Indianapolis isn’t overburdened with PI’s, but with Shanahan and Michael Lewin’s Albert Samson, it certainly boasts two of the more unique.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #19, May 1995.

      The Deets Shanahan series –

1. The Stone Veil (1990)
2. The Steel Web (1991)
3. The Iron Glove (1992)
4. The Concrete Pillow (1995)
5. Nickel-Plated Soul (2004)
6. Platinum Canary (2005)
7. Glass Chameleon (2006)
8. Asphalt Moon (2007)
9. Bloody Palms (2008)
10. Bullet Beach (2010)
11. Killing Frost (2015)

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:

   

THE BLACK WINDMILL. Universal, 1974. Michael Caine, Donald Pleasence, Delphine Seyrig, Clive Revill, John Vernon. Based on the novel Seven Days to a Killing by Clive Egleton. Director: Don Siegel.

   Several years after Don Siegel directed Clint Eastwood as a cop in Dirty Harry (1971), he directed Michael Caine as a spy in The Black Windmill. One became a classic, iconic; the other is barely remembered, if at all. There are numerous reasons for this, not least of which is that The Black Windmill simply isn’t that memorable a work. Unlike Caine’s other spy thrillers – The Ipcress File (1965) (reviewed here)  comes to mind – this one just doesn’t have nearly the same level of excitement or style. It’s not a total loss, as Roger Ebert more or less concludes, but it just doesn’t stay in your memory for very long once the proceedings are over.

   Caine, in a restrained performance, portrays a British spy whose son is kidnapped. It doesn’t take him long, however, to decide that he is going to do whatever it takes to get him back. But he doesn’t take the Liam Neeson guns blazing approach, so much as a methodical, cold, and calculating one. The decision to have Caine’s character act this way was either designed to remain faithful original source material or was a deliberate stylistic choice on the part of Siegel and the producers. Whatever the rationale, Ebert was right. It really doesn’t work, at least not in the way it was likely intended.

   There’s something limp, plodding about the whole affair. The film isn’t nearly conspiratorial or paranoid as it should have been. At the same time, however, the essential storyline is compelling just enough to keep watching. Once you are invested in the characters, it flows along well enough to a rather sudden, violent, and somewhat incomplete conclusion.

   Adding some much-needed energy to the film is the always enjoyable Donald Pleasance as an eccentric spymaster whose cold indifference to the kidnapping somehow seems utterly believable. The film also benefits from on location filming, including at the eponymous black windmill in West Sussex. Not horrible, but by no means great, The Black Windmill would likely be appreciated more by Siegel completists than by anyone else.

   

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

THE SPIDER. Fox Film Corp., 1931. Edmond Lowe, Lola Moran, El Brendel, John Arledge, George E. Stone, Earl Foxe. Screenplay Barry Conners, Phlip Klein, & Leon Gordon, Albert Lewis, based on a play by Fulton Oursler & Lowell Bretano. Directed by Kenneth MacKenna &William Cameron Menzies.

   Murder in the theater, with Edmond Lowe as Chatrand, the magician sleuth who has to use all his stage skills to clear the name of his young assistant Tommy (John Arledge) when a member of the audience is shot while Chatrand and Tommy are on stage doing their mentalist act.

   Despite being based on a play by Fulton Oursler (Anthony Abbott of the Thatcher Colt mysteries) there isn’t much mystery to this film whose chief interests are Lowe as the fast thinking magician sleuth and the sets and magic acts designed by co-director William Cameron Menzies.

   Menzies, who directed Lowe in the excellent Chandu the Magician (1932), along with a third magic film, Trick or Treat [reviewed by Walter Albert here ] pulls out all the stops for the magic acts and sets, which along with Lowe are the chief interests in this pedestrian mystery.

   The basis for the plot is that Chatrand’s assistant Tommy has amnesia, but hopes having returned to the last place he remembers a face in the audience will awaken his memory during the mentalist act he does with the magician.

   Meanwhile Beverly Lane (Moran) thinks Tommy may be her lost brother and is accompanied by her uncle, John Carrington (Earl Foxe) whose cruelty caused Tommy’s amnesia and has every reason to keep him from returning.

   Sure enough, a shot rings out during the performance just as Tommy spies his uncle, and Carrington is killed in the front row. The police arrive, close the theater, and plan to arrest Tommy, but Chatrand hopes to awaken Tommy’s memory enough to identify the real killer and plays fast and loose buying time so he can stage one last act with Beverly’s help.

   El Brendel is the thoroughly disposable comedy relief which I suggest you fast forward through. He was never funny (he fared somewhat better as a director), and here, teamed with a smart aleck child, it’s not hard to wish the bullet fired into the audience had claimed two other victims. Every scene with him is a complete waste of time.

   But as I said, the real stars here are the sets and the magic acts designed by Menzies. Those and Lowe’s fast thinking magician are the best thing about the film, but the visuals are worth the price of admission at a fast fifty nine minutes. It’s just a shame they couldn’t wrap a better plot around them.

   

CAROLYN G. HART – Something Wicked. Annie Laurence #3. Bantam, paperback original; 1st printing, June 1988.

   Someone is sabotaging the summer season! One of the reasons mysteries with theatrical settings are so successful is that when all of the suspects are actors, what better way for the true killer to hide himself (or herself) among them? The play in this case is Arsenic and Old Lace; the scene, Broward’s Rock, located on an island off the South Carolina shore.

   And Broward’s Rock is also the home of Death on Demand, Annie Laurence’s specialized mystery book shop, in case you missed the first two in the series. The puzzle is in theory a good one, but it’s seriously undermined by a ridiculous figure of a circuit solicitor, and impossibly stupid police procedure.

   To explain: The pigheaded Brice Posey despises the idle rich, and what better target to pin the murder on than Max Darling, Annie’s idle rich fiancé? While Max is detached, bemused, and ultimately rather tiresome, the frame is an obvious one to anyone with an ounce of brain matter, but Posey is having none of ot.

   As far as police procedure is concerned, Annie takes it upon herself to investigate the victim’s boat, finds all sorts of evidence about the plot he was hatching, “anonymously” tips off the police chief, who hasn’t been investigating the boat himself and can’t even then because Posey won’t issue a search warrant.

   It all works out, however, because in the meantime the killer makes an attempt to clear away the evidence, and any killer as sharp as this one is supposed to be would never have left the evidence lying around like this to be found in the first place.

–Reprinted from Mystery*File #13, June 1989 (mildly revised).

      The Death On Demand series –

1. Death on Demand (1987)
2. Design for Murder (1988)
3. Something Wicked (1988)
4. Honeymoon With Murder (1988)
5. A Little Class on Murder (1989)
6. Deadly Valentine (1990)
7. The Christie Caper (1991)
8. Southern Ghost (1992)
9. Mint Julep Murder (1995)
10. Yankee Doodle Dead (1998)
11. White Elephant Dead (1999)
12. Sugarplum Dead (2000)
13. April Fool Dead (2002)
14. Engaged to Die (2003)
15. Murder Walks the Plank (2004)
16. Death of the Party (2005)
17. Dead Days of Summer (2006)
18. Death Walked in (2008)
19. Dare to Die (2009)
20. Laughed ’til He Died (2010)
21. Dead by Midnight (2011)
22. Death Comes Silently (2012)
23. Dead, White, and Blue (2013)
24. Death at the Door (2014)
25. Don’t Go Home (2015)
26. Walking on My Grave (2017)

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:

   

THE NAKED DAWN. Universal Pictures, 1955. Arthur Kennedy, Betta St. John, Eugene Iglesias, Roy Engel, Charlita. Director: Edgar G. Ulmer.

   Arthur Kennedy as a Mexican bandit. If that doesn’t sound appealing to you, then The Naked Dawn probably isn’t for you. If you are amenable to that, you might find, much as I did, that this B-Western actually punches well above its weight.

   Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, who had a natural talent for transforming what would otherwise could have been forgettable dreck into highly stylized works, The Naked Dawn does not have the production values of more polished Westerns of the era. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have its own special charm.

   Kennedy actually puts in a convincing performance as Santiago, a solitary bandit who inadvertently ends up on the property of a young married couple. His presence there has an immediate effect on the beautiful wife who tells him that her marriage was really one of necessity, not love.

The young husband is also taken with Santiago, albeit for different reasons. He’s keen to know what it’s like to be an outlaw, to live with reckless abandon. Soon, a strange love triangle will emerge between these three characters. While the wife dreams of running away with Santiago, the husband plots his murder.

   For a Western, the film has precious little natural outdoor scenery and a lot of intimate dialogue that one associates more with melodramas. It’s a chamber piece, to be sure and the film could just easily have worked as a film noir set in 1950s Los Angeles. Clumsy and stilted at times, it nevertheless has its own internal logic. Overall, the film doesn’t always succeed in keeping your attention. But Arthur Kennedy’s Santiago is a quite memorable movie character. More than you might expect.

   

RUN FOR THE SUN. United Artists, 1956. Richard Widmark, Trevor Howard, Jane Greer, Peter van Eyck. Loosely based on the story “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell. Director: Roy Boulting.

   It was my choice to use the phrase “loosely based” on the Connell story, or I wasn’t paying enough attention, because, in all honesty, I didn’t realize there even was a connection until the movie was over and went online to read more abut it. Should I be embarrassed? You tell me.

   In any case, I had a good time with this one. I think it was the first time I’d seen Jane Greer in a color film, and to say she was stunning is the understatement of the year. Even on the run and wading through the swamps of inland Mexico she looks better in this movie than anywhere you go but the streets of Hollywood California where the wannabe young starlets hang out. If they still do, and even so, I think Jane has the advantage over almost all of them, and more. She could actually act.

   In my humble opinion, of course.

   This 90 minute movie comes in three acts of approximately equal length: Act I. a female reporter (Jane Greer) from Scene magazine “accidentally” meets a reclusive author (Richard Widmark) in Mexico on the hunt for a story. Why did he stop writing? Where has he been hiding? This of course leads to complications and a huge understanding. The two head for the coast, but as fate would have it…

   Act II. They crash land on the isolated estate owned by two men (Trevor Howard and Peter van Eyck) who have, shall we say, secrets. Putting their differences aside, the pair (Act III) try to escape. More easily said than done, and naturally this leads to the very suitable climax to the story.

   In this case, the viewing experience is not so much the story. It’s the players. This may sound strange to you, but to me, no matter his age, Richard Widmark always had a sort of boyish charm to him, and he has it in abundance as the writing-blocked expatriate author in Run for the Sun, Not only that, he and Jane Greer make a most compatible pair; they made me smile whenever they were on the screen together. A what better villain than stolid and solid (if not reptilian) Trevor Howard?

   My advice: see this one if you can. Assuming you haven’t already, of course, but then you’d be like me: ready at any time to see it again.

   

T. T. FLYNN “Bushwhackers Die Hard.” Novelette. First published in Dime Western, January 1933. Collected in Prodigal of Death: A Western Quintet (Five Star, hardcover, 2001).

   T. T. Flynn was one of the more prolific pulp writers, with hundreds of stories in both the detective and western pulp magazines. He tried but never really made the switch over to mass market paperbacks when the pulps began to die out, as some of his contemporary authors did.

   The two featured players in “Bushwhackers Die Hard” are a couple of rambling cowpokes named Lonesome Lang and Tarnation Tucker, who seem to delight in poking their noses into other people’s business, however, rather than poking cows. Even though team-ups such as this were quite commonplace in the western pulps, this appears to be their only recorded adventure together.

   Which begins by finding a dead man beside his buggy, which they had watched fly off the side of a mountaintop road, Investigating, they discover it wasn’t the fall hat killed him. He’d been shot and killed instead while maneuvering his way down the treacherous road. Their services the are offered to the man’s beautiful daughter, unwillingly on her part, as she believes they are on the rancher working against her father.

   Ah, misunderstandings. How could western stories such as this ever have been written without them? Flynn had a smooth and flowing writing style, which serves him in good stead in this average to middling pulp yarn, that and a good sense of what life was like in the west in a time when automobiles were just beginning to appear in such tales.

ROSS THOMAS – The Mordida Man. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1981. Berkley, paperback, 1983. Mysterious Press, paperback, 1994.

   A terrorist with connections with Libya is kidnapped. The Libyans think the CIA was responsible, and so they take the Presidet’s brother as a hostage. They lop off his ear and send it to the President, who calls in the Mordida Man.

   Who is Chubb Dunjee, an ex-congressman who who received his nickname in Mexico fo his ability to make a bribe count. He still has a reputation for setting events in motion.

   Complications ensue. Thomas provides some very oblique tangents to what otherwise wold be a very direct story, and he has it all formly under control until the final minutes, when suddenly the plot seems to fall apart beneath his feet.

   Don’t try to analyze Chubb’s final plan. It’s too elaborate to have been improvised on the spot, which is his specialty. It obviously wasn’t created on the spot, and yet there appears to have been no way he could have known what to expect ahead of time. Plots as intricately wound as this one need airtight support. This one doesn’t.

   There’s a lot to like in what comes before. Thomas is unarguably a witty and clever writer. Somehow, though, this time I seem to have left all my ardor in my other pants.

–Very slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 6, Nov/Dec 1981.

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