If I’m reading Mr. Google correctly, and several sites are telling me the same thing, I’m at Stage Three of the cold I’m suffering through now. No details.

This is the first cold or similar illness that I’ve had in 20 years, and I can tell you, I don’t like it one bit. I’m doing everything all those websites say to do, but they also say that the best thing to do is to rest as much as possible and= let the cold take its course.

So, no more trying to fight my way through it. I’m going to take a few days off from the blog. (If you saw how many typos I’ve made in just typing up these three paragraphs you’d know exactly what I mean.) I’ll be back as soon as I can!

THE HOUSE ON GREENAPPLE ROAD. Made-for-TV movie. ABC-TV, 11 January 1970. Pilot film for the Dan August TV series. Christopher George (Lt. Dan August), Keenan Wynn, Janet Leigh, Julie Harris, Tim O’Connor, Walter Pidgeon, Barry Sullivan, [Peter] Mark Richman, William Windom. Based on the novel by Harold R. Daniels. A Quinn Martin Production. Director: Robert Day.

   I don’t know the background behind the making of this far better than average TV movie, whether it was considered a “pilot” film for a possible series from the very start, or or if after did well in the ratings, and only then, they (the people at the network) decided to see what they could do to take advantage of its success.

   Which I believe it was. For one thing, just look at that cast. Some standard TV stalwarts, to be sure, but some actors whose names were big enough to catch anyone’s attention. True, the production was TV level, not big budget movie level, but it wasn’t running in pinch-penny mode, either.

   Of course when it came time to cast the part of Dan August for the series, they chose Burt Reynolds. I have never seen any episodes of the series, but Reynolds’ usual cheeky if not cocky screen presence is to my mind quite the opposite of Christopher George’s calm and sedate portrayal of the role. (He reminded me at times of Jack Lord in that other series you may know about.)

   Lots of people will remember this one for its opening scene. A young blonde girl, maybe 10 or so, comes skipping home from school, calls out for her mother. No answer. She goes into the kitchen, sees broken dishes all over the floor, and a huge amount of blood smeared on the walls and the refrigerator. No one home, she realizes, and off she goes next door to stay with her aunt.

   Suspicion falls immediately on the woman’s husband, even though there is no body to be found. August’s leisurely investigation, in spite of hurry-up pleas from the mayor himself, turns up the fact that the lady was pretty much a tramp. Flashbacks show in detail the missing woman’s various affairs, giving August plenty of other suspects.

   There is a twist in the story, which is a good one — which includes the possibility that there is no twist, so I’m not giving anything away — and the acting is top notch all around. It’s pretty much a routine investigation, but it’s also one that builds in tension as it goes, and it’s told well.


REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


THE RED DANUBE. MGM, 1949. Walter Pidgeon, Ethel Barrymore, Peter Lawford, Angela Lansbury, Janet Leigh, Louis Calhern, Melville Cooper. Based on the novel Vespers in Vienna, by Bruce Marshall. Director: George Sidney.

   For a movie that’s ostensibly about the power of faith to brighten one’s life even in the darkest of times, there’s a surprisingly dark side to MGM’s The Red Danube. Adapted for the big screen from Scottish Catholic novelist Bruce Marshall’s Vespers in Vienna (1947), the movie is fundamentally a character study of one man’s struggle with, and journey toward, Christian faith. But in the midst of that journey there is collateral damage inflicted on another character, and it’s the film’s treatment of that tragic character that left a bitter taste in my mouth.

   Let me explain. Walter Pidgeon portrays a British Army Colonel by the name of Nicobar. Stationed in Rome at the close of the Second World War, Nicobar works closely with three other staff members. There’s the dashing and womanizing Major Twingo (Peter Lawford), the highly efficient, but insecure Junior Commander Audrey Quail (Angela Lansbury), and the goofy Private David Moonlight (Melville Cooper).

   They’re so close that they’ve developed their own rendition of the English nursery rhyme “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” a song they sing while in the car to Vienna where they are about to begin their next posting. Their task in that city is to liaison with the Soviet occupiers and help them repatriate Soviet citizens back to Russia. A problem arises when Twingo (Lawford) falls in love with Maria (Janet Leigh), a beautiful and mysterious Austrian ballet dancer. As it turns out, she’s not an Austrian at all. Rather, she’s a Volga German, a Soviet citizen of German descent who the Soviets want back.

   As the film is based on a Bruce Marshall work, it’s no surprise that Catholic themes would play a predominant role in the plot. Nicobar may be a good officer, but he’s not a good Christian. In fact, he’s bordering on atheism. It’s quite a shock to his system when he and his team are billeted in Vienna at a convent. Soon enough, he’s butting heads with the outspoken Mother Superior (Ethel Barrymore), whose anti-communism is never once in doubt. She hates the godless Reds and isn’t afraid of offending anyone, particularly those Soviet officers who want to repatriate Maria Buhlen back to the Soviet Union.

   The movie soon devolves from what might have become a Cold War thriller into a religious melodrama. Nicobar is forced to choose between his duty to the Army and his conscience. Should he forcibly repatriate Maria back to Russia against her will, or should he listen to his nascent Christian conscience and find a way to allow her to stay in Austria? Mother Superior, to no one’s great surprise, wants him to answer to a power higher than that of His Majesty’s Government; namely, Pope Pius XII.

   So what of the ugliness that I spoke of at the very beginning? (PLOT ALERT) Well, it’s in how the film ultimately treats Janet Leigh’s character. By far, she’s the most innocent and the least political. Furthermore, we have no idea what her religious beliefs – if any – are. When a bureaucratic nightmare lands her back in Vienna and almost in the hands of the Soviets, she attempts suicide by defenestration.

   Although she doesn’t die immediately, she ultimately succumbs to her wounds. Mother Superior seems more concerned than anything that Maria committed a mortal sin in her suicide attempt and only has moments to plead for forgiveness before passing away. Twingo decides that he will be able to go on living despite her death.

   And because the United Nations ultimately ends the forced repatriation of Soviet nationals, Nicobar’s faith is ultimately restored, pleasing Mother Superior to no end. As the movie ends, Nicobar and his crew are singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” as they begin their journey to their next assignment in England. Maria, I imagine, was not on their minds.

   Don’t get me wrong. There are some good moments in The Red Danube. The acting and cast are top notch. But there’s not much in George Sidney’s direction to distinguish the movie from so many other forgettable dramas from the period, and the plot is too overtly political for its own good. Other films dealing with Soviet tyranny such as Night People (1954) (reviewed here) stand the test of time far better than this dated feature.


Reviewed by MIKE TOONEY:


(Give Me That) OLD-TIME DETECTION. Issue #49. Autumn 2018. Editor: Arthur Vidro. 36 pages. On the cover: Jack Ritchie.

   As always, the latest edition of OLD-TIME DETECTION brings to mind fond memories of works of mystery and detection of yesteryear, stories and authors that don’t deserve to be forgotten. Case in point: the few hardboiled private eye novels by Howard Browne that have just seen republication in an omnibus after seventy years, HALO FOR HIRE: THE COMPLETE PAUL PINE MYSTERIES. In his review, Michael Dirda applauds Browne’s style, “quite consciously written in the wise-cracking, tough-guy mode of Chandler’s fiction and 1940s Humphrey Bogart films. Yet even with their faint tongue-in-cheek air (and an astonishing amount of cigarette smoking), they make for heavenly reading.”

   When it comes to obscure detective fiction, Charles Shibuk has turned up titles that you’ve probably never encountered: H. C. Branson’s LAST YEAR’S BLOOD, Moray Dalton’s THE LONGBRIDGE MURDERS, and J. F. Hutton’s TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, books published more or less at the same time as Howard Browne’s.

   Francis M. Nevins biobibliographically spotlights Jack Ritchie, creator of the unforgettable Detective Sergeant Henry Turnbuckle; Ritchie, says Nevins, “figured out how to have endless fun tweaking the noses of the hoary old whodunit cliches while staying squarely within the great tradition’s confines.” For that reason, Arthur Vidro nominates Ritchie as one of his all-time favorites.

   Then Edgar Wallace gets spotlighted by J. Randolph Cox, as he chronicles in detail the ups and downs in the British author’s life and literary career. “He was not a great writer,” writes Cox, “for all of his flashes of genius and inspiration. He never claimed to be, and he did not need to be.”

   The fiction piece in this issue is Charles Shibuk’s teleplay version of Cornell Woolrich’s 1941 short story, “The Fingernail.” Memorable line: “Robert, are you sure that was all rabbit?”

   Nevins returns with notes on three motion pictures derived from Woolrich’s stories: DEADLINE AT DAWN (1946), which wasn’t received with any great enthusiasm at the time; BLACK ANGEL (1946), which, even though “every frame of this magnificent film noir is permeated with the Woolrich spirit,” the author himself regarded as “a disaster”; and THE CHASE (1946), which, writes Nevins, “is the one most likely to provoke an argument among noir aficionados” of Cornell Woolrich’s movies.

   Dr. John Curran, foremost expert on all things Christie, reports on the good and bad things that have been going on in Christiedom, particularly stage, film, and TV plays as well as upcoming books. Regarding the recent John Malkovich-BBC production of THE A.B.C. MURDERS, he writes, “Once again, I fear, the signs are not good.”

   Then we have in-depth reviews of three books: Jack Ritchie’s collection, THE ADVENTURES OF HENRY TURNBUCKLE, about which Arthur Vidro says, “If you want to laugh aloud while enjoying true detection, read this book”; Ellery Queen, Jr.’s THE BROWN FOX MYSTERY, “far,” writes Trudi Harrov, “from his best entry”; and S. John Preskett’s satirical MURDERS AT TURBOT TOWERS, which, says Amnon Kabatchnik, “pokes outrageous fun at the holy cows of our beloved genre.”

   In “My First Great Detectives,” Jon L. Breen waxes nostalgic about his initial encounters with the world of mystery, crime, and detective fiction; the characters whose exploits he followed from an early age were, not surprisingly, on the radio, but it wasn’t long before he delved into the written word, including Paul French’s Lucky Starr science fiction mysteries. (A trip to Patagonia if you can supply the real name of “Paul French” without looking it up. Of course, you pay for the ticket.)

   Charles Shibuk’s 1970 list of crime and mystery authors whose classic books were enjoying paperback reprintings at the time reads like a WHO’s WHO of detective fiction: Marjorie Allingham, John Dickson Carr, Agatha Christie, Michael Collins, Dick Francis, Andrew Garve, Adam Hall, Ross Macdonald, Ngaio Marsh, Judson Philips (Hugh Pentecost), Maurice Procter, Ellery Queen, Joel Townsley Rogers, C. P. Snow, Rex Stout, Robert van Gulik, and Cornell Woolrich.

   Finally, in addition to a puzzle are the comments from the readers, one of which deals with a much-discussed topic: “What’s wrong with modern mysteries? How about the obvious fact that they contain every aberration known to man . . . and some of the writing is by devout enemies of the English language?”


*** OLD-TIME DETECTION is published three times a year: Spring, Summer, and Autumn. Sample copy: $6.00 in the U.S.; $10.00 anywhere else. For a subscription to Old-Time Detection, contact the editor at: Arthur Vidro, Old-Time Detection, 2 Ellery Street, Claremont, New Hampshire 03743 or oldtimedetection@netzero.net.

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:         


RIDE THE MAN DOWN. Republic Pictures, 1952. Brian Donlevy, Rod Cameron, Ella Raines, Forrest Tucker, Barbara Britton, Chill Wills, J. Carroll Naish, James Bell, Taylor Holmes, Jim Davis, Paul Fix, Roy Barcroft, Jack La Rue, Douglas Kennedy, Chris-pin Martin Screenplay by Mary McCall, Jr. based on the book by Luke Short (Doubleday Double D Western, hardcover, 1942; Bantam Books # 82, paperback, February 1947; first published as a Saturday Evening Post serial, April 4 through May 16 1942). Directed by Joseph Kane.

   Maybe it is because it is based on a novel by Luke Short (Frederick Glidden), but this fast moving tale of a range war has enough characters and plot for half a dozen films, and yet somehow never seems crowded or off balance, and that certainly has to do with an all star B cast and the sure hand of veteran Republic oater director Joe Kane at the helm.

   Shot in TruColor, this one boasts a literate script, tough almost hard-boiled characters (not surprising from Short who was one of the leading exponents of the hard-boiled Western and whose books inspired two of the better noir Western films — Blood On the Moon and Stations West), and solid motivation all around, and in this one it feels less like the old West than Capone era Chicago with horses and cowboy hats, as everyone in the countryside is out to steal from or kill the handful of good-guys. Odds against the hero of one of these have seldom been higher.

   This is one of several Rod Cameron and Forrest Tucker worked on at the studio with Cameron usually the hero and Tucker the heavy, though here he is only one of a formidable group surrounding the embattled Cameron and his handful of allies.

   The time is the early thaw of 1892 when Phil Evarts, owner of the Hatchet Ranch has just died, frozen to death in the harsh winter. Evarts was an unpopular man who carved his land out by sweat and bullets and few mourn his passing, particularly not Bide Marriner (Brian Donlevy), a fellow rancher, and neighbors Paul Fix, Roy Barcroft, Jack La Rue, and Douglas Kennedy, who all want the Hatchet grazing land, and Evart’s son-in-law-to-be Sam Danfelser (Forrest Tucker) who has other reasons to want Hatchet broken up. Even Sheriff Joe Kneen (J. Carroll Naish) is no mourner, and likely to be little help.

   Add to that Red Courteen (Jim Davis) as a renegade who sells whiskey and guns to the Indians and wants his piece of the pie, and there is a who’s who of Western bad guys gathered to destroy the Evarts legacy. Even the proprietor of the local general store Mr. Priest (Taylor Holmes) father of Lottie, the girl Hatchet foreman Will Bartlett (Rod Cameron) wants to marry (Barbara Britton), wants to get in on the deal. The Hatchet Ranch is surrounded by venal and violent vultures who want to feed on the body before its dead the characters almost as venal as a revisionist Western from a much later era.

   In fact, the only people who seem to care about Evarts and Hatchet are his weak brother John (James Bell), Phil’s strong daughter Celia (Ella Raines), and foreman Will Bartlett, and it quickly looks as if it will be the latter two against the whole territory as they fight to keep the Hatchet together against impossible odds and enemies inside and out.

   Sub-plots abound. Sam is jealous of Celia Evarts devotion to Bartlett; Lottie is jealous of Bartlett’s devotion to Celia; Sheriff Kneen is in Marriner’s pocket but the fit is increasingly binding; Ray Kavanaugh (Paul Fix) murders John Evarts and is witnessed by weak rancher Joe Kennedy (Jack La Rue) who flees the country pursued by Bartlett; Marriner wants Kavanaugh arrested and tried tying up the Hatchet in court and with it certain the locals who hate the Hatchet Ranch will set him free; Red Courteen (Jim Davis) hates the part Indian Bartlett who humiliated him; Lottie’s father Mr. Priest has bought interest in cattle owned by Courteen and now being held by the Hatchet because they were grazing on Hatchet land and he’s losing money; and, the only help Bartlett can hire is a couple of drifters top hand Ike Adams (Chill Wills) doesn’t trust.

   Meanwhile Sam tries to undermine Bartlett and force Celia to give into Marriner because he is unmanned by her wealth and power and resents her strength.

   That’s quite a bit of plot to work into just over ninety minutes and still get in a satisfying amount of action and gunplay, and granted Donlevy doesn’t really get as much film time as he might need to really make an impression as the bad guy, what with Tucker and Davis taking up so much of the bad air..

   And tough action there is, more brutal than you might expect from a Western of this era, but also room for the redemption of Sheriff Kneen and a shootout between him and Marriner; a couple of well done set pieces — a nice one of Bartlett trapped in the town run by Courteen having to shoot his way out against a small army of enemies — and enough bits here and there for the large cast to keep all the actors happy.

   It’s no lost classic, and frankly the print I saw was at best only serviceable, but it is a good example of what Republic could do with the Western, given a bit more to chew on than the usual oater script. The fact that the crowded plot never seems constrained by the running time and no one in the cast gets slighted shows capable hands at work. Just getting all those plot elements from the Short story into the screenplay without losing track of any of the characters or their arcs was no small achievement.

   It’s not exactly true that Republic never made a bad Western as they used to assert when I was a kid growing up, but they didn’t make many of them, and they hit the bulls-eye for more often than you might expect. This is a surprisingly meaty small A film with a Western fan’s dream cast, and more going for it than any fan has the right to expect. You got a lot for your dime or quarter in those days and no Western fan, kid or adult, was likely disappointed in this one.


   A friend of mine named Jim recently asked me the following question:

   “I’m interested in police procedurals taking place in New York City in the 1980s. Are there any you can tell me about?”

   I don’t read a lot of police procedurals and the only immediate suggestion I could come up with was Ed McBain’s series of 87th Precinct novels, assuming that Isola, his fictional setting for the books might just as well be New York City. (And did you know that Isola has its own Wikipedia page? It does: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isola_(fictional_city).)

   Jim said he’d look into them, but that maybe I could ask the fine people who read this blog if they had any other suggestions, so he could put together a good reading list. Any help would be appreciated!

J. M. T. MILLER – Weatherby: On a Dead Man’s Chest. Artie Weatherby #2. Ballantine, paperback original; 1st printing, October 1989.

   Billy Bones, a salty sea captain marooned by pirates, buried treasure! I don’t believe I’ve ever read a PI adventure quite like this — a modrn-day murder mystery combined with Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and I enjoyed just about every minute of it.

   The PI is named Artie Weatherby, and from the way he tells his own story, we know that he isn’t the swiftest thinker in the world, but when he gets caught up in the lust for treasure, the story is tells is well nigh irresistible. Lots of bodies. Lots of fun.

–Reprinted from Mystery*File #19, January 1990.


UPDATE. [01-11-19]   The first book in the series was Weatherby (1987), which I reviewed here just about two years ago. The third and final case that Weatherby was involved in was The Big Lie (1994), which I have not read, nor do I have a copy of. And for the record once again, the author’s full name is Janice Marie Tubbs Miller.

From left to right: Justin Moses, Jason Carter (vocalist), Sierra Hull, Rob McCoury, Ronnie McCoury, Del McCoury, Cody Kilby, Ethan Jodziewicz, Alan Bartram, Leigh Gibson, Dre Anders, Eric Gibson

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


  CANON CITY. Eagle-Lion Films, 1948. Scott Brady, Jeff Corey, Whit Bissell, Stanley Clements, Charles Russell, DeForest Kelley, Ralph Byrd, Mabel Paige, (Warden) Roy Best as himself. Narrator: Reed Hadley. Cinematography: John Alton. Screenwriter-Director: Crane Wilbur.

   Film noir aficionados looking for a movie that has previously escaped their attention should look no further than Canon City, a surprisingly effective crime film put out by Eagle-Lion Films. Written and directed by Crane Wilbur, who also penned both the story and script for He Walked By Night, also from 1948 and reviewed here, Canon City notably features stark black and white cinematography by John Alton, who is perhaps best known today for his ongoing collaborations with director Anthony Mann.

   Traversing genres, the semi-documentary film named after the Colorado city where the action takes place is simultaneously a work of social realism in the 1930s Warner Brothers mold, a prison break movie, and a home invasion thriller.

   Scott Brady, in his first leading role, portrays Jim Sherbondy, a doomed protagonist if there ever were one. As teenager who got mixed up with a bad crowd and whose subsequent criminal path led him to a lengthy sentence of incarceration for murdering a cop, Sherbondy is now doing his best to reform himself within the confines of the prison walls. But trouble seems to follow him wherever he goes. Other convicts planning a prison break exploit his good reputation with the guards and snooker him into becoming a key player in a prison break.

   Leading the pack of thieves and murderers is Carl Schwartzmiller. Jeff Corey takes this role and lends it an infectious energy. We know his character is a miscreant, yet in Corey’s more than capable hands, he fascinates us with his sardonic wit and fatalistic worldview as much as repels us. Look for the diabolically tense scene wherein Schwartzmiller takes an elderly couple hostage in their home. The camera follows the old woman, carrying both a hammer and an orange, as she slowly creeps up on the criminal ringleader, hoping to smash his skull. Schwartzmiller turns around and notices her presence, asking what she has with her. She offers him an orange. He gladly accepts and begins to peel it.

   A trifling scene perhaps. But one that only reinforces my belief that Corey remains one of the great character actors of that era.


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