Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


AWAY ALL BOATS. Universal International, 1956. Jeff Chandler, George Nader, Lex Barker, Julie Adams, Keith Andes, Richard Boone, William Reynolds, Charles McGraw, Jock Mahoney, John McIntire, Frank Faylen, Clint Eastwood (uncredited). Based on the book by Kenneth M. Dodson. Director: Joseph Pevney.

   With a solid cast including Jeff Chandler, Lex Barker, Jock Mahoney, Richard Boone, and Charles McGraw, Away All Boats had the potential to be a much better film than it turned out to be, at least from the vantage point of 2015. It’s not so much that the acting is bad or that the movie lacks action. It’s just that it comes across as a bit too preachy, a bit too melodramatic and innocent, even for its time.

   Directed by Joseph Pevney, this Universal International project features Chandler as Jebediah S. Hawks, captain of the Belinda, an amphibious attack transport ship. Captain Hawks is determined to make the Belinda the best ship of its kind, even if it means alienating himself from his crew.

   Chandler is perfectly competent here, a solid presence through and through. Although it’s by no means one of his best war films, he does portray Hawks with nuance. He’s a character who, despite his somewhat aloof nature, really does want the best for his men under his command.

   Despite some unnerving scenes in which kamikaze pilots attack the crew’s ship, and scenes in which the crewmen go a bit stir crazy, the film feels as it were just a bit too eager to provide the American movie going public with a somewhat sanitized view of war. This is especially the case when compared with some of the significantly more gritty war films that were released in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

   In conclusion, while Away All Boats isn’t by any means a poorly constructed film, it just doesn’t have all that much to set it apart from the many other average studio war films from the same era.

DANCE HALL. 20th Century Fox, 1941. Carole Landis, Cesar Romero, William Henry, June Storey, J. Edward Bromberg, Charles Halton. Based on the novel The Giant Swing by W. R. Burnett (1932). Director: Irving Pichel.

   According to what I’ve been able to uncover so far, and you certainly may correct me if I’m wrong, The Giant Swing was a hard-boiled novel about a jazz musician try to make his way to the top. The page for the film on the AFI website says that “the studio purchased W. R. Burnett’s novel in 1932 and began preparing scripts for it from that time. Among the writers who over the years worked on the adaptation were: W. R. Burnett, Garrett Fort, Howard J. Green, Doris Anderson, Lester Cole, Winifred Willis, Kathryn Scola, Lamar Trotti, William A. Drake, Robert Yost, Sally Sandlin, Shepard Traube and Horace McCoy.”

   If my description of the book is correct, there were a lot of changes made in all that time and with all those hands working on it, I have a feeling that the end result may be a long way from its beginnings.

   There is a piano player in the movie, and he is trying to write his own music while his career is stuck while spending his nights in a 1940s dance hall. But his problems play only third or fourth fiddle (bad metaphor) to the love-hate romance between the womanizing manager of the club (Cesar Romero) and the beautiful new singer (Carole Landis), whom I believe does her own singing, and quite well, too.

   In spite of all their spats, Lily Brown sees something in the smooth-talking Duke McKay that I don’t see, but I imagine the ladies in the audience in 1941 may have felt the same way as she did, too. And at length, at just over 70 minutes of playing time, with each playing amusing tricks on the other, romance finds its way — and the piano player is on his way to New York with the song he has composed.

   I found this moderately entertaining, but not particularly funny. The concept of on-and-off romances like this is OK, but I found the aforementioned tricks they play on each other a little too mean-spirited for me, for lack of a better term. (She steals his car behind his back while he thinks he’s proposing to her, and through a ruse he locks up another would-be suitor in a closet while she waits for the fellow outside the club alone.)

   Carole Landis was only 22 when she made this film, and whatever charm the movie had for me, which was more than a little, most of it was because of her presence in it.

PAUL LEVINE – Lassiter. No publisher stated [CreateSpace], trade paperback, 2012. (Copyright 2011.)

   Even though this book is titled simply Lassiter, it is, in published order, the eighth book in Paul Levine’s “Jake Lassiter” series. Levine is also the author of the “Solomon vs. Lord” series, of which there are five,with a sixth, Bum Rap, a crossover between Lassiter and (Victoria) Lord, to be published in July.

   I read and reviewed Solomon vs. Lord, the first in the other series, back in December, but this is the first time around with Lassiter for me. Since it was my first, though, I don’t know, but at times I wondered if might also be the first in the series, according to Lassiter’s own timeline.

   An idle thought, no more. It stands by itself either way, no references to earlier cases, for example, but there is no reason why there couldn’t have been. Lassiter is a Miami-based lawyer, and a former Miami Dolphins football player, but pretty much a second- or third-stringer in either profession. The kind of kind of attorney, though, who defends his clients with plenty of vigor, whether or not the facts are on his side, bneding the rules when he can, and stretching them as as far as they’ll go when he can’t.

   His client in this one is a woman who’s come to Miami from Ohio, looking for her sister who from all appearances got caught up in the local pornography business when she hit the city eighteen years earlier. The sister thinks Jake may have been the last person to see her alive.

   The story that follows is a complicated one, and sorting it all out takes quite a while,with at least one big name in town connected to what happened way back then. Levine has a nice humorous way of looking at the world, but when it comes down to it, a guy like Lassiter is the one you want on your side, both as a bare-knuckles investigator as well as a tough-as-they-come litigator.

   As a result, the book is a very pleasant way to spend a few hours. I do wish, though, that the author didn’t seem to be so obsessed with the pornography industry. Plenty of adult-styled paraphernalia and inside-the-business jargon here, more than I was interested in. Otherwise more than OK, with a more than usual amount of rough justice having been done by the book’s end.

REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:         


HEART O’ THE HILLS. Pickford/First National, 1919. Mary Pickford, Jack Gilbert, Harold Goodwin. Director: Sidney A. Franklin. Shown at Cinefest 18, Liverpool NY, March 1998.

   This is based on a novel by John Fox, Jr. and like his The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (filmed several times, including Paramount, 1936), has a heroine who leaves the hills where she has grown up to live in town, where she goes to school and picks up city ways.

   This is not, however, as dark as Trail (our Mary is much perkier and more resilient than Sylvia Sidney in the sound film), and she eventually rejects the son of the rich man who has taken her into his family (a young John Gilbert) and goes back to the hills to marry her childhood sweetheart.

   Beautiful location filming by Charles Rosher. A friend and I parted ways on this, but I’m a sucker for back-country folk standing up to city slickers, and this pulled me in without any trouble. I think it has something to do with the summers I spent on my grandparents’ farm in rural Arkansas, and rural Arkansas was about as primitive as the area depicted in this slice of Americana.

   Mary plays herself at 13 (a real stretch) and 20ish (more believable), and she rides well and appears to handle a rifle like a young frontier sharpshooter.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


THE MONGOLS. France Cinéma Productions, Italy-France, 1961. Original title: I mongoli. Jack Palance, Anita Ekberg, Antonella Lualdi, Franco Silva, Gianni Garko, Roldano Lupi, Gabriella Pallotta, Gabriele Antonini. Directors: André De Toth, Leopoldo Savona, Riccardo Freda (the latter uncredited).

   They don’t make them like this anymore, or not at least without CGI. Call it what you will: costumer, sword-and-sandal, or an historical adventure pic. But know whatever you call it, know that The Mongols appears as if designed to resemble a big picture, epic in scope, with a cast of hundreds, if not thousands.

   Directed by Andre De Toth, The Mongols features Jack Palance as the warlike Ogatai, son of Genghis Khan, who is determined to conquer Poland. At his side is Swedish model-actress, Anita Ekberg, who portrays Hulina, a woman perfectly capable of matching him in deviousness and treachery.

   The story follows the Mongols, lead by Ogatai, as they attempt to conquer the Polish stronghold of Cracow. The Poles, wary of the approaching Mongols, send Stefan of Cracow (Franco Silva) to negotiate a peace arrangement with Genghis Khan. But Ogatai, lustful for blood and territory, isn’t about to let that happen.

   There’s a B-story in here too. Stefan of Cracow enters into a love-hate relationship with a Polish village girl, who ends up believing – falsely, it turns out – that Stefan murdered her would-be betrothed.

   But really, The Mongols isn’t a love story. It’s about wide shots of men on horseback ready to do battle and the final, epic showdown between the Mongols and the Poles. Palance is at his menacing best here, although truthfully, he really doesn’t do all that much in this picture.

   In many respects, Ekberg’s character has significantly more depth than his, and this makes her a more compelling screen presence. But at the end of the day, this film really isn’t about the characters as much as it is about the spectacle. And while it is no Spartacus, The Mongols is no cheapie, either. While it’s perfectly entertaining, it gives the viewer little to think about once it’s all over. And in this case that’s not necessarily such a bad thing.

Reviewed by DAN STUMPF:         


THE MAN WITH TWO FACES. Warner Brothers/First National Pictures, 1934. Edward G. Robinson, Mary Astor, Ricardo Cortez, Mae Clarke, Louis Calhern, Arthur Byron, John Eldredge, David Landau. Director: Archie Mayo.

    The Man with Two Faces is a classy Warners programmer from 1934, based on a clever play by George Kauffman and Alexander Woollcott, and directed, in his usual dazed-and-confused style, by Archie Mayo, who ruined or nearly ruined, a lot of otherwise memorable projects – Svengali and The Petrified Forest, to name a couple.

   The plot features Edward G. Robinson as a pleasantly hammy Broadway actor/director whose sister (Mary Astor) comes under the eerie spell of a palpable con man and Absolute Bounder, played by Louis Calhern. When Calhern threatens to ruin Astor’s life, Eddie decides to kill him and plans to get away with it by doing the deed disguised as a colorful and totally fictitious character based on his theatrical experience.

   As I say, Archie Mayo’s direction of this thing is nothing to write home to Mom about, but it’s more than saved by the Kauffman-Woollcott script and the appropiately over-the-top playing of its leads.

   Louis Calhern is particularly memorable as The Nasty, and the script gives him all sorts of interesting bits. I especially liked the way he carried two rats around in a little cage, for the thrill having them at his mercy and because he enjoys seeing the servants scramble to clean out their cage and bring them fresh cheese.

   There’s also a neat turn by David Landau as a deceptively lackadaisical homicide cop. In all, a film well worth the time.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Thomas Baird


  J. S. FLETCHER – The Middle Temple Murder. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 1922. First published in the UK: Ward Lock, hardcover, 1919. Reprinted many times including: Dover Press, softcover, 1980.

   Julian Symons, English author and critic, coined a good name for the multitude of middle-rank mystery writers who lacked literary skill and ingenuity — the Humdrums. J. S. Fletcher stood in the front rank of the prolific English phalanx of Humdrums. He wrote over a hundred books on a variety of subjects, and the majority were detective stories. These melodramas are extremely conventional, with the not-too-brilliant central puzzle dominating the story. They are a comfortable confirmation of decency and lawfulness for the moneyed middle class. Snobbery descends to racial prejudice (with several Chinese villains), and despicable, evil foreigners have dark complexions and comical accents.

   Not much scientific detection is involved, and the tenets of the Golden Age are not closely followed. There is too much reliance on coincidence, detectives missing details, failure to follow up clues, and mysterious figures who appear to wrap up the plot at the end.

   It is a trifling triumph to select one of Fletcher’s detective stories as his best. From The Amaranth Club (1926) to The Yorkshire Moorland Murder (1930), there is not much to choose from, except for The Middle Temple Murder.

   While the plot is fairly pedestrian, many of Fletcher’s defects are absent. It is one of his earliest works, and attracted the first real notice for Fletcher in the United States when it was championed by Woodrow Wilson. The story concerns Frank Spargo, subeditor of the Watchman, who happens to be present when a bludgeoned body is found in the Middle Temple.

   The hotshot reporter (he’s as bright as any latter-day Flash Casey) teams up with Ronald Breton, barrister, to follow the clues in this devious mystery. The victim is John Marbury, from Australia, who was struck down on his first night back in London after an absence of many years.

   This photo-procedural novel is a case of complicated theft, legacy, parentage, and includes a suspected empty coffin. A major motif (as in many Fletcher tales) is railway travel- checking timetables; confirming alibis; zipping around to discover clues; getaways and pursuits.

   Fletcher has been praised for his novels set in the English countryside, but the atmosphere in most of these is overwrought and the descriptions dull. Novels such as The Middle Temple Murder and The Charing Cross Mystery (1923) are vivid because most of the action takes place in the streets, byways, squares, stations, and buildings of London, and is reported in factual detail.

         ———
   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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