MOTIVE FOR REVENGE. Majestic Pictures, 1935. Donald Cook, Irene Hervey, Doris Lloyd, Edwin Maxwell, William Le Strange Millman, Russell Simpson, John Kelly, Edwin Argus. Director: Burt P. Lynwood.

   Just because some moves have managed to survive to the present day does not mean that they are gems of any sort, semi-polished or completely in the rough. Take Motive for Revenge, for example. It is a movie that tries, but that fact is, it does not have any idea what kind of movie it is trying to be.

   First it is a comic noir film, with a henpecking mother-in-law hectoring her wife’s husband (Donald Cook) to commit a crime; then he’s caught, and it’s a prison film, complete with extended scenes of convicts marching in formation in and out of their cells.

   Then it’s a crime film, with Cook out of jail and looking for his wife (Irene Hervey) and her new husband (she didn’t wait for him, as she promised); then a murder mystery, when the new husband being shot, and neither Cook nor Hervey sure whether the other did it or not; then a chase film, as the cops (including two of the dumbest clucks to be promoted off the beat) try to nab the two of them, first on board a yacht then in a couple of speedboats racing along the shore. All in a running time of some 60 minutes.

   It’s really not very good at any of these. While Cook stands around brooding a lot, the mostly charming Irene Hervey largely steals the show, but it would have helped if her character showed at least one ray of intelligence. Some of the rest of the characters are vaguely familiar, but that’s who they were, I’m sure, character actors all of their careers.

I returned home from L. A. last Wednesday, called and got an appointment at UConn Health this past Monday. They looked at Xrays of my hip and made an official diagnosis of arthritis (my chiropractor had already suggested this) and scheduled me for a cortisone shot in my hip this morning.

I was there for two hours but the procedure itself took less than five minutes. All is well, except that as whatever they used to numb the area is starting to wear off, and my leg is starting to ache, as they said it would. Back to normal activity tomorrow, but I have to keep monitoring how I’m doing and record the results in a diary until my followup visit with the doctor.

Having the injection is a stop-gap procedure often used to delay having a hip replacement done. I agreed that I’d want to postpone that for a while! Having this done means in fact that I can’t have a replacement done for three months, which is fine with me.

So I’m OK, and more than willing to take a day off just to rest. Back to my regular schedule tomorrow!

ROSS MACDONALD – Black Money. Lew Archer #14. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 1966. Reprinted many times, including: Bantam F3320, paperback, 1967. Warner, paperback, August 1990. Contained in Ross Macdonald: Four Late Novels (The Library of America, hardcover, 2017).

   It’s good to see Lew Archer back in print [as of 1990]. There were quite a few of his books that I never read when they first came out, although I think I have them all, mostly in book club editions. Given the opportunity to catch up on them now [that Warner has begun reprinting them], I realize I’d forgotten how little of Archer himself gets into these books, with no real information on his life at all, or even his personal thoughts.

   He’s hired here to investigate the new man in Ginny Fallon’s life, with his client the rich young man who always thought he’d marry her, but who now sees her being stolen away by a phony Frenchman (he thinks) with the savoir faire he never had, and never will. Ginny’s father was a suicide victim seven years before, and of course it’s connected.

   The other thing I’d also forgotten is Macdonald’s overwhelming reliance on similes, metaphors and other literary comparisons to describe almost everything. It’s not done here to the point of self-parody yet, but it seems awfully close at times. As for the mystery itself, it is (as always) chilling, deep and complex. Macdonald does not rely on coincidence as a plot device, and the roots of the crimes in this book are (as always) twisted and embedded far back into the past.

FOOTNOTE:   Some of Macdonald’s similes work really well, some don’t. One that didn’t, at least for me, comes from page 8: “The white and purple flowers on the brush gave out a smell like the slow breath of sunlight.” It sounds great, but what does it mean? On the other hand, here’s a quote from page 178 which might serve as Archer’s family motto: “Never sleep with anyone whose troubles are worse than your own.” (This one I like.)

— Reprinted from Mystery*File #23,, July 1990.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


  OLD DRACULA. American International Pictures, US, 1975. Originally released in the UK by Columbia-Warner Distributors, 1975, as Vampira. David Niven (Count Dracula), Teresa Graves (Countess Vampira), Peter Bayliss, Jennie Linden, Nicky Henson, Linda Hayden. Director: Clive Donner.

   The esteemed English actor David Niven, whose film career spanned over four decades, starred in many notable films including The Moon is Blue (1953), Carrington V.C. (1955), My Man Godfrey (1957), and Separate Tables (1958), for which he won an Academy Award for Best Actor. In the latter stage of his career, Niven was perhaps best known for his appearance in two of the Pink Panther films.

   Then there’s Clive Donner’s oddball horror-comedy Vampira, aka Old Dracula, a spoof of vampire films mixed with a swinging sixties sensibility and a hint of Blaxploitation.

   While it’s not an overly memorable production, the movie benefits greatly from Niven’s fang-in-cheek portrayal of an aging Count Dracula. Ensconced in his Transylvanian castle, Dracula (Niven) is relegated to having his dimwitted assistant (Peter Bayliss) operate his home as a campy tourist attraction.

   When a bevvy of Playboy Playmates show up for a night at Dracula’s castle, Dracula sees it an opportunity to steal some blood from the young girls. Not that he wants to drink it. No. He wants some youthful blood that he can transfer into the body of his beloved dead wife, Vampira so that he can bring her back to undead life.

   Problem is, he mixes the blood of the different bunnies and well … one of them is Black. Lo and behold, he is able to resurrect Vampira. But she comes back as a Black woman (Teresa Graves). There’s some truly funny racial humor here, such as when Vampira ends up going to see a screening of a Jim Brown movie in London, or when Dracula says he’s afraid to go out at night with her (what would society think). What doesn’t work is a scene in which Niven appears in blackface.

   Movie fans might appreciate two other aspects to the film. Titled as Vampira in the United Kingdom, it was released by American International in the United States as Old Dracula to capitalize on the success of Mel Brooks’ much better film, Young Frankenstein (1974). That it didn’t have nearly the same cultural impact tells you that a title can only do so much.

   Also of note, some viewers will undoubtedly love the fact that Nicky Henson, whose starring role in Don Sharp’s Psychomania (1973), a exploitation movie about a gang of Satanic bikers made him an icon of cult horror film fans everywhere, has a pivotal role in Old Dracula. Which leads me to my final thought. Which is that in many ways, the actors in this production are much better than the script.

MARCIA MULLER “The Holes in the System.” Rae Kelleher #2. First appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, June 1996. Reprinted in Detective Duos, edited by Marcia Muller & Bill Pronzini (Oxford University Press, 1997). Collected in McCone and Friends (Crippen & Landru, softcover, 2000).

   From what I have been able to determine, this is the second story in which Rae Kelleher, Sharon McCone’s assistant at the All Souls Legal Cooperative, gets the top billing. I do not believe that there was a third one, but as I’ve only discovered an earlier one after this review was first posted, I could very easily be wrong again. (See comment #3.) No matter. I just finished reading this one, and it’s a good one.

   Rae is asked to look into a case brought to them by the Texas-born owner of a pawn shop in San Francisco by the name of the Cash Cow. It seems that he has recently hired a young deaf and mute boy he found on his doorstep, and he would like to find the boy’s mother, who has disappeared.

   Even though Rae tells the story, fans of Sharon McCone should know that not only does she shows up to help crack the case, but this time around we get to see her through the eyes of someone else, one who considers her a mentor as well as a boss, and a friend.

   What we also get is a mystery story in which some detective work is actually done, has its amusing moments, and as a bonus, is a story in which the mean streets that Raymond Chandler talked about come into play as well. Quite an accomplishment for a tale only 22 pages long!

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Newell Dunlap & Bill Pronzini


W. J. BURLEY – Wycliffe and the Scapegoat. Supt. Charles Wycliffe #8. Doubleday Crime Club, US, 1979. Avon, US, paperback, 1987. First published in the UK by Victor Gollancz, hardcover, 1978. Mills & Boon, UK, paperback, Keyhole Crime series, 1981. Corgi, UK, paperback, TV tie-in, 1997. Adapted as the episode “The Scapegoat” for the TV series Wycliffe, 7 August 1994 (Season 1, Episode 3).

   This story takes place in a clannish seaside English town that observes a rather strange All Hallows’ Eve ritual. On a wheel of fire, nine feet in diameter, is burned a life-size effigy –a scapegoat, as it were — and as it burns, the wheel is allowed to roll over a cliff and into the ocean.

   Thus is evil symbolically cast out for another year. The so-called Fire Festival dates back to Celtic times, but this year’s celebration may have been a little different. It develops that the murdered corpse of the town’s undertaker was used instead of an effigy. Certainly the undertaker, one Jonathan Riddle, was not a popular man, and the town is full of people who would have liked to see the end of him (including the members of his own family).

   Enter Detective Chief Superintendent Wycliffe, who, with his wife, is spending a long weekend near the town. He becomes interested in the case and undertakes his own investigation — a rather routine one, after the colorful dramatics of the Fire Festival. This is a bit of a letdown, although the characters are well drawn enough and the situation interesting enough to hold our interest.

   Writing in Twentieth Century Crime & Mystery Writers, Carol Cleveland says that Wycliffe is “an unconventional policeman who hates routine and authority, and proceeds about his murder investigations by the gestalt method. He immerses himself in the victim’s history and circle of acquaintances until he feels his way to a conclusion.”

   This is the pattern here, and while the method works well enough, Burley’s prose is so lacking in flair that it makes the book plodding in tone. The solution, though satisfactory, is not particularly memorable.

   Wycliffe appears in a number of other novels, among them Three-Toed Pussy (1961), To Kill a Cat (1970), Death in Stanley Street (1974), and Wycliffe in Paul’s Court (1980). Burley has also written two novels featuring Henry Pym, a zoology professor and amateur criminologist; these are A Taste of Power (1966) and Death in Willow Pattern (1970).

         ———
   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.

[UPDATE.] There were in all twenty Wycliffe novels, the last being Wycliffe and the House of Fear (1995). There were no further adventures of Henry Pym. There were a total of 38 episodes of the ITV television series Wycliffe, including the pilot and a Christmas special, spread out over five seasons. Only the pilot and the six shows of the first season were based on Burley novels. According to Wikipedia, “Wycliffe is played by Jack Shepherd, assisted by DI Doug Kersey (Jimmy Yuill) and DI Lucy Lane (Helen Masters).”

JUANITA COULSON – Crisis on Cheiron. Ace Double H-27, paperback original; 1st printing, 1967. Cover art: Jerome Podwil. Published back-to-back with The Winds of Gath, by E. C. Tubb.

   You may have to forgive me a little on this review, as I have some nostalgic bias toward it, as the author was, with her husband Buck, the co-publisher of a long-running science fiction fanzine called Yandro (1953-1986) that was not only very nearly my introduction to SF fandom, but also showed me what publishing a zine on one’s own was all about.

   Crisis on Cheiron was Juanita Coulson’s first novel, and while it’s not an award winner by any means, it’s a solid workmanlike effort that I read with pleasure.

   It’s the kind of puzzle story that drew me to SF in the first place. Carl Race is a troubleshooting ecologist who’s been sent to the planet Cheiron to find out why all the plant life there is beginning to die. If the problem is not solved soon, all life on the world, including the race of intelligent centaur-type natives, may be doomed.

   The solution, as it turns out, is an easy one. The bigger problem then becomes, who or what enemy agent is responsible? This is when the story becomes more or less routine, as Carl teams up with a feisty young Terran schoolteacher (female) and one of her bright native pupils to catch the wrongdoers in the act.

   There’s no more depth to the story than I’ve outlined here, but it’s well-written, with just enough drive to keep most readers of SF of the traditional (and now perhaps old-fashioned) sort involved in the tale until the end, including me.

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


DEVILS OF DARKNESS. Planet Films, UK, 1965. 20th Century Fox, US, 1965. William Sylvester, Hubert Noel, Carole Gray, Tracy Reed, Diana Decker, Peter Iling, Eddie Byrne, Geoffrey Kenson, Rod McLennon. Screenplay: Lyn Fairhurst. Director: Lance Comfort.

   Devils of Darkness is a much better suspense film than horror film, a function of the supernatural thriller, which is what I would label this rather than horror. There is very little suspense in most horror, because we know the gruesome ending. Even if the heroes win, it will be short term and at too high a price. Supernatural thrillers, a form practiced by Dennis Wheatley, Sax Rohmer and Russell Kirk, tend to take a more optimistic view of the clash with evil.

   Paul Baxter (William Sylvester) is a writer on holiday whose car breaks down near a small hotel in an isolated village in Brittany. We already know something is up thanks to a prequel in which in the 16th century a vampire (Hubert Noel) escapes from his tomb and claims a Gypsy bride, Tania (Carole Gray), on her wedding day.

   We also know it because the owner of the hotel and the local police inspector are none too happy to see Baxter there. Sinister whispering in the bushes and concerned looks abound.

   Baxter befriends two women, one of whom, Madeline (Diane Decker) an antiques buyer and expert on the place, is leaving, but suggests Baxter and the other girl stay for the ritual the locals put on every year; a sort of local Day of the Dead. Since the girl’s brother has gone spelunking with a friend, they attend, only to have a Gypsy woman warn them the girl is marked for “the Black Death.”

   At the ceremony, they discover the girl’s brother and companion died in a rock fall (we know better), and meet the mysterious Armand de Bouvier (the vampire from earlier) and his wife — Tania.

   In short order Baxter runs afoul of the obtuse local policeman, and the sister disappears. When she shows up drowned, it seems a tragedy followed by suicide, but Baxter isn’t buying that. For one thing, he saw bite marks on the brother’s body, and for another the sister was too determined to find out how her brother died to commit suicide.

   Before he goes home Baxter finds and takes a talisman, a snake entwined with a bat, with him little knowing it is the key to the satanic cult practicing in the village and priceless to de Bouvier, who is really the immortal Satanist Count Sinistre.

   Back in London Baxter arranges for the three bodies to be brought back to England as he explains to Madeline, who can’t believe him, about the strange marks and why he wants an English autopsy. But when the bodies are stolen, and a scientist he enlisted to help, Professor Kelsey (Eddie Byrne), dies suddenly and unexpectedly, Baxter turns detective.

   Meanwhile even a sleuth needs downtime, and at a swinging party in Chelsea Baxter meets Madeline’s latest discovery, the beautiful Karen (Tracy Reed). He falls instantly, but so does Count Sinistre, who plans to use Karen to get the talisman back from Baxter before he kills them both.

   But our Satanic leader is only human, however inhuman, and is falling for Karen, something all too obvious to Tania, who sees she is about the be replaced as her master’s concubine. It all wraps up rather neatly, and pleasingly enough that you shouldn’t ask too many inconvenient questions (like the police buying all this in the first place).

   Devils of Darkness is no Hammer film. The heaving bosoms are kept to a minimum with only a bit here and there, the atmosphere is done on the cheap with the bats no better than those in the 1931 version of Dracula, the lighting is too good, and there is little imaginative use of shadow. While Noel is handsome and hypnotic, he is far too slight a man and an actor to suggest the old-World Mesmerism of Lugosi or the lustful vitality of Lee. He is capable and a good enough actor, but he lacks presence.

   The acting is overall good, nothing notable, but certainly competent. That said, I would give the film a positive rating as a good example of a supernatural thriller and because director Lance Comfort, whose career includes The Courageous Mr. Penn, Hotel Reserve, Bedalia, and Daughter of Darkness, still knew how to helm a picture even on his last film.

   I suspect this didn’t do all that well in theaters or with critics and would not be surprised to learn it has a bad reputation simply because it isn’t a Hammer-style fang-baring bosom-heaving Gothic extravaganza, but more a thriller of the kind made in the thirties and forties.

   It must have seemed all too tame for the time with its middle-aged hero and rather wan vampire, but it comes across much better on television. The women are pretty, the sets don’t fall, save on cue, the acting is competent, and it makes an effort not to be stupid, which is already far ahead of most of its contemporaries.

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


LOUISE PENNY – Glass Houses. Inspector Armand Gamache #13. Minotaur Books, hardcover, August 2017.

First Sentence: “State your name, please.”

   It is a very hot July day in Montreal and Chief Inspector Gamache is testifying in a murder trial. The previous Halloween, a figure in a black robe and mask had stood for several days on the green. It didn’t speak, rarely moved, and finally disappeared. In this book the decisions and actions of Inspector Gamache will impact far more than the people in the courtroom.

   The story opens in a courtroom. What is interesting is that we have no idea as to who is on trial or for what crime they are being tried. Yes, there is a murder, but not until we are a fair way into the story. What we do know is that more is happening than what seems to be— “Maureen Corriveau was new to the bench. … She could have absolutely no idea that she’d drawn the short straw. That a whole lot of unpleasantness was about to come her way.” –The courtroom scenes are very well done and have a tension of their own.

   The more we learn of Gamache, one realizes he is the person one should aspire to be. He is one willing to take great risks that may result in him paying a high price, but necessary to achieve a goal— “’Never lose sight of the goal,’ he said, returning his gaze to his subordinates ‘Never.’” The relationship with his second-in-command and son-in-law, Jean-Guy, is strong and enviable, hasn’t always been smooth, and neither is it here. What it is, is real; human.

   With the story moving back to Three Pines, we meet/are reacquainted with so many wonderful characters. Penny’s characters become real; individuals we would like to know, with whom we’d like to spend time. With each book, we learn a bit more about them and their perspective on life. We come to realize how multi-layered they are. Ruth, for example, for all her eccentricity, is a crone; a sage in the best sense. We are also made aware of the robed figure which projects a decided menace with the imagery of a bell jar being particularly effective— “’I thought it was Death,’ said Armand Gamache.”

   Managing two time periods can be challenging, and often irritating for the reader. Penny manages if flawlessly. Her writing is so visual, it is as though they are film cutaway shots, leaving the reader with no question as to where they are when.

   If one is going to have realistic characters, one must also have excellent, natural-sounding dialogue. Penny often catches one completely off guard with her humor making us laugh such as with the running joke about Jean-Guy’s glasses, or the unexpected comparison— “Jean-Guy and Ruth were much alike, actually, though he’d never, ever tell his son-in-law that he resembled a drunken old woman.” –One of the best instances is also with Jean-Guy regretting not learning meditation. But one should discover his mantra for one’s self.

   The plot is compelling and very current, the story keeps one so involved that losing sleep in order to finish the book is quite likely, and the originality in the story’s structure only adds to the overall quality. There are twists, and important questions which are raised.

   Penny’s books are psychological studies, lessons in philosophy, and labyrinths of courage and the human spirit. They are also civics lessons in the causes of bigotry and the human cost of the drug trade. Penny reminds us of lessons we should have learned but that we are inclined to apply to others rather than ourselves. Her understanding of humankind, its strengths and weaknesses, only adds to the remarkable nature of her writing— “And a conscience is something one cannot escape.”

   Glass Houses is so good there are times one literally finds one has stopped breathing and must consciously catch one’s breath. Even so, Penny never loses sight of the fact that the book is also an excellent, and ultimately highly suspenseful, expertly crafted mystery with twist upon twist upon twist. With this book, Ms. Penny has taken another step forward as one of today’s most remarkable writers. Just when you think she can’t get any better, she does. Just when you think her new book can’t be better than the last, it is. If you’ve not read her before, you really should.

Rating: Excellent.

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

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


YOU NEVER CAN TELL. Universal, 1951. Dick Powell, Peggy Dow, Joyce Holden, Charles Drake, Frank Nelson and Flame (the dog.) Written and directed by Lou Breslow.

   This movie-fantasy is dumb as a box of puppies, but I liked it anyway. Maybe it’s the loopy concept and the way it plays on movie conventions. After all, Dick Powell had been playing hard-boiled PIs and tough guys for so long his mere presence promised a certain hard-chiseled persona — and here he is as Private Eye Rex Shepherd, a reincarnated dog set to sniff out the guy who poisoned him (shades of D.O.A.) and romancing heiress Peggy Dow in the best Philip Marlowe tradition.

   The story takes way too long to get going, and the humor is on the level of Francis the Talking Mule (also from Universal), but the players take the stale jokes and cliché situations in easy stride, turn on their relaxed charm and rise above it — no, elevate it — to a surprising level. I particularly liked Joyce Holden as Powell’s secretary (formerly a race horse) and Frank Nelson offering one of his patented smug-polite perfs as a police detective dealing with Powell’s PI in a neat turn on the sort of thing Philip Marlowe used to go through.

   Don’t come to You Never Can Tell expecting a lot of laughs, but if you’re looking for an off-beat thing with a certain charm, this is it.

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