REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


TOUCH OF EVIL. Universal, 1958. Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles, Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff, Joanna Moore, Ray Collins, Dennis Weaver, Marlene Dietrich, Zsa Zsa Gabor. Screenplay: Orson Welles, based on the novel Badge of Evil, by Whit Masterson. Director: Orson Welles.

WHIT MASTERSON – Badge of Evil. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1955. Reprinted as Touch of Evil, Bantam A1699, paperback, 1958; Carroll & Graf, paperback, 1992.

   In contrast to The Long Wait, reviewed here, Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (Universal, 1958) now available in a restored Director’s Cut, begins its cinematic fireworks with the first shot and never pauses for the smoke to clear. The tale of bigoted cops and a corrupt investigation unfolds in scene after scene of sheer cinematic brilliance –

   – and I have to say it gets a bit tiring after a while; like watching unending MTV videos or Previews of Coming Attractions that never stop. The eye tires after forty minutes or so (This eye did, anyway.) and I was glad for the relative quiet of a few reflective moments with Marlene Dietrich at her weary best as a Gypsy fortune-teller (“Your future’s all used up.”) just one of a number of cameo appearances that include Ray Collins and Joseph Cotton from Citizen Kane, and Mercedes McCambridge as a lesbian biker.

   On the other hand, Whit Masterson’s book that this was based on, Badge of Evil, is so bland as to be resolutely unreadable. The flat prose recounts little but a few cardboard characters moving slowly through an unremarkable plot to no discernible end. But perhaps I shouldn’t be too hard on this book, since I couldn’t finish it; maybe things really picked up after the first fifty-odd pages.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         


SUSAN SLEPT HERE. RKO Radio Pictures, 1954. Dick Powell, Debbie Reynolds, Anne Francis, Glenda Farrell, Alvy Moore, Horace McMahon, Les Tremayne. Screenplay by Alex Gottlieb, based on his play with Steve Fisher Directed by Frank Tashlin.

   “Any judge that starts handing out 17 year old girls to thirty five year old lawyers is going to be elected President next time.”

   This surprisingly open sex farce squeaks by for inclusion on this blog because it stars a former Philip Marlowe, Honey West, and is based on a play co-written by Steve Fisher (I Wake Up Screaming) — and yes, it as about as tentative as a connection to this site as I could find, but I came up with one anyway. You don’t have to buy it, just accept it.

   I don’t think you could sell this one today or make it, but somehow with Dick Powell and Debbie Reynolds and narrated by Powell’s screenwriter character’s Oscar, this one skates all over its premise, never quite going too far or letting you really consider what is going on here.

   Powell is Mark Christopher, screenwriter and novelist, whose career is headed south for the pole in double time. On Christmas Eve his cop pal Horace MacMahon shows up on his doorstep with juvenile delinquent Susan Landis, Debbie Reynolds, in tow. Christopher once considered writing a movie about a JD, maybe if he spends the evening with her he’ll get some ideas.

   Ideas he gets. Not for a screenplay, though.

   Powell is none too happy, but he can’t throw her back in reform school on Christmas Eve, so after they calm her down a bit, he arranges for his secretary Maud, Glenda Farrell (keep an eye out for Red Skelton in a cameo as her long lost boyfriend Oswald — “You’ll get another Oscar, I get an Oswald”), to keep her, but Maud is on a bender, and his old Navy pal Virgil, Alvy Moore, who was his lieutenant in the war, leaves him in the lurch. His fiancee Isabella, Anne Francis, isn’t the forgiving sort either when Susan answers his phone.

   Susan: She said she was going out with the assistant butler … What does an assistant butler do?

   After a night that includes a long gin game, an uncomfortable couch and Susan sleeping with a rolling pen under her pillow in his bedroom, Powell calls in lawyer Les Tremayne with the bright idea of marrying Susan — she has a paper from her mother in Peru on her honeymoon allowing her to marry — to keep her out of reform school. Of course in name only. When she is 18 and safe in four months, they’ll get her an annulment, some money, and a job.

   So it’s off to Vegas, and a honeymoon night spent on the dance floor, and the next morning Mark takes off to work in Sun Valley as Hurricane Isabella hits. Susan plans to leave, but Maud persuades her to take some motherly advice.

   Virgil: You, a mother?

   Maud: I typed the script for “Stella Dallas.”

   So Susan stays and spider lady Isabella gets thrown out, though she’s not through.

   Mark can’t get a divorce because they never consummated the marriage and Susan lets his lawyer know in no uncertain terms Mark can’t have an annulment, but he can a divorce. Then she very publicly lets everyone think she is pregnant and Mark assumes it was Virgil.

   Then his lawyer’s analyst convinces him that he’s in love with Susan.

   Mark: How can I love her, she’s a delinquent girl?

   Doctor: You seem to be a delinquent husband.

   Of course the age difference does come up, a determined Mark no match for an even more determined Susan.

   Mark: When I’m 60 how old will you be?

   Susan and Mark together: I’ll (You’ll) never be over 30.

   As Virgil informs him: You accidentally married the right girl.

   Of course Reynolds had a career at this point as the sexy wholesome outspoken but practical virgin (Tammy) and film makers of the era were experts at the tease, but this one teases hard with a difficult subject, and it could go so wrong so easily and doesn’t.

   Other than Cary Grant, I can’t think of any actor by Powell who could bring this off half so well.

   I suppose some one will find this offensive, but this is Hollywood and not the real world, a romantic comedy, and not a police blotter or a case for a social worker. Lighten up, recognize this has no connection to reality, and enjoy some fine players, finely playing their assigned rolls.

   This was Powell’s last film, and ironically includes a musical fantasy sequence from Susan’s dream, though he doesn’t croon. Don Cornell does the only song in the film other than the brief title song (“So This is the Kingdom of Heaven”). It’s fitting Powell that should go back to his roots for his last screen outing. He even wears a sailor suit in the fantasy sequence.

   To give this full credit, maybe no one in the world but Debbie Reynolds and Dick Powell could have pulled off how sexy this film is without offending anyone, and Frank Tashlin is one of the few directors who could have brought it off. (Tashlin had a great touch with humor and sex for someone who started out directing cartoons and made his live screen debut with Bob Hope and Trigger in Son of Paleface.)

   Susan Slept Here is bright, funny, sexy, gorgeous to look at, and deftly done at all points. Reynolds and Francis are at their most attractive and it is always fun to see Francis get a shot at comedy, something she was quite adept at. There is a very funny and at the same time sexy scene when teen Susan compares herself to Francis’s sexy photo and tries to rearrange things to better recreate it. It’s a perfect showcase for what Reynolds did better than almost anyone else. It’s fine and funny final nod to the medium for Powell, and its nice to see Farrell still funny and sassy this late in the game.

   It’s the kind of thing Rock Hudson and Doris Day would later do to great success, but lacking in the rather tasteless sniggering attitude to sex of those films.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


  THE UNSTOPPABLE MAN. Argo Film Productions, UK, 1960. US release, 1961. Cameron Mitchell, Marius Goring (Inspector Hazelrigg), Harry H. Corbett, Lois Maxwell, Denis Gilmore, Humphrey Lestocq, Ann Sears. Based on the short story “Amateur in Violence,” by Michael Gilbert. Director: Terry Bishop.

   Sometimes criminals, despite all the possible planning, still pick the wrong target. That’s definitely the case in The Unstoppable Man, a taut British thriller. Directed by Terry Bishop, the movie stars Cameron Mitchell, a veteran actor best known for his work in American and Italian film as well on American television.

   Mitchell portrays James Kennedy, an American businessman in London whose business acumen seemingly is unparalleled. Kennedy is put to the test when his young son is kidnapped and held for ransom by a motley crew of thugs. Scotland Yard wants to take the lead, but Kennedy has his own plans. They include paying off the hostage takers in a greater amount than they demand, with the expectation that thieves aren’t the most honest of men and will gladly turn on each other for a few quid more.

   In The Unstoppable Man, that proves to be the case.

   One of the kidnapper gang ends up dead and helps lead Kennedy (and the cops) to the house where his son is being held. It’s there that the action finally, and somewhat belatedly, kicks in. Although he’s a man more used to the boardroom, Kennedy shows he can brawl as if he were in a barroom. There’s even a great scene – a pivotal one – where Kennedy utilizes a would-be flamethrower against a man involved in his son’s kidnapping.

   While there’s nothing in The Unstoppable Man that’s exceptional, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good — make that a very good — crime film. Running at around seventy minutes, it’s economical both on plot and the viewer’s time. But what it lacks in originality, it makes up for in atmosphere and an early 1960s jazz-influenced soundtrack that works very well.

   For crime fans, it’s worth watching if you get the opportunity. For Mitchell fans (and I know that some are out there), it’s a must see.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


STRANGER ON HORSEBACK. United Artists, 1955. Joel McCrea, Miroslava, Kevin McCarthy, John McIntire, John Carradine, Nancy Gates, Emile Meyer. Based on a story written for the film by Louis L’Amour. Director: Jacques Tourneur.

   Stranger on Horseback is perhaps one of director Jacques Tourneur’s least known films, one that was commercially unavailable for decades. Filmed on location in Arizona with a budget under $400,000, the film stars Western icon Joel McCrea as a federal circuit judge tasked with bringing an accused murderer to trial.

   Although the movie benefits from punchy dialogue and has some very fun, downright quirky moments (look for the cat in the sheriff’s office!), it is altogether a somewhat disappointing entry in the large corpus of slightly gritty postwar Westerns.

   The film’s plot, based on Louis L’Amour story, follows Judge Richard Thorne (McCrea) as he enters a small Western town, which he soon learns is basically run from top-to-bottom by land baron Josiah Bannerman (John McIntire). It also comes to his attention that Bannerman’s son, Tom (Kevin McCarthy), may have murdered a man.

   Despite entreaties from a charmingly serpentine federal lawyer (John Carradine), Thorne decides he is going to see that justice is done. He even convinces the local feline loving sheriff (Emile Meyer in a standout role) to join forces with him. Along the way, the upright judge gets into a little push and pull with the Bannerman’s ferociously exotic niece, Amy (portrayed by Czechoslovakian-born Mexican actress Miroslava). It’s one of the stranger romances I’ve yet seen depicted in a McCrea Western.

   Unfortunately, the film just doesn’t gel. In some ways, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why this is the case. There seem to be a lot of minor flaws that add up to weaken what could have otherwise been a quite strong picture. These include the fact that Stranger on Horseback was filmed in Ansco Color and that it ends way too abruptly, to put it mildly.

   Also, the final action scene is filmed in such a manner that it’s difficult to tell who is shooting at whom. It’s a much weaker film than Tourneur’s superbly crafted Wichita, also starring McCrea, which I reviewed here. Still, if you’re a McCrea fan, you might appreciate viewing this relatively short Western where, despite the film’s numerous flaws, he has a comparatively strong presence.

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


GUY CULLINGFORD – Conjurer’s Coffin. Hammond, UK, hardcover, 1954. Lippincott, US, hardcover, 1954 Penguin Books, UK. paperback, 1957.

   Miss Jessie Milk, spinster of uncertain age and kin to the distressed gentlewomen so well portrayed by Barbara Pym, finds somewhat unsuitable employment as a receptionist at the Bellevue Hotel, which does not live up to its name and which the police have nothing against, muddle and unconventionality not yet being against the law. The Bellevue caters, if that’s the mot juste, to the less eminent variety performers.

   Gene the Genie, a magician and one of the not-quite-successful artistes, primarily because of his interest in horse-flesh and not because of lack of talent or imagination, checks into the hotel with his wife and his female assistant the first afternoon Miss Milk is on duty. He plays a trick on her then and becomes aware that she is a perfect foil for a magician.

   When first Gene the Genie’s assistant and then his wife disappear, Miss Milk is an excellent witness. When the wife’s body turns up in the trash, the police are baffled by Miss Milk’s testimony but accept her transparent honesty in telling things as she believes she saw them. Fortunately, a retired Merchant Navy Captain, now a bookstore detective, lives in the hotel and has Miss Milk’s interests at heart in more ways than one. He is able to determine what happened, although it’s not by any means all ratiocination.

   Well written, amusing, excellent characterization, and an interesting crime. All of Cullingford’s novels are well worth trying to find.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 12, No. 1, Winter 1990.


Bibliographic Notes:   Guy Cullingford was the pen name of (Alice) C(onstance) Lindsay Taylor, 1907-2000, who has one title in Hubin under her own name, and ten as by Cullingford. Of the latter, only four have been published in the US. In spite of the possibilities suggested by Conjurer’s Coffin, there seems to be no series character appearing in any more than one of them.

TED LEWIS – Get Carter. Syndicate Books/Soho Crime, US, softcover, 2014. First published in the UK as Jack’s Return Home, Michael Joseph, hardcover, 1970. First US edition: Doubleday, hardcover, 1970. Reprinted as Get Carter by Pan, UK. paperback, 1971; Popular Library, US, paperback, 1971. Other reprint editions exist. Film: MGM, 1970, as Get Carter (with Michael Caine). Also: MGM, 1972, as Hit Man (with Bernie Casey) and Warner Bros., 2000, as Get Carter (with Sylvester Stallone).

   This is what you might call a “revenge” novel, and that’s with a vengeance, if that’s not redundant, and I don’t think it is. As the story begins, Jack Carter, who works for a pair of mobsters back in London, is heading back to his steel-working home town in northern England (no name given, as far I have discerned), where his brother Frank has just died, supposedly in a drink-related automobile accident.

   Jack, who tells his own story, knows better. He knows his brother, and he knows the men who run the town, better perhaps than they know themselves. Someone is going to pay, and before the book is over, pay they do.

   It does not matter that he and his brother never got along. That Frank’s daughter Doreen, now 15, may really be Jack’s has something to with that, and as a result, Doreen may have grown up way too fast. Also occupying Jack’s mind is that back in London, he has been sleeping with one of his boss’s wives, and once this bit of business is done, is planning to hie off to South Africa with her. He’s a tough nervy bloke, Jack is.

   I’ve not seen any of the movies based on this book, a serious error on my part, but I’ll remedy that as soon as I can, starting with the Michael Caine version. You can tell me in the comments whether the other two are worth tracking down.

   But whether any of these movie versions can match the intensity, brutality and bursts of mayhem of the novel, I’m not so sure. Also involved are child pornography, cheap sex and a surprisingly careless viciousness toward women.

   What you also get is a gritty picture of the working underclass of a small but typical mill town in England circa 1970, when this book first ppeared. The prose reminded me at times of Chandler, while the story is as hard-boiled as anything Hammett might have written. There are not a lot of survivors at book’s end. Jack Carter is cool, cruel and efficient at what he does, and he does a thorough job of it.

   But surprisingly enough, it is the ending itself which is the most disappointing, or such is how I found it. The last two pages nearly undo what should have been one crackup of a finale, marred by a bit of near deus ex machina — almost but not quite. It’s still a doozy, but unless I missed something, it should have been better.

Note:   By the time this one ends, you might think that this would have been strictly a solo appearance for Jack Carter, but no, he returned in two more novels: Jack Carter’s Law (1974), and Jack Carter and the Mafia Pigeon (1977), both also recently published in the US by Syndicate Books. Ted Lewis (no relation) died in 1982 at the very young age of 42.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


ROBERT J. CASEY – Hot Ice. Bobbs-Merrill, hardcover, 1933. Greenberg, reprint hardcover, no date stated. Prize Mystery Novels #4, digest-sized paperback, 1943.

   Robert J. Casey’s Hot Ice was something I picked up at an antique store just to be nice and let it sit on my TBR shelf for five or ten years till I finally seized it in fit of read-it-or-rid-of-it. Well, it’s not a keeper, but I’m glad I took the time for this charming, hard-boiled tale of double-cross and murder in the stolen gem market.

   It features Joseph Crewe, a Chicago police detective, and an ex-reporter named Jim Sands as an engaging pair of sleuths following a trail of unrelated (or are they?) murders across the city, and author Casey uses a ploy here you don’t see very often: we all know how irritating it is when an author provides information to the detective and withholds it from the reader (she bent down and picked something off the floor, tucking it carefully in her pocket. “I’ll pull this out in the last chapter,” she smiled knowingly) but Casey provides information to the reader that the sleuths have to puzzle out for themselves (or will they?) and there’s some dandy suspense engendered watching them stumble towards it, plus a few added twists as the reader and detectives are both faced with the mystery of a murdered milkman who finished his route post mortem.

       The Jim Sands series –

The Secret of Thirty-Seven Hardy Street. Bobbs, 1929.
The Secret of the Bungalow. Bobbs, 1930.
News Reel. Bobbs, 1932.
Hot Ice. Bobbs, 1933.
The Third Owl. Bobbs, 1934.

Editorial Comment:   Hubin does not say whether Joseph Crewe is in all of these novels or not. According to a limited Google search, he is in some of them.

Next Page »