SAHARA. Columbia Tristar / Showtime, Australia-US, 1995. James Belushi, Alan David Lee, Simon Westaway, Mark Lee, Michael Massee, Robert Wisdom, Jerome Ehlers, Angelo D’Angelo, Paul Empson. Written by David Phillips, based on the earlier 1943 screenplay by Philip MacDonald. Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith.
Sahara, an Australian-American made for TV movie starring James Belushi, may very well be the best war film from the 1990s you haven’t seen. Or maybe you’ve seen it? Then you’ll know that I’m exaggerating, although not by a whole lot.
Directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith, Sahara is a gritty, taut remake of the classic 1943 film starring Humphrey Bogart. Set in Libya during the North African campaign, the movie has elements that create an eminently watchable and engaging war film: heroism, sacrifice, male camaraderie, and a ragtag group of men forced to undertake a seemingly impossible mission behind enemy lines.
Although it took me a few minutes to get comfortable with Belushi as the lead in a North African war film, I now have to admit that his portrayal of Sergeant Joe Gunn, an American tank commander, was truly outstanding. Gunn is a sweaty tough guy, but with a soft spot for his men. He’s a complex character, capable of ordering his to mow down advancing German soldiers, but also responsible for saving an Italian POW from near certain death in the inhospitable desert. The look on his face upon seeing his friend shot and killed by a German infantryman is more reminiscent of war movies from the 1940s and 1950s than from the 1990s or after. That’s drama, folks. No overwrought dialogue or musical fanfare is needed.
In many ways, that’s what makes Sahara such a compelling, if little known, war film. Yes, it has the requisite action sequences and solid, coherent plot. But Sahara has something too many war films made in the past twenty years don’t have: heart.
With Trenchard-Smith’s skillful direction, which heightens the suspense, and with believable dialogue that draws you into the story, the viewer really does end up caring about what happens to the main characters. They’re all individuals, each with distinct personalities. The beaten down, but still plugging along, M3 Lee tank, Lulu Belle, has a personality all her own.
A scene from the film, in which Gunn encounters a ragtag group of stranded Australian, British, and French soldiers, can be watched here:
ADAM ADAMANT LIVES! BBC TV, 1966-67. Cast: Gerald Harper as Adam Adamant, Juliet Harmer as Miss Georgina Jones and Jack May as William E. Simms. Script Consultant: Tony Williamson. Producer: Verity Lambert. Theme written by Hal Sharper and David Lee, sung by Kathy Kirby.
The story of Adam Adamant Lives! began with Sydney Newman. Newman remains one of the most successful and influential TV Network executives in the history of television. While Head of Drama for ABC Television (Associated British Corporation) he helped develop The Avengers, both series: one, a standard spy drama with Patrick Macnee and Ian Hendry and the second version, a fashion conscious surreal spy adventure with Macnee and Honor Blackman.
Newman would leave ABC for the BBC where he became its Head of Drama. There he helped create Doctor Who and Adam Adamant Lives! Newman was influenced by a variety of elements in his creation of Adam Adamant. Aware of the success of James Bond, he wanted the theme music to sound like Goldfinger and even tried to hire Shirley Bassey to sing it.
Sydney Newman had brought serious quality programming for adults to British television. This lead to the rise of his nemesis Mary Whitehouse and her fight to protect the morals of the British viewer. Reportedly, Newman was wondering about Whitehouse’s Victorian values and thought about a character from the 1890s reacting to modern (1960s) society.
The BFI bio of Sydney Newman explains the development of Adam Adamant Lives!: “According to BBC documentation, Newman’s idea originally was to produce a series about the British detective character of Sexton Blake, a sort of two-fisted imitation of Sherlock Holmes first published in 1893. At the last minute, however, the Blake project was dropped (do to a failure of agreement with the publishers) and the would-be series’ basic format was developed into Adam Adamant Lives!”
The creation did not go smoothly, with several writers unable to create a satisfactory story or even find the right name for the character. Sydney Newman would finally name him Adam Adamant, the word adamant meaning extremely hard substance. The pilot was not received well. It would never air, and only the part of it that was used in episode one survives. Ann Holloway, who had played the role of Georgina Jones in the pilot, was replaced by Julie Harmer, who fit the 60s style-look better. Tony Williamson finally was able to come up with the right script and the result was “A Vintage Year For Scoundrels.”
“A Vintage Year For Scoundrels.” Written by Tony Williamson with material by Donald Cotton and Richard Harris. Directed by William Slater and David Proudfoot. Guest Cast: Peter Ducrow, Freda Jackson, and Frank Jarvis. *** Adam Adamant, English gentleman adventurer, is defeated by his archenemy, master criminal The Face, in the year 1902 when Louise the woman he loves betrays him. The villain uses a secret formula to give Adam a “living death.” Buried frozen but alive Adam would be uncovered in 1966 London. He has problems adjusting to modern times, especially with an unwanted sidekick, the young headstrong Miss Jones who refuses to leave him alone. However when young Miss Jones is threaten by a lady mobster Adam runs to her rescue.
This was a time when the quality production values we expect from the BBC today did not exist. Shows such as Adam Adamant Lives! suffered from its low budget and limited shooting schedule. But such limitations did not stop the series from becoming a popular cult favorite then and now.
The creative world of British TV at the time was small and a look at the series’ credits reveal many familiar names, including Brian Clemens. (Yes, he was writing for The Avengers at the same time.) It is no surprise that the writing was one of the highlights of the series, featuring perfect Penny Dreadful plots with delightful dialog and action for the over the top characters. Producer Verity Lambert, who all ready had Doctor Who on her resume, knew talent and was one of the first to give a TV set designer named Ridley Scott a chance to direct.
In Season One Adam would face a different villain each week. The action would begin with the villain or crime. Learning of it Adam would begin to investigate. He would order Miss Jones to go home. When he arrives to question those involved he would discover Miss Jones working undercover at the villain’s location. There was always at least one young beautiful woman who would betray Adam, who would remain convinced she was a victim and mislead.
Gerald Harper played the Edwardian hero with Victorian tastes well, especially in the way he moved. Adam was disgusted with the modern world and convinced he was needed more than ever to fight evil. Adam never understood the sexual revolution. He revered women, certain each was a helpless delicate creature he must save. His determination to protect women’s innocence would often frustrate the weekly femme fatales. Adam rejected the modern karate style of fighting for old-fashion fisticuffs and his sword/cane. The London of 1902 was gone so Adam adapted by building his mansion on top of a car park. One modern convenience he accepted was the automobile and would drive around in a Mini, a car popular during the 60s in London.
Juliet Harmer’s performance gave the series much of its youthful energy and look at life as an adventure to enjoy. Miss Jones was the typical modern young woman in London’s 1960s. Her fashion sense was often a source of criticism from her elders, be it too revealing or too male. Georgina grew up with her beloved Grandfather telling her the exciting adventures of Adam Adamant, and now her hero had come to life she was not going to let him go. Always upbeat, Miss Jones was difficult to discourage no matter how many times the villains tortured her, Simms insulted her and Adam ordered her to go home.
Jack Dawson originally played Adam’s manservant Simms. But after he injured his back during rehearsals Dawson was replaced by Jack May. William E. Simms met Adam and Miss Jones during “Death Has a Thousand Faces” when the three were able to stop an evil plan to blow up the Golden Mile in Blackpool. Despite his mean spirited limericks and his constant insults to Miss Jones, James May was able to make the dour Simms likeable. Simms was happy to serve Adam but was most happy when he was not involved in a dangerous adventure. Dependable, capable if reluctant Simms often found himself teamed up with Miss Jones as they rushed to help Adam.
“Sweet Smell of Disaster.” Written by Robert Banks Stewart. Directed by Philip Dudley. Guest Cast: Charles Tingwell, Adrienne Corri and Pauline Munro. *** Adam discovers modern advances in laundry, advertising and a plot to take over the World.
In the second season it was decided to give Adam an arch nemesis to fight every week. The only woman Adam had ever loved, Louise returned to Adam’s life. After over sixty years Louise was now an old woman. Sadly, she would betray him again as she helped revive The Face, the evil Mastermind and only man to have ever defeated Adam Adamant. The Face had used the same formula he had used on Adam and now was ready to return to his life of evil. The series had never resorted to subtlety and now with The Face and Adam set to do battle the series grew weirder with a growing feel of early hero pulps.
“A Sinister Sort of Service.” Written by Tony Williamson. Directed by Laurence Bourne.Guest Cast: T.P. McKenna, Frances Cuka, and David Garth *** A series of robberies lead Adam to a Nazi-like security company that uses a new computer to figure out crimes. Series final episode.
The popular series lasted just two seasons and the cause of its cancellation remains a source of rumors and questions. Today only seventeen episodes of the twenty-nine survive. Hiding behind the absurdity of the series adventure premise was an attempt to look at how society was changing at the time. 1960s London was one of the most important centers for the growing youth culture and the “generation gap” that resulted.
Adam’s rejection of the modern society, and Simms insulting Miss Jones like a disapproving Father while Miss Jones ignoring him like an independent daughter was something viewers could identify with. Adam Adamant Lives! remains a fun entertaining escapist adventure, but it also reminds us that during this time James Bond was replacing Sexton Blake, and young damsels were no longer willing to do as they were told.
An out of print official (Pal format) DVD of the series can be found in the collector’s market. Most of my information came from the episodes and two documentaries on the series. Cult of… was a series on BBC Four that examined behind the scenes of old favorite TV series such as Adam Adamant Lives! The other was a TV special called This Man Is the One.
JAMES M. REASONER – Texas Wind. Manor, paperback original, 1980. Point Blank, softcover, 2004.
Rumor has it that Manor has gone bankrupt. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but the fact remains that I haven’t seen any of their product in over a year, and distribution was pretty good around here before that.
And I have never seen this book anywhere for sale. If James Reasoner hadn’t sent me a copy personally, I’d have never seen it period. All this leads me to the fairly safe conclusion that if you haven’t obtained a copy for yourself by now, you probably won’t.
It’s a pity, too, because it just may be the best book Manor ever published. They evidently never knew what they had either, because the back of the book is filled with ads for their western novels.
And this is a private eye book, for crying out loud. Cody’s home town is Fort Worth, and I guess maybe he wears cowboy boots, but that’s about it. He’s hired to find a missing daughter, who maybe has run off with her best friend’s boy friend — or has she been kidnapped?
There are a few false notes here (one of which led me into thinking up a whole new ending), and I thought Cody’s love affair with Janice, the new light of his life, came on too fast, but Reasoner has a deceptively smooth, easy-to-read style that helps you forget you’ve read hundreds of stories like this a hundred times over.
Never really flashy in any sense of the word, but a solid job through and through.
— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1981.
[UPDATE] 03-28-15. I was correct about the Manor edition becoming a collectible. The last time I looked, which was 10 minutes ago, there was not a single copy available for sale on the Internet. Luckily a softcover edition was published a short while ago, and I’m sure it’s also available online as an ebook.
I’ve not read the book since I wrote the review above, and now that I’ve reminded myself of that unfortunate fact, I intend to do something to do about that as soon as I can.
THE DEVIL THUMBS A RIDE. RKO Radio Pictures, 1947. Lawrence Tierney, Ted North, Nan Leslie, Betty Lawford , Andrew Tombes, Harry Shannon, Glen Vernon, Marian Carr, William Gould. Screenwriter-director: Felix E. Feist, based on a novel by Robert C. Du Soe.
You don’t watch the crime film, The Devil Thumbs a Ride, for the rather formulaic plot about an outlaw on the run. No, you watch for it for the noir atmosphere, set as it is in the late 1940s on one shadowy and violent Southern California night.
Most of all, you watch it for Lawrence Tierney. He portrays Steve Morgan, an inveterate liar, a forger, and a murderer.
Directed by Felix Feist, The Devil Thumbs a Ride is a taut thriller, economical on time, but rich in black humor, cynicism, and suspense. Replete with believable, punchy dialogue, the film tells the story of the diabolical Morgan, who after killing a cashier in San Diego, hitches a ride with Jimmy Ferguson (Ted North), a traveling salesman from Los Angeles who was in town for a drunken birthday celebration. The two men end up also giving a lift to two women they encounter in a gas station parking lot and off they go.
There’s murder, mayhem, and madness a plenty. Look for the close up shots of Tierney’s eyes. It’s not fancy camera work by any means, but they tell you all you need to know about who’s the charming devil in this one. Tierney was one of a kind, no doubt about it.
ROBERT AMES – Awake and Die. Gold Medal #518, paperback original; 1st printing, September 1955.
Not much seems to be known about the author. This is the third of three crime novels he wrote for Gold Medal, the earlier ones being The Devil Drives (1952) and The Dangerous One (1954), both of which I own, but this is the first of the three that I’ve read. In Crime Fiction IV, Al Hubin tells us that Robert Ames was a pen name of Charles Clifford, but that he was not the same Charles L. Clifford who wrote While the Bells Ran, which I reviewed here some short time ago.
Unless, maybe? At the moment this is all I know, so it’s possible that the two are one and the same. To stay on the safe side, however, let’s assume they’re not. It makes no difference, really, in whether this is a book you’d enjoy reading or not.
Awake and Die is told in first person a hunky young war veteran named Will Peters who came home from Korea with a bullet removed from his head and a 50% disability pension. He’s working as a clamdigger along the Jersey shore as the story begins, which it does with some gusto, right off the bat.
First he meets a the girl of his dreams on a dock, dressed in white shirt with nothing underneath, red shorts and with long tanned legs. She’s married but that doesn’t seem to stop her from having all eyes for Will. Nor he for her, for that matter.
Will, however, is encumbered with a live-in lady friend who has become increasingly tiresome to live with, and another young female acquaintance who with a little encouragement, wouldn’t mind taking the other woman’s place.
Three women interested in him, as pleasant as that may sound, is at least two more than Will can handle. At the same time that Will has plans for his live-in lady friend, unfortunately for her, quite coincidentally Mrs. Grace (the one on the dock) has a husband she is no longer very fond of, to put it mildly.
Two, no make that three deaths later, Will’s destiny is in the hand of Chris, female acquaintance number three, plus (quite surreally) a hermit who lives on the shore and does not speak except ventriloqistically through his three companions, a dog, a cat, and a seagull. A recently demoted cop named Rogers hangs tight on Will’s tail constantly, wanting his old job back, and knowing just how he’s going to do it.
The story that plays out from here is more than competently told, but while there is a twist or two along the way, I had in mind a couple of even better ones. Toward the end of the tale a couple of questions I had about the telling are answered, so all of the loose ends are tied up, but in true noir fashion, not too happily for most of the participants. I’ve read better along these same lines, but equally so, I hasten to add, many that were a whole lot worse.
CROSSING JORDAN. “Pilot Episode.” NBC. 24 September 2001 (Season 1, Episode 1). Jill Hennessy, Miguel Ferrer, Ken Howard, Lois Nettleton, plus a large ensemble cast. Creator/screenwriter: Tim Kring. Director: Allan Arkush.
Please forgive the lack of screen credits. This is the only episode of Crossing Jordan I’ve seen so far, and I haven’t yet placed names with faces, nor do I know how long some of the faces will last. I didn’t include any names in the guest cast, either, since most of this first episode was devoted to introducing the characters, not the story itself.
Which was OK, or maybe even more than that, but if you’ll allow me, I’ll get to that in a minute. The series was on for six years, and I won’t lie to you: I’d barely heard of it before buying a box set of DVDs of the first season. I can’t tell you why it’s been under my radar all this time.
Or maybe I can. (A) A lack of time to follow everything that’s on TV, even crime-solving shows, and (B) an assumption that new shows won’t last, so why start watching them, but missing one like this one that does catch on, and it’s too late to catch up with the story line, or so I think.
Dr. Jordan Cavanaugh (Jill Hennessy) is a medical examiner who insists on helping the police solve the cases her dead bodies involve her in, against all of their wishes. She’s beautiful, smart-talking, feisty, has a problem with anger management, and as a direct result, she has run out of places to work until her former boss, Dr. Garret Macy (Miguel Ferrer), convinces his superiorss to hire her back at the Massachusetts Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
I gather her father (Ken Howard) doesn’t stick around for the entire series, but at least during the first season he’s an ex-homicide detective who helps Jordan solve her cases by playing a version of killer/victim to re-enact the crime given the facts as she has them. He’s glad to see her again, but Jordan has problems, in the pilot, at least, with the fact that there is a new woman in his life, Jordan’s mother having been murdered when she was a child. This may explain some of the chips on her shoulder.
There are quite few others in the ensemble cast, as I said earlier, all of whom get a brief introduction and some exposure in this first episode. The story itself is interesting without being overly memorable. It turns out that a young prostitute, found dead in an alley and suspected of dying of a drug overdose, is actually a virgin. It is then discovered that she came to Boston looking for her father, and — well, I needn’t tell you everything, need I?
I do like the characters, and so did the general viewing public, given that the series lasted for so long. It’s one I’ll keep watching, at least through the first season, which is all that’s been officially released on DVD. (The problem being rights to the music played in the back ground.)
MICHAEL CRAVEN – The Detective & the Pipe Girl. Bourbon Street Books, trade paperback; 1st printing, 2014.
I’m going to go back a way before I begin. I don’t know the exact year it was, but it has to have been sometime in the early 1970s, soon after my wife and I moved to this house in Connecticut where we’ve lived ever since. The local comic book dealer put on a pulp and paperback convention, and Paul you can tell me if I’m wrong, but as I recall, it was in Wethersfield, the next town over.
The guest of honor, or one of them — that I don’t remember — was Mike Avallone. Among other things, he was the creator of Ed Noon, the leading protagonist in quite a few private eye novels. During the panel of size one he was on, he was lamenting the “death of the PI novel,” among other matters. In the Q&A session that followed, I had the temerity to point out that there were these new guys in town, a fellow named Spenser and another chap who shall remain Nameless.
Mike, of course, would hear nothing of it. They’ll soon be gone, was his response, and soon enough, mark my words, he said, nobody will be writing about private eyes any more. I guess you know where this is going. Here it is, nearly 50 years later, and not only are PIs not dead as a genre, they may be more plentiful than ever before. (I may be exaggerating there. Robert B. Parker and Bill Pronzini, each in their own individualistic way, were responsible for a big boom renaissance in the field, starting in the early 70s and continuing on into the 80s and today. You can fill in the names of the other authors who came along on your own, I believe.)
Mike was wrong, but while I obviously didn’t press him on the point, I felt then as I do now, that much of his complaint was that as good as they were, publishers didn’t want any any more adventures of Ed Noon.
Forgive the long intro, but this, all of the above, is what came to mind while I was reading The Detective & the Pipe Girl, the first recorded case of a Los Angeles-based PI named John Darville. (Craven has written on earlier book, Body Copy, a PI novel with ex-surfer turned Malibu private detective Donald Tremaine as the leading character.)
I own a copy of the earlier book, but so far I have somehow managed to not read it. Not yet, that is, based on how much I enjoyed reading this one.
I’ve been thinking about it, and while I’m sure that every other review that you read of this book will tell you what a “pipe girl” is, I’m not going to. I’ve checked on Google, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the term is Craven’s own invention, and once again I’m going to let him tell you about it when you read this book, and if you’re a PI fan, I hope you will.
Darville, who tells his story himself, is hired in this book by a famous but now aging film director to locate a girl he had a small affair with before his wife found out. Which he was OK with, he says, but he was able to stay in touch with her until recently. The phone number he has for her is not working, and she is not returning his attempts to talk to her again.
So, OK, the plot’s not a new one, but Craven has is own voice, or Darville does, in a well-worn but still different wise-ass sort of way, and while we meet many obvious Hollywood types while Darville tries to track the girl down (which he does, and I’ll say no more), we also get a guided tour through all parts of the many neighborhoods that make up the greater Los Angeles area, with many asides as he does so. Since I was there not too long ago, the names of the towns and the streets and his digressive impressions of them were very familiar to me.
The plot is not without its flaws, and I could include a few of them in this review, but once again I’ve decided not to, except for one, the long overly expository ending, easily excused, I think, in the overall scheme of things. It’s also a happy ending for Darville personally, I’m happy to say, and he concludes the book with a few truths about life, of which the least is the following, but it still resonated with me when I read it for the first time:
“If you ever find yourself standing outside a crowded restaurant in the hot sun on the weekend waiting to be seated for brunch, it may be time to rethink things.”