JOSEF HOFFMANN – Philosophies of Crime Fiction. No Exit Press, UK, softcover, July 2013; US, softcover, October 2013.
This is not a review, only a brief post to draw your attention to this upcoming book, authored by an occasional contributor to this blog, Josef Hoffmann. I’ve browsed through it well enough, however, to recommend it to you, whether Professor Hoffmann were a friend of mine or not.
From the front cover, quoting noted philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein: “More wisdom is contained in the best crime fiction than in conventional philosophical essays.”
From its page on the Anmazon website, much of which is also found on the back cover of the book: “Josef Hoffmann covers influences and inspirations in crime writing with references to a stellar cast of crime writers including Arthur Conan Doyle, G. K. Chesterton, Dashiell Hammett, Albert Camus, Borges, Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, and Ted Lewis. Hoffmann examines why crime literature may provide stronger consolation for readers than philosophy. [...] Josef Hoffmann’s combination of knowledge, academic acuity, and enthusiasm makes this a must-have book for any crime fiction aficionado—with or without a philosophical nature.”
From Josef’s article “Hard-boiled Wit: Ludwig Wittgenstein and Norbert Davis” on the main Mystery*File website: “…it can be safely assumed that Wittgenstein’s taste complied with that of his time, and that he therefore partook of all the developments in crime fiction. His liking for the more modern literary style of the hard-boiled detective stories probably developed when they had made their way into almost all the crime story magazines, including Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine – on the model of the Black Mask.”
KING OF DIAMONDS. Syndicated, 1961-1962; Ziv/United Artists. Cast: Broderick Crawford as John King and Ray Hamilton as Casey.
John King was the chief investigator for the Continental Diamond Industries. With Casey, his young handsome assistant, King led the fight against the evil IDB, the Illicit Diamond Buyers (well, at least the criminals were honest about it). Or as King explained, “… from the minute the diamonds come out of the clay until they go on somebody’s finger we protect them. The we is me.”
King of Diamonds was a typical Ziv first run TV Film syndication series with the creative talent working against the limitations of low budgets and too short a production schedule. The series fortunately didn’t take itself too seriously which gives it a charm and makes it still fun to watch.
The pace of the half hour episodes were fast enough for us to enjoy the story without noticing or caring about the plot holes. The writing featured dialog that was equally quick:
“He’s not big enough for this one.”
The episodes began with the narrator (probably Highway Patrol narrator Art Gilmore) setting up the story such as in “The Wizard of Ice”:
“… A world of diamonds. The world of Johnny King. Margie Howard wanted a share of that world, a two million dollar share, enough to play three men like a guitar. Men who heard the words but not the music. To Johnny King the melody was loud and clear.”
Broderick Crawford was the perfect Johnny King, tough guy detective, a man obsessed with the recovery of stolen diamonds. Murder, justice, those were the police’s problems all Johnny King wanted was the diamonds back. Crawford biggest acting challenge was trying to be convincing as a ladies man with beautiful women from his past still helpless against his charms.
It is hard to take the show seriously when King wore a trench coat and fedora in nearly every scene including at least once when he was sitting behind his office desk. Check out that outfit in this trailer for the series:
Ray Hamilton was forgettable in the stock character role of King’s young assistant. The guest cast was above average especially (in the episodes I have seen) Lola Albright, John Anderson and Gerald Mohr.
Directors such as Irving Lerner were able to overcome a lack of time and money and occasionally shoot some quality scenes such as a car chase in a high-rise parking lot involving three people in “The Wizard of Ice.”
EPISODE INDEX. (I have watched three episodes each with incomplete credits. Titles from IMdb.com.)
“The Wizard of Ice.” Written and produced by John Robinson. Directed by Irving Lerner. GUEST CAST: Lola Albright, Telly Savalas, John Anderson, John Marley, and Richard Kiel. *** A hijacking of two million in diamonds gets complicated by a woman.
“Commando Tactics.” Written by Steve Fisher. Directed by John Rich. GUEST CAST: Gerald Mohr *** King’s fun loving WWII commando buddy has decided to try the adventurous fun life of a diamond thief.
“Backlash.” Written by Edward J. Lasko. Directed by Skip Homeier. GUEST CAST: James Coburn and Nancy Kulp. *** War hero and respected citizen in a small town in Maine has his past come back to haunt him as a former army buddy arrives wanting to sell the diamonds they had stolen from the Nazis during the War.
King of Diamonds was an entertaining show despite its flaws or in part because of them, but it was the story behind the scenes I found more interesting.
It is well known Broderick Crawford had a problem with alcohol (too many DWIs cost him his driver’s license and they had to adapt filming Highway Patrol). There is an interesting story about why Crawford agreed to do King of Diamonds in Rick Jason’s (The Case of the Dangerous Robin) autobiography Scrapbooks of My Mind. (Thanks to Wikipedia for citing its sources.)
“After four years of the pressure of two shows [of Highway Patrol] a week, Brod got fed up, said he couldn’t take it anymore, so he quit and went to Spain to make movies. The studio held up payment of his ten percent gross. A year or so later he came back to the States.
“He’d dried out, hadn’t had a drink in almost nine months, and he wanted his money from Highway Patrol. Ziv cut a deal with him: if he’d do a pilot for a new series called King of Diamonds and sign on for the series, they’d release about two million dollars they were holding and he would only have to do one show a week if the pilot sold. He signed.”
Despite being in over 185 markets including the top five markets in the country, King of Diamonds lasted just one season. TV was changing at the time. In the words of Broadcasting (9/18/61), “Production of programs for first-run syndication has virtually collapsed.”
Production costs were rising. The trade magazine reported the cost of an average first-run syndicated TV Film series had risen to $40,000 to $50,000 per episodes. With a star such as Broderick Crawford (who was also credited as associate producer) King of Diamonds’ costs were most likely even higher.
Meanwhile the market had been taken over by off-network reruns that were cheaper, had proven popular with the viewers, and could be aired on a daily basis.
In the fall of 1961, King of Diamonds competed against twenty-one newly available off-network reruns series including Peter Gunn, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Hong Kong, Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, The Lone Ranger and Yancy Derringer.
Another problem facing first-run TV Film syndication was the increase in the networks’ involvement in the programs they aired. Even the weakest network, ABC had increased the amount of programs they scheduled and their series quality. Also, the hour-long format was beginning to take up more and more time of the prime-time schedule.
TV’s most successful first-run TV Film syndication company, Ziv Television would soon disappear as United Artists Television would completely take over the company (dropping the name Ziv from Ziv/United Artists television) in 1962 when Frederick Ziv sold the last part of the company he still owned and left Hollywood to teach at the University of Cincinnati.
It is hard to mourn the passing of Ziv Television with its bottom of the barrel production values, but it was responsible for a few shows such as King of Diamonds that might not have been the best television ever made, still have enough charm to entertain.
DEE HARKEY – Mean As Hell. University of New Mexico, hardcover, 1948. Signet, #856, paperback, 1951. Ancient City Press, trade paperback, 1989.
I don’t have much to say about Dee Harkey’s Mean As Hell except that it deserves to be better known. Harkey’s account of his work as a Peace Officer in the old west, from the 1870s until 1911 is a work of interest, excitement and considerable charm.
His naïve (in the best sense) style and easy narration of his life and times — from being besieged on the prairie as a child by “110 Indians” (I love that touch!) to the escape of a local badman by Flying Machine — lend a unique charm to his tales of rustlin’, shootin, fightin’ and all the assorted mayhem one reads a Western in search of.
ROBERT FINNEGAN – The Lying Ladies. Simon and Schuster, hardcover, 1946. Bantam #351, paperback, May 1948.
Ah, the investigative reporter, out to report news in the hinterland, discovers a case of justice likely to go wrong. In this novel, the first by Finnegan (pseudonym of Paul William Ryan) featuring Dan Banion, Banion reveals corruption in government and the press, gets beaten about a bit, and finds out who murdered the maid of the wealthy Hibleys.
You’ve read the same thing many times, but there’s nothing wrong with reading it again since Finnegan writes well and amusingly and creates some interesting characters. After you have read it, perhaps you can tell me why Finnegan used the pre-World War II time period in which to set the novel.
– From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 13, No. 1, Winter 1991.
The Dan Banion series –
The Lying Ladies. Simon & Schuster, 1946.
The Bandaged Nude. Simon & Schuster, 1946.
KELLEY ROOS – Ghost of a Chance. Dell #266, mapback edition, no date . Originally published by A. A. Wyn, hardcover, 1947. Hardcover reprint: Detective Book Club, 3-in-1 edition.
When it comes to married couples who solve detective mysteries in crime fiction, if you’re like me, the first ones to come to mind are Nick and Nora Charles (The Thin Man, 1934), but once I thought about it some more, I decided that Agatha Christie’s Tuppence and Tommy might have come earlier, and I was right: The Secret Adversary (1922).
I suspect, as it always happens whenever you try to come up with the first of anything when it comes to mystery fiction, that there were earlier ones, but if there are, I’m willing to wager that they are all obscure. Jeff and Haila Troy, the detective of record in ten entries in Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV (including one collection and one novella published separately), came along much later, starting with Made Up to Kill in 1940, and would probably fit very nicely in the obscure category, if the good folks at Rue Morgue Press hadn’t published a few of them in recent years.
Contemporaneous with the Troys would be Mr. and Mrs. North, whose adventures were written up by Frances and Richard Lockridge. At the time, the Norths were much better known, but I suspect they’re also falling into obscurity, if they haven’t already, sad to say.
This is the first of the Troys’ adventures that I’ve read, and while I enjoyed it and will read any others that happen to fall into my hands, as a mystery, it’s tame enough that I can see why the Troys were really never rivals to the Norths in terms of popularity, even at the time.
I may have been told in Ghost of a Chance what either or both of the Troys do for a living, but if so, I’m sorry to say that I missed it. (And I did. The Dell mapback I have in my hands has a descriptive list of the characters on the very first page. Jeff Troy is a photographer. It does not say what Haila does, but from a quick search on the Internet, it appears that she is an actress, or that she was at one time.)
Ghost of a Chance is told in a decidedly breezy style, one that does its best, but doesn’t quite succeed, in disguising the fact that there really isn’t a lot of substance to it, but breezy enough that you don’t quite realize it while you’re reading. Only when you’re done do you (or did I) realize how flimsy the plot really was.
Which involves Jeff and Haila trying their best to prevent a murder from happening, one that an old man does his best to tell them about before he dies unexpectedly in a gruesome subway accident. Only problem is, while they know when the murder is going to happen, they don’t know who the victim is going to be, nor why. (That the old man’s death is no accident, they assume right away.)
This is where the detection comes in, which is satisfactory, but the case quickly becomes a thriller more than a puzzle novel, which is where my disappointment if not discontent set in. But the locale — here and there and up and down the island of Manhattan in the middle of a vicious snow storm before adjourning briefly to a small vacation town in upstate New York — is both finely described and highly enjoyable.
As for current married couples who solve mystery cases together, is Beckett going to say yes to Castle’s proposal in last week’s end of season finale? Tune in next fall and find out.
— Note: This column first appeared in The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 7, No. 3, May-June 1983.
The University of Pittsburgh recently hosted the annual meeting of the Society for Cinema Studies and more than 150 scholars spent four very busy days delivering and listening to papers, attending film showings, and socializing. There were twenty-nine panels, each of them consisting of the reading of three or four papers, followed by discussions, and there was a variety of screenings, highlighted by Robert Altman’s 1982 film, Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, which the director attended for a post-screening session at which he responded to questions from a large and very sympathetic audience,
The general topic of the convention was film genre, and the often sparsely attended screenings — film scholars seem to prefer to talk and be talked at rather than cluster anonymously in improvised screening rooms — featured a series of films “on, in, and beyond the genre.”
Since the films were scheduled at the same time as the panels, I was constantly faced with agonizing decisions. However, I was able to reconcile most of my warring interests and managed to spend several hours in the dark watching Frank Borzage’s Mannequin (1938), a “melodrama of fashion and fetishism with Joan Crawford”; Dario Argento’s stylish horror film, Suspiria (1977); Robert Altman’s very individual and probably unclassifiable comedy drama, Brewster McCloud (1970); and Max Ophuls’ 1949 movie, The Reckless Moment, in addition to the festival screening of Altman’s Jimmy Dean film.
Since I had already seen DeMille’s Unconquered (1947), Cassavetes’ Gloria (1980), and William Richert’s Winter Kills (1979), I managed a fairly comprehensive coverage of the convention films.
One of the things that was clear from several of the panels I attended was that there is increasing recognition of the fact that the sub-genres (musical, western, science-fiction, film noir) are not aIways “pure” and there is a fair amount of “bleeding” among the various types, with, for example, elements of the crime film or film noir turning up in westerns or in musicals.
Since writers on film have traditionally had difficulty defining film noir, establishing firm chronologies, and identifying those films which are undeniably noir, this makes it possible to examine a wide range of films in a number of different categories. Anyone who has looked very closely at the two major books on film noir, the Silver/Ward Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style (Overlook Press, 1980) and Foster Hirsch’s work, The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir (A. S. Barnes, 1981), will have been struck by the lack of agreement on the basic body of films thought to constitute the official canon.
There is, thus, under way what could be a very fruitful re-examination of the subject , and I would expect that over the next few years there will be major reformulations that will both define more precisely noir elements and refine their applications to particular films.
While both Silver/Ward and Hirsch list Max Ophuls’ Reckless Moment in their filmographies, Silver/Ward point out the anomaly of casting a woman as the potentially doomed victim, rather than, as is usually the case in noir films, the tracked male. The casting is also ironic in that the woman is played by Joan Bennett, who was the destructive femme fatale in Fritz Lang’s Woman in the Window, here playing an upper middle-class housewife who embarks upon a sequence of lies and deceptions to protect her daughter whom she mistakenly believes to be responsible for the death of her blackmailing lover.
The film is based on a story by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, “The Blank Wall,” and has all the elements of standard woman-in-peril magazine fiction but reshaped by the superb direction of Ophuls into a subtle study of middle-class morality threatened by a seductive outsider (Shepperd Strudwick) who is “removed” and then replaced by an even more potentially dangerous threat (a blackmailer, James Mason, working with a totally unprincipled partner).
The strength of the film is not only in the fluid, accomplished camera work which tracks Bennett in her increasingly more frantic quest for salvation and liberation, but in the bond which develops between Mason and Bennett, the rootless outsider, the black sheep, as he tells her, of his family, and the mother whose only concern is to protect her daughter from the consequences of her folly and keep the stain from contaminating the house and the other members of the family.
The film is at its most intense and claustrophobic (she is, after all, walled in by her fears and assumptions) in its handling of the interior spaces of the Harper house. Bennett paces incessantly through the house, nervously chain-smoking, trying to hide her machinations from her family, as if she were turning in a cage.
In the foreground, the camera is most obsessive about Bennett’s every move, but it is also recording, in the background, the routine of the family, so that the spectator is bound by a sense of a precarious balance between the two levels and of the constant threat of the possibility of the rupturing of the fragile membrane that separates the two.
Bennett plays the role with a dark distraction in which she see ms always to be just a bit to one side of the on-screen action, plotting her next move. She is frequently interrupted, never really alone — even when she is driving with Donnelly, the character played by Mason, at a traffic light someone leans from the next car to talk to her.
She is always tracked by the camera, but this is symptomatic of a larger trajectory at which her every movement seems to coincide with an intersection. There is no one moment in the film that is in itself irretrievably reckless. It is rather the narrative, restlessly exploring the implications of movements, that is reckless.
Lucia Harper (Bennett) can only be saved by the intervention of an outside agency, initially threatening, finally converted into something benign and protective, a member of her extended family taking from her the role she cannot herself carry off successfully and restoring her as manager of the household and bearer of the telephone message to a no longer threatening exterior world, “Everything’s fine.”
There are some of the recognizable features of film noir in the depiction of the doomed character (here uncharacteristically rescued), in the menacing shadows and reflections, and in the atmospheric — and sometimes sordid — milieux that we associate with the genre. But The Reckless Moment is no more to be restricted by a characterization of genre than any other film that uses form not for constriction but for expansion and elaboration.
This is probably not a film of the same distinction as Ophuls’ Pleasure, The Earrings of Madame X, and Lola Montes, but it is a film of uncommon intelligence and taste, transforming its materials into something at once imperious and elusive, a perfect demonstration of Ophuls’ belief that, in art, “the most insignificant, the most unobtrusive among [details] are often the most evocative, characteristic and even decisive. Exact details, an artful little nothing, make art.”
THE RECKLESS MOMENT. Columbia, 1949. James Mason, Joan Bennett, Geraldine Brooks, Henry O’Neill, Shepperd Strudwick, David Bair, Roy Roberts. Based on the novel The Blank Wall (Simon & Schuster, 1947) by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding. Director: Max Ophüls.
R. T. CAMPBELL (Ruthven Todd) – Bodies in a Bookshop. John Westhouse, UK, hardcover, 1946. Dover, US, softcover, 1984.
For bibliophiles,Bodies in a Bookshopis pure enjoyment. The first chapter is full of love for books, and later chapters have insights into book- and print-selling and collecting. The story is well-structured, often amusing, and fairly clued.
What is most interesting to me, however, is the amateur detective, Professor John Stubbs. He is an imitation of Carr’s Sir Henry Merrivale, with a bit of Dr. Gideon Fell thrown in. Stubbs is called “the old man”; he drinks copious quantities of beer; he resembles “a caricature of G. K. Chesterton trying to look like Buddha”; and, like Fell, he has a “mop of gray hair” which falls over his forehead. When he is concentrating he “frowns at the point of his cigar.” If Stubbs’ appearance combines Merrivale and Fell, his speech and attitude are pure H. M.:
“Look’ee here, son.”
“I got the simple mind I have.”
“The shockin’ cussedness of luck.”
“Oi,” the old man sounded and looked furious, “What d’ye mean by goin’ round arrestin’ people wi’out consultin’ me?”
“Look here,” he roared indignantly, “me, I got the scientific mind… Ye thunderin’ well know ye’re wrong.”
“What do I get? ” He looked round at us with an expression that he was the worst treated man in the world. “Do I get any thanks? No! All they say is that I’ve tried all the possible answers and I’ve found the right one. They say I got luck. I say I got brains. Bah!”
Even the “large and bland” Chief Inspector is a Carrian character. None of this works quite as well as Carr at his best, but I am busily trying to locate more adventures of Professor Stubbs.
– Reprinted from The Poisoned Pen, Vol. 6, No. 2, Winter 1984/85.
The Prof. John Stubbs series —
Unholy Dying. Westhouse, 1945.
Adventure with a Goat. Westhouse, 1946.
Bodies in a Bookshop. Westhouse, 1946.
The Death Cap. Westhouse, 1946.
Death for Madame. Westhouse, 1946.
Swing Low, Swing Death. Westhouse, 1946.
Take Thee a Sharp Knife. Westhouse, 1946.
Only the first and third of these have been published in the US, both in paperback by Dover Books. Campbell also wrote one non-Stubbs mystery: Apollo Wore a Wig (Westhouse, 1946). Other than the two reprinted in the US, Campbell’s detective fiction appears to be nearly impossible to obtain.