HENRY KANE – Until You Are Dead. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1951. Dell #580, paperback, 1952. Signet S1835, paperback, August 1960.

   Of author Henry Kane’s prodigious output of over 60 novels, about half of them featured PI Peter Chambers as the main protagonist. Until You Are Dead is the first of them I’ve read in several years, and it took me a while to get used to his writing style, a combination of quick patter and a uniquely quirky view of the world. Whether that POV was Chambers’ or Kane himself, I do not know.

   The story has to do with a jazz musician’s attempt to cut a deal with a mob boss whom he saw kill a man in a night club men’s room. Said jazz musician ends up dead, and it is up to Chambers to find out who and why, even though he doesn’t have a client. Not right away anyway.

   Chambers, a guy with an eye for the ladies as he goes, both fires and misfires on the case, which is a medium-boiled affair with a modicum of actual detective work. A potboiler, perhaps, but all in all, once I was in sync with Kane’s style, an interesting and in its own way, an enjoyable reading experience.

   Some examples thereof. From pages 85 and 86 of the Signet paperback:

   I went to the cabinet and broke out a new bottle of Scotch (here he goes again). I peeled the cellophane off the top and clipped off the cork. I poured into a shot glass and swallowed it neat. I poured again and put the bottle away. 1 held up the glass and looked at amber glistening in the sunlight and mused. People say I drink too much. The hell with them. People say nobody can drink that much. The hell with them, I know people who drink more. People say I’ll have no liver left when I’m old. The hell with them, who wants a liver when you’re old? Literary critics rant. The … (excuse me). Let them rant (between drinks). I like to drink. So far, it agrees with me. When it stops agreeing with me, I’ll listen to the literary critics, as I sorrow under the burden of cirrhosis. There are all kinds of people. It makes for an interesting world. There are people who smoke three packs of cigarettes before they really get going for an evening in the night clubs. There are prime ministers who inhale eighteen fat cigars a day. There are people who buy pornographic books which they read every day except Sunday. There are people who push against people in crowded subways. There are people who play footsie with strangers in the movies. There are people who drink four ice cream sodas at a smack. There are secret eaters of constant pickles. There are people who go for smoked tongue with mustard by the heap. There are people who slush through a pound of cream candies during one chapter of a thick book with significance. There are pistachio nut eaters. There are marijuana smokers. There are opium addicts. There are movie-goers (including matinees). There are people who devote celibate lives to devising instruments of mass destruction. There are soda-pop drinkers. There are frankfurter nuts. There are sun-bathers, vegetable eaters, vitamin girls, hormone boys, sidewalk psychiatrists, neon hunters, nylon oglers, stamp collectors, headline readers, glass crunchers, five-mile hikers, deep breathers, left-handed pitchers, sweepstake winners, golf players, winter swimmers, and guys that make parachute jumps at the age of a hundred and nine. There are even philosophical private detectives.

   Me, I like to drink (among other things). So what?

   Switching gears on a dime and continuing on, from pages 86 and 87:

    I drank. Then I latched on to the phone again. I dialed Information and asked for Cream Baylor’s phone number, I got the number and I called Baylor. Sweetly, I said, “Mr. Baylor, please.”

    The girl said, “Who’s calling?”

    “Peter Chambers.”

    “Peter Chambers of where?”

    “Of where?”

    “Your firm? Whom are you connected with?”

    “I am connected with nobody. Personal.”

    “One moment, please.”

    I held the receiver away from my ear while the plugs plugged, then I got a new voice, feminine, but just as firm.

    “Yes?”

    “Mr. Baylor, please.”

    “Who’s calling?”

    “Peter Chambers.”

    “Peter Chambers? Of where?”

    “I just went through that routine, sister. This is a personal call.”

    “Oh. Whom do you wish to speak with?”

    “Same party. Cream Baylor.”

    “Your name please?”

    “No change. Still Peter Chambers.”

    “Thank you. Will you hold on a moment?”

    I held on a moment. I lit a cigarette with one hand. I gazed fondly at the liquor cabinet. Then the voice came back. “Mr. Baylor doesn’t seem to know you, sir.”

    “May I speak with him, please?”

    “He’s very busy right now.”

    “Look, it’s important.”

    “I’m sorry, sir.”

    “Well, can I make an appointment to see him?”

    “What is it about, sir?”

    “Who’s this? Who’m I talking to?”

    “This is his secretary, sir.”

    “Look, Miss, I’m a private, uh, a philosophical private detective.”

    “Pardon?”

    “A private detective.”

    “Yes?”

    “I’d like to see Mr. Baylor on a case rm employed on. A murder case. A young man by the name of Kermit Teshle. Wm you tell that to him, please? Tell him it’s urgent.”

    “One moment, sir.”

    I smoked, savagely. I ground out the cigarette. I couldn’t get to the inviting cabinet without leaving the phone. Urgent, I had said to the girl. I lived without a drink.

    The voice returned. “Hello?”

    “Yes?”

    “Mr.Baylor can fit you in two weeks from today, Thursday, at two o’clock ”

    “Look, I want to talk to the guy. Now.”

    “Sorry, sir. Mr. Baylor is engaged right now.”

    “It’s murder.”

    “That’s right, sir.”

    “Take a message for him, will you?”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Tell him to go and —”

    She hung up on me.

Reviewed by DAN STUMPF:


MORE DEAD THAN ALIVE. United Artists, 1969. Clint Walker, Vincent Price, Anne Francis, Paul Hampton, Craig Littler, Mike Henry. Written by George Schenck. Directed by Robert Sparr.

   In the wisdom of my advancing years I find myself wondering more and more where films like this come from. At the tail end of the “Spaghetti Western” cycle this film appears, written and directed by talents completely undistinguished, yet brought off with style and imagination, carried through by a well-used cast.

   Perhaps I should have said “almost completely undistinguished;” the cinematographer here was Jack Marquette, who worked in the B-movie sub-basement back in its 50s/60s hey-day, with films like Attack of the 50 Foot Woman and Creature from the Haunted Sea to his credit, and he does serviceable work here. But to get back to the Movie, as they say:

   Clint Walker stars as Cain (aka:“Killer Cain”) a notorious gunman with twelve notches on his pistol, released from Prison after an 18-year stretch… possibly for thwarting bad-guy Mike Henry’s effort to spring his brother from jail in a bloody but abortive break-out attempt.

   At any rate, Cain finds himself at loose ends in a society that has moved past him, much like the aging lawmen in Ride the High Country, periodically tormented by the sadistic Mike Henry and unable to find a steady job because of his reputation. Like Randolph Scott in Country, he settles uncomfortably into employment in a shabby Wild West show run by Vincent Price (a marvelous performance) where his notoriety brings him dubious stardom.

   It also brings him into conflict with the show’s former star (Paul Hampton, of whom more later) a superior gun-artist now reduced to supporting-player status. The movie becomes an interesting study of the three-way relationship between Walker, Price and Hampton, with Walker’s easy assurance matched perfectly by Price’s show-biz savvy while Hampton knocks himself out on the sidelines like a moth batting into a light bulb, torn between jealousy and hero-worship.

   Writer Schenck also throws in Anne Francis, every bit as bewitching as she was back when she sported about on the Forbidden Planet, and Craig Littler as a good-humored young attorney dogging Walker’s footsteps like a benevolent counterpart to Mike Henry’s outlaw. Things run to a surprise finish after a satisfying set-to between Walker and Henry—two screen antagonists who seem perfectly matched against each other.

   But I should put in a word here about Paul Hampton as the would-be gunslinger: his performance has come in for a lot of ridicule — I particularly like the reviewer who called him the Ultimate Method Actor — but I find his playing energetic and daring. Equal parts James Dean and Leo Gorcey, he agitates, cries, and visibly deflates as the part requires, and his scene with Mike Henry is incredibly visceral.

   One thing puzzles me, though: according to Wikipedia, Paul Hampton is a highly-regarded singer and composer, but the only actual credit I can find for him is as the writer/performer of My Mother the Car. So either I’m missing something important or it’s pretty easy to be “highly regarded” in the Music Industry.

   Hey, maybe I should give it a try….

   Not my town, not yet anyway, but maybe yours.

   The HEROES & ICONS network has very limited availability so far, but their plans for expansion seem to be quite ambitious.

   Their specialty is Old TV Series, and currently on their schedule are Black Sheep Squadron, Branded, The Cisco Kid, Combat, Hunter, Mannix, The Rebel, Wagon Train, Xena, and as they say, a whole lot more.

   Thanks and a tip of the hat to Mike Tooney who let me know about this new kid in town. He also pointed out that an episode of Cimarron Strip entitled “Knife in the Darkness” is scheduled to be shown on Sunday, February 7th, at 7:30 P.M. He reviewed this episode on this blog back a while ago. You can read his comments here.

From this singer-songwriter’s 1994 CD on Rounder Records, Between the Eclipse:

The river, like some silver finger, tumbles to the sea.
The pines that pierce the far horizon seem to beckon me;
They draw me to another town, another brand new day,
They draw me to my dreams of home, a half a world away.

I think back on the days before our love grew rifts and cracks,
In the heat of pride’s confusion, we turned our hearts and backs.
Lying in the still of night, without a word to say,
Two hearts beating side-by-side, a half a world away.

[bridge]

I’ve seen you in a thousand glances, I’ve heard a hundred lies;
I’ve walked the wire, proudly wearing bravery’s disguise.
But alone upon my knees tonight, for constancy I pray.
I reach out in the dark for you, a half a world away.

A full moon mounts a crystal sky, as I cross another border;
Informed, inspected, stamped, exchanged – my life in perfect order,
For I’ve mapped my course, and now I know my heart is home to stay.
I’ll hold you in my arms tonight, a half a world away.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:


THE WOMAN IN GREEN. Universal Pictures, 1945. Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Hillary Brooke, Henry Daniell, Paul Cavanagh, Matthew Boulton. Screenplay by Bertram Millhauser, based on characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle. Director: Roy William Neill.

   Forget the title, which as it turns out has little relation to the story, and just appreciate the movie. For this entry in the Sherlock Holmes film series in which Basil Rathbone portrayed the famed sleuth is an altogether enjoyable movie watching experience, even if the crimes referenced to in this film are particularly grisly.

   Directed by Roy William Neill, The Woman in Green has it all: a series of unsolved murders, hypnosis, a formidable villain in Professor Moriarty (Henry Daniell), and naturally for this Holmes film series, a bumbling, but ever-so-charming Dr. Watson portrayed by Nigel Bruce.

   The story, as it turns out, isn’t nearly as interesting as it might have been. In many ways, the setup is far more formidable than the eventual payoff (no spoilers here). But that doesn’t end up mattering, as it’s the characters and the dialogue that propel the movie forward. Seeing Holmes and Watson in action, not to mention Holmes facing off against Moriarty, is a sheer delight.

   But back to the plot: Scotland Yard is baffled by what they’ve encountered; namely, a series of brutal Jack the Ripper style murders all over London. Making matters worse – and far more grotesque – is the fact that all of the victims have had one finger severed. Who took the fingers? And who committed these horrific crimes?

   That’s where Holmes comes in. From the get go, he thinks that the authorities aren’t necessarily dealing with Jack the Ripper Part II, but that there’s something even more nefarious going on. But what could it be? And what is Moriarty’s role in all this, especially given that he was presumed dead? All I can say is, tune in to find out!

This is the first post I’ve made from my cellphone. My apologies for disappearing so abruptly. Something has come up without much warning.

I may be back in business tomorrow or it may be a couple more days. Stay tuned!

From this Iowa-born folk singer’s 1980 CD 44 & 66:

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