Reviews


 ERLE STANLEY GARDNER – The Case of the Long-Legged Models. Perry Mason #57. William Morrow, hardcover, 1958. Previously serialized in The Saturday Evening Post in eight parts as “The Case of the Dead Man’s Daughter,” beginning 10 August 1957. Reprinted many times since, including Pocket #6009, paperback, 1960; Ballantine, paperback, 1994.

   This late middle period Perry Mason novel begins simply enough, but then again all of cases do. This time he’s hired by a long-legged brunette who’s inherited a share of small Nevadan casino from her murdered father, but a syndicate of sorts is trying to squeeze her out. A man claiming to be the representative of the group is soon found murdered, and Perry’s client is arrested for the crime.

   That’s the mundane part of the tale. What this one’s really all about is the matter of the three identical guns involved, one of which did the killing, but with Perry intentionally shuffling the guns around, it is nearly impossible to keep track of who had it where and when. I’m not sure that even Perry knew, not until the end, but I sure didn’t.

   But the best part of any Perry Mason novel is the courtroom scene, where D.A. Hamilton Burger tries his best to make mincemeat of both Perry and his client, and as usual, only ends up with egg on his face. The guilty party is obvious, but only after all the facts are in. This one will be a lot of fun for readers of Perry Mason fans, but probably run-of-the-mill routine for those who aren’t.

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:

   

THE PREMATURE BURIAL. American International Pictures, 1962. Ray Milland, Hazel Court, Richard Ney, Heather Angel, Alan Napier, John Dierkes, Richard Miller. Screenplay by Charles Beaumont and Ray Russell, based on the story by Edgar Alan Poe. Directed by Roger Corman. Currently streaming on Amazon Prime, DirecTV and others.

   Put aside the plot for now. For this third entry into Roger Corman’s Poe cycle of films fundamentally revolves around an idea, a concept. And that is: what would it be like for a man deathly afraid of being buried alive to actually be buried alive? How would he act? What would he do to those who accidentally (or purposefully) entombed him? How could a filmmaker put reflect his psychological state cinematically?

   In terms of reflecting this morbid concept on screen, The Premature Burial succeeds admirably. And then some. Ray Milland, although too old for the part, does a great job in portraying a man who afraid of being buried alive that he allows all the life to be sucked out of him. Hazel Court, who portrays his long-suffering wife, is there to both support and scold him. She clearly doesn’t want to have to spend the rest of her years with a man with one foot already in the grave.

   Based on the eponymous Edgar Allan Poe short story, The Premature Burial is enriched with claustrophobic sets and a chillingly effective score from Ronald Stein. The film also makes ample use of a rich color palette, both in terms of set design and lighting. Corman’s use of jump cuts do not work nearly as effectively as do the lush atmospherics.

   The movie also benefits greatly from the presence of three great character actors. Alan Napier, who is now best remembered as the butler Alfred in the live-action Batman TV series, portrays the father-in-law of the protagonist. And John Dierkes and Dick Miller portray two graverobbers who end up being key to how the story unfolds.

   Back to the plot. I’ll be honest. It is a little more than creaky. The ending is simply a little too pat, even for a low budget horror film. That’s unfortunate given that the credited screenwriters were none other than Charles Beaumont and Ray Russell. But that’s not what this film is about. It’s a concept film. And a good, albeit not great one, at that.

   

RICHARD DIAMOND, PRIVATE DETECTIVE “The Mickey Farmer Case.” CBS, 30m, 01 July 1957 (Season 1, Episode 1.) David Janssen (Richard Diamond), Regis Toomey (Lt. McGough). Guest cast: Christopher Dark (Mickey Farmer), Virginia Stefan. Screenwriter: Richard Carr, based on characters created by Blake Edwards. Director: Roy Del Ruth. Currently available for viewing on YouTube here.

   Richard Diamond appeared first on radio, portrayed by Dick Powell as a suave wisecracking PI for four years on three different networks. When brought to TV, David Janssen took over the role, but at least in this the first episode, he did not have a steady girl friend to whom he sang songs to at the end of each show.

   The TV version was done instead in a much more noirish style, with the final scene showing Diamond lighting up a cigarette in a dark alley. Well, I think it was an alley. It was dark out, though, so I may be mistaken.

   There was no particular attempt to introduce any of the players in depth in this first episode. It’s obvious that Regis Toomey is playing a tough cop with whom Diamond has a reasonably good relationship with, but that’s doesn’t mean the former doesn’t threaten the latter with losing his license or even doing jail time if he doesn’t stop bending the rules.

   In thirty minutes of playing time, there’s no room to do more than this, or even to create more than a minimal story, one in which Diamond is called in to help diffuse a tense hostage situation. But in doing so, he also ends up promising a dying killer that he’d help protect the latter’s girl friend from the guy’s partner, who has turned rat on him.

   This was the beginning of Janssen long and successful career in television. Both personable and handsome, he was an actor who was perfectly made for TV, and it shows even in this very short first step. The series itself was on for three years.

   

ARTHUR LYONS – Castles Burning. Jacob Asch #5. Holt Rinehart & Winston, hardcover, 1979; paperback, 1982. Movie adaptation: Slow Burn (Showtime, 1986). Reviewed here.

   I didn’t care much for The Dead Are Discreet, the first of several adventures of PI Jacob Asch that Arthur Lyons has written up. It was four years ago when I read it, and in these pages I called it “mired in … muck [with] a plot full o! inconsistencies …” and I gave it a “D.”

   I might have been wrong. (Well, maybe .) At any rate, what Castles Burning strongly suggests is that I should not have been automatically skipping all the books he’s written since then.

   Not that this one started out all that well. Asch decides to give an artist a helping hand in tracking down the latter’s son, the spoils of a marriage that went on the rocks some ten years before. The artist’s specialty: kinky sex, brought lovingly to life on canvas. Quoting the artist’s agent on page three, “We live in an erotic age, dear boy.”

   But group groping and decor in leather are soon dismissed as a major topic of interest, and thankfully so. The true theme cuts just a little closer to home: alienated children, children with all that money can buy, but junked-out children nonetheless, and maybe therefore. Quoting again, this time from page 190, “They grew up bent because that was the way the light was coming in.”

   The boy Asch is looking for is dead. The mother has remarried, and now she has a stepson instead. Thanks perhaps to Asch’s inquiries, the boy is kidnapped, and Asch’s client is blamed.

   The characters are vivid and sensitively drawn. Pain and anguish always tend to do that to people, but this time it’s real and not simulated. Asch’s Jewishness only once comes to the fore, serving briefly to help escalate his growing sense of guilt. In all, the kidnapping serves to create some nicely tension-packed scenes before they fade off into a fairly tame closing.

   But only in comparison. For some books the ending would be enough; it’d be what they’d build upon.

–Very slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 1, January-February 1981.

Rating: A minus.

   
   The Jacob Asch series —

The Dead Are Discreet (1974)
All God’s Children (1975)
The Killing Floor (1976)
Dead Ringer (1977)
Castles Burning (1979)
Hard Trade (1981)
At the Hands of Another (1983)
Three With a Bullet (1984)
Fast Fade (1987)
Other People’s Money (1989)
False Pretenses (1994)

         Short stories:

“Trouble in Paradise” (1985, The New Black Mask # 1)
“Missing in Miami” (1986, Mean Streets)
“Double Your Pleasure” (January 1989, AHMM)
“Dead Copy” (1988, An Eye For Justice)
“Twist Of Fate” (January 1990, AHMM)
“The Tongan Nude” (October 1997, AHMM)

THE NINE “Pilot.” ABC, 60m, 04 October 2006. Written by Hank Steinberg & K. J. Steinberg. Director: Alex Graves. Currently available on YouTube.

   I’m not including a list of cast credits yet, as it will take both some time and space. I’ll add them below. This is the story of bank heist gone bad, so bad that hostages are taken and are not released until over two days later. Not everyone survives. Those who do, after the media coverage subsides and eventually disappears, as it always does, find that their lives have “changed forever.” The following is taken from Wikipedia. I couldn’t do better:

Main cast, alphabetically, except for the two bank robbers, listed at the end:

   Lourdes Benedicto as Eva Rios, a teller in the bank that is robbed and single mother. Eva is injured during the standoff and dies shortly thereafter. Eva is Franny’s sister.

   John Billingsley as Egan Foote, a data processor. Egan begins the series severely depressed and suicidal. He is in the bank the day of the robbery to kill himself in the bathroom. After the standoff, he is hailed as a hero and feels that he has a “new lease on life”.

   Jessica Collins as Elizabeth “Lizzie” Miller, a social worker. Lizzie is in a serious relationship with Jeremy at the beginning of the series. She finds out she is pregnant before walking into the bank.

   Tim Daly as Nick Cavanaugh, a police officer who happens to be a customer in the bank during the robbery. Nick has a gambling problem. Just prior to the robbery, Nick and Eva arranged to go out on a date.

   Dana Davis as Felicia Jones, a high-school student and daughter of Malcolm. Felicia is in the bank when the robbery occurs. After the standoff, she develops amnesia and cannot remember anything from the event.

   Camille Guaty as Francesca “Franny” Rios, a bank teller and Eva’s sister.

   Chi McBride as Malcolm Jones, the bank manager and Felicia’s father.

   Kim Raver as Kathryn Hale, an Assistant District Attorney. Kathryn is in the bank with her mother at the time of the robbery; her mother is set free. Kathryn’s boyfriend proposes after the robbery. She accepts but has a connection with Nick.

   Scott Wolf as Jeremy Kates, a cardiothoracic surgeon. Jeremy is in a serious relationship with Lizzie at the start of the series.

   Owain Yeoman as Lucas Dalton, one of the two bank robbers. His brother is the other robber. Lucas seems to have a strange connection to Felicia.

   Jeffrey Pierce as Randall Reese, Lucas’s brother and colleague during the bank robbery.

   There were 13 episodes in all, but ratings were poor, and whether all 13 were shown in the US, I haven’t yet worked out. Some may have been shown only online. It’s too bad, as this is a series that is designed to be followed from beginning to end, as the viewer gradually learns what actually happened in those 52 hours, and how the closeness the hostages felt during their crisis carries over to their normal lives. It’s a show meant for bingeing now, and one that would be very difficult to jump into the middle of.

   It’s very well done, and after this first episode ended, I immediately wanted more. I think that went wrong, though, is that it’s very difficult in one 42 minute pilot, to introduce all of the players properly. Some stand out, of course, others far less so. In this pilot, also, during what is shown at the beginning of the hostage standoff and the media frenzy that occurs as they are released, is done with hand-held cameras, adding tremendously to the confusion, but this was the intent and exactly as it should be.

   It might also be that as time went on the story line just wasn’t all that interesting. I’ll probably never know.

   

REVIEWED BY RAY O’LEARY:

   

MARGARET DOODY – Aristotle Detective. Bodley Head, UK, hardcover, 1978. Harper, US, hardcover, 1980. Penguin, paperback, 1981.

   Stephanos, a young Athenian and ex-pupil .of Aristotle, is taking a morning walk when he hears cries coming from the house of a wealthy neighbor named Boutades, who is shortly thereafter discovered with an arrow in his throat. A few days later, Stephanos’ cousin Philemon, who is in exile for having killed a man in a tavern brawl, is accused of the murder.

   As Philemon’s nearest relative, Stephanos must defend him in the ancient Greek equivalent of a trial. Naturally, considering the title of the book, he goess to his old mentor for help in clearing his cousin’s name.

   An interesting and entertaining excursion into ancient Greek culture, with an intriguing mystery and a lot of information about the Athenian legal system passed painlessly and pleasantly along to the reader.

— Reprinted from A Shropshire Sleuth #42, November 1989.

   
      The Aristotle and Stephanos series —

1. Aristotle Detective (1978)
2. Aristotle and Poetic Justice (2002)
3. Aristotle and the Secrets of Life (2003)
   aka Aristotle and the Mystery of Life
4. Poison in Athens (2004)
5. Mysteries in Eleusis (2005)
6. Aristotle and the Egyptian Murders (2010)
7. A Cloudy day in Babylon (2013)

   Short Story:

Aristotle and the Fatal Javelin (1980)

   

From Wikipedia: “Margaret Anne Doody (born September 21, 1939) is a Canadian author of historical detective fiction and feminist literary critic. She is professor of literature at the University of Notre Dame, and helped found the PhD in Literature Program at Notre Dame, and served as its director from 2001-2007.”

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:

   

THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST. Republic Pictures, 1945. John Abbott, Charles Gordon, Peggy Stewart, Grant Withers, Emmett Vogan, Adele Mara, Roy Barcroft. Loosely based on the 1819 short story “The Vampyre” by John Polidori. Director: Lesley Selander.

   Make no mistake about it. This one is a cheapie. From the very first scene, you can see that it’s filmed primarily on a sound stage. And the running time – a total of 59 minutes – also solidifies the fact that this one was a quickie. Get it made, get it released, make some money, move on to the next film.

   Despite its low-budget origins, The Vampire’s Ghost remains a rather fun little horror film. A large part of that has to do with the somewhat unusual script. Not unusual in terms of its structure – this one fits well within the confines of the traditional Hollywood screenwriting formula – but because of myriad aspects, both big and small, that make this somewhat obscure vampire film more memorable than it could have been.

   Look no further than the original story writer and co-screenwriter. It’s none other than science fiction pulp writer Leigh Brackett. Her first credited work in cinema, The Vampire’s Ghost is hardly The Big Sleep (1946), let alone Rio Bravo (1959). But the devil, as they say, is in the details.

   Here, the vampire in question isn’t an Eastern European nobleman ensconced in his castle. No. Instead, he’s an urbane expatriate Englishman living somewhere in southern Africa. What’s his profession, you ask? He runs a bar/nightclub/gambling place where sailors come to drink and try their luck at the card table. Already unusual, right? There’s definitely a noir aspect to this vampire film, as well as a western one. Who would think that what motivated a vampire to murder would be his finding out that he was cheated at cards by both a sailor and a saloon waitress?

   Unfortunately, despite the better than average plot details, The Vampire’s Ghost remains an overall talky affair with a lot of mediocre acting. There’s just not that much action, let alone special effects. But the atmospheric moments are good – if stagey – and the final sequence is definitely memorable. In a fun way. There isn’t all that much to analyze in the film. It is what it is. If you like tropical settings and have the ability to immerse yourself in a fantastic world of vampires and voodoo drums pulsing through the steamy jungle night, then you might enjoy this one. There are far worse ways of spending an hour.

   

DEATH IN PARADISE “Arriving in Paradise.” BBC One. 25 October 2011 (Season 1, Episode 1). Ben Miller (DI Richard Poole), Sara Martins, Danny John-Jules, Gary Carr, Lenora Crichlow, Don Warrington (Police Commissioner). Created & written by Robert Thorogood. Director: Charles Palmer.

   Switching from watching all of season eight and going back to season one required a lot of adjustment from me. The only member of the cast that is common to both is Don Warrington, the commissioner who is in charge of the police force the fictional Caribbean island of Saint Marie. Everyone else was someone new who had to be introduced to me as the story went on.

   Not only that, but the active members of the force themselves are forced (…) to deal with the murder of their former boss, DI Charlie Hulme, who has been found dead in the locked panic room of a resident English aristocrat’s home while a party was going on. Sent from England to investigate is an uptight detective, DI Richard Poole, who is a fish out of water if there ever was one.

   He doesn’t like the heat, nor his accommodations, nor the small creatures he is forced to share them with, and he especially doesn’t like the heat. Why, then, does he travel around on the case wearing a black suit, white shirt and tie? Probably because he doesn’t intend to stay on the island any longer than he has to. Which means that he has to solve the case as soon as possible and get on a jet plane back home.

   A panic room is, according to Wikipedia, “a fortified room that is installed in a private residence or business to provide a safe shelter, or hiding place, for the inhabitants in the event of a break in, home invasion, tornado, terror attack, or other threat,” and a dead body found in one, locked from the inside, makes for quite a puzzle, and this is a good one.

   Without trying to give away too much [WARNING] this is a prime example of a tale told in which nothing is what it seems to be [END OF WARNING]. As such, even though DI Richard Poole is going to have some getting used to — and yes, no surprise, he’s going to stick around — this is an impressive beginning episode for this long running series.

   

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:

   

W. J. BURLEY – Wycliffe and the Dunes Mystery. Wycliffe #19, St Martin’s, hardcover, 1994. Published first in the UK: Gollancz, hardcover, 1993.

   This has been an “old reliable” series for me, which is kind of amazing when you consider that it’s reached #19.

   Fifteen years ago, the troubled and troublesome son of a prominent Member of Parliament went missing while on a walking holiday in Cornwall. Now a dog scratching in a dune has uncovered his body, and he proves just as troublesome dead as alive – for six local people (three mixed pairs) who spent a wild weekend 15 years ago, then for Wycliffe (who gets bashed in the head), and finally for a nosy landlord who is forcibly assisted from this vale of tears. The still-influential father of the dead youth provides Wycliffe with a matching pain in the other end of his anatomy.

   If you know Burley and Wycliffe, you know what to expect. If you don’t, you’ll find a solidly constructed plot, good Cornish background, interesting characters, and a well-told story. All these are present here, but for some reason I didn’t find the whole to be anything exceptional. I don’t think Burley can write a book I won’t enjoy – at least he hasn’t yet – but this isn’t his best.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #14, August 1994.

   

BIBLIOGRAPHIC UPDATE: Burley was to write but one more in the series, that being Wycliffe and the House of Fear (Gollancz, 1995). There was a British TV series based in part on the books entitled Wycliffe (1993-1998) as the cover image above would indicate, but none of the episodes seem to be based on this book.

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:

   

THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE. Hammer Films, UK, 1963. Universal International, US, 1963. Clifford Evans, Edward de Souza, Noel Willman, Jennifer Daniel, Barry Warren. Writer: Anthony Hinds (as John Elder). Director: Don Sharp.

   Neither a Dracula film nor part of the Karnstein Trilogy (The Vampire Lovers, Lust for a Vampire, Twins of Evil), The Kiss of the Vampire is a lesser- known, but thoroughly enjoyable, stand-alone vampire movie from Hammer Films. Combining the standard tropes of vampire films with atmospheric dread, the movie neither aims for cheap thrills, nor does it condescend to its audience. Much of the on-screen horror in the film is psychological rather than physical. The battles fought here are as much internal as they are external.

   The plot follows Gerald (Edward de Souza) and Marianne Harcourt (Jennifer Daniel), a newly married couple traveling on their honeymoon. When their car breaks down somewhere in Bavaria, they are forced to stay at a local inn run by an elderly, seemingly childless couple. Within hours, they receive an invitation for dinner from one of the village’s most prominent citizens, one Dr. Ravna (Noel Willman).

   Ravna, along with his two adult children, seem to take a strong liking to the Harcourts and invite them back for a masked ball. But little does this mild-mannered English couple know that Ravna is a vampire and the leader of a demonic cult. Once Marianne gets swept up into their satanic grasp, it’s up to Gerald and the alcohol-ravaged Professor Zimmer (Clifford Evans) to harness supernatural forces to (literally) beat the devil.

   While the film doesn’t tread too far off the beaten path in terms of storytelling, what it does, it does well. Indeed, it’s a film that I’ve already watched more than once, and I confess I enjoyed it even more the second time around. The masquerade sequence is exceptional. One wonders how much Roman Polanski was influenced by it, given how a masked ball plays a similarly important role in the third act of his The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967). Final thought: the final frame is hauntingly memorable and involves a swarm of vampire bats. Chillingly effective stuff.

   

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