Reviews


A YANK IN LIBYA. PRC, 1942. Walter Woolf King, Joan Woodbury, H. B. Warner, Parkyarkarkus (Harry Parke), Duncan Renaldo, George Lewis, William Vaughn, Howard Banks, Amarilla Morris. Director: Albert Herman.

   There is no movie so bad that someone leaving a review on IMDb won’t call it a Poverty Row Classic. (Check it out.) This isn’t the worst movie I’ve seen, but it’s in the bottom dozen. The only reason I kept watching it — well, two actually — was the presence of two actors whose performances I found far and away above the rest of the cast.

   The first was Joan Woodbury, far from being well known, but whose good looks and charm on the screen always delight me, and the second was a veteran radio actor named Parkyarkarkus, aka Harry Einstein, who I’d never see in person before. On radio he played a pseudo-Greek character on several comedy variety programs, including Eddie Cantor’s and Al Jolson’s as well as a short running one of his own called “Meet Me at Parky’s.”

   In A Yank in Libya he plays a jovial heavy-set seller of razor blades in a Libyan marketplace, clad in Arab garb as a far-fetched transplant from Brooklyn, added (one presumes) for comedy relief, but as time goes on, he seems to know more and more about what is going on than the hero does.

   Which entails a Nazi attempt to incite the Muslim tribal leaders to rebel against the British rule. Walter Woolf King (whose name I don’t ever remember seeing on the screen before) is a reporter who uncovers the plot, a brash sort of know-nothing role, while Duncan Renaldo plays the tribal leader most friendly to the British, and rather unconvincingly, to my eyes.

   It occurs to me to add that most of the other players in this film do a better than average job of it. It’s the story that lets them down, a patchwork affair fastened together by good wishes and duct tape, that and the abysmal budget they must have had to work with. The list of cast members is a large one, but if there are more than five people on the screen at any time, the footage was swiped from another movie.

   But one last note. If you think you’d be interested in seeing this movie, I’d suggest using the video link embedded above. It’s free, and the sound quality, the small amount I’ve watched of it, is tremendously better than the version on DVD from Alpha Video, which I paid an almost reasonable four dollars for.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


OAKLEY HALL – Warlock. Viking, hardcover 1958. Bantam, paperback, 1959. University of Nebraska Press, softcover, 1980. New York Review of Books Classics, softcover, 2005

WARLOCK. Fox, 1959. Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Anthony Quinn, Dorothy Malone, Dolores Michaels, Wallace Ford, Tom Drake, Richard Arlen, Whit Bissel, Donald “Red” Barry and DeForest Kelley. Screenplay by Robert Alan Arthur. Directed by Edward Dmytryk.

   I’ve been pleased to read a few truly great Westerns this year, and this was one of them, a Pulitzer nominee that can stand right up there with The Big Sky, The Last Hunt and The Stars in Their Courses as a great novel and a great Western.

   Author Oakley Hall takes the basic elements from the Earp-in-Tombstone saga (events that have already become an American Iliad) and uses them to create his own Epic Ballad, much as John Ford did in My Darling Clementine.

   But where Ford turned heroes into legends, Hall transmutes the legends into role-players, fictionalizing them to give himself the poetic license he needs. Thus Wyatt Earp becomes Clay Blaisdell, Doc Holiday is Tom Morgan, Ike Clanton turns into Abe McQuown—and Tombstone becomes Warlock.

   What emerges is a complex, fast-moving and vivid drama-cum-folk-tale punctuated by shoot-outs, hold-ups, bar fights and lynch mobs, in which characters sometimes stand impressively against the tide and sometimes get swept along or even drowned by it. Hall has a nifty trick of showing how the players we admire most can be capable of cowardice and treachery, yet somehow never lose our esteem. And in all the complexity of character he never lets go of the narrative reins, keeping the tale moving nicely at all times. Hall can write actions scenes with the best of them, but it’s his feel for people and place that make the tale so memorable.

   I saw the film shortly after reading the book, and I guess I’ll have to wait a couple years and see it again so I can judge Warlock the movie on its own terms. As it was, the story seemed too simple and too hurried, and the characters unconvincing or simply unappealing. Richard Widmark isn’t bad as the outclassed Deputy trying to do his duty, but I never got a feel for the character, and I’m not sure he did either. Henry Fonda, once a memorable Wyatt Earp, looks a bit podgy as Blaisdell, and Anthony Quinn plays Morgan/Holliday as a prissy mother hen — one critic called it “the most open depiction of homosexual love in the classic western.”

   The supporting players come off a bit better, including DeForest Kelley in the Curly Bill part, and Frank Gorshin (!) as Widmark’s hot-head kid brother, but again the film simplifies them into non-existence. Or at least it did to me, seeing it when I did. The film has its fans, and perhaps I’ll like it better a few years hence. Meanwhile, let me say again that the book is one that Western fans should treat themselves to.

DANA CAMERON – A Fugitive Truth. Avon, paperback original, May 2004.

   Though an archaeologist by profession, Emma Fielding somehow manages to run into an abundance of cases of murder on her many and varied field trips, this being the fourth in a series, and unfortunately only the first that I’ve read.

   Based on the example at hand, it’s a lapse I’d like to remedy as soon as I can. This one’s an impressive outing, beginning as if it were a gothic romance novel from the 1970s, as Emma travels through a dark and overcast night to the Victorian mansion where the Shrewsbury Library is located, and where her latest project has taken her.

   After helping to excavate the 18th century home of one Margaret Chandler and putting the life of the woman in the proper context, Emma plans on reading the young bride’s diary, written while she was still trying to adjust to life in the American “wilderness” as a new arrival from England. Here’s a quote that will help describe how Emma’s philosophy of life (and career) put her on my side, immediately and forever. From page 56:

   I also reminded myself of why I had finally decided that my work was important. History tends to be about great events or trends that are disassociated from the common person. Historical archaeology is about everyday things, it’s finding out about people who didn’t always have a voice or fair representation by those who kept the public records, it’s about filling in the blanks. By teaching what archaeology teaches about the past, I was letting my audiences know how people like them made great things possible. On good days, I felt like I was a preacher, teaching empowerment, hope and ownership.

   When one of her fellow resident scholars is found drowned under mysterious circumstances, Emma is asked by the local police lady to use her academic insight and help with the investigation from the inside. As in the best of detective novels, there are a number of suspects, all with differing motivations, and all must be scrutinized with care, since – if Emma is not careful – she may become the killer’s next victim.

   In parallel with the present day crimes, Emma also discovers that Margaret, the lady of the diary, was abruptly accused of the death of a clergyman in her day, but the comments she wrote about her criminal trial are written in code, which requires deciphering on the part of Emma.

   When Margaret’s problems are over and she was absolved of the crime she was accused of, her comments were, “The truth is more than a sum of the facts,” an observation that does not explain the circumstances of her acquittal – the crucial pages are inscrutably missing – but it gives Emma the shove she needs, and at the right moment, in her own investigation.

   Besides the good, no, excellent characterization and a better than average detective story – and somehow it manages to slip my mind and I have to realize this over and over again, don’t the two go hand-in-hand? – there is an epilogue that is absolutely outstanding. Moralizing after the fact is not all that common in detective fiction, and moralizing on the level of Spider-Man? Now that’s unique.

PostScript:   Besides being a mystery writer, Dana Cameron is by primary occupation a professional archaeologist, which comes as no surprise at all.

— May 2004

      The Emma Fielding series

1. Site Unseen (2002)

2. Grave Consequences (2002)
3. Past Malice (2003)

4. A Fugitive Truth (2004)
5. More Bitter Than Death (2005)
6. Ashes and Bones (2006)

   And as a sign of the times, perhaps, given the end of this Emma Fielding series, beginning in 2013 Dana Cameron has written five novels in a fantasy-paranormal “Fangborn” series. Here’s a description:

    “Archaeologist Zoe Miller has been running from a haunting secret her whole life. But when her cousin is abducted by a vicious Russian kidnapper, Zoe is left with only one option: to reveal herself.

    “Unknown to even her closest friends, Zoe is not entirely human. She’s a werewolf and a daughter of the ‘Fangborn,’ a secretive race of werewolves, vampires, and oracles embroiled in an ancient war against evil.”

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Karol Kay Hope


  GORDON ASHE – A Nest of Traitors. Holt Rinehart & Winston, US, hardcover, 1971. Popular Library, US, paperback, no date. First published by John Long, UK, hardcover, 1970.

   Gordon Ashe is a pseudonym of John Creasey, an amazingly prolific British writer who had to his credit some 560 novels published under more than twenty names. A Nest of Traitors continues the adventures of Patrick Dawlish and “The Crime Haters,” one of his most popular series.

   A revered British war hero and onetime independent crime fighter, Dawlish is now deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, London, specializing in crimes of international significance. He is also the acknowledged leader of a loosely knit group of crime fighters, the membership representing every major police force in the world.

   In this case, Dawlish must alert various international investigative agencies to a widespread passport-fraud scheme that could wreak havoc on immigration and passport control throughout the world. As Dawlish’s investigation continues, passport control turns out to be the tip of the iceberg; a select group of the world’s most powerful men are on their way to seizing control over each government, major industry, banking system, and society on the planet.

   By the time Dawlish discovers this master plot, the organization — known as “the Authority” — has almost succeeded, and Dawlish is the one person standing between a
free world and its complete domination by this small but vicious group of immensely wealthy megalomaniacs.

   Unfortunately, Dawlish is just too perfect; and the Authority is too powerful to really be vulnerable to the heroic antics of what Ashe would have us believe is the last honorable man in the world. Farfetched, but a good book to read yourself to sleep with.

   Patrick Dawlish appears in all the Gordon Ashe novels except The Man Who Stayed Alive (1955) and No Need to Die (1956). Representative titles are Death on Demand (1939), Murder Too Late (1947), Elope to Death (1959), A Clutch of Coppers (1969), and A Blast of Trumpets (1975).

         ———
   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


CORNERED. RKO Radio Pictures, 1945. Dick Powell, Walter Slezak, Micheline Cheirel, Nina Vale, Morris Carnovsky, Edgar Barrier, Steven Geray. Director: Edward Dmytryk

   Cornered is the type of suspense film where, for a time at least, you really don’t have a clue exactly where you’re headed. But you’re in good company, because the film’s protagonist doesn’t really know what’s going on all around him, either. It’s not the easiest plot structure to pull off in a book, let alone a film.

   You’d surely agree with me that far too many crime films have been ruined by a director holding back important information about what’s going on from the viewer without his ultimately, and successfully, clearing the obfuscation so as to bring the plot to a satisfying conclusion. Sometimes, trying to do too much to give the film an air of mystery ends up letting all the air out of the proverbial bag.

   In Edward Dymytrk’s Cornered, however, the mystifying and suspenseful plot ultimately works quite well. This is thanks in no small part to the film’s casting of Dick Powell as Laurence Gerard, a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot on the hunt for a Nazi collaborator, and Walter Slezak as Melchior Incza, an enterprising scoundrel who serves as Gerard’s Virgil on a tour of the war criminal underground of Buenos Aries. Powell and Slezak are both such talented actors that you don’t mind being temporarily in the dark.

   On the surface, at least, the plot is fairly straightforward. The Second World War is officially over. Unofficially, of course, there are many unresolved issues. The murder of Laurence Gerard’s French wife is one of them. Gerard resolves that he will track down his wife’s killer, a French collaborator by the name of Marcel Jarnac. He travels from France to Switzerland and then to Argentina on the hunt for the mysterious man.

   Once he arrives in Buenos Aires, Gerard is immediately thrust into a web of deception and psychological turmoil. He’s not sure whom to trust or who is lying to him. All the while, he is struggling with headaches, a reminder that the recently concluded war’s casualties include those struggling with post-traumatic stress.

   Among the nefarious, or potentially dangerous people he encounters are the enigmatic Melchior Incza (Slezak), the sophisticated Argentinian lawyer, Manuel Santana (Morris Carnovsky), and a woman who is thought to be Jarnac’s wife (Micheline Cheirel). All the players seem to have hidden agendas.

   But Gerard is a man on a mission of revenge and will not heed calls to abandon his task, no matter what the cost. He descends deeper into the shadowy underground of Buenos Aires, all culminating in a violent showdown on the waterfront in which we finally see the unassuming Jarnac. He looks like he could easily blend into a crowd without anyone noticing something was amiss.

   And that’s the point. Fascism hides in plain sight. It is Jarnac, in his discussion with a captive Gerard, who most clearly enunciates the film’s strong anti-fascist message and warning: the Second World War may be over, but fascists like him still live, hidden both in plain sight and in the shadows.

   In conclusion, Cornered is both a suspense film and an early example of film noir. Gerard is caught up is a labyrinth of uncertainty, often subject to historical forces well out of his control. Many of the film’s pivotal scenes occur in interior settings, well away from the disinfectant power of bright sunlight. Nowhere is this the case more striking than in a beautifully filmed sequence in the Buenos Aires subway in which a traumatized Gerard struggles to maintain his composure in a broken world.

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck



BEVERLEY NICHOLS Horatio Green

BEVERLEY NICHOLS – The Moonflower Murder. E. P. Dutton, UK, hardcover, 1955. First published in the UK: Hutchinson, hardcover, 1955, as The Moonflower.

   In his second recorded case since his retirement as a private detective, Horatio Green is in Dartmoor in hopes of viewing the blooming of the fabulous Moonflower, transported at great expense from South America. Since he had some twenty-five years earlier investigated a jewelry theft for the owner of the Moonflower, Green had been invited to her estate to view the plant.

   The plant does bloom, forty-eight hours early, but its owner is not there to view it. Someone had strangled her and made off with her jewels.

   Since Superintendent Waller of Scotland Yard — both a friend and rival of Green’s — is in the area dealing with a recent escape from Princetown Prison, he begins an investigation of the crime with Green’s help. With the aid of his keen olfactory sense, Green identifies the culprit, while I wondered about genetics and slipshod post-mortems.

   Nichols’ first novel featuring Green — No Man’s Street — seemed to me to be a book by an accomplished author feeling his way into the mystery field, and thus left something to be desired. He does much better here.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.


NOTE:   Bill’s review of Murder by Request, also by Beverley Nichols, was posted here earlier on this blog. Following that review is some biographical information about the author and a complete listing of his Horatio Green series.

TRIGGER FINGERS. Monogram Pictures, 1946. Johnny Mack Brown, Sam Hurricane Benton, Raymond Hatton, Jennifer Holt, Riley Hill, Steve Clark, Eddie Parker. Director: Lambert Hillyer.

   By the time the 1940s came around and almost every movie that Johnny Mack Brown made was a western, and a B-western at that, he was not exactly fat, or perhaps even overweight, but he was, shall we say, chunky, and not exactly what a small kid’s idea of what a western star should look like.

   The small kid being me. My cowboy heroes were Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Lash LaRue and the Durango Kid. After that came a bunch of other fellows: Rex Allen, Monte Hale, Johnny Mack Brown and a few more. I won’t mention any that I omitted, so not to embarrass anyone, but I will point out another reason I might not have mentioned one of your favorites, such as the fact that Hopalong Cassidy’s movies never seemed to play in my small Michigan town.

   In any case, Trigger Fingers is the first movie starring Johnny Mack Brown that I’ve seen in maybe 65 years, and even though there wasn’t much a plot, nor even a lot of action, I enjoyed it.

   Turns out that someone wants some land owned by Raymond Hatton’s character, and when his son is framed for killing a fellow card player, that someone and his gang think they have a means of forcing a sale through a little judicious blackmail.

   Little do they know that Hatton has a good friend in Sam “Hurricane” Benton, who’s calm demeanor and soft Alabaman drawl belies a quick wit and even quicker trigger finger. I don’t know if that’s where the title of the movie comes from, but it works for me.

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