APOLOGY FOR MURDER. Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC), 1945. Ann Savage, Hugh Beaumont, Russell Hicks, Charles D. Brown. Director: Sam Newfield.

   Hugh Beaumont plays Kenny Blake, a brash young reporter, in this film, and yes, I know, that’s redundant. All young reporters in the movies have to be brash. If they are allowed to get older on the job, they either become cynical or, once in a while, even more devoted to real journalism and the truth. Especially if the latter will sell newspapers.

   Blake’s editor is the latter, which is why I bring it up, but I’m getting ahead of myself. While interviewing one of the wealthier men in town, brashly of course, he is taken by the older man’s much younger wife (Ann Savage). Realizing that her husband is getting tired of her and is about to dump divorce her and leave her nothing, she picks up on Blake’s attraction to her.

   It seems as though she has a plan, and Blake is just the fellow who can help her with it. Should I go on? Have you heard this one before?

   Would it help if I told you that the working title for this film was Single Indemnity until Paramount Pictures got wind of it and told them to cut it out? In Blake’s editor’s eagerness to pull off the scoop of the year, he does not realize until almost too late that he is nurturing a viper in his bosom. So to speak.

   Unfortunately as a leading man in this kind of film, Hugh Beaumont is rather bland, with very little personality of his own, the kind that shows up on the screen. Ann Savage’s next film was to be Detour, and while she definitely doesn’t have the kind of presence in this film she was to have in that one, you can definitely see why they might have thought of her when they were casting the part.


THAT MAN FROM RIO. Les Films Ariane, France, 1964. Lopert Pictures Corporation, US, 1964 (subtitled). Original title: L’homme de Rio. Jean-Paul Belmondo, Francoise Dorleac, Jean Servais and Adolpho Celi. Written by Jean-Paul Rappeneau, Ariane Mnouchkine, Daniel Boulanger, and Philippe de Broca. Directed by Philippe de Broca.

   The first thing I noticed was that this movie had four writers, just like the old-time movie serials it resembles. The second thing was that it’s fun, funny and compulsively watchable.

   Steven Spielberg said those old serials were the inspiration for Raiders of the Lost Ark, but this seems the more likely antecedent, starting with the theft of an ancient relic in Paris, the kidnapping of a scientist’s lovely daughter (Dorleac) and the whole rest of the movie, spent in a cliff-hanging pursuit to a lost temple in the jungle filled with priceless treasure etc. etc …..

   De Broca & Co handle all this with speed and good humor, tossing a few laugh-out-loud moments into a stew of fights, chases and amusing stunt work by Belmondo himself, who insists on keeping his ugly mug to the camera so we can see that it is he who is dangling from skyscrapers, clinging to the wing of an airplane, swinging through jungles and getting knocked about in a spectacular barroom brawl.

   Jean Servais and Adolpho Celi lend some fine villainy to the proceedings, and Ms Dorleac is spirited, lovely, and a far better actress than most serial queens. As for Belmondo, he makes a perfect heroic Everyguy: bemused, bothered, and beleaguered, as he tromps through one peril and the next with a patient shrug and a wry smile, not taking any of this more seriously than we do.

   I should add that towards the end there’s a very thoughtful and sobering split-second. A plot twist I wasn’t expecting that seems like a grim augury of things to come — things we weren’t paying much attention to in 1964 — but it’s soon over, and we’re back to the light-hearted comedy.

   Funny, though: I’ll remember this movie with affection, but I suspect I’ll remember that dark moment a lot longer….

  E. C. R. LORAC – Shepherd’s Crook. Inspector Robert Macdonald #38. Doubleday Crime Club, US, hardcover, 1953. First published in the UK as Crook o’ Lune (Collins Crime Club, hardcover, 1953).

   Inspector Macdonald of Scotland Yard is thinking of retirement, getting away from the crowded bustle of London and starting a farm, so while on leave he heads for Lancashire sheep country — and instead of rustic quiet, finds yet another mystery on his hands.

   The death of an elderly housekeeper in a fire, while not intended, may be due to the work of sheep thieves, or it may be a matter of a will that dates from 1690. The pace may be slow, but the place setting is aptly described, and every word is there to be savored.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File #22, June 1990.

[UPDATE.] I don’t remember how Macdonald’s proposed retirement worked out in the book itself, but in the real world, he had eight additional recorded case to follow this one. His career began with The Murder on the Burrows in 1931, and came to a close with Dishonour Among Thieves aka The Last Escape in 1959.

   Lorac’s books are becoming scarce. I found only one copy of the US edition on just now, for example, the asking price for that one being a mere $99.95. Three copies of the British edition are offered there, however, including one in fair condition for $36.06.

   Although not yet this one, some of Lorac’s novels have recently been reprinted, first by by Ramble House and then more recently by British Library Crime Classics. Hopefully there will be enough interest to warrant more to come.

   For as much as is known about Lorac herself, her real name Edith Caroline Rivett, (1894-1958), check out Curtis Evans’ Passing Tramp blog here:


J. J. CONNINGTON – Tom Tiddler’s Island. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1933. US title: Gold Brick Island. Little Brown & Co., hardcover, 1933. Coachwhip Publications, softcover, 2015. Also currently available on Kindle and other devices, and online here.

   J. J. Connington was best known for his novels about sleuth Sir Clinton Driffield and his science fiction novel Nordeholt’s Millions, but he wrote a number of non-series mysteries as well, such as this entertaining old fashioned tale of skullduggery and “doings” on the island of Ruffa (think Uffa).

   Colin and Jean Trent are a likable pair of newlyweds who have come to the island for their honeymoon, but soon find there is more than meets the eye going on. There’s the mysterious Mr. Northfleet, a bird watcher who seems to be avoiding them and who could not possibly be the Northfleet Colin knows who is a chemist and no ornithologist; Hazel Arrow, whose uncle lives on the island; the unfriendly Professor Leven who has his place fortified; and four rather unpleasant gentlemen of criminal demeanor, Haws, Natorp, Leo, and Scarry.

   Then there’s the mysterious Mr. Wenlock.

   First a wounded man shows up then disappears, then Colin and Jean meet Mr. Northfleet, who turns out to be his chemist friend and none to happy to see him, then there is a cryptogram to be solved, and on top of that Hazel and Jean are captured and held by the four mysterious ruffians and Professor Leven shows no interest in helping.

   Connington is largely forgotten today, and in fairness the Driffield saga ran out of steam long before he stopped writing them, but he was at his best a nimble spinner of tales who could build to a nice chase or bit of skullduggery along with the clueing, and had a pleasant and highly readable style when he chose to.

   This one has movie written all over it, and it’s a shame it was never adapted. It has all the elements of mystery, adventure, and chase that make for a pleasant read on a rainy afternoon, a quality the genre has largely lost since the end of WW II.

   Alchemy and making gold out of base metals is involved, and more science than magic is at the heart of it all with good detection by Northfleet, and Colin and Jean likable Watson’s, and some improbable but delightful action contributed by the good guys and just reward for the bad guys, which is all you can ask of a pleasant afternoon’s reading. Throw in an attractive setting well rendered, a bit of weather, and you have the makings for a pleasant diversion with just enough detective element to fit the bill.


THE STONE KILLER. Columbia Pictures, 1973. Charles Bronson, Martin Balsam, Jack Colvin, Paul Koslo, Norman Fell, David Sheiner, Stuart Margolin, Ralph Waite, John Ritter. Based on the novel A Complete State of Death, by John Gardner (1969). Director: Michael Winner.

   There’s a hint, somewhere in the middle of The Stone Killer, that there might be a leak within either the LAPD or the NYPD. And there’s the suggestion, or at least I thought it was, that the film’s protagonist might have been hypnotized or even brainwashed. But neither of these cues is remotely followed up on. And you know what? It doesn’t really matter. Because for what it’s supposed to be, namely pure escapist entertainment and a gritty urban crime thriller, The Stone Killer works exceptionally well in delivering the goods.

   Not only do we get to see Charles Bronson in action, but Martin Balsam is here as well, portraying a Sicilian mob boss by the name of Al Vescari. Apparently Vescari has waited over four decades to avenge the murder of his Sicilian mafia comrades in a St. Valentine’s Day massacre type situation from the 1930s. His diabolical plot: utilize ‘stone killers,’ non-Mafia members specifically hired for the job. So he assembles a team of American military veterans to do his dirty work.

   But he’s got officer Lou Torrey (Bronson), previously a member of the New York Police Department but now in the LAPD, to contend with. Torrey doesn’t know exactly what’s in the works, but we spend most of the movie going along for the ride while he traverses the gritty side of LA and explores Southern Californian counter-cultural hot spots in the hopes of discovering what this “big hit” he learned about from a source is all about.

   The Stone Killer may not be a particularly deep movie or one that has any particular aesthetic value worthy of serious reflection. But, in its own way, it’s a fun movie that is what it is and little more. What’s important to its success is that it never tries to be anything other than an action movie. Added bonus: both Norman Fell and John Ritter, who would soon be paired together in Three’s Company, portray fellow cops working alongside Torrey.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Robert E. Briney

JOHN DICKSON CARR – The Devil in Velvet. Harper & Brothers, hardcover, 1951. Bantam F2052, paperback, 1960. Carroll & Graf, paperback, 1987.

   Carr’s lifelong fascination with history, specifically that of England, shows up in many ways in his books, from casual excursions to important plot elements. His first completed novel, never published and now lost, was a historical romance “with lots of Gadzookses and swordplay.” In 1934, using the pseudonym Roger Fairbairn, he published Devil Kinsmere, a novel set in the time of Charles II; many years later the book was rewritten and published as Most Secret (1964) under Carr’s own name. Carr’s first novel to merge the detective puzzle with historical construction was The Bride of Newgate (1950), well received by both critic and readers.

   The second of Carr’s historical mysteries, The Devil in Velvet, sold better than any of his other novels. Here the detective and historical elements were joined by a third ingredient: the strain of overt fantasy that had cropped up from time to time in his earlier work.

   Nicholas Fenton, history professor at Cambridge in the year 1925, makes a deal with the devil to be transported back to the year 1675 in order to solve, and possibly prevent, the murder by poisoning of Lydia, Lady Fenton, the wife of an earlier namesake. Transported back into the body of the Carlie Nicholas Fenton, the protagonist finds himself immediatel3 enmeshed in political intrigue: the efforts of Lord Shaftesbury to subvert the monarchy and solidify the power of Parliament.

   Fenton must also juggle the attentions of two lovely women, Lydia and the mysterious and temperamental Meg York. Eventually he comes to realize that he must do something much more difficult than solving a murder: He must outwit the devil himself in order to save his own life and that of the woman he loves.

   Bawdy, turbulent Restoration London is re-created with verve and meticulous attention to historical detail, and the events of the story are viewed with a beguiling combination of twentieth- and seventeenth-century sensibilities.

   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.


LAW OF THE PAMPAS. Paramount Pictures, 1939. William Boyd (Hopalong Cassidy), Russell Hayden, Sidney Toler, Steffi Duna, Sidney Blackmer. Based on characters created by Clarence E. Mulford. Director: Nate Watt.

   Law of the Pampas is a Hoppy Western set mostly in Argentina (or some relatively convincing Burbank equivalent) with Sidney Toler, on temporary leave from the Chan films, as comedy relief.

   I never much liked Hopalong Cassidy as a kid, and as an adolescent I scoffed at his clean-livin’ ways and the lectures he gave kids on his TV show. In the wisdom of my advancing years, however, I’ve come to see him as a rather likable and even off-beat icon, more Symbolic than Real, but very warm nonetheless.

   The early Hoppy’s are very well produced as well, and a lot of fun to watch if you don’t take them too seriously. This one offers a mystery that would insult the intelligence of a five-year-old, but not, apparently, that of the Latin Americans who just naturally look to Hoppy for guidance in these matters.

   But that’s too serious. On its own level, for those who can take it that way, it’s still a fun movie.

— Reprinted from A Shropshire Sleuth #45, July 1990.

DRACULA’S DAUGHTER. Universal Pictures, 1936. Otto Kruger, Gloria Holden (Dracula’s Daughter), Marguerite Churchill, Edward Van Sloan (Professor Von Helsing), Gilbert Emery, Irving Pichel. Loosely based on the story “Dracula’s Guest” by Bram Stoker. Director: Lambert Hillyer.

   Not all sequels begin right where the previous one ended, but Dracula’s Daughter is one that does, with Dracula dead, with a wooden stake through his heart, and Professor Von Helsing is custody as the man responsible.

   Rather than hire an attorney, Von Helsing chooses a former student, now a well-known psychiatrist, Dr. Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger). As for Dracula’s body, it disappears from the Scotland Yard morgue and is burned by his daughter Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden) in an attempt on her part to rid herself of her father’s curse.

   And who does she turn to? The same very earnest Dr. Garth, but as you can imagine, if ou haven’t seen the movie before, her attempts to save herself prove to be utterly in vain. No pun intended.

   The casting is well nigh perfect, the production and photography are both top notch, given the limited budget this film most likely had. The combination of stoic weariness and fear that Gloria Holden put into her role was exactly what the movie needed. I don’t think it gave her career much of a boost, though. She made a couple dozen films in her day, but I doubt that anyone remembers her for any of them but this one.

   The movie is in some circle widely regarded for its overt suggestions of lesbianism, summed up in a scene where Countess Zaleska, on the pretext of needing a female model to pose for her, requests the young girl to remove her blouse, and she does.

RICHARD STARNES – Another Mug for the Bier. J. P. Lippincott, hardcover, 1950. Pocket #858, paperback; 1st printing, January 1952.

   This is a real peachy detective story. No, really. It is ace newspaperman Barney Forge who tells the story, but it is actually Dr. St. George Peachy, assistant medical examiner in Alexandria, Virginia, who solved this case of the murdered gossip columnist.

   As you could probably deduce from the title, this is a tale told in a breezy, fast-moving style, in a wacky sort of way, but with more than a hint of the grotesque. (And with all of that, it still turns out to be a solidly constructed detective story.)

— Reprinted from Mystery*File #22, June 1990.

The Dr. St. George Peachy / Barney Forge series —

And When She Was Bad She Was Murdered. Lippincott, 1950. Pocket #779, 1951.

Another Mug for the Bier. Lippincott, 1950. Pocket #858, 1952.
The Other Body in Grant’s Tomb. Lippincott, 1951. Pocket #917, 1953.


THE V.I.P.S MGM, 1963. Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Louis Jourdan, Elsa Martinelli, Margaret Rutherford, Maggie Smith, Rod Taylor, Orson Welles, Linda Christian. Director: Anthony Asquith.

   When he’s at his best, Richard Burton is the type of actor that I can just watch and wonder in amazement: how does he do it? How does he convey such raw energy and emotion merely by the cadence of his voice, by his posture, and by the fire in his eyes?

   There are some quiet moments in MGM’s The V.I.P.s in which Burton gets to showcase his talent, scenes in which for all practical purposes he overshadows his co-stars Elizabeth Taylor and Louis Jourdan. But unfortunately, the overall script of this drama/romantic comedy hybrid never allows for Burton’s character to develop naturally. Indeed, the film’s halfheartedly optimistic ending – one I won’t give away in this review – ends up wasting Burton’s investment in developing a character who never gets to complete his story arc in a compellingly realistic manner.

   Burton portrays British millionaire Paul Andros, a man who believes that he can obtain whatever he wishes with his checkbook. And for a while at least, it seems that he has gotten what he wanted, including a beautiful actress as a wife. But Frances Andros (Elizabeth Taylor) has her own agenda. After over a decade of marriage, she is ready to leave him for the wastrel playboy Marc Champ drops Frances off at Heathrow, unaware that she is about to travel to New York to elope with Champselle.

   The film follows the conflict between the couple, as well as between Andros and Champselle, while they wait at the airport as a fog delays all flights out. Also stuck on the ground: an Australian-British businessman (Rod Taylor) and his love struck secretary (Maggie Smith); a tax dodging film producer (an oddly cast Orson Welles) and his newest star (Elsa Martinelli); and the The Duchess of Brighton (Margaret Rutherford), the latter a character introduced solely for the purpose of comic relief.

   There are some very good moments in the film. Most of them are in dialogue or in snippets of conversation when the uber schmaltzy Miklós Rózsa ceases to overwhelm what’s on screen.

   Burton and Taylor would later appear in numerous films together, but The V.I.P.s was their first. The movie apparently did quite well at the box office, largely helped by the hype generated for the forthcoming Cleopatra (1963). From the vantage point of 2017, however, The V.I.P.s has an Old World charm, a sense of cinematic innocence that would be shattered later in the decade with the arrival of the New Hollywood auteurs.

   The best moments in the film are those played with pathos and raw emotion (watch for the brief, but incredibly well constructed dialogue between Burton and Maggie Smith), but my sense is that the audiences who flocked to this one may have been more enthralled by the spectacle and the unforgivably maudlin ending than by the anger and fury projected by Burton’s character in the far better first hour of the movie.

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