Reviews


DICTE – CRIME REPOERTER “Personskade (Personal), Part One.” Miso Film/TV2 Danmark, 07 January 2013. 60m. Iben Hjejle (Dicte Svendsen), Lars Brygmann (John Wagner), Emilie Kruse, Dar Salim, Simon Krogh Stenspil. Based on characters in novels by Elsebeth Egholm. Director: Jannik Johansen.

   The ending of this one really caught me by surprise. Not because it was a shocker or based on a twist that I didn’t see coming. No it’s a lot simpler than that, and I feel stupid by even bringing it up. I didn’t realize that the story was part one of two, and I wasn’t even watching the clock. Ha! on me.

   But one thing’s for sure. As soon as I get done typing this, I’m going to go watch Part Two.

   This is the first episode of three seasons of Dicte, consisting of five two-parters per season, or 30 episodes in all. (I probably could have left you to do the math). Dicte Svendsen, recently divorced, is a news reporter who has just moved back to her home town of Aarhus with her daughter Rose, a young lady who appears to be in the equivalent of high school in the US. She is certainly young enough that her mother has to keep a close eye on the friends she is making.

   It is by accident, though, that Dicte begins her first brush with a big story. A young girl is found dead, murdered, her body mutilated in such a way that a botched Caesarean must have taken place, and Dicte is the first on the scene.

   Photos taken by the news photographer accompanying her are the bargaining chips she needs for John Wagner, the police officer in charge of the case, to allow her to keep investigating the story.

   There is a theme here. When younger, Dicte was forced by her parents to give up a child a soon as he was born; now Dicte has problems dealing with her daughter’s new male friend. And the girl who died, probably a prostitute, has forcibly lost the surrogate child she was carrying.

   To me, actress Iben Hjejle seems too young to have such a long history behind her, but maybe that’s because I am much older than she. The story is a little darker than Death in Paradise, to take a recent example reviewed here, or The Invisibles, to pick another, but not not as ,much as Dexter or Hannibal here in the US. There will be Much more TV on my agenda this year, I can see that now.


REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


TONY ROME. Fox, 1967. Frank Sinatra, Jill St John, Richard Conte, Gena Rowlands, Simon Oakland, Sue Lyon, Robert J Wilke, Rocky Graziano, Michael Romanoff and Shecky Greene. Screenplay by Richard Breen, based on the novel Miami Mayhem, by Anthony Rome (Pocket Books, 1960); later published by Dell (1967) as Tony Rome, under the author’s true name Marvin H. Albert. Directed by Gordon Douglas.

   Required viewing.

   The success of Harper (1966) sparked a modest revival of movie PIs, giving us Gunn (1967), PJ (1968) and Tony Rome to liven up the waning decade – not that the 60s needed much enlivening, thank you, but this was a worthy entry in the cycle, a film that flaunts its vulgarity with commendable energy.

   Gordon Douglas’s punchy direction helps a lot, and Sinatra approaches the tough PI part… well, not seriously, but he doesn’t phone it in either, and he’s supported by a cast that moves easily through the gaudy squalor. I particularly liked Robert J. Wilke as Rome’s ex-cop ex-partner:

TURPIN: “I saved your life.”

ROME: “I could square that with a stick of chewing gum.”

   Even Jill St John seems at ease as a much-divorced lady of what we used to call “easy virtue” who makes her entrance walking toward Sinatra as Sue Lyon hisses “SLUT!”

FRANK: “Well now that we’ve been introduced…”

JILL: “Slut’s just my nick name.”

   The story involves… well, I never could get it straight. Something about missing diamonds, shady jewelers, hired killers and unhappy wives. TONY ROME also takes advantage of the loosened restrictions of its time to bring in a few gay characters, all them treated shabbily; standards had grown looser but not matured.

   This aside, Tony Rome offers everything a fan of the genre could ask: clever dialogue, brutal fight scenes and sudden shoot-outs (director Douglas’s signature bit was a guy returning fire even as he visibly shudders under the impact of his opponent’s bullets) and an attitude at once flip and gritty. And it all leads to a resolution that recalls the weary disenchantment of Double Indemnity.

   Don’t mistake me. Tony Rome is miles away from Wilder’s classic by just about any standard. But its trashy attitude is just perfect for the PI film of a troubled time.


SARA PARETSKY – Bitter Medicine. V. I. Warshawski #4. Morrow, hardcover, 1987. Ballantine, paperback, 1988.

   A sixteen year old Hispanic girl dies while trying to deliver her baby in the emergency room of a wealthy suburban Chicago hospital, and PI V. I. Warshawski finds she has quite a case on her hands. A malpractice suit follows, and a doctor is the next to die.

   Slowly the pieces of he puzzle are fit together. Warshawski is a woman who sweats, cares about her friends, and frets when she makes an error in judgment — and she makes a couple of beauties here. All it does is keep her in the same class as Marlowe and Spade.

PostScript:   Don’t take this to mean that I think Paretsky is in the same class as Chandler and Hammett as a writer, however. I meant what I said, and I don’t mean what I didn’t say.

–Reprinted from Mystery*File #13, June 1989


Two EDMUND LOWE Detective Films
Reviewed by David Vineyard.


GUILTY AS HELL. Paramount Pictures, 1932. Edmund Lowe (Russell Kirk), Victor McLaglen (Captain T. R. McKinley), Adrienne Ames (Vera Marsh), Henry Stephenson (Dr. Tindal), Richard Arlen (Frank Marsh). Screenplay Arthur Kober, Frank Partos, based on a play by Daniel N. Rubin. Directed by Erle C. Kenton.

MAD HOLIDAY. MGM, 1935. Edmund Lowe (Philip Trent), Elissa Landi (Peter Dean), Zazu Pitts, Edgar Kennedy, Ted Healey, Edmund Gwenn, Gustav von Seyffertitz, Raymond Hatton. Screenplay Florence Ryerson, Edgar Allan Woolf, based on the story “Murder in a Chinese Theatre” by Joseph Santley. Directed by George B. Seitz.

   If anyone played more detectives in film than Edmund Lowe or appeared in more crime films as a lead actor, you would be hard pressed to find him. The number of his films where he is a detective, secret agent, or criminal is impressive. Even William Powell and Preston Foster, who run him a close second, really don’t come all that close. Lowe even played Philo Vance in The Garden Murder Case.

   These two fast-talking mystery films are a good cross section of his output, not his best (Bombay Mail, Seven Sinners) but not his worst either.

   Guilty as Hell from 1932 is an unusual stylish murder mystery (I don’t know whether to credit director Kenton or cinematographer Karl Struss for the film’s look) featuring Lowe and Victor McLaglen as reporter Russell Kirk and his best friend/greatest rival Captain. T. R. McKinley. Lowe and McLaglen were a popular screen team at the time, McLaglen replacing Louis Wohl, who had been Lowe’s foil in silent films and early talkies.

   McLaglen, who could play dumb or smart, slick or rough, was a good match for Lowe on screen and even when the script is weak, their team-ups are worth catching.

   Here we open with Dr. Tindall (Henry Stephenson) a surgeon known as “Chickels” for his habit of chewing gum while he works, murders his younger and unfaithful wife (no spoiler) in a well shot scene that effectively shows Stephenson’s wife’s face reflected in his glasses while he murders her.

   In short order, playboy Frank Marsh (Richard Arlen) is framed for the crime, convicted, and sentenced to die, all of which is fine with hard-boiled reporter Kirk until he meets Frank’s beautiful sister Vera (Adrienne Ames). Kirk still thinks Frank is guilty but sets out to clear him to win over Vera. Girl-chasing and the rivalry it causes is a running theme in he Lowe/Wohl and the Lowe/McLaglen films.

   The mystery is fairly standard stuff with the usual lapses in logic but this one is handsomely shot with the use of closeups and camera angles and shadows mindful of German Expressionist cinema. The script is rapidly paced, and the back and forth between Lowe and McLaglen well done (“There’s only one thing wrong with this country,” Lowe opines after finding out McLaglen tore up a check they were to share, “they shot the wrong McKinley.”).

   Suffice it to say, the guilty man is caught (relatively cleverly) and the innocent man saved, and rather refreshingly Lowe discovers the girl he risked all for is engaged and gets left in the lurch (another theme common to the team-ups between Lowe and Wohl and McLaglen, no one gets the girl and the bromance in more important than the romance).

   Mad Holiday from 1935 is a mystery comedy clearly trying for a Thin Man vibe, and it almost succeeds, though it doesn’t quite rise to screwball genius.

   Lowe is actor Philip Trent, sick to death of starring in mystery movies playing Shelby Lane, the Philo Vance-like sleuth of the Peter Dean novels. Having just wrapped his latest epic, Trent announces he is sick of Lane and Dean and off to take a cruise. His detective career is over.

   Of course he barely gets on the ship and away from port before a beautiful girl shows up claiming to be in danger and a corpse shows up in this room — only to disappear. That beautiful woman turns out to be Elissa Landi, who writes the Peter Dean books under a pseudonym, teamed with studio PR guy Ted Healey planning to grab a few headlines and get Trent back on the screen as Shelby Lane in her latest bestseller already sold to the studio.

   And wouldn’t you know it, no sooner has Trent outwitted that plot than a real body, Gustav von Seffertitz, shows up dead in his stateroom with a fabulous jewel he was carrying missing. Edgar Kennedy, Sgt. Donovan, who is on board to protect the jewel, is not amused by the Hollywood hi-jinks or the murder and theft.

   His patience for Lowe and Landi is stretched thin to begin with.

   There is a mysterious man in black, a thief (Raymond Hatton), Shelby Lane fan Zazu Pitts and her hungover dog, Von Seffertitz’s valet Edmund Gwenn, the wife (Soo Yen) of a famous Chinese actor (Richard Loo), who claims the jewel is her family’s property stolen during the Boxer Rebellion, and Healey and his stooge (Richard Hakins, not one of the Stooges) to complicate things as well as the attraction/resistance between Lowe and Landi.

   And then, a bit more than halfway through the film there is a twist that makes total sense and elevates the mystery angle of this thing, playing on what even then was the audience’s expectations, based on roles played by character actors. It also provides a reason for Trent to actually turn detective, as he is accused of stealing the jewel as a result and his reputation in tattlers, and leads to the finale in the Chinese theater of the story title.

   This isn’t a great film, but it is charming, moves at a pace, features attractive leads in Lowe and Landi, has a superior cast of supporting actors, and if the mystery is obvious, there is that one twist that turns the film on its head, if only for a moment.

   Lowe, a reliable leading man in films like The Great Impersonation, Scotland Yard, What Price Glory?, The Spider, Chandu the Magician, and many more was still playing detective on screen as late as the nineteen fifties, when he starred in the television incarnation of radio mystery/soap Front-Page Detective. Among his better later film roles were in John Ford’s The Last Hurrah and the comedy Western Heller in Pink Tights with Anthony Quinn and Sophia Loren, but for a time in the thirties he was the go-to actor if you wanted a detective, spy, or slick criminal for your lead.

   At times it almost felt as if there was a rule you had to have Edmund Lowe is a crime or mystery film, and considering his output, it wasn’t a bad rule to adhere to.


REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA. United Artists, 1946. Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Charles Drake, Lois Collier, Sig Ruman. Director: Archie Mayo.

   One of the later entries in the Marx Brothers film catalogue and a movie supposed made in order to help Chico Marx pay off his gambling debts, A Night in Casablanca was originally imagined to be a satire of Warner Brothers’ Casablanca (1942), the now classic film starring Humphrey Bogart. Aside from the setting and a Nazi connection, there isn’t all that much that binds these two films together. And to be perfectly honest, this Marx Brothers entry is nowhere near as appreciated as the comedians’ earlier films from the 1930s.

   Yet, it remains a worth a look for a few reasons. First of all, there are definitely some good verbal quips from Groucho, and Harpo shines as a mute who must convey his thoughts via music and mime. [See comment #3.] And at the end of the day, even a lesser Marx Brothers film with its zany antics and physical comedy is often better than a lot of the comedies that are produced and released into theaters today.

   For me personally, what made A Night in Casablanca worth watching was the fact that an escaped Nazi was the film’s antagonist. It was only one year since the Second World War had ended, and Hollywood had already discovered the allure of stories involving Nazis on the run and the notion of hidden Nazi loot and treasure.

   Unlike two other movies from the same year that featured Nazis running from their past – Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious (reviewed here) and Orson Welles’s The Stranger (reviewed here) – the Marx Brothers film plays the topic for laughs. Heinrich Stubel (Sig Ruman), the villain here, is more of a stereotypical and buffoonish Teutonic figure than either evil incarnate or an amoral opportunist. But the fact that he is supposed to be someone to root against is transparent.

   Here also is something I noticed and I thought I would mention. Groucho’s character, a hotel manager who helps bring Stubel to justice, is named Ronald Kornblow. Ignore the misspelling and you will notice it’s a very stereotypical German-Jewish name. I have to wonder if this was not deliberate, given the Marx Brothers’ own German-Jewish and Alsatian-Jewish origins.


DEATH IN PARADISE “Murder on the Honore Express.” BBC, UK. 10 January 2019 (Season 8, Episode 1). Ardal O’Hanlon (DI Jack Mooney), Joséphine Jobert (DS Florence Cassell), Don Warrington (Commissioner Selwyn Patterson), Tobi Bakare (Officer J. P. Hooper). Created by Robert Thorogood. Director: Paul Logue.

   Death in Paradise is a comedy-mystery set on the fictional Caribbean island of Saint Marie. The leading characters have changed over the years, but the cast as listed above make up the staff of the police department as of the beginning of the eighth season. (A ninth and tenth season have already been announced.)

   And as far as traditional mysteries are concerned, this one is as good as episodic TV can get. It isn’t quite a “locked room” mystery, but it is a murder such that there is no possible way for anyone to committed it. When a bus makes its final stop, a man sitting at the far back is found stabbed to death. None of the other passengers moved from their seat, and no could have gotten on without one of them noticing.

   The small police force are stopped, but that does not stop hem from following up all the leads they can. Quite curiously, though, all of the passengers are discovered to have motives, including the driver.

   Adding to the viewer’s enjoyment of following the investigation along is the humorous byplay between the main characters, with a new one joining the team next week. Saint Marie may be dangerous place to live for some, but it certainly provides a colorful backdrop to the stories. (The series is filmed in Guadeloupe.)

   This the only episode of any season of the series I’ve seen so far. I probably shouldn’t started with Season Eight. I accomplished that only by mistake. What watching the first episode of this most recent season did do, though, was to convince me to go way back to the beginning. I have a lot of catching up to do!


REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


JOSEPH CONRAD – Lord Jim. William Blackwood & Sons, UK, hardcover, 1900. Previously serialized in Blackwood’s Magazine, October 1899 to November 1900. Film adaptations: Lord Jim (1925), directed by Victor Fleming; and Lord Jim (1965), directed by Richard Brooks and starring Peter O’Toole as Jim. Comic Book: Classics Illustrated #136, 1947?. Art by George Evans.

   Sometime last April, I found myself unaccountably seized by a compulsion to read a Great Novel: Something on the order of Faulkner, James or Kesey. I thought also, though, that I might try a foray into High Adventure, so I ended up ploughing through Joseph Conrad’s turn-of-the Century-epic, Lord Jim.

   This entry is hardly the place to launch a critique into waters already charted, plumbed, tested and trolled to depletion by Academic Analyzers worthy, weighty and wise. And in fact, when I dissect the novel mentally, I find myself doing it in terms of old paperbacks and B-Movies. I should just say here that I was not sleeping very much or very well then, but as I tossed in bed, Lord Jim, with its dense prose and compelling story, was the perfect anodyne on a dark, restless night.

   Conrad’s prose is indeed tangled. At one point he takes nearly a paragraph to liken moonlight to sunshine, only to produce a metaphor so goldbergesque that by the time he’s though crafting it, it can but lie there on the page, whirring and wheezing to minuscule effect. His narrative style is likewise more roundabout than linear, with characters and events flashing forward and back through time with an abandon that recalls Marcel Proust and Phillip K. Dick in equal measure.

   Those characters and events, however, are inspired and wrought with nothing less than Pure Genius. The dramatis personae who strut on and off stage in Lord Jim are a colorful lot (low-brow that I am, I kept thinking of the thumbnail-sketch heroes and villains who keep appearing and disappearing in Winchester ’73.) evoked in wrenching, vivid, pulp-paper splendor that will stay with me long after Time has healed the wounds of Conrad’s primeval syntax. And the novel’s big set-pieces – the sinking of the Patna, the native revolts, the pirate siege — are magnificently foreshadowed, then packed word-for-word with all the excitement of a Talbot Mundy or H. Rider Haggard.

   Beyond all this, though, there is the haunting power of Conrad’s tale, with a moral in it somewhere, somehow, as complex and compelling as his prose. The notion of a man driven by a personal code somehow hinged on — yet apart from — the opinions of those around him, destroyed ignominiously by a world tragically unworthy of him, is one that will color the way I see things for some time. Which, to my way of thinking, is the measure of a Great Novel.

   By the way, do not, under any circumstances, try to watch the film of the same name Richard Brooks made back in 1966. No, I don’t care how cute Peter O’Toole was in those days — don’t watch it! Even at his least pretentious (The Professionals, Bite the Bullet) Brooks has a stultifying tendency to say what the thinks when he ought to show how he feels. Given the temptation of filming a Really Important Novel, he went after it like Ahab after the Whale — and ended up swallowing it whole.


THE INVISIBLES “Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1). 01 May 2008. BBC, 60 min. Anthony Head, Warren Clarke, Dean Lennox Kelly, Jenny Agutter, Mina Anwar, Paul Barber, Emily Head, Darren Tighe. Creator/screenplay: William Ivory. Director: William Sinclair.

   The Invisibles was a short-lived British comedy-mystery series that consisted of six episodes and was never renewed. The episodes do not seem to have titles, so I’m calling this first one the pilot.

   And as the pilot it does a first rate job of establishing the characters and setting extremely well. Maurice Riley (Anthony Head) and Syd Woolsey (Warren Clarke) are two of three members of a gang of burglars, who retired when the third of them died. They were called “The Invisibles” by the press due to the fact that in all of the years they were in working together, they were never caught.

   Now some 15 years later, bored to death of easy living, the two remaining members find themselves in need to go back to work. Syd’s son is in a jam, moneywise, and against Maurice’s wife’s strict orders, back to their black-clothed clandestine activities they go.

   Things do not go well at first. Their skills are rusty, and security devices have been updated greatly during their years of retirement. But along the way their path leads them to the third member’s son (or he finds them), and at the end of the first episode they are ready to tackle the world in full gear again.

   Even in this first episode the two main characters have great chemistry together. It is as if they really were two mates who have known each other for a long time. The humor in that is raised by both their camaraderie and their struggles to get themselves in shape to work again is largely quiet and unforced, but none the less effective for all that.

   The complete series is available both on DVD and streaming on Acorn TV.

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


GEORGE P. PELECANOS – Down by the River Where the Dead Men Go. Nick Stefanos #3. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1995. Back Bay Books, trade paperback,July 2011.

   I started the last Stefanos book, Shoedog, but couldn’t get into it and gave up. I’d forgotten why, though, so I gave this one a shot because of the title.

   Nick Stefanos is a PI and pat-time bartender in Washington, DC, He’s an alcoholic, too. One night he ends up down by the river at the end of M Street, passed out in the weeds. He comes to early the next morning,just enough and in time to hear a black man and a white man execute someone, who turns out to be a young black man.

   It’s not something he can forget or let alone, and he begins a journey that ends with more death, and leaves a trail of empty bottles and shattered lies.

   A few things come quickly about this one. First, it’s a great title. Second, I don’t like “heroes” who are as generally screwed up in the head as Stefanos is. Third, Pelecanos writes a mean, effective, dark brand of prose.

   All of which says, I guess, that he is a very good writer, but I don’t like what and who he writes about. I got awfully tit=red of the gulp-by-gulp, bottle-by-bottle accounts of Stefanos’s drinking, and of his repeated pissing in the street.

   I never had much of a taste for noir fiction, and if this isn’t that, it’s close. Nasty stuff, well done, and I think I’ll pass on the next course, thank you very much.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #19, May 1995.


      The Nick Stefanos series —

A Firing Offens.St. Martin’s 1992.
Nick’s Trip.St. Martin’s 1993.
Down by the River Where the Dead Men Go. St. Martin’s 1995.
The Big Blowdown. St. Martin’s 1996. (*)
King Suckerman. Little 1997. (*)
The Sweet Forever (1998) (*)
Shame the Devil. Dennis McMillan 1999.
Soul Circus (2003) (*)
Hard Revolution (2004) (*)

   (*) May be only cameo appearances.

SEAN CHERCOVER – Big City Bad Blood. Ray Dudgeon #1. William Morrow, hardcover, January 2007. Harper, paperback, March 2008.

   The big city that the title of this first novel refers to is Chicago, and in it, just doing his job, PI Ray Dudgeon finds himself up against the Outfit — or better stated, caught in the crosshairs between two factions of the same.

   His client is a mild-mannered locations scout from Hollywood, who seems to have stumbled across a rental scam that so far has cost the lives of several of the inhabitants of a building he was looking at. His life threatened, want he needs to do is have Dudgeon act as his door-to-studio bodyguard.

   And Ray is more than tough enough to handle the job, but then again he doesn’t know ahead of time what he’s up against. Parts of this book are as brutal and hardboiled as they come, and deciding to stay with the case anyway, Ray also manages to lose the love of his life.

   I enjoyed the book, but as in most cases in which a PI is hired as a bodyguard, there is next to no detective work involved. I really don’t care for books in which the primary subject matter consists of gangsters, the Mob, or hoodlums in general, but if you do, then you may like this book even more than I did. (I also am no big fan of police procedurals any more, either. Fair is fair, I’d say.)

            —

Bibliograhic Notes:   Awards and award nominations for this book:

2008 Shamus Award for Best First Novel
Finalist 2008 Anthony Award for Best First Novel
Finalist 2008 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel
Finalist 2008 Barry Award for Best First Novel
Finalist 2008 Thriller Award for Best First Novel

   There has been one followup novel in the series, that being Trigger City (2008), and several novelettes and short stories which either Dudgeon has appeared or some of the people he knows have lead roles in.

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