Reviews


REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

PETER CHEYNEY – Dames Don’t Care. Lemmy Caution #3. . Collins, UK, hardcover, 1937. Coward McCann, US, hardcover, 1938. Reprinted many times, in both hardcover and soft. Serialized in The Thriller Library Jul 31, Aug 7, Aug 14, Aug 21, Aug 28, Sep 4, Sep 11, Sep 18, 1937. Film: Les Femmes En Balacent (1954) with Eddie Constantine, Nadja Gray; directed by Bernard Borderie.

   I am sittin’ in this bar minding my own business like any guy might, when I looks up and see this guy come sailin’ in like the owns the place, and from the greeting he gets you wonder if he might, ’cause people are happy to see him, though at first I wonder if maybe they mistake him for some actor named Constantine, but I know him for who he is.

   And who he is happens to be Ma Caution’s baby boy Lemuel H., sometimes called Lemmy for short cause he likes to play with words does Lemmy as in Le’Me caution ya.

   Quite a sport this Lemmy, the pride and joy of the Federal Bureau of Investigation he is, the damnedest G-Man since Gagney on the big screen. Of course he takes a bit of getting used to does Mr. Caution, because he speaks in the a style and lingo unique to him, kinda as if Damon Runyon had a run in with Edgar Wallace an’ neither of them came out of it quite right, all in present tense save when he forgets here and there, because present tense is a bitch to write in.

   Anyways, he says his hellos and comes over to me, shakes hands, orders a beer, and without much preamble starts to tell me what just happened to him out West in California and down Mexico way. And believe me, its a hoot.

   Says he:

   IS it hot.

   I ain’t never been in hell, but I’m tellin’ you that I bet it ain’t any hotter than this Californian desert in July.

   I am drivin’ along past Indio an’ I figure that soon I am goin’ to see the Palm Springs lights. An’ I am goin’ some — the speedometer says eighty. If it wasn’t so hot it would be a swell night; but there ain’t any air, an’ there was a baby sand storm this afternoon that caught me asleep an’ I gotta lump of the Mojave desert or whatever they call it stuck right at the back of my throat.

   An’ that’s pretty much how Lemmy sounds, as if you was cornered in a bar by a pretty interesting guy who is determined to tell you a story whether you are determined to hear it or not. Mostly I am, but I’m aware many ain’t.

   Bein’ Lemmy, pretty soon there are dames and dead bodies in about equal proportions, some very bad bad men, some not quite as bad bad men, some dames that are lyin’ for good reason and some that are lyin’ for very bad reasons, and Lemmy is negotiating the lot of ‘em with frequent pauses for refreshment of the inebriating kind.

   It ain’t the things that dames do that worries me it’s the things that they get guys to do for ’em.

   Lemmy is not what you would call exactly woke when it comes to dames. Frankly he makes Mike Hammer look like a feminist. Just a friendly warnin’. Not that the ladies Lemmy encounters much deserve better sometimes.

   “Take it nice an’ calm, Cleopatra,” I tell her, “Because gettin’ excited or raisin’ hell around here is goin’ to be as much use to you as red pepper on a gumboil. Sweet dame, you are all shot to hell, you are washed up like a dead fish in a waterspout. From now on you are the sample that got lost in the mail, you are the copy the news editor spiked, you are the lady who got stood-up by a gumshoein’ Federal dick that you thought was a pushover. You make me sick. Even if you was good I wouldn’t like you.”

   An’ while I’m do in the warnin’ it’s also the sort of book where a Hispanic character says “keel” instead of kill a few times.

   Just so’s you know.

   Lemmy is plenty hot on this case because a guy he was workin’ with called Sagers has been killed, an’ even though a counterfeiting ring is operating Lemmy takes that kind of personal.

   “Now, right now I’m not interested in the counterfeitin’. I know that was done here, an’ I figure I know the whole story of it. The thing that’s takin’ my notice at the present moment is this:

   “Somebody here — one of you two guys — shot Jeremy Sagers. Now I guess I know who bumped him. I’ve got it all figured out, but I made up my mind about one thing. The guy who shot him is goin’ to fry for it, an’ maybe the other guy will be lucky.”

   For a G-Man Lemmy is a lot more interested in justice than law.

   An’ bein’ Lemmy there is, of course, a nice dame left over, because it wouldn’t be Lemmy if he didn’t end up with a dame.

   All Lemmy’s stories are hoots, especially the ones with all those dames he stumbles over where ever he goes, mostly tall and classy though some fatale types. Cause the other thing you have to know about Lemmy is nothing is ever exactly what it looks like and no one exactly who they seem in any story he tells.

   I first heard of him in this book called This Man is Dangerous, where we meet Lemmy as an escaped criminal who makes his way to London an’ gets involved with gamblers, crooks, an’ dames before he reveals he’s an undercover G-Man on loan to Scotland Yard. It gets made into a pretty good film by the French with this guy named Eddie Constantine, who looks so much like Lemmy he could have posed for the book covers from twenty years earlier but didn’t. Guy even gets typecast playin’ Lemmy, though it don’t seem to bother him much.

   Funny thing is this Constantine guy is a well known crooner in France, an’ in this book Lemmy sings, something actually in the film they made out of it. After that he sings in most of the films ’cause this actor is like a music star in Europe an’ even has television specials and does musicals in between playin’ :Lemmy and guys so much like Lemmy they might as well be him save for the name.

   This book becomes a best seller over in England and then in France as written by an ex-journalist and publicist named Peter Cheyney who also chronicles the adventures of a British Private Eye named Slim Callaghan, and a series of Dark books about wartime espionage in England among others.

   This Cheyney sort of sets the British mystery genre on its head and eventually even influences this guy named Ian Fleming who writes about a spy named James Bond, 007 though Cheyney was never too hot here Stateside. Anyways not Lemmy’s adventures.

   Lemmy never gets a number that I know of, but in Lemmy’s mind if he did, it would be Number 1.

   An’ with that Lemmy excuses himself and fades into the night, off to another adventure, more dames, more crooks, more cliches, an’ more slightly cracked Americaneze, but for all that he ain’t bad company in the right mood, an’ it is a mood I am sometimes in though I admit it ain’t one I stays in very long at a time.

   Your mileage my vary like they says.

   Just don’t read too many of ’em in a row, ’cause brain damage is possible.


TOMORROW AT SEVEN. RKO Radio Pictures, 1933. Chester Morris, Vivienne Osborne, Frank McHugh, Allen Jenkins, Henry Stephenson, Grant Mitchell. Director: Ray Enright.

   This one comes straight from the pulp magazines. I should know. I’ve read enough of them. Looking for some background for his next book, a mystery writer named Neil Broderick (Chester Morris) inveigles his way into the household of Thornton Drake (Henry Stephenson), a wealthy man who is said to know a lot about a mysterious killer nicknamed “The Black Ace.”

   The latter’s modus operandi is to send a warning the day before the victim is to die, in the form of course of a black ace of spades. Broderick manages to meet Drake by means of his secretary (Vivienne Osborne), but when Drake gets the black ace warning himself, off they all go to his manor house on a Louisiana plantation. And when I say “all” I mean Drake’s butler and two dimwitted Chicago cops who have maybe a half a brain between them.

   If you picked Frank McHugh and Allen Jenkins as the two cops just from the cast listing, you’d be right, and I’ll bet you’re not the only one. It is Drake’s butler who was murdered on the plane coming in, though, not Drake himself, and with only a limited number of suspects to choose from, it’s also not very difficult to figure out who the killer has to be.

   That’s not the point, though. This is half comedy and half a spooky old mansion mystery, not really a detective mystery, and depending on your tolerance for lowbrow comedy, the combination makes this an enjoyable if not very demanding film to watch. (If McHugh and Jenkins are the best that the Chicago Homicide Squad are able to offer, however, we really are in an alternate universe here.)


SUSANNAH STACEY – Goodbye, Nanny Gray. Superintendent Bone #1. Summit, US, hardcover, 1988. First published in the UK by Bodley Head as by Jill Staynes & Margaret Storey. Pocket, US, paperback, July 1989.

   When Phoebe Gray inherits the bulk of a rich man’s estate, the dead man’s brother has a right to be surprised. But then Miss Gray disappears and is later found dead. Was sge murdered? Or had she only bumped her head and wandered off to die? Supt. Bone needs to know.

   This is his debut, and with cares at home mixing in with his devotion to his job, I wouldn’t mind calling this a “cosy” at all. Details in the case, time, day of the week, etc., are kept rather vague, however, and deliberately so, for it all comes down to that.

–Reprinted from Mystery*File #14, July 1989.


Bibliographic Notes:   This was the first of eight outings for Supt. Bone (no first name known). Under the name Elizabeth Eyre, the two female collaborators wrote another six novels set during the Italian Renaissance. The leading protagonist in those books was a knight and/or a soldier of fortune by the name of Sigismondo da Roca.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


JOHNNY GUNMAN. Will Kohler Productions, 1957. Martin E. Brooks, Ann Donaldson, Johnny Seven, Woodrow Parfrey, and Carrie Radisson. Written & directed by Art Ford.

   Well… it’s different.

   An independent effort from 1957, Johnny Gunman unfolds a tale of gang war over a single night, and with that premise and the title I was expecting some action. Maybe a lot of action. But this is quite literally all talk.

   The story? Johnny G, aspiring Gang Boss (Martin E. Brooks) meets failed writer (Ann Donaldson) and they kill time till his confrontation with a rival aspiring gang boss.

   When I say they kill time, I mean they talk it to death. All allocution. Nothing but natter in the absence of action. Conversation commences and gab goes on, declamation and discourse dominate the drama, challenged by chatter, overcome by oration. It got to the point where I was staring in disbelief at a film that made Andy Warhol’s Empire look like Kill Bill.

   If I were guessing, I’d say this was written with an eye toward Playhouse 90 or some such, influenced by Gore Vidal’s Billy the Kid, with the intention of injecting Significance into a genre piece. Somehow it ended up as the B&W equivalent of Creation of the Humanoids: an arty, low-budget sub-basement film, probably destined for the bottom of a triple-bill or maybe as filler in a burlesque show.

   That’s a pity, because there are glimmers of talent here. The acting is generally good, if a bit intense, the camera work threadbare but inventive, and the script…..

   Well, there are moments where all that talk is almost believable. Unfortunately those moments are buried in an avalanche of other moments where I just wished they’d shut up and shoot somebody.

   Maybe words are like any other commodity: when there aren’t many, they seem very special, but when they glut the market, they lose their value. Whatever the case, Johnny Gunman strives to sound important, but finally achieves only self-importance. And that ain’t even close.


REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


THE CROOKED WAY. United Artists, 1949. John Payne John Payne, Sonny Tufts, Ellen Drew, Rhys Williams, Percy Helton, John Doucette, Don Haggerty. Director: Robert Florey.

   Although in many ways a highly impressive film noir, The Crooked Way doesn’t have much in the way of depth. The story is a familiar one to those steeped in the works of writers such as Cornell Woolrich and David Goodis. World War II has ended. A man (John Payne) wakes up in a U.S. Army hospital in San Francisco with a metal fragment in his skull and no memory of his past life. He thinks he’s named Eddie Rice and from Los Angeles.

   It therefore makes sense that he’d go to the City of Angels to piece together who he is so he can begin living again. When he gets to LA, though, he soon learns that his real last name isn’t Rice. It’s Riccardi. Eddie Riccardi. And he led a life of crime and was mixed up with some seriously bad dudes.

   He also had – or has – a wife named Nina Martin (Ellen Drew), who is now working with his former associate, the nasty and brutish Vince Alexander (Sonny Tufts). Much of the running time is spent on the cat-and-mouse games played by the LAPD and Vince with Eddie (Payne) caught in the middle. And just when things don’t seem as if they could get any worse for him, he finds himself framed for the murder of a LAPD officer.

   All standard material in the world of late 1940s crime cinema, topped off with a significant amount of time devoted to the then nascent science of forensics. Payne does more than an admirable job in portraying the film’s doomed protagonist, although he isn’t quite able to capture his character’s inner life. How tormented is Eddie Rice/Riccardi after all he’s been through? To be honest, we don’t really know. Had the producers wanted more of the lead character’s trauma explored, someone like Robert Ryan would have been a more suitable actor for the part.

   What The Crooked Way may lack in depth, however, it more than makes up for in flair and style. The movie was lovingly photographed by cinematographer John Alton, who lent his signature touch to numerous films noir in the 1940s and 1950s. From the lighting to the prototypical noirish mood settings, the movie is steeped in the dark and shadowy world of film noir.

   I know that sometimes there is a debate about whether a movie can rightly be considered a film noir. Trust me, this one with the neon lights, the nightclubs, the rainy LA street, the shootout in a warehouse, the unique camera angles, is about as visually noir as you can get. Recommended.


REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

JIN ROH, THE WOLF BRIGADE. Japan, 1999. Voices (in the English version): Michael Dobson, Moneca Stori, Colin Murdock, Maggie Blue O’Hara. [From Wikipedia: “The film is the third adaptation of Mamoru Oshii’s ‘Kerberos saga’ manga, Kerberos Panzer Cop, after the two live-action films: The Red Spectacles and StrayDog: Kerberos Panzer Cops released in 1987 and 1991 in Japanese theaters.”] Directed by Hiroyuki Okiyura.

   Japanese anime can be as stylized and foreign to Western audiences as Kabuki theater or Chinese Opera in some cases, and tied in with the cultural differences, it can be a hurdle for older viewers in the US who didn’t grow up with it to follow, but it is also a universal storytelling medium that doesn’t always need language to tell its stories, and a well-told story is a well told story regardless of medium.

   Jin Roh, the Wolf Brigade is set in an alternate Post-War setting where Japan is beset by native terrorists and protected by Special Units of Police trained as jin roh “human wolves.” There are developing tensions between the special units and the regular police and they are as much at each other’s throats as the terrorists.

   When jin roh Kazuki Fuse (pronounced Fu-say) hesitates to kill a young female courier who then triggers a deadly explosion, it gives the police something to use against the special units, and they act quickly to discipline Fuse, sending him back to training under an officer whose son is with the regular police. Then Fuse, still suffering flashbacks to that night and guilt-filled hallucinations, meets and falls for the dead girl’s sister, who bears her an uncanny resemblance.

   Done in realistic style animation, the story is a strong mix of noir, action, and Le Carre style intrigue, where nothing and no one is quite telling the truth, and loyalties shift on treacherous moral sands.

   This is as grim and dark as any live action film, as morally complex, and as unrelenting. It is also beautifully told, with strong elements visually and easily identifiable characters whose animated faces reveal their character as well as many actors.

   Unlike most anime, other than the set-up there is little in the way of science fiction or fantasy elements here, rather a powerful dystopian future, handsomely rendered and deftly told with as many twists as any thriller.

   The film was submitted for an Academy Award in animation, but wasn’t qualified because it first played on Japanese television. It is not a story you will easily forget once seen.


REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


THOMAS PERRY – Vanishing Act. Jane Whitefield #1. Random House, hardcover, 1995. Ballantine, paperback, 1996.

   The Butcher’s Boy is one of my favorite books, with Metzger’s Dog not far behind. I’m always glad to see a new one by Perry.

   Jane Whitefield is a young woman who is part Seneca by blood, all by heritage. She lives in upstate New York, and is a guide. Not the kind of guide you may be thinking of, though; she guides people who need to be lost, people who have other people looking for them. Jane puts them on the road to not being found, and teaches them how to walk it.

   And then one day a man named John Felker shows up at her door. He says he’s an ex-cop, that he’s been framed, and that there’s a contract out on him. There are people after him, all right, as Jane finds as they set out on the road to anonymity, but he’s not exactly what he seems. A different road lies ahead, with a different destination.

   Two things you can depend on with Perry: he’ll have a strong, somewhat off-beat central character, or characters, and he’ll tell a hell of a good story. Jane Whitefield is one of his more memorable leads, and the story is a fast-moving thriller that will drag you right along.

   There’s a good deal of Native American lore and history interspersed in the third person narrative, about the verisimilitude of which I have no idea at all, but which certainly enhances the story and fits in well with it. Perry seldom writes the same book twice, but he always writes a good one, and this one is very good.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #18, February-March 1995.
REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


THE MAN WHO DIED TWICE. Republic Pictures, 1958. Rod Cameron, Vera Ralston, Mike Mazurki, Gerald Milton, Richard Karlan. Writer: Richard C. Sarafian. Director: Joseph Kane.

   Albeit brief in running time, The Man Who Died Twice is a surprisingly stylish film noir from Joseph Kane, a director better known for his work with Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. With a taut screenplay from Richard C. Sarafian, there’s more than a hint of sleaze in this crime thriller. Let’s see. There’s the lead character who may or may not be a Kansas City cop, a nosy old woman who gets more than she bargains for when she snoops on a couple of hitmen, a heroin addict who double crosses her dealer, and a nightclub singer who pretends not to see the obvious sin all around her. All good stuff if you’re into that sort of thing.

   Rod Cameron portrays Bill Brennon, the Kansas City cop who shows up in town after he learns that his good for nothing brother T.J. died in an automobile accident. He soon finds out that T.J., a nightclub owner, was mixed up in a heroin smuggling operation and that he got into some disputes with his business associates.

   Further complicating matters is Lynn Brennon, his brother’s widow. She professes to know nothing about what her deceased husband was mixed up in. But Bill feels protective toward her. In fact, he may even be falling in love with her. All of this is quite displeasing to Rak (Mike Mazurki), one of bartenders at the nightclub, who obviously is also holding a candle toward Lynn.

   There’s not really one second wasted in this Republic Pictures release. It moves at breakneck speed and has some exceptionally well-crafted moments, especially those involving the two hitmen sent from Chicago to recover a payload of heroin from the dead brother’s apartment. In this way and others, this movie reminded me quite a bit of The Lineup (which I reviewed here), also released in 1958. Although the latter film is clearly superior, the two put together would make for a great double feature.


SUSAN DUNLAP – Too Close to the Edge. Jill Smith #5. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1987. Dell, paperback, July 1989.

   Detective Jill Smith works out if the Homicide-Felonious Assault division of the Berkley police department, and in this case she solves the murder of a handicapped woman dumped from her wheelchair and drowned in a few inches of water at the edge of the bay.

   What I don’t know about police procedure you could write a book about, but the investigating techniques displayed here seem awfully chaotic and uncoordinated to me. And while Dunlap is a good writer, someone should tell her not to make up clues as she goes along.

–Reprinted from Mystery*File #14, July 1989.

SIMON & SIMON “Details at Eleven.” CBS, 24 November 1981. (Season 1, Episode 1.) Jameson Parker (A.J. Simon), Gerald McRaney, (Rick Simon), Jeannie Wilson, Cecilia Simon, Eddie Barth. Guest Cast: Peter Graves, Markie Post, Sharon Acker. Writer: Philip DeGuere Jr. Director: Corey Allen.

   Total opposites, even if they are brothers, make good partners, even in the private eye business, or so is the premise of this long-running TV series. A.J. is the laid-back one, wearing blue jeans and cowboy boot,s while Rick wears suits and ties in the bast Wall Street tradition.

   As I understand it, this first episode was not the pilot, but while it takes a while, I’d have to say that it serves the purpose, which is to introduce the recurring vast members, letting the viewer get to know them and who they are. The two brothers bicker a lot, mostly about their childhood and how Mom liked the other best.

   Of course when they get in a jam, as in “Details at Eleven,” when they get stuck in Mexico without a car, who comes to their rescue? Mom, of course. In this story they’re hired by a woman whose daughter is missing. It turns out that she has documents that will prove that her stepfather, a prominent newscaster in San Diego area, is on the take from gangsters who are hoping to promote him to public office.

   What I noticed first of all is how fast paced this episode was. No long scenes of cars driving from one place to another, or planes landing or taking off, a la some episodes of The Rockford Files, among a few others.

   I also assume the bickering between the two mismatched brothers had a lot to do with their long-term appeal. The show was on for eight seasons, but for whatever reason this is the first episode I’ve ever seen, and I don’t know why. I enjoyed this one, and as I have the first season on DVD, I will be watching more.


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