Reviews


PASSENGER 57. Warner Brothers, 1992. Wesley Snipes, Bruce Payne, Tom Sizemore, Alex Datcher, Bruce Greenwood, Robert Hooks, Elizabeth Hurley. Director: Kevin Hooks.

   I don’t know how you can live as long as I have and still be able to say that this is the first movie starring Wesley Snipes that I have even seen, but it is so. I see from his resume on IMDb that over his career he has made quite a few action thriller movies like this one, and as of 2014, he was still making them, if The Expendables 3 is the kind of movie I think it is.

   This one has to do with a notorious terrorist and a gang of equally vicious followers with the same carefree attitude toward killing that he has. To help rescue their leader from the FBI, they take over a passenger jet that Snipes’ character, a newly promoted chief of security, just happens to be a passenger on.

   I don’t think the movie is as good as those in the “Diehard” series, say, but I enjoyed it. There is a light touch to the movie that makes all of the gunfire, martial arts fighting, explosions and every other means of organized chaos all the more bearable, such as when one elderly female passenger mistakenly takes Snipes’ character to be Arsenio Hall.

   The ladies in the cast are, unfortunately, the weakest links, in my opinion, but all of the men are consummate pros at this sort of thing, especially the primary villain (Bruce Payne), who seems to be having a great time playing pure evil incarnate, and with his glowering presence, taking over every scene he’s in.

   But here’s the question. Would I watch another Wesley Snipes movie? Based on this sample of size one, I see no reason why not.


THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


S. S. VAN DINE – The Kennel Murder Case. Charles Scribner’s Sons, hardcover, 1933. Reprinted many times, including Bantam #60, paperback, 1946. Film: 1933, with William Powell as Vance.

   The circumstances of the death of Archer Coe indicate suicide. He was, after all, in a room locked on the inside, with the revolver with which he was shot still in his hand. Fortunately, Philo Vance is asked to observe the scene, and he claims it was murder — but not caused by the bullet.

   One of the clues is a badly hurt Scottish terrier found in the house. The reader learns a lot about terriers and show dogs as Vance lectures on the animals. At the end, the dog leads, in a manner of speaking, Vance to the murderer.

   In my opinion, Van Dine is undeservedly maligned. What’s wrong with a highbrow mystery containing occasional and intentional amusement and fair, albeit far-fetched, play? That’s what we have here, and I think it’s most enjoyable.

— Reprinted from MYSTERY READERS JOURNAL, Vol. 6, No. 4, Winter 1990, “Beastly Murders.”

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB. Hammer Films, UK, 1964. Columbia Pictures, US, 1964. Terence Morgan, Ronald Howard, Fred Clark, Jeanne Roland,George Pastell, Jack Gwillim, John Paul, Dickie Owen. Screenwriter-director: Michael Carreras.

   Directed, written (under the credited name “Henry Younger”), and produced by Michael Carreras, The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb is a Hammer film about well … you guessed it, an archaeological expedition that unearths a mummy’s tomb and becomes the object of the mummy’s revenge.

   Ronald Howard, perhaps best known for starring in the 1954 Sherlock Holmes series, portrays John Bray, a Cambridge archaeologist who seeks to unravel the mysteries of the ancient Egyptian past. After his French colleague is murdered in the desert, he and his would-be betrothed, Annette Dubois (Jeanne Roland) make their way by boat up the Nile with the intention of returning to London.

   It is on that fateful trip that they encounter Adam Beauchamp (Terence Morgan), a mysterious Englishmen who inserts himself into their lives and knows far more about ancient Egyptian history than it first appears. But who is he and what does he want with Annette? That’s the crux of the story.

   When compared with Hammer’s The Mummy (1959) that I reviewed here, this later film comes across as a rather tepid and an uninspiring attempt to capitalize upon the former’s aesthetic, narrative, and musical genius. Indeed, without Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, the movie just isn’t all that memorable in terms of its actors and their stage presence. But that doesn’t mean that one should completely write off this admittedly clunky mid-1960s horror film as purely derivative and as having no particular intrinsic value as a film onto itself.

   Although this is not a particularly well-crafted film, it’s actually significantly better than its harshest critics would suggest. True, often the art design leaves a lot to be desired and the supposedly ancient Egyptian artifacts look cheap and plastic. And yes, the story takes a well to fully coalesce into a coherent narrative. That said, however, the film does compensate for these flaws by introducing a few new elements and surprises into the mummy film corpus.

   These include a subplot with an inherent critique as to how mummies were often used in the West for cheap thrills and entertainment purposes and (Spoiler Alert) the finale in which it is revealed in which the film’s nominal villain is the mummy’s brother, who is revealed to be Beauchamp (Morgan).

    Due to a curse, he has been condemned to everlasting life as a mortal human being roaming the Earth alone for thousands of years. It’s a curious little twist, one that’s just enough to rescue The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb from the obscurity it that would have befallen it had merely been a weak reworking of the brilliant Hammer original.

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


KAREN KIJEWSKI – Copy Kat. Kat Colorado #4. Doubleday, hardcover, 1992. Bantam, paperback, 1993.

   I think that Karen Kijewski (pronounced, I am told, Kee-you-skee) is rapidly moving into the class of Muller, Grafton, and Paretsky in terms of quality, if not of sales.

   In this case, Kat Colorado is hired to investigate the murder of a Grass Valley, California, bartender-owner by the victim’s crusty godfather. Though reluctant to get involved in an open case, Kat agrees to go undercover and work at her old profession, bartending, to try and find what really happened. Though there is no evidence, the police and many town members suspect the dead lady’s husband, who has been left with their small child. He hires Kat as a bartender, and the hunt is joined.

   The book is as much about Kat’s own problems with guilt from a killing in a previous case as anything; she is being crippled by recurring nightmares. The opportunity to change identities weighs strongly in her decision to accept the case. Missing from this book are her egregiously imposing “best friend,” and her adopted grandmother, for which I am grateful; earlier books have suffered greatly, to me, from Kat’s allowing herself to be sorely put upon by these two.

   Kijewski’s writing is powerful, and Colorado has emerged as an appealing and well realized character. Some of the other cast members were not as believable, or perhaps there were just too many neuroses/psychoses in one plot. All in all, though, this was an excellent and moving story.

— Reprinted from Fireman, Fireman, Save My Books #5, January 1993.


       The Kat Colorado series —

Katwalk (1988)
Katapult (1990)

Kat’s Cradle (1992)
Copy Kat (1992)
Wild Kat (1994)

Alley Kat Blues (1995)
Honky Tonk Kat (1996)
Kat Scratch Fever (1997)
Stray Kat Waltz (1998)

SUE GRAFTON – X.   G. P. Putnam’s Sons, hardcover, August 2015; paperback “premium edition,” August 2016.

    Going back to read my review of W Is for Wasted, I see some significant signs of how Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone series was progressing back then, and to my mind, the answer is not well.

    First of all, I said, “The case itself is not all that interesting…,” then I said:

    “I’m also not sure why Grafton has Kinsey relate everything she does, down to the minutest bit of minutia possible, whether it be meals, areas of town she drives through, or the GNP of the nation.”

    In X, the case is even less interesting than in W, with much of the the story dealing with loose threads left behind from the earlier one, and Grafton’s penchant to spell out in detail everything Kinsey does, from preparing breakfast, dealing with her landlord Henry’s cat, to delineating every turn along the way, complete with street names, whenever she drives from one place in the fictional town of Santa Teresa to another, seems to have gotten worse.

    Half of what happens in the first 192 pages is banal and uninteresting (see above). The other half, dealing with one of the two cases she seems to be on (they may yet be connected), something to do with a lawsuit that took place years and years ago, as well as a coded list of names of women connected with it, is even less compelling.

    And this is as far as I got. There are still 240 pages to go, and I see no promise of improvement. If reviewers are not supposed to review books they haven’t finished, I will promise to do better next time.

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


SO DARK THE NIGHT. Columbia Pictures, 1946. Steven Geray, Micheline Cheirel, Eugene Borden, Ann Cordee, Helen Freeman, Gregory Gaye, Jean de Val, Paul Marlon, Theodore Gottlieb (Brother Theodore). Screenplay by Martin Berkeley and Dwight Babcock. Story by Aubrey Wisberg. Directed by Joseph H. Lewis.

   Is there a darkness in all of us? That question haunts film noir, as essential to the genre as the black and white screen and the clever camera angles. So Dark the Night is the most unlikely of film noir despite being from the directorial hand of Joseph H. “Wagon wheel” Lewis, who here lives up to both his reputation and his nickname with many shots framed through windows and metal bed frames.

   Henri Cassin (Steven Geray), the finest detective of the Sûreté, is being sent on a much postponed vacation by his friend and superior Commissar Grande (Gregory Gaye) and the Bureau’s doctor, Dr. Monet (Jean de Val), to the quiet village of San Margot. Cassin is a humble quiet man, exhausted by his many important cases and his absolute devotion to duty. As his superior says, he would “… turn in his own grandmother if he was convinced of her guilt.”

   Arriving at the inn in San Margot, Cassin is immediately charmed by Nanette (Micheline Cheirel), the daughter of the Innkeeper Pierre (Eugene Borden) and his wife Madame Michaud (Ann Cordee). Pierre is delighted to have the famous man for his guest, as is barmaid and housekeeper Widow Birdelle (Helen Freeman), but he sees no good in his beautiful but scheming daughter and wife setting their caps for the detective, especially when Nanette is already engaged to the poor farmer Leon (Paul Marlon).

   Despite Pierre’s best efforts, and Leon’s threats, Nanette and Mama proceed with their plans, and soon the quiet and unassuming Cassin asks Nanette to marry him. On the night of their betrothal Pierre warns Cassin that the marriage cannot be, and sure enough Leon arrives and then storms out followed by Nanette.

   Cassin is heartbroken, and all assume the young couple have eloped, but a week later, as Pierre and Mama have grown concerned, the hunchback Georges (Theodore Gottlieb, performance artist Brother Theodore) arrives with the news Nanette has been found in the river, dead.

   Her death is no drowning though. She has been strangled. Suspecting the jealous Leon murdered her and placed her in the river, Cassin, the police, Georges, and Pierre walk to his farm, but there they find him murdered too, with only a single clue, a footprint hidden under Leon’s body.

Cassin now has a double murderer on his hands and nowhere to turn. There is no motive, and the devilish killer has erased every clue. Then a note is delivered to Cassin by Widow Birdelle, another will die, and sure enough the killer strikes again.

   That is as far as I can go without giving away too much of this clever and dark exercise in film noir that benefits greatly from a lesser known cast, expert direction by Lewis, and an intelligent script. In addition to being a fine example of film noir this one is unusually a mostly fair play detective story, with Cassin showing his skills as a detective and a solution you should arrive at before the sleuth, but may not.

   Geray, a capable character actor, who seldom got to shine in a starring role is perfectly cast as the quiet unassuming sleuth who has spent all his life dedicated to his job and suddenly at a “certain age” finds the promise of youth and love, only to lose it. Eugene Borden is also good as Pierre, who loves his wife and daughter but knows their scheming can only come to no good.

   So Dark the Night is a B picture, a Columbia programmer at most, but one that is better than most A films. It is handsomely shot by Lewis with imaginative, but never intrusive, camera angles, and proceeds with the nightmare logic of the best noir while staying at the same time low key and realistic almost to the end.

   That ending is the only real melodrama in the film, and the one-time drama outweighs logic, but it is highly satisfying if you just go with it, as is this handsome intense little film.

JACK FOXX – Dead Run. Bobbs Merrill, hardcover, 1975. Detective Book Club, hardcover 3-in-1 reprint edition. Carroll & Graf, hardcover, 1992, as by Bill Pronzini; paperback, August 1992. Speaking Volumes, trade paperback, 2012, also as by Bill Pronzini.

   Honest work in Singapore having become scarce since his recent affair with the jade figurine, Dan Connell takes a job as overseer of a rubber plantation in Malaysia’s Selangor province, but the trip up the coast by slow steamer leads him into more trouble and adventure than even a man of Connell’s unsavory past has a right to expect.

   Two men are seen throwing overboard a third man, a fired bank employee who had stopped briefly in Connell‘s cabin, but quickly it becomes obvious that they were frustrated in getting from him what they wanted. There’s a girl, too, the plantation owner’s daughter, with whom Connell ends up lost in a leech-infested jungle, and a hair-raising airplane flight with a madman lovingly caressing a grenade ready to go off at any minute.

   The plot ingredients are easily recognized as those of countless pulp adventure thrillers. but they are bv no means outdated, as Foxx/Pronzini capably shows. It’s reassuring to learn that there are still places in this world far enough away for the special flavor of the exotic unknown to be kept alive, capable of giving the reader that intimate thrill of escaping into another world of romantic adventure.

   Indeed, this has the same immediacy as that provided by the urgent voice-over narration of a top-notch radio drama. The early dialogue may seem stilted, but as`the full artillery is let loose, the theater of the reader’s mind will have that pair of deadly killers breathing down his or her very own neck. What more can you ask?

Rating:   A minus.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 2, No. 4, July 1978.


Bibliographic Notes:   The previous adventure of Dan Connell that was alluded to in this review was The Jade Figurine. (Bobbs Merill, 1972). This first book was an expansion of the story “The Jade Figurine” that appeared in the January 1971 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, as by Bill Pronzini. This story may also be the same as the one entitled “Jade” which appeared in the Pronzini collection Sleuths (Five Star, 1999).

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


RIDE A CROOKED TRAIL. Universal, 1958. Audie Murphy, Gia Scala, Walter Matthau, Henry Silva. Written by Borden Chase. Directed by Jesse Hibbs.

   Someone at Universal figured out how to make a decent Audie Murphy Western: hire a strong character actor (such as Barry Sullivan, Dan Duryea…) a good writer (such as Clair Huffaker, Burt Kennedy…) and build the movie around the character actor, with Audie moving the plot along.

   Ride a Crooked Trail offers the formula at its best, with Walter Matthau as a shotgun-totin’ judge and a script by Borden Chase, who penned classics like Red River and Winchester 73. And if this isn’t exactly his best work, it still ain’t bad.

   Audie sort of stumbles into the proceedings as an outlaw on the run who picks up a dead sheriff’s horse and is mistaken for the lawman when he rides into Matthau’s town. Forced to adopt the false identity, he finds himself unwillingly adopted by the boozy old judge, but things get complicated when an ex-girlfriend (Gia Scala) comes along and ends up posing as his wife… to be followed in turn by nasty Henry Silva, the current man in her life and head of an outlaw gang with eyes on the local bank.

   It’s all very pat, fast-moving and family-oriented. Henry Silva is convincingly nasty, in a Jack Palance kind of way as the bad guy, though there isn’t really much for him to do. But it’s fun watching Matthau ham it up as the old reprobate judge, and the whole thing is done up in that lush Technicolor used by Universal in those days. In short, easy to watch and easy to forget.

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE. American International Pictures, 1971. Jason Robards, Herbert Lom, Christine Kaufmann, Adolfo Celi, Maria Perschy, Michael Dunn, Lilli Palmer. Screenwriters: Christopher Wicking & Henry Slesar, based on the story by Edgar Allan Poe. Director: Gordon Hessler.

   When adapting what many critics consider to be the original modern detective story to film, there’s a temptation to do so in a manner that adheres too closely to the original text.

   That’s definitely not a problem for Gordon Hessler’s Murders in the Rue Morgue, a film that’s so anarchic in spirit that it ends up little resembling Edgar Allan Poe’s locked door mystery. Borrowing as much from The Phantom of the Opera (1943) as from Poe’s tale, this uneven, but still enjoyable, American International production blends gothic horror, an early 1970s Paella Western aesthetic, and a sly commentary on the demarcations between the profession of acting and living in “real life.” The movie also benefits a rather unique score by the Argentine composer and conductor, Waldo de los Ríos.

   The plot revolves around an early twentieth-century Parisian theater troupe of the Grand Guignol variety. Led by the mercurial Cesar Charron (Jason Robards), the troupe includes a myriad of colorful members. In the midst of their theatrical run of a stage adaptation of Poe’s eponymous story, Charron finds that his cast and crew, both former and present, are being targeted for murder.

   It’s only when the bodies start piling up that Charron begins to suspect that his former friend and rival, Rene Marot (Herbert Lom) is behind the horrific killings. Thing is: Marot is believed to be dead, having taken his own life after murdering Cesar’s wife’s, Madeline’s (Christine Kauffman) mother (Lilli Palmer) with an axe.

   At the end of the day, however, it’s not the convoluted murder mystery plot that makes Murders in the Rue Morgue worth watching. Rather, the film is more an exercise in style and reflective of a certain type of Gothic horror cinema, one in which dreams, flashbacks, and hallucinatory sojourns play important roles in elucidating how the characters’ pasts and presents converge in tragic ways. The movie’s not a horror classic and doesn’t hold up very well when compared with Roger Corman’s Poe films, but it’s the product of a certain type of daring that was a hallmark of 1970s commercial cinema.

DAN RAVEN “The High Cost of Living.” NBC, 20 September 1960; 60 minutes. Cast: Skip Homeier (Lt. Dan Raven), Dan Barton (Det. Sgt. Burke), Quinn K. Redeker. Guest Cast: Bobby Darin, Corey Allen, Richard Carlyle, Sue Ane Langdon. Director: Joseph M. Newman.

   There is seriously conflicting information about this series online. Wikipedia says that the series began as a 30 minute program on January 23, 1960, and expanded to 60 minutes on September 23, whereas IMDb suggests that that was the date of the first program altogether. If the latter is correct, the episode I’ve just watched is Episode 1 of Season 1.

   The setting of this fairly standard black and white police procedural is Los Angeles, and Hollywood’s famed Sunset Strip in particular. The extra gimmick, at least for this part of the run, is to have famous actors, actresses and other celebrities play themselves in leading roles in dramatized versions of scrapes they might get into. (From the preview provided at the end of this one, the next episode starred Buddy Hackett.)

   Bobby Darin is framed for murder in this one, and it’s a fairly flimsy setup at that — his photo is found at the scene of the crime in a smashed frame (hmm) and a charred piece of notepaper is discovered in the fireplace with the name Bobby on it, paper from the club where he works.

   I didn’t keep track, but Darin also gets to sing at least two songs. There’s also an old friend of his hanging around town would could provide an alibi for him, if he could only be found. I’m not sure the plotting is at all airtight, but I don’t imagine anyone at the time was going to ask for their money back if it wasn’t.

   Skip Homeier had nearly a 40 year career in movies and TV, and while he never became a star, he did make a successful transition from child actor to at least a busy one as an adult. In this single episode of Dan Raven I’ve seen, he reminded me a bit of Lee Marvin, maybe better looking, but without the latter’s overwhelming onscreen charisma.

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