Reviews


Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


TEENAGE CAVEMAN. American International Pictures, 1957. Robert Vaughn, Darah Marshall, Leslie Bradley, Frank De Kova, Charles Thompson, June Jocelyn, Ed Nelson, Robert Shayne. Screenplay: R. Wright Campbell. Director: Roger Corman.

   Teenage Caveman, a low-budget project ($70,000) with a title that conveys adolescent culture, is a far more interesting film than you might expect it to be. Directed and produced by Roger Corman, the movie’s original title was “Prehistoric World.” Which makes sense given that there are dinosaurs and strange lizard creatures lurking about in the background.

   Whatever it rightfully called, the occasionally stylish movie stars Robert Vaughn as – you guessed it – a teenage cave man. Known as “Boy,” Vaughn’s character is plagued by curiosity. Why does his society’s law forbid people to travel beyond the river? What’s there that’s so forbidden or so dangerous? Right from the get go, one is plunged into a society seemingly ossified by religious dogma and intolerance.

   By the time it’s all over, one feels as if the rug has been ripped out from under one’s feet. Perhaps there was a reason – a very good one, at that – why the Boy’s elders warned him against traveling far beyond his immediate surroundings. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that fans of Planet of the Apes will find Corman’s worldview, as conveyed in this particular film, to be not all that different from Rod Serling’s.

   So, is Teenage Caveman a good movie or is it just a silly exercise in filmmaking? The best way to answer that question is as an attorney would: “It depends.” It depends what you’re looking for or how much stock you put in Corman’s abilities to convey serious ideas with a meager budget.

   In terms of realism special effects, it’s basically a notch below a B-film. The lizards and dinosaurs, for instance, look more silly than scary. And Vaughn has to have the best coiffed haircut of any caveman since time began. But that doesn’t mean that he isn’t a very good actor or that he doesn’t take his role in this movie seriously. He does. And that’s what makes what could have otherwise been a total dud something worth watching, even if you have an inkling what the surprise ending is going to be.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


MILTON LOTT – The Last Hunt. Houghton Mifflin, hardcover, 1954. Cardinal paperback C-203, 1955. Gregg Press, hardvover reprint, 1979.

THE LAST HUNT. MGM, 1956. Robert Taylor, Stewart Granger, Lloyd Nolan, Debra Paget, Russ Tamblyn, Constance Ford, Joe De Santis. Based on the novel by Milton Lott. Director: Richard Brooks.

   Fans of Western fiction need to run out and get a copy of this book, which ranks right up there with The Big Sky, The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones and a very few others as one of the great novels of the American West.

   Lott takes a simple tale of buffalo hunters in the 1880s, charges it with vivid description of an unforgettable countryside, adds some thoughtful and very surprising plot twists, and lights it up with scenes and characters you won’t forget.

   Lott has a way of telling a story that seems to build up to a dramatic life-or-death confrontation every so often, then suddenly develops it with a maturity and naturalness that seems to grow directly from the characters and their setting.

   Even the bit players come alive here, and Lott’s descriptive powers are such that — well let me just say that when the freighter trekked through a Dakota blizzard, I forgot the warm Ohio Sun on my back and felt myself shiver!

   MGM filmed this in 1956, and they did a pretty fine job of it, too. Writer/director Richard Brooks always loved filming Literature, but he sometimes stumbled rather badly. Here though, he takes the best bits form Lott’s novel, simplifies when he has to, plays up the drama nicely, and doesn’t flinch from the grimmest parts. Along the way, he loses a bit of what makes the book so unique, but he turns out a damfine movie, so what’s to complain?

   I should also mention the acting: where Lott evoked character, Brooks provokes performance. Robert Taylor makes a chilling kill-crazy hunter (his second portrait of a psycho, after Undercurrent) Stewart Granger — who lost his wife to Brooks in real life — seems at home on the range in his first and best real Western; Russ Tamblyn looks a bit unlikely as a red-haired Indian, but that’s how Lott wrote it; Debra Paget, typecast again as a dusky Indian maiden walks through the part with assurance, and best of all—best of all is Lloyd Nolan as a one-legged mule-skinner whose commentary on the proceedings puts things into context.

   He sometimes seems to be carrying Brooks’ Important Message for him a little too obviously, but he does it with such robust good humor I didn’t mind a bit.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Francis M. Nevins


  WILLIAM ARD – Hell Is a City. Rinehart, hardcover, 1955. Popular Library #756, paperback, 1956. Ramble House, softcover, 2012.

   In the early 1950s, when our political and cultural life was dominated by Senator Joe McCarthy and HUAC, and our crime fiction by the bloody exploits of Mike Hammer, a young man named William Ard joined the handful of hard-boiled writers — among them Ross Macdonald, Thomas B. Dewey, and William Campbell Gault — who carried on the legitimate private-eye tradition of Hammett and Chandler.

   In Ard’s world the PI stands for personal and political decency, a clear line is drawn between dramatically justified violence and gratuitous brutality, and sex is seen as a restoration of oneself and caring for another. Anthony Boucher, the dean of mystery critics, praised Ard over and over for his “deft blend of hardness with human warmth and quiet humor,” for turning out “masterpiece(s) of compressed narration … backed with action and vigor, written with style and individuality.”

   Hell Is a City, seventh of Ard’s nine novels about private eye Timothy Dane, is the most powerful and exciting of his novels. Dane is pitted against the corrupt forces of law and order in a nightmare New York where the mayor, the police commissioner, and most of the officials are allied with the mobs and determined to hang on to their power in the coming mayoral election.

   When a young Latino shoots a Brooklyn vice cop who was about to rape the boy’s sister, the municipal bosses use their puppets in the news media to portray the case as the cold-blooded murder of a heroic officer, and put out word to shoot on sight whoever might contradict the party line.

   Brought into the picture by a crusading newspaper editor, Dane finds himself in the classic roman noir situation: knowing the truth no one else will believe; threatened on all sides by killers with badges and without; hounded through city streets dark with something more than night.

   With its sharply drawn characters, pulsating pace, and terrifying premise, this book could easily have been masterpiece, were it not for its grotesquely bad denouement, perhaps the first televised criminal trial scene in fiction, where all is set to rights in record time and in an impossibly silly manner. In a later Dane-less novel, As Bad As I Am (1959), aka Wanted: Danny Fontaine, Ard reworked the same story line to a better effect, but without the raw, nightmarish tension of Hell Is a City.

   Ard was far from a model of all the literary virtues. He wrote quickly and revised too little, and his style, though readable and efficient, lacks the hauntingly quotable quality of Chandler and Ross Macdonald. His plots tend to fall part under scrutiny and he recycled certain names again and again so that his novels contain small armies of characters named Stix Larsen and Barney Glines.

   But his best books — among which are The Diary (1952), .38 (1952), Cry Scandal (1956), and the paperback original Club 17 (1957), published under his pseudonym, Ben Kerr — are miracles of storytelling economy in which Ard’s special brand of tenderness is integrated with the standard elements of mean-streets fiction.

   His death from cancer in 1960 at age thirty-seven silenced one of the most distinctive voices in the history of the private-eye novel.

         ———
   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.

WILLIAM O. TURNER – Mayberly’s Kill. Doubleday “Double D Western,” 1969. Berkley X2017, paperback, 1971; later printings, 1977, 1982.

   Turner wasn’t a prolific writer, so I took a short amount of time to come up with complete bibliography, more or less. The major secondary source used was 20th Century Western Writers, 2nd edition. [I've moved the list of books and stories to the end of this review, rather than here at the beginning, where it first appeared.]

   Turner was born in 1914 and died in 1980. [If you go through the list of books he wrote], you can see that his career had the usual ups and downs and various digressions that a good many of his fellow writers did. He started in hardcover in the mid-1950s with what looks like solid western historicals.

   When he was dropped by Houghton Mifflin, he was picked up by Doubleday – but for not all of his books. Then comes the usual mixture of hardcovers and paperback originals, along with some books that came out first (or only) in England, with some hardcovers eventually never having softcover editions.

   Catch Party was a posthumous book, and why it came out from Zebra, who never did any of his other books, so far as I’ve been able to learn, is a minor puzzle. (Not one that’s keeping me up at nights, you may reassured to know.)

   Moving on to the book at hand, what the first few paragraphs reminded me of was nothing more (or less) than a good old-fashioned private eye novel:

    Zach Mayberly sat with the scrubbed surface of the kitchen table between him and the girl. She was small and slender with a delicate face and black eyes. She was young. Nineteen, she said. She sat straight and looked him in the eye and answered his questions readily. A little too readily, he thought.

   “How long did you live up there on Grizzly Creek?”

   “Since I married Eduardo. That was in February, two years ago.”

   “And Eduardo was killed Wednesday, the fourth of April? Three weeks ago tomorrow?”

   “Yes.”

   The room was dark, low-ceilinged, a typical Mexican kitchen. Susanna Velasquez was not Mexican. This was the house of her sister-in-law, Eduardo’s sister.

   The killer of Susanna Velasquez’s husband Eduardo is not Mayberly’s primary interest, but the two men who had been staying with the couple may be the Ambrose brothers, the men whose trail he’s been following. That they may have had something to do her Eduardo’s death is largely incidental, but Susanna’s subsequent and hasty later departure seems to confirm that something shady had occurred, up there on Grizzly Creek.

   Mayberly soon discovers an even better lead to follow, however, when he learns that the sister of the woman whom one of the men married is also looking for the them. Her sister’s son was living with her after she died, having left her husband, Sip Ambrose, but when the man stole his son back from the sister, she is doggedly tracking them down, hoping to get the boy back.

   Another bounty hunter, a fellow named Yadkin, is also the picture, as well as a Pinkerton man named Deeds. The latter also makes himself a good friend and traveling companion of Melanie Coates (that’s the sister), which somehow displeases Mayberly, and for more reasons than one.

   This is a slim novel, taking up only 188 pages of normal-sized type, and believe it or not, what I’ve told you so is only the beginning. Eventually all of the characters in this novel – the two outlaws and the boy; Susanna Velasquez; Mayberly and the girl; Yadkin and Deeds – find their way to a free-thinkers’ settlement called New Sanity, which the Ambrose brothers (Tucker disguised as a woman) have hopes of taking over, with the aid and abetting of one of the more nefarious members of the group already there, not to mention a stockpile of dynamite.

   If you’re thinking that this sounds rather ludicrous, I guess it does, but it all makes sense as you’re reading it, in a smile-to-yourself kind of way. When all of the plot threads come together, it is truly a delicious sight to behold, and since the copy I read was a third printing, as you will recall, I imagine that I’m not the only one to have thought so.

   Turner was very much a writer in the traditional mode, as off-beat as the setting his characters find themselves in may have turned out to be. The level of language he uses, it occurred to me once while I was reading, seldom exceeds a young adult level – even though more than a few events may be sometimes a little darker than that – but if clarity in story-telling is a virtue, then Turner was a fellow who had it.

          BIBLIOGRAPHY:

The Proud Diggers. Houghton Mifflin, hardcover, 1954. Paperback editions: Dell #844 1955; Berkley, 1980.

The Settler. Houghton Mifflin, 1956. Paperback editions: Dell #947, 1957; Berkley, 1977.
War Country. Houghton Mifflin, 1957. Paperback: Berkley G-433, 1960.

The Long Rope. Doubleday, hardcover, 1959. Paperback: Hillman #183, 1961.

Throttle the Hawk. Ward Lock, British hardcover, 1960. Paperback: Berkley, 1966. (*)
The Treasure of Fan Tan Flat. Doubleday, hardcover, 1961. Paperback: Berkley, 1975.

The High-Hander. Ace Double F-186, paperback original, 1963. (Bound back to back with Wild Horse Range, by Louis Trimble.)
Gunpoint. Berkley, paperback original, 1964.
Destination Doubtful. Ward Lock, British hardcover, 1964. US paperback original: Ballantine U1050, 1965.
Five Days to Salt Lake. Ballantine U2252, paperback original, 1966.
Ride the Vengeance Trail. (*) Berkley F1264, paperback original, 1966.
Blood Dance. Berkley F1439, paperback original, 1967.

Mayberly’s Kill. Doubleday, hardcover, 1969. Paperback: Berkley X2017, 1971.
A Man Called Jeff. Berkley X1650, paperback original, 1969.
Crucifixion Butte. Mayflower, British paperback, 1969. No US edition.
Place of the Trap. Doubleday, hardcover, 1970. No paperback edition.
Call the Beast Thy Brother. Doubleday, hardcover, 1973. Paperback: Berkley N2739, 1975.
Thief Hunt. Doubleday, hardcover, 1973. Paperback: Manor Books, 1974.
Medicine Creek. Doubleday, hardcover, 1974. No paperback edition.
Shortcut to Devil’s Claw. Berkley, paperback original, 1977.
Catch Party. Zebra, paperback original, 1988.

(*) If Throttle the Hawk appeared as a Berkley paperback, it was under a different title, with a high likelihood that it was Ride the Vengeance Trail, which is not included in the 20th Century bibliography.

NOTE: 20th Century also lists a non-western by Turner, The Man in the Yellow Mercedes, Berkley, 1979, but no book of this title, by Turner or anyone else, could be found in the online WorldCat.

   Short stories, with no information that any of these stories had earlier appearances:

   “The Proud Diggers.” Contained in Wild Streets: Tales of the Frontier Towns, Don Ward, ed., Doubleday, 1958. WWA anthology.
   “Blackie Gordon’s Corset.” Contained in Frontiers West, S. Omar Barker, ed., Doubleday, 1959. WWA anthology.
   “The Tomato Can Kid.” Contained in Western Roundup, Nelson Nye, ed., Macmillan, 1961. WWA anthology.
   “The Lobo Parker Legend.” Contained in WWA Presents: Great Western Stories, no editor stated, Berkley Highland F1055, paperback original, 1965.

— Reprinted from Durn Tootin’ #7 , July
    2005 (slightly revised).


IT’S ABOUT CRIME
by Marv Lachman


SUE GRAFTON – “B” Is for Burglar. Holt Rinehart and Winston, hardcover, 1985. Bantam, paperback, 1986. Reprinted many times since.

   Sue Grafton has been praised, with justification, for carrying on the traditions of the private eye novel, and I’m glad that her second book, “B” Is for Burglar, is now available in paperback from Bantam at $3.50.

   Grafton breaks no new ground, but her books and her heroine, Kinsey Millhone, are so reminiscent of Ross Macdonald and Lew Archer at their best that I strongly recommend this book, The setting is California’s Santa Teresa, a thinly disguised Santa Barbara, the city in which Kenneth Millar lived, and one to which he frequently brought Archer.

   Millhone, like Archer, is a decent person, and she clocks as many miles on guilt trips as he did. Both of their creators provide excellent prose, even if they did go overboard on similes. Grafton has a wonderful career in front of her, and a little more discipline as to that tendency should permit her to consolidate her considerable talent and provide us with some of the best hardboiled mysteries of the next few decades.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 8, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1986.


Editorial Comment:   It is now 28 years since Marv wrote this review, and Sue Grafton’s latest is “W” Is for Wasted, published last month in paperback. Question: What is “X” for?

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


C. DALY KING – Obelists at Sea. Knopf, US, hardcover, 1933. Heritage, UK, hardcover, 1932; Penguin Books, UK, paperback, 1938.

   During the bidding for a number in the ship’s pool on distance traveled by day, the lights go out and Victor Smith, either a copper king or a Western railroad magnate, is shot twice in the heart. Only one gun is found to have been fired, and that is proved not to have committed the murder. Smith’s daughter also dies, although of what cause is not known. To add to the complexity, Smith had taken or been given poison almost immediately before he was shot.

   The case is too much for the ship’s detectives, so four gentleman aboard assist in the investigation. Dr. Hayvier, a well-known behaviorist, Dr. Pechs, an equally well-known psychoanalyst, and Dr. Pons, inventor of Integrative Psychology, and Professor Miltie, who had carefully avoided being identified with any of the schools of his “science” — all have their theories, all different, with different suspects.

   Put aside the fact that the Meganaut has ten decks above the water line and a crew of at least a thousand and that Captain Mansfield invariably refers to it as a “boat.” This is still a fascinating, albeit a bit slow, novel.

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


Editorial Comments: While I do not know if all four of the detective characters in this novel appear in all of the books below, Professor Pons is stated in Hubin to be in each of them.

       The Dr. L. Rees Pons series –

Obelists at Sea. Knopf, 1933.
Obelists en Route. Collins, UK, 1934.
Obelists Fly High . H. Smith 1935.
Careless Corpse. Collins, UK, 1937.
Arrogant Alibi. Appleton, 1939.

    Also of interest, I believe, is the following quote taken from author Martin Edwards in his review on his blog of C Daly King’s mystery output in general:

    “‘Obelist’ was a word that King made up. He defined it in Obelists at Sea as ‘a person of little or no value’ and then re-defined it in Obelists en Route as ‘one who harbours suspicion’. Why on earth you would invent a word, use it in your book titles, and then change your mind about what it means?”

For more on C. Daly King, the mystery writer, may I also direct you to Mike Grost’s comments about his work on his website.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


RIDE CLEAR OF DIABLO. Universal International, 1954. Audie Murphy, Susan Cabot, Dan Duryea, Abbe Lane, Russell Johnson, Paul Birch, William Pullen, Jack Elam, Denver Pyle. Director: Jesse Hibbs.

   While Ride Clear of Diablo may not be the best Western ever made, it’s nevertheless an entertaining one. Directed by Jesse Hibbs, the film stars soldier-turned-actor Audie Murphy as Clay O’Mara, a man who seeks revenge for the murder of both his father and brother at the hands of cow rustlers.

   O’Mara’s good with a gun, but he’s still got a lot to learn about how the world really works. It’s this juxtaposition of fluidity with guns and naivety about society that makes Murphy’s O’Mara an interesting character. True, O’Mara’s not the sort of brooding hero that Randolph Scott portrayed so successfully in the Ranown cycle, but he’s a step above the typical gunslinger hero that populated hundreds of 1950s Westerns.

   And there’s more to the film than Murphy. Although the former World War II hero got top billing, the real star of the show is Dan Duryea, an actor so incredibly good in portraying bad guys. In Diablo, Duryea portrays Whitey Kincade, a wild-eyed outlaw with a hyena laugh who takes a liking to the green Clay O’Mara.

   After a series of twists and turns, Kincade eventually teams up with O’Mara and assists him in capturing and killing the men who were both directly, and indirectly, responsible for the deaths of his brother and father.

   O’Mara has another interest besides revenge. Her name is Laurie Canyon (Susan Cabot). She happens to be the niece of the sheriff, Fred Kenyon (a well cast Paul Birch), who hires O’Mara and instructs him, for dubious reasons, to bring Kincade in for justice. She also just happens to be engaged to local attorney, Tom Meredith (William Pullen), who is actually the man responsible for murdering O’Mara’s brother and father. The plot thickens.

   Along for the wild ride in and out of Diablo is future Gilligan’s Island star, Russell Johnson, who portrays Jed Ringer, a criminal and a double-crosser who (deservedly) gets it in the chest from Murphy’s character in a dank silver mine. Abbe Lane portrays Kate, a saloon girl and Ringer’s lady friend, who, unlike the men she associates with, turns out to have a conscience.

   While there’s not all that much in the way of exceptional cinematography, the action sequences are both well filmed and choreographed, particularly those where Murphy is at the center of attention.

   At the end of the day, however, it’s Duryea, not Murphy, who makes this film worth watching. If you like Duryea as a crazed villain with a wild laugh and a devil-may-care grin, you’re just going to love watching Ride Clear of Diablo. It may not be one of the fine character actor’s best-known performances, but it’s surely a memorable one.

Next Page »