Reviews


REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


KENNETH MILLAR – The Dark Tunnel. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1944. Lion #46, paperback, 1950. Gregg Press, hardcover, 1980. Also published as I Die Slowly. Lion Library LL52, paperback, 1955.

   Ross Macdonald penned his first novel, The Dark Tunnel, in 1944 under his birth name Kenneth Millar. A detective story where the protagonist is a professor rather than a private investigator, the book is best categorized as a work of mystery fiction with strong elements borrowed from the type of thrillers that inspired many a Hitchcock film. Although by no means a flawless work, Millar’s debut novel demonstrates the author’s fluidity with language, particularly the hardboiled vernacular that has become the trademark patois of those writers who have followed in the tradition of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.

   Published during the Second World War – and soon before Millar entered service in the U.S. Navy – The Dark Tunnel refers to a physical place detailed in one of the more action oriented portions of the novel. It likewise serves as an apt metaphor for Germany’s descent into Nazism. After all, Germany was not some backwater, uncivilized country; it was a country with a rich cultural and literary tradition that nonetheless chose a dark path.

   The novel follows the path of Dr. Robert Branch, a literature professor at an unnamed Midwest university set in the fictional town of Arbana (a clear stand-in for Ann Arbor, Michigan). After Branch’s colleague, Alec Judd, informs him of a Nazi spy ring operating in Michigan, Branch is plunged into a nightmarish world of murder and subterfuge wherein he both witnesses one murder and is falsely accused of another. Millar’s academic background – he went on to receive a doctorate in literature after the Second World War – influences his prose, lending the work a frenetic Kafkaesque quality that is more refined than some of his lesser known contemporaries.

   Then there’s the girl. A beautiful redheaded German actress named Ruth Esch with whom Branch had a whirlwind romance when he was in Munich in 1937, well before the United States was at war but after the Nazi jackboots had taken power. When Ruth Esch reappears in Arbana, years after being interned in a concentration camp, Branch’s past and present collide in a maelstrom of brutal political violence.

   Critics may bristle someone at Millar’s treatment of the dual subjects of homosexuality and transvestitism, both of which play pivotal roles in the unraveling of the mystery and which (Plot Alert) are linked, at least implicitly, with Nazi decadence. These topics, while not overtly exploited for sensational purposes, do lend the work a pulpy, sordid feel that likely shocked some readers when the book first appeared on bookshelves. Some may feel the emphasis on the villains’ sexuality to be a distraction from what is otherwise an impressive tale of an ordinary American man thrust into a world he doesn’t fully comprehend.

   More distracting for me, however, was the suspension of disbelief constantly required to accept that a professor of literature would speak in such a hardboiled manner, let alone mouth off to authority figures such as the police and the feds. Robert Branch comes across as a working class PI masquerading as a professor, a product more of the school of hard knocks than of the mandarin university system.

   Millar was clearly finding his voice at this point in his career. Academia was the world he knew. So it made perfect sense for him to create a character set in the milieu he best understood. But it’s clear that inside Robert Branch, there was a cynical Lew Archer waiting to get out and make his presence to the world known.

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


NIGHT PEOPLE. 20th Century Fox, 1954. Gregory Peck, Broderick Crawford, Anita Björk, Rita Gam, Walter Abel, Buddy Ebsen. Screenwriter-Director: Nunnally Johnson.

   The labyrinthine plot is a feature, not a bug. It’s the murkiness of the whole rotten deal that’s on display in Night People, a Twentieth-Century Fox production starring Gregory Peck and Broderick Crawford as two men attempting to navigate the return of a kidnapped American enlisted man in Cold War Berlin.

   Peck stars as Col. Van Dyke, a hard-nosed cynic who has learned that diplomacy means not only patience, but also making deals with the devil.

   Crawford is perfectly cast as Charles Leatherby, the kidnapped GI’s father. A car parts industrialist from Toledo, he believes that his fast-talking and his vast wealth will certainly expedite the release of his son. After all, money talks. His influence with elected officials back home is well known.

   But what starts off as a semi-straightforward case soon reveals itself to be a far more complicated and morally dubious scenario. It turns out that the communists want an elderly German couple, both known anti-Nazis in their day, as the price to pay.

   Initially, Leatherby is inclined to trade the couple if it means getting his boy back. He starts to get cold feet, however, when he ends up spending time in the hospital with the couple, both of whom chose to poison themselves rather than end up back in a Soviet prison. Things get even more shadowy when it comes out that the German woman isn’t German at all and that the GI’s captors may not be Soviets after all.

   [WARNING: Plot Alert]   There’s one aspect to the film that continues to frustrate me, and that has to do with a character that presents herself to Van Dyke as a go-between who works both the American and Soviet sides. “Hoffy” Hoffmeir (Anita Björk) is an ex-lover of Van Dyke’s who says she’ll be able to set up the nighttime exchange between the two enemy forces staring each other down across Checkpoint Charlie.

   It’s a spy film whose main theme is deception, so it comes as no surprise that she too isn’t exactly honest about her true identity. But the way the screenplay is written, it’s never clear whether she’s been an imposter all the time or whether she’s been part of an elaborate plot to gain the confidence of Van Dyke from the very beginning.

   But perhaps that was the whole point. Maybe you can’t even trust a beautiful woman whose life you’ve spent hours researching. Maybe nobody anybody in Cold War Berlin was fully honest about their true identities, let alone what they may or may not have done during the Nazi regime. If Van Dyke is the hardnosed cynic, Leatherby represents the optimistic, can-do American whose illusions are shattered in the chilly Berlin night.


YELLOW SKY. 20th Century Fox, 1948. Gregory Peck, Anne Baxter, Richard Widmark, Robert Arthur, John Russell, Henry [Harry] Morgan, James Barton, Charles Kemper. Based on a story by W. R. Burnett. Director: William A. Wellman.

   How would you like to be Gregory Peck asthe leader of an outlaw gang that has someone like Richard Widmark as mamebr it? Not much, you say, and you’d be right. It goes about as well as you’d expect. As it turns out, though, they end up with two different goals in mind. Peck wants the girl (Anne Baxter), while Widmark wants the gold she and her grizzled old grandfather have dug out of their mine.

   The setting is a deserted old mining town named Yellow Sky, located right on the edge of Death Valley, which Peck and his men have just crossed. With her tight shirt and jeans, “Mike” is a sight for sore eyes, but not right away. All the outlaws want at first is water, and lots of it.

   Eventually, though, they begin to wonder what the girl and her grandpa are doing there, totally isolated as they are, miles from any sign of civilization. This is where — you guessed it — thoughts of the gold come in, and this is also exactly when rifts between the members of the gang begin.

   This is a well-constructed western movie that makes perfect use of its setting. It may be just a bit talky, but toward the end there’s plenty of gunplay and action for anyone who’s looking for that; after all, that’s what the whole film is building up to.

   As for Gregory Peck vs. Richard Widmark, you know exactly how that’s going to come out, and except for an ending that seems to be tacked on to satisfy the Movie Code, Peck does it quite convincingly.


SAM McCARVER – The Case of Compartment 7. John Darnell #2. Signet, paperback original; 1st printing, February 2000.

   When the book begins, the year is 1914, and the drums of war are beginning to echo their way across the European continent. It seems hardly the time to take a train ride from Paris to Bucharest on the famed Orient Express, much less a honeymoon trip, but paranormal investigator John Darnell is mixing business with pleasure. He’s been hired to investigate why compartment number seven is being haunted by a female ghost who keeps appearing in it while dressed in bloody clothing.

   As it turns out, ,however, his primary task is shoved off to the side once several deaths and near deaths start occurring. Europe is a hotbed of intrigue, and thefts, aborted bomb attempts, and various secret plots of all kinds find the train a perfect setting to take place.

   This is one of those works of historical fiction in which purely fictional characters are mixed in with others who are real (or were), most notably Mata Hari, traveling under her name at birth, and a nurse named Agatha Miller, a year before she married a certain Mr. Christie. The conceit of course being that she is taking notes for a career, she hopes, in writing mystery fiction.

   With all of the plotting going on in such closed confines, the overall story has a continual tension to it, there’s no denying it. It’s all the more disappointing then, that the ending fails to rise to the occasion as greatly as it does, in comparison to everything that’s gone before.

   Mysteries that take place on trains are always a lot of fun, though, as long as the Orient Express remains in motion, making its way across the European landscape, so is this one.


       The John Darnell series —

1. The Case of Cabin 13 (1999)
2. The Case of Compartment 7 (2000)
3. The Case of the 2nd Seance (2000)
4. The Case of the Ripper’s Revenge (2001)
5. The Case of the Uninvited Guest (2002)
6. To Die, or Not to Die (2003)

BERNARD SCHOPEN – The Big Silence. Jack Ross #1. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1989; paperback, January 1990.

   The first chapter of this, the first recorded adventure of private eye Jack Ross, is a good one. Described is Ross’s meeting with his client, a prostitute named Glory, in a bar at the Reno Hilton. She wants him to find her grandfather, a man who, accused of murder, vanished into the desert 40 years ago.

   A fine start, as I say, but for me, the story ran out of steam no more than 80 pages in. The case simply became too complicated, with too many entanglements and too many outsiders with inside interests. Or could it be that I confuse too easily?

   The desert plays a large part in the resulting drama, perhaps one greater than any of the living characters. What Schopen succeeds in doing, more than anything else, is to describe the solitary beauty of the desert in such a way that it’s brought to life more than any of the people who live in and around it.

   There are not many PI’s who work in the Nevada area, which is a surprise, when you think of it, but while this first case for Jack Ross does have promise, right now I’m more inclined to call it potential not yet realized.

–Reprinted and somewhat expanded upon from Mystery*File #19, January 1990.

       The Jack Ross series —

The Big Silence (1989)
The Desert Look (1990)
The Iris Deception (1996)

FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
by Francis M. Nevins


   The first few years of Erle Stanley Gardner’s stories for the pulps were written in a style that might best be called style-less. Then, around 1930 or so, he discovered Dashiell Hammett — no surprise since they were both writing for the same pulps at the same time — and his most interesting work over the next several years makes it pretty clear which of his colleagues he was trying to channel. I call as witnesses the Ken Corning stories for Black Mask (1932-33), the first nine Perry Mason books (1933-36), the stand-alone novel THIS IS MURDER (1935), and the short-lived Pete Wennick series, also for Black Mask (1937-39).

   Another radical change in Gardner’s style and sensibility took place around 1937 when the Saturday Evening Post offered him huge sums of money for serialization rights to the Perry Mason’s before they came out in book form. But part of the deal was that Gardner had to tone Mason down, conform him to the “family-friendly” values of the Post, convert him from a social Darwinian Sam Spade with a law degree to an attorney who was more conventional, more acceptable to a huge public just as network TV was to demand during its heyday in the 1950s.

   This didn’t mean that everything Gardner wrote had to kowtow to “family values.” Roughly two years after making his Faustian bargain with the Post, he launched a new series which, like the Mason novels, he continued to write for the rest of his life.

   Under the byline of A. A. Fair he created the team of Bertha Cool and Donald Lam. Bertha is obese, irascible, money-hungry and foul-mouthed, while Donald is a young bantamweight with a weakness for lovely women and a talent for scams. He has a law degree but it’s useless to him. “I wasn’t disbarred and I didn’t violate professional ethics,” he insists in an exchange with Cool early in the pair’s debut novel, THE BIGGER THEY COME (1939). “I told [a client] a man could break any law and get away with it if he went about it right.” To which Cool replies: “That’s nothing. Anyone knows that.”

   Imagine those lines appearing in the Saturday Evening Post! Lam goes on: “I told this man it would be possible to commit a murder so there was nothing anyone could do about it….That night he was arrested. He turned out to be a small-time gangster….[H]e told [the police] that I had agreed to tell him how he could commit a murder and get off scot-free….[I]f it looked good to him, he had planned to bump off a rival gangster.” The California Bar’s grievance committee “revoked my license for a year.”

   The year has passed but Donald is still unable to practice law: thanks to his suspension, no firm will hire him and thanks to being broke he can’t hang out his own shingle. But he still contends that with his advice one could “commit deliberate murder and go unpunished.” Bertha presses for more information: “And locked inside that head of yours is a plan by which I could kill someone and the law couldn’t do a damn thing about it?” Donald replies: “Yes.”

   It’s left up to us to imagine the smarmy seductive tone of Cool’s next line: “Tell me, Donald.” He doesn’t, of course, but at the climax he demonstrates his own thesis by getting up in an Arizona courtroom, confessing to a California murder (which in fact he didn’t commit) and daring the legal system to touch him for it.

   Here’s how the ploy works. After the murder in California, Donald drives across the state line into Arizona where he proceeds to frame himself on a charge of obtaining property under false pretenses, although leaving a legal escape hatch open for himself. He then drives back to California, runs through the quarantine station at the border, is chased and caught by California cops and locked up in the border town of El Centro.

   In due course he’s legally extradited to Arizona to face the false pretenses charge. Once he’s cleared himself and that charge is dropped, he confesses to the California murder. But when California moves to extradite him, he files a writ of habeas corpus, arguing that he can’t be compelled to return.

   “The only authority which one state has to take prisoners from another state comes from the organic law [meaning the state constitution] which provides that fugitives from justice may be extradited from one sovereign state to another. I am not a fugitive from justice….[A] man is not a fugitive from a state unless he flees from that state. He doesn’t flee from that state unless he does so voluntarily and in order to avoid arrest. I did not flee from California. I was dragged from California. I was taken out under legal process to answer for a crime of which I was innocent. I claimed that I was innocent. I came to Arizona and established my innocence. Any time I get good and ready to go back to California, California can arrest me for murder. Until I get good and ready to go back, I can stay here and no power on earth can make me budge.”

   Would the plan work? Gardner’s friend Dean John H. Wigmore scoffed at the device and ESG literally wrote a brief for him on the issue which made him concede that maybe Gardner had a point. But I wouldn’t recommend that anyone try to make use of it today. Of the two main cases Donald cited, one is easily distinguishable from the situation in the novel and the other was all but overruled by the California Supreme Court in 1966, a few years before Gardner’s death. Masochists who want fuller legal details will find them in my chapter on Gardner in JUDGES & JUSTICE & LAWYERS & LAW (2014).

   Unlike the Perry Mason adventures which by this time were appearing regularly in the Saturday Evening Post, THE BIGGER THEY COME has its full share of Hammett touches. Cunweather, the king toad, is clearly modeled on THE MALTESE FALCON’s Casper Gutman, and the brutal beating of Donald by Cunweather’s goons — or should I say gunsels? — instantly reminds us of the beating administered to Ned Beaumont in THE GLASS KEY. (Donald gets roughed up quite often in the course of the 30-novel series.)

   But above all else THE BIGGER THEY COME is an epic symphony of scams, one inside the other inside a third: everyone out to snooker everyone else, dog eat dog, devil take the hindmost, social Darwinism in action. And Gardner, born scrapper that he was, loves every minute of it. We get so immersed in all these scams that it’s easy to forget that Gardner never tells us exactly what happened between the first and second shots in Apartment 419, nor even who committed the murder that took place there.

   In the final chapter Bertha and Donald reunite in Arizona and we close with Donald entering the room of the young woman who was falsely charged with the murder. What happened between them after that is left to our imagination.

***

   THE BIGGER THEY COME was first published very early in 1939. The next Cool & Lam novel readers saw was TURN ON THE HEAT, which came out early in 1940. What no one knew until a few years ago was that between these books Gardner had written another C&L exploit, which his publisher rejected and which moldered away in his gargantuan filing system until long after his death in 1970.

   It was finally published by Hard Case Crime as THE KNIFE SLIPPED (2016). Donald is back in California with Bertha, for some unexplained reason legally unscathed despite having confessed in open court to a murder in that state. We’re also told very clearly (by Bertha, on page 15) that he was disbarred in California, not for the scam he pulled in THE BIGGER THEY COME but for the advice he had given a client before the beginning of that book, an act, so he had told Bertha, that had got him suspended from the bar for a year which was now up.

   Whether or not he could return to law practice, he doesn’t, and gets stuck with a routine shadowing job when a battle-axe mother and her frumpy daughter hire Bertha’s firm to investigate the daughter’s husband, who’s been seen in a nightclub with a sexy blonde. It doesn’t take much shadowing before Donald discovers that his target has two other apartments and two other names — one of them being Ned Pines, a real-world pulp publisher — and that both apartments are frequently visited by cops and firemen.

   Bertha quickly scents a political scandal and roots around for a way to profit from it, while at the fancier of his target’s two secret apartments Donald strikes up an acquaintance with Ruth Marr, the four-to-midnight switchboard operator, and falls for her as only Donald can. Late the next evening he’s keeping watch in the agency car outside the apartment building when the automobile door is opened by a frantic Ruth, who, or at least so she claims, has just found the man Donald was shadowing shot to death in his room and idiotically picked up the murder gun, which she passes to Donald, who deep-sixes it.

   Donald gets slapped around by cops, beaten to a pulp by thugs in the pay of the man behind the political scandal (which involves selling the answers to Civil Service exam questions to cops and firemen hungry for promotions), and soon finds himself on the run with Ruth, who he at least half believes committed the murder. The climax is a tour de force of cynicism, with Donald planting the murder gun on the king toad while the real murderer stays out of jeopardy by paying Bertha a generous chunk of blackmail money.

   There are some other inconsistencies between this novel and THE BIGGER THEY COME besides the question of whether Donald can practice law. In THE KNIFE SLIPPED Bertha has an annoying habit of referring to herself in the third person, which she does only once in THE BIGGER THEY COME. The sex, which was implied and offstage in THE BIGGER THEY COME, is much more overt in THE KNIFE SLIPPED.

   Donald makes out with Ruth in the agency car, pulling down her bra and exposing her breasts. Elsewhere there’s even a reference to Bertha’s nipples, which Donald coyly refers to as buttons. Perhaps it’s matters like these that have led some readers to conclude or at least suspect that Gardner didn’t write this book; that it was written much more recently to cash in on his name, as was done with other mystery writers in the past.

   Anyone remember BUT THE DOCTOR DIED? It was supposedly written by Craig Rice, who died in 1957, and features her series characters, but wasn’t published until ten years after her death and is brim-full of international intrigue elements that place it in the James Bond Superstar era, which Rice never lived to see. But I don’t believe we have a similar case here. Based on the style, the period details and the overall feel of the book, I can’t imagine anyone but ESG having written THE KNIFE SLIPPED.

   It’s equally hard to imagine just why Gardner’s publishers rejected the book. Too much sex? Or cynicism? Or sloppiness? (On page 21 the wife of the man Donald is to follow calls him an “assistant lawyer,” a designation that made my eyebrows go up a few notches, but seven pages later we learn that the guy’s title is Assistant Buyer.

   Much later in the novel Donald clubs the king toad and steals from his wallet over a thousand bucks, which he describes on page 149 as “sinews of war.” Surely he meant spoils?) Unless someone unearths the business correspondence on the issue, we’ll never know. Whatever the reason, I for one am glad that the publisher’s judgment was reversed.

   (With thanks to Vikram Katju, whose exchange of emails with me inspired this column.)

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


A DAY OF FURY. Universal, 1956. Dale Robertson, Jock Mahoney, Mara Corday, Jan Merlin and John Dehner. Written by James Edmiston and Oscar Brodney. Directed by Harmon Jones.

   Universal did a lot of Westerns in the 1950s, some of them big-budget productions, but mostly Technicolor B+ (or sometimes A-) features with minor stars like Audie Murphy, Rory Calhoun and Steven McNally. Some are rather good, a couple of them (CURTAIN CALL AT CACTUS CREEKK and Lewton’s APACHE DRUMS) off-beat, but nothing quite as weird as A DAY OF FURY.

   At age Six I found it thoroughly confusing, and sixty years on I find that most viewers still don’t get the subtle parable of the story. Gunfighter Dale Robertson rides on the scene, saves the life of Marshal Jock Mahoney, then proceeds to turn his town upside-down: In the course of one Sunday, the saloon fills up with hookers, a rich man turns pauper and killer, the Preacher incites a riot, the Schoolmarm gets disgraced as a trollop, the pillars of the community jail their Marshal, and that ain’t the half of it.

   All this carnage is presided over with malevolent ease by Robertson, who spends most of the film at a card-table, dealing confusion and disorder all about him. Robertson seems to enjoy the chance to play an out-and-out baddie, and he’s good enough at it that I wish he’d done it more often.

   As his nemesis, Jock Mahoney (my favorite Tarzan) is even more intriguing: impassive, speaking in riddles, and possessed of a serenity even when jailed, that seems almost – dare I say Christ-like?

   It fits. At one point preacher John Dehner calls Robertson a “creature out of Hell” and he certainly leads the townsfolk into outrageous evil. But all the way through, he evinces a vague unease (nice job there, Dale) in Mahoney’s presence that adds to the mysticism of the whole thing.

   Director Harmon Jones is hardly a major auteur of the Cinema, but he did a nice job with CITY OF BAD MEN and THE SILVER WHIP, and we needn’t dwell on GORILLA AT LARGE. Here he tackles a story lacking in action with a moving camera and intriguing set-ups. There’s also a bravura episode with Jan Merlin being chased around town through shifting shadows and charging torch-bearers, like Harry Beaton in BRIGADOON.

   A DAY OF FURY won’t suit action fans, nor those with a taste for wide open spaces, but those with a taste for the unusual may find it intriguing. I did.

   One final observation: Dale Robertson was known as “the left-handed gun,” which director Jones emphasizes in the final shoot-out – making the character literally sinister.


FOLLOW ME QUIETLY. RKO Radio Pictures, 1949. William Lundigan, Dorothy Patrick, Jeff Corey, Nestor Paiva. Screenplay: Lillie Hayward, based on a story co-written by Anthony Mann. Director: Richard O. Fleischer.

   Even though noir maven Eddie Muller recently showed this as part of his “Noir Alley” series on TCM, in his comments afterward he had to fess up and admit that Follow Me Quietly is not a noir film at all. Never the less, it’s a film that comes closer to noir than a lot of films that also aren’t but are dumped into the category anyway.

   This is has little to do with the story line — if anything, this is nothing but a straight-forward police procedural — but it does have a lot to do with the filming, the stylish camera work and lighting, starting with the opening scene, as we watch girl reporter Ann Gorman (Dorothy Patrick)’s feet as she paces back and forth in the rain in front of a small diner while waiting for Lt. Harry Grant (William Lundingan) for some details of the case he’s currently working on.

   The sending is quite striking, too, as we see Grant chasing down the serial killer he’s finally closing in on. The conclusion takes place in some sort of waterworks plant (?), which allows for scene after scene filled with spectacular background shots of pipes and conduits of some sort, railings and walkways, taken from all kinds of angles.

   What comes in between? A fairly ordinary cop film, with an added plus of a romance between the two primary stars that’s only semi-convincing. One unusual visual aspect that I’ve never seen before is instead of the usual police artist’s rendition of the killer’s face (which no one still living has seen) is the creation of a three-dimensional rendition of his body in the form of a faceless dummy.

   This leads to one chilling moment in the middle of the film, which I won’t tell you anything more about — it will more effective if you see it for yourself without warning — but one that’s negated (and truthfully, so is the entire film, if you think about it) when the strangler of at least seven people turns out to be a quiet nebbish sort of guy.

   Lundigan was a competent actor but he was also probably too good-looking to be the primary protagonist in a noir film. Dorothy Patrick, on the other hand, an actress whom I don’t recall ever seeing before, does just fine as a pest of a reporter who’s always in his hair.


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TERRIE CURRAN – All Booked Up. Basil & Hortense Killingsley #1. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1987. Worldwide, paperback reprint, July 1989.

   In spite of any and all expectations, given the title and the setting, you know a book is going to present problems for you when (a) all of the leading characters’ names are Edwina Gluck (librarian), Basil Killingsley (professor), Hortense (his wife), Cyril Prout (rare books curator), and Cecil (‘Ceese’) Blinn (Teas oil baron),

   And (b) all of the action takes place in the Smedley, a small research library somewhere in the Boston area. A rare book is missing, and before this tale is over, two persons are dead. Humor is a matter of taste and timing, of course, but generally speaking it needs more than funny names or potty people to satisfy your palate.

   I did not find much to enjoy with this one.

–Reprinted and somewhat revised from from Mystery*File #19, January 1990.


Bibliographic Update:   Two more books in the series have appeared in recent years, both available as ebooks only: Rotten Eggs (November 2012) and Battle of the Books (March 2014).

ONE STEP BEYOND “The Bride Possessed.” ABC, 20 January 1959. Season 1, Episode 1. Virginia Leith, Skip Homeier, Harry Townes, Ann Morrison. Director & host: John Newland.

   In dealing with strange and unusual events in the world around us, there are some similarities between One Step Beyond and the much more well-known series The Twilight Zone, but OSB came along first. TTZ did not begin until October 2, 1959.

   The big difference between the two shows is that the stories on TTZ were fictional (and almost always with a twist at the end) and did not pretend otherwise. The stories on OSB were presented as “fact” and were purportedly based on real events.

   “The Bride Possessed,” the very first episode, is a good example. The theme is that of possession of a living person by the dead, in this case a young bride (Virginia Leith) on her honeymoon who suddenly begins to channel the being of another young woman who has recently committed suicide by jumping from the edge of a cliff into the sea below.

   But it was not suicide, the young bride insists in Leith’s new role in the story, it was murder. Neither her husband (Skip Homeier) nor her doctor know what to make of this until they find the murder weapon.

   That the story is as effectively chilling as it is is due to entirely to Virginia Leith’s convincing transformation from one woman to another and yet in the same body. One regret I had in watching it was how abrupt the ending was. It was up to the host at the end to conclude this first episode’s story line.

   Except for the little I’ve read about it, I know nothing about the rest of the series — it was on for three seasons and some 96 episodes — but from the accounts of others, this episode seems to have set the tone for the series rather well. I watched this one on Amazon Prime, but various episodes have been available in different collected sets of DVD over the years.

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