99 RIVER STREET. United Artists, 1953. John Payne, Evelyn Keyes, Brad Dexter, Frank Faylen, Peggie Castle, Jay Adler. Director: Phil Karlson.

   Not a perfect noir film, but to me, it comes awfully close. John Payne plays a brooding ex-boxes who came within seconds of being the world champion, but because of a bad right eye, his life now revolves around driving a cab for a living and being driven to frustration by a wife (a luscious Peggie Castle) who wants more than a cab driver can give her.

   No one dos better at brooding than John Payne, and with fists that are essentially lethal weapons, he at times is a powder keg of ager wothin seconds of going off. Not only does he find his wife is cheating on him, but another woman (the very beautiful Evelyn Keyes), her heart set on Broadway, asks for Payne’s help after she kills her producer at a late night “audition.” (There may be more to it than that.)

   And so far I have not mentioned that Payne’s cheating wife is cheating with a guy (Brad Dexter) who has $50,000 worth of stolen diamonds, but whose fence (Jay Adler) won’t take them because in the course of the robbery, someone ended up dead.

   As you may have concluded on your own, there is more to the story than can fit with comfort in 83 minutes of running time. That is the movie’s only flaw. Beautifully photographed, and well acted — no one does better as an everyday kind of guy at brooding than John Payne. But even better in another way is Evelyn Keyes, whose attempt at vamping the villain in a shorefront dive will have every red-blooded guy’s heart pounding like there’s no tomorrow.


CLAIR HUFFAKER – Seven Ways from Sundown, Fawcett Crest #398, paperback original, 1960. Pocket, paperback, 1975. Cover art by Robert Maguire.

SEVEN WAYS FROM SUNDOWN. Universal, 1960. Audie Murphy, Barry Sullivan, Venetia Stevenson, John McIntire, Kenneth Tobey. Screenplay by Clair Huffaker, based on his novel Directed by Harry Keller.

   I rather suspect Huffaker wrote this book in close conjunction with the film, as part of a package deal, but neither of them is the worse for it. The book is compact and fast-moving as anything from Fawcett, but rich with colorful description and action in the Gold Medal style, spiced with bits of genuine cowboy humor.

   The story is a Western Staple: A lawman (in this case a green Texas Ranger named Seven Ways from Sundown Smith) brings in an outlaw (legendary gunman Jim Flood) across miles of dangerous country, and as the two are forced into an uneasy alliance, a mutual respect forms and grows into friendship.

   Huffaker has a deft way of putting across a months-long trek in a very few pages as the journey across four states and back again spins out in less than 130 pages, yet never seems rushed. We get a real feel for the toil of men and horses across snow, mountain and plain. And he doesn’t stint on the action either; Smith and Flood run into nasty Apaches, bounty hunters, bored roughnecks, plain ol’ owlhoots , and a conniving fellow Ranger, all handled with a pace and economy you just don’t see in great literature anymore.

   Over at Universal Studios, producer Gordon Kay had figured out how to make a good Audie Murphy movie: hire a strong character actor, give him all the good lines, and let Audie carry the story.

   In this case, they had one of the best in Barry Sullivan, who could look deadly just by shrugging his shoulders. It helps too that Murphy is cast as a neophyte lawman; like many other war heroes, he never projected toughness onscreen.

   Perhaps best of all though, Seven Ways from Sundown was directed by Harry Keller, who cut his teeth on fast-moving catch-penny Westerns at Republic, the best school of all for this sort of thing. Keller never made a great Western, but he never made a dull one either, and he moves Seven Ways from Sundown along with grace and vigor that make it a pleasure to watch.


ALLEN ADLER – Terror on Planet Ionus. Paperback Library #52-941, paperback, 1966; #63-048, 2nd printing, 1969. Originally published as Mach I: A Story of Planet Ionus Farrar Strauss & Cudahay, hardcover, 1957


   This science fiction novel, by a writer I’ve never heard of, is a knockout. Wise and gentle aliens from Ionus come to Earth to warn us that Klarkong, the monster that destroyed their planet is coming to Earth, an energy devouring monster that grows stronger no matter what you feed it.

   Earth’s only hope against this omnivorous energy monster is secret project Mach I, a super fast atomic powered ship, piloted by reckless dashing ladies man Lt. Commander Jeb Curtis, whose courage got him into the project despite his record as an insubordinate P.T. Boat commander in WW II.

   As the Ionusans warn, Klarkong is virtually unstoppable, and soon he’s in the Nevada and Southern California desert devouring all sources of energy. Helpless to fight him, the Americans have to stand by as the Soviet’s violate American air space to nuke the monster, which only sends it in a feeding frenzy for nuclear fuel.

   And where is there still nuclear power to devour? The Soviet Union, serves them right, so Klarkong heads across the Pacific.

   But the vast emptiness of the Pacific gives the desperate Americans one last chance to use Mach I where they can maneuver its incredible speeds and unleash it’s weapons safely if they can weaken Klarkong enough to kill it.

   If? The battle is down to the final paragraphs on a small island in the Pacific, Mach I’s last remaining nuclear torpedoes against a wounded Klarkong.

   This one is a pure fifties or early sixties monster movie in print, a kaiju from outer space rampaging across the world while desperate scientists and military, with a little alien help, fight and die bravely to end the menace. You can virtually see the epic unreeling in your head as you breathlessly read on.

   Granted it has little relation to actual mainstream or even pulp SF as such. It wears the cloak, but that is about all. Characterization is a B movie cliche, and actual scientific logic, or science for that matter, is zil.

   Adler isn’t unskilled as a writer of this kind of deathless prose, there just isn’t any there there beyond the basics, just like those movies we breathlessly devoured on Saturday Mornings or on late night television with all the epicurean dismissal of Klarkong himself.

   Still, it is short, great fun, slightly mad, and Klarkong a kissing cousin of Godzilla, Kronos, X the Unknown, and the Trollenberg Terror crossed with one of those Jack Kirby monsters that Marvel specialized in before turning to superheroes (Fin Fang Foom indeed) and Forbidden Planet’s monster of the Krell Id.

   If that is what you want, this book delivers in trumps.

   And give the guy this, Klarkong is a great name for an interstellar planet eater, not Galactus perhaps, but still pretty good, silvered surfing herald or not.

   Some books are full course gourmet delights.

   Others a filling home cooked meal.

   This one is a chili dog with the works and a side of greasy onion rings.

   I’m half surprised Klarkong himself didn’t eat it.

   Now, if you’ll pardon me, I need an Alka Seltzer and a nap.


WILD MONEY. Paramount, 1937. Edward Everett Horton, Louise Campbell, Lynne Overman, Lucien Littlefield, Esther Dale, Porter Hall, Benny Baker. Based on a story by Paul Gallico. Director: Louis King. Shown at Cinevent 26, Columbus OH, May 1994.

   The surprise “B” hit of the convention was Wild Money. Edward Everett Horton, on of my all-time favorite character actors, was the star. He played a stuffy accountant for a big-city newspaper, who, while vacationing with his cousin (Esther Dale) and her husband (Lucien Littlefield), is charged with reporting on the “breaking story” of the kidnapping of one of America’s wealthiest men.

   Horton, Dale and Littlefield make a delightful team, and there’s not a wasted frame in this comic crime film. Horton even gets the girl (Louise Campbell) and kisses her in the final shot.

   What films such as this demonstrate is that a well-crafted small movie is a safer bet than a larger-budgeted film with pretensions beyond its capabilities. But that’s another fatality of the demise of the studio system where the “A” crew could be used on the “B” film, giving it a professional sturdiness that has disappeared in the era of out-of-sight budgets.

BONUSWild Money‘s Lucien Littlefield, a supporting actor whose career began in silent films, was even more delightful in the Joe E. Brown comedy, The Gladiator (credits below). Here he plays mild-mannered Professor Donner who’s discovered a formula that increases strength in animals and, as he discovers when Brown is unexpectedly administered a dose, humans as well.

   Brown was both touching and funny in the title role and although the film rushed through the final sequences to a pre-ordained conclusion, it was most enjoyable.

THE GLADIATOR. Columbia Pictures, 1938. Joe E. Brown , June Travis, Man Mountain Dean, Dickie Moore, Lucien Littlefield. Based on the novel by Philip Wylie. Director: Edward Sedgwick.


TORMENTED. Cheviot Productions, 1960. Richard Carlson, Susan Gordon, Lugene Sanders, Juli Reding, Joe Turkel. Director: Bert I. Gordon.

   Sometimes a movie that isn’t particularly good sticks with you and you wonder why. What was it about the film that makes it difficult to completely forget? Was it a sense of childhood nostalgia, a great performance by a lead actor, or the film score? Or was it something else?

   In the case of Tormented, a mediocre thriller, it’s the general quirkiness of it all that made it linger in my mind well after watching. Directed by Bert I. Gordon, who is generally known for his work in the science fiction genre, Tormented combines elements of both film noir and horror to tell a story about how a man’s guilt drives him to the brink of madness and then some. The black and white film has a notably idiosyncratic jazzy score that, while often out of place, actually makes the film better than it would have been without it.

   Set on an island, the film effectively uses its geographical setting and its score to tell the story of doomed protagonist Tom Stewart (Richard Carlson). Stewart is a jazz musician about to be married to a girl who lives on the same island. But his former girlfriend Vi (Juli Reding) won’t let him go. She’s determined to keep him in her grasp. But it’s she who ends up falling out of his grasp after an accident leaves her struggling not to plunge from a damaged lighthouse railing. But it is not to be. For Tom decides that one way to have Vi out of his life once and for all is to let her plunge to her death.

   But these kind of things have a way of boomeranging. It isn’t long before Tom begins seeing footsteps in the sand and seeing visions of Vi. Did she die after all? Or is she haunting him from beyond her watery grave? Is it all in his head, or is a ghost really tormenting Tom Stewart?

   Truthfully, it doesn’t matter all that much and the sub-par acting by a lot of the supporting cast doesn’t do much to propel the film forward. But there’s just enough weirdness in the movie to make it a moderately enjoyable horror film. As far as the character of Tom Stewart, it’s a part that Carlson was meant to play.


BRIAN FREEMANTLE – Charlie’s Apprentice. Charlie Muffin #10. St. Martins, US, hardcover, 1994. No US paperback edition. First published in the UK by Century, hardcover, 1993.

   Now that Anthony Price has retired Davis Audley, I suppose that Freemantle and his scruffy agent Charlie Muffin, are my favorites in the espionage line.

   The old director of Charlie’s Department has died, and Charlie really doesn’t know what to expect from his lady Deputy Director either. He’s more than a bit apprehensive when they finally call him in, but glad that they’ve quit ignoring him anyway. His relief is short-lived, though — he’s taken off the active agent rolls and assigned as a trainer.

   His first trainee is from the sort of semi-aristocratic background that he detests, but Charlie sets about to make the best of it for the moment. Concurrently, in China an agent in place is the last Jesuit establishment is beginning a process that will land him in very deep rice. And Charlie’s masters are up to something nasty.

   Everything and everybody converge in a typically convoluted fashion, of course, though we and Charlie are kep guessing until the end. Freemantle tells the story from multiple viewpoints, adding a piece at a time, and does so quite effectively.

   Charlie is still Charlie: the Eternal Prole, scruffy, resentful, watchful, a step ahead of everybody, and determined not to be the loser whatever the game. His old Russian lover, Natalia, has a role to play, too. Freemantle is one of the best of what he does, and for me, at least, Charlie Muffin is a character for the ages.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #14, August 1994.

      The Charlie Muffin series

1. Charlie Muffin (1977) aka Charlie M
2. Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie (1978) aka Here Comes Charlie M
3. The Inscrutable Charlie Muffin (1979)
4. Charlie Muffin’s Uncle Sam (1980) aka Charlie Muffin U.S.A.
5. Madrigal for Charlie Muffin (1981)
6. Charlie Muffin and Russian Rose (1985) aka The Blind Run
7. Charlie Muffin San (1987) aka See Charlie Run
8. The Run Around (1988)
9. Comrade Charlie (1989)
10. Charlie’s Apprentice (1993)
11. Charlie’s Chance (1996) aka Bomb Grade
12. Dead Men Living (2000)
13. Kings of Many Castles (2001)
14. Red Star Rising (2010)
15. Red Star Burning (2012)
16. Red Star Falling (2013)


TOUS PEUVENT ME TUER. Da.Ma. Cinematografica / Sofradis, France, 1957. Aka: Anyone Can Kill Me and Everyone Wants to Kill Me. Andre Versini, Anouk Aimee, Peter van Eyck, and some very fine actors whose names would mean nothing to you. Written & directed by Henri Decoin.

   An oddball little movie, part noir, part rom-com, part murder mystery, part prison film—and 100% engrossing.

   The film starts with Tony (Andre Versini) a guy in his 20s working as a street vendor (selling reversible bow ties: perfect for casual or formal wear) while romancing Anouk Aimee, and in some kind of shady deal with Cyril (Peter van Eyck.)

   As is the way of these things, just as the romance is blossoming, the deal comes up: a 5-man jewel heist, filmed with suspense and shadowy lighting worthy of The Asphalt Jungle, interrupted not by the cops, but by casual conversation about love, bicyclists, chauffeurs and taking a leak.

   Then we get one of those bursts of idiot logic that carries you along in a movie till you stop to think about it: In order to give themselves an alibi, the quintet of heisters break into a distillery and get drunk, making enough mess to look like they’ve been there all night. They are duly all sentenced to a year in jail and agree to divvy the loot upon release.

   And then, one by one, separated by months, they begin to die.

   First a fall from a catwalk, then an apparent suicide, an accident with a freight elevator… and as their numbers dwindle, they start looking at each other with increasing suspicion, fear, and finally murderous intent.

   Writer-Director Decoin does a fine job evoking the prison atmosphere while ratcheting up the tension. He also knows when to back off and let his characters breathe a bit. To his credit (and that of the actors) they never seem like cliché figures playing out their roles to move the plot along, but rather like real men in danger, bound by a code of silence that leads them inexorably to a cunning resolution, surprising and beautifully realized, with brutal action, a western-style face-off in a saloon, and a romantic fade-out.

   If there’s any problem with Tous Peuvent, it’s the constantly shifting tone between taut suspense, soulful romance and droll comedy. One is never sure how much to take seriously or when to just sit back and have a laugh. But the comic moments seem to grow naturally out of the characters themselves, and if you can just let the movie happen on its own terms, you’ll get a kick out of it.


CHRISTOPHER B. BOOTH – Mr. Clackworthy. Chelsea House, hardcover, 1926.

   What I know about Booth is that he was a prolific writer for the pulp magazines in the 1920s and 30s, with just under three and a half pages of entries in Cook and Miller’s Mystery, Detective, and Espionage Fiction. These are only the detective stories. On Bill Contento’s FictionMags site, I also see a smattering of western stories for him, and these are only the tip of the iceberg, as relatively few of the western magazines have been indexed yet.

   According to Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV, Booth wrote ten novels under his own name, all from Chelsea House, and eight more as by John Jay Chichester, also all from Chelsea House. Also to his credit is one book on which he shared the writing duties, and that was with Isabel Ostrander, another long-time writer for the pulps.

   To point out that you can not always trust the Internet for factual information, some sites suggest that Christopher B. Booth was a pseudonym for Isabel Ostrander. Not so, even though Ostrander (who died in 1924) really was the lady behind ‘Robert Orr Chipperfield,’ ‘David Fox,’ and ‘Douglas Grant.’

   Chelsea House was the hardcover publishing arm of Street & Smith Publications, which also produced Detective Story Magazine, where most (all?) of the novels were serialized first.

   Or cobbled together out of short stories, as was the book at hand, Mr. Clackworthy. There are nine of them in this volume. Of the book which was the sequel to this one, Mr. Clackworthy, Con Man, I do not know if the same is true. Hubin in CFIV does not say yes, which may very well mean no. (I suspect the answer is yes, however.)

   Enough of the general background, I suppose. To get down to business, you should know first of all (or based on the second title, you may have already deduced) that Mr. Clackworthy was one of those protagonists so often on the wrong side of the law in the 1920s, a con man. I imagine someone could write a thesis if not a dissertation on such individuals in the world of crime fiction.

   Here is an off-the-wall question. What character in what novel(s) would qualify as the last in the line of such con men, preying mostly on the rich and unscrupulous, but not necessarily giving to the poor, of which Mr. Clackworthy does not make a general practice?

   I am not an expert, so nor will I even attempt to list any of the other characters who would fall into the category. If you can help, please do, otherwise we shall leave the matter to someone who needs a thesis if not a dissertation on their academic record. (Of course such a someone then would be also obliged to put into perspective WHY con men who preyed mostly on the rich and unscrupulous were so prevalent in the 1920s. One can guess, though.)

   As a start to such a project, it belatedly occurs to me, if you will allow such an interjection such as this, may be Yesterday’s Faces #3 : From the Dark Side, by Robert Sampson (Bowling Green Press, 1987), a rollicking account of all sorts of bad guys who inhabited the pages of the pulp magazines.

   And by the way, before it slips my mind and we head off into the review itself, I would like to point out that in the pages of Detective Story Magazine Mr. Clackworthy met another of that magazine’s regular characters, Johnston McCulley’s lisping pickpocket, Thubway Tham, on at least one occasion: “Mr. Clackworthy and Thubway Tham” (Detective Story Magazine, March 4, 1922). Even though Cook-Miller suggests that only Booth was the author, this may be the first team-up on record between two characters created first by two separate authors. (Does one count, however, Arsene Lupin Versus Holmlock Shears, by Maurice LeBlanc, Richards, 1909? One must posit some ground rules, one supposes.)

   Further investigation into the subject reveals another story of interest: “Thubway Tham and Mr. Clackworthy,” by Johnston McCulley (Detective Story Magazine, February 18, 1922, or two issues earlier). You can read this story in the recent edition of Tham thtories from Wildside Press, Tales of Thubway Tham, although in that edition the story is called “Thubway Tham Meets Mr. Clackworthy.”

   One source does suggest that the team-up was a three-part serial. This may be so, but if indeed it is, I have not yet uncovered a third tale in the triptych, and to this date, the matter rests, for now.

   Let’s get on with the review. The best way to do that, I decided the moment I started reading it, is to quote the opening paragraphs, right from the beginning:

   “The greed of the human heart!” Mr. Amos Clackworthy, confidence man deluxe, sighed as he laid down his newspaper, which was folded to the want ad pages. He had been for some time engrossed in an analytical perusal of the “Business Chances” column.

   James Early, whose record at police headquarters credited him with the alias of “The Early Bird,” was standing at the window of Mr. Clackworthy’s [Chicago] Sheridan Road apartment, gazing glumly at the stream of traffic that flowed past in its usual Sunday afternoon flood. The Early Bird was a lost soul during those times when there was none of Mr. Clackworthy’s nefarious schemes under way to occupy his mind and to keep his wits sharpened.>P>

   All con men naturally work on the concept of greed, as many a Nigerian knows full well today. Booth’s prose style is not all that dissimilar to that of his contemporary (at the time), Erle Stanley Gardner, whose Lester Leith stories for Detective Fiction Weekly started out in very much the same fashion.

   Most of Mr. Clackworthy’s victims well deserve it — greedy bankers, swindlers, unscrupulous investors, and so on – getting their comeuppance in a rough and tumble sort of justice, in a naive, twinkle-in-the-eye sort of way, but even innocent banks sometimes fell afoul of his various and sundry plots and plans. (But were banks truly innocent of wrongdoing in the 1920s? Perhaps Booth’s readers did not really think so.)

   In any case, these stories were written, read and enjoyed in a different time and place. If you’re read this far into the review and other commentary, however, I see no reason why you shouldn’t read and enjoy them, too, even if no one is writing them like this any more.

— November 2005

UPDATE #1: Thanks to the eagle-eyed Monte Herridge, one of the nine stories has been identified so far. It is “Mr. Clackworthy Tells the Truth,” from the October 19, 1920, issue of Detective Story Magazine, the cover of which is shown here to the right. If and when others are identified, you will read about it here first.

   This particular story, amazingly enough, can be read online. (Follow the link.) What is interesting is that some editing was done when the story appeared in book form. Small descriptive sentences and paragraphs were removed. If you want to read the complete text, in other words, you have to go back to the primary source.

UPDATE #2. Very early on this blog, some 10 years ago now, I posted the results of my continued research into the stories in the three collections of Clackworthy stories, identifying as many as possible of the stories contained in each. (The third collection was published by Wildside Press in 2006.) You can read the post here.


FURY AT FURNACE CREEK Fox, 1948. Victor Mature, Coleen Gray, Glen Langan, Albert Dekker, Reginald Gardiner. Written by Charles G. Booth, Winston Miller and David Garth. Directed by H. Bruce Humberstone.

   An unexpected delight from a team of generally undistinguished writers and a director best known for his work on Charlie Chan and Tarzan movies.

   FaFC starts out with both barrels blazing, as a mysterious order from General Blackwell reroutes a cavalry patrol, leading to the destruction of a nearby fort by hostile Indians in a well-staged melee. Fast-forward a few months, there is now a boom town near the site of the massacre, General Blackwell has died in disgrace, and his wastrel son (Mature) hits town, out to prove his dad never gave the disastrous order.

What follows is more than an hour of fast-paced action, mystery, and noirish cat-and-mouse as Mature maneuvers with and against the ruthless town boss (Albert Dekker), plots with a nervous witness marked for a quick back-shooting (Reginald Gardiner, very effective in an off-beat part for him), and faces down Dekker’s hired nasties (Roy Roberts, Fred Clark, Charles Stevens) — and then there’s Jay Silverheels as a murderous renegade circling around the scene……

   I don’t want to over-praise this thing, so let me hasten to add that Furnace Creek has none of the emotional resonance of a John Ford movie. Visually however, it’s right up there with Stagecoach and My Darling Clementine, particularly in a nighttime chase through the dark back alleys of a seamy mining town, a horseback pursuit across the plains, and a fine shoot-out in the ruins of the fort where it all started, as the wounded Mature crawls after the bad guys like a limping dog looking for the man that shot his paw.

   Two other things I want to mention: Coleen Gray, an actress who went from Red River to The Leech Woman, with stops along the way for Kiss of Death and The Killing, does remarkable work as the feisty heroine, and Charles Kemper (Uncle Clegg in Wagonmaster) contributes enjoyable comic relief as a guy who carries a tree trunk around with him.

   And finally, I just love the way gunshots always sounded in the old Fox Westerns; they had a flat, authoritative bang that was somehow evocative of danger and sudden death. Listen for them.


TONY ROME. Twentieth Century Fox, 1967. Frank Sinatra, Jill St. John, Richard Conte, Gena Rowlands, Simon Oakland, Jeffrey Lynn, Lloyd Bochner. Screenplay: Richard L. Breen, based on the novel Miami Mayhem by Marvin H. Albert writing as Anthony Rome (Pocket, 1960). Director: Gordon Douglas.

   Tony Rome is sunshine noir at its best. Although the plot is somewhat (I suspect deliberately) muddled and convoluted, the film works extremely well in portraying a private investigator doing his best to maintain his own personal standard of decency in a corrupt society where outward appearances obscure deception and internal turmoil.

   Frank Sinatra portrays the titular Anthony “Tony” Rome, a former Miami cop who is now working as a PI. And like many private investigators portrayed in fiction and on screen, he’s very much a loner. Aside from his bookie and a police lieutenant still on the force (Richard Conte), Rome doesn’t seem to have many stable relationships in his life.

   But that’s not to say that he couldn’t socialize more if he really wanted to. Enter Ann Archer (Jill St. John), a flirtatious divorcee living in Miami Beach, who ends up providing Rome with extensive information about a gangster who may be responsible for the death of Ralph Turpin (Robert J. Wilke), his former partner.

   Rome meets Ann for the first time after doing a big favor for Turpin, now working in hotel security. He ends up taking a girl who passed out in a hotel room home to her father. As it turns out she’s the daughter of a wealthy construction magnate married to a woman (Gena Rowlands) who is guarding a deep secret about her previous marriage. And Ann Archer is at the house, having slept there the night before.

   If it sounds somewhat confused, that’s because in many ways it is. But confusing doesn’t mean that there isn’t any clarity in the movie. Because at root, Tony Rome isn’t about plot as it is about as character and atmosphere. The viewer goes along on a journey with Rome as he travels through a city and a society reeking with corruption, deception, and greed. He’s not a white knight as much as he is a flawed knight. one who is tasked with battling modern society’s proverbial dragons.

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