October 2010



THE RISE AND FALL OF LEGS DIAMOND.   Warner Brothers, 1960. Ray Danton, Karen Steele, Elaine Stewart, Jesse White, Simon Oakland, Robert Lowery, Judson Pratt, Warren Oates, Frank DeKova, Diane (Dyan) Cannon. Director: Budd Boetticher.   Novelization by Otis H. Gaylord, Bantam A2079, 1960.

   Rise and Fall is Budd Boetticher’s version of Richard III, with a preening megalomaniac rising to power by a combination of scheming and brutality, only to find that he has reached a rather precarious perch.

   Beyond that, there’s nothing much good you can say about the film: the plotting is flat and unsurprising, the action scenes few and rather pallid (particularly from a director like Boetticher, who crafted memorable action in The Tall T and Ride Lonesome) and the photography by Lucien Ballard is surprisingly flat, making the Warners back lot look like nothing more than a Warners back lot.


   Legs has one compelling virtue though, and that’s the performance of Ray Danton in the title role, perfectly realized by actor and director. Even when the film itself is plodding and predictable, Danton’s sharply-dressed, sexually magnetic hood keeps our attention.

   Boetticher’s westerns were always more concerned with the macho bad guys than the nominal heroes, just as his bullfighting movies focused more on the gaudy matadors than the charging bulls, and Legs Diamond carries this on with a hero/villain to whom Image is everything.

   It’s a memorable bit of acting/directing, and I just wish there were a better movie to go around it.



chad hanna

CHAD HANNA. 20th Century Fox, 1940. Henry Fonda, Dorothy Lamour, Linda Darnell, Guy Kibbee, Jane Darwell, John Carradine, Fred Shepely, Roscoe Ates, Olin Howland. Screenplay by Nunnally Johnson, based on the novel by Walter D. Edmonds. Director: Henry King. Shown at Cinevent 42, Columbus OH, May 2010.

   This handsome Technicolor production, screened in a stunning print, and based on a popular novel by Walter D. Edmonds, also author of Drums Along the Mohawk, recounts the saga of a small, one-ring circus setting up in rural communities in upper New York state in the mid-19th century.

   Chad Hanna (Henry Fonda), after helping an escaping slave evade capture, runs away with the circus, accompanied by Caroline Tridd (Linda Darnell), daughter of an abusive slave tracker. The family circus, run by Guy Kibbee and Jane Darwell, with its star attraction equestrienne Albany Yates (Dorothy Lamour), is competing with a larger circus that will stop at nothing to eliminate its competition.

   This rivalry provides much of the drama of the film, with the romantic triangle formed by Fonda, Darnell, and Lamour, a potent attraction for the movie-goers of the time. And it might be added that the trio is as attractive and charismatic 70 years later.

chad hanna

   However, it’s the affectionate portrayal of the inner workings of the small traveling circus, now a historical curiosity, that is responsible for much of the appeal of this episodic film. Henry King’s skill at these rural dramas dates back to the silent classic Tol’able David (1922), with a notable sound film, State Fair (1933), starring Will Rogers, attesting to his continuing command of the medium.

   I will add that my enjoyment of the film was enhanced by some personal history. My father’s brother ran away from home and joined Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey circus, where he appeared as a clown for some 20 years and, like Chad, married an equestrienne.

   When I knew him decades later, his marriage had failed, and he was a rather dour middle-aged man. At the time, I didn’t know of his background, and one of my regrets is that I didn’t and missed the opportunity of hearing from him first-hand his stories of his days with the circus.

chad hanna

William F. Deeck

CORTLAND FITZSIMMONS & JOHN MULHOLLAND – The Girl in the Cage. Frederick A Stokes, hardcover, 1939; Grosset & Dunlap, reprint hardcover, no date.

   Once again, Cortland Fitzsimmons has taken a sure-fire idea — “the first mystery based on the psychology and deception of the magician’s art” — and turned it into a dud. Referring to the prose style of the ineffable James Corbett, whom it has been claimed I try to emulate, Bill Pronzini has said reading it is “like watching grass grow.”

   Well, reading Fitzsimmons is like watching grease congeal. Furthermore, his narrator; a Roman Catholic priest nearing seventy, could be a twenty-year-old college student the way the author portrays him. The other characters are more like tissue paper than cardboard.

   Putting on a magic show between films at a theater, Peter King enlists the assistance of a frightened and unprepossessing — she’s not the latter, of course, but you already guessed that –young lady, who then volunteers before King’s stooge can do so to disappear from a cage.

   Only later is it discovered that the man sitting in front of her has had a dagger plunged into his neck. Four or five corpses later — tedium caused me to lose count — King spots the multiple murderer through his knowledge of magic.

   Daniel Stashower, author of two books featuring magicians, The Ectoplasmic Man and Elephants in the Distance, tells me that Mulholland, a master magician himself, wrote a nonfiction work on magic that was quite readable. Which leads me to deduce that he had no role in this novel other than the magic, none of which, true to his code, he explains.

— From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 4, Fall 1989.

Bibliographic Data: This collaboration with Fitzsimmons is the only entry for John Mulholland in Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV. As Bill Deeck pointed out, he was quite well known in the world of magic and magicians. You can find his MagicPedia page here.

   I don’t know how well known Cortland Fitzsimmons (1893-1949) was as a mystery writer, but there are 17 titles to his credit in CFIV between 1930 to 1943. His most famous mystery might be Death on the Diamond (Stokes, 1934), which was also made into a rather bizarre film starring Robert Young as a pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals. (Apparently his teammates keep getting bumped off, one by one.)

RUTH RENDELL – A Demon in My View. Doubleday, hardcover, 1977. Paperback reprints include: Bantam, 1979; Black Lizard/Vintage, 2000. First published in the UK: Hutchinson, 1976. Arrow, UK, pb, 1980 (shown).  Film: First City, 1992, with Anthony Perkins, Uwe Bohm, & Sophie Ward. Screenplay & director: Petra Haffter.

RUTH RENDELL A Demon in My View

   The upstairs boarder at 142 Trinity Road is a quiet prissy man with a secret, a plastic mannequin in the cellar. When the compulsion becomes too great, the mannequin dies. Routine is disturbed, however, when a new roomer moves in, into the flat with a view of the cellar door.

   It’s like watching a house of cards cave in, one card at a time. Precisely, methodically Arthur Johnson’s crisis is developed into a private catastrophe, one that spreads its evil as it grows.

   Rendell is truly the fine writer people have been telling me she is. From a first chapter that seems to have only short story possibilities she fills a novel filled with convincing characters whose lives interwearve with fascinating accuracy.

   As a result the ending may seem at first unsuitably melodramatic. But at the next instant the realization comes that it has just snapped into place like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle, or the jaws of a gigantic self-made trap.

   Don’t put off reading Rendell as long as I have.

— From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 1, No. 3, May 1977.
        (This review appeared earlier in the Hartford Courant.)

[UPDATE] 10-24-10.   This could easily be the earliest of my reviews that I’ve posted on this blog. It was written over 33 years ago, or nearly half a lifetime, and in all honesty, I can’t say that my writing style has changed any.

   Do I remember the book? I can’t say that I do, even though I gave it an “A Plus” at the time. I also can’t say that I’ve followed my own advice and have read much of Ruth Rendell’s work since that time. If I have, I’m sure that most of what I’ve read has been from her Inspector Wexford series.

   When I could not find a copy of the cover of the Doubleday edition to show you, I thought the British paperback that I did find was both the most colorful and pictorially representative the story inside.

   I did not know there a film made of this movie until 20 minutes ago. Re-reading my review again, why am I not surprised to learn that Tony Perkins was chosen to play the leading role?

Reviewed by DAVID L. VINEYARD:         

PETER GUNN. Pilot: “The Kill.” NBC-TV, 22 September 1958. Craig Stevens, Lola Albright, Hershel Bernardi, Hope Emerson. Guests: Gavin McLeod, Jack Weston. Written & directed by Blake Edwards. [The series: 1958-1960, NBC; 1960-1961, ABC.]


GUNN. Paramount Pictures, 1967. Craig Stevens, Laura Devon, Ed Asner, Sherry Jackson, Albert Paulson, M.T. Marshall, Helen Traubel, J. Pat O’Malley, Regis Toomey. Screenplay by Blake Edwards & William Peter Blatty. Directed by Blake Edwards.

PETER GUNN. TV-movie/pilot, ABC, 22 September 1958. Peter Strauss, Barbara Williams, Peter Jurasik, Pearl Bailey, Charles Cioffi, Jennifer Edwards. Written & directed by Blake Edwards.

    Lt. Jacobi: Pete, I’ll go after you as fast as I go after Fallon (Fusco).

    Peter Gunn: Then I have nothing to worry about. (Gunn walks away.)

    Lt. Jacobi to Edie: Can’t you do something?

    Edie: Sure. What would you like me to sing?

   Some ideas are just too good for one telling. Roy Huggins novella “Appointment with Fear,” a Stuart Bailey private eye tale, was the basis for the films The Good Humor Man and “State Secret,” the pilot for 77 Sunset Strip (and at least two episodes), and the pilot for City of Angels. So Blake Edwards, with variations, used “The Kill,” the pilot for Peter Gunn, as the basis for the 1967 feature film and the 1989 refit with Peter Strauss.


   The basic story, as outlined in “The Kill,” is that an aging gangster is killed by two assassins dressed as cops in a phony cop car. Peter Gunn owed the old time mobster his life and won’t leave his death alone.

   An ambitious gangster (Gavin McLeod — called Fallon here, Fusco in the movie) wants to take over and blows up Mother’s, the jazz bar run by Hope Emerson where Peter Gunn’s chanteuse girlfriend Edie sings, as an example of how his extortion racket will work. Gunn figures it out, puts pressure on Fallon’s top man (Jack Weston) and sets him up as a target for the two phony cops.

It wasn’t as if borrowing was new to Blake Edwards. He began his career creating singing detective Richard Diamond for Dick Powell on radio, then moved into screenplays and television. He updated Richard Diamond as a smooth non-singing private eye played by David Janssen for television, then he also wrote and directed a pilot with Brian Keith for a Mike Hammer series.

   Peter Gunn was very much a cross between the cool hip buttoned down and laid back Richard Diamond and the tough violent jazz themed world of Mike Hammer.

   Peter Gunn, for the uninitiated, is a private eye in a riverfront town that is never named but always seems a bit wet and foggy. He operates out of Mother’s, a smoky bar where his girl friend Edie is the singer, and he stands at the bar and exchanges hip humor with the owner, Mother. His chief ally on the police force is Lt. Jacobi, a human, dogged, world weary policeman.


   Peter is aided by a small army of informers and snitches, all colorful, eccentric, and prone to theatrics. The closest literary equivalent to Peter Gunn was likely Henry Kane’s Peter Chambers who has a similar jazzy offbeat quality — and ironically (or not), Kane wrote the only novelization of the television series.

   To add to the cool dialogue, complex plots, and moody noirish look the series was blessed with perhaps the most recognizable theme in television history, Henry Mancini’s Peter Gunn theme.

   What the Monty Norman/James Bond theme is to spy fiction, the Gunn theme is to crime. It is simply unforgettable (little wonder, in addition to Mancini, at the time his orchestra included legendary John Williams.) Even people who never heard of Peter Gunn know that iconic theme.

   One more element came into play: perfect casting. If there was a better choice than Craig Stevens to play Peter Gunn I can’t imagine him. Stevens was a minor B-actor whose biggest role was probably that of a shell shocked soldier in Since You Went Away and by the time of Peter Gunn had fallen to appearing in films like The Preying Mantis and Abbot and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

   Just before Peter Gunn he had an outstanding role as a cool gun man in Budd Boetticher’s Buchanan Rides Alone, which may well have led to his being cast as Gunn. For whatever reason, he took the part and ran with it. The result was like seeing Mike Hammer played by Cary Grant. It is simply one of the most iconic roles in television history, on a level with Lucy and Raymond Burr’s Perry Mason.


   Craig Stevens is Peter Gunn. Much of the character and mood established with nothing more than a raised eyebrow or a his cat like walk. Craig Stevens is Peter Gunn the way Sean Connery was James Bond or Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes.

   For American audiences, Peter Gunn and Stevens were the transition from Mike Hammer to James Bond.

   The rest of the cast included Lola Albright as the sexy somewhat melancholy Edie who knows her man is only her man in a limited way:

    Edie: Is it true what they say about you? Pete, gun for hire?”

    Peter: True.

    Edie: I’ve saved up. What say I buy you — a steak.

   Hershel Bernardi was cast as Lt. Jacobi the world weary cop and veteran Hope Emerson was Mother, an imposing presence even on the small screen. Veteran character actors like J. Pat O’Malley and Regis Toomey were semi regulars as colorful informers.


   The series ran only three seasons on NBC and then ABC. When it went off the air it found new life in syndication, and in 1967 Edwards decided to try again as a feature film. Stevens was back, but Lola Albright was replaced by Laura Devon as a rather wan Edie. Ed Asner was good as a tougher version of Jacobi and Helen Traubel played Mother. O’Malley and Toomey again appeared as informers.

   The plot was expanded from “The Kill” with some fine variations — at least one borrowed from Mickey Spillane’s Vengeance is Mine. Albert Paulson was “Fusco,” the Fallon character from the pilot, M. T. Marshall had a standout role as Daisy Jane, a madam who ran a floating whorehouse, and Sherry Jackson appeared as a beautiful and mysterious kook who shows up naked in Gunn’s bed.

    Gunn (finding Sherry Jackson naked in his bed): Collecting for the Heart Fund?

    Sherry Jackson: No.

    Gunn: Girl Scouts?

    Jackson: No.

    Gunn: Community …?

    Jackson: That’s the one.

    Gunn: I gave at the office.


   The world had changed in six years though Gunn hadn’t, and the whole thing is faintly anachronistic, but it is done with such style that hardly matters. It’s a superior effort all around, with at least three outstanding set pieces, including a shoot out in a mirrored bedroom, a confrontation on a racket ball court (taken in part from “The Kill”), and the finale, a bloody brawl that may well be one of the most violent scenes filmed to that time.

   Craig Stevens commands the big screen as he did the small one, but the time for Gunn was gone and though it did well, the critics weren’t kind and Gunn disappeared again. Stevens had several other series that ran varying lengths of time — Man of the World, Mr. Broadway, The Invisible Man, did a pilot for a “Thin Man” series, Nick and Nora (notoriously bad), and probably had his last big role in Edward’s S.O.B.

   By 1989 Blake Edwards had moved onto bigger things, but he trotted out Peter Gunn yet again with a new actor in the role, Peter Strauss, then still fresh off his star-making role in Rich Man, Poor Man.


   Again a gangster has been killed and a gang war threatens. Peter Gunn caught in the middle has to find the killers and stop the bloodshed.

   As a private eye film this is not bad, but as Peter Gunn it just isn’t right.

   Strauss makes his first appearance in a dinner jacket with a white silk scarf and looks like Michael J. Fox wearing his father’s suit. Edie has almost nothing to do and is largely replaced by a scatterbrained secretary (in the original series Mother’s was Pete’s office) who has far too much screen time. Peter Jurasik plays Jacobi as a petulant and cynical typical cop. Pearl Bailey has little to do as Mother.

   Frankly it’s all tired and hackneyed. Not bad, but not Peter Gunn, not by a long sight. Peter Gunn in a turtle neck just didn’t fit somehow. That said, the film has it’s moments, with a nice variation on the shootout from The Big Sleep at the end. One nice touch, Lt. Jacobi acquires a first name — Hershel.


   Strauss might have been good as a private eye. Just not Peter Gunn. As made for television private eye films go, this isn’t bad. If you had never seen Craig Stevens and the original you might even have been impressed.

   But it’s Diet Coke, not the Real Thing.

      The plot varies even more from “The Kill” than Gunn did, but there are enough similarities you won’t have any trouble recognizing where the idea came from. Charles Cioffi is the gangster this time.

   In the years since Peter Gunn projects have come and gone. John Woo had one at one point. It would be nice if by some miracle everything came together and we got one more great Peter Gunn, but it seems unlikely. Gunn is very much of its time, an attitude, an actor, and a handful of people he interacted with, and very much one of the best themes ever written, bar none.

      Not that we will be, but perhaps, just this once, we should be grateful for what we have.



VAL McDERMID – Beneath the Bleeding. HarperCollins, UK, hardcover, August 2007. Harper, first US edition; trade paperback, September 2009.


   This is the fifth of now six novels in the Val McDermid’s Tony Hill series. Dr. Hill, a clinical psychologist who works as a profiler for the Bradfield police, is sidelined for much of the novel after being severely wounded by an inmate in the Bradford Moor Secure Hospital. He had escaped from his “secure” cell and rampaged through the halls with an axe.

   The action then shifts to an investigation by DCI Carol Jordan of the murder of Bradford’s star midfielder, with Tony serving as a consultant and, as he slowly recovers, beginning to slip out of the hospital to interview suspects.

   The investigation leads to the discovery of related murders, all of them committed with the use of exotic poisons, while, unbeknownst to the police or to Tony, a local resident appears to be preparing to launch a major terrorist attack on Bradford’s stadium during a game.

   The novel may appear to be cluttered, but it’s superbly managed by McDermid, and makes one wish that she would put aside some of her stand-alone novels, which I’ve found overwritten and increasingly long-winded, for more of this still vital series. It seems to engage her considerable talents more richly than anything else she’s done recently.

The Tony Hill / Carol Jordan series:

      1. The Mermaids Singing (1995)
      2. The Wire In The Blood (1997)

              VAL McDERMID Tony Hill

      3. The Last Temptation (2002)
      4. The Torment of Others (2004)
      5. Beneath the Bleeding (2007)
      6. Fever of the Bone (2009)

              VAL McDERMID Tony Hill

   The cases of Tony Hill and Carol Hill have also been dramatized over the course of six seasons (31 episodes) of Wire in the Blood (UK-ITV, 2002-2008). Robson Green played Dr. Tony Hill, while DCI Carol Jordan was portrayed by Hermione Norris. (Perhaps someone can explain why the latter appeared in only 14 of the episodes shown.)

   All six series appear to have been released on DVD in the US.

by Mike Ripley

    A list of favourite thrillers; for which my only criteria has been personal enjoyment. With gritted teeth I have limited some authors to one title when I could easily have named more, and I have resisted the urge to add in hundreds of titles which fall more easily into the ‘crime’ or ‘mystery’ (or even horror or western) genres.

    This list was inspired by David Vineyard’s survey of thrillers, but is in no way in competition with it.

    If it introduces a new author or title to anyone and they get the same pleasure from reading them that I did, then my work here is done.

Margery Allingham Traitor’s Purse
   — The Tiger in the Smoke
Ted Allbeury The Lantern Network
Eric Ambler Journey into Fear
Desmond Bagley High Citadel
Michael Bar-Zohar The Third Truth
Noel Behn The Shadowboxer
John Bingham The Double Agent
T J Binyon Swan Song
John Blackburn A Ring of Roses
   — Blue Octavo
Wallace Breem Eagle in the Snow
John Buchan The 39 Steps
   — Mr Standfast
Brian Callison A Flock of Ships
Victor Canning The Rainbird Pattern
Lee Child Echo Burning
Francis Clifford Time is an Ambush
   — The Grosvenor Square Goobye
Richard Condon The Manchurian Candidate
   — Winter Kills
Lionel Davidson The Rose of Tibet
   — Kolymsky Heights
Len Deighton The Ipcress File
   — SS-GB
James Dickey To The White Sea
Arthur Conan Doyle Hound of the Baskervilles
David Downing Stettin Station
Clive Egleton The October Plot
Ian Fleming Dr No
Frederick Forsyth Day of the Jackal
Graham Greene Brighton Rock
   — Our Man in Havana
C. S. Forester Brown on Resolution
Dick Francis Odds Against
Donald Freed + Mark Lane Executive Action
Alan Furst Spies of the Balkans
John Gardner The Liquidator
Brian Garfield Kolchak’s Gold
Adam Hall The Berlin Memorandum
Reginald Hill The Spy’s Wife
Jack Higgins The Eagle Has Landed
   — A Game for Heroes (as James Graham)
Geoffrey Household Rogue Male
   — A Rough Shoot
   — Watcher in the Shadows
P.M. Hubbard Flush As May
   — The Holm Oaks
Stephen Hunter Pale Horse Coming
Hammond Innes Wreckers Must Breathe
   — The White South
Geoffrey Jenkins A Twist of Sand
   — River of Diamonds
Thomas Keneally A Victim of the Aurora
Philip Kerr A Quiet Flame
Han Helmut Kirst Night of the Generals
John Lawton Second Violin
John Le Carre Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
   — A Perfect Spy
Ira Levin The Boys from Brazil
Robert Littell The Company
Robert Ludlum The Scarlatti Inheritance
Gavin Lyall Midnight Plus One
George Macbeth A Kind of Treason
Philip MacDonald The List of Adrian Messenger
Helen MacInnes Assignment in Brittany
Alistair MacLean The Satan Bug
   — South by Java Head
   — Ice Station Zebra
Berkeley Mather The Pass Beyond Kashmir
Mark Mills The Information Officer
Aly Monroe The Maze of Cadiz
Tony Pollard The Minutes of the Lazarus Club
Joe Poyer Vengeance 10
Anthony Price Our Man in Camelot
   — The ’44 Vintage
Geoffrey Rose A Clear Road to Archangel
Robert Ryan The Last Sunrise
Gerald Seymour Harry’s Game
George Simpson + Neal Burger Fair Warning
George Sims The Terrible Door
Martin Cruz Smith Tokyo Station
Peter Van Greenaway The Man Who Held the Queen to Ransom
Paul Watkins The Ice Soldier
Dennis Wheatley Forbidden Territory
Alan Williams Snake Water
   — Tale of the Lazy Dog
Andrew Williams The Interrogator

      Mike Ripley,
Colchester, England.


THE MAN BEHIND THE GUN. Warner Brothers, 1953. Randolph Scott, Patrice Wymore, Dick Wesson, Philip Carey, Lina Romay, Roy Roberts, Alan Hale Jr. Director: Felix E. Feist.

   This elegantly staged western is busy, stylish and full of pizzazz. That the plot, based on an unknown piece of southern Californian history, makes no sense whatsoever doesn’t seem to make much difference, or at least it didn’t to me.

   Randolph Scott is working undercover in this one, trying to infiltrate a gang of California revolutionists, Southern style, who are intent on capturing all the water rights surrounding the burgeoning burg of Los Angeles.


   Is he a schoolteacher (replacing Patrice Wymore, who is supposed to be marrying army officer Philip Carey), or is he a renegade, wanted for murdering a fellow officer in a duel?

   We (the viewer) know, as if anyone as dedicated to duty as Randolph Scott could be anything but a hero and a gentleman. The action (and the laughs, courtesy Hale & Wesson) is fast and furious, from the opening scene onward — including a modicum of romance (and a rowdy row between the two ladies).

   There is a neat twist in the tale as well, making this movie more than worthy of your attention. (If this is a B-western, it is a better B.)


— Reprinted from Mystery*File #35, November 1993, very slightly revised.

[UPDATE] 10-20-10.   Do I remember this one? Only vaguely. But my review was positive enough that it convinced that I ought to own a copy of it on DVD.

   Easily done. There’s one available that also contains Thunder Over the Plains (Warner, 1953) and Riding Shotgun (Warner, 1954), both also with Randolph Scott.

   I should have it in my hands in four or five days.

A Review by Mike Dennis


   If it had been anyone but Criterion putting out the DVD of The Friends Of Eddie Coyle, I might not have purchased it. But Criterion has so firmly established itself as the premium purveyor of quality movies onto quality DVDs, that I couldn’t resist.

   When I opened the handsome package, I was a little disappointed to find only one DVD inside. This usually means they didn’t go to too much trouble to put the whole thing together, and they weren’t interested in slipping in a lot of bonus features.

   What is included is a digitally-restored, high-definition version of the film itself, an audio commentary by director Peter Yates, stills, and a 44-page booklet on the film and its star Robert Mitchum.

   When you click “Play Movie,” the film surprisingly begins with only the Criterion logo, followed by the Paramount logo, then scene one. None of that annoying crap about FBI warnings and studio disclaimers. It looks and sounds terrific on my big screen HDTV from beginning to end. The color is crisp and the dialogue, which of course carries the whole story, is clear at all times. David Grusin’s restrained jazz soundtrack is a big plus.

   The commentary was only okay, though. I was expecting a lot more, I guess, from Yates. Something along the lines of what I got from Jules Dassin in Criterion’s outstanding release of his classic 1950 film noir, Night And The City. Dassin, who only did an interview and not the commentary on that DVD, went into the deepest details of that film and its making, while film scholar Glenn Erickson did a very creditable job on the commentary.


   Yates, in his commentary, talked about the things you might expect: shooting in Boston, how great all the actors were, and so on. But apart from his explanations on how they shot the hockey game scene and why George V. Higgins failed to get a screen credit for the script, I didn’t get too aroused. I felt he tended to drift off a little too often into talking about his other films. You know, if I’m watching The Friends Of Eddie Coyle, I don’t want to hear anything about Barbra Streisand movies.

   The booklet, however, is terrific. It begins with an essay by Kent Jones called “They Were Expendable” (no relation to the John Wayne movie), which offers far more insight into the making of the film than Yates’ commentary.

   For example, prior to shooting, Mitchum hung out with Whitey Bulger, notorious Boston gangster and the prototype for Jack Nicholson’s character in The Departed. Mitchum apparently took some heat for consorting with someone like Bulger, but he defended it, according to Jones, by saying that Bulger was himself associating with a “known criminal” in talking to Mitchum.


   The second essay is a profile on Mitchum called “The Last Celluloid Desperado.” Written by Grover Lewis, it includes contributions by co-stars Peter Boyle and Richard Jordan. It’s really all about Mitchum, though, and is a captivating look at his remarkable life, both in and out of films.

   One fact which jumped out at me was that Alex Rocco, who plays Jimmy Scalise, was a former member of the Boston Teamsters, who were continually linked to killings ordered by Bulger and his Winter Hill Gang. In fact, Rocco himself was indicted for murder, only to have the charges dropped through aggressive actions by his attorney, F Lee Bailey. He then made his way to Los Angeles, where he soon landed the role of Moe Greene in 1972’s The Godfather.

   Safe to say the booklet helps to make up for Yates’ lackluster commentary.

   Criterion, which has given us top-shelf DVD releases of seldom-seen films such as Straw Dogs, The Long Good Friday, and Lord Of The Flies, has scored again with The Friends Of Eddie Coyle. And like Yates says in the conclusion of his commentary, I hope this will expose the film to a whole new generation of viewers.

Copyright © 2010 by Mike Dennis.

Editorial Comment:   For my review of the film itself, written nearly two years ago, before the DVD came out, you’ll have to go way back here on the blog.


“The Photographer and the Undertaker.” An episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (Season 3, Episode 21). First air date: 15 March 1965. Jack Cassidy, Harry Townes, Alfred Ryder, Jocelyn Lane. Teleplay: Alfred Hayes, based on a story by James Holding (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, November 1962). Director: Alex March.

   Rudolph (Alfred Ryder) works for The Corporation, otherwise known as the Mob. His job is to give his contract employees their various assignments, all of which inevitably result in somebody getting murdered.

   Arthur Mannix (Jack Cassidy) is a photographer whose much more lucrative sideline is being a hitman for Rudolph. Hiram Price (Harry Townes) is a professional undertaker who also works under contract to Rudolph. Since they’ve never met, neither man knows the whole truth about the other.

   But then the day arrives when The Corporation, in its infinite wisdom, decides to have Rudolph send Arthur after Hiram — and Hiram after Arthur ….

   With three on-screen murders and a finale in which evil triumphs, this episode undoubtedly had the network censors in a lather, I’m sure.

   A cheerful but evil cherub is how I would describe Jack Cassidy’s normal screen persona. His criminous credits include: FBI Code 98 (1963), The Eiger Sanction (1975), and 3 unforgettable appearances on Columbo: “Murder by the Book” (1971), “Publish or Perish” (1974), and “Now You See Him” (1976).

   Harry Townes was another of those all-purpose bit-part actors who seemed to be everywhere in the ’50 and ’60s: Operation Manhunt (1954), 14 appearances on Kraft Television Theatre, eight on Climax!, 10 on Studio One, Cry Tough (1959), five episodes of General Electric Theater, four Kraft Suspense Theatre’s, five Perry Mason’s, five segments of The Fugitive (1963-66), three episodes of Felony Squad (1967), They Call It Murder (1971, TVM), and 4 appearances on Simon & Simon.

   See “The Photographer and the Undertaker” on Hulu here.

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