July 2012


CHASING DANGER Preston Foster

CHASING DANGER. 20th Century Fox, 1939. Preston Foster, Lynn Bari, Wally Vernon, Henry Wilcoxon, Joan Woodbury, Harold Huber, Jody Gilbert. Director: Ricardo Cortez.

   In Chasing Danger Preston Foster and Wally Vernon play a couple of world-traveling news photographers who stumble across the source of arms and ammunition for a group of Arab rebels in French Algeria. Of the two, Foster’s the brains of the pair, so to speak, while Vernon plays the dumb sidekick to near perfection. (He spends most the movie mooning over his fiancee back in Brooklyn, where their wedding is supposed to be taking place.)

   Lynn Bari is the previously mentioned source. Her mother being Arabian, her sympathies are with the rebels, but her source of funds are questionable, the latter being a cache of jewels her accomplice in arms-running (Harold Huber) has in his possession, he being a crook who disappeared with them several months earlier while making a getaway flight across the Channel to England.

CHASING DANGER Preston Foster

   For a short movie (my copy runs only 50 minutes or so) the plot is both complicated and simple, once you’ve sorted it all out. It’s pretty much action (and a little leering) all the way, nothing more, nor nothing less.

   Don’t go out of your way for this one, but it’s done with a certain amount of expertise that might surprise you. If it comes along and you’re a fan of this kind of semi-half-baked foreign adventure, I’d say give it a try.

LATER.   After writing the comments above, I made a discovery that I couldn’t find an easy way to work into my review, so I’ll talk about it here instead. This is the second in a series of two movies to have featured this somewhat comedic pair of adventuresome cameramen.

CHASING DANGER Preston Foster

   The first one was Sharpshooters (1938), but it was Brian Donlevy who played the part of Steve Mitchell in that earlier one, not Preston Foster. (I always thought they looked something alike.)

   Lynn Bari was in the first one also, but playing a different part. I’ve not been able to track down a copy, and I’d really like to. But getting back to Steve Mitchell, what’s kind of interesting about this is that’s the name of character played by Brian Donlevy in his 1950s TV espionage series, Dangerous Assignment.

   Coincidence or not, I don’t know.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


RICHARD POWELL Say It With Bullets

RICHARD POWELL – Say It With Bullets. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1953. Graphic Books #93, paperback, 1954; hard Case Crime, paperback, 2006.

   The fine cover of the Graphic edition of Say It With Bullets appears to be simply a stock image pulled from their files and slapped on at random, because it does’t depict any of the characters or situations in Richard Powell’s fast-paced story.

   In fact, it doesn’t even convey the mood of the piece, which is an outdoorsy, scenic kind of thing about a guy on a guided bus tour of the West trying to find the guy who’s trying to kill him.

   Just by way of background, sometime before our story started, Bill Wayne, the hero of the piece, was a flier for Nationalist China. When all that went South, he and his partners started air-ferrying refugees to safety in Hong Kong.

   Then his partners (there were five of them) decided they’d rather fly stolen gold off the mainland, Bill objected, someone shot him in the back and all of them left him for dead. Now, as the book starts up, Wayne is back in the states, tracking his old “buddies” down and —

   — and here’s where things get a little off-beat, because Bill has elected to join a package bus tour that will swing through the cities where his erstwhile partners live. The pretty young tour guide takes what is known as a shine to him, and Bill realizes out he’s being stalked himself. (But by who? we wonder as the plot coagulates.)

RICHARD POWELL Say It With Bullets

   When Bill finally confronts the first of his ex-partners, he discovers he’s not the kind of guy who can shoot a man in cold blood, but that doesn’t matter much because it turns out whoever’s following Bill is more than happy to kill his old buddies and leave a trail of incriminating evidence right back to our hapless hero.

   Say It With Bullets is what I call a Bimbo Book: not much for brains, but easy to get along with. The action is fast and formulaic, the characters clichéd and lively (particularly a humorous cowboy deputy, who runs deeper than he looks) and the writing surprisingly sharp for a dumb book.

   The repartee is genuinely witty, and Powell evokes the contemporary West (well, contemporary in 1953) with a writer’s eye for detail. There’s a nice bit where hero and heroine take a short cut on a back road that runs between Nevada and Yosemite National Park; I’ve driven this road myself, and it’s like riding a kicking jackass for three hours.

   Powell evokes the experience with writing that brought back every sharp turn and pitching slope — pretty good for a book that is basically the literary equivalent of a dumb blonde.

REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:
HARRY O — Season 1, Part 2.


HARRY O. ABC / Warner Brothers. Season 1, Part 2. (January-March 1975). Cast: David Janssen as Harry Orwell, Anthony Zerbe as Lieutenant K.C. Trench, Paul Tulley as Sergeant Roberts. Created and executive consultant: Howard Rodman. Executive Producer: Jerry Thorpe. Producers: Buck Houghton and Robert Dozier. Associate Producer: Rita Dillon. Executive story consultant: Robert Dozier. Theme: Billy Goldenberg.

HARRY O David Janssen

   For anyone who may have missed them, previous portions of this multi-part coverage of the Harry O television series may be found here (Intro) and here (Season 1, Part 1).

   The first half of the season was over and Harry O faced some changes. In Television Chronicles #10, executive producer Jerry Thorpe discussed the changes. To please ABC, the series tone was changed to more melodramatic. But Thorpe made a deal. He wanted the show to follow the path set by the first episode “Gertrude.” That meant more humor between the characters. Thorpe wanted to take advantage of Janssen’s untapped talent for humor.

   In “The Last Heir,” we still have the same opening theme, but we soon see a hint of the changes to come. Harry is driving his car through the empty vast California desert … and the car makes it without a tow truck.

   Harry is hired (he charges $100 a day plus expenses) by Jeff Mays (Clifford David), the nephew of rich, ill-tempered Letty (Jeanette Nolan) who lives alone in the middle of the desert. The nephew is worried she is crazy and will kill someone at the annual family meeting.

   Once the entire family is there, their cars are disabled, stranding all in the desert waiting for the supply truck to make its weekly visit in six days. Then one by one, family members begins to die.

   Next, “For Love Of Money” features a new musical arrangement of the series theme song with a more action feel. The visuals and graphics for the opening have been changed significantly. Gone are shots of Harry on the bus, walking, and sitting on his stranded boat. Now Harry is running, moving in chase scenes on foot, by boat and by car.

   Harry travels to Los Angeles. A woman (Mariclare Costello) in Los Angeles needs help. Her family in San Diego hires Harry to act as go-between for her and her employer (Joe Silver).

   Her boyfriend (Fred Beir) had convinced her to “borrow” $25,000 in bonds from her boss’ safe. She wants to return them but Harry finds the boyfriend and the bonds are gone. When the employer discovers half a million dollars of bonds are missing instead of just $25,000 he calls the cops.

   While working on this case Harry rents an apartment in Santa Monica near the beach. His neighbor is a young beautiful stewardess Betsy (Katherine Baumann). Harry’s manners have not changed and he is blunt and grumpy around Betsy who mothers him. Betsy has a boyfriend Walter we will never see but enjoy Harry’s fear-inspired descriptions of him.

   The mystery, as with most of this group of episodes, is unremarkable with more attention paid to action and characters than clues. The bullet in Harry’s back disappears allowing for more fights and chases.

HARRY O David Janssen

   This episode also introduces Harry (and us) to Lieutenant K.C. Trench and his quiet sidekick Sergeant Roberts (Paul Tulley). There is an on air chemistry between Janssen and Zerbe that is magic from the very beginning. The two feed off the other, not only as actors, but the characters do as well. It is obvious both respect, like and trust the other.

   San Diego’s Lieutenant Manny Quinlain was played well by the talented Henry Darrow, but both the character and the actor’s style were too similar to Harry and Janssen. The conflict between Harry and Trench gave the series its humor and made the series more entertaining to watch.

   Quinlain played straight man to Harry, while Trench had his own sense of humor. Trench was given this quality due to the underrated character of Sergeant Roberts. Roberts existed as a straight man for Harry and Trench, anchoring the scene as the PI and cop playfully had at it to the delight of the viewers.

   In “Confetti People,” we watch Jack (John Rubinstein) shoot and kill his drunken artist brother (Scott McKay) who was beating his wife (Diana Hyland). Betsy finds Jack wandering on the beach and brings him to Harry, who is still in Santa Monica for some unknown reason, and convinces Harry to help Jack.

   Harry calls the cops and takes Jack back to the murder scene only to find Jack’s sister –in-law and still alive brother denying anything happened. Jack had just been released from a mental hospital, so everyone writes it off except Harry who is worried about his client.

   It is interesting to compare how this melodrama handled mental illness when compared to the nourish drama of the San Diego episode “Shadows At Noon.”

   Trench learns as we have, “Orwell, you have a way of getting involved with some pretty bizarre people.”

HARRY O David Janssen

   “Sound Of Trumpets” gives Harry a reason to stay in Los Angeles. Harry learns they have torn down his San Diego home to put up a high-rise. He likes the people and the area so he follows Betsy and Walter and moves to a beach house in Santa Monica. Harry’s unfinished boat, “The Answer” joins him at the beach house. Harry finds a new mechanic, Clarence (Hal Williams) for his car.

   Lovers of Jazz music will enjoy this story of a former great horn man Art Sully (Julius Harris) just out of prison with a secret someone doesn’t want him to live to tell.

   Harry saves his life when Art falls off the pier. When Art disappears with Harry’s car, Harry is back using the bus and not happy about it. Some great jazz and R&B music highlight the episode that has a more active Harry fighting and chasing bad guys.

   “Silent Kill” was an “issue” episode, but the heavy-handed new style of the series weakened the message. Harry agreed to help a deaf woman (Kathy Lloyd) clear her deaf mute husband (James Wainwright) of setting a fire that killed three people. Despite a script drowning in pathos, director Richard Lang effectively illustrated the struggles of the deaf by turning off the sound and forcing the viewer to see through the deaf mute’s eyes.

   “Double Jeopardy” is another “issue” episode that would have worked better without the melodrama. Harry witnesses a murder and sees a young man, Tom (Kurt Russell) leaving the scene. Tom is arrested, but let go for lack of evidence.

   In an ironic twist the female victim’s father (Will Kuluva) is an ex-mobster who was successful in San Diego for over twenty years before retiring to Los Angeles. The justice system he had manipulated to stay out of prison seems unfair to him now as he watches the man he believes killed his daughter go free. So he hires some men to kill Tom.

   Harry believes Tom is innocent and tries to keep him alive long enough to find the real killer.

   Exit Betsy and Walter to Hawaii as a married couple. Enter Harry’s most remembered neighbor, Sue Ingram (Farrah Fawcett-Majors) and her large dog Grover (who hates Harry).

   “Lester” features our first meeting of Lester Hodges, wannabe criminologist and Harry Orwell fan boy, who would return in the second season. College student Lester notifies the police about a missing woman. His rich family learns of it and sends a lawyer to protect Lester.

   The lawyer hires Harry. Every clue Harry finds points to Lester as the killer of the woman. The lawyer is not pleased, but Lester can’t stop smiling. The last scene between Harry and Lester is a Harry O classic.

   In “Elegy For A Cop,” Manny travels to Los Angeles in secret to retrieve his niece (Kathy Lloyd) who is a drug addict. What happens next has Harry going after a drug broker (Sal Mineo) in one of the most dramatic stories of the entire first season.

   Howard Rodman’s script and David Janssen’s talent were the reasons this episode worked despite the fact it was created for budget reasons and recycled several scenes from the original pilot Such Dust As Dreams Are Made On.

   In this episode we learn both of Harry’s parents were dead and he has no brothers or sisters. All he has left is his friends.

      WARNING: SPOILERS. FEEL FREE TO SKIP DOWN TO EPISODE “STREET GAMES.”

   The new local drug broker uses Manny’s niece to set him up as a dirty cop that gets killed in a payoff. The broker shoots Manny and leaves him for dead with “bribe” money in Manny’s pocket. Before he dies, Manny is able to mail the money to Harry.

   According to the article in Television Chronicles #10, this episode was one of the first times a regular character on a TV series was killed off. The series Nichols (NBC, 71-72) had done it, and a month after this episode aired, Henry Blake would die in M*A*S*H.

   Poor Manny, he had to die to get a backstory. He was 37 and married with children. Both of his parents were alive, as well as his brother Jesus, unknown number of sisters, and his niece.

            END OF SPOILERS.

   In “Street Games,” a waitress (Claudette Nevins) at a place Harry eats hires him to find her sixteen-year-old daughter (Maureen McCormick). Mom has reason to worry, as her daughter is a junkie and now on the run after witnessing the local dealer gun down her boyfriend. What follows is the expected twists and turns until we reach a happy ending.

   Harry O’s first season offered a wide range of quality programs, from the comedy mystery of “Gertrude” to the nourish drama of “Eyewitness” to the character comedy of “Lester” to the emotional drama of “Elegy For A Cop.”

   Yet it would be the relationship between PI Harry Orwell and Santa Monica cop Lieutenant Trench that elevated this series to one of television’s most fondly remember shows.

   The ratings for the second half increased from the first half of the season. Harry O ending the season tied for 38th place (out of 70).

   So next: Season Two.

NOTE: Thanks to Randy Cox for a copy of Television Chronicles #10 and the article by Ed Robertson.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Francis M. Nevins


GEORGES SIMENON – The Strange Case of Peter the Lett. Covici Friede, US, hardcover, 1931. Hurst, UK, hardcover, 1933. Also published as Maigret and the Enigmatic Lett. Penguin, US/UK, paperback, 1963. Translation of Pietr-le-Letton (Paris, 1931).

GEORGES SIMENON

   Commissaire Jules Maigret is to French crime fiction what Sherlock Holmes is to British: the detective, the immortal. He has appeared in more than seventy novels and countless short stories and novelettes, translated into dozens of languages and turning their author, Belgian-born Georges Simenon, into not only the most famous of European novelists but the wealthiest.

   In a very real sense, however, the Maigrets aren’t mystery fiction at all. They contain no clues and deductions and usually only the barest minimum of plot. The great-hearted bear of an inspector does not reason from data; instead, he enters a milieu, walks around in the rain, patiently sucks on his pipe, stops in the local brasserie for a beer or calvados, mingles with the people and absorbs atmosphere until he is so much at one with his environment that the truth is clear to him.

   Simenon’s great strengths as a writer lie in the domains of character and setting. Already wealthy from the hundreds of books he wrote in the Twenties, Simenon created Maigret in 1929 while his bark Ostrogoth on which he was touring the canals of Europe was laid up for repairs at the Dutch port of Delfzijl.

GEORGES SIMENON

   The town has since erected a statue of Maigret to commemorate the occasion. He wrote a Maigret a month for the next year and a half. Those first eighteen Maigrets are ranked by many I connoisseurs as the finest Simenon ever wrote, although the first two are in some ways untypical.

   In The Strange Case of Peter the Lett, the first Maigret to be written, Simenon borrows from contemporary British thrillers to such an extent that his first London publishers promoted him as the Edgar Wallace of France.

   Maigret’s adversary in this debut novel is a chameleon-like mastermind with several identities and a wild scheme to organize the international gangster community. But Simenon uses this plot as he uses the domestic intrigues in his more typical Maigtets — as a screen on which to project the shadow play of character and atmosphere.

   And even in his first Maigret, he draws people and milieu with breathtaking skill — from a tormented Latvian intellectual to a passionate female derelict, and from a snobbish Paris luxury hotel to a squalid fishing village.

   More in the Maigret mainstream is M. Gallet Decede (1931). (Its first English translation was as The Death of Monsieur Gallet, Covici Friede, 1932, and Penguin has kept it in print for more than twenty years as Maigret Stonewalled.)

GEORGES SIMENON

   Here as usual the inspector probes a crime of private nature, the strange death and even stranger life of a petit bourgeois jewelry salesman who seems — like many of Simenon’s most compelling characters — to have had at least two identities.

   Unlike most Maigrets, this one is modeled on the British deductive puzzles of the Golden Age, with a beautifully dovetailed plot, genuine clues, and a noble surprise ending.

   Though filtered through translations that are sometimes terrible, Simenon’ s evocations of sight and sound and smell and feel bring places to life with such immediacy that readers who have never been to Europe are ready to swear they’ve seen the milieus he describes.

   The same skills vivify the shorter Maigrets that Simenon wrote for French magazines in the middle and late 1930s. Two generous selections of these stories and novelettes are available in the collections Maigret’s Christmas (1977) and Maigret’s Pipe (1968).

         ———
   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.

NOTE: This and the following three books reviewed are part of this week’s tribute to author Georges Simenon on Patti Abbott’s blog and her ongoing Friday’s Forgotten Books series:

       Maigret’s Boyhood Friend.
       The Blue Room and The Accomplices.
       The Venice Train.

   For the reviews posted by others today, follow the link to Patti’s blog.

[UPDATE] 07-23-12. Add to the list of relevant posts above:

A TV Review by Mike Tooney: MAIGRET “Maigret et l’affaire Saint-Fiacre” (1995).

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Francis M. Nevins


GEORGES SIMENON – Maigret’s Boyhood Friend. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, US, hardcover, 1970. Hamish Hamilton, UK, hardcover, 1970. Translation of L’Ami d’Enfance de Maigret (Paris, 1968).

GEORGES SIMENON

   Between 1933 and the end of World War II, Simenon all but abandoned Maigret and devoted himself to writing the grim social and psychological novels on which rests much of his critical reputation as a serious author.

   After moving to the United States in 1946, he revived his immortal character; and until ill health forced him to stop writing fiction in 1972, he turned out from two to four books a year about the great inspector. Like the earlier cycle of Maigrets, these, too, stress character and milieu over plot.

   What lingers in the memory is the sense of place: the sunny island of Porquerolles in The Methods of Maigret (1957); the seedy nightclubs of Inspector Maigret and the Strangled Stripper (1954); the world of young Nouvelle Vague filmmakers in Maigret’s Pickpocket (1968) and of disaffected Sorbonne students in Maigret and the Killer (1971).

   Typical of the late Maigrets and better than many is Maigret Hesitates (1970), in which an anonymous letter warning of a future murder brings the inspector into the household of a brilliant Paris maritime lawyer who is haunted by the legal concept of criminal insanity.

   The plot is simple as ever, but the sense of place is so vivid and the characterizations so rich (especially the haunted Parendon and his monstrous wife, a domestic pair that reflect the shattering of Simenon’ s second marriage) that the book simply runs rings around most conventional detective novels.

   That novel was followed both in France and the English-speaking world by Maigret’s Boyhood Friend. The boyhood friend of the title is Florentin, a small-time hustler and habitual liar, who runs sniveling to Maigret for help when the woman who had been supporting him while being financed by four other lovers is shot to death in her apartment.

   Declining to arrest the dissolute and insufferable Florentin even though all the evidence points in his direction, Maigret probes the lives of the dead woman’s lovers and the nature of her relationship to each. The characterizations and Parisian atmosphere are as fine as anything in late Simenon.

   With Maigret and Monsieur Charles (1973), both the foremost European detective series and Simenon’s half-century of writing fiction came to an end. Since then he has written several books of autobiographical reminiscences, culminating in the huge and overpowering Intimate Memoirs (1984). However many years Simenon has left before his return to his beloved earth, Maigret, we can be sure, will survive as long as people read.

         ———
   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.

Editorial Note:   Georges Simenon died in his sleep of natural causes on the night of 3-4 September 1989 in Lausanne, France. He was 86.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by George Kelley & Marcia Muller


GEORGES SIMENON – The Blue Room and The Accomplices. New York: Harcourt Brace & World, hardcover, 1964. Published separately in UK by Hamish Hamilton, hardcovers, 1965/1966. Translations of Le Chambre Bleue (Paris, 1964) and Les Complices (Paris, 1955).

GEORGES SIMENON

   While Simenon is best known for his Maigret novels, his non-series works of psychological suspense are equally compelling. They express a kind of dark inevitability, a sense of events unwittingly set in motion by one’s actions and then gathering an uncontrollable momentum of their own. This volume presents two of the best of these novels.

   In The Blue Room, Simenon explores the erotic — and ultimately disastrous — relationship of an innocent man and a woman who is as ruthless as she is passionate. Tony’s main interest in life is making love with his mistress, Andree.

   Naive and trusting, he remains unaware of her evil nature until his wife and her husband are found dead of strychnine poisoning. Tony is arrested for the crimes, and the story of what went before is told in flashback as he is questioned by the police.

   Even though we already know where the events are leading, we nevertheless fear for Tony as we watch Andree’s corruption overwhelm him; and their final encounter of the lovers at the trial is one of the more chilling in mystery fiction.

   The Accomplices is completely different in tone and theme from The Blue Room, but equally haunting.

   Joseph Lambert is married, the father of six children, and has another on the way. A fairly successful businessman, Lambert feels everything is going his way.

   But then the unexpected happens: While Lambert is driving wildly down the road, engaged in an amorous dalliance with his secretary, he loses control of his car. A school bus filled with children swerves to avoid him, but crashes into a wall and bursts into flame; dozens of little children die in the accident.

   Lambert moves quickly to cover up his guilt, but his unconscious proves to be his own prosecutor, judge, and jury. This is a fascinating novel of psychological torment and pressure, and has grave implications for modern society.

         ———
   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.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by George Kelley & Bill Pronzini


GEORGES SIMENON – The Venice Train. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, US, hardcover, 1974. Hamish Hamilton, UK, hardcover, 1974. Translation of Le Train de Venise, Paris, 1965.

GEORGES SIMENON

   Justin Calmar is an ordinary man; everything in his life seems well ordered and complacent. Then he takes his family on a vacation to Europe, and on the train from Venice to Paris a stranger approaches and asks him to deliver an attache case.

   Calmar agrees. But when he enters the Paris apartment where he is supposed to make the delivery, he finds a murdered woman. Panicked, he flees — and his life is forever altered.

   Fear and paranoia take control of Calmar. He becomes obsessed with the attache case and the events surrounding the bizarre affair. He hungrily reads newspapers looking for clues to the stranger’s identity, and finds that the man, too, has been murdered. Will he be next?

   When Calmar finally opens the attache case, he finds bundles of American hundred-dollar bills, English fifty-pound notes, and Swiss francs: a literal fortune. But this only deepens his fear: Someone win surely come to take the money away from him.

   He embarks on a frantic routine to keep the case hidden, continually shifting it from train-station lockers to bus-station lockers and back again. His existence degenerates into a nightmare of anxiety, depression, and continued paranoid behavior — he is a man at the breaking point long before anything happens to substantiate his terror.

   Few writers can match Simenon when it comes to the novel of psychological suspense, and this is one of his finest books of this type. Justin Calmar is a memorable and tragic character; and Simenon’s theme is powerfully stated. Relentless though it may be, The Venice Train is a novel for our time, with implications that transcend its simple plot and a message for us all.

   Outstanding among Simenon’s many other novels of psychological suspense are The Man Who Watched the Trains Go By (1946), Act of Passion (1953), In Case of Emergency (1958; made into an excellent French film with Brigitte Bardot and Jean Gabin), and The Innocents (1974).

         ———
   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.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


DEAD RECKONING. Columbia, 1947. Humphrey Bogart, Lizabeth Scott, Morris Carnovsky, Marvin Miller, Wallace Ford. Screenplay by Oliver H.P. Garrett and Steve Fisher, based on a story by Gerald Adams and Sidney Biddell, who also produced. Director: John Cromwell.

   Humphrey Bogart spent most of his career at Warner Brothers, where all his best films were produced. From The Petrified Forest to The African Queen, and all the way through The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Key Largo, and countless others, when you think of a Bogart Movie, you are probably thinking of the Warners’ ambiance: the stock company of supporting players, cameramen, composers and all the other technicians, who contributed so much to the Bogart mystique.

DEAD RECKONING Humphrey Bogart

   For some reason, though, Warner’s decided in the late 40s to loan their top male star to Columbia, the smallest of the Major studios. It was run in those days by Harry Cohn, a man of epochal unpleasantness, whose massive funeral prompted the comment, “Give the people what they want and they’ll come out for it.”

   Under his reign, Columbia was Home to Frank Capra and the Three Stooges, with most of its product canted toward the latter end of the scale. Nonetheless, it must be admitted that when Cohn got hold of a good thing he milked it dry, and turned out not a few classics in the process.

   So when they got their hands on Humphrey Bogart for a single picture in 1946, Columbia beat their live horse for all it was worth, by hiring a corps of writers to steal all the best bits from Bogie’s biggest hits, and surrounding him with (mostly unknown) character actors, who somehow managed to look and act like a close approximation of the Warners Stock Company. The result was the Ultimate Bogart Picture.

DEAD RECKONING Humphrey Bogart

   Dead Reckoning is not particularly witty, not noticeably intelligent, and not at all original, yet it has a certain memorable quality all its own: It contains so many elements from so many (better) Bogart movies, that it somehow becomes the apotheosis of them all.

   The plot, as nearly as I can determine, involves the efforts of cynical, world-weary Rip Murdock (Bogie, of course) to clear the name of a dead army pal, a quest that takes him to one of those echt Film Noir cities populated by Dumb Cops, Cultured Gangsters, Sadistic Goons, Regular Joes, and a blonde, husky-voiced femme fatale played by Lizabeth Scott, a cross between Lauren Bacall and Eugene Pallette.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bL1X3s1R0cE

   All of the above, replete with beatings, gambling joints, frame-ups and shoot-outs, gets served up with more precision than originality, accompanied by a Chandleresque voice-over narration that strains its metaphors so hard you can hear their knuckles turning white. (Like that one.)

   Yet if you like Bogart Pictures, it’s hard not to enjoy Dead Reckoning, thanks mainly to John Cromwell, a director who deserves a digression all his own:

   Cromwell has even less of a reputation than Michael Curtiz, as Hollywood Directors go, and holds an even smaller claim to Personal Style, yet he directed films that somehow outshone the classics of better-known auteurs, perhaps because he never made a fetish of Originality.

DEAD RECKONING Humphrey Bogart

   Abe Lincoln in Illinois, Since You Went Away, Algiers, Made for Each Other, Son of Fury and The Enchanted Cottage all bear comparison with better-known films like Young Mr. Lincoln, The Best Years of Our Lives, and Casablanca, and his The Prisoner of Zenda (1937) and Caged are arguably the best Swashbuckler and Prison films Hollywood ever produced, even if they came too late in their cycles to be considered “Influential.”

   When Columbia turned to John Cromwell to make a film in the Classic Bogart Mold, they knew what they were doing. Cromwell approaches Dead Reckoning totally undaunted by the cliched script and predictable story line.

   He gives each tried-and-true scene the freshness that Hawks, Curtiz and John Houston brought to them a few movies back, and backs off at all the right moments to allow his star enough room for the well-known mannerisms, wise-cracks and reaction shots that Bogart buffs dote on.

   The result is a film that seems familiar the first time you see it, but none the less likable for that. I didn’t respect Dead Reckoning the morning after I saw it, but I suspect I’ll sleep with it again.

DAMSELS IN DISTRESS, PART TWO
by Walter Albert         


WITHOUT A TRACE Kate Nelligan

WITHOUT A TRACE. 20th Century Fox, 1983. Kate Nelligan, Judd Hirsch, David Dukes, Stockard Channing, Jacqueline Brookes, Keith McDermott. Screenwriter: Bess Gutcheon, based on her novel Still Missing. Director: Stanley R. Jaffe.

   One of the things that has always struck me in the classic “Damsels in Distress” (DID) films is the almost total absence of women other than the star. DIDs attract either psychos or sympas but never, or almost never, another woman.

   However, the revolution in social roles has not gone unnoticed by filmmakers, and a recent example of the DID film reflects some of the changes. Without a Trace, a film version of Bess Gutcheon’s Still Missing, based on the real-life story of the still unsolved disappearance of a six-year-old boy on his way to school, was promoted by our local critics as an entertaining, well-made film.

   In the face of overwhelming apathy, the film was held over for two or three desultory weeks and then shunted off to the Regency Square, where I saw it on a Friday night with a substantia1 family audience.

   Without a Trace stars British actress Kate Nelligan (who earned her credentials as a DID specialist in Eye of the Needle) and Judd Hirsch. playing the police lieutenant who’s put in charge of the investigation when Nelligan reports her son missing.

WITHOUT A TRACE Kate Nelligan

   As we were asked to believe that stewardess Day could be prompted into landing a plane [in Julia, reviewed here], so are we asked to believe that Nelligan is a university English professor who teaches a course in modern poetry in which she lectures to a sizable audience of over-age actors, in the kind of amphitheater that in my part of the university world is only used for science courses. (Does anyone in Hollywood have any idea what has happened to registration in literature courses in the past decade?)

   My wife pointed out to me that the quote attributed, during a lecture on Robert Frost, to Pope was actually from Emerson, but I found the slip (for which we should really hold the screenwriter responsible) engaging and a reminder that no film based on “real life” is real and that a British actress posing as a professor of American literature in an American university is, after all, only playing.

   (The British usually are much better at playing Germans than they are at playing Americans. The current PBS series, Private Schulz, presents a Germany completely inhabited by British accents. I’m looking forward to the episode in which Private Schulz, “disguised” as an Englishman, is set down in wartime England where he must play a German impersonating an Englishman. The dilemmas posed for the hapless English actor are mind-boggling.)

WITHOUT A TRACE Kate Nelligan

   In Without a Trace, Nelligan has a mother, a best friend, and some sympathetic women neighbors, but true to the demands of the DID film, she is abandoned by all of them, and at the moment of crisis she is alone, without even the male policeman apparently willing to listen to her.

   And it is at this moment, when everything seems hopeless and she’s almost ready to give up, that a deus ex machina is introduced to turn the situation around. And, since these are the eighties, the deus is a dea.

   In the Doris Day film, Doris hung in until the very end, and although the men are, at times, almost literally propping her up to get her out of the Perilous Predicament, the Star is always center stage.

   In this example of female New Cinema, the star is allowed to go off-stage during the climactic chase. This permits the Inferior Male (Hirsch) to redeem himself but also involves one of the most unlikely coincidences (“Daddy, let’s go to the park”) and extreme double-takes that I’ve suffered through since the days of the Monogram serials.

   Nelligan is attractive and probably intelligent, and Hirsch is fine, but this DID variation finally succumbs to the same weakness that plagued the romantic DID vehicles: implausibility. And the virtues of Without a Trace — the good cast, fine photography, and tragic but not unusual situation — only serve, finally, to expose rather conceal the threadbare plotting.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 7, No. 2, March-April 1983.


Previously on this blog:   DAMSELS IN DISTRESS, PART ONE (Julia, 1956).

Editorial Comment:   The author’s book and the movie are based on the true-life disappearance of Etan Patz, who went missing in New York City’s Lower Manhattan on 25th May 1979. On May 24, 2012, Police Commissioner Kelly announced that a man was in custody who had implicated himself in the Patz disappearance. According to a New York Times report from 25 May 2012, the police had at that time no physical evidence to corroborate the man’s confession.

Hi Steve,

   If possible, can you put out this inquiry.

   Being a fan of the Inspector Pel books by Mark Hebden (i.e., John Harris ), I was a little surprised to see in the Curtis Brown archive at Columbia University that a Barry Fox was also mentioned as writing as Hebden. The archive was unable to help with further information.

   I have never thought of it before but three of the Hebden books were published after the death of Harris. So it seems possible that another hand was involved in writing those last books. Then there are the Juliet Hebden books about Pel, supposedly by Harris’ daughter.

   I asked Allen Hubin and the others, but no one had heard of a Barry Fox in relation to the Hebden books. But then I discovered that there is an American ghost-writer by that name. His website is at http://taylor-fox.com/

   I doubt that he will reveal anything because of confidentiality agreements, but I wonder if anyone else knows anything ?

   I would be grateful if you can add this to your inquiries.

   Many thanks

               John Herrington

      The Inspector Clovis Pel series, by Mark Hebden —

Death Set to Music (n.) H. Hamilton 1979 [Theatre; France]
Pel and the Faceless Corpse (n.) H. Hamilton 1979 [France]
Pel Under Pressure (n.) H. Hamilton 1980 [France]

MARK HEBDEN Inspector Pel

Pel Is Puzzled (n.) H. Hamilton 1981 [France]
Pel and the Bombers (n.) H. Hamilton 1982 [France]
Pel and the Staghound (n.) H. Hamilton 1982 [France]
Pel and the Pirates (n.) H. Hamilton 1984 [France]
Pel and the Predators (n.) H. Hamilton 1984 [France]
Pel and the Prowler (n.) H. Hamilton 1985 [France]
Pel and the Paris Mob (n.) H. Hamilton 1986 [France]
Pel Among the Pueblos (n.) Constable 1987 [Mexico]
Pel and the Touch of Pitch (n.) Constable 1987 [France]
Pel and the Picture of Innocence (n.) Constable 1988 [France]

MARK HEBDEN Inspector Pel

Pel and the Party Spirit (n.) Constable 1989 [France]
Pel and the Missing Persons (n.) Constable 1990 [France]
Pel and the Promised Land (n.) Constable 1991 [France]

MARK HEBDEN Inspector Pel

Pel and the Sepulchre Job (n.) Constable 1992 [France]

MARK HEBDEN Inspector Pel



      The Inspector Clovis Pel series, continued by Juliet Hebden —

Pel Picks Up the Pieces (n.) Constable 1993 [France]
Pel and the Perfect Partner (n.) Constable 1994 [France]
Pel the Patriarch (n.) Constable 1996 [France]
Pel and the Precious Parcel (n.) Constable 1997 [France]
Pel Is Provoked (n.) Constable 1999 [France]

MARK HEBDEN Inspector Pel

Pel and the Death of the Detective (n.) Constable 2000 [France]
Pel and the Butchers’ Blades (2001)
Pel and the Nickname Game (2002)

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