RUSSELL ATWOOD – East of A. Ballantine, hardcover, 1999. Fawcett, paperback, 2000.
In structure and tone, Russell Atwood’s first novel is a wonderful homage to Chandler, relocating and updating his classic PI formula to lower Manhattan in the late 1990’s. Payton Sherwood, the first-person protagonist, is flawed and likable; the prose is good with occasional brilliant turns of phrase or metaphor that make you go back and read over (“he held his thumbs in fists again, so much pressure I thought they’d burst like plums”); and the “mystery” is well constructed, with more than a handful of diverse characters and plot threads coming together in the end.
The resolution is satisfactory but not altogether satisfying, and that’s probably the way good neo-noir should be. The best thing East of A has going for it, which has little to do with the genre, is the way it captures in palpable and loving detail a time and a place: the East Village at the turn of the last Millennium.
Given what East Village looks like these days, jumping into that time machine in itself makes the book worth the read, and East of A is a little less mannered or self-consciously literary in this mission than, say, Richard Price’s Lush Life.
My complaint about East of A is that the whole somehow felt a little less than the sum of its parts: the book was indubitably solid, but didn’t create in me the urgency to read just one more chapter the way that, say, Lawrence Block’s “Scudder” books (which also wonderful capture a NYC long gone) do so amazingly. (Perhaps that’s less a critique of Atwood and a compliment to Block’s understated genius.)
I’d rate East of A just a half-star lower than Richard Aleas’s “two book trilogy” (if you’ve read Little Girl Lost and Songs of Innocence — and you should — you know why I call it that), but it deserves its place on the shelf. I am just realizing there’s a second Payton Sherwood title out now,Losers Love Longer, from Hard Case Crime no less, and I will certainly read it.
(One closing note: I believe Atwood worked at one of my favorite long-gone NYC mystery bookshops, Black Orchid — I don’t think I ever met him, but I sure miss that shop.)
BRETT HALLIDAY – Fit to Kill. Dell D314; paperback reprint, October 1959. Cover art: Robert McGinnis. First published by Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1958. Also published in several other Dell editions.
All in all, this one was a disappointment. I think the problem was this. If you’re going to write a Mike Shayne mystery, make sure he shows up in the story before page 61.
Long, long before. The protagonist in the first sixty pages is Shayne’s good buddy, newspaper reporter Tim Rourke, who is OK as a good buddy, but as the hero of a rip-roaring PI novel, forget it. He is as bland as yesterday’s buttered toast. Even if he’s in some unnamed dictator-run Latin American country and a girl dressed only in négligée and slippers knocks on his door one evening and asks for his help in leaving the country.
Need I say that she is blonde, young, and one of the “nicest-looking girls Rourke had ever seen.” Of course he helps her, and of course complications arise, and of course Mike Shayne has to come to the rescue, but none of this gets any more interesting than when the girl knocks on the door in the first place.
The pieces are eventually all there, but nothing comes together as I remember Mike Shayne novels doing — none were ever special, but they were always solid, workmanlike pieces of PI fiction. This one seemed only half-baked, and now I know why.
This is the first of the ghost-written Mike Shayne novels. All of the earlier ones were written by Davis Dresser under the Brett Halliday pen name, but beginning with this one, Dresser began farming out the books to other writers. This one, for example, was really written by Robert Terrall, who went on to write quite a few of them, but in this, the first one he did, he either had only the essence of the characters or he was trying too hard to make this one different, what with the long delayed entrance of Mike Shayne, the leading character, or he should have been.
BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET Cinecittà / Lux Film Italian, 1958. Original title: I soliti ignoti. Vittorio Gassman, Renato Salvatore, Memmo Carotenuto, Claudia Cardinale, Tiberio Murgia, Marcello Mastroianni and Toto. Written by Agenore Incrocci and Furio Scarpelli. Directed by Mario Monicelli.
Drop what you’re doing and find a video of this. It’s funny, suspenseful, fluid, funny, and above all — Human.
Now what else can I say about it? Every plot summary from every reviewer says BDOMS is about a motley crew of small-time thieves trying to pull off The Big Caper, and I can only add that they don’t come any motlier than this: an old rogue, a no-talent prize-fighter, a dumb kid, a preening Sicilian and others less easy to define, all interacting as real people do while they stumble toward their predestined pie-in-the face.
The Caper in question is no bank vault or art treasure, merely the safe in the back room of a pawn shop, with an unexpected means of access, and the antics involved are all the more frantic because the stakes are so small. This film positively dances with the characters, as they plot, prepare, quarrel, fall in love, grow disenchanted, babysit, steal and just generally live lives of noisy desperation.
Along the way there are some funny pratfalls, well-timed comic bits and a hilarious car chase with amusement-park bumper cars, but there are also moments of real tenderness and surprising tragedy, as if some Real People found their way into a Caper Film and had to make the best of it. And when we finally get to the Caper itself, it comes off with all the tension of Topkapi or The Asphalt Jungle — and damn funny, too.
MRS. COLUMBO. NBC / Universal Television / Gambit Productions. 26 February 1979 to 9 March 1979 and 9 August 1979 to 6 September 6 1979; 5 episodes. Cast: Kate Mulgrew as Kate Columbo, Lili Haydn as Jenny Columbo, and Henry Jones as Josh Alden. Executive Producer: Richard Alan Simmons.
KATE LOVES A MYSTERY. NBC / Universal Television. 18 October 1979 to 6 December 1979; 8 episodes (one not aired). Cast: Kate Mulgrew as Kate Callahan, Lili Haydn as Jenny Callahan, Henry Jones as Josh Alden, and Don Stroud as Sgt. Mike Varrick. Executive Producer: Bill Driskill
* Credits above from Variety reviews and website “Totally Kate.”
Perhaps the most infamous TV mystery series ever made was MRS. COLUMBO. The story behind MRS. COLUMBO and KATE LOVES A MYSTERY is an epic farce of clueless decisions, confusion among the involved, and the ineptness of a troubled TV network that could not stop shooting itself in the foot.
COLUMBO time on NBC was ending. As for why, that depends on who you are asking. Let the confusion begin!
Variety in its review of MRS COLUMBO first episode “Word Games” (which can currently be viewed below) claimed Peter Falk had walked off the series to enjoy his growing theatrical career. But according to an article in American Film Institute (June 1979), Falk as well as COLUMBO creators Richard Levinson and William Link claim all were still interested in continuing the series. One point of view claimed NBC and Universal had grown weary of Falk’s demands and the rising costs of the series. Another view was NBC no longer wanted the series. Note, NBC was now run by the same TV network executive that had cancelled HARRY O before its time.
It was the 1970s, a decade when the name Fred Silverman meant genius TV programmer. Silverman had run CBS while it was number one in the ratings. He left CBS for ABC and quickly made the network that had been the laughing stock of television since the DuMont network left the air and made ABC number one in the ratings. NBC hired Silverman in 1978 with hopes Freddie could go three for three.
From all accounts it was Silverman’s idea to do a TV series featuring Lt. Columbo’s never seen wife. The AFI article linked above goes into great detail about what was happening in pre-production and the involvement of Link, Levinson, and Peter Fischer (the three who would end up creating MURDER SHE WROTE in 1984). A script was written, but the problem was who would play Mrs. Columbo.
Silverman had turned ABC around by aiming its programs at the younger audience. So it was no surprise he preferred a younger actress. Silverman’s choices varied from Carol Wayne to Brenda Vaccaro. Vaccaro would have been my choice but she turned the role down and ended up doing DEAR DETECTIVE (CBS, 1979). As for Levinson, Link and Fischer, they wanted a woman Peter Falk’s age, mid-forties to fifties and ethic looking such as Maureen Stapleton or Zohra Lampert. Ugh.
And that is why the series was doomed. Silverman never understood the magic of Mrs. Columbo was: she could exist in whatever form the viewer wanted.
The network ordered a six-hour five-episode long mini-series pilot from Universal, the studio that produced COLUMBO. NBC would air the mini-series pilot during the 1978-79 mid-season then decide if it wanted to add MRS. COLUMBO as a weekly series for the fall 1979-80 season.
The inverted mystery (where we know the killer and the drama is watching the detective catch the killer) is one of the hardest forms of television drama to write. Even COLUMBO run by Levinson and Link had scripts problems.
NBC and Fred Silverman continued to show a lack of understanding of the creative process and quickly drove the people behind the success of COLUMBO off the project. The network would eventually turn over the production to Richard Alan Simmons who produced the final season of COLUMBO on NBC (1978) and would executive produce COLUMBO return to TV on ABC in 1989.
The premise was not a bad one – a young mother tries to raise her child while her cop husband is always off screen. To fill her time she writes for a local throwaway newspaper and solves murders. But for the wife of our hero Lt. Columbo this was a terrible idea. The addition of the daughter ruined our view of the fun-loving marriage between two independent adults with their own lives but still devoted to the other.
Not surprisingly the audience was curious and eager to see the mysterious wife of its favorite detective. The two-hour episode “Word Games” aired February 26,1979 on NBC Monday Night Movies and did well with a 34 share opposite ABC’s HOW THE WEST WAS WON (26 share) and CBS lineup of MASH (38 share), WKRP IN CINNANTI (33) and LOU GRANT (29).
Robert Culp played a brilliant defense lawyer with a problem. He doesn’t love his wife, and she loves him too much. A divorce would destroy her, so he asks a killer he saved from a murder charge to kill his wife.
And don’t think the plot can’t get worse. Mrs. Columbo had installed a new intercom system that picks up the intercom of an unknown neighbor (guess who). As Mrs. Columbo listens into her neighbors’ private conversations, she hears the lawyer and killer discuss the wife’s murder.
All of the episodes of the mini-series are currently on YouTube minus opening themes and closing credits. “Word Games” is shown in two parts.
Much of the audience was not pleased. This was not the Mrs. Columbo they knew and loved. Beyond the fans feelings of disappointment and betrayal was the fact the show was not very good.
“Murder is a Parlor Game” aired March 1, 1979 in its regular timeslot of Thursday at 10pm to a rating share of 27 opposite of ABC’s FAMILY 33 share and CBS’ BARNABY JONES 31 share. While “Word Games” finished 18th in the ratings that week, “Murder is a Parlor Game” was 45th.
The audience had tried and rejected MRS. COLUMBO. The reported refusal of Peter Falk to get involved even in a guest appearance made it apparent one would hope to even NBC that the series link to COLUMBO was a mistake.
And now the farce truly began. The mini-series pilot had ended. It was unlikely MRS. COLUMBO would be picked up for the fall season. In fact, according to the AFI article above, on March 8th NBC announced it had “dropped” MRS. COLUMBO. Did that mean the show was cancelled or at least in the terms of the day “not renewed”?
But NBC was desperate for programs to fill its upcoming fall 1979-80 Schedule. Silverman decided to add KATE COLUMBO to the fall schedule in the same Thursday at 10pm time slot. There it would go up against ABC’s 20/20 and CBS’ BARNABY JONES.
NBC decided to rerun MRS. COLUMBO in August and September. Why NBC reminded everyone of the mini-series hated by so many is probably the same reason NBC was in such ratings trouble.
NBC continued down it epic path of self-destruction. This time thanks to its bungling promotional department who couldn’t decide on the series title and sent out promotional materials using the different titles (KATE COLUMBO or KATE THE DETECTIVE) and character’s name (Kate Columbo) for KATE LOVES A MYSTERY with character Kate Callahan. The promos can be seen here.
By now the press was having too much fun with NBC bumbling behavior to not add public ridicule to the situation. And NBC press department helped. Note the name differences on promotional material continued into the run of KATE LOVES A MYSTERY.
Without on air titles and credits it is difficult to confirm what changes, if any, were made in the production staff. But changes were made to the series. The most important was the change made in the mystery format as KATE LOVES A MYSTERY abandoned the inverted mystery used in COLUMBO and MRS. COLUMBO for the average action TV whodunit format.
Kate divorced someone whose name is never mentioned and called herself by her maiden name Callahan. She and Kate Columbo shared the same young daughter and the same boss who now ran a daily newspaper Valley Advocate. The change that best showed how much the creative side tried to flush COLUMBO out of KATE LOVES A MYSTERY was the addition of Sgt. Mike Varrick (Don Stroud) as Kate’s police contact and potential boyfriend.
The changes in the opening themes reflected the different styles of the two series – Kate Columbo as Mom and amateur detective in MRS COLUMBO versus Kate Callahan as Mom and serious reporter in action mystery KATE LOVES A MYSTERY.
From MRS. COLUMBO episode “A Puzzle For Prophets”
From KATE LOVES A MYSTERY episode “Feelings Can Be Murder”
All of the KATE LOVES A MYSTERY are currently available to watch on YouTube minus its openings and closing credits.
“Ladies of the Afternoon” was the first episode of the new weekly series with all the different titles and aired 10/18/79 opposite of ABC 20/20 and CBS Barnaby Jones.
Fearless reporter Kate tries to uncover who is behind the group of housewives turned hookers and how it was connected to the murder of a women Kate knew from the PTA. How far away from COLUMBO is this show? How about a long pointless car chase with Kate and the cops to end the episode?
Deservedly, KATE LOVES A MYSTERY quickly made itself home in the bottom ten of the ratings. In December (Broadcasting, 10 December 1979) NBC cancelled KATE LOVES A MYSTERY.
Today there are some COLUMBO fans still in denial who claim Lt. Columbo’s wife has never been seen, that the series featured a woman married to another Lt. Columbo.
But check out the NBC ads promoting the first three episodes of the mini-series pilot that left no doubt this was the Mrs. Columbo and wife of the character played by Peter Falk.
However, despite NBC’s mishandling of the two series and popular character Columbo, we can claim the mini-series pilot failed and ended MRS. COLUMBO. While we can’t explain why Kate Callahan and Kate Columbo shared the same daughter and home we can see the intent of those producing KATE LOVES A MYSTERY (except for NBC which wanted it both ways) was to remove all COLUMBO connections from KATE LOVES A MYSTERY including Mrs. Columbo.
Three episodes from the mini-series MRS. COLUMBO are available on DVD, “Murder Is A Parlor Game” is on COLUMBO COMPLETE THIRD SEASON, “Riddle For Puppets” is on COLUMBO COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON and “Cavier With Everything” is on COLUMBO COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON.
FALLGUY. Fairway International Pictures, 1962. Ed Dugan, George Andre, Louis Gartner, Don Alderette, Madeline Frances. Director: Donn Harling.
Of the five names I’ve listed in the credits above, only one has more than one other credit to his or her name on IMDb, and that’s George Andre (aka George Mitchell), and I’ll bet you haven’t heard of him, either. Louis Gartner was in one other movie; for each of the others, it was one and done.
Ed Dugan plays Sonny Martin, a young hotrodder who witnesses the driver of one car ahead of him on the road being shot by someone in another car. The first car goes over an embankment, Sonny goes down to help, but the wounded man pulls a gun on him and orders him to drive to a doctor’s house.
But it turns out that the doctor is in with the gang that tried to rub out the wounded man, who ends up dead after a struggle with the doctor. The doctor and the rest of the gang try to frame the kid, and the frame might even have worked, since the chief of police is also one of the gang.
The kid escapes — lots of good action scenes in this movie — and makes his way back to the doctor’s house, where he meets the doctor’s daughter (Madeline Frances) who doesn’t know her father is hooked up with the gang. Both the police and the gang are hot on Sonny’s trail. Does he have any way out?
As I said the action scenes are good, the music is jazzy (but way too loud), the camera work better than average, but the dialogue is bad and the acting on the part of most of the participants is worse.
What’s funny, though, is that the whole is far better than the sum of its parts. I can’t figure out why I kept watching, but I did, and I do have many other movies I could have been watching instead.
JOHN MERSEREAU – Murder Loves Company. Lippincott, hardcover, 1940. Rue Morgue Press, softcover, 2004.
James Yeats Biddle, professor of horticulture, University of California at Berkeley, accompanied by Kay Ritchie, not a girl reporter but a newspaper woman, is on his way to give a rather dull speech, although he doesn’t think it will be so, on “The Flora of the Golden Gate International Exposition.”
They encounter death on the San Francisco Bay Bridge as a careering car narrowly misses them and then crashes into the bridge, causing the bodies of two Japanese men to be thrown from the car. One of the Japanese had already been dead before the accident, but the other dies as a result of the inhalation of cyanide gas rather than the crash.
If this information had not come to light, a naive reader might think it was all Biddle’s fault. After all, he made an illegal U-turn on the bridge and his attention to his driving was such that he could see Miss Ritchie’s eyes shining up at him, her lips slightly parted. Either she was in his lap facing him or he had his head turned at a rather uncomfortable angle. Whichever, it was certainly failure to pay full time and attention to driving.
The police are convinced that there was only one murder victim and that his murderer died in the crash. Professor Biddle himself is not very curious about the murder, or murders, even though he discovers — and, of course, keeps to himself — a rubber band in the crashed car that probably was attached to the choke to keep the car moving. It is not until he discovers that someone had been messing about with the olive trees he had had transplanted on Treasure Island for the San Francisco Exposition that he becomes involved in the case.
The novel is not well clued and the murder motive seems far-fetched. Biddle, however, is an engaging character and would have been a great deal more engaging if half the novel did not dwell on the joys and sorrows brought about by his having fallen in love at first sight with Kay Ritchie.
Among his other quirks are a distaste for mystery novels, even though he had read some because of his great admiration for Woodrow Wilson, whose favorite relaxation was reading mysteries, and an abhorrence of split infinitives, that hobgoblin of small minds. Kay splits infinitives invariably in her writings, but for Biddle these have a peculiar charm. Indeed, at one point this habit saves his life.
— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 9, No. 4, July-August 1987.
Bio-Bibliographic Notes: John Mersereau (1898-1989) was the author of one other bone fida detective novel, that being The Corpse Comes Ashore (Lippincott, 1941), but according to Hubin, Professor Biddle is not in it. Mersereau wrote one other novel that is included in Hubin, but that only marginally: The Whispering Canyon (Clode, 1926), which was made into a silent film of the same title.
Says the AFI page for the latter: “Returning from the war to his father’s California sawmill, Bob Cameron takes up with Hinky Dink, a cocky Englishman and man of the road. Ignoring a ‘no trespassing’ sign on Cameron’s property, Hinky is caught in a steel trap; Cameron, seeking aid, is threatened by Eben Beauregard, an old southerner, but the appearance of Antonia (Tony) Lee, Bob’s childhood friend, quells his temper. Bob learns that Lew Selby, an unscrupulous timber baron, is trying to buy Tony’s land and that his father has been murdered. At the suggestion of Hinky (who has innocently fallen asleep on the riverbank), Bob and Tony pool their interests against Selby; he attempts to prevent their passage through land belonging to Medbrook, an eccentric; and Gonzales, Selby’s henchman, kidnaps Tony. Medbrook blows up the dam, and Selby tries to buy out the couple; but the plot is thwarted by the timely intervention of Hinky Dink.”
Much more on the author himself, also the writer of a large number of pulp stories, can be found on the Rue Morgue Press website. Briefly, from the online FictionMags Index: “Born in Manistique, Michigan; family moved to California in 1907; lived variously in California until enlisting in the Navy in 1941; edited a navy recruitment magazine in Washington D.C. after the war; moved to Santa Barbara, then to Mexico, and finally to Forsythe, Missouri, where he died; pulp writer, novelist and screenwriter.”
THE RACKETEER. Pathé Exchange, 1929. Robert Armstrong, Carol Lombard (sic), Roland Drew, Paul Hurst, Kit Guard, Al Hill, Hedda Hopper, Jeanette Loff. Story: Paul Gangelin, with dialogue by A. A. Kline. Director: Howard Higgin.
The Racketeer was one of the earliest films of the sound era, and it shows. The players orate rather than speak in normal tones — most of them, that is, not all of them — and use their hands and excessive gestures to make sure the audience knows what their characters are thinking and doing.
And yet the story itself is actually quite good, filled with nuances and little bits of action, if not full scenes, that mesh together in quite a fascinating, if not always satisfying, fashion. One cannot blame the actors. They do what the director wants them to do, and the director…
Well, I’m no expert, but I have to assume that this early in the game he had to rely on two things: his instincts, left over from the silent era, and the limitations of the equipment he was forced by necessity to use.
If you can understand and live with those limitations, this is an enjoyable film. Robert Armstrong is the racketeer of the title, a ruthless fellow when he has to be, but the screenwriter makes sure we know from the beginning that he also has a pragmatic, practical side. He turns one of his underlings who has betrayed him over the police, for example, instead of the usual long ride to nowhere.
And he slips a vagrant violinist on the street fifty dollars rather than let a cop run him in. And this is the incident that begins the story itself. The vagrant has a girl friend (Carol Lombard), and as chance would have it, she needs a helping hand from this very same gangster to keep from being caught after cheating at poker at a charity function.
Which begins a love triangle of sorts, not overtly per se, but a quiet, tacit one, one that (as expected) boils over at the end. Robert Armstrong is his usual professional self, but I’m afraid that at the time I might not have predicted much of a future in talkies for his leading co-star, already a veteran of some 40 or so silent films, but she learned, and how.
DIXIE RAY HOLLYWOOD STAR Coventry Productions, 1983. Also released in an R-rated version by Lima Productions as It’s Called Murder, Baby. John Leslie, Lisa de Leeuw, Juliet Anderson, Veronica Hart, Kelly Nicholls, Chris Warfield, Steve Marlow. Guest appearances: Cameron Mitchell and Tom Reece. Screenplay: Dean Rogers. Director: Anhony Spinelli.
A man walks up a narrow flight of stairs in an older building. He walks down a long corridor and enters an office. We see shadows against a cloudy window, a man and a woman. There is shouting and a shot rings out.
Cut to the door. Nick Popolopolis Private Investigations is painted on the door. Inside in the shadow behind his desk is the man (John Leslie) we saw earlier. He is seen only in the shadows of the blinds on the window and the cigarette he lights. Two more men enter and he turns on the lights.
They are the Lieutenant, plain clothes cop Cameron Mitchell and his partner Tom Reece. The dialogue establishes it is the 1940‘s. Guadalcanal has just fallen, they tell Nick, who Mitchell calls The Greek. Nick has other problems. the Lt. picks up Nick’s gun and smells the barrel. He passes it to Reece who does the same. “You been playing with it?” Mitchell asks.
Nick nods toward a dark corner and for the first time we and Mitchell and Reece see the body of a woman.
This could be almost any noirish private eye tale set in the forties, it has the atmosphere, the look, even the music is right.
It’s not just any noir tale of a cynical private eye. John Leslie is a major adult film star of the era, and this film is hard core pornography. Not R, not NR, not NC17. Dixie Ray Hollywood Star is triple XXX hard core porn.
It is also a surprisingly effective noirish private eye tale told in flashback by a wisecracking world-weary private eye with a streak of conscience that just won’t let him turn his back on murder.
The corpse is Adrian (Juliet Anderson) who showed up earlier in the day at Nick’s office. Her friend and employer as well as lesbian lover is one-time big movie star Dixie Ray (Lisa de Leeuw, a busty star with flame red hair), who married and lives now at a beach side mansion with her grown daughter.
Leslie’s Nick is the usual eye of the era, but with a touch of something more. He’s randy and seduces every woman he meets, but he has half a heart and soul. He wishes he was fighting the war and not playing at private eye. He wishes he was in the furniture business and not a detective. Of course he’s not so guilty he doesn’t sleep with his secretary Sherry (Veronica Hart) who is leaving him to be closer to her husband’s army camp.
Dixie Ray’s husband, Charles Barkley (Chris Warfield) owed money and paid off with nude pictures of his wife. She got them back with the help of illegal casino owner Tony LaMarr (Steve Marlow), but now someone still has prints they are blackmailing her for. She doesn’t have the money and she wants the pictures back.
Nick eventually unravels the truth, but he knows it is futile. This is Hollywood, and money will buy a friendly verdict and murder will go unpunished.
Lieutenant: Relax Nick, you aren’t going to save the world.
Nick: Somebody has to. Maybe its me. Nobody else gives a damn.
Lieutenant: You weren’t listening, Nick. Some of us do.
Nick: Yeah, I know.
The Lieutenant and his partner leave to make their arrest, and Nick stays behind to wait for the meat wagon to carry away Anderson’s body.
Nick to Reece: Say, you say we took Guadalcanal?
Nick: Wish I was with them.
Reece: Me too. [pause] See ya around, Nick. See ya at the movies.
Yes, this is porn, it is explicit every other scene hard core porn. But it is also a good little mystery. A solid little noir outing with John Leslie giving a bravura performance as Nick Popodopolis. The sets and the few exteriors and classic cars are all perfect, the clothes right, and anachronisms are studiously avoided.
No one had to put this much effort into this film. A string of barely cogent scenes and the usual bad acting and worse dialogue would have been enough. Porn chic was dead and video was about to deteriorate what originality the genre had earlier.
But they did make this. And it is far better than what it is. You could easily cut the sex scenes and have a short but very good little noir private eye outing. No matter what else you come away with here you will be impressed with Leslie as Popodopolis.
He was always one of the genre’s better actors, but here he is so much more. He may not be Bogart or Dick Powell, but I’ve seen much worse eyes in legitimate films, and in Nick Popodopolis he creates a very real private eye who wouldn’t have to be embarrassed to be in the company of Sam Spade, Philip Malowe, or Mike Hammer.
“ONCE UPON A TIME.” An episode of The Twilight Zone. 15 December 1961 (Season 3, Episode 13; 78th of 156. Buster Keaton, Stanley Adams, James Flavin, Jesse White, Gil Lamb. Writers: Richard Matheson, Rod Serling. Director: Norman Z. McLeod.
Thirty-seven years after filming Sherlock, Jr. [reviewed here ], Buster Keaton paid a visit to The Twilight Zone. He plays a curmudgeonly individual, Woodrow Mulligan by name, dissatisfied with the era he’s living in, the year 1890. A store sign says (heavens to Betsy!) that steak is 17 cents a pound, a newspaper headline announces the government has only an 85 million dollar surplus, and street traffic is allowed to proceed at an insane eight miles per hour, causing Woodrow to wind up in a horse trough.
But quite by accident Woodrow discovers a way to escape this purgatory. Series host Rod Serling’s setup is unusually terse (for him):
“Mr. Mulligan, a rather dour critic of his times, is shortly to discover the import of that old phrase, ‘Out of the frying pan, into the fire,’ said fire burning brightly at all times in The Twilight Zone.”
As luck would have it, Woodrow works for an inventor, and his latest invention, again as luck would have it, is a Time Helmet. And guess who, as luck would have it, activates the helmet and it’s off to 1961.
This first segment of the show is done silent film-style, with title cards and undercranked camera action. When Woodrow arrives in the future, however, blaring sounds of heavy traffic greet him.
It isn’t long before Woodrow encounters Rollo (Stanley Adams), a guy who is definitely on the make. When he finally realizes that Woodrow and the Time Helmet are for real, Rollo (also “a rather dour critic of his times”) makes plans of his own, plans which involve the helmet—but not Woodrow.
The final segment of the show takes us back to 1890 and the silent era. As the story winds down, we see a biter get bit — “the best-laid plans” and all that.
In his closing remarks, Rod Serling sums it up:
“‘To each his own’ — so goes another old phrase to which Mr. Woodrow Mulligan would heartily subscribe, for he has learned, definitely the hard way, that there is much wisdom in a third old phrase which goes as follows: ‘Stay in your own backyard.’ To which it might be added, ‘and if possible, assist others to stay in theirs’ — via, of course, The Twilight Zone.”
With all that comedic talent available to it, this episode could have been a lot better, but it does have its moments. Just seeing Buster, at the time sixty-six, very late in his career makes “Once Upon a Time” worth at least one viewing.
CALL ME ISHMAEL!
Windy City Pulp Convention Report, 2015
by Walker Martin
MOBY DICK is one on my favorite novels and it’s fitting that I start off my report concerning my bizarre and insane adventures by quoting the beginning of this adventurous novel. Takes a lot of nerve but nobody ever said that collectors lack nerve, that’s for sure! As I’ve mentioned in the past reports, a gang of the usual collectors always rent a large van for the convention. Five of us went this time and the cargo space was filled going out and coming back. One of these days there will not be room for someone on the return trip.
I’ve known these fellow collectors for many years and between us, we have over 250 years of collecting experience. We call the big white van, “The Great White Whale”, but I also think we are searching for the white whale or that Holy Grail of pulp collecting. I’ve been attending these pulp shows for over 40 years and I hope to make it to the 50 year mark. I really believe the pulp conventions are the reason I have accumulated thousands of books and pulps.
I get excited each year and despite being a collector for 60 years, I’m always looking for new things to add to my book, pulp, and art collection. This year I had 6 goals:
1–Upgrade my 99 issue set of STARTLING STORIES. I’ve had a complete set since the 1950’s, but I decided to try for fine condition.
2–Get an issue of HUTCHINSON’S ADVENTURE STORY MAGAZINE. This British pulp is so rare that I’ve never had an issue.
3–Finally obtain a nice piece of art by Richard Powers. I’ve been looking for decades but I’ve never found the right piece.
4–Get an Emsh cover. Again, I’ve been looking for long time. (I did. Look to the right: ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION, December 1958)
5–Lee Brown Coye has been a long time favorite but I’ve never found one of his better pieces of art.
6-And finally, trade off a DANGER TRAILS illustration by John Fleming Gould for some other pulp art. His son says it’s the first of the 15,000 illustrations that Gould did.
I consider the above to be an ambitious set of goals but I managed to complete all six at Windy City. This is proof, once again, of just how important it is to attend the pulp conventions. If I hadn’t gone to Chicago, I’d still be sitting here thinking about completing these six projects. There was a massive amount of material available at the convention. 150 dealer’s tables and around 500 attendees, all in a large room. Many of the tables had boxes and smaller tables set up filled full of additional books and pulps. For a book and fiction magazine collector, an amazing sight to see.
In fact, many collectors eat a large breakfast because they know they will not be able to leave the dealer’s room for lunch. I mean, who can think of eating in a big room full of books and magazines? Forget sex, drinking, dope, gambling, and all the other vices! We are collectors with a capital C and this is Windy City! All that other stuff can wait until the convention is finished.
In addition to books and pulps, there also is an emphasis on artwork from the pulps, slicks, digests, men’s adventure magazines, and paperbacks. I counted several dealers with art and I managed to buy quite a few pieces for my collection. In addition to the Emsh, Powers, and Coye pieces mentioned above, I also obtained three by Edd Cartier, a DIME MYSTERY double page spread, a WESTERN STORY illustration, and other items.
The theme of the show was H.P. Lovecraft’s 125th birthday and the art exhibit had several stunning pieces showing Lovecraft themed art. In addition the film festival showed nine films chosen by Ed Hulse that were based on Lovecraft’s fiction. I’ve seen most of them and besides, I couldn’t drag myself away from the dealer’s room. But I did see CALL OF CTHULHU the night before leaving for the convention and it was excellent. The Old Gentleman would have been proud to see such tributes. And The Great God Cthulhu must of been proud also, since he didn’t show up and destroy his worshipers.
I’ve been lucky on the art described above, but I did make two stupid mistakes, which enabled other collectors to swoop in and steal art from me. Of course both times I was spending too much time gawking at the great art, so I have no one to blame but myself. One showed a cover from SEA STORIES depicting a scene from a slave ship and the other was a nice painting by Beresford Egan. Since I managed to buy four other pieces by Egan, I doubt anyone will have any sympathy for my tale of woe. But as all collectors know, we always cry and whine about the one that got away.
What else did I buy? I’ve been a long time admirer of MANHUNT, the best of the hardboiled crime fiction digests and I saw one table with over a hundred of the MANHUNT copy cats that sprung up like weeds in the 1950’s. Titles like TWO-FISTED, OFF BEAT, TWISTED, KILLERS, SURE FIRE, and WEB TERROR. The stories can’t compare to MANHUNT but the covers are unbelievable. They are so risqué and objectionable, that many collectors refuse to collect them. I, of course, love them.
I was there for all four days and had a great time. Here are some glimpses of what I did:
I met Sai, who runs one of the very best pulp blogs at http://pulpflakes.blogspot.com. He took many photos, some of which are shown in this report. Talked to Rich Oberg and his wife about men’s adventure magazine art. Met Pete Poplaski, artist and expert on Zorro; saw a complete set of DOC SAVAGE; looked at the complete set of WEIRD TALES on view at John Gunnison’s table; talked with Bob Weinberg who I’ve known since the late 1960’s; obtained the new BLOOD ‘n’ THUNDER, another record breaking triple issue; and talked to Michelle Nolan about her forthcoming book on the sport pulps.
The two auctions were well attended, and most of the pulps were from the Jerry Weist estate. There were many lots of dime novels, western, romance, and sport pulps. But also many lots offering such rare titles as early issues of ALL STORY and ARGOSY. By early, I mean over 100 years old! There also was a complete set of STARTLING STORIES in several lots. I had bought a set in the dealer’s room but that didn’t stop me from bidding on another set. Lucky I didn’t win because then I would have three sets. Two sets should keep me busy comparing issues in order to pick the better condition. But you can never have too many pulps…
The Windy City program book was another enormous collection edited by Tom Roberts. Over 200 pages celebrating Lovecraft! Next year will celebrate science fiction, so I have to start saving so I can buy more duplicate sets of STARTLING, etc.
Fellow collectors, start preparing for the next pulp convention. Pulpfest will be held August 13-16. 2015 in Columbus, Ohio. The website is pulpfest.com and believe me it’s a convention that is a must. I ought to know. I’ve been attending them since 1972!
Nick Certo and me. I’m the one on the left. (Thanks to Phyllis Weinberg, who took the photo.)