TEN DAYS IN PARIS. Columbia Pictures, UK, 1939; US, 1940. Also released as Missing Ten Days and Spy in the Pantry. Rex Harrison, Kaaren Verne, C. V. France, Joan Marion, Leo Genn, John Abbot, Andre Morell, Robert Rendel, Antony Holles. Screenplay by John Meehan Jr. and James Curtis, based on the novel The Disappearance of Roger Tremayne by Bruce Graeme. Directed by Tim Whelan.
Ten Days in Paris is a comedy spy thriller with an excellent pedigree. To begin with, it stars Rex Harrison with support work from Leo Genn, John Abbott, Andre Morell, and the beautiful Kaaren Verne, and it is directed by Tim Whelan (Q Planes, aka Clouds Over Europe).
Add to that a jaunty and exciting score by Miklos Rozsa and the fact it is based on a novel by Bruce Graeme (creator of a gentleman thief named Blackshirt very popular in the 1920s and 30s, and the author of many more non-series works), plus a witty and rapidly paced script, and you have a fine sub Hitchcockian romp.
Harrison is a young Englishman, Robert Stephens, walking down the street on a Paris evening when a shot rings out, and he falls to the ground. Luckily the wound is superficial, but when he wakes up the last thing he recalls is a plane crash as he was flying over from London, and a passenger he offered a lift whose name he didn’t know.
Being a bit of a playboy, neither his father or the French police believe his story that the last ten days are a total blank, especially because there is a note in his pocket obviously from a woman signed D. As soon as he is out of the hospital he finds himself approached by Andre (John Abbot) who seems to know him and who orders him to return to Madame D. She turns out to be the beautiful Kaaren Verne, and her chauffer/butler Barnes.
She lives outside of Paris with her father, a retired general, and her precocious son whom only Barnes can handle, and is engaged to marry a Major in the French army (Andre Morrell) who is planning secret fortifications with her father for the war that is almost certain to come (ironic in retrospect considering the fate of the Maginot Line).
The boy’s nanny, Denise (Joan Marion), is another spy planted by spy master Lanson (Leo Genn), and she, and every other woman in the house are enamored of the suave Barnes (playing on Harrison’s reputation as a lady’s man even then).
Soon enough Barnes/Stephens is recognized and the race is on, as Genn plans to sabotage a supply train headed to the underground facility with a time bomb setting off the ammunition aboard and destroying the fortifications. Harrison and Verne race to stop the train, quipping all the way, she interrogating him about all his rumored affairs as Barnes, as he pleads amnesia, and both duck bullets from the French outposts they run through as time runs out.
The film is dated, and the model work is obvious, but neither the cast nor the script falter, and if one or two things are left hanging loose, you really aren’t supposed to be that anal about the bubbles in champagne so long as it isn’t flat, and this isn’t. Highlights include Harrison playing William Tell with an automatic to interrogate a spy, a picnic that ends with a soaked and half-naked Harrison and Verne literally treed by a pack of dogs, the interplay between Verne and Harrison, and that final race to stop the train.
Ten Days in Paris is a dessert wine, not a fine vintage, but a pleasant brut, bubbly, witty, and ideal for a pleasant diversion. It doesn’t rank with Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes or Carol Reed’s Night Train to Munich, but it has its own charms and displays them with elan.
I bought this on the basis of having liked Bass’s quartet of books back in the mid-to-late ’80s about a cop named Benny Freedman. Bad move. In this new series, Vinnie Altobelli is a San Bernardino cop until a heart attack drops him in his tracks, and off the force.
He’s moping around, afraid to do anything, when a gangster offers to hire him to find out who’s trying to kill him. For a cool million. So off Vinnie goes to the family manse with the mobster, and finds himself in the middle of an Italian family straight out of The Godfather.
I never got into this one. I lost patience early with Vinnie’s pill-popping and wimping about his heart, and there was nothing in the plot, characterization, or writing to keep me involved. I didn’t believe in the people, I didn’t believe the story, and frankly, Scarlett, I didn’t give a damn.
— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #6, March 1993.
Bibliographic Note: This book was followed by one additional outing for Vinnie Altobelli, The Broken-Hearted Detective (Pocket, 1994).
NICHOLAS BLAKE – End of Chapter. Harper & Brothers, 1957. Perennial Library, paperback, 1977, 1988. First published in the UK by Collins Crime Club, hardcover, 1957.
The London publishing firm of Wenham & Geraldine has always been a conservative one, but now they are about to become embroiled in a scandal — a libel suit that could cost them both money and reputation. No one can prevent the suit from being filed, but something must be done to ensure that the unfortunate circumstances that prompted it will never happen again.
Nigel Strangeways is summoned by the firm’s partners, who explain the problem of the memoirs of General Richard Thoresby: When the general’s manuscript was received, it contained passages that libeled Thoresby’s rival, Major General Sir Charles Blair-Chatterley. After some argument, the author agreed to delete them, and did so. However, before the manuscript was delivered to the printer,someone reinstated the passages. The book has been withdrawn, but the damage has already been done. Strangeways agrees to investigate, under the guise that he has been hired by the firm to do some specialized reading.
The cast of characters Strangeways encounters includes Stephen Protheroe, the author of one great poem, who has withdrawn into the obscurity of his editorial office for twenty-five years; Millicent Miles, writer of torrid romances, who is currently using the office next to Stephen’s to write her steamy memoirs; Herbert Bates, the production manager, who has been forced into early retirement after many years with the firm; General Thoresby himself, and Cyprian Gleed,the ne’er-do-well son of Miss Miles.
Any of these people — plus a number of less important employees — had the opportunity and motive to alter the proofs. But by the time Strangeways has delved deeper into the situation, murder has been done, and the motive turns out to be more complex than any he has imagined.
This is a well-plotted novel and a good depiction of the publishing world, but it moves very slowly, and Nigel Strangeways fails to come alive in contrast to the other characters — some of whom are extremely memorable. Blake has an irritating habit of making cryptic forecasts such as “He could not know that one of the questions he had asked this morning would lead directly to a murder.” Without these, perhaps the suspense would be greater; as it is, End of Chapter contains few surprises.
Strangeways’s other investigations include The Smiler with the Knife (1939); The Corpse in the Snowman(1941); Minute for Murder (1947), which Barzun and Taylor term Blake’s “masterpiece”; and The Worm of Death (1961). The best of Blake’s non-series crime novels is probablyA Penknife in My Heart (1959).
CHARLES EINSTEIN – The Bloody Spur. Dell 1st Edition #5, paperback original, 1953. Black Curtain Press, softcover, 2013.
WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS. RKO, 1956. Dana Andrews, Rhonda Fleming, George Sanders, Howard Duff, Thomas Mitchell, Sally Forrest, Ida Lupino, James Craig, Vincent Price, John Drew Barrymore. Robert Warwick. Screenplay by Casey Robinson, based on the novel The Bloody Spur by Charles Einstein. Directed by the one & only Fritz Lang.
Okay. At the time of this writing, and from all I can tell, this is the earliest film to be based on a paperback original. I’m open to other suggestions.
Einstein’s book is what I call a novel-novel: a diverse cast of characters interacting in a dramatic but realistic situation, having affairs, changing jobs, getting drunk, palling around, quarreling and otherwise getting some drama into their day-to-day lives.
In this case the impetus is the death of the second-in-command at the Kyne Publishing empire (the book opens, in fact, at his funeral) and the hustling of high-ranking underlings to get promoted to his place. As a sub-plot, there is a serial killer terrorizing New York and the race to the near-top quickly devolves into a competition to be the first with the scoop on the identity of the killer, an undertaking that turns into detective work, seduction, betrayal, and more drinking — these newsmen all act like they think they’re in a Fredric Brown story.
Einstein does a capable job of cutting between them, though: a crusty old newspaper editor, an ambitious chief of wire services, a lascivious female columnist and a philandering ad man, punctuating the story with some catchy lower-level lives: a smart crime reporter, another not-so-smart reporter, cops, secretaries… and the killer himself.
I said “capable” not “brilliant.” The Blood Spur will keep you reading, but it’s not the sort of thing one remembers for long or with a great deal of affection: passable but not much more. Surprising then that the film made from it is (to use a hack’s pet phrase) so gripping and suspenseful.
Well, maybe not all that surprising. Director Fritz Lang mastered the Movies in the 1920s, adapted to social commentary in the 30s, moved to international intrigue and film noir in the 40s, and the 50s found him still attuned to the times, with an edgy rock-and-roll tempo that seems to roar right out of The Wild One.
Of course it helps that he had a cast like that. Dana Andrews and Sally Forrest play the reporter/secretary couple with affection that never turns to cuteness, George Sanders is his reliably scheming self, playing nicely off Thomas Mitchell’s ink-stained editor, and Vincent Price is agreeably slimy as the big boss manipulating them all. Also I should make special mention of Ida Lupino as the -um- flirtatious columnist radiating no-nonsense sex appeal that contrasts nicely with Rhonda Fleming’s duplicitous trophy wife.
With a few exceptions (which I’ll get to later) Casey Robinson’s screenplay follows Einstein’s novel closely — sometimes eerily so. Little bits of business, place names and odd phrases like “in cold daylight” appear on the screen with surprising faithfulness in a medium that was never known for its fidelity. But the changes are even more significant.
Starting with the ending, well, in the book it’s pretty prosaic; the killer tries to assault a stranger ”in cold daylight,” a chase through the subway tunnels ensues, and if you can’t guess the outcome I won’t spoil it for you except to say one of our intrepid newsmen gets the scoop. In the film however, reporter Dana Andrews decides that the best way to catch the killer is to use his fiancée as bait, putting a personal and more involving twist on the proceedings.
(PARENTHETICAL NOTE: I don’t know about you, but to me having your betrothed use you as the potential victim of a mad killer is a sign that this relationship may be in trouble. I’m just saying….)
Another note of interest: in the novel, the killer obsessively reads the Bible; in the movie, he’s had his mind warped by Comic Books, and thank you, Dr. Wertham; I don’t think the Legion of Decency would have let them get away with that anyway.
And finally, there’s a delicious in-joke near the beginning: The book kicks off with the death of the second-in-command at Kyne Enterprises; in the film the story is kicked off by the death of the patriarch himself, leaving his son (Vincent Price) to select someone to actually run the damn thing. Price lets the competition hinge on a comment his late daddy made about catching the serial killer – thus making While the City Sleeps the second film centered around the last words of a dead publisher whose name starts with “K.”
FLOOD! Made-for-TV movie, NBC, 24 November 1976. Robert Culp, Martin Milner, Barbara Hershey, Richard Basehart, Carol Lynley, Roddy McDowall, Cameron Mitchell, Teresa Wright, Whit Bissell, Ann Doran. Irwin Allen Productions. Director: Earl Bellamy.
What sets Flood!, a made-for-TV disaster movie about a flood destroying a small Pacific Northwest town, apart from so many other disaster films, before or since, is its stellar cast. Rather than rely on unknowns or mediocre stars, this Irwin Allen production features some of the finest actors around. These professionals may never have had as much star power as some leading men and women, but they had distinct screen presences all the same.
Take Richard Basehart, for instance. He portrays John Cutler, a real estate businessman and the mayor of the small town threatened by an aging dam. More concerned with preserving the lake for fishing and tourism than he is with repairing an obviously faulty dam, Cutler v does his best to play down the clear and emerging threat to the town. Basehart is perfectly suited to the role, portraying a man who is so set on being right all the time that he becomes blinded to the peril in which he is putting his community.
But Basehart’s not the only great actor in this one. There’s Robert Culp, a familiar and welcome presence in any feature, who portrays Steve Brannigan, a roguish helicopter pilot who becomes the town’s unlikely hero. Then there’sAdam-12’s Martin Milner and Barbara Hershey, who portray a romantic couple whose very relationship is threatened by the torrent of water that submerges their small town in water. Cameron Mitchell, Carol Lynley, and (briefly) Roddy McDowell also have roles in the production. Mitchell in particular plays his part with gusto.
Ironically, for a disaster film, Flood! really doesn’t have all that much special going on in terms of special effects. Maybe it’s because was made for television and there were budget constraints or maybe it was thought that the characters would carry the movie. If it’s the latter case, then they were right. Despite a rather predictable and truthfully a somewhat mediocre plot, this TV movie punches well above its weight simply due to its superb cast.
LEO BRUCE – Death in Albert Park. Charles Scribner’s Sons, hardcover; 1st US printing, 1979. Academy Chicago, US, paperback, 1983. First published in the UK by W. H. Allen, hardcover, 1964.
Independently wealthy and increasingly discontent with a humdrum life as a senior history master at a snooty boys’ school in Newminster, Carolus Deene’s real passion in life is solving murders. If it weren’t such a contradiction in terms, he is what you might call an amateur private investigator.
His style and/or approach as a detective consists largely of asking questions, followed by the working out of hunches that slowly become vaguely filled-in theories. In short, he reconstructs the murders in his mind very much as he would a crossword puzzle.
This particular 15-year old British import involves a Ripper-like killer who has slain three women at random, each death with no apparent motive. Quite naturally, Deane wonders about this.
The pace is slow, but until the end, remarkably even. The clues are fair, but the sense of urgency displayed by the suddenly philosophical Carolus Deene, as the killer readies his final blow, does not nearly match that of the reader’s.
— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 4, No. 2, March-April 1980 (slightly revised).
Bibliographic Notes: Rupert Croft-Cooke, writing as Leo Bruce, produced a total of 23 detective novels featuring Carolus Deene, and another eight in which Sgt. Beef was the leading character. Even though the Deene books continued to appear until 1974, all of Bruce’s books were definitely products of the Golden Age of Detection. (The Beef novels began in 1936 and ended in 1952; the first Deene book appeared in 1955.)
RUN, BUDDY, RUN. CBS, 1966-67. Talent Associates in association with CBS Television Studios. Cast: Jack Sheldon as Buddy Overstreet, Bruce Gordon as Mr. D. and Jim Connell as Junior. Created by Leonard Stern. Theme by Jerry Fielding.
Successful TV producer Leonard Stern produced both the successful spy spoof Get Smart, and The Fugitive spoof Run, Buddy, Run. The two series were much alike but with very different results. Get Smart would become on of TV’s most memorable series, while Run, Buddy, Run has been long forgotten.
Jazz musician Buddy Overstreet (Jack Sheldon) accidentally overhears a mob boss (Bruce Gordon) discuss “Operation Chicken Little,” a plan to kill an unnamed person. Buddy is discovered and makes a run for it. With the mob close behind, Buddy runs from town to town looking for a place he can be safe or until he can find out more about “Chicken Little” and prove to the cops he needs protection.
Jack Sheldon began as a successful trumpet player in the West Coast jazz movement during the 1950s. He was a regular on The Merv Griffin Show for many years. Shelton has worked as a singer. He sang for the ABC-TV series Schoolhouse Rock (“Conjunction Junction” and “I’m Just a Bill”). He has done voice work on The Simpsons and Family Guy. There is a documentary about him, Trying to Get Good: The Jazz Odyssey of Jack Sheldon.
A better musician than actor, Sheldon has appeared on old forgotten series The Cara Williams Show and The Girl with Something Extra. On Run, Buddy, Run, Sheldon makes Buddy likeable and an average guy the audience can root for, but he is not good enough to rise above the hit-and-miss writing.
The series villain was well cast. Bruce Gordon a successful character actor best known as Frank Nitti in The Untouchables (1959-1963) played Mr. D., the head of the mob. At his side was his young son Junior played well by Jim Connell.
Run, Buddy, Run could not outrun a quick cancellation but lasted long enough to air thirteen episodes. Airing Monday at 8:00 -8:30pm, Buddy would finish last in the ratings versus NBC’s I Dream of Jeannie and the last half-hour of ABC’s Iron Horse. It didn’t help that the three series that followed Buddy in CBS’s Monday night lineup — The Lucy Show, The Andy Griffith Show and Family Affair – finished in the top 15 for ratings.
“Steambath and Chicken Little.” (9/12/66) Written by Mel Tolkin and Ernie Chambers. Directed by Leonard Stern. Produced by David Susskind, David Melnick and Leonard Stern. Guest Cast: Bernie Kopell, Malcolm Atterbury, and Laurel Goodwin. *** Jazz musician Buddy Overstreet accidently overhears plans for a mob hit but is discovered. He escapes and now is on the run from the mob that wants him dead.
On the run, he ends up in Rockford, Illinois helping a nice young woman and her sick father try to save their gas station from bankruptcy.
The humor had its moments but was more often ruined by a lack of believability. While Get Smart is much better, Run, Buddy, Run is a good example of the silly stupid humor of the American TV comedy in the 60s.
LAWRENCE BLOCK – Eight Million Ways to Die. Arbor House, hardcover, 1982. Paperback reprints include: Jove, 1983; Avon, 1991. Film:, 1985, with Jeff Bridges as Matt Scudder (also partly based on A Stab in the Dark).
Ex-New York policeman Matthew Scudder is not a formally licensed private investigator; he says you could call what he does “hustling for a buck…. I do favors for friends.” As this novel opens, he is about to take on a favor for a friend of a friend, Kim Dakkinen, a call girl who wants to get out of the business. Kim is afraid to tell her pimp she is leaving, and Scudder’s job is to act as go-between.
The job goes altogether too easily. The pimp is an unusual man named Chance, with a secret hideaway in Brooklyn (to which he has admitted no one, although he later takes Scudder there) and an easygoing manner that convinces Scudder he will let Kim go. When she is brutally murdered, Scudder, an alcoholic who has been attending AA for less than two weeks, begins to drink, suffers a blackout, and wakes up in the hospital.
After his release, he is contacted by Chance, who insists he did not kill Kim — or have her killed — and asks that Scudder find out who did. Scudder’s quest takes him into the apartments of call girls and through the bars of Manhattan and Harlem. He periodically stops in at AA meetings- just listening, refusing to speak when his turn comes.
Teetering on the edge of drunkenness, he crosses and recrosses the city in which there are 8 million ways to die — many of them cataloged from Scudder’s obsessive reading of the newspapers — in search of a killer with a motive that is almost impossible to discern.
This novel was nominated for a Mystery Writers of America Edgar and won the Private Eye Writer sof America Shamus Award for Best Hardcover Private Eye Novel of 1982. It is grim and powerful and, along with the other Scudder novels — In the Midst of Death (1976), Sins of the Fathers (1977), Time to Murder and Create (1977), and A Stab in the Dark (1981) — contains some of Block’s finest writing to date.
HOLLYWOOD MAN. Intercontinental Releasing Corporation, 1976. William Smith, Jennifer Billingsley, Ray Girardin, Jude Farese, Mary Woronov, Tom Simcox, Don Stroud. Director: Jack Starrett.
As a straightforward 1970s exploitation film, Hollywood Man leaves a lot to be desired. Apart from leading actor William Smith, whose omnipresent physicality permeates every scene he is in, most of the acting leaves a lot to be desired. Although there are some hilarious moments, there’s also a palpable absence of vitality in the movie. It’s as if the filmmakers wanted the audience to slog through their movie, rather than allow it to pull them in and envelope them in the narrative.
But as a meta-movie, a movie about movies, a film about filmmaking, Hollywood Man is a surprisingly ambitious project. Smith portrays Rafe Stoker, an actor-director determined to complete his biker film. Because he’s both short on cash and fully committed to seeing the project through, he turns to a rather unsavory source of financing: the Mafia. Rafe soon learns that when you make a deal in the dark, you’re not exactly sure you’re going to get.
Because in no time at all, a real group of outlaw biker types are on the way to the small Florida town where Rake’s shooting his film. They’ve been sent there by the Mafia to slow down production, so that he will have to part with some of his collateral. Soon enough, however, it’s revealed that the Mafia’s henchmen have their own nefarious agenda, one that includes raping and killing. Adding to the combustible mix is a local cop who seems to be playing all sides, never quite showing his cards. In the midst of all this chaos, Rafe is trying to motivate his cast and crew to finish the picture.
All told, Hollywood Man seems to be, as much as anything else, a filmmaker’s reflection on the process of making exploitation films. Sure, the obstacles in Rafe’s path are greater than those faced by your average filmmaker. But as a meta-movie about a fictional director’s gritty determination to complete his film at any cost, this highly uneven action movie is a rather bold testament to just how far some directors will go for the love of cinema.
JOHN CREASEY – The Baron Branches Out. Avon V2341, US, paperback; 1st printing, July 1970. Published in hardcover by Charles Scribner’s Sons, US, 1967, as by Anthony Morton. First published in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton, 1961, as A Branch for the Baron, as by Anthony Morton.
The Baron, otherwise known as John Mannering, went more or less respectable sometime over the years and most definitely had done so by the time this book was published. In his early days, as described in more detail by David Vineyard in his review of Meet the Baron (1937) here on this blog, he was a gentleman thief, one specializing in jewels, and stealing only from those who could afford the loss.
Neither those early days nor his escapades on the other side of the law are mentioned in this book — nor (I believe) is he even referred to as the Baron — save obliquely in one regard. Mannering is now a well-known owner of a huge antiques establishment called Quinns, but when his latest idea brings him in close proximity to murder, the local police chap on hand is quite antagonistic and is convinced that Mannering has something to do with it.
Readers not versed in Mannering’s background will be puzzled by this antagonism, as there is nothing else to support it, and it is a small key to the story. And this has to do with that idea of Mannering’s I referred to a short while back, to wit: that of buying a British manor house about to torn down to make way for a new bridge, deconstructing it himself, and shipping the building materials off to Boston, then to be put back together there as a branch of Quinns in the US.
Of course things do not go as planned. There are hints of a ghost, a possible hoard of family jewels hidden somewhere in the mansion, a missing owner, and a couple of murders. But soon enough off to Boston the timbers and stones go, and sure enough, hints of ghosts, jewels, and murders show up as well.
Creasey has a very fluid, readable writing style, and it goes a long way in disguising the fact that neither the story nor the players in it are all that deep. It’s enjoyable enough, but a few hours after you finish it, you may start to ask yourself if that was all there was.