October 2017

LOVE ME TONIGHT. Paramount Pictures, 1932. Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette MacDonald, Charlie Ruggles, Charles Butterworth, Myrna Loy, C. Aubrey Smith, Elizabeth Patterson. Music by Rodgers & Hart. Director: Rouben Mamoulian.

   As far as I’m concerned, this is one of the best romantic comedy musicals of all time. The plot is simple. A tailor in Paris (Maurice Chevalier) goes to a castle in the country to be paid for some work he’s done, gets mistaken for a baron, and falls in love with a princess (Jeanette MacDonald).

   Love Me Tonight was one of the first musicals in which the songs are an integral part of the story, in fact moving the plot itself along on more than one occasion. A fact worthy of note, but the cinematography? Perhaps even more astounding, . Under Mamoulian’s direction, the camera never stops moving, zooming in and out at will, and using split screens as well as fast and slow motion to both great dramatic and comedic effect. It is difficult to believe that this movie was made in 1932.

   Two long scenes need pointing out in particular: The opening of the movie takes place on a quiet Parisian street at dawn. Then a worker comes out with a hammer to work on the pavement, then a woman comes out of her house to sweep the sidewalk, two other women open their windows to flap rugs against the railings, two shoemakers begin hammering nails into boots in a syncopated counterpoint harmony, and soon there’s a entire cacophony of sounds (and music) showing off life in a big city.

   Later on, the song “Isn’t It Romantic?” begins by being sung by Maurice Chevalier in his tailor’s shop, is picked by a man taking a cab to the train station; on the train a band of soldiers overhear it, and continue to sing it while marching through a forest, where a gypsy hears it and takes it back to his camp, from which the sound is heard by the princess in a balcony of her palace. Wonderful!

   Other songs you may have heard of aree “Mimi,” “Love Me Tonight” and “The Son of a Gun Is Nothing But a Tailor,” and both Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald were made to play their respective roles. Charlie Ruggles, Charles Butterworth, and C. Aubrey Smith, all resident members of the nobility, are in fine comedic form, and one can only wish that Myrna Loy were on the screen more. Unfortunately several of her pre-Code scenes were deemed too risque when the movie was re-released in the late 1940s, and the shorter version from that date is the only one that still exists.

Dear Steve,

   I remember with delight the correspondence between my late husband, Dennis Lynds, AKA Michael Collins, and you and Ed Lynskey that went into creating the wonderful Dan Fortune page on Mystery*File. It’s an outstanding analysis and resource.

    “Dan Fortune is the sort of guy you’d like to strike up a conversation with late at night or in a bus station. He stays a choice friend from book to book.” Ed wrote that, and I’ve never forgotten it. Ed succinctly and vividly captured the essence of the series.

   With that in mind, I’m thrilled to tell you Dan Fortune is back. The entire 17-book series of private eye novels are available again, for the first time in Kindle and trade paperback. We hope a new generation of readers will discover Dan, and that long-time fans will enjoy rereading the classic tales.

   In addition, we’re offering a $1.99 sale for the Kindle version of the first book, Act of Fear, which won the Edgar Award, to help get folks started. Take advantage here.

   Last week I sent out a newsletter readers might find interesting. Here’s the link.

   Who is Dennis Lynds? A raconteur and Renaissance man, he’s considered among the most important and influential writers of private-eye stories in the past 50 years. Beginning in the late Sixties, he changed the mystery form and along the way created iconic private detectives who won the hearts of readers and the awards of critics. His books remain not only entertaining but relevant, while giving vivid life to the eras in which he wrote.

   And finally, here’s his new, revamped website: www.DennisLynds.com

   Thank you so much for letting me alert readers, Steve. You make many contributions to our industry, and I am grateful.

                  All best,




A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Robert E. Briney

JOHN DICKSON CARR – The Arabian Nights Murder. Dr. Gideon Fell #7. Harper & Brothers, US, hardcover, 1936. Hamish Hamilton, UK, hardcover, 1936. US paperback reprints include: Hillman #1, 1943; Collier, 1965.

   For more than forty-two years, John Dickson Carr was a skilled and enthusiastic player in what he called “the grandest game in the world”: the construction of ingeniously plotted murder puzzles, set forth with an illusionist’s skill at deception for the bafflement and delight of his readers. Carr, under his own name and especially under the pseudonym Carter Dickson, showed a fondness for stories of impossible crime, particularly locked-room murders. He compiled a longer list of variations on this theme than any other writer.

   Even when no overt “impossibility” is involved, the crimes in Carr’s books often have bizarre trappings. Other characteristics are his use of comedy, his fondness for “bad” women, his expert evocation of eerie and threatening atmosphere, the frequent disquisitions on curiosities of history, and his use of the multiple solutions –the apparently complete explanation of the crime, which is shown to be flawed and is then replaced by a second (and sometimes a third) solution.

   Although Carr was born and educated in the United States (his father was a congressman during the first Wilson administration), he lived for many years in England, and a majority of his books have English settings. He was, however, equally at home on both sides of the Atlantic. He was an officeholder in both the prestigious Detection Club in London and the Mystery Writers of America.

   From the latter organization he received a special Edgar in 1949 for his biography The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and again in 1969 in honor of his fortieth anniversary as a mystery writer. In 1962 he received MWA’s Grand Master Award. In addition to his books, he wrote several dozen short stories (two of which were award winners in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine‘s annual contests) and many radio plays for the BBC in England and such programs as Suspense in the United States. He also reviewed mystery fiction in both Harper’s Magazine and EQMM.

   Carr’s principal series detective, the bulky and bibulous Dr. Gideon Fell, was introduced in Hag’s Nook (1933). He is a retired schoolmaster who serves as an unofficial consultant to Scotland Yard. He has at his command a large fund of miscellaneous facts, a formidable analytical mind, and an ability to notice seemingly minute points and make connections between unlikely pieces of information.

   He is usually on stage for most of a case, stumping around on his two crutch-handled canes, beaming like Old King Cole, asking disconcerting questions, exasperating his friend Superintendent Hadley with his cryptic remarks, and finally gathering the key personnel together for the climactic revelation of the murderer’s identity.

   The Arabian Nights Murder is unusual in that Fell appears only in the few pages of the prologue and epilogue. The main text is taken up by the statements of Detective Inspector Carruthers, Assistant Commissioner Armstrong, and Superintendent Hadley, recounting their investigation of the murder of Raymond Penderel, an actor with an unsavory reputation.

   Penderel had been found inside an Elizabethan coach in a private museum, stabbed with an ivory dagger taken from a locked case nearby. The body was adorned with a set of ill-fitting false whiskers, and was clutching a cookbook in its arms. Suspects include rich Geoffrey Wade, owner of the museum; his wild daughter and ineffectual son; his prospective son-in-law, soldier of fortune Gregory Mannering; and assorted museum employees.

    When the three Scotland Yard men have finished their statements, Fell, in pure armchair-detective tradition, picks out just the right combination of overlooked or misinterpreted facts and hands them the solution to the crime.

   The book’s tour de force of a plot is clothed in Carr’s patented combination of atmospheric description, misdirection, action, interesting characters (including the engaging old financial pirate Jeff Wade), and a touch of romance. It is a prime example of Golden Age detection.

   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.

PATRICIA MOYES – Who Is Simon Warwick? Henry & Emmy Tibbett #14. Collins, UK, hardcover, 1978. Holt Rinehart & Winston, US, hardcover, 1979. Holt/Owl, paperback, 1982.

   Primarily a legal puzzle, this adventure of Henry Tibbett and wife Emmy also has a murder to be solved, as well as some last minute derring-do. At stake is an inheritance of some million pounds or more, and there are two claimants, both with solid evidence of being a long-lost nephew.

   Barzun & Taylor call this a “mediocre tale,” but is quite often the case, I disagree. I enjoyed it immensely, in spite of Moyes’ tendency toward stiff, formal dialogue. Moreover, Barzun & Taylor don’t seem to know who it was who died — they think it was the nephew — but they claim the “gimmick is visible a mile off.” I guess I’m rather unsophisticated about such matters. It never entered my mind. This is finely tuned detective novel, solidly done.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File #23,, July 1990.


BEAUTY AND THE DEVIL. Franco London Films / Les Films Corona, France, 1950. Original title: La beauté du diable. Michel Simon, Gerard Philipe, Nicole Besnard. Written and directed by Rene Clair.

   It’s not often a genuine masterpiece sneaks up on me anymore. I mean, with all that’s written about movies these days, the fame of any good film — and that of lesser ones as well — generally precedes it, and a really great movie these days carries about as much surprise as sunrise at dawn.

   I can’t even say now what prompted me to pick up this little treasure (on an old VHS with slightly-faded subtitles) but I was only a few minutes into it when I saw this was a work of what academics refer to as “lotsa class.”

   It’s an easier film to watch than to describe. Michel Simon starts out playing Faust, and Gerard Philipe is Mephistopheles, dressed as a young student who mockingly follows the old Professor Faust. He tries to bargain for Faust’s soul, but rebuffed, he makes a counter-offer: he gives him Youth free of charge and departs, telling the handsome young man (now named Henri, and played by Philipe) that if he wants to do any traffic in souls, just ask.

   And Henri quickly discovers that with youth comes health, vigor, love… and poverty. Well at least it’s so with Henri, and now that I look back on it, so it was for me and my friends in college. His education of no use, Henri fails at common work and finds himself ground down and down… and Mephistopheles, now in the form of Faust, played by Michel Simon, keeps dangling temptation….

   And from here on the plot takes dizzying twists and turns that kept me surprised and delighted, every move highlighted with engaging, often hilarious antics from Simon as Faust/Mephistopheles as the tale careens to a final audacious and immensely satisfying flourish.

   To jog your memory (if needed) Michel Simon was a big star of early French Cinema and an exceptional actor; a plump but graceful performer in the W.C. Fields style, which lend his performance a depth and lightness that must be seen to appreciate — my words just won’t do . Simon’s fortunes declined after a stroke and he ended up in the title role of The Head (critics described his performance as “detached”) but he rebounded as the gruff engineer in The Train and in The Two of Us.

   Director Rene Clair has a rep, but the only film of his I ever liked a lot (till now) was And Then There Were None. This, though, is The Goods: Brilliant writing, thoughtful & complex variation on the Faust story, and entertaining thesping from Philipe and especially Michel Simon. Catch it if you can!

Posting from my iPhone while waiting for my laptop to get better. Hopefully this short hiatus won’t last more than a couple of days.


THE SPANIARD’S CURSE. Independent Film Distributors, UK, 1958. Tony Wright, Lee Patterson, Susan Beaumont, Michael Hordern, Ralph Truman, Henry Oscar. Screenplay by Kenneth Hyde, Ralph Kemper, Roger Proudlock. Story by Edith Pargeter. Directed by Ralph Kemper.

        “I call for the four of you to meet me before the Assizes of the Dying, and answer for your crimes …”

   The film opens with a pickpocket (mild mannered Henry Oscar) outside a theater (**) relieving a man of the contents of his overcoat pocket, then focuses on the date displayed in a store window. The titles run and as the date changes we cut to a headline that the jury is about to come in on the murder of an actress.

   We cut to the jury room where a military type bullies the meek foreman into a guilty verdict though the evidence is circumstantial and the crime calls for the death penalty, then under attack in England. The verdict is rendered and Justice Manton (Michael Hordern) delivers the death penalty.

   The accused man then speaks, reiterating his innocence, and uttering the curse of the title, a call for the Judge, the Council, the Foreman of the Jury, and the real killer to stand with him in a higher court, the “Assizes of the Dying,” and hear their judgement. In short, to die with him and be judged.

   Listening to the proceedings, are the judge’s newsman playboy son Charley (Tony Wright), his ward Margaret (Susan Beaumont), and the victim’s Canadian cousin Mark (Lee Patterson). When Mark and Margaret meet later in a tea shop they admit they think the convicted man, Stevenson, is innocent, but don’t plan to do anything about it until they witness the curse seeming to come to life … the jury Foreman is hit and killed by a car outside the court in front of them.

   There is not much more I can reveal without giving too much away. Stevenson dies the next morning, and the day after a piece of jewelry from the crime is pawned casting doubt on his guilt.

   One by one the characters are revealed, layers of deception stripped away, and suspicion cast on them even as Margaret and Mark, with help from crime reporter Charley, investigate the crime.

   The solution may be obvious to readers of this blog, but it is a good mystery, with numerous reasonable red herrings, more than a modicum of suspense, and that mysterious curse, the summons to the “Assizes of the Dying” that like one of John Dickson Carr’s logically explained impossible crimes, still has the hint of sulfur and brimstone long after the fact.

   The finale and last scene are the perfect wrap up to a solid sub-Hitchcockian suspense film with more than its share of fair play detecting.

   Solid performances bolster this excellent mystery film, especially from Wright who previously scored as the sociopathic Jack Havoc in the film version of Margery Allingham’s A Tiger in the Smoke.

   And for anyone who didn’t notice, the story is credited to Edith Pargeter, the well-known and respected English historical novelist better known to us as Ellis Peters of the Felse family and Brother Cadfael mysteries.

   Find this one, it’s a sleeper.

(**)   In the opening the play advertised at the theater where the pickpocket’s crime sets the plot in motion is “Meet Mr. Coleman” and a faint bit of music reminiscent of the famous theme from the play and film Meet Mr. Callaghan is heard as the pickpocket lifts his loot.

   That may or may not also be a nod to star Tony Wright who would play Peter Cheyney’s British Private Detective Slim Callaghan in two French films. If not, the coincidence is even more intriguing in a film where coincidence plays such a fateful role.


THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU. American International Pictures, 1977. Burt Lancaster (Dr. Paul Moreau), Michael York, Nigel Davenport, Barbara Carrera, Richard Basehart. Based on the novel by H. G. Wells. Director: Don Taylor.

   Burt Lancaster puts in a superb performance as the Dr. Moreau in this 1977 cinematic adaptation of the extraordinarily influential H.G. Wells novella about a mad scientist turning animals into men on a remote Pacific island.

   Unlike Charles Laughton in the pre-code sleazefest Islands of Lost Souls (1932), who never seemed to be a comfortable fit for the role, Lancaster portrays Moreau as a vaguely sympathetic antihero who genuinely wants to do good for the work, but who gradually transforms into a bestial, hateful figure. Lancaster had a way of just using his eyes to convey emotion and he does it wonderfully here. His Moreau is a great movie villain. Why? Because he has reasons for doing what he is doing and, more importantly, deep down he thinks he’s doing the right thing.

   That’s not to say that Michael York, whose performance I absolutely loved as D’Artagnan in The Three Musketeers (1973), isn’t good in this film as well. He portrays Braddock, the shipwreck survivor who washes up on Moreau’s island, totally unaware of what he is about to encounter. But there’s something a little too innocent about the Braddock character. He’s nowhere near as formidable a figure as Moreau.

   Which leads me to the film’s plot. In many ways, if one were to view Braddock (York) as the protagonist, the movie would be a meandering mess. This is mainly because, for most of the movie, it’s not clear exactly what Braddock wants. To escape the island? Unlike in Island of Lost Souls where the shipwrecked man was truly trapped on the island, Braddock actually still has his rowboat. It’s a little worse for wear, but he’s safely hidden it on the island.

   So escaping is not what he wants. Is it that he wants to discover what Moreau is up to? Well, it doesn’t take him long to do so and Moreau is more than willing to fill in the blanks. It’s only toward the tail end of the movie that he actually wants something – to escape from Moreau’s captivity after the mad doctor performed a sick experiment on him – but that’s too little too late.

   What makes the movie work is not York’s character, but Lancaster’s. The Island of Dr. Moreau is truly the story of Dr. Moreau, about his ambitions and his downfall. In that sense, the film is as much as horror story as a tragedy. And that’s where Lancaster’s stellar performance comes in. Portraying Moreau as a man capable of great things, but who succumbs to his own bestial nature, is what makes this adaptation, despite its numerous flaws, a chilling portrait of a scientist who defies the laws of nature and pays the ultimate price for it.

Reviews by L. J. Roberts

IAN RANKIN – Even Dogs in the Wild. John Rebus #20. Little Brown & Co., hardcover, January 2016. Back Bay Books, softcover, December 2016.

First Sentence:   Eventually the passenger ejected the tape and tossed it on to the back seat.

   DI Siobhan (Sha-von) Clarke and Malcolm Fox, formerly with the Complaints bureau, have been assigned to investigate the death of David Minton, a man with friends in high places. It was clearly not an interrupted robbery since nothing is missing, but something was left behind; a threatening note.

   Retirement doesn’t suit John Rebus and is happy to help Clarke and Fox. What he didn’t expect is a call from “Big Ger” Cafferty, a man Rebus would dearly love to put in prison. Someone shot at Cafferty, and left him a note with the same message that Minton received.

   Although prologues can be an extremely annoying element, in this case it does provide a rather intriguing opening.

   The Rebus books, as with most series, are best read in order as it allows one to show how the relationships have developed over time, such as the friendship between Clarke and Fox, and the new twist in the highly adversarial relationship between Rebus and Cafferty. That said, it is a credit to Rankin that he provides sufficient backstory on his characters that the books can be read as standalones without new readers feeling lost.

   It is the characters who draw us in. There is a sense of a moral code driving Rebus, Malcolm, and Clarke that makes them so strong and compelling. They provide a good balance, one to the another, as well. Where Rebus might be willing to bend the rules, Malcolm will not. The addition of something as mundane as— “…a cardboard cup of scalding tea and a cling-film-tuna sandwich…” adds an element of normalcy and veracity.

   Rankin’s dialogue is wonderful, particularly with his inclusion of wry humor— “Now, is there any chance you can get Jackie Stewart here to put the foot down?” His voice, in general, makes his books a real pleasure to read, even when the rules of grammar are off— “No detective wanted a lawyer to think they were more stupid than most lawyers already considered them to be.” His descriptions are both evocative and pause-worthy— “Edinburgh had always seemed to Rebus a city that liked to keep its counsel and its secrets.”

   Even Dogs in the Wild is such a good book filled with excellent characters, and very good twists. Rankin is an author who never disappoints.

— For more of LJ’s reviews, check out her blog at : https://booksaremagic.blogspot.com/.

   This review by Mike Doran first appeared on this blog as Comment #28 to my review of “Legend of Crystal Dark,” an earlier episode of 77 Sunset Strip, one from season two. Thinking that his comments deserved a wider audience, I asked Mike if I might post it here as well. He most graciously agreed:


77 SUNSET STRIP “The Target.” ABC, 24 January 1964 (Season 6, Episode 18.) Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (Stuart Bailey), Keith Andes, Jeanne Cooper, Joan Staley, Lyle Talbot, Les Tremayne, Forrest Lewis, Shirley Mitchell, Lawrence Dobkin, James Lydon, Tony Barrett, William Conrad. Producer: William Conrad. Associate producer: James Lydon. Executive producer: Jack Webb. Writer: Lawrence Dobkin. Director: Tony Barrett.

   As of last week, MeTV completed the 6th season of 77 Sunset Strip, which means it is no longer “lost.”

   I suppose someone will be writing up the whole season for you, someone far more knowledgeable than I.

   That said, I’d like to talk about “The Target,” which was third from last to run on ABC (the rerun season went back to the Version Originale).

   “The Target” was about an ex-reporter (Keith Andes), just out of prison on a bum rap, who gets shot at just as he arrives home.

   It seems that Andes has been writing The Book that will blow the lid off some racketeers old and older; these make up Stu Bailey’s suspect pool.

   On a hunch, I held off watching this one until the end, after seeing all the others — the majority of which, in my view, could have easily been done on the old show in the old style.

   I’m talking about the plots; the main difference between old-style and new-style was amputating Efrem Zimbalist’s manners; the suave, well-spoken Bailey of old-style became a snarling wiseacre who was grubbing for a buck, insulting everybody along the way.

   This approach didn’t last long; as season 6 progressed, Bailey became less gratuitously nasty. (He’d suddenly developed a ferocious hatred for police, which would have definitely shocked Lt. Roy Gilmore; this was the first characteristic of nu-Bailey to go.)

   About midway through the cycle, Bailey’s unseen stenographer Hannah suddenly became seen, in the person of the above-average-looking Joan Staley; her presence turned Old Stu into a major flirt (and don’t think that certain recent headlines about a Major Hollywood Figure didn’t occur to me while I was watching).

   I might also mention that the 77SS opening titles were changed about the same time; Zimbalist’s mournful ascent within the Bradbury Building gave way to a long tracking shot of Old Stu walking the Mean Streets at night.

   I digress; back to “The Target.”

   I mentioned above that I saved watching this to last. Beforehand, I learned something about it that led me to believe that “The Target” was intended to be the Final Episode of 77.

   It was the casting of three of the to-be-exposed mob types:

       Bill Conrad (Producer) as a semi-crooked fight promoter.

       Lawrence Dobkin (Director) as a publisher who started out in nudie books.

       Tony Barrett (Writer) as a retired procurer.

   … And as a Bonus for the dweebs in the crowd: James Lydon (Associate Producer) as a convict who starts Stu Bailey out in his investigation.

   About this last:

   During this time, one of our local Chicago stations was running a well-known series of comedy features from the ’40s, which my family watched faithfully every Saturday afternoon.We’d stopped watching 77 by this point, but now I wish we hadn’t.

   Thinking back, my brother, sisters, and I might have gotten a charge out of our Dad telling us all:

   “Look at that, guys – Henry Aldrich is in the clink!”

   Anyhow, this sort-of group appearance by the 77 Sunset Strip front office seems to be to be a grand gesture of a kind from Old Hollywood Pros who knew the end was near and decided to have a little fun on the way out.

   * … unless, of course, I’m wrong …

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