March 2018


The lead singer for this multi-genre band founded in Boston is Rachel Price. She’s featured in this video:

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


WATUSI. MGM, 1959. George Montgomery, Taina Elg, David Farrar, Rex Ingram, Dan Seymour. Screenwriter: James Clavell, based on the novel King Solomon’s Mines, by H. Rider Haggard. Director: Kurt Neumann.

   Twelve year old me would have absolutely loved Watusi, an MGM production with a script by James Clavell. The sense of adventure in an exotic locale, the footage of African wildlife, and the quest for treasure — all would have appealed to my sensibilities and childhood sense of wonder.

   But I’m not twelve years old anymore and I can see just how flawed a movie Watusi really is. In many ways, it’s just talky and boring. And a lot of that great footage that I just alluded to is stock footage, some from MGM’s King Solomon’s Mines (1950). The constant switch back and forth between the film proper and stock footage is distracting and does little to give the viewer confidence that MGM had much faith in the project.

   That said, I do like George Montgomery, although I know him mainly from his presence in Westerns. Here he portrays Harry Quatermain, Allan Quartermain’s son from Canada.

   He’s come to Africa to continue his father’s project to find and to acquire the diamonds ensconced in King Solomon’s Mines. Along the way, he must face down a hostile tribe, fight off wild animals, and overcome malaria.

   Quatermain also must come to terms with his own personal demons, including a deep-seated hatred for Germans, whom he collectively blames for his sister’s death during World War I. As luck – and the script – would have it, he ends up saving the daughter of a German missionary from a violent warlord. She, along with his father’s friend Englishman Rick Cobb (David Farrar) becomes his travel companion on the proverbial road to King Solomon’s Mines.

   But Rick’s got a secret. He was born in Germany and is ethnically German. It’s only at the end of the movie that the “message” of the whole film is delivered: prejudice against any ethnic group is wrong. It’s all very trite and forced.

   Honestly, that’s about it. The plot doesn’t have much in the way of thrills, and the characters don’t have all that much depth. Kurt Neumann, who also collaborated with screenwriter James Clavell on The Fly (1958), provides competent direction. But it’s not enough to make this action-adventure film anything more than a minor curiosity. A great soundtrack would have helped immensely. For an adventure film, Watusi is notably lacking fanfare. Still, I would have loved it when I was twelve.

INQUIRY from Matthew Bradley:
The Case of the Missing PI’s.


   As I mentioned in my recent post about writing Richard Matheson on Screen, several of the more obscure Matheson-related television episodes continue to elude me to this day. They include “Iron Mike Benedict” (The D.A.’s Man, 2/14/59), “Act of Faith” (Buckskin, 3/23/59), “Time of Flight” (Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, 9/21/66), “No Such Thing as a Vampire” (Late Night Horror, 4/19/68), and “L’Esame” (The Test; Racconti di Fantascienza [Tales of Fantasy], 1/31/79).

   But even more frustratingly, while he recalled contributing to them in some capacity, I’ve never turned up any information regarding his involvement with two P.I. series, Richard Diamond, Private Detective and Philip Marlowe.

   So how’s about it, Mystery*File readers/writers? Anybody knowledgeable enough about them to shed some light on this real-life mystery or, by some miracle, able to provide me with copies of any of these mini-Grails? You never know, there may be a second edition!

APOLOGY FOR MURDER. Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC), 1945. Ann Savage, Hugh Beaumont, Russell Hicks, Charles D. Brown. Director: Sam Newfield.

   Hugh Beaumont plays Kenny Blake, a brash young reporter, in this film, and yes, I know, that’s redundant. All young reporters in the movies have to be brash. If they are allowed to get older on the job, they either become cynical or, once in a while, even more devoted to real journalism and the truth. Especially if the latter will sell newspapers.

   Blake’s editor is the latter, which is why I bring it up, but I’m getting ahead of myself. While Blake is interviewing one of the wealthier men in town, brashly of course, he is taken by the older man’s much younger wife (Ann Savage). Realizing that her husband is getting tired of her and is about to dump divorce her and leave her nothing, she picks up on Blake’s attraction to her.

   It seems as though she has a plan, and Blake is just the fellow who can help her with it. Should I go on? Have you heard this one before?

   Would it help if I told you that the working title for this film was Single Indemnity until Paramount Pictures got wind of it and told them to cut it out? In Blake’s editor’s eagerness to pull off the scoop of the year, he does not realize until almost too late that he is nurturing a viper in his bosom. So to speak.

   Unfortunately as a leading man in this kind of film, Hugh Beaumont is rather bland, with very little personality of his own, the kind that shows up on the screen. Ann Savage’s next film was to be Detour, and while she definitely doesn’t have the kind of presence in this film she was to have in that one, you can definitely see why they might have thought of her when they were casting the part.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


THAT MAN FROM RIO. Les Films Ariane, France, 1964. Lopert Pictures Corporation, US, 1964 (subtitled). Original title: L’homme de Rio. Jean-Paul Belmondo, Francoise Dorleac, Jean Servais and Adolpho Celi. Written by Jean-Paul Rappeneau, Ariane Mnouchkine, Daniel Boulanger, and Philippe de Broca. Directed by Philippe de Broca.

   The first thing I noticed was that this movie had four writers, just like the old-time movie serials it resembles. The second thing was that it’s fun, funny and compulsively watchable.

   Steven Spielberg said those old serials were the inspiration for Raiders of the Lost Ark, but this seems the more likely antecedent, starting with the theft of an ancient relic in Paris, the kidnapping of a scientist’s lovely daughter (Dorleac) and the whole rest of the movie, spent in a cliff-hanging pursuit to a lost temple in the jungle filled with priceless treasure etc. etc …..

   De Broca & Co handle all this with speed and good humor, tossing a few laugh-out-loud moments into a stew of fights, chases and amusing stunt work by Belmondo himself, who insists on keeping his ugly mug to the camera so we can see that it is he who is dangling from skyscrapers, clinging to the wing of an airplane, swinging through jungles and getting knocked about in a spectacular barroom brawl.

   Jean Servais and Adolpho Celi lend some fine villainy to the proceedings, and Ms Dorleac is spirited, lovely, and a far better actress than most serial queens. As for Belmondo, he makes a perfect heroic Everyguy: bemused, bothered, and beleaguered, as he tromps through one peril and the next with a patient shrug and a wry smile, not taking any of this more seriously than we do.

   I should add that towards the end there’s a very thoughtful and sobering split-second. A plot twist I wasn’t expecting that seems like a grim augury of things to come — things we weren’t paying much attention to in 1964 — but it’s soon over, and we’re back to the light-hearted comedy.

   Funny, though: I’ll remember this movie with affection, but I suspect I’ll remember that dark moment a lot longer….

  E. C. R. LORAC – Shepherd’s Crook. Inspector Robert Macdonald #38. Doubleday Crime Club, US, hardcover, 1953. First published in the UK as Crook o’ Lune (Collins Crime Club, hardcover, 1953).

   Inspector Macdonald of Scotland Yard is thinking of retirement, getting away from the crowded bustle of London and starting a farm, so while on leave he heads for Lancashire sheep country — and instead of rustic quiet, finds yet another mystery on his hands.

   The death of an elderly housekeeper in a fire, while not intended, may be due to the work of sheep thieves, or it may be a matter of a will that dates from 1690. The pace may be slow, but the place setting is aptly described, and every word is there to be savored.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File #22, June 1990.

[UPDATE.] I don’t remember how Macdonald’s proposed retirement worked out in the book itself, but in the real world, he had eight additional recorded case to follow this one. His career began with The Murder on the Burrows in 1931, and came to a close with Dishonour Among Thieves aka The Last Escape in 1959.

   Lorac’s books are becoming scarce. I found only one copy of the US edition on abebooks.com just now, for example, the asking price for that one being a mere $99.95. Three copies of the British edition are offered there, however, including one in fair condition for $36.06.

   Although not yet this one, some of Lorac’s novels have recently been reprinted, first by by Ramble House and then more recently by British Library Crime Classics. Hopefully there will be enough interest to warrant more to come.

   For as much as is known about Lorac herself, her real name Edith Caroline Rivett, (1894-1958), check out Curtis Evans’ Passing Tramp blog here: http://thepassingtramp.blogspot.com/2017/09/edith-caroline-rivett-1894-1958-aka-ecr.html

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


J. J. CONNINGTON – Tom Tiddler’s Island. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1933. US title: Gold Brick Island. Little Brown & Co., hardcover, 1933. Coachwhip Publications, softcover, 2015. Also currently available on Kindle and other devices, and online here.

   J. J. Connington was best known for his novels about sleuth Sir Clinton Driffield and his science fiction novel Nordeholt’s Millions, but he wrote a number of non-series mysteries as well, such as this entertaining old fashioned tale of skullduggery and “doings” on the island of Ruffa (think Uffa).

   Colin and Jean Trent are a likable pair of newlyweds who have come to the island for their honeymoon, but soon find there is more than meets the eye going on. There’s the mysterious Mr. Northfleet, a bird watcher who seems to be avoiding them and who could not possibly be the Northfleet Colin knows who is a chemist and no ornithologist; Hazel Arrow, whose uncle lives on the island; the unfriendly Professor Leven who has his place fortified; and four rather unpleasant gentlemen of criminal demeanor, Haws, Natorp, Leo, and Scarry.

   Then there’s the mysterious Mr. Wenlock.

   First a wounded man shows up then disappears, then Colin and Jean meet Mr. Northfleet, who turns out to be his chemist friend and none to happy to see him, then there is a cryptogram to be solved, and on top of that Hazel and Jean are captured and held by the four mysterious ruffians and Professor Leven shows no interest in helping.

   Connington is largely forgotten today, and in fairness the Driffield saga ran out of steam long before he stopped writing them, but he was at his best a nimble spinner of tales who could build to a nice chase or bit of skullduggery along with the clueing, and had a pleasant and highly readable style when he chose to.

   This one has movie written all over it, and it’s a shame it was never adapted. It has all the elements of mystery, adventure, and chase that make for a pleasant read on a rainy afternoon, a quality the genre has largely lost since the end of WW II.

   Alchemy and making gold out of base metals is involved, and more science than magic is at the heart of it all with good detection by Northfleet, and Colin and Jean likable Watson’s, and some improbable but delightful action contributed by the good guys and just reward for the bad guys, which is all you can ask of a pleasant afternoon’s reading. Throw in an attractive setting well rendered, a bit of weather, and you have the makings for a pleasant diversion with just enough detective element to fit the bill.

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REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


THE STONE KILLER. Columbia Pictures, 1973. Charles Bronson, Martin Balsam, Jack Colvin, Paul Koslo, Norman Fell, David Sheiner, Stuart Margolin, Ralph Waite, John Ritter. Based on the novel A Complete State of Death, by John Gardner (1969). Director: Michael Winner.

   There’s a hint, somewhere in the middle of The Stone Killer, that there might be a leak within either the LAPD or the NYPD. And there’s the suggestion, or at least I thought it was, that the film’s protagonist might have been hypnotized or even brainwashed. But neither of these cues is remotely followed up on. And you know what? It doesn’t really matter. Because for what it’s supposed to be, namely pure escapist entertainment and a gritty urban crime thriller, The Stone Killer works exceptionally well in delivering the goods.

   Not only do we get to see Charles Bronson in action, but Martin Balsam is here as well, portraying a Sicilian mob boss by the name of Al Vescari. Apparently Vescari has waited over four decades to avenge the murder of his Sicilian mafia comrades in a St. Valentine’s Day massacre type situation from the 1930s. His diabolical plot: utilize ‘stone killers,’ non-Mafia members specifically hired for the job. So he assembles a team of American military veterans to do his dirty work.

   But he’s got officer Lou Torrey (Bronson), previously a member of the New York Police Department but now in the LAPD, to contend with. Torrey doesn’t know exactly what’s in the works, but we spend most of the movie going along for the ride while he traverses the gritty side of LA and explores Southern Californian counter-cultural hot spots in the hopes of discovering what this “big hit” he learned about from a source is all about.

   The Stone Killer may not be a particularly deep movie or one that has any particular aesthetic value worthy of serious reflection. But, in its own way, it’s a fun movie that is what it is and little more. What’s important to its success is that it never tries to be anything other than an action movie. Added bonus: both Norman Fell and John Ritter, who would soon be paired together in Three’s Company, portray fellow cops working alongside Torrey.

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