November 2018


KELLEY ROOS – One False Move. Jeff & Haila Troy #10 (*). Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1966. No paperback edition.

   This is a strange one. This was the first new book featuring the mystery-solving team of Jeff and Haila Troy in 17 years, and of all things, in spite of their obvious compatibility in all of their adventures in the 1940s, in One False Move, they’re divorced, and she has absolutely nothing good to say about her ex-husband

   What’s also very strange is that Haila, who tells the story, is only 28 in this one. If story time is the same as real time — and that’s a big “if” — that would make her two years old when the Troys solved their first case together in 1940. (*) The count is probably off up above when I called this number 10 in the series, as this assumes that “Beauty Marks the Spot” is number 9. That was a novella published separately in Dell’s 10-Cent series of paperbacks, but in fact it had been included earlier in Triple Threat, a collection of three tales published in 1949.

   Be all this as it may, if all this inconsistency can be ignored — and I confess I found it difficult — the mystery is a good (but not great) one. Haila is staying with her aunt in a small town in Texas where they are putting on a historical pageant in which Haila has agreed to take part. Dead is one of the crew. It is assumed he was blackmailing someone who finally decided he or she had had enough.

   All of the actors and stage crew are suspects, and all of them, once the investigation begins, are discovered to have been acting furtively and strangely, obviously with secrets to hide.. Overall this is a case in which clearing all of the false trails away is more interesting than the conclusion itself, but as detective stories go, this one is a solid one.

   Do Jeff and Haila get back together? You needn’t ask. In my opinion, though, and I’m only partly joking when I say this, there are times when authors should not be allowed to interfere in their characters’ lives, and this is one of them.

MURDER IN THE FLEET. MGM, 1935. Robert Taylor, Jean Parker, Ted Healy, Una Merkel, Nat Pendleton, Jean Hersholt, Arthur Byron. Director: Edward Sedgwick.

   A new electronic fire-fighting device is being installed on a navy cruiser, and someone is intent on stopping it, to the extent of committing murder. Robert Taylor is in charge of the installation, but as stalwart and handsome as he is, the movie’s still a disaster.

   Less than a quarter of the film is devoted to the mystery. The rest consists of busted romance (Jean Parker, primarily) and slapstick comedy (Ted Healy, minus his Three Stooges, and Nat Pendleton). What’s worse, to tell you the truth, I think I liked the comedy better.

— Reprinted and very slightly revised from Movie.File.8, January 1990.


ERLE STANLEY GARDNER “Where Angels Fear to Tread.” Lee Sparler #1. Novelet. Published in Detective Fiction Weekly, 30 December 1939.

   Even though he got a huge cover blurb, most assuredly on the name value of the story’s author, Erle Stanley Gardner, as a private eye, Lee Sparler turned out to only be a one-and-done. By this time in 1939 Gardner was winding down his pulp-writing career. Perry Mason and the Donald Lam and Bertha Cool books were a lot more profitable, I’m sure.

   As a character, Sparler is worth talking about, though, and I could do no better than to use the words of Theo. W. Garr, president of The Planet Investigations, Inc. Here he is describing the qualities of the operative he plans to assign to a prospective client’s case:

   “He looks like a gigolo. He plays the harmonica. He raises hell with office discipline. He’s found that my old-maid bookkeeper is a romanticist at heart, and capitalizes on that knowledge. He discharges his responsibilities in a thoroughly irresponsible manner. He’s always broke. He plays the race horses. He wastes expense money, and he doesn’t seem to take himself, life, or anyone else seriously. His personality is thoroughly distasteful to me. He’s raising the devil with all my routine. He takes too many chances, and some day he’s going to get himself killed if I don’t fire him first. I have long suspected that he solves his cases by luck more than by brains and application, but the point is he gets results. Now then, do you want us to handle the case, or do you want your check back?”

   I don’t know how often a sales pitch like this would really be effective, but of course the client says yes, maybe a little doubtfully, but yes. His daughter, he believes, is being blackmailed. She’s always broke, and he thinks she’s been pawning her jewelry. Without letting her know she’s being watched, Sparler’s job is find out what’s going on. Which he does, and as it turns out, everything his boss said about him is true.

   I think Gardner had a lot of fun writing this story, and it shows. The twists in the tale that you expect in a Gardner story are only minor ones, however, and in fact, to my way of thinking, the story ends far too soon. I enjoyed it, though. It’s too bad that Lee Sparler had only the one adventure, but we can always hope that he got the girl.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


GUMSHOE. Columbia, 1971. Albert Finney, Billie Whitelaw, Frank Finlay, Janice Rule, Fulton Mackay, and Bill Dean. Written by Neville Smith. Directed by Stephen Frears.

   A quirky little mystery/comedy/drama that deserves to be better remembered.

   In the early 1970s, Cinephiles and Cineasts knew all about film noir, and looked back on it with affection. But to ordinary Cinners in the movie-going public, it all seemed a bit passé, and so this clever pastiche went largely unseen and unsung. Too bad, because it’s a dandy little film.

   The story, as far as I can make out, centers on Eddie Ginley (Finney) a failure at 31 who ekes out a living as a Bingo Caller and dreams of becoming a stand-up comedian. His long-time girlfriend (Whitelaw) left him to marry his brother, and he’s seeing a Psychiatrist:

   “Eddie, you know what? You’re a bloody nut!

“I owe it all to you, Doc.”

   For a birthday present to himself, he puts an ad in the paper:

GINLEY’S THE NAME
GUMSHOE’S THE GAME
No Divorce Work

   To his surprise, a mysterious phone call summons him to meet with a shady fat man, who gives him an envelope with a picture of a girl, a thousand pounds, and a gun. So the chase is on: to find the girl, learn who wants to kill her, and why—a chase complicated by his ex-girlfriend-now-sister-in-law; a femme fatale (Rule) who wants him off the case; and the real hit man who was supposed to pick up the package Eddie got by mistake.

   If it all sounds complicated, well that ain’t the half of it, and it’s further obfuscated by sudden shifts in tone from action to drama to comedy. This was the first feature film of Stephen Frears (and of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, come to think of it) and he opts for speed, with lines bouncing around like something from a Howard Hawks movie:

Anne: I’m Anne Scott.

Eddie: I’m all shook up.

Anne: What’s your name?

Eddie: Modelling. Clay Modelling.

Anne: I don’t think I fancy you, Modelling.

Eddie: Work on it.

Anne: I like tall men.

Eddie: The Seven Dwarves got Snow White.

Anne: Only because they crowded her.

   The Big Sleep comes to mind, doesn’t it? And like that classic, Gumshoe leaves no time to wonder if it makes sense –which it doesn’t. What it does is provide 86 minutes of laughs, surprises, suspense and drama. And what more could you ask, anyway?


REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


MAX ALLAN COLLINS & MICKEY SPILLANE, Editors – Murder Is My Business. Dutton, hardcover, 1994. Signet, paperback, 1995.

   I do wonder just a bit how large Spillane’s editorial contributions were. God, I’m cynical. Collins’ introduction sheds no light on the subject, though he assures us that he “chatted” with Spillane about it, and that “they” invited writers to submit. This is the first in a projected series of themed collections from Dutton, all with the Spillane imprimatur.

   I usually don’t do anthologies, but I liked the theme of this one — murder for hire — and it looked like it had a decent list of authors, though a few I hadn’t read before. There are 17 stories in all, 16 originals and a 1953 novella by Spillane written for but never published in Colliers, ranging in length from Edward Wellen’s 3-pager to Spillane’s 177.

   [A partial list of other authors: Paul Bishop, Lawrence Block, Collins, John Lutz, Stephen Mertz, Warren Murphy, Carolyn Wheat and Teri White.]

   I’m sure I’m not a good judge of shorter fiction, so take my opinions with a block or two of salt. I was not terribly impressed with the collection. There were a few good stories — Block’s tale of a melancholy killer, Carolyn Wheat’s offbeat story, John Lutz’s lighthearted tale of a retired cop, and Warren Murphy’s Trace story — a raft of so-so’s and a few that I thought were just really bad.

   One of these was by Daniel Helpingstine, and if you said “who he?”, well, so did I, but I won’t be trying to find out more. The Spillane novella was a blast from the past, with all the attendant faults and virtues. I don’t think it’s worth the money, and I like hired killer stories. Check it out of the library.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #17, January 1995.

JOHN DICKSON CARR – The Man Who Could Not Shudder. Harper & Brothers, hardcover, 1940. UK hardcover: Hamish Hamilton, 1940. Hardcover reprints: P. F. Collier & Sons, no date; Books, Inc., 1944. Paperback reprints: Bantam #365, August 1949; Bantam 1504, 1956; F2837, 1964. Berkley S1941, January 1971. Zebra, paperback; 1st printing, May 1986.

   Unless a reader is less than 40 years old, roughly speaking, here is an author that needs no introduction. If you’re a mystery reader who’s under 40 years old and John Dickson Carr is an author who’s already familiar to you, I have a feeling that you’re in a distinct (but very exclusive) minority. Zebra (or Kensingston) did a series of paperback reprints of many of Carr’s novels in the late 1980s – with very nice covers – but that’s already 20 years ago, and like Ellery Queen, his books are being slowly forgotten.

   But for many of us over 40 (and then some), Carr’s books (and those he wrote as Carter Dickson, whom some believe are even better) are among the best detective stories ever written. Or, speaking personally now, that’s the way I remember them. Does the actuality measure up to the reality? I’m at an age now when I can go back and re-read a book that I first tackled when I was, say, 12 to 15 years old, and see it through completely different eyes.

   Or in other words, I didn’t remember this one at all. The detective who was on hand for most of Carr’s mysteries was Dr. Gideon Fell, a caricature whom some say was based on G. K. Chesterton. I didn’t know this when I was 12 or 15, and since no one knows who G. K. Chesterton is any more either, somehow I do not believe that it helps to point this out to today’s mystery readers, if in fact, any of them are still reading this short essay or long review.

   Suffice it to say that Fell was an unkempt, heavy-set fellow, prone to incisive thinking and frustratingly inclined to stay mum about his thoughts on matters of mystery, expect for the most cryptic utterances when pressed, but of course (I hasten to add) one of the world’s greatest experts on impossible crimes.

   The Man Who Could Not Shudder falls right in the middle of the list of Gideon Fell novels, but chronologically it’s much closer to the beginning of his (and Carr’s) career than to the end, which is all to the good – in one sense, and maybe not in others. More after the list:

Hag’s Nook. Harper & Brothers, 1933.
The Mad Hatter Mystery. Harper & Brothers, 1933.
The Eight of Swords. Harper & Brothers, 1934.
The Blind Barber. Harper & Brothers, 1934.
Death-Watch. Harper & Brothers, 1935.
The Three Coffins. Harper & Brothers, 1935.
The Arabian Nights Murder. Harper & Brothers, 1936.
To Wake the Dead. Harper & Brothers, 1938.
The Crooked Hinge. Harper & Brothers, 1938.
The Problem of the Green Capsule. Harper & Brothers, 1939.
The Problem of the Wire Cage. Harper & Brothers, 1939.
The Man Who Could Not Shudder. Harper & Brothers, 1940.
The Case of the Constant Suicides. Harper & Brothers, 1941.
Death Turns the Tables. Harper & Brothers, 1941.
Till Death Do Us Part. Harper & Brothers, 1944.
He Who Whispers. Harper & Brothers, 1946.
The Sleeping Sphinx. Harper & Brothers, 1947.
Below Suspicion. Harper & Brothers, 1949.
The Dead Man’s Knock. Harper & Brothers, 1958.
In Spite of Thunder. Harper & Brothers, 1960.
The House at Satan’s Elbow. Harper & Row, 1965.
Panic in Box C. Harper & Row, 1966.
Dark of the Moon. Harper & Row, 1967.

   If you are anything like me, the thing that will strike you the most if you were to read any of these, I’m sure, is what a game Carr delighted in when he was telling a mystery. Even well along in his writing career and knowing exactly what he was doing, he always demonstrated the sheer fun of telling a detective story and daring the reader to play along and to see who gets to the ending first.

   The Man Who Could Not Shudder begins in a bar in a gentleman’s club with a number of participants jovially telling each other ghost stories. Only two of people in the bar appear in any of the later chapters: the narrator, Bob Morrison, and his guest at the time, Martin Clarke, who in spite of the story told about Longwood House (or perhaps even because of it) buys it, renovates it, and invites a gaggle of guests down for a weekend.

   What was the story? That twenty or so years ago a butler was found dead in the house, crushed beneath a chandelier that he had (terrified?) jumped up to hold onto and – this is the only explanation possible – swung back and forth on it until it came loose and fell down upon him.

   A ghost story of some magnitude, in other words, and apparently the ghost is still there, in spite of the renovations. A small, mild incident occurs first, that of a mysterious clutching hand that disappears as quickly as it appears. It is not until later that one of the guests, the man who could not shudder, is shot by a pistol which had been set up for display upon some pegs in the wall – but which “jumped off the wall” and was somehow fired while still in the air, with nary a human hand anywhere about.

   Rather fantastic, you may think, but is the atmosphere that Carr creates beforehand that makes this work. Here’s a long quote that will demonstrate, from pages 61-62, on the night previous. Morrison is in bed, trying to fall asleep:

   I put on my slippers and dressing gown. I lit a cigarette, was annoyed at the absence of an ash tray, wondered what to use for an ash tray, and compromised (as we usually do) by dropping the burned match into the soap dish.

   In the raw reaction of seeing light, nerves crawled. I would have given five pounds for A strong whisky and soda, to send me to sleep. There was no reason why I should not go downstairs and get myself one, except that it would be an admission of weakness if anybody saw me, and it seems the height of something-or-other to creep out and take whisky in another man’s house in the middle of the night.

   No: no whisky. Reading might do it. The cigarette smoke rose up blue, tasting thin and bitter. I was going over to the mantel to get a book when I heard, from somewhere down in the house, a heavy thud as though a sofa had been lifted and dropped.

   Then silence.

   Though that noise was not loud, the whole house seemed to vibrate to it; the tingle of the window frames, the jar of the electric bulb, the fancied shift of a plaster ceiling, for the thud had been in my chest as well.

   And here I made a discovery. In the shock of that noise, I think I discovered what is at the root of all the psychology of fear. The hot-and-cold feeling I experienced was one of pure relief. Something had happened: it could be investigated. It was no longer a question of lying supine, between starchy sheets, without shoes or the moral armor of a dressing gown, waiting in the dark for something to come to you. You could go to it. You could face it. And it was thereby shorn of half its terrors. We are frightened of ghosts because, in the literal sense, we take them lying down.

   If preparation is one weapon in Carr’s arsenal of writing tools, misdirection is another. Quite a bit is made of hidden passages (none found), sliding panels (no) and long poles with or without fishing hooks on a line (the opportunity is there, but neither poles nor hooks are to be found). Alibis are questioned, identities are mistaken, people make up tales to protect themselves, but in case you are wondering, as Fell tells Morrison on page 267, “…this is not Roger Ackroyd all over again.”

   Characterization is minimal. I would certainly have to concede that. The plot is everything, and if you don’t pick up on the clues that Dr. Fell spots and bases his solution to the matter upon, then you have no one to blame but yourself. They’re there; there are no two ways about it.

   If you were to persist in pointing out, however, that some of the characters’ actions are doubtful, designed only to further the plot as part of the massive authorial misdirection, I would have to confess that I could not disagree.

   I also confess that when the final denouement finally arrived, I was – not disappointed, but – let down. I was hoping for better – but of course there could be no other explanation, even though (in retrospect) it makes the chances of the events happening that led to the title character’s death slim and (dare I say it?) far-fetched, if not worse.

   Would the book make for a decent movie? Yes, in the 1930s. No, not today. To explain more would mean to explain too much. I’m tempted, but no, I simply can’t do it. There are some very nice twists in the tale, both beforehand and afterward, but I think the audiences of today are too well sophisticated for this particular explanation to have a snowball’s chance of going over and being accepted.

   This is not to say that I did not enjoy the book, for indeed I did. It is a marvelous game that Carr was playing here, and if this particular effort is not up to his best, which was the best there ever was, then so be it. The enjoyment that arises from reading a purely puzzle story like this one, whether it’s successful or not, can come from observing an expert who enjoys what he’s doing and who is careful and methodical about doing it. Even if Carr doesn’t manage to pull this one off, and I don’t think he does, there’s still plenty of pleasure to be found in simply sitting back, watching closely and seeing just what it is that he’s trying to do.

   There are not many other authors who’d even make the attempt, then or now.

— November 2005 (slightly revised)

A CLIMATE FOR KILLING. Black Crow Productions / Propaganda Films, 1991. John Beck, Katharine Ross, Steven Bauer, Mia Sara, Phil Brock. Written and directed by J. S. Cardone.

   I led a sheltered life through the 1990s. Before watching this movie, at the heart of which is a better-than-average murder mystery, I’d heard of only one of the members of the cast. Check the listing above, and you can probably tell which one that was. But between them all, they probably appeared in well over a hundred movies, many of them like this one, most of them without a lot of pretensions and with budgets, shall we say, on the skimpy side.

   The story. Found in the desert in Yuma County, Arizona, is the body of decapitated woman. Her hands have been removed as well, making it difficult if not impossible to identify her. Luckily Grace Hines, the local coroner (played by Katharine Ross), recognizes the birthmark on her thigh. Unluckily she can tell no one but Paul McCraw of the sheriff’s office (John Beck) since she saw the mark while performing an illegal abortion on the woman many years before.

   Which gets us to the core of the matter. Now the problem is the fact that the woman was presumed dead 15 years before. She was presumed murdered by her much older husband, who committed suicide later the same week in a fit of remorse. Written out like this, I think you may be able to put two and two together and get close to four faster than the investigators on the case manage to do, but it’s still an interesting challenge.

   Filling out the running time, though, is a subplot that arises when a young investigator (Steven Bauer) arrives at sheriff’s office tasked by a government office in Phoenix to “modernize” their operations there. Problem is that he’s a “by the books” kind of guy, and McCraw likes to work on “instinct.” Matters get even more complicated when the new guy starts taking out McCraw’s daughter.

   This part of the story is filler at best, but it does add another dimension to it. I watched the movie last week, but I recorded it from Cinemax on a VHS tape some 25 years ago. It has the ambience and basic ingredients of a made-for-TV movie, but it turns out it was not, as evidenced by a topless dancer in a local bar in one scene, and one rather graphic sex scene toward the end of the movie. Both gratuitous? Yes, of course they are.


REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:         


MIKE BOND – The Last Savanna. Mandevilla Press, paperback, 2013.

   Sunlight had fled to the upper eastern slopes. To the north, across vast, empty Suguta Valley, the sky shifted steadily from cobalt to blood and lavender; doves called from the candelabra euphorbias, “And you too? And you too?” A honeyguide fluttered past the doum palm, alit on a higher branch, and cocked its head expectantly down at the Samburu. “Come with me!” it twittered. “Honey! Honey! Come with me!” A string of puffball cumulus trooped across the eastern sky, nose to tail like elephants, sunset reddening their flanks, as if they’d been rolling, as elephants once did, in the ochre desert dust of the Dida Galgalu.

   Mike Bond’s The Last Savanna more than satisfies two of my favorite genres, the African novel and the classic adventure story as pioneered by the likes of Buchan and brought to its high point in the Post War era by writers like Hammond Innes, Victor Canning, and Elleston Trevor.

   Bond has been writing for a while and producing books of classic adventure that are both modern in voice and story, and beautifully written in prose both as hard as the men he writes about and lyrical as his finely realized settings with titles like Killing Maine, Holy War, and House of Jaguar.

   At issue in this one are the horrors of post Colonial Africa, torn by poverty, war, terrorism, and uncertainty. The plot follows three people, McAdam, a former SAS soldier turned protector of wildlife and hunter of the poachers who are destroying the legacy of African wildlife and funding terrorism with the money they make. Rebecca is a white woman McAdam will encounter as the hunt for the poachers tightens, and one he falls in love for after years of a bitter loveless marriage. Finally there is Warwar, one of the poachers, a young African limited in his choices who becomes hunted and hunter as the harsh landscape turns the tables on the two sides.

   Set on the border between Kenya and Ethiopia, the novel is unrelenting in its portrait of the modern African reality, of what the continent faces and the struggle of human and wildlife to survive the increasingly few resources.

   “We took out seven poachers but three more got away, with the tusks. You know it won’t stop till every elephant is dead. The problem’s Africa: the world wants copper so Africa rips open its belly. The world wants diamonds so Africa sends its young men down mines to die for them. People want ivory and colobus skins and oil and slaves so Africa plunders herself for them!”

   Bond balances his lyricism with hard-boiled writing and an unbiased view of the world, of tough men doing tough jobs and sometimes becoming too hardened to them, of men making wrong choices both because they have to few chances and the lure of easy wealth. It isn’t an easy world or a reassuring one he writes of, and the results aren’t often pretty, but he writes the adventure novel as well as I have seen it written for a while.

LARS ANDERSON “The Domino Lady Collects.” Short story. Domino Lady #1. Originally published in Saucy Romantic Adventures, May 1936. Collected in Compliments of the Domino Lady (Bold Venture Press, 2004). Reprinted in The Big Book of Female Detectives, edited by Otto Penzler (Black Lizard, 2018).

   Not the first paragraph of the story, but close to the beginning, and introducing the first recorded adventure of The Domino Lady!

   A nightgown of sheerest, green silk was but scant concealment for her gorgeous figure. A chastely-rounded body and a slender waist served to accentuate the seductive softness of her hips and sloping contours of her slim thighs, while skin like the bloom on a peach glowed rosily in the reflected sunlight.

   Fairly tame stuff, by today’s standards, but while I don’t know for sure, I suspect that at a lot of newsstands in 1936, you had to ask if they carried copies of Saucy Romantic Adventures, and if you didn’t look like some kind of close-minded law enforcement officer, they might have been able to sell you one from under the counter.

   Copies of the magazine that have survived until today go for large amounts of money. Scarcity and high demand. Simple economics. It certainly can’t be great literature that buyers are looking for.

   In the Penzler edition, the story is only eight pages long, barely enough to introduce the character, describe what it is that motivate her to dress up in style but adding a domino mask to keep her real identity a secret. She also has a job she has been asked to do, which she does most efficiently (some indiscreet letters must be retrieved). She has vengeance on her mind, to avenge the killing of her father at the hands of the “state machine.” That the villain in this piece is not jailed or otherwise inconvenienced by her intrusion into his home may mean the story continues right on into the next one.

   It’s a mere trifle, nothing more, and when it comes down to it, the writing is nothing to get excited about, D-level at best. Lars Anderson may have been a house name. If he was a real person, nothing solid seems to be known about him, but that his semi-sexy tales are being reprinted — and that stories of the character he created continue to be written by other hands — does say something about his ability to capture the minds of readers still young at heart. A little nostalgia for days past doesn’t hurt either.


      The original Domino Lady series

The Domino Lady Collects. Saucy Romantic Adventures, May 1936
The Domino Lady Doubles Back. Saucy Romantic Adventures, June 1936
The Domino Lady’s Handicap. Saucy Romantic Adventures, July 1936
Emeralds Aboard. Saucy Romantic Adventures, August 1936
Black Legion. Saucy Romantic Adventures, October 1936
The Domino Lady’s Double. Mystery Adventure Magazine, November 1936

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


THE WHITE TOWER. RKO, 1950. Glenn Ford, Alida Valli, Lloyd Bridges, Claude Rains, Oscar Homolka, Sir Cedric Hardwicke. Screenplay by Paul Jarrico, from the novel by James Ramsay Ullman. Art Direction by Ralph Berger. Directed by Ted Tetzlaff.

   A sparkling gem of a film, easy to watch and dazzling to behold.

   The story is of a disparate group of mountaineers who set out to climb a mountain known as the White Tower, each for his or her own reasons. Jarrico’s screenplay sketches them out capably, and in the hands of top-notch players (check out that cast) they come to life with subtle nuance. I particularly liked the way the characters each reacted differently to Lloyd Bridges as the able and indispensible member of the team who turns out to be an unreconstructed Nazi and a complete jerk besides.

   TOWER wastes a bit too much time getting them all started up the mountain, but the rich Technicolor imagery of the beautiful Alpine countryside — gorgeouser than which there is nothing — makes the time pass pleasantly And once they start the climb…

   Let me digress a bit: Director Ted Tetzlaff knew how to milk a story, as witness THE WINDOW (1949) but he was primarily a cinematographer, with impressive films like NOTORIOUS and THE ENCHANTED COTTAGE to his credit. His cinematographer here was Ray Rennahan, who could look back with pride on DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK, BLOOD AND SAND and DUEL IN THE SUN. And the sets (more on that later) were designed by Ralph Berger, who was responsible for the catchy visual backgrounds of WHITE ZOMBIE, THE LOST CITY, ON DANGEROUS GROUND and the first FLASH GORDON serial.

   Well, when three visual stylists like this get together, you can expect something special and they do not disappoint. The actual climbing is done in long shot by stunt doubles, but the way Tetzlaff and Rennahan capture the action, one never stops to think about that — at least this one didn’t; I was too busy gasping at the sight of them dangling from ledges and clawing at crevices to think about stunt doubles.

   When we see the stars in close-up on the mountain, it’s mostly in studio “exteriors” and it’s here where set-maker Berger really shines. I guess I knew on some level that Glenn Ford and Lloyd Bridges weren’t really hunkering down in a wind-lashed tent or clinging for their lives to fragile toe-holds in the snow, but that never occurred to me as I watched them doing it — the illusion is that good.

   WHITE TOWER ends as it started, with a bit too much Movie after the Story is over, but again there’s plenty of pretty pitchers to look at as you scrape the last husks of popcorn from your bag, and I can’t think of a better way to fill up the time.


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