June 2019


COMMENTS BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


   I just watched the Kino Lorber Blu-Ray release of Kidnapped (1971) starring Michael Caine. Despite some plot flaws and the fact that the film seems to require the viewer know something about the Jacobite Risings and the doomed struggle of the Scottish Highlanders for freedom from English rule, it’s a fun movie.

   It’s the type of adventure film that is rarely made anymore. A sort of timeless work that’s intended to appeal to both children and adults. Filmed on location in Scotland, the scenery is spectacular. Apparently, Kidnapped was originally designed as a television movie. But it works as a feature film too and was released as such in some countries.

   The trailer does a fairly good job in giving the would-be viewer a sense of what to expect from the movie. Some adventure, some drama, some romance, and a host of British character actors with names likely familiar to moviegoers at the time.

This British band had some success in the 70s and reformed briefly in 2005. I don’t know when this live video was made, but the lead singer is Jenny Haan. ADDED LATER: Some sources say 1972.

MANNING COLES – The Basle Express. Tommy Hambledon #19. Doubleday/Crime Club, hardcover, 1956. First published in the UK: Hodder & Stoughton, hardcover, 1956. Paperback reprints: Jonathan Press #93, digest-sized, ca. 1957; Berkley F892, no date stated.

   While taking the overnight train from Calais, France, to Basle, Switzerland, the man in Tommy Hambledon’s compartment is knifed to death. The fact that Hambledon works for British intelligence is both purely coincidental and inconvenient: whoever killed the journalist Edouard Bastien now thinks that Hambledon must have the stolen papers he was looking for, and he and his gang follow Tommy, intent only on a vacation, into Austria atnd the Tyrolian Alps in a continuing series of serio-comic but still deadly adventures.

   Chief among these is, along with the head of the Austrian Special Police, being asked to strip naked before they make their escape from their captors, then after finding some feed sacks to mostly cover themselves, being assumed to be fellow companions of two mental patients who have wandered off their grounds, all the while traipsing through the rocky Tyrolian mountainside.

   As far as being entertaining, The Basel Express falls into the category of “very.” One can only wish that where the missing papers have gone wasn’t so obvious. I knew at once, while Hambledon, very embarrassingly, takes half the book to have a dotty lady from England come across their hiding place for him. That I found very unsatisfying.

ED McBAIN – Cop Hater. 87th Precinct #1. Permabook M-4268, paperback original, 1956. Reprint editions include: Signet, paperback, 1973. Pocket, paperback, 1999.

COP HATER. United Artists, 1958. Robert Loggia (Detective Steve Carelli), Gerald O’Loughlin, Ellen Parker, Shirley Ballard, Jerry Orbach. Screenwriter: Henry Kane, based on the novel by Ed McBain. Director: William Berke.

   In his introduction to the Pocket edition, Ed McBain (Evan Hunter) lays out his case that Cop Hater was the first ever ensemble police procedural, in which the focus is not always on the same detective from book to book, that the detectives involved would even not only come and go, but those who stayed would grow as individuals as time went on.

   I have no reason to disagree. There were police procedurals of course before he came along, but none that I know of that follow the pattern he established with the 87th Precinct books. (You can read more about the history of this particular subgenre of crime fiction here.) Nor can you argue against the success of the series. There were 55 in all, the final one being Fiddlers, which came out in 2005, the year Evan Hunter died.

   Cop Hater, as well as all of the other books in the series, takes place in the fictional city of Isola, which for all intents and purposes may as well be New Your City. Again in his introduction McBain explains why he decided to go the Isola route: He thought he was taking up too much of time of the various detective he was in touch with trying to be sure his facts were as correct as possible.

   This, the first book, takes place in the middle of a heat wave, day after day in the 90s, with air conditioned homes and offices at a premium, including the 87th Precinct’s station house. Compounding the problems of the officers who are headquartered there is that they have a series killer on their hands, someone who hates cops and is taking out that hatred the hard way.

   The count is up to three before they get a break in the case as well as in the weather. Most of the work is done by dogged on-the-ground police work, dead ends and false leads included. A great start to an even better series overall. To my mind, anyone who’s a fan of police procedurals can really ought to own as many books in this series as they can.

   As drenched in sweat as the book is, the movie is even more so, when we can see the effects of the heat if not feel it ourselves. I think that this a movie that’s actually helped by not having a big budget to spend on expensive sets — the cheaper they are, the more authentic they seem — or even the money to spend on bigger name actors, which as it turns out, wasn’t needed anyway. All the people in this film are dead=on perfect.

   The movie follows the book almost exactly as well, except for one added scene in which Carelli (Carella in the book) and his girl friend Teddy (who is deaf) go out on a double date with his partner Maguire (Bush in the book) and his wife. I’m not sure why this was included. I may have misinterpreted the scriptwriter’s intention, but to me it made the ending feel tacked on, rather than coming as a logical conclusion, as it does in the book.

   Don’t put a lot of meaning to this. If you enjoy the 87th Precinct books, all I can say is don’t miss this filmed version of the very first one.


REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM. Lionsgate, UK, 2016. Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke, Douglas Booth, Sam Reid, Maria Valverde, Daniel Mays, Eddie Marsan Screenplay by Jane Goldman based on the novel Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem by Peter Ackroyd Directed by Juan Carlos Medina.

   I haven’t read the novel by Peter Ackroyd this film was based on, but based on Mr. Ackroyd’s previous work (Hawksmoor) I have to assume something went terribly wrong in the translation from book to screen. The year is 1880, and the Limehouse section of London has been rocked by a series of bizarre unrelated murders by a killer who designates himself as the Limehouse Golem, after murdering a rabbi who was studying the Golem of legend when he was struck down.

   Inspector Kildare of Scotland Yard is assigned to the case with Constable Flood (Daniel Mays) and a quote by the Golem from Thomas de Quincey’s book Murder as a Fine Art leads them to the British Library, where the book is found defaced by the Golem with his own notes leading to four suspects who had access to the reading room before the murder — Dan Leno (Douglas Booth), a musical comic and social commentator who performs in drag; John Cree {Sam Reid), a journalist and failed playwright who was recently poisoned and whose wife, former music hall star Lizzie (Olivia Cooke) Leno’s protegee, is on trial for his murder; Karl Marx; and, Victorian novelist George Gissing, the latter two providing brief and pointless cameos and filler as each suspect gets a scene as the supposed killer (I suspect Ackroyd used them to show the political and social unrest and injustice of the era in the novel since that was what both men were known for, but here they serve only as unconvincing red herrings and in Gissing’s case a visit to a Limehouse Opium den).

   Kildare soon becomes convinced that Cree is the killer, and that he can save Cree’s wife from the gallows if he can obtain a handwriting sample from the dead man and win sympathy for her as the wife who poisoned the Golem, but Cree destroyed all his own papers before his death and Lizzie Is curiously unwilling to be helped. A sample of Cree’s handwriting is the McGuffin the plot turns on, and source of one of the plots major twists (which is spelled out so obviously that I cannot imagine they expected anyone not to notice).

   Before going any further I should mention most of the cast is outstanding, especially Olivia Cooke and Douglas Booth in the most demanding and theatrical roles. I wish I could say the same of Bill Nighy, an actor whose work I have greatly enjoyed elsewhere, but to call this performance one note would assume he ever achieves an actual tonal quality as Kildare. Even rushing to prevent an execution he can’t muster much.

   Poor man obviously read the screenplay.

   Some effort is made at providing a fair play solution, with red herrings presented, misdirection staged, and only a few plot contrivances to string the viewer along (with handwriting samples vital to their case the investigators drag their heels collecting the easiest of those needed because it would eliminate an attractive suspect thus making it all the easier for the viewer to figure out who did it — as if anyone didn’t early on).

   And there lies one of the film’s problems. While scrupulously providing red herrings and misdirection the script has also been showing us the killer’s motive, nature, and personality so clearly that when the big twist comes it is no twist at all — you will have figured it out long before the detectives do, and killed the big reveal that is supposed to be the major plot element. Frankly I am having trouble even writing the review without giving the game away.

   I’ll grant that the big twist might have fooled audiences even twenty years ago, and certainly in the Victorian period the story is set in, but in 2019 most of us have matured enough to think the once unthinkable, and once you even entertain the idea of the killer’s real identity everything that has gone before makes sense. Worse, if, like me, you caught on fairly early, then everything that happens simply convinces you more to the point you want to yell at Nighy’s character because it is so obvious.

   Not really where you want to be in a mystery.

   There are a few other minor problems from a historical standpoint. The Golem murders are headline grabbing news, yet handed to Kildare who has never investigated a homicide. We know enough about the Yard to know that passing difficult cases off on incompetents wasn’t how things worked. There was great social unrest in London in this period, riots, crime, and terrorism, and the Yard would have moved swiftly as they did eight years later with the Ripper to reassure the city. Abberline, who investigated the Ripper may have been a drunk, but he was a drunk with a reputation for solving crimes.

   Novelist or no, there is a point you have to nod to reality. In addition both Kildare and Flood are gay, and fairly openly so. I am not arguing there were no gay inspectors or constables, but this was a period when the Yard was raiding male brothels (at one point embarrassing the Royal family and government by capturing an heir to the crown in one) and persecuting gays and I would have to see some historical evidence that gay men were openly tolerated in the Metropolitan Police in this period. The idea of the barely closeted Kildare and the fairly open Flood (at least they are in the film) being tolerated in that environment much less assigned a sensitive case is unlikely, and if the book makes a believable argument for why or how, the film doesn’t bother. And there lies another problem, since I suspect a lot of dotted i’s and crossed t’s in Ackroyd’s book got left on the cutting room floor in lieu of sensationalism and melodrama.

   Many of my problems with the film are likely dealt with in the novel in light of Ackroyd’s known literary skills.

   It’s just one of several things in the film that work against the important suspension of disbelief needed in any film and especially in one with a historical setting. I’m far from a stickler about these things, but when they interfere with story logic they do bother me, and I know Ackroyd, an expert on this era and a fine novelist and biographer, knows better leading me to suspect the screenwriter and director just didn’t bother.

   The film is handsomely produced, and there is a certain underlying intelligence and literacy. There is brief nudity and quite a bit of gore as well as some disturbing scenes but nothing too gratuitous. The glimpse of musical hall life in Victorian London and the few bits of performances and plays are the best of the film, and you share young Lizzie’s euphoria on stage with her, so much so I wish they had dumped the murder mystery and made a film about the Victorian music halls instead.

   I suspect if you see it, you will feel the same.


DANCING WITH CRIME. Coronet Films Ltd./Paramount, UK, 1947. Richard Attenborough, Barry K. Barnes, Sheila Sim, Garry Marsh, John Warwick, Judy Kelly, Barry Jones. Director: John Paddy Carstairs.

   Richard Attenborough, he of Jurassic Park fame, was very young when he made this film, only 24, but if you’re fond of crime movies taking place against a backdrop of a postwar British dance palace, he’s not the only reason to watch this film.

   To tell you the truth, I’m not sure how man other movies there were taking place against a backdrop of a postwar British dance palace, crime film or not, but it only adds to the semi-noirish aspect of the movie. When a war buddy tries to persuade a young taxi driver named Ted Peters (Attenborough) that there’s easy money to be made in some obviously criminal activity he’s part of, Peters turns him down, only to later find his friend dead in the back of his cab.

   The aforementioned dance palace seems to be the headquarters of the gang, and while Peters goes straight to the police, he decides to do some investigating on his own. Not only that, but his girl friend agrees to go undercover as a hostess at the club. Kind of a lark on both their parts, as neither of them seems to be all that broken up at the death of the friend.

   But lark or not, it’s still very much an engaging sort of story, in which Attenborough gets to show off his athletic prowess as well as his acting ability. At least twice he gets away from hoodlums holding guns directly on him. It’s also good to see a movie in which the villains are entirely bad. Not a streak of goodness in any of them.


Of all of Joni Mitchell’s hit songs, I think this this is my favorite:

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


CODE TWO. MGM, 1953. Ralph Meeker, Robert Horton. Sally Forrest, Jeff Richards. Elaine Stewart, Keenan Wynn, James Craig. Director: Fred M. Wilcox

   Code Two, a movie that I was completely unfamiliar with prior to purchasing it on DVD a few days before watching it, is actually two movies in one. The first, which goes on far too long, is a completely inoffensive, if occasionally dull, semi-documentary film about three recruits at the Los Angeles Police Academy. The story follows the three men as they transition from civilians to motorcycle cops working in the Traffic Division. There’s really nothing particularly wrong with this portion of the movie. But there’s no compelling reason for it to exist, either. That is, unless you are really – and I mean really – interested in police motorcycles.

   Now on to the second movie, so to speak. This far more invigorating portion of the film is a crime drama/murder mystery in which one of the recruits, a hothead by the name of Chuck O’Flair (Ralph Meeker), must redeem himself and apprehend the cattle rustlers who killed his friend and partner, Harry Whenion (Jeff Richards). There’s some romance between O’Flair and his now deceased friend’s girlfriend, but that thankfully takes a back seat to some standard police procedural moments. There’s a motorcycle chase (of course) and there’s the “calling all cars” segment that I am sure the producers insisted be in the film.

   But what really stands out is a final action sequence in which O’Flair must wage a one-man war against a gaggle of cattle rustlers in a slaughterhouse somewhere out in the northern part of Los Angeles County. It’s a fairly violent and rather gritty ending to a film that starts off as a genial look at the day in the life of LAPD recruits.

   Meeker is well-cast and makes as much as he can of the part. Look for Robert Horton, perhaps best known for his work in the Western genre, as Meeker’s partner and for Keenan Wynn and James Craig as the police brass. One last thing. The DVD cover tells me that this movie is “the fastest drama on two wheels!” I suspect that’s a bit of hyperbole.


CORRIDORS OF BLOOD. Amalgamated Productions, UK, 1958. MGM, US, 1962. Boris Karloff (Dr. Thomas Bolton), Betta St. John, Finlay Currie, Francis Matthews, Adrienne Corri, Francis de Wolff, Christopher Lee. Screenplay: Jean Scott Rogers. Director: Robert Day.

   In spite of the title, not so much a horror movie as it is a fictional docudrama of the early attempts to find a means of making surgery free of pain. The horror of these efforts comes in imagining, for example, having your leg amputated while you are strapped down and awake on the operating table, while a small auditorium of onlookers cheer the doctor on.

   Spurred on by seeing a former patient begging in the street with half a leg and half a mind as the direct result of one of his operations, famed surgeon Thomas Bolton is determined to do something about it. To this end and for the chemicals he needs, he finds himself swapping false death certificates to a local den of thieves who specialize in selling cadavers to the local hospital. (Christopher Lee plays one of the henchmen in the gang, a bloodthirsty chap named Resurrection Joe.)

   As you might expect, Boris Karloff as the beleaguered doctor is the star of the show, but so is the setting and the sharp and clear black-and-white photography. Any chills sneaking up and down your spine are only in your mind, and what could be worse than that?


REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


CHARLIE CHAN AT THE OPERA. Fox, 1936. Warner Oland, Boris Karloff, Keye Luke, William Demarest, Charlotte Henry, Thomas Beck, Margaret Irving, Gregory Gaye, Nedda Harrigan, Frank Conroy and Guy Usher. Written by Scott Darling, Charles Belden and Bess Meredyth, based on the character created by Earl Derr Biggers. Directed by H. Bruce Humberstone. Libretto by Oscar Levant.

   Above the title, the screen reads, “WARNER OLAND vs BORIS KARLOFFF” which is not exactly true of the ensuing film, but I remember it did pump considerable excitement into the monster-movie fan I was at 14, watching Charlie Chan at the Opera after school.

   In the wisdom of my advancing years I can appreciate CCatO for the anomaly it is. Or was. In 1936 Horror movies were banned in Britain and began to disappear from American screens, not to return till Son of Frankenstein in 1939. In the interim, Karloff made only a handful of films, and in 1938 would find himself feebly competing with Oland in Monogram’s “Mr. Wong” series – “Warner Oland vs Boris Karloff” indeed!

   But let’s get back to Charlie Chan at the Opera. It’s basically a Chan film trimmed out with some Horror Movie clichés — it even opens on a dark & stormy night!—and as such it shows off the strengths and weaknesses of Fox’s durable Chan series: strong production values and a capable supporting cast vs Oland’s tedious delivery, cardboard characters, and improbable story-line.

   Karloff opens the film in bravura style as an escaped maniac on some sort of vendetta that leads him back to the Opera where he once starred, with murders ensuing. But since this is a Chan film, he can’t actually be the killer — a bitter disappointment to a young horror fan of my acquaintance.

   Instead, we get the usual suspects: Margaret Irving, Geregory Gaye and Nedda Harrigan are rather good as the Nasty Diva, Philandering Baritone, and his Jealous Wife, but Charlotte Henry and Thomas Beck merely take up space as the perfunctory young lovers — there’s a momentary eyebrow-raiser when a bit of careless writing pegs Ms Henry’s age as about 11, but this isn’t that kind of movie; it’s the kind of movie where William Demarest plays the obligatory Dumb Cop on a single shrill note that gets tiresome very quickly.

   Against this mediocrity, Karloff and his back story (Years ago his “widow,” now the Nasty Diva, locked him in his dressing room during a theater fire.) emerge with a full-blooded theatricality I still find highly enjoyable. When Karloff comes on as Mephisto, glowering and demonic, belting out his ersatz villainy at the top of his lungs, CCatO achieves an intensity that seems fittingly poetic. And it’s fun to watch, too.

   I should add that this may be due in large measure to Oscar Levant’s mini-opera, with Karloff’s big scene reprised to haunting effect as he is lured back out onstage in an empty theater by the orchestra playing his big number. Levant was obviously having fun with this (I could swear I heard Karloff singing “Coloratura! ColoraTURRRAHHH!”) but it makes a perfect showcase for the actor, the character, and a scene that, like many old horror films, is strikingly operatic.


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