April 2020


REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

FALSE COLORS. Paramount, 1943. William Boyd, Andy Clyde, Jimmy Rogers, Douglass Dumbrille, Tom Seidel, Claudia Drake, Glenn Strange, Pierce Lyden, Roy Barcroft, and Robert Mitchum. Screenplay by Bennett Cohen. Directed by George Archainbaud.

   Figure this for the plot of an imaginary film noir: Let’s say there are three War Buddies (maybe Alan Ladd, William Bendix, and Hugh Beaumont) who pick up a fourth towards the end of the war. The new guy, a veritable orphan, forms an attachment to his surrogate family of war buddies, and when he learns inherited a lot of money from the father he hasn’t seen in years, he impulsively writes a will making his new pals beneficiaries in the event of his death — which, as you might expect, comes around very soon and rather suspiciously thereafter.

   The buddies, of course, have no intention of accepting the money, and when they get out of the Service they journey to their late pal’s home town — and discover an imposter there in his place, along with a cute-kid-sister-in-distress! Something sinister’s going on, and with Douglass Dumbrille and Roy Barcroft around, it’s easy to see what.

   Okay. Now substitute a Cattle Drive for the war, make the three buddies cowboys and the inheritance a ranch, and you have the real False Colors, an intriguing Hopalong Cassidy effort with a fine cast of heavies, including Bob Mitchum, still in his “Right, Boss,” days. There’s the usual riding, running and shooting amid splendid backgrounds, a nice knock-down-drag-out between Boyd’s and Mitchum’s stuntmen, plus an interesting performance from someone named Tom Seidel (who?) as the neurotic buddy and his feckless impostor.

   Seidel’s performance, in fact, is one of those bits of desultory inspiration that make “B” movies so much fun to watch: It’s basically a nothing part in a pot-boiler movie, from an actor whose career never went anywhere, but he’s in it for all he’s worth, quietly, intelligently working up his act, and investing it with thoughtfulness and energy, even when he must have known no one would be watching.

   As for the rest, well, this was among the last half dozen Hoppy films produced by Harry Sherman, and it shows. Sherman’s care is still there in the excellent photography, locations and stunt work, but comic relief Andy Clyde is a bit tired, and Jimmy Rogers is no match for James Ellison or Russell Hayden, who preceded him. Young Bob Mitchum graduated in importance to the point where he could match stuntmen with the star, and his fellow-heavies are their usual nasty selves, but a tinge of weariness had settled in, and…

   …and actually it serves the story rather well, familiarity breeding a weary worldliness (or maybe a world-weariness) that would emerge a few years later in the cynical heroes of film noir — and foremost among them, Robert Mitchum.

   

BURKE’S LAW “Who Killed Cable Roberts?” ABC, 04 October 1963 (Season 1, Episode 3). Gene Barry (Captain Amos Burke), Gary Conway, Regis Toomey, Leon Lontoc. Guest Cast: Mary Astor, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Paul Lynde, John Saxon, Lizabeth Scott, Chill Wills. Writers: Gwen Bagni, Frank D. Gilroy Director: Jeffrey Hayden.

   The gimmick in the series, as I imagine almost all of you already know, is that Amos Burke is a millionaire cop who solves crimes while being chauffeured to the scene in his Rolls Royce. The title of the series comes from his way of coming up with some pearls of wisdom to pass along to his underlings at the appropriate times.  Example: “Never ask a question unless you already know the answer. Burke’s Law.”

   And let’s not overlook a third major factor in the show. Amos Burke is absolutely irresistible to women, no matter their age or martial status. The only reason Gary Conway and Regis Toomey (his underlings) are on the show are to exchange knowing looks and fake commiseration for Burke’s plight whenever the latest female guest star flings herself upon him.

   Cable Roberts, the victim in this, the third episode of the first season, is one of those legends of the western world who combine being a writer, a big game hunter and a producer of documentary films with being as unlikable a man as he can possibly be. He’s also rich, or does that go without saying? Rich enough to have a lithe and very limber wife like Lizabeth Scott and a maid with the strikingly exotic looks of a Zsa Zsa Gabor, not to mention a personal secretary (Paul Lynde) and a son (a very young John Saxon) whom he is very definitely on the outs with.

   Plenty of suspects, that is one thing that is for certain, and all the screenwriters have to do is pick one of them to be the killer, and then figure out a way for Captain Burke to put the finger on him or her with only a few minutes to go. The end result is pleasant way to spend the better part of an hour, but also very much forgettable after that. Except, that is, for Lizabeth Scott.

   And more than that, no one could ask.

   

ELIZABETH DEAN – Murder a Mile High. Emma Marsh & Hank Fairbanks #3. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1944. Rue Morgue Press, trade paperback, 2001.

   Colorado, that is, in the tourist town of Golden City. This is the third (and last) mystery to feature the sleuthing team of Miss Emma Marsh (of Boston) and Mr. Henry Fairbanks, of Naval Intelligence, but when an opera singer dies, it is only Emma who thinks it was murder.

   It took me a while to finish this one, once started, but I think this book is a gem. The story proceeds in fits and starts, backtracking as it does every once in a while to explain some puzzling bit of stuff that took place before, and since everything means something, you really do have to pay attention.

–Reprinted from Mystery*File #13, June 1989 (mildly revised).

      The Emma Marsh & Hank Fairbanks series —

Murder Is a Collector’s Item. Doubleday 1939.
Murder Is a Serious Business. Doubleday 1940.
Murder a Mile High. Doubleday 1944.

   All three have been reprinted by Rue Morgue Press. This may be prove useful to know if you find yourself wanting to read any of the series. I have discovered only one or two copies of the first two in hardcover offered for sale online, and none of this third one. (Hence no photo.)


   

   My opinion? This may be a fun series to watch, but just because they call it Perry Mason doesn’t make it PERRY MASON.

IN THE ELECTRIC MIST. Image Entertainment, 2009. Direct to DVD. Tommy Lee Jones (Lt. Dave Robicheaux), John Goodman, Peter Sarsgaard, Steenburgen, Macdonald, Justina Machado, Ned Beatty, Levon Helm (General John Bell Hood, Buddy Guy. Screenwriters: Jerzy Kromolowski & Mary Olson-Kromolowski, based on the novel In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead by James Lee Burke. Director: Bertrand Tavernier.

   Look at that cast, if you would. That’s quite an impressive ensemble for a movie that went straight to video. (It may have had one or two theatrical showings, but very few more, if any.) I will also tell you that this is probably the best adaptation of one of James Lee Burke’s novels about his long-time series character Lt. Dave Robicheaux of the New Iberia LA police department, that I can imagine.

   It’s absolutely beautifully photographed, too. So. What went wrong? Well, for one thing, the story’s too complicated, that of two cases in one, first, that of a murdered prostitute, and secondly, and of significantly less immediacy, the finding of the body of a black prisoner, still in chains, shot to death as he was trying to escape some 40 years before, and Dave saw it happen.

   It may be a case of following a book too closely. In all honesty, I’d stopped trying to follow the plot long before it ended. Nor is the rhythm exactly right. There are too many short scenes that can’t seem to muster the right amount of flow. Each scene is in miniature exactly right, but the pieces don’t fit together in a storytelling way. I will have to assume this makes sense, as I have been thinking this over and I have not come up with a better way to explain.

   Tommy Lee Jones is pitch perfect as Robicheaux, a world weary alcoholic prone to bursts of violence, a man who drinks only Dr Pepper, but when someone laces it with LSD, he begins to envision a troop of Confederate soldiers in the area, commanded by a straight- but somewhat elusive talking General John Bell Hood, played by an also remarkably effective non-actor by the name of Levon Helm, whose name I am sure all of you know as one of the founding members of The Band.

   An excellent a movie as I found this to be, and I have only begun to discuss many of the other things I liked about it, I can sympathize with the producers who had the job of trying to market it when the filming was over. I think it would have bombed in the movie theaters. I think it did all right on DVD and the various steaming services, though, and I’m glad I finally caught up with it.

   

   Screenwriter, producer, actor and novelist Andrew J. Fenady, born on October 4 , 1928, died on April 16 , 2020 in Los Angeles, California. His entry in the Bibliography of Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin, is small:

The Man with Bogart’s Face. Regnery 1977 [Sam Marlow]

The Secret of Sam Marlow. Contemporary 1980 [Sam Marlow]

Mulligan. Pinnacle 1989

   But says Kevin Burton Smith about Sam Marlowe on his Thrilling Detective website:

   “Way back in the seventies, during the mini-nostalgia boom for all things from the thirties and forties, actor Robert Sacchi parlayed his spooky resemblance to Humphrey Bogart into a nice little career in TV commercials and movie cameos. The big payoff, though, was the 1980 release of The Man With Bogart’s Face (1980, 20th Century Fox), wherein Sacchi was cast as, well, a man with Bogart’s face.

   “It’s essentially a one-gag flick, but it’s a good gag, adapted by Andrew J. Fenady from his own 1977 novel. Seems there’s this former LA cop, short a few crayons shy of a complete set, who retires, and blows his entire life’s savings on plastic surgery so that he can look like his hero and idol, Humphrey Bogart. Then he gets a P.I. ticket, a ’39 Plymouth, a trench coat and fedora, and sets up shop as SAM MARLOW (as in, Sam from Sam Spade, and Marlow from Phillip Marlowe).”

   Besides the film adaptation of The Man with Bogart’s Face, other crime or western movies, TV films and series Fenaday was involved with as either writer or producer (and often both) include:

Stakeout on Dope Street (1958)
The Rebel (TV series, 1959-61)
Las Vegas Beat (TV movie, 1961)
Broken Sabre (1965)
Branded (TV series, 1965-66)
Hondo (TV series, 1967)
Chisum (John Wayne, 1970)
Mayday at 40,000 Feet (TV movie, 1976)
A Masterpiece of Murder (TV movie, 1986)
Jake Spanner, Private Eye (TV movie, 1989)

   This list is far from complete. For a complete list, go to IMDB here.

   I’ll remember him most for the two Sam Marlowe books, however, and the movie made of the first one. It was one of the first books I remember reviewing for the Hartford Courant, well over 40 years ago now.

   And thanks to Michael Shonk for being the first to tell me of his passing, well before any other source online.
   

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

TIMOTHY WELCH – The Pro-Am Murders. Dion Quince #2. First published by Proteus, hardcover/paperback, 1979, as by Patrick Cake. Released for Kindle under the author’s true name, 2009.

   “The binary is the first in a long line of new weapons. They are dazzling, unbelievable,” he said, citing plans for weapons that can “vaporize” an enemy.

   Shortly after that quote appears in a Pentagon press release, a school bus full of the well-to-do children of a wealthy Monterey community is engulfed in a cloud of gas, and everyone on board is evaporated. That’s the act of terrorism that brings in professional writer/photographer Dion Quince (his books were a hybrid non-fiction form which he called “photo/prose,” and which artfully interwove poignant and joyous photographs with journalistic text of a high order), who in reality is the chief operative for Univest, Incorporated, the worlds most private private detective agency for whom Quince is both operative, bounty hunter, and killer when need be (reliable “terminators,” his boss calls them).

   In his first adventure Quince managed to complete his assignment by getting in to Wimbledon as a player (The Tennis Murders, paperback original, 1976). Here Edmund Groom, head of the “non-existent J Section,” which is headquartered on the super secret freighter Poppa Maru, and his despised underling Dearlove, assign Quince (“Quince, my boy, it is always a pleasure to see and talk with you. You lack obsequiousness.”) to investigate the missing children, but he thinks it is nothing but a kidnapping and not his kind of case.

   Before going further it should be pointed out that the model for Quince and the two adventures he appears in is Trevanian’s existentialist art professor assassin Jonathan Hemlock from The Eiger Sanction and The Loo Sanction. Like Hemlock, Quince is cynical, self contained, a psychologically flawed superman, cold, and an egoist. During torture in Vietnam something happened to him and pain, rather than crippling him, energizes him, and he is left with a psychological kink worthy of the Shadow or the Spider in the pulps:

   … has near maniacal feeling about justice and equity, reaching back to strong father figure… motherless household syndrome… during torture, s. apparently constructed a rigid quid pro quo model of justice closely resembling early Babylonian ‘eye for an eye’ which s. sees as basic, natural moral law which present human laws imperfectly resemble…

   In short, he is ruthless, self reliant, and not to be trifled with.

   It’s that and the well realized settings of the two Quince books that set them aside from the usual run of thrillers. Quince is easily as opinionated on just about everything as John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee, and Welch’s tone and voice offer the perfect cool but cruel elegance of Quince’s icy world. Better still Welch does this sort of thing damn near was well as Trevanian himself, which is reason enough to meet Dion Quince and add him to your book shelves.

   To actually imitate a writer like Trevanian you have to be almost as brilliant, cynical, opinionated, and erudite.

   Like Hemlock, who took on assassinations to pay for his art collection, Quince has his elegant lifestyle in his converted winery home, Skyline, where he lives with his houseman Kato, to pay for, so there isn’t much question when the money is right he will be drawn into the case of the vaporized children plus his own sense of justice when he learns they are dead.

   The other key factor in the series is the use of sports settings for the criminal and international goings on, Wimbledon in the first one, and in The Pro-Am Murders, the Bing Crosby Pebble Beach Golf Tournament where Quince, supposedly gathering material for his next book, is really after the man behind the brutal murder of twenty four seventh grade school children, a killer who signs his work Omnipotent, and likes to advertise.

   There is some actual detective work to be done, Omnipotent, and his motive, to be uncovered, well done scenes of the celebrity golf tournament (James Garner has a nice bit) that you can enjoy whether you care for golf or not, and a fair share of suspense, action, sex, and luxury along the way most of it kinky though far from pornographic.

   It is, like Trevanian’s own books, high level nonsense. Better written than most, the two books present an attractive and nuanced hero/anti-hero, a deeply wounded and damaged protagonist who features in two very entertaining adventures.

   The Tennis Murders was a paperback original. The Pro-Am Murders was published by Proteus Press in a limited edition replete with grainy photographs that are supposed to be Quince’s work. Both books were written by Timothy Welch, who wrote at least four novels and one non-fiction book. I wish he had written more about Dion Quince. The two books are not enough.

   Killing was not easy. The look in the eyes before they go, really and truly their lives flashing before their eyes, and the glimpses you catch of them as innocent children, twisted by something or someone along the way, or driven by genetic forces they were born with. Heredity or environment: it didn’t matter: there was still the look as they realized that it was over, and they had lived the wrong life. Maybe someday that look would be in his eyes.

   Copies of The Tennis Murders can be found from various sellers at reasonable prices, and there is a E-book edition of The Pro Am Murders replete with the original photographs for under $2.00 on Kindle.

       —

Editorial Comment: Both David and I have been wondering how it happened that the first book was apparently written under his own name, and he used a false one for the second. In fact it seemed a possibility that the pen name and his real name have been switched around all these years; that is to say Cake was real and Welch was the pen name. Some online searching came up with this obituary for Tim Welch, however, and the details seem to fit the stories he told, so this has ended that particular bit of speculation, at least for now.

BANSHEE “Pilot.” Cinemax. 11 January 2013. Antony Starr, Ivana Miličević, Ulrich Thomsen, Frankie Faison, Hoon Lee, Rus Blackwell, Ben Cross. Created and written by Jonathan Tropper and David Schickler. Director: Greg Yaitanes.

   This is a pilot that pretty much does exactly what it’s supposed to do. It sets up the characters and the situation, tell a story as it does so, and makes the viewer want to  come back for more. In this case, though, it takes the entire hour’s length of running time to squeeze everything in, and the average viewer  (me) will still have a lot of questions. I guess I’ll have to watch the next one!

   I’ll start with the characters, then, and maybe fill in the situation as I go. It’s rather complicated, but I’ll try to make things simple, if I can. A man (an appropriately tough-looking Anthony Starr) is just out of prison, and with the help of an old friend (Hoon Lee) he’s is able to find his way to the small Amish town of Banshee PA, where a former girl friend and (as it turns out) accomplice (Ivana Miličević), who is now married to the D.A. (Rus Blackwell), who trying his hardest to put a local mobster (UlrichThomsen) behind bars. On the ex-convict’s trail back in Manhattan is a crime boss (Ben Cross) who has a powerful reason for finding him.

   I hope you’re still with me, since the most outrageous piece of the plot line is yet to come – and this occurs early, so I’m not giving too much away, I hope – the convict manages to take the identity of the new sheriff in town before he can present himself to the mayor who has just hired him, sight unseen.

   That’s enough story line for a full season of ten episodes, wouldn’t you say? The show was, in fact, popular enough to be on for four seasons, probably based on that last gimmick, but I’ve resisted temptation and not looked that far into the future. Except an unnecessary focus at the results of some ultra-violence, I enjoyed this one and will go along for the ride, at least for now.  You might even say I’m hooked.

   

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by John Lutz

   

GEORGE CHESBRO – Shadow of a Broken Man. Mongo #1. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1977. Signet, paperback, 1978.

   This is the first Chesbro novel featuring Dr. Robert Fredrickson – a professor of criminology who doubles as a private detective, is a dwarf, and is known to his friends as Mongo. A onetime top circus performer, Mongo possesses some very useful skills for tight situations, among them tumbling and gymnastic ability and a black belt in karate.

   While preparing to leave for vacation in Acapulco, Mongo is approached by Mike Foster, who married the widow of’ famous architect Victor Rafferty. Foster’s wife. Elizabeth, happened to see a photograph of a new museum in an architectural magazine, and is convinced that the design is the work of her husband. But Victor died five years ago, and the museum’s design is listed as the work of a man named Richard Patera. Victor Rafferty died from a fall into an open melting furnace, so there was essentially no body to be recovered, and Elizabeth is haunted by the conviction that Rafferty is still alive. Mike Foster’s marriage is suffering; he wants Mon to clear up this matter so he and Elizabeth can get on with their lives.

   Mongo assumes there won’t be too much complication here, so he postpones his vacation and accepts the case. His first move is to consult professor of design Franklin Manning, resident architectural genius, who flatly tells Mongo that the museum is Rafferty’s design, without question. And suddenly Mongo is involved in something much more complex and dangerous than he imagined. Russian and French agents are part of the package, as are U.N. Secretary Rolfe Thaag and more than one victim of Communist brutality.

   The writing here is literate and fast-paced, the plot is intricate, the concept is bizarre yet entirely plausible. This is a well-spiced recipe that results in haute cuisine.

   Chesbro is also the author of City of Whispering Stone (1978), An Affair of Sorcerers (1979), and The Beasts of Valhalla (1985), which likewise feature Mongo.

      ———
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.

   

Bibliographic Note: By the time his career in books was over, Mongo had appeared in a total of 13 novels and one story collection, most of which had previously been published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine or Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine.

E. V. CUNNINGHAM – The Case of the Sliding Pool. Sgt. Masao Masuto #5. Delacorte, hardcover, 1981. Dell, paperback, 1983.

   On page one we are told that Masao Masuto is a Zen Buddhist. On page two, that he is a Nisei, which means that he was born in the US of Japanese parents. And on page three we learn that when called upon, he serves as half of the homicide squad of the Beverly Hills police force. He’s a complex character, and it shows.

   This is not his first case, and if, like me, you haven’t read any of his earlier ones, you’ll want to go back and get your hands on them. In the one at hand, heavy rains sweep away a huge concrete swimming pool, leaving behind the burial ground of what now is nothing more than a thirty-year-old skeleton.

   Faced with this challenge, Detective Sergeant Masuto immediately reconstructs the crime that must have taken place. Forthcoming are some of the most imaginative deductions since the days of Sherlock Holmes. (Or should that be Charlie Chan, whom Masuto is most often accused by his colleagues of emulating?)

   As it turns out, his theories, based on what seems to be little more than educated guesswork, not surprisingly do have some gas in them. Masuto, however, while not as overly modest in regard to his abilities as an Inspector Ghote, say, is also not too proud to change his working hypotheses as he goes.

   If it were not for the sudden, unexpected bombshell Cunningham explodes on the reader on page 152 [of the hardcover edition], wholly unanticipated and completely changing the direction of Masuto’s investigation, this would have had to have been ranked as one of the top detective novels of he year.

   The book is still terrifically readable, but you will feel like giving Cunningham a kick in the spot where he most deserves it for all the holes that are left behind when he’s done.

–Very slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 6, Nov/Dec 1981.

   

      The Sgt. Masao Masuto series —

Samantha. Morrow 1967.
The Case of the One-Penny Orange. Holt 1977.
The Case of the Russian Diplomat. Holt 1978.
The Case of the Poisoned Eclairs. Holt 1979.
The Case of the Sliding Pool. Delacorte 1981.
The Case of the Kidnapped Angel. Delacorte 1982.
The Case of the Murdered Mackenzie. Delacorte 1984.

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