February 2021


REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

HENRY KANE. My Darlin’ Evangeline. Dell First Edition B198, paperback original; 1st printing, 1961. Revised and reprinted as The Perfect Crime (Belmont, paperback, 1967). TV Adaptation: As “An Out for Oscar,” The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, 05 Apr 1963 (screenplay by David Goodis).

HENRY KANE. Death on the Double. PI Peter Chambers #13. Avon #761, paperback original; 1st printing, 1957. Signet D2644, paperback, 1965.

   A week or so ago I looked through my vast, well-organized (HAH!) bookshelves and noticed some books about which I could remember nothing. Intrigued, I pulled a few out and….

   Henry Kane is best-remembered for his character Pete Chambers, Private Eye (Or Private Richard, as Chambers put it.) but My Darlin’ Evangeline is a stand-alone about meek bank clerk Oscar Blimmey, who meets and falls in love with a globe-trotting town tramp, Evangeline Ashley. They meet in Miami, where Kane also rings in Bill Grant, a small-time heel who dreams of becoming a big-time cad. When Evangeline and Bill run afoul of a local drug lord, he takes a powder, and she quits the scene by marrying the closest available chump — Oscar Blimmy.

   That’s just the beginning of Oscar’s woes though, because he happens to be in charge of the cash handed out on Thursdays to several large payroll accounts; this was the early 60s, remember, when lots of cash money changed hands, banks were built like marble tombs, and bank tellers were trained to use firearms. So when Evangeline re-connects with Bill, and they….

   Write the rest yourself. Any decent writer could, and many did it pretty well, but Kane stumbles in his portrait of the central character. Besides being a perfect schlemiel, Oscar is also built like an Adonis but shy with women, proficient with guns and fists, but a confirmed pacifist and a devout coward. The contradictions in character are just too many and too convenient to the story to make it at all convincing.

   Death on the Double consists of two novelettes featuring Peter Chambers. The writing in the first, “Watch the Jools,” is agreeably glib, but the plot is something Keeler would have rejected as overly fanciful. Something about a rare gem with a curse on it, a man found drowned in his locked (and quite dry) private office, a costume party where everyone must dress in the costume dictated by an eccentric millionaire, and… well by the time Kane rang in the sword-swallowing Master Criminal, I was ready to call it quits.  “Beautiful Day,” the second half of Death on the Double awaited, but I had a Fredric Brown next on the pile….

      —
Note: Updated to include information about the TV adaptation of My Darlin’ Evangeline. (See comment #3.)

Today, February 23 —

   A man knocked on my door and asked for a small donation towards the local swimming pool, so I gave him a glass of water.

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

THE UNDYING MONSTER. 20th Century Fox, 1942. James Ellison, Heather Angel, John Howard, Bramwell Fletcher, Heather Thatcher, Aubrey Mather, Halliwell Hobbes. Screenplay by Lillie Hayward and Michael Jacoby, based on the novel by Jessie Douglas Kerruish (Heath Cranton, UK, hardcover, 1922. Macmillan, US, hardcover, 1936). Directed by John Brahm.

   This is a B-movie. Don’t get confused because it is well done, it’s a B by a director, John Brahm, who was about to breakout into a brief A career (The Lodger, Hangover Square, The Brasher Doubloon) before eventually ending up directing television. What he does here is to bring an A sensibility and skills to a B film for all its B trappings and cast.

   The novel, by Jessie Douglas Kerruish, is among other things, one of the best werewolf novels ever written. Admittedly that isn’t a very wide area, there’s Dumas’s The Wolf Leader, Stevenson’s updated Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Guy Endore’s Werewolf of Paris, and in modern times, a handful of books by Poul Anderson, Stephen King, Robert McKinnon, Gary Brander, and Richard Jacoma, but for all their popularity in film, there are relatively few literary werewolves worth noting.

   I guess they are too hairy and smelly to be as sexy as vampires.

   The novel is somewhat more serious and better than the film, though the basic story is the same. John Hammond is the scion of cursed family haunted by a monster that takes the life of the oldest born. He brings in a friend to help and it is discovered an ancient Viking curse turns the Hammond men into ravening beasts at a certain age. Much of the novel is uncovering that curse and then finding a way to reverse it before it is too late.

   It is an excellent supernatural novel that comes close to actually making werewolves halfway believable and is full of invention and ideas. Of its kind it is a small and distinguished classic.

   The film keeps the central idea, but loses much of what makes the novel a classic of its kind.

   Yet in its own way the movie, B as it is, is a minor classic too, standing comfortably only just behind The Wolfman and The Werewolf of London despite its cheaper production values.

   John Howard (Paramount’s Bulldog Drummond) is John Hammond, scion of the Hammond family, and “victim” of the family curse when his little dog is killed by something in the dark on a foggy night. Not much later there is a human death and Scotland Yard is brought in.

   Inspector Craig (Aubrey Mather) thinks this is the perfect case for scientific detective Robert Curtis (James Ellison who had a relatively brief career as a minor leading man and cowboy star) and his female assistant Christy (Heather Thatcher), who is a bit on the screwball side and something of a suffragette (the period is Pre-WW I), who is dispatched to Hammond manor to lay the beast, or the murderer, whichever it may be.

   Largely set-bound, Brahm does a good job with dark and light and fog to keep everything swirling around all the fuzzy edges. There is a claustrophobic feel to the film of something awful in the shadows that is well contrasted with Ellison’s bright scientific mind trying to shine light in all those dark corners, even if that light may reveal something science isn’t ready for

   This film is as close as you get in the period to “Sherlock Holmes Meets the Wolfman.”

   Things aren’t easy either, Hammond’s beautiful sister (Heather Angel) is endangered, butler Halliwell Hobbes is hiding something, and Dr. Bramwell Fletcher is downright suspicious — is he just jealous of Curtis attraction to Heather Angel, or is there something more going on? He is certainly hiding something.

   He knows something.

   And why is he poisoning John Hammond?

   It’s a fast moving movie, and builds to a fine finish on the cliffs with the mystery of the Hammond curse laid at last, very nearly finally for Curtis.

   In some ways the most interesting character in the film is Heather Thatcher’s Christy, Watson to Curtis Holmes. She is a modern mature woman, not a helpless young thing, and she has some actual skills though she is in part comic relief. For once though you can actually see why Curtis might have her around. She isn’t just there to point a gun at the bad guy after Curtis exposes him or look good around the office.

   This is no masterpiece. Younger viewers may not have as much patience with it as those of us who grew up on B films.

   I would still like to see a more faithful adaptation of the Kerruish novel, but this is damn good on its own and hold up fairly well.

   For now you can catch it on YouTube, and it is actually worth a look.

   

Just thinking: What if there were no hypothetical questions?

TECH DAVIS

GOODYEAR THEATER. “The Victim.” 06 Jan 1958 (Season 1, Episode 8). Jack Lemmon, Doe Avedon, Lana Wood, Ross Elliott, John Eldredge, John Gallaudet. Writer: Marc Brandel. Director: Robert Florey. Currently available on YouTube here.

   A minor, moody semi-crime thriller. A man who has recently lost his wife is on the verge of losing his daughter as well, leaving her in the custody of his sister while struggling to find meaning in life once again. He keeps making promises to her but can’t follow though, and when she asks when she can come back home so they can live together, all he can summon up are the vaguest of promises.

TECH DAVIS

   But then he finds himself being followed by two men, no matter where he goes. He has no idea why, and there’s nothing to take to the police. The mystery does give him some purpose in living, though, and although the plot gets really creaky at the end, all ends well.

   Jack Lemmon, one of my favorite actors, plays the “everyman” almost perfectly, as he did throughout his career. Lana Wood was only twelve at time this was filmed, and unfortunately has little to do – nothing to indicate that she had a long career on TV and the movies ahead of her. The rest of cast are old pros in the business, and it shows.

   

REVIEWED BY DOUG GREENE:

   

CLIFFORD KNIGHT – The Affair of the Black Sombrero. Professor Huntoon Rogers #5. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1939. No paperback edition.

TECH DAVIS

   Clifford Knight bad several abilities as an author of detective stories. His writing style, though not exactly scintillating, was several cuts above the average for the 1930s. He had a genuine sense of place and an occasional gift of vivid description. Yet, despite these abilities, Knight was on the whole only a fair writer. He could be fairly good, as with The Affair of the Scarlet Crab and The Affair of the Heavenly Voice; or fairly bad, as with The Affair of the Fainting Butler.

   The Affair of the Black Sombrero is simply, well, fair. The major character is a bright young thing named Elsa Chatfield, whom Knight clearly wants us to admire. She represents, Knight tells us, “something eternal in the spirit of American youth.” If that’s true, I’m glad I’m not young any more, for Elsa is utterly insensitive and given to minor cruelties (which Knight probably considers high spirits).

   The detective, an English professor named Huntoon Rogers whose connection with university life seems tenuous at best, is interested in the mysterious death of Elsa’s Aunt Kitty a year earlier. But little happens in the first hundred pages of the book except to describe Elsa’s career as a commercial artist. The pace picks up when Rogers is invited to join Elsa’s family on a sailfishing trip to Mexico. The Mexican scenes are well-done, and the description of the fishing itself – resulting in the horrifying death of one of the main characters – is effective. Two more murders occur before Rogers rather haphazardly tosses off the solution, based in part on information never given to the reader.

   The Affair of the Black Sombrero indicates why Knight’s books never quite became memorable. He lacked a sense of pace, and his characters never became alive. Although most characters in 1930s detective novels are cardboard, a good writer could trim his cardboard into distinctive shapes. But all of Knight’s paper dolls remain alike. On the other hand he always included enough good scenes and, off and on, enough mystery to make his books mildly entertaining. It’s too bad that he didn’t do more.

– Reprinted from The Poison Pen, Volume 4, Number 5/6 (December 1981). Permission granted by Doug Greene.

   

      The Huntoon Rogers series —

The Affair of the Scarlet Crab. Dodd 1937
The Affair of the Heavenly Voice. Dodd 1937
The Affair at Palm Springs. Dodd 1938
The Affair of the Ginger Lei. Dodd 1938
The Affair of the Black Sombrero. Dodd 1939
The Affair on the Painted Desert. Dodd 1939
The Affair in Death Valley. Dodd 1940
The Affair of the Circus Queen. Dodd 1940
The Affair of the Crimson Gull. Dodd 1941
The Affair of the Skiing Clown. Dodd 1941
The Affair of the Limping Sailor. Dodd 1942
The Affair of the Splintered Heart. Dodd 1942
The Affair of the Fainting Butler. Dodd 1943
The Affair of the Jade Monkey. Dodd 1943
The Affair of the Dead Stranger. Dodd 1944
The Affair of the Corpse Escort. McKay 1946
The Affair of the Golden Buzzard. McKay 1946
The Affair of the Sixth Button. McKay 1947

NOTE: Updated to correctly list Scarlet Crab as the first in the series. (See comments.)

DO NO HARM. “Pilot.” NBC, 31 January 2013. Steven Pasquale as Dr. Jason Cole (chief of neurosurgery at Independence Memorial Hospital) and as Ian Price, his alternate personality; Alana de la Garza as Dr. Lena Solis, a neurologist at IMH and Dr. Cole’s love interest; Ruta Gedmintas as Olivia Flynn, Dr. Cole’s estranged former fiancé; Phylicia Rashad, as Dr. Vanessa Young, chief of surgery at IMH; Lin-Manuel Miranda as Dr. Ruben Marcado, a clinical pharmacologist at IMH and Dr. Cole’s friend. Directed by Michael Mayer. Can be purchased for streaming at Vudu. This first episode can be seen on YouTube here.

   Thanks once again to Wikipedia for providing not only the list of cast members, but who they are on this short-lived series. And by short-lived, I mean it. It lasted for all of two episodes before being yanked from NBC’s 2012-2013 mid-season schedule. (The remaining eleven episodes were burned off later that summer when no one’s watching anyway.)

   But, hey, this the pilot episode is not all that bad. It’s good enough to see why it was picked up as a series in the first place. It was obviously way ahead of its time. (An excuse you’ve probably heard before, I’m sure, and in this case it may even be true.)

   What it is, as you may have deduced from the credits above, if you looked closely enough, is yet another takeoff of Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, variations of which will run from now to eternity, each one with a new creative twist. In this case the focus is on a Dr. Jason Cole, an extremely talented neurosurgeon who has a problem. At night, every night, he shares his body with his evil side, who takes over for exactly twelve hours.

   He’s been controlling the damage his other half can do, but the medication is starting to lose its effectiveness, and his alternate personality is starting to cause all kinds of problems, including the would-be new woman in his life, Dr. Lena Solis. She may, in fact, never speak to him again, while on another front his career is starting to hang by a thread.

   Well, what do you think? Is this the basis for a long-running TV series or not? It’s well-directed, and the acting, dialogue and photography are all fine. It must be the premise. From what I’ve told you, and from watching the trailer, can you be the judge? (I’m assuming that nobody reading this has ever seen the show, since by all accounts, no one did.)

   

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

MANLY [WADE] WELLMAN – Find My Killer. Farrar Straus, hardcover, 1948. Signet #1448, paperback, 1957.

   A perfectly acceptable thick-ear mystery for fans of that sort of thing, and I’m one.

   Ex-cop, former MP Stonewall Jackson Yates comes to Storm City on the promise of a job and finds his prospective employer dead — an apparent suicide, and if you believe that, I have a stack of rare Harlequin Romances to sell you. He is quickly hired by attorney J. D. (“That’s all the name I’ve got. Dad wanted a boy.”) Thatcher to throw a sleazy PI out of her office and the two team up to find out who murdered her client and his almost-boss. It seems there’s a codicil in his will offering Five Gees to anyone who can find his killer if he meets a violent end.

   Nothing that follows is especially surprising, but Wellman never lets it go stale. There’s the lovely-but-lethal widow —Check; The crooked lawyer —Check; mysterious doctor —Check; brutal cops —Check; false clues, fisticuffs, tentative romance, gangsters and guns — Check, check and CHECK.

   Wellman covers all the bases, adds a tricky plot, and wraps it up with a wink. There must be a hundred more like Find My Killer, but if you miss the sort of fast-moving fiction that used to sell for two bits in drugstores, you could do a lot worse than to spend a couple hours here.

   Brenda Lee was only 15 when this song was recorded and released, in 1960. It reached Number One on the Billboard singles chart in July of that year:

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:

   

THE HELLBINDERS. Embassy Pictures, US, 1967. Originally released in Italy as I crudeli (“The Cruel Ones”). Joseph Cotten, Norma Bengell, Julián Mateos, Gino Pernice, Ángel Aranda, Claudio Gora, María Martín. Director: Sergio Corbucci.

   In some ways, The Hellbenders is a typical Spaghetti western. There’s an antihero, loads of action, violence, betrayal, and vengeance. In other ways, however, there’s something unique about this Sergio Corbucci directed feature. Even if the film doesn’t wear its politics on its sleeve, there is undoubtedly an ideology embedded in the feature that makes it a more compelling watch than it deserves to be.

   Namely, that the world is a cruel and brutish place where exploitation and violence are more common than not. Although somewhat nihilistic in its approach, the movie does leave open the promise for a brighter future. Another aspect that makes this particular Italian western different is that the leading actor in question here is not a somewhat youthful actor like Clint Eastwood or Mark Damon; rather, it’s Joseph Cotton during the latter part of his career.

   Cotton portrays Colonel Jonas, a Confederate officer embittered by his side’s devastating loss in the Civil War. Determined that the South shall rise again, he enlists his three sons in a scheme to steal Union cash which he plans to use to finance a new war effort.

   The problem is that his plan depends on having a woman involved in the operation. That’s when he has his son Ben (Julián Mateos – who incidentally looks quite a bit like James Stacy) cajole a saloon girl into playing the part of an officer’s widow to fool the Union Army troops in the area. You see, they will be transporting the loot in a coffin, nominally belonging to her supposed late husband.

   Various twists and turns ensue. Jonas and his boys are put through the ringer. They face off with Mexican bandits, the US Calvary, and Indians. But the final showdown isn’t solely between these Confederate diehards; it’s also between the men themselves.

   Lincoln said something about how a nation divided against itself cannot stand. Apparently, so too with a family. And in the final moments of the film, the absurdity and futility of the entire quest is laid bare for all to see.

   

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