Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

ROUSTABOUT. Paramount, 1964. Elvis Presley, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Freeman, Leif Erickson, Sue Ane Langdon, Pat Buttram, Joan Staley, Dabbs Greer. Director: John Rich.

   Elvis Presley made a lot of movies, some better than others. While Roustabout may not immediately come to mind as one of his best cinematic achievements, it’s nevertheless an exceptionally well-paced and enjoyable 1960s film that makes great use of bright colors and Elvis’s musical abilities. The soundtrack apparently did well on the Billboard charts. That’s no surprise, as a few of the numbers, such as “Little Egypt” and “Poison Ivy League,” are just great, if lesser known, Elvis songs.

   Directed by John Rich, with cinematography by Lucien Ballard, Roustabout was produced by Hal Wallis and stars Elvis as Charlie Rogers, an itinerant, motorcycle-driving, young man without much faith in the goodness of everyday people. He is rough around the edges, scornful of those born into privilege, and drifts from place to play, playing his guitar, hoping to get to Phoenix or to Los Angeles.

   When a vehicular mishap damages Rogers’ motorcycle, he ends up staying at a carnival run by Maggie Morgan (Barbara Stanwyck). Morgan’s got her hands full. A bank agent is on her tail, pursuing claims stemming from a lawsuit. One of her top employees, Joe (Leif Erickson) has a drinking problem and a temper. And then there’s Joe’s lovely young daughter, Cathy (Joan Freeman), who develops a love-hate relationship with our boy, Charlie, who doesn’t have much experience on how to conduct himself professionally with the world weary Maggie.

   In general, Roustabout plays it light. But there are genuine dramatic, even tragic moments. The majority of the film takes place within the confines of the traveling carnival. There’s nothing necessarily surreal or spooky about the carnies. They’re just, to be honest, quite a sad bunch, societal misfits forced together by circumstance. It takes Charlie Rogers nearly the whole movie to realize that he’s a bit of a misfit of himself and maybe, just maybe, he needs something more stable in his life than the open road and a yearning to hit the big time.

   Director John Rich and cinematographer Lucien Ballard would work together again on Boeing Boeing, also a Hal Wallis Production that, like Roustabout, has that unmistakable mid-1960s feel and which also makes extensive, and impressive, use of bright colors.

BOEING BOEING. Paramount, 1965. Tony Curtis, Jerry Lewis, Dany Saval, Christiane Schmidtmer, Suzanna Leigh, Thelma Ritter. Director: John Rich.

   A comedic farce based on a play by Marc Camoletti and starring Jerry Lewis and Tony Curtis, Boeing Boeing’s theatrical roots are quite evident throughout the course of the movie. This, of course, has its pluses and minuses. On the one hand, the theatrical nature of the film allows both Lewis and Curtis to showcase their penchant for physical comedy, manic energy, and quick timing.

   Unfortunately, however, the movie at times feels too much like a play on screen, and some of the immediacy and magic that a live audience would experience seeing a stage production of Boeing Boeing just seems to be missing here.

   The premise is simple enough. Curtis portrays Bernard Lawrence, an American newspaperman based in Paris. His hobby, as it were, is stewardesses. Much to the chagrin of his housekeeper, Bertha (Thelma Ritter), he dates more than one at a time. Lawrence has to keep constant track of their flight schedules so as to prevent them all landing at once, as it were.

   When his friendly rival, Robert Reed (Jerry Lewis), shows up in Paris, all bets are off. Reed soon learns what Lawrence is up to and he wants in on the action.

   And by action, I mean a British stewardess (Suzanna Leigh). That still allows Lawrence time enough with his other two gals, a Lufthansa girl (Christianne Schmidtmer) and a somewhat local French girl (Dany Saval).

   It’s a fast-paced, thoroughly frantic, race to the finish, as the two bachelors attempt to prevent each of the three gals from knowing about, let alone, meeting one another. And as you might very well guess, it doesn’t work out for the two scheming men.

   Although I didn’t enjoy Boeing Boeing quite as much as I had expected, the film does have a simply great performance by Jerry Lewis in what was to be his last motion picture with Paramount. If you like him as a comedic actor, it’s worth seeking out. At times, his facial expressions and body language are just comedic gold.

JANICE LAW – Death Under Par. Houghton Mifflin, hardcover, 1981. iUniverse, softcover, 2000.

   With the obvious exception of horse-racing, I think more mysteries have had to do with golf than with any other sport. Unless you can come up with another physical pastime I’m not thinking of, golf is the clear runner-up, which is what leads us to the latest Anna Peters thriller.

   She and long-time boy friend Harry have finally tied the knot, and for their honeymoon they travel to Scotland, for a working vacation during the British Open — he’s an artist on assignment for Sports Illustrated. There have been vandals at work, however, and threats have been made against one of the golfers. In case you haven’t been following Miss Peters’ adventures, she runs her own security business, and it quickly becomes a working honeymoon for her as well.

   She finds a common thread between the golfer and two of her leading suspects: they all attended the same small college in Hartford (Trinity College, recognizably incognito). As a result, there is a good deal of local Connecticut scenery involved as well, including a quickie tour through the offices of the same newspaper [the Hartford Courant] that prints most of my reviews.

   Which, of course, interested me much more than it will most of you. This is a straightforward crime story, making it more realistic than the puzzle artifices of a pure whodunit, perhaps, but in all truth, this case of Anna Peters presents no other challenge than that of sheer endurance.

   A twist was needed. This one comes straight.

Rating: C.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 3, May/June 1981 (slightly revised).

The Anna Peters series –

1. The Big Payoff (1975)
2. Gemini Trip (1977)
3. Under Orion (1978)
4. The Shadow of the Palms (1979)
5. Death Under Par (1981)
6. Time Lapse (1992)
7. A Safe Place to Die (1993)
8. Backfire (1994)
9. Cross-Check (1997)

THE SATAN BUG. Mirisch Corporation/United Artists, 1965. George Maharis, Richard Basehart, Anne Francis, Dana Andrews, Edward Asner. Based on the novel by Ian Stuart [Alistair MacLean]. Screenplay: James Clavell & Edward Anhalt. Music: Jerry Goldsmith. Director: John Sturges.

   With all the manpower both in front and behind the cameras, and one woman, I was expecting a lot better film than the on I saw. This is one of the most boring major studio thriller movies I have ever seen. It is dull from the beginning to the end, in spite of the view of Los Angeles from the air in the finale as three men in a helicopter slug it out while a glass flask of deadly toxin rolls around loose in the back seat.

   How could such a scene be dull? It beats me, but it is. Maybe if the first 15 minutes were more interesting — watching a car driving endlessly along a road in the desert to pull into a guarded but totally non-secure government facility, where small handfuls of guards and men in hats and coats and ties walk around talking to each other about things important to them but not to us — not my idea of a way to catch anyone’s interest, not if I were given a chance to make a movie with at least some money to invest into it.

   Maybe if the next half hour or so were not filled with more men in hats and coats and ties talking to each other about a deadly toxin that could kill off the world, but since the scientific facility is guarded by as many as maybe five men, one dog and a couple of wire fences, how serious could they be about it?

   Maybe if the star of the movie, George Maharis, fresh from his success on the TV series Route 66, weren’t as bland as scrambled egg whites. He’s as good-looking as they come, but I can’t overemphasize how clearly his lack of range as an actor shows up on the big screen.

   Maybe if the rest of the cast weren’t so dour and expressionless. Maybe if all of them were all but interchangeable, what with their identical suits and ties and hats. I have never seen so many suits and ties and hats.

   Maybe if they’d actually given Anne Francis something to do. As the only female in the movie to appear for more than a blink of an eye, you’d think they’d come up with a reason why she’s actually in the picture.

   Maybe if the plot weren’t muddled. The basic idea is clear: a madman has gotten his hands on a deadly poison of some kind and we gotta get it back. But the details of who, when and where were more than I could figure out. I suppose I could watch it again, but I was so unimpressed that there is no chance in the world I could sit as long as I just have without experiencing a moment of tension, a modicum even of suspense, or a hint of that maybe, just maybe, a deadly disaster was about to occur.

DANIEL BOYD – Easy Death. Hard Case Crime, trade paperback, November 2014.

   I’m going to repeat the opening paragraph of the comments I wrote about the same author’s very first book, ’Nada, published back in 2010, to wit: I have a semi-formal, strictly unwritten and not always enforced policy against reviewing books written by authors I know personally. But that shouldn’t stop me from telling you about them, now should it? No, I didn’t think so.

   And so. The author’s name on the title page is Daniel Boyd, but that’s a pen name of one of the regular contributors to this blog’s pages. I don’t think it’s a secret, so I don’t think anyone will mind my telling you, including Dan Stumpf, the man behind the moniker and whose reviews of movies, westerns and crime novels just like this one you often see here.

   So this isn’t a review, not quite, but if I start out by telling you, as a regular visitor to this blog — and even if you’re not — that if you haven’t gone out and bought this book already, you should, and that’s a fact.

   The story takes place in a ten hour period following an armored car heist in December 1951, just before Christmas. I kind of assumed that the small town where most of the action takes place in and around was in Ohio. I don’t know where I could have gotten that idea, since a quick skim through right now didn’t turn up anything I could find, one way or the other. In fact it may have been somewhere in the Northeastern portion of the country, but what I did find was a reference to a Carnegie Library.

   Well, they had one of those in my own home town, clear up in the northern extremes of Michigan’s lower peninsula, but I guess it could be anyplace where a blizzard might dump up to three feet of snow.

   Which causes all kinds of havoc, including, and especially so, to the pair of robbers and their boss, a gent by the name of Bud Sweeney, the owner of a local used car lot. Of the two fellows who actually holds up the armored car, one is black, the other white, and the relationship between the two men — they are friends — is as much of the story as what it is that goes wrong.

   Or if I could expand on that, the story is about people, big shots in town and the ones just scraping by, the new lady park ranger — the first woman ever on the job — doctors who love their work and others who maybe don’t, and more.

   But don’t get me wrong. It’s about an armored car heist gone bad, as I said up above, or this book wouldn’t have been published by Hard Case Crime. The book is only 240 pages, just over Gold Medal length, and it can be read in only two or three hours, once you get going on it.

   And you should. My opinion, anyway.

TIMOTHY HARRIS – Good Night and Good-Bye. Delacorte, hardcover, 1979. Dell, paperback, 1980. TV movie: CBS, 1988, as Street of Dreams (with Ben Masters as “Kyd Thomas.”)

   A book more solidly “in the Raymond Chandler tradition” is hard to imagine. From the opening impact of the first page of Chapter One to the ending that comes as inevitably as the passage of time to its sadly depressing conclusion, there is not a single doubt that Timothy Harris has read, devoured, and assimilated the complete works of the master.

   This is not meant as disparagement. The tone and style are Chandler’s. The prose and dialogue are not, quite, but if they aren’t, they are Harris’s own, in a revised and updated typically Californian tale of modern morality.

   Private eye Thomas Kyd, like his Elizabethan namesake, may have a talent for melodrama, but he lives it as well, instead of just telling it. There is a girl named Laura, and it is she whom the story is about. She is a junkie, and a liar, and she is in trouble.

   She meets Kyd, who helps, but she marries a wealthy movie writer named Paul Sassari instead. He is murdered soon after. As she says, “People don’t get much out of knowing me.”

   Kyd is a master of lost causes, a Sir Galahad on horseback, a champion of ladies in distress, but, as he soon discovers, he is not truly a denizen of the fast, jet-paced world of drugs, easy money, and expensive women.

   On the other hand, since he is familiar with life in the shade of shabby sidewalks and sordid secrets, he almost makes out okay. Finer entertainment for the confirmed private eye aficionado is also hard to imagine.

Rating:   A

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 3, May/June 1981 (very slightly revised).

Bio-Bibliographic Notes:   There was but one other book in the series: Kyd for Hire (Dell, paperback, 1978) but published earlier in the UK in hardcover as by Hyde Harris (Gollancz, 1977).

   The two other books by Harris included in Hubin are paperback novelizations of movies: Steelyard Blues (1972) and Heat Wave (1979). According to IMDb, Harris was also the screenwriter for ten films, including Trading Places and Kindergarten Cop.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

“The Apprentice Sheriff.” An episode of The Rifleman, 9 December 1958 (Season 1, Episode 11). Cast: Chuck Connors, Johnny Crawford. Guest Cast: Robert Vaughn, Edward Binns, Russell Collins. Written by Barney Slater. Director: Arthur Hiller.

   The ABC western television series, The Rifleman, may have starred Chuck Connors, but in “The Apprentice Sheriff,” a compelling first season episode, it’s a young Robert Vaughn who steals the show.

   Vaughn portrays Dan Willard, a green lawman who has temporarily assumed the job of marshal while Micah Torrence, the “real marshal,” is away. Willard’s got a lot to prove. Because of his poor vision, he had been kicked out of West Point. So to say that he’s got a chip on his shoulder is an understatement.

   We first see Willard (Vaughn) as a reflection in a mirror, with him watching himself handle his guns, the tools of his new trade. It’s the type of scene typically seen more in films noir than in Westerns. It has an immediate unsettling effect upon the viewer, who realizes that he is being told that Willard’s character is going to be the focal point of the episode.

   Willard’s determination to prove his toughness is put to the test when he decides that he’s going to enforce order in town. His immediate targets: a bunch of rowdy cowhands who have just gotten paid. Willard ups the ante with the would-be outlaws when he both puts up a notice requiring they register their firearms and then personally shoots and kills one of the cowhands.

   Lucas McCain (Connors) acts as the voice of reason, trying to convince Willard that wearing a badge doesn’t mean giving up one’s judgment. McCain realizes that Willard is less interested in law and order than in proving his manhood.

   The plot is nothing new, but Vaughn is on the top of his game here, giving a much better performance than in Roger Corman’s Teenage Caveman, which I reviewed here. In this episode, he’s not quite the actor that he would be in his halcyon The Man From U.N.C.L.E. years, but he definitely demonstrates why he had a long future in television in front of him. It’s worth a look.

   The full episode can be watched on Hulu here.

by Michael Shonk

Radio: 30 minutes. Blue Network: April 10 – December 29, 1943. Mutual Network: July 3, 1945 – April 30, 1950. NBC: May 7, 1950 – September 14, 1952. Mutual Network: January 5, 1953- November 27, 1954. Cast: Michael Waring was played by Barry Kroeger, James Meighan, Les Tremayne, Les Damon and George Petrie. (Source: On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio by John Dunning, Oxford University Press, 1998.)

Television: 30 minutes. 1954, syndicated by NBC Films Division: A Bernard L. Schubert Production. Produced by Federal Telefilms Inc. Executive Producer: Buster Collier. Cast: Charles McGraw as Mike Waring.

   I have been unable to find an episode of the series with Barry Kroeger or George Petrie as Michael Waring, The Falcon. I have found a site that offers free episodes from the series and at least one example of James Meighan, Les Tremayne and Les Damon. Click on this link to find the episodes I mention here and more.

“Murder Is a Family Affair.” November 27, 1945; Mutual Network. Cast: James Meighan as Mike Waring, The Falcon *** The format of the series will remain the same for most of the series, from the opening phone call from a woman about their date that night to the epilog at the end explaining loose ends.

   The story has Mike and his girlfriend Nancy trying to protect the younger brother of a friend who had just been executed for murder.

   This is the only sample of Meighan I can find, but it shows the film’s influences on the series. Mike is described as a freelance detective but his dialog and actions are not far from Tom Conway’s Falcon. The relationship between Mike and Nancy sounds more than something that lasts one episode and more like The Falcon and Helen Reed (Wendy Barrie) from the films.

“Murder Is a Bad Bluff.” November 1, 1948; Mutual Network. Cast: Les Tremayne as Mike Waring, The Falcon. Produced by Bernard L. Schubert. Written by Jerome Epstein. Directed by Richard Lewis *** A woman hires Mike to check out the man she hopes to marry.

   As with most of the episodes, the mystery is weaken by a lack of suspects and logic. Nancy is gone and Waring is free to continue his alleged comedic womanizing ways, but now he is more likely than in the past to use his fists as well as his detective skills.

“The Case of Everybody’s Gun.” July 4, 1951; NBC. Cast: Les Damon as Mike Waring, The Falcon. Produced by Bernard L. Schubert. Written by Jerome Epstein. Directed by Richard Lewis. *** The Falcon is hired to check out a new charity. Shortly after Mike discovers it’s a con, his client is murdered.

   Damon’s Falcon would never make one think of George Sanders’ version in the films. He played your typical smart-ass radio PI complete with unfunny banter between him and the cops. The mysteries have not gotten any better. Check out spot 11:47 for a good example of 50s radio and TV product placement. Listen to Waring and the cop for the episode verbally spar as both discuss with announcer Ed Herhily the joys of Miracle Whip.

   The character’s continuity is a confused mess. The radio series credits Drexell Drake (Charles H, Huff) as the character’s creator. It also claims kinship to the films, the same films that give the character a different name (Gay Lawrence) and creator (Michael Arlen). Much has been written about this and I recommend you check out Kevin Burton Smith’s Thrilling Detective website for more.

   The radio version of The Falcon under producer Bernard L. Schubert would make one more major change.

“The Case of the Vanishing Visa.” June 19, 1952; NBC. Cast: Les Damon as The Falcon *** Weary of the PI life, Mike Waring retires. Mike had been a top intelligence agent during WWII and the Army decides he is just the man they need, whether Mike wants to volunteer or not. He is sent to Vienna to smuggle out a woman who had been working for our side.

   Becoming a spy didn’t mean there was not a crime or murder nearly every week for Mike to solve . The show, both on radio and TV, seemed determined to convince the audience there was little difference between the cases of a PI and an Army intelligence agent.

   The radio series producer Bernard L. Schubert would continue with the series as it moved over to TV. Schubert would also produce such TV series as The Amazing Mr. Malone and Topper.

   Broadcasting (June 15, 1953) reported Federal Telefilms Inc was finishing a TV pilot for The Falcon. It would be “presented by Bernard Schubert” and star Charles McGraw with script by Gene Wang and directed by George Waggner.

   Obviously the pilot sold, as Broadcasting (April 19.1954) would report about the new series: “Federal Telefilms Inc, Hollywood, this week (April 12) goes before the cameras at Goldwyn Studios with Adventures of the Falcon, a Bernard L. Schubert Production, which NBC Film Division will distribute under a recently signed contract, reportedly in excess of a million dollars. Buster Collier is executive producer on the 39 half-hour films starring Charles McGraw in the title role. Ralph Murphy is signed to direct the first two films and Paul Landres, the second two.”

   According to a full-page ad in Broadcasting (May 10,1954), Harry Joe Brown was another producer involved in the TV series. Brown is best remembered for his partnership with Randolph Scott and director Budd Boetticher in the “Ranown Westerns” films.

   The TV series continued The Falcon as an ex-PI turned Army intelligence agent. The casting of Charles McGraw turned Mike Waring into a more serious tough guy. As Army intelligence agent Mike took on cases all over the world from Western Europe to Macao to behind the Iron Curtain. One episode took place on the Atlantic Ocean. Mike would also take on cases all over the United States from Honolulu to New Jersey, from Chicago to New Orleans.

   Currently there are over 25 episodes of the TV series available to watch on YouTube. Here are three examples.

“Double Identity.”

Teleplay by William Leicester. Directed by Ralph Murphy. Guest Cast: Maralou Gray and Dan Seymour. *** Location: London. When the bad guys try to silence a freedom fighter by kidnapping his daughter, Mike poses as one of the bad guys in effort to rescue her.

   Predictable, but can be forgiven since the episode was filmed sixty years ago. The episode is a good example of TV’s Falcon’s womanizing side.

“Rare Editions.”

Teleplay by J. Benton Cheney. Directed by (name missing from video). Guest Cast: Nana Bryant, Charles Halton and Louis Jean Hexdt. *** Location: New York. A self-proclaimed helpless little old lady owns a bookstore that deals with rare books and illegal drugs.

   Entertaining episode with a nice ending.

“A Drug on the Market.”

Teleplay by Gene Wang. Directed by Paul Landres. Guest Cast: Suzanne TaFel, Kurt Katch and Fred Essler. *** Location: Vienna. Due to several hijackings, the black market is the only source for a drug that could save a little boy’s life and many others. Mike’s job is to find the drug and break the black market ring.

   Some unexpected twists highlight this episode.

   NBC Films promotions for the series compared McGraw and The Falcon to Jack Webb’s Dragnet that NBC Films was syndicating as Badge 714. In Broadcasting (October 4, 1954) NBC Films announced Badge 714 had sold to 172 stations, Dangerous Assignment was sold to 174, and Adventures of the Falcon was sold to only 34 stations.

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