REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


BABYLON BERLIN. Sky 1, a German-language entertainment channel broadcast by Sky Deutschland, premiering on 13 October 2017. The first broadcast consisted of a continuous run of sixteen episodes, with the first eight officially known as Season 1, and the second eight known as Season 2. Volker Bruch, Liv Lisa Fries, Peter Kurth, Matthais Brandt. Teleplays by Henk Handolegten, Tom Tykwer, Achim Von Borries (series creators also directors of all sixteen episodes), and author Volker Kutscher.

   Currently there seems to be a taste in Europe for noirish gritty cop dramas, and few of them are grittier or darker than Babylon Berlin (available on Netflix) set in a handsomely rendered Weimar Berlin circa 1929 as the leftover guilt and humiliation of the Great War, the rise of National Socialism, the decadence that inspired the Christopher Isherwood’s Goodbye Berlin and the musical Cabaret, and good and bad people caught up in events they can’t control combine with the inevitability of history.

   Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch) is a policeman from Cologne, a troubled veteran of the war with PTSD (called here the trembles) and repressed memories. He has been assigned to Berlin on a mission to find a pornographic film the mayor of Cologne is being blackmailed over and assigned to Vice with fat, corrupt, but effective cop Chief Inspector Wolter (Peter Kurth).

   The plot of this sixteen part series that ran two seasons spirals out from that basic situation. A train traveling from the Soviet Union is hijacked by Troskeyites smuggling a car carrying gold to Istanbul to be used against Stalin unaware the train also carries illegal phosgene gas the Soviets have sold to a secretive right wing military group (who Wolter, among others, belongs to) hoping to restore the Kaiser by bringing down the democratic government.

   Meanwhile there is unrest between the police and communists in Berlin threatening to end in violence, Rath and Wolter are closing in on the pornography ring, and a powerful gangster the Armenian (Meisel Mateicvic) tied to the porn ring runs a decadent night club where the chief performer is a crossdressing singer Sevetlana (Severijia Janusauskaite) playing her Trotskeyite lover, the Soviets, and the industrialist importing the poison gas who is also her lover all against each other so she can get the gold.

   Did I mention the May Day riots that kill two hundred communist protesters that the police are trying to cover up, or that Rath is having an affair with the wife of his brother missing since the war whose disappearance is tied to Rath’s illness, the Soviet Secret police, an assassination plot meant to trigger the overthrow of the Weimar government, or the mysterious scarred doctor (Jens Harzer) who has ties to the gangster and an unnatural interest in Rath including substituting his own drugs for the one Rath secretly takes?

   There is also Charlotte Ritter (Fries), living in a hovel with her dying mother, two sisters, evil brother in law, and senile grandfather. Lotte is a party girl, dancing her nights away madly in the club owned by the Armenian and working part time as a prostitute in the basement while by day working for the police as a piece work secretary to keep a roof over her family. Lotte develops a crush on Rath and an ambition to become an assistant investigator under him even when Wolter blackmails her into spying on Rath.

   Also involved in Commissioner Brenda (Brandt), a moral Jewish policeman who represents the best of Rath’s ambitions as the world around him and his own morality become ever more difficult to balance against the pressures of a city and nation in turmoil, both moral and political.

   The cast is uniformly fine, playing believable wounded individuals whose innocence can be as damning as their sins. No one emerges unsullied by the world collapsing around them, and even victories are tinged with the viewers knowledge that history is going to test them far beyond the corruption of their modern Babylon.

   Scenarist Volker Kutscher wrote a novel based on the series and since has written several novels based on the further adventures of Gereon Rath though whether any of them will be dramatized is uncertain. Babylon Berlin is an involving mystery, complex as a Chandler plot, morally questionable as Hammett’s world, and handsomely realized, perfectly designed for binging. For all its darkness it is a highly satisfying excursion into modern European noir.


   This past Father’s Day, Jon and I went to see a 16mm screening of The Green Slime at the New Beverly in Los Angeles. Apparently, the print, which was somewhat red and faded, is part of Quentin Tarantino’s personal collection. Although the title suggests otherwise, it’s a thoroughly entertaining science fiction film, and we both enjoyed it. The movie’s theme song is a fun piece of schlocky 60s psychedelic rock written by Charles Fox and produced, arranged and performed by surf music pioneer Richard Delvy. You can listen to it here:


A track from an LP I bought this past weekend at a local (Burbank) record shop. (Did you know that Jack’s real name was Elliot Charles Adnopoz? I didn’t either, until yesterday.)


 MARTIN H. GREENBERG, Editor – Deadly Doings. Ivy, paperback original; 1st printing, 1989.

#9. EDWARD D. HOCH “The Unicorn’s Daughter.” Short story. Simon Ark #? First published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, 06 January 1982. Collected in The Quests of Simon Ark (Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1984).

   The Simon Ark stories make up one of Edward D. Hoch’s strangest series. Ark himself is said to be a two-thousand year old Coptic priest whose mission on earth is to uncover and destroy the devil’s work on Earth, and yet — and I may be wrong about this — most of his investigations usually end with entirely mundane explanations. (I believe I recall earlier stories concluding on ambiguous notes.)

   In “The Unicorn’s Daughter” Simon Ark is called in to find out why a would-be author jumped to his death through a window of a publisher’s office twenty-eight stories high. The only clue is his address on the title page of his manuscript: Catskill NY, which is where the publisher takes Ark, where they find a strange “gingerbread house gone wild,” to quote the narrator of the story.

   An interesting start to what might have been a challenging investigation, but I found the working out of the rest of the story both overplotted and underwhelming, along with yet another mundane solution. You’re going to have to count me as being among the not-so-very-big fans of the Simon Ark stories.

       —

Previously in this Martin Greenberg anthology: JOHN JAKES “No Comment.”

REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:


THE WIDOW FROM MONTE CARLO. Warner Brothers, 1936. Warren William, Dolores del Río, Louise Fazenda, Colin Clive, Warren Hymer. Director: Arthur Greville Collins.

   A better than average WB flick is The Widow from Monte Carlo. Good cast, with brightest performances by Hymer (Dopey Mullins) as an American crook “vacationing” in England and Fazenda as a socially ambitious American parvenue who’s not above blackmail to get Del Rio to attend her costume ball.

   William is more interesting when he plays one of his cads, but he makes an amused foil for Hymer and an attentive suitor for Del Rio. A drawing-room comedy based on a play by F. Hugh Herbert (and others). Not memorable but polished and charming.

— Reprinted from Walter’s Place #106, March 1995.


TERENCE KINGSLEY-SMITH – The Murder of an Old-Time Movie Star. PI Pete McCoy #1. Pinnacle, paperback original; 1st printing, August 1983. Cover art by Mark Watts.

   Another one and done as far as Hollywood PI Pete McCoy is concerned, but when you look at where he is when the story’s done, it is not surprising. The tale in The Murder of an Old-Time Movie Star is told in alternating segments, the first taking place in 1935, the second in current day 1983, when the events of 1930s finally catch up with all who were involved, including Pete McCoy himself.

   It begins when McCoy’s replacement cleaning woman, a lady newly arrived from Poland, asks him to find her husband, a man who abandoned her in the old country with her two children to come to America, and Hollywood in particular. It does not take Pete long to find him. He’s a well-known director now, married and living under a new name.

   McCoy makes the mistake of confronting him with head of the studio in tow, however, without a back-up plan in mind. When the cleaning lady is found dead on the sidewalk outside the building where McCoy’s office is, he knows how bad a mistake he made. The year 1935 was part of a time when studio bosses had all the power in Hollywood, especially when it came to protecting the reputations of their stars and their highly-paid directors.

   Terence Kingsley-Smith has a few credits on IMDb, and his mother was screenwriter Dorothy Kingsley, so he knew his way around Hollywood, both old and new, with an especial flair for knowing what was there then and what’s there now — or was in 1983.

   Pete McCoy tells the story himself and does so walking an occasional fine line between being crass and being crude. It’s his style and he’s as non-PC as they come: female readers may find much to object to in this book. Although the jumping back and forth in time may do a lot to conceal it, the plot is a simple one, but anyone enjoying PI stories taking place in Hollywood against a movie-making background may find as much to like with this one as I did.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


THIEF OF HEARTS. Paramount, 1984. Steven Bauer, Barbara Wiliams, John Getz, David Caruso, and George Wendt. Written & directed by Douglas Day Stewart.

   A lush romantic fantasy dressed up as a crime film in the bright-pastel Miami Vice mode. So well done that you don’t mistake it for an actual crime film, it’s highly enjoyable on its own terms. And while I will discuss the plot in some detail here, I have to say I’m revealing no more than the original release trailer did.

   Hunky Steven Bauer, he of the chiseled face and biceps, plays a cat burglar extraordinaire, grown rich from preying on the very wealthy. So rich that he can afford a mega-warehouse apartment in San Francisco, a boat at the marina, a fancy sports car…

   You get the idea. This character is to be taken no more seriously than Raffles, Arsene Lupin, The Lone Wolf, or any of those International Jewel thieves who were once played by real luminaries like John Barrymore, Melvyn Douglas, or William Powell.

   Getting back to Bauer, though, he starts the film with a raid on an ultra-chic condo owned by John Getz and Barbara Williams, best-selling children’s book author and trendy interior designer, respectively. Writer-Director Stewart generates a certain amount of suspense here, and then…

   And then things take a turn for the Romantic. Amid the loot from the condo is a lock box containing Williams’ private journals, wherein she keeps her innermost thoughts and fantasies—for the millennials out there, that’s what folks used to do with their private thoughts and fantasies before there was Facebook.

   Anyway, Bauer reads the journals, becomes intrigued by the inner woman and sets out to seduce the outer one – a task made easier because he knows which buttons to push, and because her husband is a self-absorbed dullard. Even his publisher (a nice character part by George Wendt) says so.

   The seduction is carried out among the luxurious trappings one associates with old Ross Hunter films (All That Heaven Allows, Back Street, etc.) and if you can enjoy the long romantic scenes, the opulent music and gratuitous nudity (I could and did) time passes pleasantly till things come to a head.

   Getz (If you remember the actor as the nice red-neck bartender in Blood Simple you won’t recognize him here.) awakens to his wife’s new obsession, senses that Bauer is a phony, and sets out to investigate. At the same time, Bauer falls deep in love with Williams but finds himself emotionally crippled because he can’t open up to her. And for her part, Williams becomes increasingly put off by this man with something to hide who has invaded her life by way of her dreams.

   By now you may get the idea that this fantasy romance touches on some very real and complex emotions. It does, and it also works in some nice plot twists, as Bauer’s partner-in-crime (a very young, lean and repellant David Caruso) sees that it’s time to move on and wants to feather their retirement with one last big job: another raid on Getz and Williams’ condo.

   Which leads to a scene that actually got me a little misty, and I won’t spoil it for you. And to a full-blooded romantic conclusion I enjoyed and didn’t buy for a minute.

   Thief of Hearts is very much stuck in the 1980s, with the pounding music, artsy editing and garish décor – what Williams does by way of “decorating” Bauer’s apartment seems like a joke in the worst possible taste — but I found it easy to get around all that and love it for the Rom-Fantasy it is.

   And you might, too.


   In my opinion, this New Zealand born singer sings country music better than most country singers born in this country. But what do I know? I don’t listen to most of the current batch of country singers.


         Saturday, February 14.

  WKRP IN CINCINNATI. “Dr. Fever and Mr. Tide, Parts 1 and 2.” CBS, series. Season 3, episodes 13 and 14. Originally telecast on 07 February 1981. Gary Sandy, Gordon Jump, Loni Anderson , Howard Hesseman, Richard Sanders, Frank Bonner, Tim Reid, Jan Smithers. Guest star: Mary Frann. Director: Rod Daniel.

   If you watch this show regularly, you will have seen this special one-hour episode one week before I did. The local CBS station runs them on tape, delayed week, and a half hour later. To me, it’s like wearing hand-me-down clothes, and I don’t usually watch, and there are two good reasons why that surprises me.

   Tonight Dr. Johnny Fever tackled TV, and he lost. Even though he signed a contract to do a live dance party for a local station, the doctor “does not do disco.” The producer did not rock and roll, and the doctor was the one who wound up wearing the funny clothes.

   The writers of the show had a chance here to say some witty things, about how doing things for television always ends up doing them television’s way. Instead, the story line veered off and became an instant analysis of Johnny’s incipient schizophrenic crisis. It turned out to be not nearly as funny as it must have sounded on the drawing board.

   The result was an hour show, all right, but as far as I was concerned, there was considerably less than a half-hour’s worth of laughs. And I was forcing myself, at that.


            

 MARTIN H. GREENBERG, Editor – Deadly Doings. Ivy, paperback original; 1st printing, 1989.

#8. JOHN JAKES “No Comment.” Short story. Original to this anthology. Not reprinted elsewhere.

   This is the story of Slub Canal, a subdivision somewhere close to Buffalo NY and the series of deaths from cancer caused by the ongoing toxic daily waste-dumping pollution from Metrochem. Everyone knows this, or they do as soon as a loved one dies, their limbs glowing greenishly in the dark.

   The company’s continuing response? “No comment,” primarily from spokesman Buddy Wood. One day a long time worker there has had enough, and the conclusion to the story gives a gruesome double twist to the meaning of the title.

   I guess you could call this a “feel good” story on the part of the author, and you have to commend him for that. But as a story, the ending is all too predictable, and the result is little more than a acreed on the behalf of vigilante environmentalism.

   John Jakes wascovered here on this blog not too long ago, as the author of the science fiction story “Half Past Fear,” reviewed here.

       —

Previously in this Martin Greenberg anthology: HELEN NIELSEN “Woman Missing.”

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