REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


  OUANGA. George Terwilliger Productions, 1936. Also released as Drums of the Jungle and The Love Wanga. Fredi Washington, Philip Brandon, Marie Paxton, Sheldon Leonard. Written & directed by George Terwilliger.

   Most critics agree that the story behind this movie is more interesting than the film itself, but I found Ouanga possessed of a unique charm that kept me watching and even enjoying it.

   The plot is a simple affair, and writer/director Terwilliger had the sense to keep it that way. Clelie (Fredi Washington) is a Haitian plantation owner of mixed race, in love with the neighboring and very white planter Adam Maynard.

   The script hints that their relationship has been more than neighborly, but as the story starts, Adam is bringing his fiancée to the island and it ain’t Clelie — it’s whey-faced blonde Eve Langley, whom Clelie decides to kill with voodoo magic. And plot-wise that’s really about it, except that Clelie herself is pursued by mixed-race overseer LeStrange (Sheldon Leonard) who has his own murderous way of dealing with unrequited love.

   The story has a spare, allegorical feel to it, even down to the names of the putative hero and heroine (Adam & Eve) and the garden-like setting of the action. There’s also a fine dichotomy between the frank passion of the native peoples and the pallid complacency of their white counterparts. Terwilliger seems to enjoy cutting between vigorous folk ceremonies and tepid garden parties—and the passion in the clinches of Clelie and LeStrange quite overshadows the perfunctory romance of hero and heroine.

   Terwilliger, obviously influenced by William Seabrook’s 1929 book The Magic Island, went to Haiti to film authentic Voodoo ceremonies and did a lot of research for this film, but he got chased out by the local witch doctors, who killed a member of his crew.

   He ended up filming in Jamaica under primitive conditions and the result is terribly crude, but I found it oddly powerful as well — if you can get past the bad script, bad acting and laughable stunt-work. The Voodoo scenes here have a primitive and suitably awed quality to them such as I have seen nowhere else, as if the filmmaker were trying to convey to us something of his own dread and wonderment.

   Ouanga ended up being largely ignored by the public and shunted off by its distributors as an exploitation show, and frankly it deserved no better. But for those who can look past its incredible ineptitude, this in a unique and haunting bit of work.

   As a footnote, writer/producer/director George Terwilliger is something of a mysterious figure in the movies. An authentic pioneer of the cinema, he worked with D.W.Griffith and stayed busy in the silent era, but there’s a ten-year gap between his last silent film in 1926 and the appearance of Ouanga.

   Afterwards, the screenplay of this film was recycled into an all-black movie, The Devil’s Daughter (1939) but Terwilliger himself never made another film. He died in 1970.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


CHARLIE CHAN IN PARIS. Fox Film Corp., 1935. Warner Oland, Mary Brian, Thomas Beck, Erik Rhodes, John Miljan, Murray Kinnell, Minor Watson, John Qualen, Keye Luke, Henry Kolker. Story: Philip MacDonald. Based on the characters created by Earl Derr Biggers. Director: Lewis Seiler.

   Charlie Chan in Paris is an eminently watchable, and overall entertaining entry in the Charlie Chan series. Starring Warner Oland as the Honolulu-based sleuth, the film follows Chan in the City of Lights as he investigates fraud at the Paris-based Lamartine Bank.

   Joining him in his endeavors is “Number One Son” Lee, marking Keye Luke’s debut appearance in the series. Filmed with some unique camera angles in an atmospheric setting, the movie is one of the better Chan films I’ve seen recently. It’s just a bit darker, both thematically and visually. Chan even carries a gun in this one, and he’s not afraid to point it at suspects.

    Soon upon arriving in Paris, Chan encounters a mysterious disfigured-looking man who asks him for change. Chan, humble gentleman that he is, assumes the man to be a typical street beggar, and kindly obliges. But this mysterious looking man, who we are led to believe is a shell-shocked veteran from the Great War, shows up time and again, first in a nightspot where one of Chan’s female assistants is murdered and again in the Lamartine Bank. Who is this man on crutches and what has he to do with the bank fraud?

   Along the way, Chan has to solve not one, but two intricately linked murders. And although his journey begins in the bright lights of Paris, he ultimately ends up in the subterranean sewers of the Continental capital. There is a great use of shadow and lighting in the latter moments, when Charlie and a Frenchman assisting him meander through the murky depths of the city before stumbling upon a master criminal’s underground hideaway.

   In conclusion, Charlie Chan in Paris is a better than average mid-1930s crime film. True, there’s not all that much depth to the story and the plot does get a bit convoluted. But if you like Oland’s Chan, just sit back and take it for what it is. All told, this entry into the Charlie Chan series is certainly worth watching.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller


EVELYN ANTHONY – The Tamarind Seed. Coward McCann & Geoghegan, hardcover, 1971. Dell, paperback, 1979. First published in the UK: Hutchinson, hardcover, 1971. Film: AVCO Embassy Pictures, 1974.

   Evelyn Anthony’s novels are a cross between romantic suspense, espionage, and thriller. Romance is the most important element; her main characters are drawn together by immense physical and emotional attraction, often under circumstances of danger and stress. Exotic locales, international events, and political intrigue round out her successful formula.

   The Tamarind Seed (made into a film in 1974 with Julie Andrews and Omar Sharif) opens with the arrival of Judith Farrow at Seaways Airport in Barbados. Judith, a young widow who is assistant to the director of the International Secretariat at the United Nations, is getting away from it all — mostly from the memory of a shattered love affair with a high-placed and very married British diplomat.

   Within days she forms a friendship with a man staying at her hotel, but this time Judith resists romantic involvement: The man is Feodor Sverdlov, a Russian diplomat, most likely a spy, and also married, to a physician who has remained in the USSR.

   Upon their return to New York, Judith and Sverdlov continue to see each other, but things are not simple for them. Judith, a British subject, is visited by members of her country’s intelligence establishment, warning her to steer clear of Sverdlov. And Sverdlov returns to find his male secretary mysteriously absent; his wife’s petition for divorce follows.

   When Judith delivers a frightening message from one of his colleagues, he fears for his life, and he defects to the British. But doing that means involving Judith in a desperate and dangerous scheme.

   This could be standard romance fare, except for Anthony’s strong characterization and skillful use of multiple viewpoint. Her backgrounds are well researched, and her grasp of international affairs keeps an otherwise typical love story moving along at a fast pace.

   Other noteworthy novels by Anthony are The Rendezvous (1983), which deals with Nazi war criminals; The Assassin (1970), concerning a Russian assassination plot during an American election; The Malaspiga Exit (1974), about international art thievery; and The Defector (1981), another novel about tom loyalties to one’s country.

         ———
   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.

REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:         


JOHN LESCROART – Dead Irish. Donald Fine, hardcover, 1989; Island Books, paperback, 1991. Signet, paperback, 2005.

        — The Vig. Donald Fine, hardcover, 1990; Dell, paperback, 1992. Signet, paperback, 2006.

        — Hard Evidence. Donald Fine, hardcover, 1993; Ivy, paperback, 1994. Signet, paperback, 2002.

   These came highly recommended by my local mystery book store for their local color (San Francisco), and superior plotting and characterization. I didn’t find the local color very effective (and this is something I do appreciate when it’s well done), but I enjoyed the first two books for their portrait of Dismas Hardy, former cop, former lawyer, present bartender who finds his interest in life reviving after the death of his child and subsequent divorce as he’s drawn into investigations that the police want to close the books on but that he stubbornly insists on pursuing.

   My favorite character in the two books is not Dismas (who’s not unappealing) but his homicide detective friend, Abe Glitsky, who has his own crisis in The Vig and sets the wheels in motion for a transfer to L A.

   I note that the L. A. Times also thinks the books are “replete with convincing details of contemporary life in the bay area.” From that, I can only conclude that life in the Bay Area is not so different from me in Pittsburgh, or Salem, or Alvin, or wherever else people hang out at bars, have difficult relationships, and make decisions that don’t always (or even often) turn out to be the right ones (if there is such a thing as a right decision).

   Hard Evidence is a horse of a somewhat different color. Diz is working as an assistant D. A. but soon resigns and signs on as defense lawyer for his former father-in-law, a judge accused of killing a Japanese call girl.

   This is, then, a courtroom drama, a genre that I avoid like the plague, but I found I couldn’t put the book down, and probably enjoyed it at least as much than the other two books in the series. Abe Glitsky plays a less prominent role and the novel is quite long, but I found skimming wasn’t working so I settled down and read the text about as closely as I read anything these days.

   I still don’t get any strong sense of place, but the relatively small cast is well portrayed, the puzzle (it’s not just a trial) is intriguing and the characters are all irritating and sympathetic in roughly equal proportions. I will put this in the plus column.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         


ARTHUR GASK – The Vengeance of Gilbert Larose. Herbert Jenkins, UK, hardcover, 1939. No US publication. First published in The Advertiser, Adelaide, S.A. in serial form commencing Wednesday 27 September, 1939. Available online at Project Gutenberg Australia.

   Some of you may recall a few years back when I uncovered the career of Australian pulp novelist Paul Savoy and his main character Blackie Savoy. Let us just say that the provenance for Arthur Gask and Gilbert Larose is much better.

   Before Arthur Upfield and Bony, Australia’s best know sleuth, was Gilbert Larose, the creation of Arthur Gask, a prolific and successful writer whose career ran from the 1920‘s until 1951.

   While his novels are detective stories they are much closer to Edgar Wallace than Agatha Christie with the redoubtable Larose: brilliant, testy, a master of disguise, but also vulnerable and sometimes wrong. He’s no Holmes though. He’s a happily married man, and in several books he himself is on the run from police. Like Upfield’s half=aboriginal Bony, there is more than a touch of adventure that creeps into Larose’s adventures.

   Most of the Larose novels I have read open in thriller country, but end in the courtroom. In more than one of them law gets a close shave in lieu of justice and Larose has a liberal attitude towards his official duties. I suppose being a fugitive from them would do that.

   The books take place in Australia or in England where Scotland Yard is always happy to have the great Larose on hand.

   I’ve chosen The Vengeance of Gilbert Larose because H. G. Wells highly praised this one on its appearance in the UK. Bertrand Russell was also a fan and at age 78 made the effort to meet the 81 year old Gask.

   Gask was London born and moved with his bride in 1920 to Adelaide where he practiced dentistry. In 1921 he paid to have his first book published, The Secret of the Sandhills, and it was an immediate success. Into his eighties he was producing two 80.000 word novels a year and died writing one.

   That much is covered in Wikipedia.

   Gilbert Larose first appeared in 1926 in Cloud the Smiter (great title) and last in 1952 in Crime Upon Crime. Neither he nor Gask changed a lot over that time, but why argue with a winning formula.

   In Vengeance of Gilbert Larose our hero’s task is nothing less than preventing a dictator from undermining British morale on the eve of War. Of course the real thing caught up with Gask and Larose before the book began serialization, but that means little. Larose who, as the newspaper says ‘tempers justice with expediency,’ is up to the task.

   We open with a certain dictator living high on a mountain eyrie discussing events with a certain Von Ravenham, principally the problem of Lord Michael and Sir Howard Wake, influential men who have gone on to call the country an ‘insane asylum’ in print. Something must be done about this.

   “No, go to that man in Great Tower street we are having dealings with. Pay him well — give him £10,000 — and there should be no difficulty. Give him part of the money down. He seems reliable and has always delivered the goods up to now.”

   The deadline is before Lord Michael can sail for America and muddle the mind of the Americans as well. Add to this the Dictator himself has been studying English and plans to shave his mustache and go to England himself to supervise.

   All Geoffrey Household tried to do in Rogue Male was kill him.

   And we’re off.

   Now there would seem to be no possible connection between the great autocrat of that lonely building upon the mountainside and an insignificant looking little convict in a prison in far off England. Yet, at that very moment Fate, like a malignant spider, was starting to weave a web whose threads were destined ultimately to entangle them both. (Prose like this is enough to make you reconsider Wells and Russell both.)

   The insignificant little convict is named Bracegirdle, and he has just done six years for poaching. He’s a good enough sort and the Governor of the prison asks Gilbert Larose to give him a hand if he can. Meanwhile in Essex, Pellew and Royne are running a wine distribution business but it isn’t their first concern. As Von Ravenham shows up on their doorstep they are in a minor pickle and forced to hire a local mechanic, someone they can keep quiet and control — like a former convict. It gets worse when Von Ravenham reveals he knows they are using the business as a front for a criminal enterprise.

   But he will keep quiet if they are willing to ‘shoot, stab, and strangle’ two men for him.

   I love it when a plan comes together.

   Now, literally, Chapter 2.

   Things get more complicated for Pellew and Royne as they wait for a shipment of cocaine to arrive from a tramp steamer. They rescue a swimmer from the sea, and fear drawing to much attention if they drown him.

   Meanwhile as they whisper desperately, the half-drowned man’s keen ears pick up details. His papers say he is Kenneth Bracegirdle, a ticket of leave (ex-convict) man who just happens to be what they need, a mechanic.

   You’re getting ahead of me. Ex-convicts don’t have keen ears do they? But Gilbert Larose does.

   Larose overhears them proposing murder, but who? In the meantime he gets the job and waits.

   I can’t help wondering here if Upfield read Gask, because this is the kind of thing Bony was always doing, though in much better written stories.

   Larose plays at a dangerous game, half blackmailing them to keep from being silenced while trying to get the goods on them. How long can he keep these balls in the air?

   Pellew and Royne are busy types, they are also selling secret plans to the ‘Japs.’

   Oh what tangled … Oh, skip it.

   Eventually Pellew and Royne are arrested, and Larose ends up posing as Pellew’s brother Nicholas Bent for Von Ravenham, a replacement in that little business of shooting, stabbing, and strangling …

   Before it is over Larose narrowly escapes torture, aids a young lady, evades a ticking bomb, and as Gask sums it up.

    “But what a mighty part chance plays in this muddled world of ours and upon what small happenings do great events depend! But for the color of that girl’s eyes, her pretty mouth and the contours of her face—how different might have been the fate of that most baleful character in history! He might have passed away to the roaring of the guns and in that hell of carnage he had so long prepared for others, or he might, even now, be still in flight or exile. Instead, he lies in that shameful grave upon the lonely marshland, with that other murderer to keep him company until the resurrection morn.”

   Household’s hero just went back to hunt him.

   Okay, it’s rah rah, pre-war spirit lifting, and it is hardly deathless prose. Admittedly it is much closer to my Paul Savoy than I ever expected to find — but it is fun, harmless, and a few of the mysteries aren’t bad. Gask can write when he chooses to, and the person you think is Larose
isn’t always who you thought.

   Granted coincidence and dumb luck play too great a role in the game, and it is hard to see Larose as a great detective as his detective work tends to be the being in the right place at the right time sort, and the few deductions he makes could only come about because Gask let him read the manuscript ahead of time. Gask and everyone else tell you he is a great detective, so he must be one, I’m just not sure on what basis.

   I’ve enjoyed the ones I read, though. If it is not great writing, it is pleasant almost nostalgic bad writing. It’s the equivalent of discovering a pulp detective you never knew about. Even better these are free to download, and very few of his books are unavailable in that form.

   For all that these are fast, fun reads, a step above Sexton Blake and below Edgar Wallace and George Goodchild. They aren’t dull, and Larose does grow on you in time.

   As an Upfield fan I found it especially interesting, because Bony and Larose operate very much alike and Bony too has an expedient view of justice, and that at least is a sign of the great detective.

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


  HELEN REILLY - Dead Man Control. Doubleday Crime Club, 1936. Sun Dial Press, hardcover reprit, 1937. Paperback reprints include: Macfadden, 1964; Manor, 1974.

   Breaking down a study door, locked and bolted on the inside, the police find a millionaire shot in the back of the head and his wife of three months lying on the floor unconscious. Her fingerprints are on the murder weapon, and investigation proves that no one could have left by the windows.

   Furthermore, the millionaire’s wife loved another man, hated her husband, who was cruel and vindictive, and, horror of horrors, had discovered that that very night, after a three-month honeymoon on his yacht, he was claiming his — ahem — conjugal rights.

   Anyone else would be convicted on the spot, but the wife is beautiful. By definition in most mystery stories this makes her innocent or, stated perhaps more correctly, not guilty.

   Inspector Christopher McKee is called back from a visit to London to take over the case. While there are a couple more murders, at the end McKee has things under control and the locked-room circumstance is somewhat lamely explained.

   Still, this novel is well worth reading, despite the unpleasant characters who populate it, all of whom have their own ends to further and thus complicate what ought to have been a relatively simple case.

   An odd datum: McKee, at least in this novel, has a baby alligator, probably the oddest pet of any professional detective.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.


Editorial Comment:   For a long essay by Mike Grost on Helen Reilly and he detective fiction, go here on the primary Mystery*File website. A complete bibliography complied by myself is included at the end.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


TRAIL STREET. RKO Radio Pictures, 1947. Randolph Scott (Marshal William Bartley ‘Bat’ Masterson), Robert Ryan, Anne Jeffreys, George ‘Gabby’ Hayes, Madge Meredith. Director: Ray Enright

   Like The Gunfight at Dodge City, which I recently reviewed here, Trail Street is a Western starring a major Hollywood leading man in a highly fictionalized biopic of Bat Masterson. It’s an above average horse drama, with some good cinematography and a decent enough plot.

   What makes it worth watching is the fact that all of the actors, especially Randolph Scott, who portrays Masterson as the semi-reluctant marshal in the town of Liberal, Kansas, seem to be having what can best be described as jolly good fun with the project.

   Masterson, who really just wants to be a journalist, is tasked with interceding on behalf of farmers whose livelihoods are threatened by an unscrupulous cattle baron, Logan Maury (Steve Brodie). Joining the legendary lawman in his mission is his deputy, Billy Burns, portrayed by perennial goofy sidekick George “Gabby” Hayes and an upright citizen by the name of Allen Harper, portrayed by Robert Ryan.

   In a way, it’s a shame that Ryan’s character doesn’t go bad in this one, given how skilled Ryan was as an actor in portraying villains, be they in films noir or in Westerns. Allen Harper’s on-again, off-again love interest Susan (Madge Meredith) and the saloon girl with a kind heart, Ruby Stone (Anne Jeffreys) add some flair and romance to what would otherwise be just another Western action story.

   In many ways, Trail Street a much better film, both visually and plot wise, than The Gunfight at Dodge City. That isn’t to say that it’s a great or even accurate biopic of Bat Masterson. It isn’t.

   But it’s a decent enough Western that, in many ways, marks a transition point between Randolph Scott’s more wholesome characters in the Zane Grey films and the darker, more brooding characters portrayed by Scott in the Ranown cycle films of auteur Budd Boetticher. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that you should go out of your way to see this one, but I’ll just say that it’s a difficult film to actively dislike.

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