Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


MASTERSON OF KANSAS. Columbia Pictures, 1954. George Montgomery, Nancy Gates, James Griffith, Jean Wille, Benny Rubin, William Henry, David Bruce, Bruce Cowling. Story and screenplay: Douglas Heyes. Director: William Castle.

   Masterson of Kansas is, in many ways, a much better movie than it deserves to be. Let me explain. This Sam Katzman-produced film has little in the way of beautiful Western scenery, not all that much in the way of character development, and, with the exception of the final ten minutes or so, very little creative or unique cinematography or direction. Even so, I found myself thoroughly enjoying this highly fictionalized Bat Masterson lawman story.

   Directed by William Castle, who is now best known for his schlocky and gimmicky horror films, Masterson of Kansas is economical both with plot and time. It’s a short, fun-filled little film that benefits strongly from its casting of George Montgomery as Bat Masterson and veteran character actor James Griffith as Doc Holliday.

   Although Montgomery is definitely a presence in this film, it’s Griffith who steals the show as Holliday, depicted in this movie as a sickly, vengeful gambler who hates – I mean hates! – Masterson with a passion. Griffith simply shines as the irritable Holliday, a man torn between loving cards and loathing Masterson.

   The plot revolves around Masterson’s attempt to clear the name of a man falsely accused and convicted of murder. He does this primarily to help keep the peace between Kansas settlers and the local Indian tribes, one of which is lead by Yellow Hawk (Jay Silverheels). Bat may not be completely altruistic. Along the way, he seems to develop an interest the convicted man’s lovely daughter (Nancy Gates). Their supposed romance is more of a cliché than anything else.

   Truth be told, the storyline isn’t all that much. But there is enough action to keep the viewer engaged. The sequence in which Masterson, Holliday, and Wyatt Earp (Bruce Cowling) walk down the street together as comrades in arms is beautifully filmed, as is the scene of the hangman’s noose waiting for the falsely accused man.

   Masterson of Kansas is no brooding psychological weapon, nor is it an epic tale. But that doesn’t stop it from being fun. As escapist entertainment, this movie has a lot to recommend it.

JOYCE HOLMS – Payment Deferred. Headline, UK, hardcover, 1996; paperback, 1997. Bloody Brits Press, US, softcover, 2007.

   The cover bills this as “A Fizz & Buchanan Mystery,” which was intriguing right then and there, because (a) I admit that Joyce Holms was a new name to me, and (b) what’s (who’s) a Fizz? Doing some investigation on my own, it was not difficult to discover that Payment Deferred is the first of [nine] in a series, and why I’d happened to have never heard of the author is that [at the time I read this book] none of them have been published in this country.

   I’ll get back to that particular point later, I think. Of the pair of sleuths working out of Ms. Holms’ books, let’s take Tam Buchanan first, as it’s much simpler that way. The town is Edinburgh, and Tam (male) is a lawyer who donates a morning a week to a free legal clinic, a more-or-less straight-and-narrow sort of fellow. As for “Fizz,” I think I’ll do some quoting from pages 7 and 8:

   Tam arrives late to find “a plump girl of about seventeen” waiting for him.

    “You’re waiting to see me, are you?”

    She had a sweet, dimpled face and an expression of unassailable innocence. “Well,” she said with a hesitant smile, “that rather depends on who you are.”

    The discrepancy between what his eyes saw and what his ears heard was so great that Buchanan was momentarily at a loss. It was like being savaged by a day-old chick, which was clearly impossible, so that he had to assume that she had not intended the put-down but was merely trying to sound sophisticated, or some such rubbish.

    “I do beg your pardon,” he said, with exaggerated politeness, and then regretted it. She was, after all, just a kid, and besides, he should have had the common decency to introduce himself before barking at her. “I’m Tam Buchanan, Legal Advice.”

    She gave him a shy nod and offered a small but surprisingly strong hand. “In that case I am waiting to see you. I’m your new assistant. The name’s Fitzpatrick.”

   And so from here the relationship begins, full of sparks and brief bursts of annoyance and vexation (on both sides, but mostly Tam’s). Here’s another long quote from much toward the end of the book (page 291):

    Bloody Fizz!

    Buchanan was equally disgusted at himself for (a) ever letting her into his life, and (b) being markedly less than enthusiastic to be rid of her.

    She was a pain in the neck. Let’s face it, she was horrendous. She was an inveterate liar, a manipulator, selfish, opinionated, miserly, and didn’t give a hoot in hell about anyone but herself. Her philosophy, as propounded by herself, was: everything I have is yours and everything you have is mine. Which was fair enough till you remembered that she didn’t have anything you’d want.

    On the other hand, when she was in a good mood – which, okay, was almost always – she was quite nice to be around. She was different. She made you see things in ways you hadn’t seen them before. Also, she had a strange kind of innocence about her, even though you couldn’t trust her with the gold fillings in Grandma’s teeth. But she was honest. That was the funny thing. Way down deep, where it counted, she was as honest a person as he’d ever met.

    However, be that as it may, he was rid of her now, and he wasn’t about to change that, regrets or no regrets. Common sense dictated that he learn his lesson and steer clear of her from now on.

   Obviously the man is hooked on her. And, no, all first impressions aside, she’s not seventeen, either. More like twenty-six. She’s starting law school in the fall, and working for Tam is to get her foot in the door, and she has no intentions of being a mere secretary. She begins assisting on Tam’s next case almost before he knows there is one.

   Which consists of trying to clear the name of an old (and rather dull) friend of Tam’s, Murray Kingston, who has just been released from prison after being convicted of molesting his young daughter.

   Who had anything to gain from the false conviction – who could have wanted Murray out of the way for any reason – and who could have faked all of the evidence that put him into prison for three years?

   Well, yawn. This is not the most gripping of tales – there’s a heaping abundance of legwork and around page 120 the book gets really talky. Even though (of course) there’s eventually a murder to solve, the real fun is watching the free-spirited Fizz walk loops around the laid-back Buchanan. For the edgiest of relationships since Maddy and David — back before they jumped the shark and “did it” – this is the book you’ll want to read next.

JOYCE HOLMS – Foreign Body. Headline, UK, hardcover, 1997; paperback, 1997. Bloody Brits Press, US, softcover, 2008.

   Authors, on occasion and for various reasons, go in their own direction, and that is not always where the reader is going, or wants to, and he or she (the reader) is left leaning the wrong way, and sometimes in the most awkward of positions.

   Which is to say, strangely enough, in this the second adventure of Fizz and Buchanan, the edge is gone. Vanished. Only the slightest sense of sexual tension between the two mystery solvers remains, showing itself only now and then, and mostly then.

   There’s also a sizable gap in time between the previous book and this one. Fizz, having gotten fired from Tam’s legal clinic, has somehow attached herself to his legal firm itself – and there’s got to be a story there that’s (apparently) never going to be told.

   What we do get, as a rather inadequate substitute – I’m being Uncle Grumpy here – is a intimate look into Fizz’s background – the small Scottish village where she grew up, orphaned at an early age, and raised her elderly grandfather.

   Persuading Tam to recuperate from an inconvenient gall bladder operation in Perthshire, around Am Bealach where Fizz’s grampa lives, Fizz also has an ulterior motive – persuading Tam to also take an interest in the strange disappearance of Old Bessie, an elderly villager Fizz was fond of. In the meantime, another mystery is encountered – that of a strangely behaving camper with a tent full of weird objects including a blonde wig and a mannequin’s hand.

   Can the two cases be connected? Have you not read enough crime fiction to know the answer without asking? You realize of course that the twist might be that they are not – and I’ll never tell.

   Once the reader (that’s me) rights himself (or herself, if it’s you, and the pronoun is appropriate) this pair of semi-dueling detectives does do themselves a fair amount of justice on the pair of mysteries with which they’re confronted.

   Once again the book plods a little in the middle, but the pieces of the puzzle are painstakingly shaped and given time to develop – perhaps a little too painstakingly – but do stay with them. What better reading experience can there be when all sorts of mysterious occurrences are eventually explained and slide into place?

— May 2004

       The Fizz and Buchanan series –

1. Payment Deferred (1996)
2. Foreign Body (1997)
3. Bad Vibes (1998)

4. Thin Ice (1999)
5. Mr Big (2000)
6. Bitter End (2001)

7. Hot Potato (2003)
8. Hidden Depths (2004)
9. Missing Link (2006)

THE LAST RIDE. Warner Brothers, 1944. Richard Travis, Charles Lang, Eleanor Parker, Jack La Rue, Cy Kendall, Wade Boteler, Mary Gordon. Director: D. Ross Lederman.

   One of the players in this film was later nominated for three Oscars, and it wasn’t either the leading player, Richard Travis, whose career never got out of first gear, nor was it Cy Kendall, even though he was always, as he is in this film, the best villain around, and always worth watching — the oiliest, the most conniving, and in a good old-fashioned way, a wonderful toad of a fellow with a eye always on whatever money he can make in whatever scheme seems the most profitable at the time.

   And in The Last Ride, made in 1944 — war time, in other words, when rubber was scarce — that’s where the money is. In spite of the patriotic message this movie was intended to send, supporting the war effort, Mr Kendall is not only a captain in the police department, but he’s also the secret head of a gang of black marketeers in the tire business.

   Problem is, the tires are shoddy, and as a result a couple of kids on a joy ride end up dead in a ditch. Travis plays Pat Harrigan, a detective on one side of the law, while his brother Mike is on the other and one of the members of the gang. They both have their eye on a girl named Kitty Kelly (Eleanor Parker), but her part in the story all but disappears after 30 minutes into the story, not much over the halfway point.

   Travis tries to pull of the oldest gambits in the books, from the police department’s point of view, and the tale peters out from there. The beginning’s not bad, and some money was put into the production, but when a key point in the tale is covered in a letter to the police captain, one that has to read by the audience on the screen, instead of a short two minute scene that could have shown the same thing, you have to know that corners had to be cut somewhere, and it shows.

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A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Ellen Nehr


MARGOT ARNOLD – Exit Actors, Dying. Playboy Press, paperback original, 1979. W. W. Norton / Countryman Press, softcover, 1988.

   This paperback original is the first of the adventures of Penelope Spring, American anthropologist, and Toby Glendower, Welsh archaeologist. We meet the pair in Turkey on sabbatical from Oxford. The action begins when Penny is seated in an amphitheater and sees a body lying on the grassy stage below. By the time she returns with the police, however, the body has disappeared.

   Next, a member of a film crew staying at the same hotel as the academicians turns up missing. Toby finds the man`s purloined body, and he and Penny decide to investigate. (Toby has a less-than-altruistic reason: He needs to be back in England in ten days, but the police won’t let him leave until the murder is solved.)

   Using talents developed over the years in their academic specialties, the two middle-aged professors become involved with the personnel of the motion-picture crew and their dependents, as well as study the Turkish countryside, to uncover the criminal and his. motives. This is a nice portrayal of two endearing characters and their warm, nonsexual relationship.

   Among Arnold’s other paperback originals are The Cape Cod Caper (1980), Zadok’s Treasure (1980), and Lament for a Lady Laird (1982). These allow the reader to explore the cranberry bogs of Massachusetts, an archaeological dig in Israel, and a Scottish estate.

         ———
   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.

      The Penny Spring annd Sir Toby Glendower series –

1. Exit Actors, Dying (1979)

2. Zadok’s Treasure (1980)
3. The Cape Cod Caper (1982)
4. Death of a Voodoo Doll (1982)
5. Death on the Dragon’s Tongue (1982)
6. Lament for a Lady Laird (1982)

7. The Menehune Murders (1989)
8. Toby’s Folly (1990)
9. The Catacomb Conspiracy (1992)

10. The Cape Cod Conundrum (1992)
11. Dirge for a Dorset Druid (1994)
12. The Midas Murders (1995)

MONSTERS FIGHTING EVIL
by Michael Shonk


   October means Halloween and Halloween means monsters. Fiction is full of scary monsters, evil monsters, but hero monsters? TV alone has more than its share of stories with humans fighting monsters. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, KOLCHAK THE NIGHT STALKER, SPECIAL UNIT 2 and X-FILES are just a few of the TV series with monsters as the villains, but what about the shows with a monster as a good guy? Its time we scream for those monsters willing to change sides.

   If you are going to mention monsters you have to begin with vampires, and what is it about cops and PIs that attract vampires?

ANGEL. (WB, 1999-2004) Buffy didn’t slay all the vampires as the vampire with a soul, Angel (David Boreanaz) was on her side from the beginning. At one point he moves to Los Angeles and opens his own PI agency.


BLOOD TIES. (Lifetime, 2007-08) Female ex-cop turned PI, Vicki Nelson (Christine Cox) gets help from a cute Vampire, Henry Fitzroy (Kyle Schmid) as they solves crimes and she deals with her jealous boyfriend and former police partner Mike (Dylan Neal). Based on books by Tonya Huff.


FOREVER KNIGHT. (CBS, 1992-96) Vampire Nick Knight (Geraint Wyn Davies) who wants to go straight becomes a Toronto Homicide cop on the night shift. The link is to the first episode.


MOONLIGHT. (CBS, 2007-08) Vampire PI Mick St. John (Alex O’Loughlin) solves crimes as he tries to resist falling in love with human reporter Beth (Sophie Myles).


   Where would monsters be without mad scientists seeking answers Man is not supposed to know, those scamps are the stuff of horror legends…and crime fighters. H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man has been a popular choice for a TV good guy.

THE INVISIBLE MAN. (CBS, 1958-59): Imported British series featured scientist Peter Brady. Brady’s experiment turns a rat invisible but there is a leak and he becomes invisible as well and unable to return to his natural visible state, thus cheating the actor whose face is never seen out of an on air credit (reportedly he was Tim Turner). Brady would use his invisibility to fight crime and help the government. Link is for the first episode.


THE INVISIBLE MAN. (NBC, 1975): Scientist (David McCallum) creates a machine that turns things and people invisible. He destroys the machine to keep it out of the hands of the military but his antidote fails and he is unable to become visible again. He and his scientist wife (Melissa Fee) go to work for the Klae Corporation where he handles security missions for the company while he and his wife search for a cure to his invisibility.


GEMINI MAN. (NBC, 1976): Government agent Sam Casey (Ben Murphy) works for the U.S. agency Intersect. While on a mission he is exposed to radiation that turns him invisible. Scientist Abby Lawrence (Katherine Crawford) creates a DNA stabilizer that allows Sam to control his invisibility. But if Sam stays invisible for longer than fifteen minutes he will remain that way forever. The link is for Part One (of Five) of the episode “Minotaur.”


INVISIBLE MAN aka I-MAN. (Sci-Fi aka Syfy, 2000-02): Comedy action series. A mad scientist uses his brother, career criminal Darien Fawkes (Vincent Ventresca) as the test subject for a government funded experiment. Things go wrong (don’t they always?) and Darien, who now has the ability to make himself invisible, is forced to work for a secret agency in exchange for regular doses of an antidote that keeps him from going insane. The link is for the pilot episode.


   Sure, we all overcome obstacles every day in our lives, but these characters didn’t let a little thing like death stopped them from fighting evil.

BRIMSTONE. (Fox, 1998-99): Dead Damned good cop Zeke Stone (Peter Horton) murdered the man who escaped justice after raping Stone’s wife. Stone ends up in Hell. He is offered a deal by the Devil (John Glover), recapture 113 escaped demons from Hell and Stone gets a second chance on Earth. The link is for episode three.


G VS E aka GOOD VS EVIL. (USA, 1999/ Sci-Fi aka Syfy, 2000): Dead Cop Chandler Smythe (Clayton Rohner) joins “the corps,” God’s police force. With his dead partner Henry (Richard Brooks) a cop from the 70s, they hunt “Morlocks,” demons from Hell who are on Earth disguised as humans. The link is for Part One (of Five) of the first episode.


   Witches and Wizards, like humans, can be found on both sides of the line between good and evil.

DRESDEN’S FILES. (Sci-Fi aka Syfy, 2007): Loosely based on the books by Jim Butcher. Wizard and PI Harry Dresden (Paul Blackthorne) solve crimes involving the supernatural with curious cop Connie Murphy (Valerie Cruz) trying to discover the truth.


TUCKER’S WITCH. (CBS, 1982-83) Married couple Amanda and Rick Tucker (Catherine Hicks and Tim Matheson) work together as PIs solving mysteries with the help of her yet to be totally mastered witchcraft. Mystery*File review here.


   There are times a monster rises above our prejudices and remind us that not all scary ugly monsters are alike.

SWAMP THING (USA, 1990-93). Professor Alex Holland (Dirk Durock) is a victim of a murder attempt by mad scientist Anton Arcane (Mark Lindsey Chapman). Turned into a monster that is part man-part plant, Holland protects his swamp home and friends from Arcane and various other evildoers.


   Saturday morning TV has been a place for an endless number of good guy monsters including SWAMP THING (Fox Kids 1990-91). The link is for the episode “Un-man Unleashed.”


FANGFACE (ABC 1978-79) was one of the endless cartoons inspired by Scooby Doo, this one with a werewolf.


MONSTER SQUAD. (NBC 1976-77) was a live action show done in a style similar to the 1960s BATMAN TV series. The night watchman at a Wax Museum brings Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and Werewolf back to life so they can do good and make up for their earlier bad behavior.


   Today we have no shortage of “monsters” fighting evil including Grimm’s monster sidekick Monroe in GRIMM (NBC), the risen from the dead Ichabod Crane in SLEEPY HOLLOW (FOX) and a growing groups of clones in ORPHAN BLACK (BBC America).

DASHIELL HAMMETT – The Maltese Falcon. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 1930. Originally published in Black Mask magazine as a five part serial from September 1929 through January 1930. Reprinted many times, in both hardcover and paperback. Film: Warner Bros., 1931; also released as Dangerous Female (Ricardo Cortez). Also: Warner Bros., 1936, as Satan Met a Lady (Warren William as Ted Shane). Also: Warner Bros., 1941 (Humphrey Bogart).

   I don’t suppose I have to convince you to read this book, do I? If you haven’t read it yet, I don’t suppose you will. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe you’ve never gotten around to it. It would be easy to do. But remember, nobody lives forever. You’ve only got one life to live, and that’s all you’ve got.

COMMENTS:

I. The part of Sam Spade was made for Humphrey Bogart.
2. John Huston was wise to write the part of Rhea Gutman out of the screenplay.
3. Spade’s mind always seems to be several jumps ahead of the story, but Barzun and Taylor call him “repeatedly stupid.” Why?
4. Likeable, I’m not so sure he is.

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

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