REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


THE GANG THAT COULDN’T SHOOT STRAIGHT. GM, 1971. Jerry Orbach, Leigh Taylor-Young, Jo Van Fleet, Lionel Stander, Robert De Niro. Based on the novel by Jimmy Breslin. Director: James Goldstone.

   Thanks to director James Goldstone’s frenetic pacing, there’s not a lot of down time in The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. In this comedy film, that’s not necessarily such a bad thing. Despite a fairly thin plot, this off-kilter satire of Brooklyn’s mafia wars moves from scene to scene at a rapid clip, not giving the viewer much time to digest what happened. Most of the time, it works well and distracts the viewer from the fact that there’s not whole much depth to the proceedings.

   But who needs much depth when you’ve got Jerry Orbach portraying Kid Sally, a low-rent South Brooklyn enforcer and Robert DeNiro portraying a character named Mario, an Italian bicycle racer turned con man? Both are such fine actors that it’s difficult to not get lost in their respective characters various schemes and machinations.

   Then there’s veteran character actor Lionel Stander, whose career was among the most effected by the Hollywood blacklist. He portrays Baccala, a crude, tough talking mafia don who utilizes his wife to start the ignition on his car. You know. Just in case.

   The plot follows two parallel tracks. Kid Sally’s attempts to rub out Baccala, and Kid Sally’s sister, Angela’s (Leigh Taylor-Young) budding romance with Mario. Eventually these tracks merge in Kid Sally’s hilariously incompetent attempt to kill Baccala in an Italian restaurant. In this scene, as in many others, the humor isn’t exactly subtle. But it’s not childish and infantile, either. The comedic talent on display makes The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight an enjoyable enough movie, but not necessarily one that necessitates a second viewing.



Editorial Note:   As coincidences go, this is a sad one. This review was scheduled yesterday for today. This morning Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jimmy Breslin’s death was reported. He was 88.

MICHAEL F. FLYNN “Nexus.” Lead (and cover) novella in Analog Science Fiction, March-April 2017.

      Nexus: a connection or series of connections linking two or more things.

   This is a time-travel story taking place in the present that packs a series of multiple punches, each centered around one of the several characters involved:

    … a time traveler from the future who is trying to track down where his particular timeline has gone off the track, dooming billions of people; a woman who is immortal and who met the time traveler once before back in the Byzantine times; a member of a hidden alien race on Earth on the track of a possible invader that may have followed them here: a five-legged spider-like creature alone on Earth that hopes to use the time traveler’s machine to repair his/her/its spaceship; a female android who, inadvertently connecting the pieces of the plot together, wonders if the immortal woman could be another of her kind; and a woman with telepathic abilities who overhears a conversation that brings her into the tale as well.

   That all of these players meet at one crucial time in this planet’s history may happen by a series of striking coincidences, perhaps, but then again, perhaps not.

   Michael F. Flynn has been around as a strong proponent of hard science fiction for a while now, but this is the first work of his that I’ve read. This had to have been a difficult story to write, pulling all of the threads together as he does in a clear, concise fashion, with a light touch every so often as it’s needed. I’m impressed, and I’ll see what I can do to find more of his short fiction to read. Long SF novels are pretty much beyond me any more, I’m afraid.

MICHAEL CONNELLY – The Black Echo. Harry Bosch #1. Little Brown, hardcover, 1992. St. Martin’s, paperback, 1993. Reprinted many times since.

   The Black Echo won that year’s Edgar for Best First Novel, and it’s no wonder. It’s a great book, one that will suck you right in, starting with Chapter One, and keep you reading until it’s over. Not that you’re likely to read it in one sitting. It’s over 500 oversized pages of small print in the current premium paperback edition, and it took me almost a week of grabbing it up at bedtime and reading as long as I could keep my eyes open.

   It starts out with Bosch, now working for the Hollywood Station of the LAPD, being called in to check out a dead body found in a concrete pipe near Mulholland Dam, and it doesn’t quit until he’s closed a case involving an attempted break into a security vault in Beverly Hills.

   The connection? Tunnels. Bosch knew the dead man back in Viet Nam, where they were tunnels rats together, days that haunt him memories still. Working with him on the case for most of the book is a comely FBI agent named Eleanor, whose brother never returned from Nam and with whom he finds a certain, shall we say, extracurricular rapport. On his trail and tracking every move he makes are two cops from Internal Affairs named Lewis and Clarke; Bosch is the kind of guy who goes his own way, and his previous big case caused him a lot of problems, including both a suspension and a transfer.

   As I say, this is long book and the story is very involved, and this brief summary doesn’t do it the justice it deserves. There is one long conversation that one villain has with Bosch when the former thinks he has the situation well under control, but doesn’t. Otherwise, for a first time writer, Connelly had very sure hands at the typewriter when he wrote this one. I don’t think there’s anything in it that’s trail breaking, but both the author and the character caught a lot of people’s fancy at the time, and they still do today. You can put my name on the list.

EDMUND CRISPIN “Beware of the Trains.” First published in The (London) Evening Standard, 1949. Lead story in the collection of the same title (Gollancz, UK, 1953; Walker, US, 1962).

   Is it possible to tell to tell an “impossible crime” mystery in ten pages and get away with it? The answer is yes, and “Beware of the Trains” is a fine unadulterated example.

   Crispin’s primary detective character, Gervase Fen, is by profession an Oxford professor, but he has a decided penchant for running into — and solving — all kinds of unusual crimes. In this story he is once again luckily on hand when the engineer of the train he is on mysteriously disappears, even though the police have the small station surrounded, hoping to nab a notorious burglar whom they suspect was on the train, but who is not.

   That the thief may never have been on the train means that the latter part of that previous sentence is not an impossible crime, but where is the driver?

   Fen uses his wits, does some searching, and comes up with the answer, all neatly and tidily done. Another author who specialized in short story impossibilities was Edward D. Hoch, some of whose efforts along these lines have been collected, but not enough of them to suit me.

Carp was a Los Angeles-based country-rock band primarily known today for helping start then singer-drummer Gary Busey’s career. The group released one self-titled album for Epic in 1969 and a couple of singles before disbanding.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini


ANTHONY BOUCHER – Exeunt Murderers: The Best Mystery Stories of Anthony Boucher. Southern Illinois University Press, hardcover, 1983.

   Boucher published some sixty short stories during his thirty-year writing career, about equally divided between mystery/detective and science fiction/fantasy. The twenty-two stories in Exeunt Murderers clearly show that he had a fine hand with the form — a finer hand, perhaps, than he had with novels.

   Included here are all nine of the Nick Noble stories, Boucher’s best series and most inspired work. Noble is an ex-cop who was thrown off the force in disgrace for taking graft, something he resorted to in desperation to pay for an operation his wife needed — an operation that failed and left him a widower. The combination of tragedies turned him into a wino who spends most of his time at a cheap bar called the Chula Negra, drinking rotgut sherry and fending off an invisible fly that keeps pestering him.

   But even though he is “the lowest and soddenest kind of drunk that even the Skid Row of Los Angeles can exhibit,” he can still deduce with the best, as he proves whenever his friend, Lieutenant MacDonald, brings him cases no one in the department can solve. Dying messages and codes are Noble’s specialties. And among his best deductions are those that clear up the murder of a priest in “Screwball Division,” the murder of a librarian in “QL 696. C9,” and a football mystery in “The Punt and the Pass.”

   Also included are a pair of cases featuring Sister Ursula, the cloistered nun whom Boucher created for a pair of early novels published under the pseudonym of H. H. Holmes. ” The Stripper” is the grisly tale of a Jack the Ripper-style murderer on the loose in southern California. “Coffin Corner,” like the Nick Noble case mentioned above, has a college-football background.

   Boucher’s best nonseries stories are here as well: the wonderfully macabre “The Retired Hangman,” a much tougher story than was usual with him; “Mystery for Christmas,” a story-within-a-story that features Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse; “The Smoke-Filled Locked Room,” which combines deduction with some of Boucher’s political views; and “The Ultimate Clue,” a short-short (again about football) with the ultimate detective-story ending.

   An insightful introduction by Francis M Nevins, Jr. (who co-edited the volume with Martin H. Greenberg), rounds out what is surely one of the best and longest overdue collections to be published in the past several years.

         ———
   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 DAVID VINEYARD:


ENTER ARSENE LUPIN. Universal Pictures, 1944. Charles Korvin, Ella Raines, J. Carroll Naish, George Dolenz, Gale Sonddergard, Miles Mander. Screenplay by Bertram Millhauser, based on the character created by Maurice Leblanc. Directed by Ford Beebe.

   Charles Korvin’s first outing as Arsene Lupin, and the third American film to feature the character, puts him in such good company with John Barrymore and Melvin Douglas who essayed the character before him.

   In Enter Arsene Lupin, Korvin is aboard the Orient Express in the guise of Raoul D’Andressy to steal the Kanares Emerald, but when he sees the owner, Anastasia ‘Stacie’ Kanares (Ella Raines, and well he might have second thoughts as she exudes sex appeal here) he returns the jewel, much to the disgust of his servant Armand Dubose (George Dolenz: “Women, it’s always women.”).

   Inspired by Stacie, Lupin changes his plans and heads to England, where Inspector Ganimard (J. Carroll Naish) soon follows as Lupin begins denuding the nations museums.

Ganimard: “Lupin, he is tall thin, short fat, slight stocky, fair and dark.”

British Police Sergeant: “Well, if you want me I’ll be in out over and under the nearest pub.”

   But Ganimard has an inspiration regarding Lupin’s favorite wine and finds six dozen cases were sold at auction to one Raoul D’Andressy. In the meantime, Lupin, driving to Wainbridge Manor to see Stacie, is just in time to rescue her when her brakes give out at speed on a steep hill. She invites him to meet her British cousins, Bessie (Gale Sonddergard) and Major Charles Seagrave (Miles Mander), who inform him Stacie is suffering a mental breakdown after the loss of her grandfather Kanares and believes she is still in possession of the emerald that was stolen on the Orient Express.

   Lupin is of course suspicious since he stole and returned the emerald himself, and the next day when Stacie invites him to go fishing and he finds a deadly viper in her picnic basket he is certain her cousin and her husband are out to gaslight her, murder her, and steal the emerald, leaving him only one solution, to steal the emerald first.

   An act complicated when Ganimard shows up on his doorstep just after he has hung the real Rembrandt he stole in a frame that held a cheap print. Lupin is left playing a game of cat and mouse as well as snakes and ladders to outwit Ganimard (“No one outwits Ganimard but Ganimard himself.”), steal the emerald, and keep the cousins from murdering Stacie.

   Korvin makes a properly suave and European Lupin, with his exchanges with his exasperated valet and partner in crime Dolenz full of quiet wit.

Lupin: “I was born with a conscience.”

Dubose: “A conscience, what is that?”

Lupin: “The ability to know right from wrong.”

Dubose: Whistles “Sounds like a terrible handicap to me, Msieu.”

Lupin: “Luckily I had the strength to overcome it.”

   While it can’t compare with the original Arsene Lupin with Barrymore and his brother Lionel as Ganimard, it’s a charming B-programmer, running at around sixty-five minutes, and wittily scripted by Bertram Millhauser. Whether Universal ever intended it as a series or not, it’s a shame it wasn’t picked up. Korvin was ideal as Lupin, whether in ascot or top hat, cape, and tails, and the film has more than enough twists and turns for any two films of its length.

   The romantic scenes with Raines have real snap to them, and if the cat and mouse play with Naish isn’t in the same class with the two Barrymores, it is still fun to watch between the Columboesque but capable sleuth and the suave gentleman thief, the twists coming right to the final shot.

ISAAC ASIMOV “The Cross of Lorraine.” First published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, May 1976. Collected in Casebook of the Black Widowers (Doubleday, hardcover, 1980; Fawcett Crest, paperback, March 1981).

    The Black Widowers were a men-only dining club that met once a week in a private room of a Manhattan restaurant. Each evening one of the members brings a guest, who after dinner is questioned as to the reason for his existence. In the conversation that follows, a problem the guest has invariably comes up and is tackled by the members as a group. The solution to the problem, however, also invariably comes from Henry, the waiter.

    There were 66 of these stories altogether. Five collections of twelve stories each were published in Asimov’s lifetime. Some of the stories were original to each volume, otherwise all but two appeared first in EQMM. The last six plus eleven reprints were collected in The Return of the Black Widowers (Carroll & Graf, 2003).

    “The Cross of Lorraine” is the first story in the third collection, and it follows the pattern of all the others. While the guest, named Larri, is only a so-so magician, his fame comes from exposing phony mystics, and a lot of discussion takes place involving sleight of hand and misdirection, which is where Larri’s problem comes in.

   It seems that he lost track of a woman whose company he was enjoying on a bus ride. When he fell asleep, she got off at her stop, and his only clue is a young French lad’s assertion that he saw the double-barred Cross of Lorraine when she did so, but retracking the route, Larri could find no such symbol along the roadway.

   The solution is simple but exceedingly clever. You probably can’t read too many of these in a ow, and shouldn’t even try, but at a slow pace of only one at a time, these old-fashioned and clearly told puzzle stories, for that is what they are, are a lot of fun. They were among Asimov’s own favorite stories to tell as well.

REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


THE ADVENTURES OF LARIAT SAM. CBS, 1962. Terrytoons in association with Robert Keeshan Associates Voices: Dayton Allen did all the voices and Gene Wood sang the series theme.Written by Gene Wood and Tom Morrison. Produced by Gene Wood.

   We tend to remember the early influences on us growing up. At an early age I developed a fondness for comedy cartoon sheriffs such as Lariat Sam. THE ADVENTURES OF LARIAT SAM was developed for CAPTAIN KANGAROO (CBS, October 3, 1955 – December 8 1984). The early morning kid show starred Bob Keeshan as Captain Kangaroo. The kindly grandfatherly Captain was joined at the Treasure House (later the Captain’s Place) by Mr. Green Jeans (Hugh Brannum), puppets Mr. Moose and Bunny Rabbit (Cosmo Allegtetti), cartoons and many more characters and special guests.



   After five years of showing the same twenty-six episodes of TOM TERRIFIC Captain Kangaroo (Bob Keeshan) wanted something new. CBS in-house cartoon studio Terrytoons (MIGHTY MOUSE, DEPUTY DAWG, etc) would make the new show (as it did TOM TERRIFIC).

   Keeshan asked his writer Gene Wood (future successful announcer for game shows such as FAMILY FEUD) to produce and co-write a new cartoon with Terrytoons’ head writer Tom Morrison. With help from Keeshan, they came up with good guy Sheriff Lariat Sam and his sidekick Tippytoes, the Wonder Horse.

   Together the two cartoon crime fighters protected the town of Bent Saddles. Keeshan wanted LARIAT SAM to be non-violent so instead of a gun Sam had a magic lariat to capture the bad guys, usually Badlands Meeney and his sidekick J. Skulking Bushwack. Thirteen episodes were made of the cartoon Western. Each story was told in five short parts.

   Respected animation historian Jerry Beck wrote about ADVENTURES OF LARIAT SAM at one of his websites, Cartoon Research. The episode “The Mark of Zero” is included at the bottom of the article found here.

   Our YouTube example is The People Catcher:

   Badlands Meeney has a new science fiction toy he got to capture Lariat Sam, but Bushwack wrecks it. Luckily a scientist has just arrived in Bent Saddle and agrees to fix the People Catcher. Things don’t go as Badlands had hoped – they never do.

   As with all the series episodes, ADVENTURES OF LARIAT SAM was a funny silly cartoon aimed at young kids. The evil plans were delightfully absurd. Characters often talked to the audience. Puns and jokes were non-stop. The cartoon remains fun to watch, even for this adult.

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS. Vanwick Productions / Filmservice Distributors Corporation, 1959. Les Tremayne, Forrest Lewis, John Harmon, Frank Arvidson, Jeanne Carmen, Don Sullivan. Director: Irvin Berwick.

   This is not a high-end creature feature. Filmed on a super low budget, The Monster of Piedras Blancas is a rather talky and amateurish production. Still, there are some great moments, including a rather bold – for its time anyways – scene in which the viewer witnesses a crab crawling across a decapitated head. And there’s a noir like sequence in which the eponymous monster chases threatens people on a spiral staircase.

   But overall, this science fiction and horror hybrid remains a secondary, if not third rate, imitation of The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). There’s the girl who the creature seemingly ends up falling for, and the locals who are befuddled as to what is transpiring in their midst.

   The story unfolds in a California beach community. When people start disappearing and then dying in a horribly gruesome manner, the town’s physician and police chief join forces to investigate. They soon learn that it isn’t a man that’s responsible for the recent beheadings. No. It’s a monster that they are after. With the technical assistance of a local scientist in training, the men devise a rather half-baked plan to capture the creature by means of throwing a net on him. I kid you not.

   Not all that much else happens in the movie. Well, that’s not entirely true. There’s a backstory to the monster’s emergence, one that includes a father-daughter story that is as melodramatic as it cliché. There’s also a romance in the mix between the aforementioned daughter and the young scientist.

   I wouldn’t particularly recommend your going out of your way to track this one down, although Olive Films recently put it out on BluRay and I must say, for an ultra low budget film, it looks absolutely fantastic. Trivia fact: the film’s cinematographer, Philip Lathrop, went on to an illustrious career and was twice nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography. Despite the plodding pace and the clumsy dialogue, this creature feature is extremely well photographed.

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