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.

PAUL LEVINE – Solomon vs. Lord. Bantam, paperback original; 1st printing, 2005.

   This is the first book this long (547 pages) that I’ve actually finished in quite a while. I’ve started some, don’t get me wrong, but they’ve always been put down with me fully intending to pick them up again the very next day, but for whatever reason, good or bad, eventually I never do.

   What’s interesting (to me, anyway) is that the book was marketed as Fiction, not as a Mystery novel, even though both Solomon (Steve) and Lord (Vicky) are lawyers, and much of the book is taken up with with two legal cases, one of them a murder, or so the D.A. assumes.

   What the book really is, though, is a romance. One of those “when will they get together” love stories mostly written by women. Not “will they or won’t they get together,” since that’s a forgone conclusion, even though they are total opposites in character. She’s prim and proper, organized to the max, while he’s the kind of guy who wings it in court, playing even loosey-goosier in legal proceeedings than Perry Mason ever dreamed of.

   They start out on opposite sides of the courtroom, but losing the case to him gets her fired, so of course even though she “hates” him, they end up on the same side, defending a clone of Anna Nicole Smith (fictional) accused of killing her husband after an extended bout of kinky sex.

   She also ends up representing him in his attempt to gain custody of his autistic nephew Bobby, who has been abandoned by his drug-addled mother, which is another story altogether. I also have not mentioned that she (Lord) already has a fiancé, a wealthy, well-bred kind of guy whom women looking for security in their lives would beat down the doors for to grab onto as a husband.

   It is still hard to explain why this book needs as many pages as it does. Perhaps that is where the real mystery comes in. The book is often laugh-out-loud funny and definitely vulgar at times but not verging into even the borderline obscene and never ever as explicit in bedroom details as it might have been if it were a Harlequin romance written under today’s standards.

   It all ends happily, needless to say, with many more adventures in sight.

        The Solomon vs. Lord series –

1. Solomon vs. Lord (2005)
2. The Deep Blue Alibi (2006)

3. Kill All The Lawyers (2006)
4. Trial & Error (2007)

5. Habeas Porpoise (2014)

UNBREAKABLE. Touchstone Pictures, 2000. Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Wright Penn, Spencer Treat Clark. Screenwriter & director: M. Night Shyamalan.

   This was director Shyamalan’s followup to his massively successful The Sixth Sense, which I’ve never seen, but no matter. The reason I wanted to see this one was the presence in the film of Samuel L. Jackson, who always turns in a riveting performance, no matter how good or how bad the rest of the film is.

   And Unbreakable is no exception to that statement, if not a rule. Whenever he’s on the screen, as the tormented victim of a brittle bone disease, all eyes are on him, an angry black man (with reason) teetering on a cane that looks as though it will barely hold him. As a lover of comic books and comic books heroes — and an early flashback shows why that is so; how the love of comic books got him through his childhood — he knows that there has to be someone on the other end of the spectrum, perhaps even unknowingly.

   And that someone just might be David Dunn (Bruce Willis), an ordinary guy, a stadium security guard by occupation, who just happens to be the only survivor of a horrific train accident. Over a hundred other passengers died; Dunn comes out of it without a scratch.

   Dunn, as I say, is an ordinary guy, with a semi-estranged son and a marriage that is definitely on the rocks, but … he’s never been sick in his life, as Elijah Price (Jackson) reminds him. Could he have superpowers and have never have known it until now?

   As I say, I’m a fan of Samuel L. Jackson, and I still am, but Unbreakable has convinced me that I hadn’t bother seeing another film directed by M. Night Shyamalan, whose directorial abilities I find to be of the flamboyant “look at me, I’m directing” variety, beginning with the very first scene, with Dunn talking earnestly to a young female reporter on the seat next to him on the doomed train. Their conversation is filmed through the separation between the seats in front of them, both awkward and obvious.

   As a storyteller, he is no better — not to my mind anyway, speaking as someone who would like to have scenes mean something, not randomly inserted in a portentous manner, but never followed up on or extremely unlikely to happen in the first place, such as Dunn’s son threatening to shoot him with a gun, to prove that his father does indeed have superpowers.

   As for the surprise ending, I left the theater asking myself just what it was that happened. It did and did not make sense at the time, and while I’m a lot more aware of what I had missed, I think my mind stopped working when I realized that a lot of the movie didn’t make a lot of sense, was weird only for weirdness’ sake, and I failed to take in scenes that were important, and I just didn’t realize that here at last was something that was essential and I really shouldn’t have missed it.

   The movie is still worth watching, though. It was quite popular at the time it was first released, perhaps as a carryover from The Sixth Sense, with which Unbreakable has some strong similarities. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

THE LAST OF THE VIKINGS. Tiberius Film, Italy, 1961. Medallion Pictures, US, 1962. Original title: L’ultimo dei Vikinghi. Also released as El último vikingo (Spain). Cameron Mitchell, Edmund Purdom, Isabelle Corey, Hélène Rémy, Andrea Aureli, Mario Feliciani. Director: Giacomo Gentilomo.

   Although I didn’t have the highest expectations when I started to watch it on DVD last night, The Last of the Vikings, is a surprisingly good “sword-and-sandal” movie. It’s not The Vikings (1958), but for what it is, namely a fairly entertaining escapist action film, it’s not all that bad.

   Directed by Giacomo Gentilomo, (Mario Bava is uncredited), this Italian Viking epic (how’s that for a sub-genre?) stars Cameron Mitchell as Harald, a Viking warrior determined to revenge the death of his father at the hands of the mad King Sveno (Edmund Purdom). Along the way, he both learns what love is, and subsequently falls in love with the beautiful Hilde (French actress-model Isabelle Corey). After numerous obstacles thrown in his path, our fearlessly determined protagonist eventually slays the sadistic Sveno and gets the girl.

   Unlike some other costumers and adventures flics from the same era, Last of the Vikings doesn’t play it light.

   Indeed, there is something very dramatic (in the Shakespearean sense) about the performances in this little-known film. Cameron Mitchell and Edmund Purdom are both very good actors, and it shows. Look in particular for the scene in which Harald (Mitchell) slays a traitor in his midst. Mitchell’s performance is nearly flawless in that moment; he just seems to be a natural actor for portraying leads in revenge dramas.

   Unfortunately, the version of the movie that I watched, a DVD released by Alpha Home Entertainment, has a visual quality that is, well, acceptable, but not much more than that. Since I don’t suppose that anyone will be restoring this movie anytime soon, that may be the best available copy for the foreseeable future.

   That’s a shame, because the actors did take their roles seriously and there is a really great – awesome, really – fight sequence at the end, one that far surpasses most, if not all, digitally manufactured CGI battle sequences.

   Who knows? Maybe there’s a 35mm copy out there somewhere, tucked away in an archive or a private collection, just begging to be watched on the big screen.

William F. Deeck

  RUFUS KING – A Variety of Weapons. Doubleday, hardcover, 1943; Popular Library #97, paperback, no date [1946].

   Ann Ledrick has become known as an excellent photographer of pets. Thus, or maybe thus, she is hired to take pictures of some pet ocelots at Black Tor, the Marlow estate accessible only by air or, with great difficulty, by horseback. Justin Marlow, fabulously wealthy, has been a recluse at Black Tor ever since his son twenty years earlier was executed for killing his pregnant bride. Marlow’s only desire in life since then has been to prove his son’s innocence.

   During that twenty years, two of the young men who were in love with Marlow’s daughter-in-law have died “accidental” deaths — one by shotgun while hunting, the other after having ingested some perhaps ptomaineous pate de fois gras that had been mailed to him. Other accidental deaths have also taken place on the estate.

   When Ledrick arrives at Black Tor, she finds that there is very little interest in her taking pictures of the cats. Instead, she discovers as Justin Marlow dies, there is another reason for her presence at the Marlow estate. It has to do with the past murder and a very present murder.

   Although not by any means scientifically knowledgeable, I believe King goofed in one area, but it’s an area that isn’t all that significant to the reader. Otherwise, King presents a brooding atmosphere skillfully and portrays Ann Ledrick as a level-headed, intelligent, charming character.

   The detective, Sgt. James Hurlstone, who arrives on horseback because of a storm, is both bright and able. That he adopts a cat at one point in the novel and takes it with him wherever he goes may make him appeal to cat fanciers until they discover the reason for this odd companionship.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 12, No. 1, Winter 1990.

Editorial Notes:   It sounds strange to me as well, but I believe this blog has reviewed more of Rufus King’s books than any other author. That it seems to have been a favorite of Bill Deeck may be part of the reason, but he’s been reviewed by others as well. King’s most recent appearance on this blog was a review by Bill of two of his books, The Case of the Constant God and The Case of the Dowager’s Etchings. Prior to that was Bill’s review of The Steps to Murder, worth pointing out since at the end of this review are links to all of the other Rufus King reviews.

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