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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.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


JUKE GIRL. Warner Brothers, 1942. Ann Sheridan, Ronald Reagan, Richard Whorf, George Tobias, Gene Lockhart, Alan Hale, Betty Brewer, Howard Da Silva, Faye Emerson, Willie Best. Screenplay by A. I. Bezzerides, based on a story by Theodore Pratt. Director: Curtis Bernhardt.

   Although it may not have the most compelling plot or the best action sequences, the Warner Brothers melodrama Juke Girl benefits strongly from Ann Sheridan in a starring role. She portrays a tough, streets smart juke joint dance girl in a bustling Florida farming and packing plant town. Her commitment to the smoke filled music hall life is tested when she encounters Steve Talbot (Ronald Reagan), a charming itinerant farmhand with a strong commitment to the plight of the common man.

   The plot, which occasionally seems to deviate sharply from where one expects it to be heading, follows the story of two friends, Steve Talbot (Reagan) and Danny Frazier (Richard Whorf) as they arrive in Cat Tail, Florida looking for work. They soon come to learn that the small town is all but run by packing magnate Henry Madden (Gene Lockhart) and his strong man, Cully (Henry Da Silva).

   Soon after arriving in town, Steve falls for Lola Mears (Ann Sheridan’s character) who is working at the town’s smoke filled juke joint. But he doesn’t fall as hard for the tyrannical Madden. In fact, he decides he’d rather work for small time tomato farmer Nick Garcos the Greek (George Tobias) than the packing plant owner.

   This strains his relationship with Danny (Whorf) who wants to work for Madden. Along for the ride and trying to keep the peace is character actor Alan Hale, who portrays Yippee, one of the locals with a strong conscience.

   For a time, things go okay for Steve and Lola. They help Nick ship tomatoes to market in Atlanta, and there’s even talk of their settling down together. But Lola abruptly skips out on Steve. She still doesn’t think of herself as the settling down type. Things then get even worse for poor Steve when there’s a warehouse murder, which the townsfolk blame on him.

   The movie abruptly veers from a melodrama to something of a crime film. But even so the crime aspect remains a mere sideshow to the story about the relationship between Steve and Lola, two rural working class lovebirds trying to make their way in a rough and tumble world.

   That said, aside from championing honest work, the film really isn’t very political. There’s no heavy-handed message here. Reagan’s character isn’t as much a labor leader as he is a guy originally from the wheat fields of Kansas who wants hardworking farmers to get a fair deal.

   Juke Girl isn’t the type of film that will likely stick with you for days and weeks after you’ve watched it. But it is nevertheless an enjoyable film, far less gritty than the films noir of the late 1940s, but one that hints strongly at a world where the greedy and the unscrupulous would gladly prey on the weak.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         


THE SMALL BACK ROOM. The Archers / British Lion Film Corporation, UK, 1949. Released in the US as Hour of Glory (1952). David Farrar, Kathleen Byron, Jack Hawkins, Michael Gough, Cyril Cusak, Leslie Banks, Sidney James, Robert Morley, Geoffrey Keen, Anthony Bushell, Renee Asherson. Based on the novel by Nigel Balchin. Cinematography: Christopher Challis. Written and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger

   The small back room of the title is in a once tony Park Lane building where myriad agencies including Professor Mair’s Research Section are situated. It’s just one of dozens of similar wartime sections belonging to no one in particular and answering to no one save a handful of civil service bureaucrats, politicians, and ministry officials, all maneuvering for influence, power, and glory. It’s 1943, and amidst the war petty politics and back stabbing still go on.

   Boffin Sammy Rice (David Farrar, Black Narcissus, 300 Spartans, Meet Sexton Blake), is above all this. All he wants is to do his job, contribute, romance his girl Suzy (Kathleen Byron), and find some way to dull the pain and the shame caused by his tin leg.

   He’s content to run his section and use Suzy as a vent for the anger his constant pain causes, which only makes him feel guilty and more useless. An expensive bottle of Scotch he keeps in his apartment in plain view is the one escape, not to kill the pain — neither it nor the dope the doctors give him will do that — but to make him forget. He has sworn not to touch it, though he does get drunk in a local pub owned by ex-boxer Knucksie (Sidney James). That bottle is a symbol of more than his pain, it also symbolizes the life he has bottled up in its smoky depths as well.

   As the film opens Lt. Stewart (a young Michael Gough) of the bomb disposal unit arrives at Professor Mair’s section with a top secret problem soon assigned to Sammy; a booby trapped device being dropped by the Germans that has so far killed three boys and one man. It may be aimed at children to demoralize the British populace, but so far they haven’t found a live one to study, and when they do they need a man like Sammy to tell them how to handle it.

   Meanwhile everything is complicated by Sammy’s problems, political back-fighting led by R. B. Waring (Jack Hawkins), the glad handing minister whose purview the section falls under, Mair’s incompetence, a soldier tech with a problematic wife (Cyril Cusak), and Suzy’s growing anger that Sammy will not stand up and fight for what he knows is right but hides behind his pain and that unopened bottle of Scotch.

   The Archers of course were directors, producers, and screenwriters Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger (The 49th Parallel, Black Narcissus, A Matter of Life and Death, The Red Shoes, to name a few classics) who adapted this version of the novel by Nigel Balchin (Mine Own Executioner and the screenplay for The Man Who Never Was), a British novelist whose works in the manner of Nevil Shute were both suspense novels as well as serious mainstream novels. This is one of his best remembered novels and a fine example of his abilities.

   There’s an exceptional cast for this one, even in bit roles: Robert Morley, Geoffrey Keen, even Patrick Macnee gets a closeup if no dialogue, and Farrar, Byron, Gough, Hawkins, Cussak as a stuttering technician, Anthony Bushell as a bomb disposal officer, and Renee Asherson as a corporal assigned as stenographer to a bomb disposal unit are all outstanding. Asherson has a fine scene where she reads the last instructions dictated from the site where an officer was killed trying to defuse the bomb to Farrar who will be the next man to attempt it. It’s a thousand times more effective than filming the scene itself could have been.

   Christopher Challis’s cinematography must be mentioned as well; the location shots capture much of the wildness of some of the remote regions the booby-trapped devices carry Sammy and Stewart to, as well as the claustrophobia of crowded pubs and nightclubs with blacked out lights, tiny labs in the small back rooms of the title, and without the usual scenes in bomb shelters or footage of burning London, sketching in the aura of wartime England subtly. As it likely was for most ordinary people in London and the rest of the country, the war is always a presence even when it isn’t at the forefront.

   One outstanding sequence in the film is a surrealistic waking nightmare as Sammy waits for Suzy, the only person who can distract him from his pain, and must battle not only his pain, but the attraction of the bottle. As the clock ticks maddeningly, his pills fail him, and the bottle looms larger and larger until he even sees its outline in the pattern of the wallpaper, he breaks down.

   It’s a nerve-wracking scene, and wrenching to watch the otherwise taciturn and stoic Farrar deteriorate before your eyes. It’s as uncomfortable as anything in The Lost Weekend and as surreal as the famous Salvador Dali sequence in Hitchcock’s Spellbound, and the shadows and light interplaying on that craggy face make some memorable impressions. There is a moment when in his pain he stamps down on the tin leg to crush the pills and the agony on his face is palpable.

   It won’t take much imagination or provide much of a challenge to know Sammy will end up defusing one of the booby trapped devices, the twin of one that has already killed, and with a hell of a hangover, in a climactic scene of tension, or that doing so will decide his future and the fate of his relationship with Suzy, but that is dramatic structure and there is no way around it in book or film, even if anyone was silly enough to want one. It’s a tense scene and all involved wring every sweaty drop of fear out of it.

   Neither the film nor the book is as well known here as it was in England, but if you can find the trade paperback edition I recommend both it and Balchin’s Mine Own Executioner (also an excellent film with Burgess Meredith and Kieron Moore) highly. And if you know the work of the Archers, especially of director Michael Powell, then that alone is enough to recommend the film.

   And for what it’s worth Farrar was a cousin of mine, and we share the family nose, no small connection, so forgive me if I think it is one hell of a performance for an actor who a few years before was playing Sexton Blake in B films.

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


VALENTINE WILLIAMS and DOROTHY RICE SIMS – Fog. Houghton Mifflin, hardcover, 1933; Popular Librar #76, paperback, n. d. [1946]. Film: Columbia, 1933 (starring Mary Brian, Donald Cook and Reginald Denny).

   The S. S. Barbaric lives up to its name as three of its passengers are strangled en route from New York to England. The first is the irascible millionaire Alonzo Holt, who wouldn’t have sailed if he had known that the son he never knew, his estranged second wife, and the charlatan who used to conduct seances for him were aboard.

   While there is an occasional good sentence — for example, “The curious delusion that the ability to amass wealth implies a disposition to distribute it in charity, deserving or undeserving, attracts shoals of beggars to the millionaire’s door” — the authors have overwritten throughout. Worse, none of the characters ring true, except for the bridge fanatic, nicknamed Sitting Bull. Still worse, the hero spots the murderer through a clue provided by the heroine, who could not possibly have been in possession of the information she gave him.

   Skip this one unless you’re a real nostalgia buff.

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


BIBLIOGRAPHIC NOTES:   This is co-author Dorothy Rice Sims only entry in Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV. Valentine Williams was a far more prolific writer of crime ad detective fiction. There is a very extensive article about him on Mike Grost’s Classic Mystery and Detection website. Highly recommended!

PostScript.   It belatedly occurred to me that I had been lazy, and that I should have tried harder find out more about Mrs. Sims, if I could. It turns out that there is quite a bit more to say.

   From a website dedicated to famous contract bridge players, there is a short biography of her, along with a photo. Excerpting from the first couple of paragraphs:

    “Dorothy Rice Sims was born June 24, 1889 at Asbury Park NJ. From her teens, Dorothy was active in competition, holding the motorcycle speed championship for women (1911) and becoming one of the first U.S. aviatrixes, in which capacity she met and married ACBL Hall of Fame Member P. Hal Sims.

    “She was a noted sculptress, painter and author in fields other than bridge, though she wrote several bridge books. She is widely credited with inventing the psychic bid, but probably initiated only the popular name for it. However, she wrote her first book on the subject, Psychic Bidding, 1932.”

   Note that one of the characters that Bill mentions is a fanatic bridge player.

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