THE LEOPARD MAN. RKO, 1943. Cast: Dennis O’Keefe, Margo, Jean Brooks, Isabell Jewell, Marguerite Silva, Abner Biberman, James Bell, Margaret Landry, Fely Franquelli, Ariel Heath, Tuulikki Paananen. Producer: Val Lewton. Writers: Ardel Wray and Edward Dein, based on the novel Black Alibi (1942) by Cornell Woolrich. Director: Jacques Tourneur.

   “You don’t get the idea, mister. These cops banging those pans, flashing those lights, they’re gonna scare that poor cat of mine. Cats are funny, mister. They don’t want to hurt you, but if you scare them they go crazy. These cops, they don’t know what they’re doing.”


   Despite what everybody says about The Leopard Man, it’s not really a horror film. Of course it looks and even sounds like one most of the time, and it’s true producer Val Lewton specialized in horror films (e.g., Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie, etc.). Nevertheless, when you eliminate all the terror trappings, what’s left isn’t just a crime movie but an actual mystery film.

   It’s clear the intention was to ratchet up the suspense as much as possible — and then go beyond that. So it’s surprising to realize that just about every moment of violence is off screen; lighting and sound effects do the job of suggesting the horrors we don’t see.

   “Mamacita, let me in! Let me in! Let me in! If you love me, let me in!”


   When someone is attacked and murdered on one side of a door, we and another person on this side of it hear the violent scuffle but only see the victim’s blood oozing under the door.

   In a darkened cemetery dimly lit by a hazy moon, another victim is stalked by something unseen up in the trees. The camera focuses on the tree limbs as they creak downward and then spring up, with the attacker just out of visual range. All we hear is a muffled scream.

   The Leopard Man has many moments like that. The source material was Black Alibi, a 1942 novel by Cornell Woolrich.


   Numerous books and stories by Cornell Woolrich have been adapted for other media, such as these films: ‘Convicted’ (1938), ‘Street of Chance’ (1942), ‘Phantom Lady’ (1944), ‘The Mark of the Whistler’ (1944), ‘Deadline at Dawn’ (1946), ‘Black Angel’ (1946), ‘The Chase’ (1946), ‘Fall Guy’ (1947), ‘The Guilty’ (1947), ‘Fear in the Night’ (1947), ‘The Return of the Whistler’ (1948), ‘I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes’ (1948), ‘Night Has a Thousand Eyes’ (1948), ‘The Window (1949), ‘No Man of Her Own’ (1950), 6 episodes of the ‘Suspense’ TV series (1949-50), 3 segments of ‘Robert Montgomery Presents’ (1950-51), ‘Rear Window’ (1954), ‘Obsession’ (1954), ‘Nightmare’ (1956); 3 installments each of ‘Lux Video Theatre’ (1954-57), ‘The Ford Television Theatre’ (1955-57), ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ (1956-58), and ‘Thriller’ (1961); ‘The Bride Wore Black’ (1968), ‘You’ll Never See Me Again’ (1973, TVM), even ‘Mrs. Winterbourne’ (1996) — and this list of media adaptations is hardly exhaustive.

MONTE NASH “The Long Ride.” Syndicated / Four Star Productions. September 17, 1971 (Season One, Episode One). Harry Guardino (Monty Nash). Guest stars: Don Gordon, Lew Gallo. Based on the character and books by Richard Telfair. Director: Nicholas Colasanto. Currently streaming on YouTube (see below).

   Monty Nash is a government agent who, in this short-lived syndicated series (it lasted only 14 episodes), is assigned the task of getting a government witness safely from a jail in South Bend, Indiana, to a courtroom in Chicago. The plan is to use a decoy while Nash and the witness drive by car.

   Things don’t go well. There must have been a leak. Somebody on the inside must be on the take.

   Problem is, as far as any enjoyment there may have been in watching this really really disappointing misfire, is that the Bad Guys are Utterly Inept. Even shooting at Nash’s car from a helicopter, wouldn’t you think that would be enough to get the job done? No, sir. Not this time around. It turns out they turn tail and skedaddle as soon as Nash opens fire on them with only a handgun.

   As an actor, tough and gruff Harry Guardino fits the part the screenwriter and director wanted him to play. The direction is OK. The story, though, collapses under its own triteness into something not worth watching. Luckily the show is only 22 minutes long, streaming as it does without space for commercials.

   And oh yes. The music is too jazzy and too loud. I think they were trying to make believe something interesting was going on.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Ellen Nehr


DORIS MILES DISNEY – Who Rides the Tiger. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1945. Ace, paperback, 1965. Zebra, paperback, 1989.

   Unlike so many other authors, Doris Miles Disney never wrote the same book twice, even though she frequently used Connecticut as a background and always included a romantic element. In this novel, flashbacks that sometimes catch the reader unaware create a tangled, two-layer story of a great-aunt’s will, an old house filled with a lifetime accumulation of furniture and memories, and fourteen diaries that intrigue (as well as confound) the modem-day heroine, Susan.

   Her search for the motive behind her impoverished father’s exclusion from Great-Aunt Harriet’s will is aided by a recently returned Army Intelligence officer, Philip, who has a stake in the past, as well as a deep interest in Susan’s future. This story could justifiably be called a Gothic, since it involves tangled family relationships. an old house, and all the other trappings; but its mounting feeling of suspense and terror transcends the form and makes Who Rides the Tiger a startling tale of malevolence.

   Disney’s skill at creating dialogue and atmosphere is also evident in her other non series books, including Testimony by Silence (1948), No Next of Kin (1959), Voice from the Grave (1968), and Cry for Help (1975). In addition, she created three series characters: insurance investigator Jeff DiMarco, who is featured in such titles as Dark Road ( 1946), Method in Madness (1957), and The Chandler Policy ( 1971 ); postal inspector David Madden, who appears in Unappointed Rounds (1956), Black Mail (1958), and Mrs. Meeker’s Money (1961); and small-town Connecticut policeman Jim O’Neill, who is the hero of such early novels as A Compound of Death (1943) and The Last Straw (1954).

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.

SAMUEL HOLT – What I Tell You Three Times Is False. Sam Holt #3. Tor, hardcover, 1987; paperback, 1988. Felony & Mayhem, softcover, 2006, as by Donald E. Westlake writing as Samuel Holt.

   Former TV star Sam Holt and three other actors and actresses typecast in their roles of fictional detectives, along with assorted wives, lovers, and so on, are trapped on an isolated Caribbean island with a killer who seems intent on being the last one left alive.

   After a slow start, setting the scene, the mystery revs into high gear, with the killer and the detectives  squaring off in a long, complicated game of murder, somewhat reminiscent of Ellery Queen, but by a noticeable hair, not quite as clever as the master.

(*) Original footnote: If anyone know who Samuel Holt is, let me know. (And note that the similarity on plotting to EQ’s work is matched by the pseudonymous author-character relationship. It couldn’t be just a coincidence, could it?)

– Reprinted from Mystery.File.6, June 1988.

      The Sam Holt series –

1. One of Us Is Wrong (1986)
2. I Know a Trick Worth Two of That (1986)
3. What I Tell You Three Times Is False (1987)
4. The Fourth Dimension Is Death (1989)

THE ROCKFORD FILES. “The Countess.” NBC. 27 September 1974 (Season 1, Episode 4). James Garner, Gretchen Corbett, Joe Santos, Tom Atkins. Guest stars: Susan Strasberg, Art Lund, Dick Gautier, Harold J. Stone, Gloria Dixon. Teleplay by Stephen J. Cannell, based on a story by Roy Huggins (credited as John Thomas James). Director: Russ Mayberry. Currently streaming on the Roku Channel.

   Rockford is hired by a young woman (Susan Strasberg) who is being blackmailed by a man from her past (Dick Gautier, in a perfect role for him, just oozing oily sleaze) who knows a secret about her earlier life so destructive to her marriage to her second husband she won’t even tell Rockford what it is.

   Of course she does, eventually. And so I assume I can tell you, too. (If I’m wrong, please close your eyes now.) She grew up in a small town in Illinois, and life happened. After skipping bail in Chicago, she ended up in Europe and marrying a count she met there, thus referring to herself as a countess ever since. Now back in the US and happily married again, she wants to stay that way. Blackmailers being who there are, when this fellow is killed, Rockford’s client is high on the list of suspects.

   As well as a couple of syndicate hoodlums whom Rockford soon discovers following his every move. But of course the primary suspect is Rockford himself. He was there on the scene when the fellow was killed, with eyewitnesses, a fact that strains his usually friendly relations with Detective Becker (Joe Santos). Luckily Rockford has a good lawyer at hand, namely Beth Davenport (Gretchen Corbett), who does more lawyer work in this one than she has previously in the series (which largely consisted of wheedling Rockford to work for her pro bono).

   Although I have not reported on any of the earlier episodes, I have been watching the series in order, and this is the first time I can definitively say the people in charge have gotten their acts together. The case is simple but coherent, there are a lot fewer scenes of cars driving endlessly around in this one, and much less padding of the running time with the camera following people along as they’re quietly strolling from one place to another.

   But the big thing I noticed in this one is the comfortable feeling the regular players have reached in interacting with each other. Garner’s natural good-looking charm and his occasional sheepish grin are also in full force in this one.

THE NARROW MARGIN. RKO Radio Pictures, 1952. Charles McGraw, Marie Windsor, Jacqueline White. Directed by Richard Fleischer.

   A cop from Los Angeles goes to Chicago to bring back a key witness in a grand jury investigation. The woman, the widow of a slain mobster, has a copy of the payoff list, and the syndicate is going all out to stop her from testifying.

   Most of the movie takes place on a train heading back to the Coast, As the cop, McGraw talks tough, and for the most part, although no great thinker, he can back it up. Marie Windsor is even better in her part, and I think I’d have given her another ending.

– Reprinted from Movie.File.2, June 1980.




KINKY FRIEDMAN – The Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover.  The Kinkster #9, Simon & Schuster,  hardcover, 1996. Ballantine, paperback, 1997.

   Reviewing Kinky Friedman is a tough row to hoe. So much of his appeal is in the flavor, and flavors are about as hard to describe with words as emotions. You’ve just got to taste it know if you like it

   Kinky’s problems begin when a woman comes to him with a tale of a missing husband she wants him to find. She was referred to him by a friend, and being at loose ends, as he generally is, he decides to see what he can do. He finds that she’s involved in unexpected ways with more than one of his friends, and that the real story is both elusive and complex. Before it’s over, he’s been shot at in Washington, set on fire in Chicago, and confused everywhere.

   What can I say? Nothing I haven’t said before, I’m sure. If you like Friedman’s books, you like them for his thoroughly  irreverent and politically incorrect attitude, and his wry, telling, and amusing way with one-liners and aphorisms. The man is stone funny, or at least is to me; I know people who can’t abide him in the smallest of doses.

   His plots more often than not aren’t , or at best are farcical. You don’t read Kinky for plots. You read him for characters, and his books are filled with colorful ones. I go back to what I started with: you just have to try him and see.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #26, July 1996.


DESMOND BAGLEY – High Citadel. Collins, UK, hardcover, 1965.  Doubleday, US, hardcover, 1965. Pocket, US, paperback, 1966. Pyramid,  US, paperback, 1972.  Harper, paperback, 2009, in a 2-for-1 edition with Landslide.  A condensed version appeared as a “book bonus” in the August 1965 issue of Argosy Magazine (see the illustration taken from that issue at the end of this review).

   Tim O’Hara is a down on his luck ex alcoholic pilot working for a fledgling airline flying in the Andes.

   A Dakota was being loaded and, even at that distance, the lights were bright enough for O’Hara to see the emblem on the tail – two intertwined ‘A’s, painted artistically to look like mountain peaks. He smiled gently to himself. It was appropriate that he should fly a plane decorated with the Double-A; alcoholics of the world unite – it was a pity Filson didn’t see the joke. But Filson was very proud of his Andes Airlift and never joked about it. A humourless man, altogether.

   O’Hara’s job is to ferry a disparate group of passengers over the Andes to their destination, and he has no idea how challenging that is going to prove to be.

   Grivas (the radioman) said softly, ‘Señor O’Hara.’

   ‘Don’t bother me now.’

   ‘But I must,’ said Grivas, and there was a tiny metallic click.

   O’Hara glanced at him out of the corner of his eye and stiffened as he saw that Grivas was pointing a gun at him – a compact automatic pistol. He jerked his head, his eyes widening in disbelief. ‘Have you gone crazy?’

   Grivas’s smiled widened. ‘Does it matter?’ he said indifferently.

   Hijacked, they crack up on a mountain landing strip too small for the Dakota, and O’Hara and his ten passengers find themselves in an even worse situation than surviving a plane wreck. Cordillera, the small country on the South American continent where they have gone down is currently held by a Communist dictator and one of the passengers is his chief opponent.

   Naming any single book by a writer like Desmond Bagley his best is tricky business, especially when the competition includes The Vivero Letter, Running Blind, Freedom Trap (filmed by John Huston as The MacKintosh Man), The Spoilers, Bahama Crisis and some of the best reviewed thrillers of the latter half of the 20th Century.

   Bagley was a South African actor (Basil Rathbone was a cousin, also a cousin of Daphne DuMaurier) turned writer who turned an eye for the telling detail, a knowledge of character as well as plot construction likely from his acting experience, and a natural talent for twisty plots that took dangerous turns for reader and protagonists into a series of top selling novels. As an adventure writer, he rivaled Alistair MacLean at his best for sheer pace and action while his mystery plots would not be lost in an Agatha Christie book. He was soon rivaling Hammond Innes and MacLean in sales and surpassing such masters as Victor Canning, Gavin Lyall, and Geoffrey Household in name recognition.

   Virtually overnight he went from obscurity to one of the best known practitioners in the field of the classic British adventure thriller.

   Unlike those masters, Bagley never wrote the same book twice. Each Bagley novel is unique in voice, subject, and style as at home with the first person narrator favored by the John Buchan school as the third.

   Above all, his books are entertaining page turners, never teased by success into over extending themselves or pretension. Bagley recognized his strengths as a writer early and honed them while still remaining fresh and maintaining the ability to surprise his readers.

   High Citadel is an early book, but one that shows a skilled hand. It is a shade more novelistic than some of his work, more in line with Nevil Shute, Ernest K. Gann, or David Beatty than the standard thriller, but it never forgets it is primarily and adventure story written to entertain and provide escape from the workaday world which it does with thrills, chills, and not a little wit.

   At heart it is a Grand Hotel plot. A disparate group of people who share nothing but the coincidence of being passengers on a flight that goes down in the middle of a South American revolution and have to make their way out of rebel territory to safety must battling human nature, their own foibles and flaws, nature, those who want to take them hostage or murder them, and finding in themselves the ingenuity and strength to survive.

   It’s a pity it was never filmed because you can easily imagine the cast, including an old maiden New England school teacher who is a deadly accurate archer born to be played on screen by an Edna May Oliver type and an aging medievalist who happens to know how to make a crossbow.

   I read this sometime in the Seventies and there are passages as vivid today in my mind as when I read them for the cinematic wide screen quality of some of the set pieces and the human well drawn characters.

   The hero, battling his own demons, must overcome them and hold together his small army of strangers, uncertain who can be trusted and well aware they are surrounded by ruthless Cuban-trained soldiers willing to murder them all to get to the one man among them they are hunting.

   Inevitably their luck runs out and the high citadel they have created faces an onslaught of superior force.

   ‘I’m sorry to be pessimistic,’ he said. ‘But I think this is the last act. We’ve done very well considering what we had to fight with, but it couldn’t go on for ever. Napoleon was right – God is on the side of the big battalions.’

   Her voice was savage. ‘We can still take some of them with us.’ She grasped his arm. ‘Look, they’re coming.’

   Signaling a battle royal that runs right up to the wire with action, suspense, and the heart that too few modern adventure writers manage to instill for all their pyrotechnics.

   High Citadel is a fine read, a top notch thriller, but something more with human characters you care about and all from the hand of a sure master who hit the ground running from his first printed word and never looked back. For thrills and consistent brilliance it is hard to top Bagley.

   This is thriller writing at its best.

Reviewed by TONY BAER:


ELMORE LEONARD – Valdez Is Coming. Fawcett R2328, paperback original, October 1970. Library of America #308, hardcover: Elmore Leonard: Westerns: Last Stand at Saber River / Hombre / Valdez Is Coming / Forty Lashes Less One / Stories. Film: United Artists, 1971, starring Burt Lancaster & Susan Clark; director: Edwin Sherin.

   Bob Valdez is a local constable in some bullshit Arizona corporation town, late 1800’s. There’s some trouble down at a barn.

   Frank Tanner is the big man in town. He ain’t a big man physically. Tough and wiry as the expired slim jim between the seat folds of your rental car. But he’s got maybe 20 gunmen working for him, and he makes a lot of coin running guns down to Mexico to sell to the revolutionaries and running cattle thru the frontier.

   Tanner says the man in the house is a black deserter of the cavalry who murdered Tanner’s friend. And this deserter has got to die. So he and his gunmen have cornered the man inside a barn, and have been shooting the thing up, indiscriminately.

   Valdez, being the law, figures he’d better come around and see what the ruckus is. None of your business, he’s told. Brusquely. The law is expected to serve the Man.

   Well I’m still gonna go in and talk to the guy, says Valdez.

   So Valdez walks to the barn. Knocks on the door. And talks to the guy and his wife, a Native American woman. Very pregnant. The man has proof he’s not the guy they’re looking for. He was honorably discharged, and his papers are in his wagon.

   They go to retrieve the papers, Valdez yells for Tanner to hold his fire. But Tanner has used Valdez as a diversion to set his rifle sights on his prey. At close range. The man now thinks Valdez has betrayed him. And draws his pistol.

   Valdez, having no choice, pulls his double barreled sawed off scattershot first, and blows the man away.

   Tanner walks up to the man and says: He’s not the guy. Black guys all look the same anyway. But this ain’t him. You killed the wrong guy.

   Valdez says: It was you that made the mistake. You took the woman’s husband. You should pay her five hundred bucks for the loss of her husband, the baby’s father.

   ‘If I wanted you to talk, I’d tell you,’ says Tanner. Learn your place. And tells his men to kick Valdez’s ass. Strap a cross to his back. In the desert. So he can die.

   Valdez doesn’t die, though. He kidnaps Tanner’s woman. A beautiful blonde. He’ll give her back, he says. Soon as Tanner pays the widow her $500.

   Tanner’s woman “had come from Prescott with her nightgowns and linens to marry James C. Erin, and five years and six months later she fired three bullets into him from a service revolver and left him dead.”

   Once kidnapped by Valdez, turns out she’s not too fond of Tanner either. She likes Valdez better:

   “Slowly her hands came up in front of her and she began unbuttoning her shirt, her hands working down gradually from her throat to her waist. She said, ‘I told you I killed my husband. I told you I don’t want to marry Frank Tanner. I told you I have nothing. You decide what I want.”

   Tanner tells his men kill Valdez and bring his woman back.

   But when she tells his men she prefers Valdez, they turn on Tanner. “A man holds his woman or he doesn’t. It’s up to him, a personal thing between him and the man who took the woman.”

   Tanner took the Native woman’s man. So Valdez took Tanner’s woman.



   It’s a good, tough Western. Some atypical stuff happens for a Western — not the least of which is the woman’s free will. She’s not your average damsel in distress. And this seems to take all sides by surprise. The ending, too, is atypical. At first I was a bit disappointed by a lack of fireworks. There’s a great buildup to a showdown that never happens.

   But the more I think about it, the more I like it. Apparently the number of actual gunfights in the wild west were surprisingly few. Plenty of folks surely chickened out. But chickens are rarely the stuff of myth. And the western is nothing if not mythology. Elmore Leonard shows great courage in delivering a chicken shit denouement.

   I enjoyed it. If Valdez is coming, you should go ahead and let him in. He’s good company.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Crider


ROBERT DIETRICH – Murder on the Rocks. Steve Bentley #1.  Dell First Edition A141, paperback original, 1957. Cutting Edge, trade paperback, 2020.

   Steve Bentley, series fiction’s toughest tax accountant, was the creation of Robert Dietrich. better known by his more famous (or infamous) real name of E. Howard Hunt. Because he was employed by the CIA, Hunt used pseudonyms for much of his paperback writing in the 1950s and 1960s; the Dietrich name was used first for Dell Books and later for Lancer.

   In Murder on the Rocks, the first book in the series, Bentley is asked by the beautiful daughter of a South American ambassador to investigate the theft of an emerald worth over $ I million. Instead of the emerald, Bentley finds a corpse, and the case becomes even more complicated when the emerald is apparently returned.

   Another murder takes place; Bentley is threatened by gangsters; and the ambassador’s other daughter, even more beautiful than her sister, practically proposes to him. Eventually Bentley, functioning much like any hard-boiled private eye, sorts things out and deals out a bit of his own kind of justice.

   This is one of the better books in the Bentley series, and most of the tough narrative rings true. How tough? Here’s an example: “When Cadena was a tank sergeant on Luzon he had pulled the head off a dead Jap to win a ten-cent bet.” The Washington setting is described with easy familiarity and the characterization is adequate, although readers may be put off by Bentley’s frequent disparaging comments about homosexuals, which are entirely unrelated to the book’s plot.

   Readers looking for more of Bentley’s adventures should also enjoy End of a Stripper (1960). Perhaps Hunt’s best book as Dietrich, however, is a non-series work, Be My Victim (1956).

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 Steve Bentley series

Murder On the Rocks (1957)
The House on Q Street (1959)
End of a Stripper (1960)
Mistress to Murder (1960)
Murder on Her Mind (1960)
Angel Eyes (1961)
Calypso Caper (1961)
Curtains for a Lover (1962)
My Body (1973)

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