Reviews


REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON – The Pavilion on the Links. Novella, first published in The Cornhill Magazine, Sept-Oct 1880. Included in New Arabian Nights (Chatto, UK, hardcover, 1882). Silent film: Paramount, 1920, as The White Circle. Also filmed as The Pavilion, a direct-to-video release, 1999, starring Craig Sheffer as Frank Cassilis, Patsy Kensit as Clara Huddlestone, Richard Chamberlain as Huddlestone, and Daniel Riordan as Northmour.

   Robert Louis Stevenson’s role in the development of the modern thriller is well established. The novel of chase and pursuit, the duality of human nature, and a fine Scottish appreciation of the uncanny are all marks of his fiction. Treasure Island, Kidnapped, St. Ives, The Master of Ballantrae, and the The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are all obviously influential in the development of the thriller.

   Still, if there is one work in Stevenson’s canon that I would argue was a direct influence on John Buchan, Geoffrey Household, Victor Canning, Allan MacKinnon, Gavin Lyall, Hammond Innes and the others in the adventure thriller genre it would be the short novel Pavilion on the Links.

   It is virtually a model for what followed.

   The Links of the title are sandhills in a rugged spot on the Scottish coast, this one the Sea-Wood of Graden-Easter on Graden Floe. That lonely barren rough country is another trope of the genre. The narrator, Frank Cassilis, who like the heroes of hundreds of books that followed, is a solitary fellow, sullen he calls himself, who likes the rough country and rough life. Back at university he had a kind of friendship with another student called Rupert Northmour, and the dark enigmatic and dangerous Northmour is still another staple of the genre, the not quite good not quite bad guy whose motives are played close to the vest.

   He is also a figure common to Stevenson’s fiction in the persona of Long John Silver, Alan Breck, or James Drurie.

   Northmour and the Frank were at each others throats after staying at the remote pavilion of the title for some time and as the story opens neither has set eyes on the other for years and our hero has been drawn back to their old hangout for no real reason, “a place of dead mariners and sea disaster.”

   He is also, like the heroes of countless adventures to follow about to be plunged into high adventure, international intrigue, high crime, romance, and desperate battle with life and death and the fate of four people at risk beginning when he discovers the pavilion already occupied by none other than Northmour who is there waiting for special cargo off the schooner yacht Red Earl anchored nearby.

   When a mysterious red bearded and exceptionally tall but unhealthy man and a beautiful girl come ashore on a wild and stormy night in the company of Northmour Frank’s curiosity is at fever pitch, not the least because of his instant attraction to the beautiful young woman, who once he has met her mysteriously warns him he is in great danger if the stays camping nearby, and not from Northmour.

   The mysterious older man and young woman are father and daughter, Bernard and Clara Huddlestone, the old man a banker who, when he fell into financial trouble, found his only recourse was to ask help of Northmour who had been courting Clara. Northmour, it is suggested in exchange for Clara’s hand, is to smuggle the banker out of England and to safety in the South Pacific, because while trying to avoid his fate Huddlestone became involved with criminal elements, including a group of unforgiving Italians led by a mysterious and possible royal one known as XX whose funds Huddlestone embezzled.

   He is not merely fleeing from prison, He is fleeing for his life from a blood vendetta.

   Frank and Northmour finally meet again and while Northmour is not happy that Clara has obviously fallen for his friend, he knows he needs help: “… frankly I shall be glad of your help. If I can’t save Huddlestone, I want to at least save the girl…I shall act as your friend until the old man is either clear or dead. But… once that is settled, you become my rival again and I warn you — mind yourself.”

   Cornered and besieged by the Italians in the pavilion, their rivalry over Clara growing, and Northmour’s disgust at the criminal he is trying to save for Clara’s sake tearing at him it all comes to a fine fiery head of self sacrifice and somewhat ill natured nobility, because Northmour is no flowery 19th Century hero, but something of a rogue, a bit of a scoundrel in the Stevenson tradition, and in the tradition of the genre a Janus figure. No Sidney Carton speeches on the guillotine for Northmour.

   All of this is the very stuff of an entire genre of British thriller fiction. Like most of Stevenson’s novels this one is still a historical, taking place sometime in the 1830’s or early 1840’s as best I can place it. But it is told in a contemporary voice and could frankly take place in some remote areas today. There are still a few spots on the Scottish coast you could fight a small war largely unnoticed. John Buchan makes some use of something very like this setup in Huntingtower replete with yacht, a princess, and Russians instead of Italians.

   The striking thing about the book though is just how familiar it feels to anyone well versed in the genre replete with complex motives, shady figures on both sides, feckless hero caught up in something he doesn’t quite understand, feisty heroine, noble enemies, and of course Northmour the Byronic anti-hero figure who haunts the genre even today.

   Storm-driven night, the romance of rough country by moonlight, desperate men in silent pitched battle, stealthy movements in the shadows, sudden death, and unexpected nobility are still a formula for a pretty good adventure story and still driving bestselling fiction today with only a few refinements.

   

REVIEWED BY TONY BAER:

   

RAYMOND CHANDLER – The Little Sister. Philip Marlowe #5. Houghton Mifflin, hardcover, 1949. Reprinted many times.

   A mousy little young lady, Miss Orfamay Quest from smalltown Kansas, hires Philip Marlowe to find her long lost brother. She’s terribly proper and is afraid her brother may have succumbed to the sinful temptations of Los Angeles.

   The story’s as convoluted as Chandler’s usually are. But the patter is, for my money, the most hilarious of any of Marlowe’s adventures.

   At first she’s not sure about Marlowe: “I don’t think I’d care to employ a detective that uses liquor in any form. I don’t even approve of tobacco.”

   “Would it be alright if I peeled an orange?” Marlowe responds.

   Marlowe’s got nothing better to do, so he takes her pitifully proffered twenty dollars and gets to work on it — but not before getting Miss Quest’s description of her brother. “He used to wear a little blond mustache but Mother made him cut it off.”

   Marlowe: “Don’t tell me. The minister needed it to stuff a cushion.”

   Marlowe meets up with some heavies at brother Quest’s last known address. He takes a skiv and pistol from the first guy he sees, who says: “Maybe we meet again some day soon. When I got a friend with me.”

   Marlowe: “Tell him to wear a clean shirt…. And lend you one.” “What happens to people who get tough with you? You make them hold your toupee?”

   He meets up with a Hollywood femme fatale “almost as hard to get as a haircut.” The walls in her apartment are “monkey-bottom blue”. When she pleads with Marlowe that she’s lonely, he suggests she “call an escort bureau.”

   As usual, it turns out that Marlowe’s client is full of shit. Miss Quest knows precisely where her brother is all along and she’s just trying to squeeze her way into his blackmail scheme against their much more successful Hollywood starlet of a half-sister. They’ve got some dirt on good old sis that ties her to the mob and they want to bleed her for all she’s worth.

   Invited to join in the blackmail, Marlowe demurs: “I’d never get anywhere as a blackmailer. I just don’t have the engaging personality.”

   There’s murder and drugs and backstabbing galore, and Marlowe comes as close as ever to imprisonment and losing his license.

   Marlowe metes out justice in his own idealistic ways, protecting the innocent at his own peril, while doing his best to make sure that the guilty get theirs, whether via the law or other more karmic means.

   The book is one of Marlowe’s more neglected and maligned. But for me, it’s one of his best.

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:

   

RED DOT. Sweden, 2021. Johannes Bah Kuhnke, Nanna Blondell, Anastasios Soulis, Kalled Mustonen, Tomas Bergström. Written by Alain Darborg with Per Dickson. Directed by Alain Darborg.

   Ever since John Boorman terrified us with backwoods horror in Deliverance (1972), there has been a template for filmmakers to follow. All you need are city dwellers or suburbanites who venture out of their comfort zones into the rural unknown and encounter a pair of dangerous men (it’s almost always a pair). The city dweller could easily be a female college student, such as in Rust Creek (2018), which I reviewed here. Or it could be a group of students, such in the underappreciated horror gem Wrong Turn (2021), reviewed here, in which the collegians encounter a pack of backwoods cultists.

   In the Swedish thriller Red Dot now streaming on Netflix, it’s an interracial professional couple from Stockholm that gets the hinterland horror treatment. Workaholic engineer David (Anastasios Soulis) and medical student Nadja (Nanna Blondell) are having a rough go at in their relationship. What started off as a promising romance has turned into drudgery; complicating matters is the fact that Nadja is pregnant. A major detail that she has chosen to not yet disclose to her husband. Despite their squabbles, it’s clear that the audience is supposed to identify with these two yuppies. They’re educated, career driven, and are meant to represent a progressive, open Sweden. And they have a cute dog. You get the picture.

   The same can’t be said for the two redneck brothers the couple encounters at a gas station along the way to their Northern Lights camping trip. Unlike David and Nanja, these two men come across as crass, dirty, and reactionary. When David spots a deer’s head in the brothers’ pickup truck, he recoils with disgust. He is so frazzled that he accidentally slams into the pickup on the way out of the petrol station. This sets off what appears to be a chain reaction, a cat-and-mouse game of escalating incidents between the professional couple and the backwoods ruffians.

   Matters finally come to a head one cold, solitary night. In their tent for the evening, the couple notice a red dot – like from a laser pointer – aimed directly at them. What is it? A joke? Kids? Or something far more sinister like from a gun? Have the brothers really taken it to this extreme? What follows is a violent, occasionally off-putting series of events, in which our two nominal heroes find themselves hunted down like prey.

   But there is a major plot twist, one that I think an astute observer will be able to see coming from a mile away. One I am not quite sure that I feel was handled correctly. It’s a daring way of approaching narrative film-making, with the third act occasionally feeling as if it might be from an entirely different movie.

   All told, Red Dot is a periodically compelling, if somewhat incomplete, thriller that upends audience expectations and upends the Deliverance template. Does it work? I’m not entirely sure. But it’s a daring attempt. Mind you: this is a Swedish production, not an American one. So don’t go with the expectation of witnessing a final girl moment, a redemption arc, or a cathartic ending. This graphically violent film is downbeat to its core.

   

PAPER GIRLS. “Growing Pains.” Amazon Prime Video, 29, July 2022 (Season 1, Episode 1). Camryn Jones as Tiff Quilkin, an African American girl with a high intellect; Riley Lai Nelet as Erin Tieng, a Chinese American girl on her first day delivering newspapers; Sofia Rosinsky as Mac Coyle, a tomboy who lives in the outskirts of Stony Stream [a suburb of Cleveland]; Fina Strazza as KJ Brandman, a Jewish American girl whose family owns several businesses in Stony Stream. [Thanks to Wikipedia for the preceding descriptions.] Based on the comic book series of the same title written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Cliff Chiang (Image, 2015-19).

   The first episode of this SF-nal time-traveling series begins early on the morning of November 1, 1988, with four pre-teen girls working together on their respective newspaper delivery routes (on bicycle) as a means of protection from older boys who continually harass them.

   This night is different, though. The sky suddenly turns pink and no one is seen on the street. Have the Russians invaded?

   It’s actually worse than that. It takes them the whole episode to realize it, but somehow they’ve landed in the year 2019, where they meet the older version of one of them. They have also escaped from being caught in the crossfire war between two warring factions … of what, it is too early for them to tell, nor of course does the viewer have any idea where the series is going from here.

   It’s all very effectively done, and for a small group of four main leads, probably unknown to everyone watching, the acting and dialogue is as top notch as it could possibly be. I’ll probably bail out at this point, though. I tend to do that with recent SF on TV that I start and find myself entertained but with no desire to continue any farther. I suppose it’s me, and I’m not sure why. This is a series that seems to have become quite popular in its short run so far.

REVIEWED BY TONY BAER:

   

LEIGH BRACKETT – No Good from a Corpse.  Coward McCann, hardcover, 1944. Title story of No Good from a Corpse (Dennis McMillan, hardcover, 1998, along with eight short stories. Handi-Books #32, paperback, date? Collier, paperback, 1964.

   Los Angeles private detective Ed Clive is in love with Laurel: a nightclub singer, cute, sprightly, and equally in love with him. But Laurel can’t be true. They both know it, so Clive keeps things platonic. It’s the only way to keep Laurel interested — kinda like an unneutered Jake and Lady Brett Ashley in Sun Also Rises. But he loves her desperately, nonetheless.

   Laurel’s a lady with a past. A past that includes Clive’s ex-best friend Mick. Mick and Clive grew up together. Mick screwed around with Clive’s girlfriend back when they were 18, and Clive has neither forgiven nor forgotten.

   But when Laurel is found bludgeoned to death with Mick’s walking stick, Clive is the only one who thinks it’s a set-up. Clive’s the only guy between Mick and the gas chamber.

   Clive starts out the story with pretty good wits and one-liners. Asked why he’s not wearing his laurels, he says he’s afraid they’d sprout in the rain. When he tells a rival to leave Laurel be, the rival says “I’ve always wondered what God looked like.” “Now you know,” Clive retorts.

   But once he loses his love, darkness cuts a swath across his world. Places “smelled of many people, many things, none of them clean.” A woman’s “face slid away from under popped brown eyes as though it was too tired to stay put.” “[T]he blacked out neons … gave an eerie feeling of desolation, as though Clive was the last man walking on a dead world.” At the screaming pleading pleas of “‘Oh God. Oh God’ …. Clive doubted whether God was worried much.”

   While Clive solves what turns out to be a crime of Byzantine complications, and saves Mick from death, he ends the book with the downbeat thought that “of all things, never to have been born is best.”

   It’s an excellent Chandleresque detective novel — apparently excellent enough to convince Howard Hawks that Leigh Brackett ought to partner equally with William Faulkner in drafting the Big Sleep screenplay.

   I’m a big fan of standalones. They give the author the freedom to put their characters thru the ringer; to destroy them or resolve their conflicts; to leave nothing left. A standalone leaves the reader always wondering, unsure of the ground on which they stand. There’s not the relative safety of a recurring series character (a la James Bond) who you know will come out of the thing relatively unscathed. Private detective standalones are fairly rare.

   This is a good one.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

VICE SQUAD. United  Artists, 1953. Edward G. Robinson, Paulette Goddard, Porter Hall, Adam Williams, Jay Adler, Joan Vohs, and Lee Van Cleef. Screenplay by Lawrence Roman, from the novel Harness Bull, by Leslie T. White. Directed by Arnold Laven.

   A B-movie with a bit of faded star power. Not always exciting, but when it works, it works well.

   Edward G Robinson runs the Detective Bureau of an unnamed agency that looks a lot like LAPD and since the film starts with a cop-killing, he pretty much has his work cut out for him. He takes time to expose a fortune hunter posing as an Italian Count, and listen to an underworld informant (Jay Adler, in a nicely-done bit part) with a tip on a forthcoming bank job, but his primary focus is on the murdered officer — until the killing is tied in with the hold-up.

   Screen-writer Lawrence Roman (whose credits include A Kiss Before Dying) does a fine job of switching focus between the cops and the hoodlums, delineating the characters, bringing out internal conflicts in both camps, and generally pointing up the similarities in their methodical approach — Robinson often seems to have as little regard for the niceties of the law as the bad guys — while the hoods prepare for their caper and the cops prepare to close in on them.

   Arnold Laven was a workhorse director who showed flashes of talent, given a decent script. Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (1957) and Rough  Night in Jericho  (1967) offer lively action scenes and moments of real feeling surprising in rough-and-ready movies. Vice Squad doesn’t achieve much emotional intensity, but it builds a certain amount of suspense as it moves along, and really comes alive in a final chase-and-shootout in a rotting warehouse.

   By the way, second-billed Paulette Goddard gets about five minutes of screen time, shot on two sets with the look of being rushed through in a single day — talk about faded star power! But what really bothers me is that this movie is all about unraveling a murder and bank robbery.

   So why did they call it Vice Squad?

   

WOMEN’S MURDER CLUB “Welcome to the Club” ABC, 12 October 2007 (Season 1, Episode 1). Angie Harmon (Inspector Lindsay Boxer), Laura Harris (Deputy D.A. Jill Bernhardt), Paula Newsome (M.E. Claire Washburn), Aubrey Dollar (reporter Cindy Thomas). Based on the characters in a series of books by James Patterson. Director: Greg Yaitanes.

   This first episode was not the pilot for the series. That was a made-for-TV movie based on the first book in the series, 1st to Die, and which starred Tracy Pollan. (There are now 22 novels and two novellas in Patterson’s series, many of which were co-written by other authors.) The title of this episode is a bit misleading. It is assumed that reporter Cindy Thomas (for the fictional San Francisco Register) will be joining the other three in the “club,” but there is no club per se. In fact when she asks the others if there is a club, there is an immediate chorus of “no”s.

   No matter. A club it is.  Thomas introduced to the others as a fellow reporter to the woman who dies in front of Inspector Lindsay Boxer in dramatic fashion, falling from the top of a building where there are to meet and onto a car. As it turns out, she was also shot to death. The question is, what was the story she was working on, and what was she going to tell Lindsay about it?

   The case is tackled and solved in the usual TV businesslike fashion. Filling the rest of the hour is a lot of subplots involving the various characters’ love lives, including Lindsay’s news that her ex has been promoted over her partner on the force and is now her new boss. The episode ends with the discovery that a serial killer that the women thought had been put away is now back, a vicious psychopath whose M.O. includes sewing the lips of his victims together before leaving them to be found, hence his nickname, the “Kiss-Me-Not” killer. I assume this will form the underlying story arc for the remainder of the season.

   The series ran for just the one season, though, from October 12, 2007, to May 13, 2008. Of the four leading actors, I presume the primary focus was on Angie Harmon, whose striking brunette features make her the obvious choice for the role. Overall then, entertaining in a solid, workmanlike fashion, but without the extra “oomph” that would make the show must watching. (I have not read any of the books.)

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

RAYMOND POSTGATE – Somebody at the Door. Inspector Holly #1. M. Joseph, UK, hardcover, 1943. Knopf, US, hardcover, 1943. Poisoned Pen Press (British Library Crime Classic), US, trade paperback, 2017.

   It is a dreary day in January 1942 in the middle of the War.

   By 4.30 the sun was obscured by clouds; soon sleet began to fall, and a strong, bitterly cold wind sprang up. By six o’clock, when the darkness was pitch-black, the thermometer touched the lowest point yet that winter.

   On this dreary day probably the dreariest place was a railway terminus. Those who were hurrying to catch the 6.12 at Euston may have thought so, if they had any thoughts to spare from their aching ears and fingers. One of them, Councillor Henry James Grayling, a thin man looking about 50, cursed the station and the railway company aloud.

   Grayling finds more reason to grumble before the evening is out, because there are five people aboard who he has little reason to care for, including his Vicar, a German refugee, a young man with a club foot, a corporal from his Home Guard unit, and a man from work. None of them have much reason to like Grayling either, one of them enough to murder him, leaving it up to Inspector Holly to sort out not only how Grayling was murdered, and it is one unique to the books wartime setting, but which, if any of the five men aboard might have done it. Not to mention that inevitable sixth, if unlikely, suspect in any man’s murder, his widow.

   Despite that unique murder weapon, this might sound like just any fairly well written mystery of the Golden Age, but only if the reader doesn’t know who Raymond Postgate was, one of the more interesting and innovative writers of the era who penned only three books, but the first of those a small masterpiece, Verdict of Twelve in which he dissects the twelve jurors on a murder case, one of which is closer to the case than might be good for them. His final book The Ledger is Written came ten years after Someone, and while like Someone is not quite up to the classic status of Verdict is yet another intelligent and quite different take on the genre.

   The chapters are divided up between the suspects with each having his story told, what exactly their grievance with Grayling was and their availability to have murdered him, and Holly’s investigation. Each has a plausible motive and plausible means, and as the canny Holly examines them and weighs them we also get plausibly and engagingly drawn portraits of ordinary people with rather ordinary motives for murder, and of Grayling himself, who like the victims of many of Golden Age mystery thoroughly deserves what he gets.

   “We mustn’t,” said the Superintendent, “forget there are other people who would bear looking into. The trouble, in fact, seems to be that there may be too many. You’ve dug up a great deal of stuff. The Vicar: he was Grayling’s enemy and sat next him. He may have been fooling around with the gas, by his looks. Evetts — he’s a chemist, he seems equally likely to have been suffering from gas poisoning, and though you haven’t anything definite against him, you are suspicious of his manner. The German — well, we should get more on him soon, but Grayling may have had his knife into him. Corporal Ransom — a gas expert and short of money too. And no friend to the late lamented.

   “You’ve got too many suspects. And I’m afraid you’ve got to add some more. Have you remembered the two workmen? One of them, the Vicar said, leant over his and Grayling’s shoulder on the pretext of reading a notice. Quite an opportunity for planting that handkerchief, if it existed.”

   A veritable embarrassment of suspects, any one of whom, or someone else, might be the killer, because no one is quite innocent with everything from wartime espionage to adultery in the possible mix.

   The killer though is quite logical, quite reasonable when you get down to it as is the rather bizarre weapon, but it is still a fine ride, thanks to Postgate’s literate hand and sharp eye.

   At one minute of time, if he (Holly) was successful, all but one of these people would suddenly become not significant at all to him. They would vanish, and one important figure alone would remain. The story of Councillor Grayling, for all but one of them, was an irrelevance in the pattern of their lives. The light it threw on them and the character it gave them was for all but one false and meaningless. Indeed, there was no pattern.

   These people were unrelated. They were each one individual persons—who were important — “valid” would be the literary cant word — in themselves and must be looked at alone. Then, maybe, he could find which one would carry on into the next episode and which would vanish and be forgotten. They did not, in fact, did they, have any other connection than that they had travelled in a single coach on a single journey, which had a relation with the crime. If it did have.

   I’m not sure any mystery writer of the classical or noir form ever put the sheer chance of being thrown in the limelight by fate half as clearly. The murderer was merely someone at the door, and could be anyone, but fate chose a handful of innocents to be thrown beneath the same glaring light as the guilty, and Raymond Postgate makes that almost as suspenseful as revealing which one was not merely a traveller on a train.

   This is available from the British Library Crime Classics collection, and like all books in that series has a fine introduction by Martin Edwards.

REVIEWED BY TONY BAER:

   

HENRY KANE – A Halo for Nobody. Peter Chamber #1. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1947. Dell #231, mapback edition, 1948-49? Also published as Martinis and Murder, Avon #745, paperback, 1956; Avon T-460, paperback, revised edition, date?

   So I’ve been working my way thru James Sandoe’s hardboiled checklist, which I’ve found to be pretty reliable. And this one appears on it with the following faint praise from Sandoe: “Peter Chambers’s first case and the only one in which I could discover any pleasure.”

   NYC private detective Peter Chambers gets hired to find out who murdered the slutty wife of a jewelry store owner.

   Chambers is a pretty likable character, hard drinking and the ladies love him. And he them.

   And as Chambers further digs, it looks like the jewelry store might be an abject lesson in vertical efficiency: Steal the jewels, redesign the settings, and sell them as new.

   Fairly standard detective novel, maybe a par, but spruced up with some of the best hardboiled metaphors and turns of phrase this side of Chandler which may flip that par to a birdie:

   “He had a face like a folded hat.”

   A “blonde with verve and eyes and small curves and a pink revealing gown and voltage.”

   “[W]ith forbidden love and fresh ardor as freely distributed amongst them as cockroach paste in an infested pantry.”

   “’[T]he dainty Dorothy can furnish an alibi. She was in bed.’ ‘The dainty Dorothy was in bed,’ Archie mimicked. ‘That’s a fine alibi. It’s a fine alibi for a bedbug. How would you know? Were you there?’ ‘Uh-huh.’”

   “She looked at me and blood went to my head and got crowded like Belmont raceway on a sunny Saturday afternoon.”

   “[She] came up with a laughable little .22, a small black instrument with a tiny muzzle, and I didn’t laugh because the trigger was being squeezed with determination and five cute little pellets entered into me, in the region of the stomach, like five baby fingers into porridge.”

   “I pulled at the triggers of both pistols and pumped and I saw blood burst from his head and I watched part of his face dissolve into squirming crimson and I saw him go slowly down behind the desk, like a marionette Santa Claus down a chimney, and I kept pulling at triggers long after there was no sound in the room except the futile foolish click-click of hammers on empty shells….”

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

 TOP GUN. Fame Pictures/United Artists, 1955. Sterling Hayden, William Bishop, Karen Booth, James Millican, Regis Toomey, Hugh Sanders, John Dehner, Rod Taylor. Story & co-screenwriter: Steve Fisher. Director: Ray Nazarro.

   Terror in a Texas Town (reviewed here) was followed on TCM by Top Gun, also with Sterling Hayden, and  directed by Ray Nazarro, a Universal work-horse who at least knew how to put a picture together. The script, by Steve   Fisher, echoes High Noon and presages Man of the West in its story of Hayden as a local badman who’s been stringing with a Quantrill type (played hy John Dehner as a crafty maniac, in precisely the same style Lee J. Cobb used for Doc Tobin in Man of the West) but rides ahead to warn the folks in his home town that the baddies are coming.

   In High Noon style, the townsfolk spend most of the film debating over what to do, ostracizing Hayden and trotting out their buried grudges rather than mounting an effective defense, till Hayden and a few others have to take care of things.

   Somehow this movie really works.

   Nazarro races through the talky scenes like he knows he’s gotta keep the popcorn crowd in their seats, and makes the most of the few action bits. Although the budget is not much higher than any TV Western of its time, and the plot and dialogue are hardly memorable — barely noticeable, in fact — it’s handled with a workmanlike precision that kept me well-entertained for the brief hour of its length.

— Reprinted from A Shropshire Sleuth #76, March 1996.

   

Next Page »