January 2010



DARKEST AFRICA. Republic, 1936. [15-episode serial] Clyde Beatty, Manuel King, Elaine Shepard, Lucien Prival, Ray Corrigan (the latter uncredited). Directors: B. Reeves Eason & Joseph Kane.

    Darkest Africa is the first serial to come from that redoubtable studio and a harbinger of thrills to come, with splendidly tacky sets, narrow escapes, fights, chases, wild animals, flying batmen… this has it all, except maybe a coherent plot.

    The story, such as it is, spins loosely around Baru the Jungle Boy (played by chubby little Manuel King, “The World’s Youngest Animal Trainer”) seeking to rescue his sister — inexplicably named Valerie — from some lost city in the jungle. Baru is aided in his quest by Clyde Beatty, the hero of the piece, playing a fictionalized version of himself, fairly capably, and by Bonga, the killer ape who follows Baru with Slave-like devotion, according to the writers.

    So you can pretty much see from the outset this is going to be a busy time for all concerned, and it’s highly entertaining as well — in a distinctly campy way.


    The Lost City of Joba and its flying bat-men provide a haunting visual motif, and the high-calibre stunt-work just keeps coming.

    If I may offer one gripe, though, in the lion/tiger fighting scenes, Clyde Beatty seems to spend a lot of his time with his back to the camera. I’m not trying to besmirch the reputation of “The World’s Greatest Animal Trainer” by suggesting he used a stuntman or anything — I’m just saying he spends a lot of time with his back to the camera.


    Incidentally, the part of Bonga, the Killer-Ape-with-a-Heart-of-Gold, is played by Ray “Crash” Corrigan, an actor with a strange double-barreled career; under his own name, Corrigan starred in B-Westerns at Republic and Monogram, always playing the easy-going man of action, quick with gun and fists, indispensable to movies like these.

    It didn’t hurt that he also owned the ranch and mock-western town where most of these things were filmed.

    That was only half of the story, though; “Crash” owned a rather nice Gorilla suit, and while he was acting the Western Hero, he supplemented his income by playing the Hairy Menace in numerous jungle flicks, serials, horror films etc.


    The hirsutely-suited thespian can be seen in things as diverse as Killer Ape, Tarzan, Pride and Prejudice, White Gorilla (where he also plays the White Hunter and literally chases himself) and he capped off his career as the rubber monster in It — The Terror from Beyond Space (the film that inspired Alien) where he can be seen moving his mask into place as he chases the cast around the space-ship.

    Getting back to Darkest Africa, Corrigan’s performance is probably the best acting in it, and he is rewarded with two or three death scenes (the writers apparently lost track of things — or maybe they just like Ape Death Scenes), all of which he acquits admirably.


“See the Monkey Dance.” An episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (Season 3, Episode 5). First air date: 9 November 1964. Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., Roddy McDowall, Patricia Medina, George Pelling, Shari Lee Bernath. Original teleplay: Lewis Davidson. Director: Joseph M. Newman.

    George (Roddy McDowall) is returning home to a caravan (trailer) situated on leased farm land in what could be western England. When his train makes a short station stop, he hurries to a phone booth to call his lover (Patricia Medina), a woman who is married to another man. They’ve planned to spend the weekend in close proximity to each other while hubby is away.

    But when George returns to the train, someone else has entered the carriage: a strange, nervous, querulous little man with horn-rimmed glasses (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.), an attache case containing a Webley revolver that George doesn’t see, and a bad attitude. It’s not long before the new guy initiates a bout of verbal bickering with George. After a while, George concludes this fellow is simply crazy, and when their train reaches its stop he leaves, glad to be rid of this madman.

    It’s only a short walk to his caravan, and George makes good time there; he knows his lover should be arriving soon, and straightens up the place. But there’s something going on outside. When he opens the window, there’s that same crazy man, digging a hole just a few feet from the trailer. When George moves to object, however, the strange man pops open his case and reveals the gun. George quickly realizes that he’s not just digging a hole; he’s digging a grave ….

    This episode has an unusually witty script, with a couple of plot twists that someone who’s been paying close attention might anticipate. Nevertheless, it’s great fun to see McDowall and Zimbalist in a battle of wits and wills; in addition, Zimbalist pulls off a British accent quite well here.

    Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. played Agent Lew Erskine in the ’60s-’70s series The F.B.I and was the voice of Alfred the butler in the Batman animated series. Most viewers remember Roddy McDowall from the “Planet of the Apes” series of films; some may recall his turn in Evil Under the Sun (1982).

    You can see “See the Monkey Dance” on Hulu (follow the link).


HE FELL IN LOVE WITH HIS WIFE. Pallas Pictures/Paramount, 1916. Forrest Stanley, Florence Rockwell, Page Peters, Lydia Yeamans Titus, Howard Davis. Director: William Desmond Taylor. Shown at Cinecon 45, Hollywood CA, September 2009.


    A charming film that, as the program notes pointed out, is one of the few surviving films of director Taylor, victim of a sensational ’20s murder that destroyed more than one career.

    A rustic comedy in which a widowed farmer (Stanley), after a disastrous series of attempts to hire a responsible housekeeper, in desperation enters into a marriage of convenience with Rockwell, fleeing a loveless and abusive marriage after she discovers that her husband is a bigamist.

    True love eventually develops, but only after some dramatic events, the most crucial of which is the arrival of Rockwell’s duplicitous husband to reclaim his wife.

    A superb print of a film that neatly balances comedy and drama, this has elements of Victorian melodrama that, under Taylor’s astute direction, take on a distinctly more modern look. One of the highlights of the weekend’s program.


LOUIS WILLIAMS – Tropical Murder. Tower, paperback original; 1st printing, 1981.

LOUIS WILLIAMS Tropical Murder

   This was the author’s only crime novel (according to Hubin), published as a paperback original in, presumably, small numbers. I came to it by a complicated route. I was asked about it by a correspondent who had seen it discussed it in Private Eyes: One Hundred and One Knights, by Robert A. Baker and Michael T. Nietzel, and subtitled “A Survey of American Detective Fiction 1922-1984” (Popular Press, US, 1985).

   It sounded interesting and I kept a eye out for it and eventually found a copy in the 10p each table outside a second-hand bookshop in Littleborough. That was probably 15 years ago and the book has been sitting on my shelves waiting for me to get round to it and now I have.

   Baker and Nietzel call it “powerful” and “The Best Unread PI Novel of the Past Decade,” saying that none of the critics they polled had read it. They compare the style to James Crumley which I suppose should have caused me to stop since I seem to be the only reader in the world who is not enamoured by James Crumley’s work — I have read The Wrong Case and The Last Good Kiss but remain unenthusiastic — though I’m probably committing critical suicide by admitting it.

   Anyway, I found that although this story had some merits — the setting in Venezuela, with its local and American communities and the narrator, Bernardo Thomas, with a foot uncomfortably in both camps — I was underwhelmed by the wordiness of the whole, which dragged uncomfortably as I longed to get to the end, wishing I could rid myself of the compulsion to finish books I’ve started.

   I should have been warned by Baker and Nietzel, who also said, “The plot is secondary and a bit muddled,” but unfortunately I had finished the book before I read that.

Editorial Comment.   This, not too surprisingly, is a scarce book. There are only three copies available on ABE, for example, but also perhaps not too surprisingly, given the book is all but unknown, the two offered by US dealers are quite inexpensive ($5 or so). The asking price for one for sale by a dealer in the UK is rather high, and if you live in the US, adding in the shipping charge makes it prohibitively so.

    But I’m not worried. I happen to have a copy, and I even know which box it’s in. Since I happen to like James Crumley, I might even poke around and see if I can find it — the box, that is, then the book.


ROBERT BARNARD – Blood Brotherhood. Walker & Co., US, hardcover, 1978. Previously published in the UK: Collins Crime Club, hc, 1977. US paperback reprint: Penguin, 1983, 1992 (the former shown).

ROBERT BARNARD Blood Brotherhood

   It seems to me that mystery authors are more and more reaching for the outre to capture the interest, perhaps of publishers more than of the ordinary reader.

   A gathering of clergy at an Anglican monastery is an unlikely spot for a murder, and the people gathered there are an unlikely group of clergy: A money-hungry American evangelical; two Norwegian women of vastly different personalities; a status-hungry Anglican bishop; an impressive head of the monastery — these are some of the cast.

   Barnard does not spare the police, either, in his depiction of unpleasant people: the first police inspector assigned to the murder case is insane, quite literally. The hippie culture of the 70’s impinges on the monastery in a curious way: drugs and sex are part of this particular scene, as is the reversion of a black African bishop to his native ways.

   The book is redeemed somewhat by the Rev. Ernest Clayton, an average, normal clergyman who does not do anything heroic, just figures out the solution of the murdered brother at about the same time as the police. I’ve read much better Barnard.

– Reprinted from The Poisoned Pen, Vol. 6, No. 4, Fall 1986

      Previously reviewed on this blog —

ROBERT BARNARDA Little Local Murder (by Marv Lachman)

ROBERT BARNARD The Case of the Missing Brontë (by Steve Lewis)

HENRY WADE – The Hanging Captain. Perennial Library, reprint paperback; 1st printing, 1981. First published in the UK: Constable, hardcover, 1932. First US edition: Harcourt Brace, hc, 1933 (shown).

HENRY WADE The Hanging Captain

    Henry Wade is as unlikely an author as you could expect to find in your local paperback bookstore, and thanks should go to whoever at Perennial is responsible for seeing to it that he is. Who knows, maybe even John Rhode will be next!

    What Wade does best, at least in this particular example of his work, is to demonstrate that there is no reason why a good, solid detective story must also be dull. There is a lot of importance placed upon alibis and time-tables in this case, and with some splendid cooperation between Scotland Yard and the local police the murderer of Sir Herbert Sterron is inevitably brought to justice.

    WARNING: In what follows, certain aspects of the mystery will be discussed that may reveal information that you, the would-be reader, might wish not to know in advance.

    I am curious that the dead man’s mysterious affliction was never mentioned. In A Catalogue of Crime, Barzun and Taylor tell us it was syphilis, but it might be noted that it was the English edition that they read.

    This one fact explains a good deal. For example, it gives us the reason for the Sterron’s mysterious withdrawal from society some years before. And, what is more, it also adds a strong tinge of irony to the killer’s motive — the overriding reason he did what he did.

    Either I missed something, or I suspect that some alteration was done to the American version, which I assume this edition follows. If the latter, what’s lost is a fine opportunity to make the final, crushing blow the book would (and should) have had.

– From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 6, No. 2, March/April 1982
        (the last two paragraphs substantially revised)

Editorial Comment:   Not only did Perennial publish this book by Wade, but they did at least the following as well: A Dying Fall (1955), The Litmore Snatch (1957), Mist on the Saltings (1933*) and New Graves at Great Norne (1947*). The dates given are for the first UK edition; those so indicated with an asterisk were first published in the US by Perennial.

   The reference to John Rhode was, I presume at this much later date, meant to be an inside joke. Perennial did indeed publish at least two books by Rhode in paperback: The Claverton Affair (1933) and Death in Harley Street (1946).

THE CROOKED WEB. Columbia Pictures, 1955. Frank Lovejoy, Mari Blanchard, Richard Denning. Screenwriter: Lou Breslow. Director: Nathan Juran.


   If you take my advice, and I hope you do, don’t read any reviews of this movie anywhere you might see one. (Except this one of course.) Every last one of them that I’ve read gives the whole story away, or at least the part of it that counts. I’ll tell you more in a minute, but not – I guarantee you – anything you should not know ahead of time.

   Frank Lovejoy, the nominal star of this movie, has one of the most male distinctive voices I know, except for perhaps someone like Andy Devine, whom I’d have to concede can be recognized on an airport runway with 15 jet planes taking off or landing all at the same time.

   No, I mean in an everyday sense, a fellow with a voice of an everyday guy, talking in everyday tones – and I can still tell it’s Frank Lovejoy, no matter what movie, or more importantly, what radio show he may be in, and he was in quite a few.

   He plays the owner of a curbside hamburger joint in The Crooked Web, and Mari Blanchard is the carhop he’s engaged to. It’s established early on that Stan (he’s the man) is willing to take a gamble or two, so when Joanie’s brother (Richard Denning) comes through town with a secret deal in the works, he (Stan) is more than willing to cut himself in.

   Of course, as is always the case in low budget crime films like this one, things do not go exactly as Stan has planned, and here is where my warning comes in, and let me repeat: Do not read another review of this film. You might not even want to read the writing on the poster.

   Most reviewers of this film do not rate it very highly, and I agree. The last two-thirds of the movie is (are?) fairly ordinary indeed. Things do not go smoothly, though, and even though this is not a noir film, it has all of the trappings of one, so it is, as always, enjoyable seeing the protagonists work their way of their mishaps and other assorted screw-ups.

   Any leading roles that co-star Mari Blanchard ever had were, I believe, only in low-budget movies like this one, but she’s certainly easy enough on the eyes, speaking on behalf of the male half of the population. I found two posters for the movies, so you can see for yourself, although I’m not convinced that either pose she’s in is actually in the movie.


William F. Deeck

BARBARA LEONARD REYNOLDS – Alias for Death. Coward-McCann, hardcover, 1950.


   On her way by bus from Chicago to Dayton, Ohio, in 1945, Abigail Potter, prolific mystery writer under her own name and various pseudonyms, hears the plot for a perfect murder as planned by an Army corporal.

   By quick thinking, she discovers his real name and destination — Glen Falls, Ohio — and subscribes to the local paper awaiting news of an unexpected sudden death. Three years go by before one is reported, and then it is not the death of the person she believed was to be the corporal’s target.

   Knowing how the crime was committed and by whom, but not having any idea of why the victim was not whom she expected, Potter decides to go to Glen Falls, discover more about the crime, and unmask the murderer. However, all — indeed, very little — is not what she supposed, and she herself may have been the target of a poisoner.

   While not a first-class novel of a little-old-lady detective and not quite living up to its fine beginning, this is nonetheless good reading. Moreover, the author presented a situation that I considered nonsensical, explained it feebly, and thus caused me to overlook the essential pointer to the murderer. Excellent misdirection I thought, though it probably won’t fool anyone else.


   This was Reynolds’ only mystery. Why didn’t she write more?

– From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 13, No. 3, Summer 1992.

Bio-Bibliographic Data:   As Bill says, this is the author’s only mystery. It’s a scarce book in nice condition; only good and/or ex-library copies can be more easily found — which I’ve done.

   There’s no information about Barbara Leonard Reynolds on the jacket, only the photo which you see to the left. Says Al Hubin of her in the Revised Crime Fiction IV: Born in Milwaukee (1915); lived in Ohio and then Hawaii. Year of death: 1990.

KEITH WOODCOTT – The Ladder in the Sky. Ace Double F-141, paperback original; 1st printing, 1962. [Paired with this novel, tęte-bęche, is The Darkness Before Tomorrow, by Robert Moore Williams.]

   There was a time when every SF fan worthy of the title had to have a complete set of Astounding’s, and if not, then a set of Ace SF Doubles was almost as good a credential for getting yourself in the door.

KEITH WOODCOTT The Ladder in the Sky

   For the most part they were a direct carry over from the days of the pulp magazines, but gradually better authors and better writing came along – authors such as Samuel R. Delany and Ursula K. LeGuin – but even so, their early stories still showed their pulp roots.

   And so does The Ladder in the Sky. Woodcott was one of the pen names of the much better known John Brunner, an author who went on to win a Hugo award or two – but not in 1962, nor for this book, as enjoyable as I found it to be.

   The Ladder in the Sky one of those books that heads off in one direction, a totally familiar one for veteran SF-nal readers, but somewhere along the way, it jumps off the track and all but starts over. (I love it when that happens. Or at least I usually do.)

   Picked seemingly at random from literally a slum on the wrong side of tracks on a backwater planet, Kazan is kidnapped and forced by a sorcerer into a mystical if not magical sort of servitude to a black demon or devil for the standard year and a day. (See the cover as shown above.)

   The purpose? To gain the powers he needs to rescue the city’s true leader from his imprisonment in an impregnable fortress surrounded by a moat filled with strange and ferocious creatures.

   Easily done. And then? The rest of the tale. (See above.) Kazan has to learn what his powers are, what they can be used for – and what they can’t – and most importantly, how to get along with his fellow humans while he’s struggling with his own identity.

   These, I am sure, are concepts that resonated strongly with the SF readers of the day. The writing is acceptable, but unfortunately some of the characters are only caricatures of real people. Primitive, in fact. It may have been lack of space – the novel is only 137 pages long – or (more likely) this early in Brunner’s career he had the ideas but not yet the skills to carry them out.

   News of Robert B. Parker’s death on Monday quickly made the rounds of the mystery-oriented blogs yesterday. Three that I’d be especially pleased to send you to, since they largely reflect my own feelings, are Bill Crider’s blog, The Rap Sheet and Dwight Brown’s blog.


   There are two books that I consider the gems of my collection, and given the size of my collection, that’s saying a good deal. If there were a fire or other disaster here, these are the books I’d save first, after saving the really important things, that is.

   One is A Is for Alibi (Holt Rinehart & Winston, 1982), by Sue Grafton, and the other is The Godwulf Manuscript (Houghton Mifflin, 1973), by Robert B. Parker.

   Both are hardcover first editions in jacket, and both are in Very Fine condition. The reason that I consider them gems is not because they’re valuable, which I imagine they are, but that they’re both Key Books in the development of the Private Eye novel. (I’m not alone in believing this, which in turn is what makes them valuable.)

   Of the two, Godwulf came first, of course, and it was like a breath of fresh air in the PI sub-genre, which by the early 1970s was all but dead. It’s also the least typical of the Spenser books. Parker was channeling Chandler at the time (not a bad thing to do) and hadn’t developed his own voice yet. Susan Silverman didn’t come along until God Save the Child (1975), Book #2, and Hawk made his first appearance in Promised Land (1976), the fourth in the series.


   In the beginning, the opening lines of The Godwulf Manuscript:

   The office of the university president looked like the front parlor of a successful Victorian whorehouse. It was paneled in big squares of dark walnut, with ornately figured maroon drapes at the long windows. There was maroon carpeting and the furniture was black leather with brass studs. The office was much nicer than the classrooms; maybe I should have worn a tie.

   The photo of Mr. Parker you see above comes from the back cover of the same book. If you think that he looks a lot like Spenser did then, I do too, and maybe even more than you. I doubt that Spenser has aged much in the 37 years (and 39 books) since, maybe 10 years, no more.

   Look for his 39th adventure, Painted Ladies, later this year. I know I will.

[UPDATE] 01-22-10. Since posting this brief tribute to Robert B. Parker, I’ve been going through my files, trying to locate the reviews I wrote of his earlier books. I haven’t been entirely successful, but come to find out, I’d posted one on this blog last year, and I’d forgotten I had. This one’s a review of The Judas Goat. Check it out here.

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