May 2010


Reviewed by DAVID L. VINEYARD:         

DAVID DODGE To Catch a Thief

DAVID DODGE – To Catch a Thief. Random House, hardcover, 1952. Reprint paperback: Dell #658, 1953. Film: Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Jessie Royce Landis, John Williams, Charles Vanel, Brigitte Auber. Screenplay: John Michael Hayes. Cinematography: Robert Burks. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

       *Spoiler Warning*    (As if anyone reading this doesn’t know the ending.)

    The agents de police came for John Robie sooner than he expected them.

    It was hot, a still summer evening in August. Crickets sawed at their fiddles in the grass, and a bullfrog who live in a pond at the bottom of the garden was sounding an occasional bass note. John was burning letters in the fireplace when the crickets and then the bullfrog stopped.

   For whatever reason, American writers in general haven’t fared as well as the British when it comes to international adventurers and jewel thieves (though one of the greatest of them all was Louis Joseph Vance’s Michael Lanyard, the Lone Wolf, and American Jack Boyle gave us Boston Blackie), so it is only fitting that one who did was the cosmopolitan David Dodge, who knew the Riviera like the back of his hand.

   Dodge was well known for his tales of CPA slash detective Whit Whitney and South of the Border private eye Al Colby when he wrote this, but I don’t think most readers were ready for an American who did the whole Riviera scene as suavely as any Brit.

   He also had a good ear and feel for rogues, slightly bent heroes who might have to think a bit before doing the right thing.

DAVID DODGE To Catch a Thief

   Somehow he managed to present them flaws and all as real human beings and not sociopathic thugs or emotionless robots. You tended to identify with and root for a Dodge hero without feeling guilty about it.

   I won’t go into a lot of plot detail. Almost everyone reading this has likely seen the Alfred Hitchcock film (and if you haven’t, stop now, find it, and see it — it’s one of the best pictures of its kind ever made and unfairly overlooked by some because it does what it does so effortlessly) and knows the basic story. John Robie, an expatriate American living on the Riviera was once the infamous pre-war jewel thief known as Le Chat, the Cat to the world press.

   Captured and sentenced just before the war Robie and his fellow crooks — many friends from his career as a circus aerialist (*) — are freed from prison by a bomb and join the Resistance to fight the Nazi occupation using their criminal skills. As a result, after the war they receive full pardons. Robie salted away his profits, bought a villa, and retired to grow his roses — even though some of his friends urged him to resurrect the Cat.

   But someone has done just that, and the police are sure Robie is up to his old tricks. He escapes the police, contacts a Lloyds insurance investigator, and armed with a list of the most valuable targets begins to hunt the new Cat.

   Meanwhile he finds himself falling for a headstrong American woman whose mother is on the list of the most likely victims and facing the enmity of his old friends — some of whom resent the renewed police pressure the Cat has brought on them, some of them who may be working with the new Cat.

DAVID DODGE To Catch a Thief

   What I want to concentrate on here are the few differences between the novel and the film. They aren’t as many as usual, but never the less make for an interesting contrast of novel into film.

   The novel opens as does the film with John Robie (Cary Grant) eluding the police via an escape plan left over from his days as the Cat. He goes underground and contacts some of his old ‘friends,’ including the sexually precocious daughter of one of them who has long had a crush on him.

   As in the film he is captured, but the police reluctantly have to let him go. Having met the Lloyds insurance man, he contacts him and convinces him to take a chance on Robie’s innocence and join in the hunt for the new Cat. Posing as an American businessman he checks into the Hotel Midi and sets out to get close to American heiress Frances Stevens (Grace Kelly), who doesn’t wear jewelry, and her mother (Jessie Royce Landis)who clearly does.

   Complicating things in the book is his desire to avoid hurting his honest friend Paul, who has trusted him. The character doesn’t appear in the film.

   Other than some small differences the book is very close to the film until the end, when there is quite a bit of variation. As in the film Robie sets a trap for the Cat and a man is killed, but Robie knows that the man, the father of Danielle (Brigitte Auber), cannot be the Cat because he was crippled during the war. And so he has to go to the rooftops in order to corner the real Cat.

   But the police aren’t interested in his theory and if he is caught on a roof at a robbery it could mean a lifetime in prison or death. Still, he convinces Francie to help him (in the book Paige, the insurance man has already paid off and given up) trap the new Cat.

DAVID DODGE To Catch a Thief

   In the book — Robie’s honest friend Paul has fallen in love with Danielle, and Robie has to not only capture the Cat, but when he does, he has to return the jewels and save the new Cat from paying for her crimes all while avoiding the suspicious policeman Lepic (a good example of Dodge at play since slang for a French policeman is Le Flic).

   What makes the novel worth the effort even if you have seen the film a million times (and I’m probably going on a million and one) is Dodge’s rare skills as a writer. There is nothing showy about it, but he is one of the best suspense novelists of his era, writing clean intelligent prose that reads more like the cool British thrillers of Victor Canning or Max Murray than the hard boiled American voice — though Dodge managed to stay well within that mode at the same time in a virtually unique combination of voice and style.

   What holds you as you turn the pages of To Catch A Thief is not only the charm of the characters and the skill of the plotting, but the writing which is deceptively simple:

    “Good afternoon Mr. Burns,” she said.

   He had never seen her smile like that. He had wondered more than once what an expression of animation would do for her. Now he knew. She was alive, vital, sparkling…

    “Hello, where did you spring from?”

    “The diving raft. I saw you come down to the beach. I wanted to ask you a question.”

    “You have good eyes if you could see me from the raft.”

    “I have very good eyes.”

    “What did you want to ask me?”

DAVID DODGE To Catch a Thief

    “It’s rather personal.”

    “That didn’t bother you the last time we talked.”

    “This is different… You’re Le Chat aren’t you?”

   Later:

   The distinction between thief and non thief was a state of mind… He himself was a thief because his attitude to stealing had never changed. He was retired, not reformed. He was still Le Chat, with Le Chat’s mind.

   … Set a thief to catch at thief.

   And still later on the rooftop of a villa waiting for the Cat:

    The ivy whispered and whispered again. He could not see beyond the overhang of the rampant walk without exposing the outline of his head and shoulders against the sky. He felt his pulses beat with the intermittent movement of the climber on the vine. He began to breathe more deeply… The ivy whispered more loudly now…

   Dodge wrote a number of good stand alone thrillers after To Catch a Thief (Angel’s Ransom, The Lights of Skaro, and Carambola) and they are well worth reading, including his final novel, The Last Match recently published by Hard Case for the first time. His books are sophisticated, well written, and stylish in execution and design, the international adventure thriller done to a T.

   A friend of mine who was a mining engineer in Western Australia and other places that were the back of the beyond said whenever he could he traveled with a Dodge book in his few belongings. That’s about as good a tribute as any thriller writer can ask for, and one Dodge fully deserves.

(*)   In case you ever wondered just how perfectly Cary Grant was cast as John Robie, in his youth Grant had been a circus gymnast.

DAVID DODGE To Catch a Thief


Previously reviewed on this blog:

    Shear the Black Sheep   (by Steve Lewis).

Reviewed by DAVID L. VINEYARD:         

VICTOR CANNING –

    ● Panthers’ Moon. Hodder, UK, hardcover, 1948. M. S. Mill & Wm. Morrow, US, hardcover, 1948. Paperback reprints include: Bantam #734, 1950; Berkley F778, 1963. Film: Spy Hunt, with Howard Duff, Marta Toren, Robert Douglas, & Walter Slezak; directed by George Sherman.
    ● The Finger of Saturn. Wm. Heinemann, UK, hardcover, 1973. William Morrow & Co., US, hc, 1974. Paperback reprints include: Pan, UK, 1975; Pyramid, US, 1975.

VICTOR CANNING

   These two novels from Victor Canning span the course of his long career. The first, Panthers’ Moon (1948), was his second thriller after returning to writing following WW II, while The Fingers of Saturn (1973) came from his most diverse, prolific, and successful era.

   Canning was the third man in the top three thriller writers of his period. If you grant that Eric Ambler and Graham Greene stand alone, then the top three of the period were Hammond Innes, Geoffrey Household, and Victor Canning. They had spectacular sales, uniformly rave reviews, and Hollywood came calling frequently. Canning is unjustly neglected today.

   Canning began writing largely humorous novels in the late thirties, took some time off after the war and came back with The Chasm, a thriller. His second thriller is Panthers’ Moon, which is a classic of its kind, a perfect mix of essential elements.

   The typical Canning hero is a professional, a country man, and a sportsman, but within that type he manages quite a bit of variation from innocents abroad to professional assassins.

VICTOR CANNING

   Roger Quain is an engineer asked to help an old friend who owns a circus transport a pair of leopards, a male and a female, who were kept as pets by a wealthy Italian nobleman.

    In the compartment to the left of Quain was the male panther. The animal lay on his side, sprawled over like a heat lazy dog, little mounds of dirty sawdust thrust up by his paws where he had stretched lazily in his sleep.

   Quain respects the animal and recognizes the hatred in the beast’s eyes. Back at his hotel Quain is approached by Catherine Talbot, a British Agent, who tells him she has important information she must get out and cannot because she is being watched. The information is in the form of microfilm. Quain agrees to get it out and hides the microfilm in the collar of the male leopard.

   Then the Simplon-Orient Express, on which Quain is transporting the two cats, is wrecked in the Alps and the cats are on the loose. Quain has to recover the animals and the microfilm, and just who he can or can’t trust is a question. Denson, the American journalist who interviewed him before he left Italy, the seductive Carlotta, Valecchi the fat man, Copelnancer the professional hunter, and what of Parradou the policeman?

VICTOR CANNING

   And as you might expect Quain himself will become the hunted and the hunter beneath the Alpine Panthers’ moon:

    “There are no secrets now. When we are without secrets we know ourselves, and that’s what I know at last. I know myself and where I have been and what I must do. Now I can be headstrong, violent … there’s not the joy in violence I once imagined … and romantic …”

   This one was filmed as Spy Hunt, with Howard Duff and Marta Toren, Walter Slezak as Valecchi, and Robert Douglas as Copelnancer. It’s a solid little film, a minor A production, a little set bound, but making the most of the elements of the cinematic novel.

   The Finger of Saturn from two decades later is a darker book. Canning had become disenchanted with the games played by the Security Services and portrayed them as ruthless and vicious. He himself had divorced his wife and become involved with another woman, prompting the most productive period of his career. It was in this period he wrote what may be his masterpiece, The Rainbird Pattern, filmed by Alfred Hitchcock as The Family Plot.

VICTOR CANNING

   The Finger of Saturn is the middle finger, and when it is shorter than the other two fingers surrounding it old wives’ tales imply something sinister. And as we all know not all old wives tales are wrong …

   Robert Rolt used to be something in the Foreign Office, as his father an ambassador had been. Now he takes care of the family estates, Rolthead, a gentleman farmer and land owner. Up to two years earlier he was ecstatically happy with his wife Sarah, but then she went missing.

   Now someone from the Foreign Office shows up with film that shows a woman who looks suspiciously like Sarah. When Rolt goes to visit her he discovers she is Sarah, and has no memories of her past, he convinces her to come home.

   But when they go to visit her mother in Italy they are nearly killed. An accident — or something more sinister. And now a man named Garwood, Deputy Director Statistical Projects of the Ministry of Defense has approached Rolt. Sarah’s family is tied closely to a mysterious group, International Industrial Systems Limited, I.I.S.L. and they would like to know just how closely. All he really knows about his mother in law is that she has made some eccentric donations …

    “She’s very interested in astronomy and I know she’s made some quite large donations to various astronomical research bodies both in Europe and America.”

VICTOR CANNING

    “That doesn’t strike me as being odd, Mr. Rolt. Backing science after all is …”

    “This isn’t science! This is the rankest kind of nonsense. These are crackpot organizations who believe in little green men from Mars and unidentified flying saucers.”

   Soon enough it becomes obvious what Garwood and company want from Rolt. They want him to destroy I.I.S.L.’s secret headquarters at Caradon Abbey in Cornwall, where only he, with Sarah’s contacts, can penetrate their sinister secrets and those of the woman he loves more than anything in the world.

   I won’t give away what Rolt finds, but suffice it to say it is unique among Canning’s novels and he brings it off beautifully as only a true master could.

    … there will be little change in man because man is unique — he is the one truly corrupt animal the world has produced. The gods who used to walk among men have abandoned us … but love … excels all things, excludes all things, and forgives all things. It is beyond all cherishing because it is the last dim spark of divinity in man.

   To have produced one of these books in a career would be accomplishment enough. To produce two of them a bit over twenty years apart is remarkable.

VICTOR CANNING

   That this same career included such books as Castle Minerva, The House of Seven Flies, The Golden Salamander, Birdcage, Queen’s Pawn, The Great Affair, The Limbo Line, Firebird, and Bird of Prey, as well as his best selling Arthurian novels and his works the basis for films such as The Golden Salamander, The House of the Seven Hawks, The Venetian Bird, Masquerade, Shark, and The Family Plot is a sign of his qualities as a writer (his film and television credits are too numerous to produce here).

   Hopefully his work will be rediscovered and reprinted. He’s too good to be forgotten, and writers with his ability too rare to remain unread by future generations. These two are fine examples of his best, but there are many more equal or superior to them.

   Almost any of his thrillers are worth reading for lovers of international intrigue, suspense, action, and adventure. He even ventured into humor in The Great Affair, and to some extent his popular private eye series about Rex Carver, a Brit eye with a six foot tall secretary and a penchant for international intrigue.

   Canning was a Silver Dagger winner and named a Grand Master by the British Crime Writers Association. Grand Master was never a more deserved title. Lovers of the British thriller would be wise to learn his name and read as many of his books as they can find. No one did it better.

VICTOR CANNING



       Previously on this blog —

SCORPIO ROOMS: VICTOR CANNING ON TV, by Tise Vahimagi.

VICTOR CANNINGA Fall from Grace (A 1001 Midnights Review by John Lutz).

VICTOR CANNINGThe Limbo Line. (Reviewed by David Vineyard).

MASQUERADE (1965). Based on the novel Castle Minerva by Victor Canning. (A movie review by David Vineyard.)

RAIDERS OF THE SEVEN SEAS

RAIDERS OF THE SEVEN SEAS. United Artists, 1953. John Payne, Donna Reed, Gerald Mohr, Lon Chaney, Anthony Caruso, Henry Brandon, Skip Torgerson. Director & co-screenwriter: Sidney Salkow.

   John Payne, probably better known for the westerns and noirish crime he did, takes a break from either and shows up in this film taking place in and around the Caribbean in color as a privateer called Barbarossa, or “Red Beard.”

   I mention that the film is in color for two reasons. First of all, to show off John Payne’s red close-cropped chin adornment, and secondly, to demonstrate how striking a beauty the young dark-haired Donna Reed was. Although she was in her share of them, black and white films (and TV work) simply did not do her justice.

RAIDERS OF THE SEVEN SEAS

   As the daughter of a Spanish governor, she is kidnapped by Barbarossa early on in this film, or at least her character Alida is. And of course if you think it follows that the two of them get along, it only means that you have not seen many movies of this same type, whether they are pirate films, westerns, or even straight drama — in eras, it should go without saying, where kidnapping was ever an acceptable first step in winning a lady’s hand.

   As it happens, Alida is also engaged to marry Captain Jose Salcedo (Gerald Mohr), but since her future husband was chosen for her in advance, his hold on her is tenuous. And once he shows his true colors, then as if by magic — movie magic, that is — well, you know, and you could have written this too.

   Gerald Mohr, he of the sleepy eyes and perpetual lopsided sneer, is horribly miscast as a Spanish officer, just as a warning, in case you are a fan of his, as am I.

RAIDERS OF THE SEVEN SEAS

   Mohr was far more suited for westerns and film noir than even John Payne was. With a voice very similar to Philip Marlowe’s on the radio, he would also have been pitch perfect as a sleazy but effective private eye type of character, although I am not sure if he ever played one on the screen.

   As for Donna Reed, she won an Oscar for her very next film, From Here to Eternity, then starred in a Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis film, followed by a couple of westerns. Given the uneven nature of the films she was in, I wonder how well she’d be remembered today if she hadn’t landed her own series on TV, The Donna Reed Show, a very domestic situation comedy that lasted for eight years, 1958 to 1966, followed by a short stint as Eleanor Ewing on Dallas in the mid-1980s.

RAIDERS OF THE SEVEN SEAS

   In any case, there is some entertainment value to this film, but in all honesty, it’s all done pretty much by the numbers.

   Luckily they did film it in color — even though I couldn’t come up with any scenes from the movie to prove it — otherwise even that last paragraph might be stretching the truth a little too much.

A TV Review by MIKE TOONEY:


“I’ll Be Judge — I’ll Be Jury.” An episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (Season 1, Episode 21). First air date: 15 February 1963. Peter Graves, Albert Salmi, Ed Nelson, Sarah Marshall, Rodolfo Hoyos. Teleplay: Lukas Heller, based on the novel by Elizabeth Hely (Scribner, 1959). Director: James Sheldon.

ELIZABETH HELY I'll Be Judge

   Mark Needham (Peter Graves) is in Mexico with his wife Laura (Eileen O’Neill) when tragedy strikes. They get temporarily separated while on a picnic, and Laura is murdered. Much later, when Mark goes to the local authorities about finding her killer, Inspector Ortiz (Rodolfo Hoyos) not only indicates that he’s certain he knows who the killer is but also enlists Mark’s help in trying to get the murderer to tip his hand.

   The prime suspect, Theodore Bond (Albert Salmi), lives and works in the same village, and Mark endeavors to ingratiate himself with Bond in a game of cat and mouse. Unfortunately, even a mouse that’s been backed into a corner can be very dangerous indeed ….

   The two leads act very differently from their usual screen personas: Peter Graves, normally a level-headed responsible type, crosses over into barely contained rage at times, while Albert Salmi, whose villains were usually over the top, underplays his character as a craven coward barely able to maintain his pretense at being respectable.

   Halfway through the story, the plot resets itself, with Ed Nelson and Sarah Marshall assuming greater prominence.

   Peter Graves (1926-2010) had an extensive career in Hollywood, sometimes in crime dramas: Stalag 17 (1953), Black Tuesday (1954), The Night of the Hunter (1955), The Naked Street (1955), 23 episodes of the TV series Court Martial (1965-66), 143 installments of Mission: Impossible (1967-73), The Underground Man (1974, as Lew Archer), Number One with a Bullet (1987), and 35 additional episodes of the new Mission: Impossible redux (1988-90).

   Albert Salmi (1928-90) spent most of his career on television, with occasional forays into films: The Ambushers (1967), Night Games, the pilot plus 45 episodes of Petrocelli (1974-76), one Ellery Queen (1976), Love and Bullets (1979), and one of the best Murder, She Wrote segments, “Murder Takes the Bus” (1985).

You can see this episode on Hulu here.

Editorial Comments:   Author Elizabeth Hely has four books including in the Revised Crime Fiction IV, three of them featuring Commissaire Antoine Cirret as detective, including I’ll Be Judge — I’ll Be Jury, the original title of which was Dominant Third in England.

   Besides changing the detective’s name, the Hitchcock TV version also moved the locale from France to Mexico. Other changes to the story may also have been made, but these are the more obvious ones.

   One of Hely’s other novels was made into a TV movie, The Smugglers, based on Package Deal (Robert Hale, UK, 1965). In it Donnelly Rhodes plays Antoine Cirret, while Shirley Booth is an American tourist in Europe who unwisely agrees to transport a religious statue from one country to another.

IT IS PURELY MY OPINION
Reviews by L. J. Roberts


DEANNA RAYBOURN – The Dead Travel Fast. Mira, trade paperback, March 2010.

Genre:   Gothic/Suspense. Leading character:   Theodora Lastrange. Setting:   Transylvania-Victorian era/1858.

First Sentence:   All proper stories begin with the words Once upon a time.

DEANNA RAYBOURN The Dead Travel

   Theodora Lastrange travels to a castle in the Carpathian Mountains at the invitation of her school-days friend, Cosmina. There she finds an old castle, an aristocratic family, and a count to whom she is inexplicably and inexorably attracted. She also finds superstition and dark tales of werewolves and becomes involved in the destruction of an alleged vampire.

   My feelings about this book changed almost page to page, and my rating oscillated from Good to Not Recommended. My problem wasnt that this was very different from the author’s Lady Jane Grey series; I was prepared for this to be completely different. I like gothic. When done well, it can be wonderful. When done badly, it crosses over into being melodramatic.

   For much of this book, I found the latter to be true. My problem was the writing itself. Parts of the story are very good; wonderfully written, touching, emotionally and thoroughly engrossing. However, in other parts of the story, I found myself rolling my eyes and wondering what Ms. Raybourn had been thinking.

   It is difficult when you read first for character, and the only character you really feel any affinity for is a secondary character, Charles. I truly disliked that the protagonist was named Theodora Lastrange; how clich can one possibly be? It may be a small thing, but it was so trite it nearly caused me to stop reading immediately.

   Than rather than Ms. Lastrange being gutsy and independent, there was a wimpishness about her, particularly in her attraction to the Count. Even with my issues with the characters, it was the plot which let me down. The plot was rife with anachronisms, clichs and coincidences.

   However, on the plus side, there were some scenes that were very well done, I personally like the inclusion of references to and the poetry of Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal being a particular favorite of mine, and I particularly appreciate her explanation for some of the supernatural events.

   All this being said, this isnt a terrible book. Unfortunately, it isnt a good book either. Having read Ms. Raybourns other books, I believe much of my disappointment comes from knowing she is a much better writer than The Dead Travel would indicate.

Rating: Okay.

FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
by Francis M. Nevins


MIKE NEVINS Cornucopia of Crime

   My apologies for the delay between columns. I was on the road for two and a half weeks, when I wasn’t traveling, proofreading my next book took up all my writing time.

   Cornucopia of Crime, which Ramble House will be doing, will probably run about 450 closely printed pages when the index is finished. It will bring together a ton of long and short pieces I’ve written about mystery writers over the past 40-odd years, including some bits from this column.

   The cover is by New Zealander Gavin O’Keefe, and as anyone can see from the attached image, it’s a knockout.

***

   Part of my recent week in New York I spent at Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library, where Fred Dannay’s papers are archived, looking into whether Fred had saved anything written to him by Cornell Woolrich that I wasn’t already aware of.

MIKE NEVINS Cornucopia of Crime

   My most interesting find was a brief undated note that accompanied Woolrich’s last story.”Just consider it on its merits, like you always have all stories,” he wrote. “Don’t feel sorry; I’ve had it better than most guys. I’d like one last publication, before I kiss it off. I’m a writer to the end. And glad I was one.”

   Clearly the story accompanying this note was “New York Blues,” which Fred purchased in May or June of 1967 but didn’t publish in EQMM until the December 1970 issue, more than two years after Woolrich’s death.

   There’s a penciled note on Woolrich’s covering letter which looks to me like Fred’s handwriting and suggests an alternate title for the story, one I actually like more than Woolrich’s: “The Last Hours.”

   In the end, of course, Fred went with Woolrich’s title.

***

MIKE NEVINS Cornucopia of Crime

   Stopping off in Cincinnati on the way home from my little odyssey, I happened upon a nice copy of Thieves Fall Out (Gold Medal pb #311, 1953), an obscure paperback original bearing the byline of Cameron Kay, which has never been seen on any other book before or since.

   The true author? Gore Vidal. It’s an ordinary little number, set in Egypt in the days of King Farouk, with minimal action or suspense and not a bit of the satiric wit that enlivened the three whodunits Vidal wrote as Edgar Box during the same time period.

***

   Among all the TV private eye series of the Fifties and Sixties that never caught on and were quickly cancelled, perhaps the finest was Johnny Staccato (NBC, 1959-60), starring John Cassavetes as a jazz pianist who makes ends meet by working as an apparently unlicensed PI.

   Even in my late teens the music of my life was classical music, but I was still very fond of this series in first run and watched it from the first episode to the 27th and last.

MIKE NEVINS Cornucopia of Crime

   Half a century later I’ve found the complete series on DVD and it’s still first-rate: evocative streets-of-New-York photography, fine performances (guests included Michael Landon, Martin Landau, Gena Rowlands, Elizabeth Montgomery, Elisha Cook and Mary Tyler Moore), excellent direction (with five episodes helmed by Cassavetes himself), offbeat scripts (including some by Fifties PI novelist Henry Kane), and of course tons of jazz, with a young hepcat then known as Johnny and later as John Williams—like yeah, man, that John Williams— doing the honors on piano.

   The series must have been planned as a sort of Peter Gunn clone but turned out quite different, mainly, I think, because the cool-jazz sound of Gunn was replaced by a hotter, more passionate music style.

***

   Something I read recently (I won’t say where) suggested to me that there ought to be an annual award for most eye-popping boner in or about mystery fiction. My first candidate for this honor, who shall remain nameless, wrote of Nero Wolfe that he “tended a rose garden on his roof….”

   Ouch! That’s a thorn from one of those roses.

REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:         


RAYBURN CROWLEY – The Valley of Creeping Men. Harper & Brothers, hardcover, 1930. Hardcover reprint: Grosset & Dunlap, no date.

   This is a book that any lover of high adventure, goofy science, and lost-race novels won’t be able to put down.

RAYBURN CRAWLEY Valley of Sleeping Men

   Somewhere in Africa, protected from the outside world by a forbidding mountain lies a valley in which — legend has it — dwells a race of golden gorillas, somewhere on the evolutionary scale between ape and man:

    “I’ve heard it is not an ordinary gorilla, but yellow like a collie; that it’s very close to human, sometimes has a vile temper, and sometimes is disgustingly affectionate.”

   The murder in London of the brilliant but loony scientist Marakoff — the discoverer of the gorilla — sets off an international pursuit that includes more murders, treachery and relentless peril.

There’s some colorful writing here, the kind that always sets my pulse to pounding:

    “At a point near the West Coast of Africa there lies a valley; no white man has ever gone into it. The natives have a great dread of it,. It lies far up a sluggish tropical river-the Sanaga. The river is impassible to big canoes except after the rains. The mountains of the Kameroons hem it in on both sides. The entrance to it lies through a narrow defile. Even this is cut off by a giant cataract. What lies behind that wall of water no one knows, except — perhaps — Marakoff.”

   And away we go. The women are seductively beautiful, the men strong and intense, and the landscapes are painted with a skill that’s a cut above some of the plotting:

    “The smokey haze of London had already clouded the short November afternoon to dusk. As he contrasted the London greyness with the rich tropical world that awaited him, he felt alien and estranged. In Africa, now, the sun would be blazing on fantastically brilliant colors. Or when the quick night had come, there would be the moon, yellow and ripe, hanging like a melon in the liana-hung tangle of the forest. Africa was in his senses, in his heart.”

   Edgar Rice Burroughs, eat your heart out!

   In an appendix at the end of Chattering Gods, the sequel to Valley, published by Harper in 1931, the publisher poses the question “Who IS Rayburn Crawley?”

   In an accompanying letter, Crawley defends his anonymity by claiming that: “Any author worth reading can be known, and very fully known, by his books.”

   The publisher calls this a challenge and, listing several questions that might be asked about the reclusive author, offers autographed copies of the two books to “the persons who answer these questions correctly.”

   Laura Spencer Portor Hope and Dorothy Giles are identified in the current version of Hubin as the authors hiding behind the Crawley pseudonym, and Victor Berch has added that their identity was known as early as July 7, 1958, when the copyright on the book was renewed.

   Now if only somebody could find out the names of the winners of the Harper contest. It’s intriguing, to say the least, that autographed copies, in dust jacket, of the two books may be in some collector’s private library.

Editorial Comments:   Walter sent me this review after he spotted this book in Victor Berch’s “Checklist of Harper’s Sealed Mysteries,” announced on this blog not too long ago. This is a revised version of a review he wrote some 20 odd years ago, and he admits that he’s been wondering about the author’s identity ever since.

   As good as Walter says this book is, why it should have been published as a Sealed Mystery, along with the John Dickson Carr’s, Hulbert Footner’s and others is another mystery that’s lost in the mists of time.

    This particular list of motion pictures was prompted by Walter Albert’s recent review of De Luxe Annie (1915), in which all of the heroine’s difficulties stem from being knocked unconscious early on and suffering from amnesia for the rest of the movie, or almost.

    In a comment that he left soon after the review appeared, David Vineyard wondered “where would suspense fiction and movies be without it?”

    “It” referring to the concept of amnesia, as practiced in the movies and crime fiction. Which of course triggered the obvious question from me to David. The rest of this post is his reply. Thanks, David!

             >>>

   Movies with an amnesia theme. This one could get pretty long fast, but I’ll try to restrain myself:

Street of Chance — Burgess Meredith. Based on Cornell Woolrich’s Black Curtain about a man with short term amnesia who thinks he may have committed a murder.

Female Fiends — Lex Barker. A writer and producer who wakes up with no memory and in the middle of a murderous plot; based on Q. Patrick’s Puzzle for Fiends.

Stage Fright — With Jane Wyman. Richard Todd’s character suffers partial amnesia involving the murder the police want him for.

No Man of Her Own — Barbara Stanwyck claims partial amnesia to cover lapses in her memory in pretending to be another woman; based on Woolrich’s I Married a Dead Man.

Mister Buddwing — James Garner. Based on the novel Buddwing by Even Hunter a man with amnesia stumbles from one woman in his life to the next trying to put together who he is.

36 Hours —James Garner again. German doctor Rod Taylor uses drugs to induce amnesia in order to get Garner to reveal the true site of the D-Day landings.

The Third Day — George Peppard. An obnoxious millionaire struggles to remember who is trying to kill him; based on Joseph Hayes’ novel.

Power of the Whistler — Richard Dix. An amnesiac tries to clear himself by regaining his memory.

The Manchurian Candidate — Frank Sinatra. An Army officer tries to combat drug induced memories implanted as part of a Chinese plot from Richard Condon’s novel.

Fear in the Night — Deforest Kelly. Jazz musician gets help from his cop brother-in-law Paul Kelly to recover marijuana induced memory loss and clear his name; based on Cornell Woolrich short ‘Marijuana’ and remade with Kevin McClory and Edward G. Robinson as Nightmare.

Phantom Lady — Alan Curtis man’s drink induced memory loss means his friends have to follow abstract clues from his flawed memory to save him from execution based on Cornell Woolrich novel.

Memento — Man who loses his memory every time he goes to sleep tries to solve the murder of his wife by leaving clues behind to follow each day.

Dark City — Rufus Sewell. A man with amnesia struggles to recall reality in clever noirish sf film based on a graphic novel.

The Matrix — Keanu Reeves. Man begins to see through the illusion he lives in.

Two in the Dark — Walter Abel . Female cabbie helps a man recall his memory as they race to solve a murder, remade with Tom Conway and Ann Rutherford and directed by Anthony Mann as Two O’Clock Courage.

Mirage — Gregory Peck. A city-wide blackout triggers a crisis for a businessman whose life begins to unravel when nothing he remembers is real.

Blindfolded — Rock Hudson. A psychiatrist tries to help agent suffering from trauma induced memory loss but finds himself in a spy plot.

Who? — Elliot Gould. Investigators try to understand what happened to man with robot head; based on Algis Budrys’s novel.

Random Harvest — Ronald Colman. The granddaddy of them all, based on James Hilton’s novel.

Somewhere in the Night — John Hodiak. A private eye returns from the war with memory loss.

The Long Wait — Anthony Quinn. A man returns home with memory loss; based on Mickey Spillane novel.

Singapore — Fred MacMurray. A woman loses her memory and can’t remember the man who loved her. Remade as Istanbul with Errol Flynn.

As You Desire Me — Greta Garbo. A woman with amnesia returns to husband she doesn’t remember, from the Pirandello play.

Spellbound — Gregory Peck. Am amnesiac poses as a psychiatrist but becomes the patient; based on Francis Beeding’s The House of Dr. Edwards.

The Woman With No Name — Phyllis Calvert. A woman sufferis from amnesia.

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes — Robert Stephens. A woman claims to have lost her memory and seeks help from Sherlock Holmes.

The Seven Percent Solution — Nicol Williamson. Sigmund Freud helps Sherlock Holmes recover repressed childhood memories so he can solve a case and cure himself of cocaine addiction.

Love Letters — Joseph Cotton. GI Cotton comes to England to meet Jennifer Jones whom he corresponded with who has lost her memory and may be in danger, with a screenplay by Ayn Rand.

I Love You Again — William Powell. Con man regains his memory and tries to save his new respectable life with wife Myrna Loy from his old pals in this screwball comedy.

Crossroads — William Powell. French diplomat must regain his memory to save himself.

Where Were You When the Lights Went Out? — Doris Day tries to remember what happened the night of the blackout when she had too much to drink.

The Witches — Joan Fontaine. A woman’s loss of memory puts her in danger from a coven of witches.

Carnival of Souls — Candace Hilligloss. A woman wanders around in weird haze.

Portrait of Jennie — Jennifer Jones. A young woman doesn’t know she is a ghost.

The Mummy’s Curse — Lon Chaney Jr. Young woman doesn’t recall she is 3000 years old; basically the plot of Blood on the Mummy’s Tomb and The Awakening; based on Bram Stoker’s Jewel of the Seven Stars.

The Black Angel — Dan Duryea. A man plays detective to help a woman clear her husband with surprising results; based on the Cornell Woolrich novel.

The Haunted Strangler — Boris Karloff. In retrospect mystery writer Boris should never have opened up the twenty year old murder case …

Hangover Square — Laird Cregar. A pianist and composer doesn’t quite remember what he gets up to when the music compels him; based on Patrick Hamilton’s play.

Suddenly Last Summer — Elizabeth Taylor. A psychiatrist tries to help young woman recall traumatic event while battling her over protective mother-in-law.

Landslide — Anthony Edwards. A man suffers selective memory loss after an accident.

The Bourne Identity — Matt Damon. A spy is hunted on all sides and doesn’t recall why.

The October Man — John Mills. A man with mental problems has to clear himself of murder and prove to himself he didn’t do it. Eric Ambler wrote the screenplay.

Knock on Wood — Danny Kaye. A ventriloquist who believes is dummy is talking to him suffers memory loss and personality changes as a result of plot by his analyst to use him in spy plot.

Highly Dangerous — Margaret Lockwood. A scientist on mission for the Secret Service is tortured and afterward thinks she is a famous radio secret agent from a popular children’s show. Screenplay by Eric Ambler.

Bewitched — Phyllis Thaxter. An early variation on multiple personalities as woman committed murder in her other persona.

Three Faces of Eve — Joanne Woodward. A woman doesn’t recall what she does in alternate personalities.

   Others?

THE THREE MUSKETEERS. Radio Pictures, 1935. Walter Abel (D’Artagnan), Ian Keith (Count de Rochefort), Margot Grahame (Milady de Winter), Paul Lukas (Athos), Moroni Olsen (Porthos), Onslow Stevens (Aramis), Heather Angel (Constance), Rosamond Pinchot (Queen Anne), John Qualen (Planchet). Based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas pre. Director & co-screenwriter: Rowland V. Lee.

   When I sat down to watch this, I was taken a bit by surprise. I thought Id taped the 1948 version. The one with Lana Turner and Gene Kelly? In color? And this one was in black and white and starred Walter Abel.

THE THREE MUSKETEERS Walter Abel

   Walter Abel? Much better a young Walter Cronkite, I thought, than Walter Abel. But even though he was already 37, this was essentially Walter Abels screen debut, and as DArtagnan, the young man who joins the other three musketeers to foil a plot against Queen Anne of France in the 1600s, he shows just enough zeal and wild abandon to carry the day. (He’s the one on the right in the photo above.)

   Or so I thought. The general opinion of this movie appears to be rather low, so I may be in the minority on this.

   It doesnt help that none of the other leading players of this movie were big box office stars, then or now. Not that they were unknowns. Paul Lucas, for one, was in numerous films and won an Oscar for Watch on the Rhine, and Margot Grahame was still making movies or on TV through 1959, but neither name, Im sure, would be recognized in many homes today.

   It also doesnt help that 1600s France and who was King and who was Queen and who in their court and retinue was plotting against whom are some of things that most people no longer know very much about. I suspect that most high school history courses covered that material much more thoroughly in 1935 than Im sure they do today.

   It also doesnt help that except for Walter Abel, all of the musketeers look alike, and so do most of the other male players, all in proper garb, it is assumed, but nonetheless all but interchangeable.

   But there is a good sense of humor that comes along with this version, though, and of course lots and lots of swordplay. (Not many muskets, however, if any.) The story line follows that of the book well enough, as I recall, and you can never go wrong with that, making it about half way through, again as I recall, before wrapping things up, and rather tidily, too.

THE THREE MUSKETEERS Walter Abel

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini:


MIKE BARRY – The Lone Wolf #14: Philadelphia Blowup. Berkley, paperback original, 1975.

MIKE BARRY Philadelphia Blowup

   The success of Don Pendleton’s Executioner series in the early 1970s naturally spawned a host of imitators. Like Mack Bolan, the Executioner, these other rough, tough, and lethal heroes are one-man armies embarked on a personal crusade to destroy the Mafia, the “Communist conspiracy,” or similar organizations/ideologies in the name of justice and/or democracy, and by whatever means necessary.

   The Lone Wolf series is one such imitation, and on the surface is solidly in the conventional action/slaughter mold. The lone wolf of the title, ex-New York narcotics cop Burt Wulff, embarks on his one-man vendetta against organized drug traffic in the United States when his girlfriend, Marie Calvante, is found dead of an overdose in a Manhattan brownstone.

   His savage quest carries him through fourteen novels — each one set in a different U.S. city, each one dealing with a different arm of the vast drug network — and culminates in a bloodbath in the City of Brotherly Love.

   But there is much more to this series than meets the casual eye. “Mike Barry” is a pseudonym of Barry N. Malzberg, a writer of no small talent who specializes in stream-of-consciousness science fiction. Indeed, the Lone Wolf books are essentially plotless, make extensive use of the stream-of-consciousness technique, and are jam-packed with idiosyncratic prose much more suited to a mainstream literary novel than to a paperback paean to violence:

    “Hello, death. Pleased to meet you, death. Been with you for a long time, death, waiting in these rooms for your call, and now here you are, old friend, old bastard, and absolutely nothing to do. Have a chair, death. Warm your hands by the fire, pal, rest easy. We’ll be together for a long time so don’t feel in any hurry to start talking.”

   And Burt Wulff is anything but your standard macho hero; he is, in fact, a raving lunatic who, by the last three books in the series — Philadelphia Blowup, in particular — is knocking off people for the sheer soaring pleasure of it: a serial killer as psychotic as Gilles de Rais or Son of Sam. In this respect, then, his saga is both a mockery and a condemnation of the whole Executioner subgenre.

   The Lone Wolf novels are not without their flaws, certainly. They were written rapidly and show it; there are any number of factual and geographical errors, and the lack of cohesive plotting makes for a great deal of repetition. Nevertheless, as amazing hybrids of the literary novel and the potboiler, as a saga of one man’s breakdown into psychosis, as an implacable send-up of the Executioner and his ilk, these fourteen books are quite remarkable.

         ———
   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.

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