April 2011


Part 2.1: Evolution of the TV Genre (US)

   This section might be called The Slicks and The Pulps. It seems that Radio and Cinema have always been at the heart of American entertainment. Well, at least since the late 1920s.

   In the beginning, there were four major US radio networks. Two were owned by NBC (which started broadcasting in 1926), one by CBS (from 1928), and one by MBS (Mutual Broadcasting System; from 1934). Between them, they accounted for an enormous national force.

   When it comes to Old Time Radio (OTR), I am a mere novice. My own copy of John Dunning’s wonderful On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (Oxford University Press, N.Y., 1998) is almost in well-thumbed shreds. But I am still on the nursery-slopes here. I very much enjoy listening to OTR programmes rather than collecting them (whereas my ever-growing DVD collection of Cinema and TV is virtually forcing me out of my home!).

   US radio dramatics were in their turn influenced by the exciting era of the Pulp magazines, roughly from about the mid 1920s to the early 1950s. (I imagine that Steve, a true Pulp magazine aficionado, would probably have more to say on the subject.)

   Hollywood, in its early Sound decades, was influenced (to a small degree) by the Pulps; just witness the glorious output of the serial studios like Universal, Columbia (whose 1938 The Spider’s Web remains surely the best serial ever), and Republic.

   Although the more high-class studios (like MGM and Paramount) acquired pre-publishing rights to produce film versions of contemporary “best sellers,” the published works of genre authors like Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain were also scooped up.

   It is perhaps through filming these genre works that the Hollywood studios and their filmmakers happened upon the 1940s film style of Film Noir (as termed by French film critics after WWII).

   The first stage, the “experimental,” saw NBC transmit the very first Sherlock Holmes on the small-screen, The Three Garridebs, on 27 November 1937 (with Luis Hector as Holmes and William Podmore as Watson).

   On 17 May 1938, NBC (or rather RCA-NBC) showed The Mysterious Mummy Case, written and directed by Thomas Hutchinson. The 25-minute programme, about some mysterious deaths related to an evil-spreading mummy case, served as an experiment in engineering as an ally of dramatic narrative.

   At the end of 1941, NBC produced Blind Alley, featuring a gang of crooks taking over a psychiatry professor’s household. The TV version was based on James Warwick’s 1938 Broadway play, which was filmed by Columbia in 1939 and then remade as The Dark Past in 1948.

   Closing-down the early “experimental” period was The Item of the Scarlet Ace (NBC, 1941), adapted from the Blue Network radio series The Bishop and the Gargoyle. Crimebuster-and-sidekick, Richard Gordon (as the Bishop) and Ken Lynch (the Gargoyle), continued their radio roles.

   The documentary aspect came with, for example, Bureau of Missing Persons (DuMont, 1943), which demonstrated the activities of the NYC Police Department’s Missing Persons unit. A later example may be the intriguingly-titled Rackets Are My Racket (DuMont, 1948), designed to expose real-life frauds and confidence games.

   On the border between the actual and sheer drama was DuMont’s The Woman Who Was Acquitted (June 1944). The story deals with a psychological exploration into the guilt of an acquitted murderess who had confessed her crime while in a cataleptic trance.

   Crime Quiz (DuMont, 1944) was one of the earliest viewer-participation shows in which the studio audience/home viewer had to solve a routine whodunit. Armchair Detective (not to be confused with the British radio and TV series created by Ernest Dudley) was a 1948-49 CBS series which presented two whodunits within its half-hour and invited the audience to guess the solution.

   You Be the Jury (KLAC-TV, 1949) followed a similar path, this time from the viewpoint of a murder trial. Likewise TV Detective (NBC, 1949), with the camera acting as a private detective; much like the police detective drama The Plainclothesman (DuMont, 1949-54). Your Witness (KECA-TV, 1949) was perhaps the last of the audience-participation shows.

   Appearing around the same time as each other, in October 1945, were two similar crime-buster shows. Diary of Death (CBS) was a TV version of the popular radio series Casey, Crime Photographer (CBS Radio), a 30-minute murder mystery written for the small-screen by Lela Swift (from the radio play by Chuck Holden).

   Photocrime (CBS) started off on local station WCBW in an attempt to dramatize the photo journalism stories appearing in the general-interest Look magazine, before the series was networked by ABC in 1949. For the network series, incidentally, Chuck Webster played police Inspector Hannibal Cobb.

   January 1946 started off with the CBS dramatization of Lucille Fletcher’s Sorry, Wrong Number, directed by John Houseman (assisted by Nick Ray), and starring young Mildred Natwick as the seemingly neurotic one.

   One of the pleasures awaiting the genre fan in 1946 was the full-length TV play (some 100 minutes) of Mr. and Mrs. North (NBC, May), adapted from the Broadway production, which in turn was based on the Frances and Richard Lockridge The New Yorker magazine series. According to contemporary reviews, the TV version was awash with “whodunit qualities.” Maxine Stewart was the zany Pam North and John McQuade was the more shrewd Jerry North.

   US Radio, as a primary source in the early days, served up the NBC Radio suspense anthology Lights Out. In 1946 (June to August), NBC produced four TV Lights Out specials, all under producer Fred Coe.

   They involved (for the first time on TV) the effects, for example, of the camera itself as the murderer and then, later, the full use of the television split-screen process. The regular TV series ran on NBC from 1949 to 1952. Inspired later perhaps by radio’s Inner Sanctum Mysteries was Mr. Black (ABC, 1949), a ghostly mystery series supervised by the satanic title character.

   In November 1946, CBS produced Brief Pause for Murder, about a radio announcer obsessed with a plot to strangle his wife. The story was taken from the long-running 1942-55 CBS Radio series The Whistler.

   Another TV example was Lucky Night (WBKB Chicago, June 1948), featuring some atmospheric shots (stormy night, waves dashing against shore) at times pre-dating 1960-62’s Thriller. The script (by Russell Hughes) was lifted directly from The Whistler radio show. Incidentally, the drama was intended to act as a pilot for a TV suspense series to be called Boomerang (produced by MCA).

   The ongoing series’ format was slowly but surely beginning to creep into the TV production process.

   The industrious DuMont produced the half-hour Trouble, Inc. (July 1949), a whodunit pilot starring Earl Hammond and Carol Hill as an adventurous couple who team up in Trouble, Inc., an outfit that will do “anything, anywhere, anytime.”

   Another pilot project from DuMont came in the form of Hands of Murder (August 1949). Featuring Steve Eliot and Charlotte Keane, the story told of a desperate factory worker who was driven to murder his violent loan shark. It was presented as a part of DuMont’s Program Playhouse (June-September 1949). From the latter Playhouse, a little earlier, had come an early version of a based-on-the-files-of drama called Federal Agent (June 1949).

   From now on it was the series (and in some ways, the anthology) that commanded the genre.

   Frank Wood – Private Detective (WBKB Chicago) was a short-run 1947 series starring Joe Bellucci as the title sleuth. The Public Prosecutor (1947) became Crawford Mystery Theatre (DuMont, 1951) and appeared to be a combination of crime drama and quiz. Syndicated series Mystery Is My Hobby (1949) starred Glenn Langan as a police detective.

   Barney Blake, Police Reporter (NBC, 1948), it seemed, was under the thumb of sponsor Lucky Strike cigarettes (The American Tobacco Company). It was of course a live series in which our hero, a Front Page style newspaperman (played by Gene O’Donnell), solved each week’s whodunit mystery between ad breaks of marching cigarettes.

   Frederic Ziv had acquired the rights to the Boston Blackie property and produced a syndicated version starring an unlikely Robert Middleton in 1948. The more familiar series featuring Kent Taylor as Blackie was syndicated from 1951.

   The intriguing crime, mystery and suspense drama Chicagoland Television Mystery Players first appeared over WGN-TV (Chicago) in September 1948. It continued to feature Gordon Urquhart as the crime-busting hero when it was shown via DuMont in 1949-50, retitled Chicagoland Mystery Players.

   The next instalment here will look at the genre’s Adventurers, their often Foreign Settings, and Cold War Espionage. The turbulent period 1951 to 1956. Series will range from China Smith to The Man Called X.

Note:   The introduction to this series of columns by Tise Vahimagi on TV mysteries and crime shows may be found here, followed by:

Part 1: Basic Characteristics (A Swift Overview)
Part 2.0: Evolution of the TV Genre (UK)


THE BLOOD SHIP. Columbia, 1927. Hobart Bosworth, Jacqueline Logan, Richard Arlen, Walter James, Fred Kohler. Scenario by Fred Myton, based on a novel of Norman Springer. Producer: Harry Cohn; director: George B. Seitz. Shown at Cinecon 44, Hollywood CA, Aug-Sept 2008.

   This plays like a stripped-down version of The Sea Wolf, with a sadistic sea captain, but with none of the philosophical underpinnings of the Jack London novel.

   Bosworth is a discredited Captain who signs on to the ship, which we learn is helmed by Walter James, the man who robbed him of his own ship, and, more importantly, of his wife and daughter. The crew largely consists of hijacked seamen, along with Bosworth and Richard Arlen, a young sailor who catches sight of the daughter James claims as his own and impulsively signs on for the voyage.

   James’ first mate is played by Fred Kohler, who specialized in playing bad guys, and the two run a ship in which brutality and fear reign. With a little quiet time, you can figure out that the girl is the pivotal player, who unites the past crimes and present perilous situation in a way that precipitates the final conflict and resolution.

   Predictable but entertaining.

H. C. BAILEY – The Red Castle Mystery. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1932. First published in the UK as The Red Castle: Ward Lock, hardcover, 1932.

    Introducing (*) lawyer Joshua Clunk, who daringly skirts the edge of the law but, unlike Perry Mason, knowingly takes the cause of the underworld. His problem here is to find the connection between the death of a client, a London fence found face down in the contents of a smashed bottle of leeches, and the disappearance of the ten year old heir to an ancient family castle in Strathland.

    Clunk is an annoying giggler with fluttering hands, addicted to sweets and hymn singing, filled with the kind of religious fervor you would not think compatible with one of his profession.

    Lots of false trails along the way, and ominous hints that people aren’t telling all they know. The great number of shady characters involved tends to overwhelm the plot and in fact produces most of the mystery, one that a good scorecard would help keep straight.

    Good reading on an idle summer’s day. May the quiet misty countryside of the rugged English moors always exist!

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 1, No. 5, September 1977.

(*) It appears I was in error about this. The first Joshua Clunk novel was The Garston Murder Case (its US title), published in 1930. See H. C. Bailey’s Wikipedia entry for more on the author and a long list of the mystery fiction he wrote.



Part 2.0: Evolution of the TV Genre (UK)

   This section could be called the Golden Age Traditionalists. Early crime and mystery drama on television is, quite simply, divided into two strands. The British one (namely BBC), which had its roots in Radio and in the Theatre, and the American one (namely NBC), which had its roots in Radio and (in a limited capacity) in the Cinema.

   British television (BBC), in the beginning, experienced something of a race in technology. Inventor John Logie Baird’s mechanical system versus EMI-Marconi’s electronic system. In February 1937, the EMI-Marconi system was formally adopted by BBC Television.

   The BBC’s Royal Charter made it their duty to “inform, educate and entertain.” The first two were served with TV news broadcasts and with various instructional documentaries. The third element started off as little more than “photographed stage plays.”

   It was the lofty, upper-middle-class BBC view of the time that either scenes from West End theatre productions or studio-produced adaptations of artistically intellectual novels made up almost the only “entertainment” programmes.

   However, television Crime & Mystery genre history was made in 1937 — when George More O’Ferrall produced the medium’s first (hitherto unperformed) Agatha Christie play, The Wasp’s Nest, on 28 June 1937. The 25-minute TV presentation, broadcast live, starred the portly Francis L. Sullivan, a popular actor of the time who had earlier achieved a great success as Hercule Poirot in Christie’s 1931 West End stage hit Black Coffee.

   The other great television genre “first” was the NBC experimental broadcast of Conan Doyle’s 1924 “The Adventure of the Three Garridebs,” transmitted from the stage of the Radio City Music Hall on 27 November 1937 as The Three Garridebs. Luis Hector played Sherlock Holmes and William Podmore was Dr. Watson.

   Arriving in the latter part of the literary genre’s Golden Age, BBC presentations included television adaptations of plays by Emlyn Williams (Night Must Fall, 1937), Edgar Wallace (The Case of the Frightened Lady, On the Spot, Smoky Cell and The Ringer, all 1938), Christie (Love from a Stranger, 1938), Patrick Hamilton (Gaslight, 1939) and Edgar Allan Poe (The Tell-Tale Heart, 1939).

   Of related interest was a black comedy about 19th century body snatchers Burke and Hare, and their mentor Dr. Knox, in The Anatomist (1939; presented again in 1949). The first actual UK made-for-television genre series was Telecrime (1938-39), a programme consisting of 10 and 20-minute whodunits set to test the viewer on their powers of observation and deductive reasoning.

   The BBC hurriedly closed down their Television Service in September 1939 due to the outbreak of war in Europe.

   Telecrimes (now plural) returned in post-World War Two 1946, written again by Miles Horton and now with James Raglan as Inspector Cameron. A similar viewer-participation series, Consider Your Verdict, was shown in 1947.

   Starting in July 1946, the works of Edgar Wallace continued to be popular with The Ringer, The Green Pack (1947), On the Spot and The Case of the Frightened Lady (both 1948), and The Squeaker (1949) adapted for television.

   Joining the Wallace adaptations, among others in the TV Crime & Mystery genre, were G.K. Chesterton’s play Magic (1946), the Anthony Armstrong thrillers Ten-Minute Alibi (1946), and later, in 1948, The Case of Mr. Pelham. In Gilbert Thomas’ Scotland Yard detective play Murder Rap (1946), Desmond Llewelyn played the intrepid Inspector Fearon.

   Patrick Hamilton also saw plenty of small-screen time, with Rope (January 1947), featuring young Dirk Bogarde as murderer Charles Granillo, Gaslight (1947 and 1948), The Duke in Darkness (1948) and The Governess (1949).

   Fans greeted Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (1947) and Martin Vale’s The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947) with glee. Agatha Christie was represented with Love From a Stranger (1947), adapted by Frank Vosper, and Three Blind Mice (1947), the latter written especially by her for BBC Television to mark Queen Mary’s birthday.

   There was also a version of Maria Marten, or The Murder in the Red Barn (1947), with William Fox in the villainous Tod Slaughter role. Dorothy L. Sayers (and Miss St. Clare Byrne) had Busman’s Honeymoon (October 1947) adapted for television, with Harold Warrender as Lord Peter Wimsey and Ruth Lodge as Harriet. Toward the end of 1947, a dramatization of George du Maurier’s Trilby (October) was shown, with Abraham Sofaer as the spooky Svengali.

   J. B. Priestley’s intriguing drama An Inspector Calls was dramatized in May 1948, with George Hayes as Inspector Goole (the Alastair Sim role in the famous 1954 film version). From May 1948, saturnine storyteller Algernon Blackwood told a chilling Saturday Night Story straight to camera. Anthony Holles was Inspector Hanaud in A.E.W. Mason’s At the Villa Rose (1948). On Christmas Eve 1948, the BBC presented He That Should Come, a Nativity play written by Dorothy L. Sayers.

   Under the TV programme banner of Triple Bill (June 1949), Sidney Budd adapted Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution (presented alongside Denis Johnston’s Irish Rebellion play The Call to Arms and Peter Brook’s one-man [Marius Goring] show Box for One). Christie’s body-count play, then called Ten Little Niggers, was produced in August 1949.

   At the end of the year, as a part of BBC’s Edgar Allan Poe Centenary (in October 1949), the TV play versions of The Cask of Amontillado, Some Words With a Mummy and The Fall of the House of Usher (all adapted by Joan Maude and Michael Warre) were presented.

   Towards the end of the decade, television began adopting regular programming schedules. Emulating the long-standing BBC Radio form, strands like Children’s Television, Sport, Theatre, and Variety began producing their own series and soon established their weekly slots.

   Outside of radio (where other genre authors composed works especially for BBC Radio, such as Sax Rohmer with the eight-part serial Shadow of Sumuru, December 1945-January 1946), the TV genre consisted mainly of documentaries — for example, It’s Your Money They’re After (1948), with Scotland Yard explaining some of the then-new and ingenious frauds, and The Man On the Beat (1949), showing how a policeman becomes our protector.

   There was also the occasional, early drama series: The Inch Man (1951-52), concerning the adventures of a hotel house detective, and the now-legendary Sherlock Holmes (October-December 1951) series of stories starring Alan Wheatley as Holmes and Raymond Francis as Watson; the stories were adapted for television by Observer film critic C.A. Lejeune. (But more on the TV Sherlock Holmes later.)

   1952 saw the beginning of the Francis Durbridge suspense thrillers, bringing UK television’s early Crime & Mystery period to a close.

   In the second section of this two-part Evolution of the TV Genre, I will be looking at the same 1930s/1940s period in US television.

Note:   The introduction to this series of columns by Tise Vahimagi on TV mysteries and crime shows may be found here, followed by:

Part 1: Basic Characteristics (A Swift Overview)

ROBIN FORSYTHE – Missing or Murdered. John Lane/The Bodley Head, UK, hardcover, 1930.

   Not having access to the current CD-Rom edition of Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV is a problem at the moment, as I cannot tell you how many detective or thriller novels Robin Forsythe may have written, or whether either of the two primary protagonists in Missing or Murdered ever made another appearance.

   The missing or murdered man is Henry Darnell, Lord Bygrave, the head of some unnamed department in the civil government. He’d gone to a country inn outside of London for a short stay — the White Bear Inn in the village of Hartwood — gone for a walk the next morning, and disappeared.

   Investigating on behalf of Scotland Yard is Inspector Heather. Also on the case in an artist named Algernon Vereker, a “somewhat eccentric young gentleman” who happens to be a trustee and executor of the missing man’s will.

   The book, in its solid old-fashioned way, is full of detective work and nothing but detective work. Most amusing is how Heather and Vereker each tackle the case in their own particular way, and then regale each other with wild reenactments of the crime, some more fanciful than others, some spot on, other far less so.

   All so very fine and good, but tales of detection need to be solidly clued, and if I’m not mistaken (and I did go back to look) one vital clue is not provided to the reader when one of the two detectives took notice of it.

   This violates one of Father Knox’s Rules of Detection, and so does the killer’s identity, or very close to it.

   I’d read another book by Robin Forsythe, if one ever came along again, for otherwise I enjoyed this one immensely, so much so I hate pointing out its flaws, but needs must.

PETER LOVESEY – Upon a Dark Night. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1998. Soho Crime, trade paperback, 2005. First published in the UK by Little Brown, 1997.

   If my count is correct, this is book five in Lovesey’s ongoing Peter Diamond series, with number 12 (including one book of short stories) coming out in June of this year (Stagestruck).

   The good inspector is in good form in Upon a Dark Night. He’s tough on his staff and subordinates, with DI Julie Hargreaves, his closest assistant, taking the brunt of his crude and unruly ways. She in fact is close enough to steer him away from the occasional pitfalls in his logic and reasoning, assistance for which he very nearly says thank you.

   There are two unusual deaths in Bath in Dark Night, after a long stretch of time during which there have not been any, and both come close to being considered suicides, without Diamond’s input. Those plus an amnesia victim’s mysterious disappearance, a young woman whose awakening from an accident and subsequent problems in rediscovering herself — with the able assistance of fellow social services client, the kleptoholic but very observant Ada Shaftsbury — take up the first third of the book.

   Are these events all connected? I won’t say yes, but I won’t say no either. I will say that one must believe in coincidences in reading books like this one, which is not a problem, no, not really. Coincidences happen all the time.

   I’m less forgiving, though, when it comes to stupid behavior on the part of the villains in the case. Lovesey is a fine and very witty writer when it comes to people and their relationships to each other, and the leisurely pace at the beginning of this novel was more than fine with me.

   The rushed and overly active way in which Dark Night concludes, however, I found less satisfying, at least in comparison.


FRANK GRUBER – The French Key Mystery. Farrar & Rinehart, hardcover, 1940. Paperback reprints include: Avon Murder of the Month #4, 1942; Avon #91, 1946, both as The French Key Mystery. Jonathan Press J89, [1957], as Once Over Deadly. Belmont L92-592, 1964. Film: Republic, 1946 (story & screenplay by Frank Gruber).

   Frank Gruber was a mainstay of the pulps, grinding out over 600,000 words a year for many years. In 1940 he turned out this, his first detective novel, in a week, and it was a big success (a film was made with Albert Dekker and Mike Masurki).

   It is the first of fourteen books with quick-thinking, fast-talking Johnny Fletcher, the world’s greatest book salesman, and his brawny sidekick, Sam Cragg. Fletcher and Cragg are locked out of their hotel room for non-payment of the bill; when they climb in through the window of the next room they find a dead body in their bed clutching an extremely valuable gold coin in his hand.

   From then on it’s one fast moving complication after another, as Fletcher must clear himself of murder, find the real killer, and solve the mystery of the coin. Despite a few improbabilities of plot, French Key is pulp writing at its best, with a briskly moving plot, breezy dialogue, and lots of action.

   It also offers an interesting picture of New York in 1939, when a nickel could buy a hamburger at a greasy spoon, as well as a ride on a subway, and a suite at the Waldorf went for as little as twenty-five dollars a day.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 1, No. 5, September 1977.

ROBERT LEE HALL – Exit Sherlock Holmes. Scribner’s, hardcover, 1977. Playboy Press, paperback, 1979.

   Now it can be told. The famous retirement as a beekeeper on the Sussex Downs was but a pretense, part of Sherlock Holmes’ strategy employed against his nemesis of evil, the notorious Professor Moriarty, who not surprisingly also did not perish at Reichenbach Falls.

   In all the cases previously recorded for us, Watson never reveals much information about the early years of his famous friend. In fact, for most of their life together he never greatly inquired.

   However, in the great detective’s finally days Watson finally learned the whole story. Through a legacy left him by his grandmother, a tin box of Watson’s writings stored away until year, Robert Lee Hall now claims to be able to reveal the truth.

   Watson has the spotlight for most of the book, for Holmes has mysteriously disappeared during the growing international crisis foreshadowing World War I. With the able assistance of the now adult Wiggins, he does quite well as a detective, discovering for the first time Holmes’ secret laboratory and the other deceptions perpetrated by Holmes over the years.

   Loose ends from many tales are deftly tied together, and all the mystery surrounding the life of Sherlock Holmes is magnificently cleared away by the revelations preceding the final confrontation scene in this book, revelations which, I promise you, are designed to test your imagination to the utmost.

   A must for Holmesians, but if it makes any difference, I didn’t believe a word of it. Nor could I put it down.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 1, No. 5, September 1977.

[UPDATE] 04-19-11.   I don’t know if it should be surprising, but at this point in time, nearly 33 years after writing this review, I have no idea what the revelations were that I referred to in that next-to-last paragraph.

   This was one of the first mystery novels able to use Sherlock Holmes as a character without the Doyle estate’s permission (as I understand it). Although I may have missed a few, here are a few earlier ones:

Ellery Queen [Paul W. Fairman], A Study in Terror, Lancer, 1966.
Michael & Mollie Hardwick, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, Mayflower (UK), 1970.
Nicholas Meyer, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, Dutton, 1974.
Philip José Farmer, The Adventure of the Peerless Peer, Aspen, 1974.
Frank Thomas, Sherlock Holmes Bridge Detective Returns, Thomas, 1975.
Don R. Bensen, Sherlock Holmes in New York, Ballantine, 1976.
Richard L. Boyer, The Giant Rat of Sumatra, Warner, 1976.
Nicholas Meyer, The West End Horror, Dutton, 1976.
Austin Mitchelson & Nicholas Utechin, The Earthquake Machine, Belmont, 1976
    ”     ”     Hellbirds, Belmont, 1976.

   After this, though, the deluge.


ACQUITTED. Columbia, 1929. Lloyd Hughes, Margaret Livingston, Sam Hardy, Charles West, George Regas, Charles Wilson, Otto Hoffman. Director: Frank Stayer. Shown at Cinecon 44, Hollywood CA, Aug-Sept 2008.

   Lloyd Hughes, a doctor who’s been convicted of murdering a patient, treats Margaret Livingston, another inmate (who knows the difference between good and bad but doesn’t always pay attention to it), and falls in love with her.

   When she’s released, she persuades her former lover (Sam Hardy), the man who set her up to teach her a lesson and framed the doctor, to have the doctor released.

   This doesn’t classify as a quality dramatic production (Harry Cohn, King of the B’s, produced it), but its nicely paced 63 minute running time is just right for the working-out of this sentimental drama. Hardy is a good-bad guy, and it’s his strong performance that remained in my mind when I wrote this review, a month later.


AUGUSTE LE BRETON – Rififi in New York. Stein & Day, hardcover, 1968. Avon V2346, paperback, 1970. Originally published in French: Du rififi à New York, Presses de la Cité: Un mystère (P) n° 642, 1962.

   Following my previous thoughts about Ellery Queen, it occurred to me that we read a mystery like Ten Days’ Wonder for the pleasure of seeing the clues coalesce, of watching threads come together into a meaningful whole. By the same token, I think we read a “caper” novel like Auguste le Breton’s Rififi in New York for the thrill of seeing things unravel.

   Right at the start you should know Rififi is not a character; “rififi” is Fremch underworld slang for nasty business. So when Le Breton writes of Rififi in New York, it’s like Elliott Paul writing of Hugger Mugger in the Louvre: a state of affairs, not a fictional being.

   Le Breton wrote the original novel on which the classic 1955 French jewel-heist was based, and he seems to have gone from then just re-doing the same story with different characters.

   As such, in New York is quite nice, really: tense, well-built, fast-moving and pleasantly predictable. We get an odd assortment of non-professionals taking on a seemingly impregnable jewel vault, trouble and personal conflict, set-backs and betrayals … everything you read a caper novel for, dealt out with a sure hand and a sharp eye.

   There’s not much by Auguste le Breton available in English, but I’d recommend picking up anything you can find.

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