August 2011



COCKEYED CAVALIERS. RKO, 1934. Bert Wheeler, Robert Woolsey, Thelma Todd, Dorothy Lee, Noah Beery Sr., Robert Greig, Henry Sedley, Billy Gilbert, Franklin Pangborn, Alfred James, Jack Norton, Snub Pollard. Director: Mark Sandrich. Shown at Cinevent 40, Columbus OH, May 2008.

   Wheeler and Woolsey were a very popular comedy team in the 1930s, turning out some 19 comedies for RKO from 1929-1937, with the team’s career cut short by a serious illness that forced Woolsey’s retirement.

   Jim Goodrich was a great fan of the pair, but I’ve never been able to sit through all of one of their features. However, encouraged by the favorable write-up in the program-notes, I agreed to make another stab at appreciating their work.

   I am happy to report that Cockeyed Cavaliers, in which the boys, decked out in period garb but losing none of their contemporary edge, play con men who are taken to be the king’s physicians, dispatched to cure the ills of the Baron (Noah Beery), is a delightful musical, with director Mark Sandrich also responsible for several of the Astaire-Rogers musicals.


   His sure touch keeps the film consistently afloat, aided and abetted by a talented cast headed by gorgeous Thelma Todd and lovely and delightful Dorothy Lee, with veteran film villain Noah Beery blustering through his role as Todd’s lecherous husband and displaying an impressive bass in a couple of the songs.

   The score may not be memorable, but it’s melodious, and if I hadn’t seen parts of a number of Wheeler and Woolsey comedies that I didn’t care for, I would have been convinced that the team was very much to my liking, with their other films worth tracking down.



THE SCREAMING MIMI. Columbia, 1958. Anita Ekberg, Philip Carey, Gypsy Rose Lee, Harry Townes, Linda Cherney, Romney Brent, Red Norvo (and Trio). Based on the novel by Fredric Brown. Director: Gerd Oswald.

FREDRIC BROWN Screaming Mimi

   The Screaming Mimi offers some kicking-and-kinky direction from Gerd Oswald, a cult director in the Jim Jones tradition, which is to say he showed a lot of potential in low-budget westerns and thrillers, and managed one classic, A Kiss Before Dying (1956) before drinking the kool-ade of network television.

   Mimi belongs to his Promising period, with a pleasingly straightforward (for the 50s) approach to homosexuality, bondage, obsession and amour fou, but it’s undone by a screenplay that seems way too limp for a movie about serial killings.

   There’s never a sense of momentum here, no feeling of progressing towards some resolution. Instead, events just seem to come along and happen in no particular order, then head off in any direction whatever, just sort of strutting and fretting across the screen till their allotted hour-or-so is over at last. A pity, because there are glimmers here and there of what could have been a perverse classic.

FREDRIC BROWN Screaming Mimi

THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE. Central Cinema Company, Italy, 1970. Original title: L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo. Tony Musante. Suzy Kendall, Enrico Maria Salerno, Eva Renzi, Umberto Raho, Raf Valenti. Based on the novel The Screaming Mimi by Fredric Brown (uncredited). Director: Dario Argento.

   The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Italy, 1970) on the other hand, is a certified wowser. The directorial debut of Dario Argento, who became something of a Name in Horror films, this is a garish, fast-moving, humorous movie about serial slashing, stalking, knifing and general mayhem set against colorful locations, played and/or dubbed by a cast a cut (sorry!) above the usual run of Italian imports.

FREDRIC BROWN Screaming Mimi

   Fredric Brown got no screen credit for this film, and for years critics who knew nothing about Pulp averred that it was based on an Edgar Wallace story, but I defy anyone out there to show me an Edgar Wallace book with this plot. In fact, I’ll wrestle anyone in the crowd who thinks he can do it. No takers? I thought not.

   Anyway, getting back to the story, this follows Brown’s novel pretty closely, right down to the minor characters and bits of by-play. Argento tossed away the thematic framework of Brown’s novel, and he turned the hard-drinking loner of the book into a young married couple, but that’s a fate that befell many of us in the 70s.

   The fact is, this is a fairly faithful translation of The Screaming Mimi into film, and if not all it could have been. (The real meaning of the book isn’t revealed until the last page, and it’s truly harrowing.) It’s at least a fun ride.

FREDRIC BROWN Screaming Mimi

William F. Deeck

BERNARD THIELEN – A Charm of Finches. Mystery House, hardcover, 1959.

   One of my many biases deals with books that the publisher requires the full front and back flaps to describe. Generally these novels should be shunned. Those who would snickeringly point out the generous length of my reviews and mutter about pots and kettles also should be avoided.

   My reason for reading this novel was the presence of an ornithologist as the principal character. There is a paucity of these, I believe, though Ann Cleeves is currently filling the gap.

   At the Latham Wilderness in Vermont, Joe Coogan, ex-Navy fighter pilot and Ph.D., is recovering from a disappointment in love, attending the Science Brotherhood Experiment there, and planning to do a breeding count of birds. When his former fiancee is kidnapped, along with her new boyfriend, a chap who has been investigating Soviet espionage, the Navy re-enlists Coogan and forces him to find out what the Soviets may be up to in the Wilderness.

   Spy novels seldom appeal to me — I except Ritchie Perry and Anthony Price, of course — but Coogan is a refreshing and not too competent spy catcher. It helps that the spies also verge on the incompetent.

   Interesting information about ornithology and rock climbing adds to the novel’s appeal.

— From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 12, No. 3, Summer 1990.

Editorial Comments:   Bernard Thielen wrote one earlier mystery included in Allen Hubin’s Revised Crime Fiction IV, that being Open Season (Mystery House, 1958), later reprinted by the Detective Book Club and in paperback as half an Ace Double D-419 (pictured below). Although it is also a spy thriller taking place in New England, Coogan is not the leading character.

BERNARD THIELEN A Charm of Finches

   For a list of other collective nouns for birds, this page on Wikipedia should do. A “charm” of finches was new to me.



        #6. BATTLE McKIM, by Edward Parrish Ware.

   The Battle McKim stories by Edward Parrish Ware were a short series of at least thirteen tales published in Detective Fiction Weekly between 1934 through 1937. The stories are about a detective who works for Sheriff Calloway in Zinc City, near the Ozark Mountains in what appears to be Missouri.


   Zinc City has a population of something over fifty thousand residents. “Brutus McKim, nicknamed ‘Battle,’ . . . stood five feet and five inches in his low-heeled shoes, and weighed one hundred and thirty pounds. His age was somewhat under forty, and his nature was as mild as milk. But this small, mild-mannered man had, on more than one occasion, proved his right to the nickname which had been bestowed on him originally in fun.” (The Clue of the Broken Chimney)

   In fact, in the first story McKim has to shoot two criminals who tried to kill him. However, Battle McKim “hated to use his gun. It was against his nature to kill. When he just had to do it, he did.” In one story, it was revealed that McKim was especially fond of circuses and circus people, and thought that circus bands “made the finest music of any other bands whatever.” (Clue of the Elephant’s Ear) McKim is never without his Stetson hat nor his gun.

   The stories mostly have titles that involve a clue which is important to the solution of the story. Ware had other series which were published in DFW: the Ranger Jack Calhoun series (1926-1938), Tug Norton (1926-1934), and Buck Harris (1930-1934). So Ware wrote many stories for the magazine, but nothing after 1938.

   The first known story in the Battle McKim series is “The Clue of the Broken Chimney” which sets forth some background facts and in its plot shows what the series was going to be like. McKim sees in the death of a mining owner by a fall from a height to be murder, when everyone else disagrees and claims either accident or suicide.


   McKim’s investigation into the matter causes some trouble for him with criminals, but he is not deterred. The sheriff seems to have great confidence in McKim’s abilities and will go along with whatever he says.

   “Clue of the Bandit’s Beard” involves the false beard one of the criminals wears. The story involves the holdup and murder at a mining encampment. In this story Battle McKim shows his sleuthing and tracking abilities by tracking down the criminals.

   As seems to be usual in this series, he has gunfights with the criminals. However, he takes such a long time tracking down the criminals that Sheriff Calloway becomes angry at his absence. It seems that the sheriff depends a bit too much upon his resident detective.


   “The Clue of the Animal Crackers” actually involves the contents of a box of animal crackers. These crackers seem to have been around a long time; I assume they are still available nowadays. The scene is the county fair, where a carnival is taking place. One of the carnival people has been murdered, and McKim must figure out who committed the crime. The animal crackers play a significant role in the solution of the mystery. For a change, there is no gunfight between McKim and the criminal.

   “Clue of the Battered Bullets” involves a mysterious case of murder and a kidnapping of a banker. Upon investigation, Battle McKim also finds plenty of clues leading in various directions. He suspects that there is more to the case than first appears, and by the end, he has to gunfight with a criminal who was behind it all. A number of the stories in this series involve gunfights with the criminals. Occasionally McKim does capture the criminals alive.

   “Clue of the Elephant’s Ear” takes place at the Moseby’s Marvelous Circus, which is visiting Zinc City. The headliner of the circus and its greatest attraction is the intelligent elephant Bong the Great, or Bong, the Elephant with the Human Brain as he is billed on advertisements. Battle McKim investigates after the elephant kills its trainer during a performance.


   The killing by the elephant was due to a sudden rage that came over the elephant, and McKim wants to know if there are reasons for this behavior. Sheriff Calloway objects to this, saying that he has already decided to kill the elephant as a dangerous beast. McKim doesn’t pay any attention to this and investigates anyway.

   “Clue of the Persian Cat” involves two Persian cats and a murder mystery at a roadhouse. One of the two owners has been mysteriously killed, and the first thing Battle McKim must decide is whether it was suicide or murder. There aren’t very many suspects, so the mystery angle is a bit slim. The cats’ involvement turns out to be important in the mystery, and leads McKim to the solution.

   “Clue of the Poisoned Dog” presents Battle McKim with a murder mystery that has taken place at a rich man house where several people are guests. It also takes place in the midst of a snowstorm, which shows that no on entered or left the house at the time of the murder. In addition, unset diamonds valued at a hundred thousand dollars have been stolen from the dead man. McKim cleverly solves the crimes and recovers the diamonds.

   “Clue of the Hard-Boiled Eggs” has a slim clue for Battle McKim to work on. A local farmer had sold some land for $10,000 and decided to hide the money on his property rather than putting it in the bank. McKim becomes involved after the man supposedly died accidentally, leaving his money still hidden.


   After investigating, McKim deduces that the farmer was actually murdered and his money stolen. McKim has to resort to trickery to force the criminal to give himself away as the guilty man.

   “Clue of the Pekin Ducks” is another good story. The clue of the ducks involves their reputation as a night alarm, alerting their owner as to trespassers. The crime here is of the murder and robbery of their owner, a stingy, miserly, person who is disliked by virtually everyone. Plenty of suspects in a case of this nature. But the duck clue led Battle McKim to the only person who could have committed the crime.

   “Clue of the Crawling Cows” deals with a different kind of crime. A train baggage car of the Missouri Central Railroad has been robbed, one of the car workers tied up and the other man missing as well as fifty thousand dollars gone.

   Battle McKim must find out where the missing train worker went as well as find the missing money. The story is clever, and McKim finds the definitive clue in the behavior of some cattle next to the train tracks.

   “Clue of the Second Death” involves a murder by somewhat improbable means, but the author seems to make it work in the story, although it is a bit far-fetched that Battle McKim should be able to figure it out. The murder victim is Colonel Shel Allen, who is stricken dead by aconite poisoning while driving his car.


   Because Allen was the county prosecutor, suspicion comes down on a crooked judge and his friends, but McKim tends to believe in a different group of suspects and devotes his investigation to them. The second death clue gives McKim the evidence he needs to figure out who committed the first murder.

   “Clue of the Tallow Candle” was the last story in the series, and much of it takes place underground in some caves near Zinc City. A noted judge has been killed in one of the caves, and Battle McKim must first prove it was deliberate murder rather than an accident.

   As usual, hidden clues contribute to the story, and a second death makes the mystery more difficult to solve. However, McKim draws the suspects around with the addition of others in the sheriff’s department, and proves who committed the murder and why. As often happens, McKim shoots it out with the killer.

   This is an average series, with very good stories. There is not any humor in the stories, just a basic storytelling technique that does a decent job of the adventures of Battle McKim in his quest for the truth.

   The stories are at least a change from the sameness that had crept into Ware’s series about Ranger Jack Calhoun. Interestingly, Ware must have disliked veterinarians, as he makes them the villain in two of the stories.

      The Battle McKim series by Edward Parrish Ware:

The Clue of the Broken Chimney     October 27, 1934
Clue of the Bandit’s Beard     November 10, 1934
The Clue of the Animal Crackers     November 24, 1934
Clue of the Battered Bullets     March 16, 1935
Clue of the Elephant’s Ear     April 20, 1935
Clue of the Persian Cat     May 4, 1935
Clue of the Poisoned Dog     August 3, 1935
Clue of the Hard-Boiled Eggs     August 10, 1935
Clue of the Pekin Ducks     September 21, 1935
Clue of the Putty Paper     November 2, 1935    *
Clue of the Crawling Cows     December 21, 1935
Clue of the Second Death     March 21, 1936
Clue of the Tallow Candle     October 9, 1937

* I don’t have this story, but the title indicates it might be part of the series. [And so it is. See Comment #1.]

    Previously in this series:

1. SHAMUS MAGUIRE, by Stanley Day.
2. HAPPY McGONIGLE, by Paul Allenby.
3. ARTY BEELE, by Ruth & Alexander Wilson.
4. COLIN HAIG, by H. Bedford-Jones.


FRIENDS OF MR. SWEENEY. Warner Brothers, 1934. Charlie Ruggles, Ann Dvorak, Eugene Pallette, Robert Barrat, Berton Churchill, Dorothy Burgess, Dorothy Tree, Harry Tyler. Based on a novel by Elmer Davis. Director: Edward Ludwig.

   Charlie Ruggles is the true star of this one, even though Friends of Mr. Sweeney was recently shown as part of a day-long salute on TCM to Ann Dvorak (pronounced with a silent D). As an editorial writer, over the years, he’s become hidebound and downtrodden, and totally subservient to his boss at the weekly magazine where he plies his trade, even to the point where he’s resigned to composing a favorable piece on a politician he knows is crooked.


   As his trusty assistant, Ann Dvorak can only look on sadly, and with unrequited fondness (which she obvious wishes could be more). Enter Eugene Pallette, Charlie’s old buddy at college, where they were on the football team together, and a couple of more high-spirited and fun-loving buddies you would be hard-pressed to find.

   Maybe you can take it from here. First a badly interrupted dinner date with his secretary, then out on the town as a foursome, posing as a friend of a fictitious Mr. Sweeney to enter one of the poshiest casinos in town, where all hilarity breaks out, then back to office while the building is being robbed (all part of the story line).


   The fussy Charlie Ruggles I always find amusing, especially in situations where he finds himself enjoying becoming a wildcat again. I often need only a small dose of Eugene Pallette to get me through the week, however, and unfortunately this is more than a small dose. (No offense intended.)

   Ann Dvorak, only 22 when this movie was made, was destined to have a career consisting only small parts or larger roles in minor movies like this one, but like this one, her beauty and engaging personality wins me over every time. (One scene is which she is wearing nothing but lingerie is rather revealing for a movie made with the Code in effect.)

Note:   You can see what I mean by that last parenthetical statement — as well as everything else I’ve said — by checking out the original trailer that’s available on the TCM website.

MATTHEW FARRER – Crossfire. Black Library /Games Workshop Ltd., paperback original; 1st US printing, July 2003. A book in the “Warhammer 40,000” series.

   I confess that I haven’t read any of the other Warhammer books, but the series consists of a long list of novels taking place in a universe set far in a future ruled by the Emperor’s Imperial Guard, the “ever-vigilant Inquisition” and the “tech-priests of the Adeptus Mechanicus.” Lots of bloody warfare, I gather, with “no peace amongst the stars, only an eternity of carnage and slaughter, and the laughter of thirsting gods.”

Shira Calpurnia

   Maybe it’s a video game, too, or a role-playing game, or maybe I have it all wrong. In any case, if you haven’t already skipped this review and gone on to the next one, the small incident on an isolated planetary system that this novel is about has both a crime, or a series of crimes, and an active detective whose career seems to be only beginning. Really. Stay with me, and I’ll tell you what I mean.

   What caught my eye first was the cover. A punkish young lady with reddish, short cropped hair, dressed mostly in shiny black – either leather or metal, or a combination thereof – holding a light saber of some sort in one hand and a huge pistol-looking affair in the other.

   Her name is Shira Calpurnia, and she is the newly arrived Arbites officer on the planet Hydraphur. From the first sentence on, we know, hey Jenny, we’re not in Kansas any more, when she meets Genator-Magos Cynez Sanja, of the Order Biologis:

   The machine cultists of the Adeptus Mechanicus are not prone to strong emotions – the beautiful coldness of the Machine is held up as a model for admiration and emulation, even for those orders of the Mechanicus not directly concerned with physical mechanics and the gradual transfiguration of their own bodies into cybernetics.

   An attempt to assassinate Shira is made soon thereafter, and hunting down the miscreants responsible takes the remainder of the book, which consists of 320 pages of very small print, and baroque prose nearly always as dense as the short extract above.

   Or as below, taken from page 51:

Shira Calpurnia

   The Augustaeum, nestled within its walls at the peak of the Bosporian hive, was not flat – its sides kept sloping up to the High Mesé, the avenue that ran along the hive’s very peak. The formation of Arbites making their way through the steep, tangled streets of the Artisans Quarter were already high enough up to be able to look over the Augustaeum wall and down at the upper floors of the towers on the lower slopes of the hive. Above them on the left the Cathedral of the Emperor Ascendant speared the coppery Hydraphur sky. Its spire was twenty minutes’ walk away and already Calpurnia had to crane her head up to look at it; they were getting close enough for her to be able to see the great statues of the Imperial saints that formed the columns for its upper tiers. Each statue was fifty metres high and carved from pure white marble that shone like gold in the thick butter-yellow Hydaphur sunlight.

   Words fail me. I could not write like that in a million years.

   I’ll skip all of the action, all of interesting if not fascinating, all of it filled with a sense of wonder that I haven’t felt as strongly as this since I was about 12 years old. Not that I understood it all. Maybe you have to be, um, 12 years old. But the ending I understood, and you will, too:

Shira Calpurnia

   One day, she promised herself, she would sit down with Keta, or Athian Tymon-Per; or whichever of them she thought she could persuade to listen, and try to make them see. She would read them the maxims she had learned on Ultramar, get out her old children’s primers, if she had to. She would talk to them about her duty, about Law and honour. That the Law could be cold and the Law could be cruel, but the Law was their guard and guide and peacekeeper and protector. She would try to talk to them about doing what was right.

   She may not look the part, but Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe and all of other virtuous gumshoes who have toiled and labored in the mean streets the world over have a worthy descendant in Shira Calpurnia, destined (I believe) to continue on with other adventures.

— November 2003.

Shira Calpurnia

UPDATE [June 2006].   I was correct. Shira Calpurnia has indeed appeared in a follow-up entry, and a third one that will be showing up soon looks extremely interesting:

   Legacy. Black Library, pb, US, August 2004. Shira takes more of a background role in this one, more of a novel of political intrigue than a mystery novel (from what I can deduce from a rather meagre description).

   Blind. Black Library, pb, US, July 2006. A telepath is killed with no weapon found nearby. Said to be a locked room mystery. It sounds like a must-have to me.

[UPDATE #2] 08-16-11.   These three are all there are in the series, so far. Enforcer, released in 2010, is an omnibus collection of all three.


“The Case of the Bogus Books.” An episode of Perry Mason (Season 6, Episode 1). First air date: 27 September 1962. Cast: Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale, William Hopper, William Talman, Ray Collins, Wesley Lau, Phyllis Love (the accused), Adam West, John Abbott, H. M. Wynant, Joby Baker, Allison Hayes, Woodrow Parfrey, Maurice Manson, Tenen Holtz, Kenneth MacDonald (the judge), Michael Fox (not to be confused with Michael J. Fox). Writer: Jonathan Latimer. Director: Arthur Marks.


   Locked-room puzzles rarely turn up on TV, and the Perry Mason series of 271 episodes had very few. In this case, however, a bookshop owner, Joseph Kraft [Maurice Manson], is found dead in a sealed basement room, with a lamp still burning and the radio still on but the gas heater off, and a handful of dead flies on the window sill.

   Perry’s client, Ellen Corby [Phyllis Love] had been fired earlier by the dead man after a rare book went missing. Although she was sure the book was marked at $8, Kraft claimed that it was valued at $7000.

   The death, however, looks like suicide, and the police initially view it as such. But Perry Mason suspects murder. Unfortunately, every circumstantial clue will point to his client — as they always do.

   The locked-room problem, which isn’t the main focus of this episode, is partially cleared up in about ten minutes. I say “partially” because Mason will later perform a courtroom demonstration with flies that will change everyone’s mind, not about the CAUSE of death but the TIME of death, thereby exonerating his client and a multitude of likely suspects and narrowing it down, employing the classic Golden Age Detection trope of the TIME TABLE, to just one person — the murderer.

   This one had a fine cast of TV’s best character actors from the ’50s and ’60s: handsome Adam West (Batman); reliable H. M. Wynant; beautiful but evil Allison Hayes (Attack of the 50-Foot Woman); ubiquitous Maurice Manson; intellectual John Abbott; shifty Woodrow Parfrey (whom my wife calls “Woodrow the Weasel”); and durable Kenneth MacDonald as the judge, in one of his 32 appearances as the magistrate in the Perry Mason series.

Note:   The rare book at the heart of this story is a first edition of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, by Laurence Sterne, published in nine different volumes from 1759 to 1767. If you’d like to know what the rare books’ prices mentioned in this episode would be in today’s dollars, multiply them by 10 or 11 times.

   I couldn’t locate “The Case of the Bogus Books” online. Perhaps someone else will have better luck.


THE HOUR: Episode One. BBC 2 Production. Six part series, 19 July through 23 August 2011. Created and Written by Abi Morgan. Directed by Coky Giedraye. Produced by Ruth Kenley-Letts. Cast: Ben Whishaw as Freddie Lyon, Romola Garai as Bel Rowley, Dominic West as Hector Madden, Vanessa Kirby as Ruth Elias, Anna Chancellor as Lix Storm.


   Available on BBCA starting August 17, 2011, as part of the hour-long block called “Dramaville,” hosted by Idris Elba (Luther). The Hour is also available for download at the usual places. Episode one is available now, for free.

   It is June 1956. The government has a tight stranglehold on the press, but it is the time of the Cold War and events are about to explode.

   A frustrated Freddie Lyons works in the BBC newsreel division where his desire to do “real” news is constantly suppressed. He has a habit of making everyone uncomfortable with his obnoxious behavior, as well as his ability to find news that makes those in power very nervous.

   There are plans to develop a new BBC TV news magazine called “The Hour.” Freddie feels betrayed when the position he wanted of Producer goes to his best friend Bel. He is shocked, after all she is just a woman.


   Despite the constant sniping and meanness between Freddie and Bel, she fights to get the jerk a job with the new news magazine. Of course, as with any such relationship, everyone but Freddie and Bel realize the two are meant for each other.

   As the development of “The Hour” continues and we meet each of the characters, a childhood friend of Freddie’s contacts him. Ruth tells Freddie there is more to the death of a college Professor, who was her secret lover. She warns him about “Them,” that England is no longer a “democracy,” and how she would be killed if “they” knew she had talked to a powerless employee of the BBC.

   The production values, the costumes, music, lighting, sets and locations, are of the high quality one has come to expect from British television. The direction was serviceable, but nothing could have saved this episode from the script, a script that was predictable and drowning in cliches.


   The cast tried their best to overcome their one dimensional characters:

   Freddie, the he is so brilliant we can not survive without him hero. Bel, the woman determined to succeed in a man’s world and fears any personal commitment so she sleeps with married men. Hector, the handsome married anchorman who is attracted to Bel. Liz Storm, the veteran reporter who drinks too much and is there to share old stories and wise advice. The interchangeable white men in power.

   The script dooms any possible attempt to make the story interesting. The pace is slow to build suspense, but there is little suspense because we have no reason to care about any of these characters. The script is full of twists and clues that creak with age and overuse, such as the camera intercutting between Ruth dancing with her fiance and the killing of her lover, the references to crossword puzzles, and the ending of this episode that will surprise no one.

   Add annoying bits such as Freddie calling Bel, “Miss Moneypenny” and the heavy handed handling of the era’s sexism and racism, and any hope for future episodes is nearly crushed.

      THE HOUR - BBC 2

by Walker Martin

   Recently, I was walking through my house trying to find a set of magazines on the bookshelves. I wasn’t having too much luck because I must have double stacked another set of magazines in front of them. Then I started wondering, how did I get to the point that I have so many books and magazines that I can’t find them? It’s not as if I have them hidden in boxes or storage units, they are mostly on bookshelves, though I do see some stacks on the floors.


   I started collecting magazines in 1956 and I still have the very first one that I bought off the newsstand: the February 1956 issue of Galaxy. I keep intending to frame it and hang it on the wall. So I’ve been at it now for 55 years and I guess that is how I now have so many magazines that I cannot find some of them. Each year I pick up more or start collecting another title that I’ve been thinking about reading. It all adds up as the years march on.

   When I bought the Galaxy I was hooked for life on science fiction. I was 13 and my allowance was $1.50 each week. Doesn’t sound like much but that’s $6.00 a month which enabled me to buy all the SF digests and paperbacks. I also had a job on Saturdays which paid me another $1.50 per week, cleaning a barbershop (sweeping floors, dusting bottles, cleaning the mirrors).

   Since the SF digests only cost 25 cents I was within my budget. But then in the summer of 1956 I discovered Manhunt and all of a sudden I had a cash flow problem. Manhunt had a lot of hardboiled crime competition from such titles as Pursuit, Hunted, Two Fisted, Offbeat, etc.


   This was the age of the digest revolution and the newsstands were full of the small fiction magazines. If you try and find the digests nowadays, you will realize we are at the end of the digest era and perhaps entering the days of the electronic magazine or e-book.

   As a lover of the physical books and magazines, this makes me very unhappy. The e-book looks pretty sorry next to the beautiful artifacts that I have been collecting for so many years. The feel of the physical book, the dust jacket, the smell of the pulp paper or digest, might soon disappear and be replaced by the humming of a electronic gadget.

   No e-book could have ever made me fall in love like I did when I saw my first Galaxy or Manhunt. We all know about the attractions of the SF covers but the Manhunt covers struck a deep sexual chord within my body. The brassy blondes, the shameless hussies, the girls about to be beaten, or something worse.


   Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough money to buy SF and crime digests, so after reading a few Manhunt’s, I had to reluctantly stop buying them. Fast forward about 20 years and now I have a job with more money to spend on collecting. But I also have the usual things like a wife, kids, mortgage, etc.

   Somehow I managed to squeeze out enough to put together a complete set of Manhunt, all 114 issues. By the way, the magazine is well known as just about the best of the hardboiled crime digests, lasting from 1953 to 1967, so this fact makes collecting the title a prime objective.

   For about 25 years I read many of the stories by Ed McBain, William Campbell Gault, Richard Prather, Ross Macdonald, etc. But then around the year 2000, I started to get annoyed by the amount of hours I was spending each day working at my job. I figured if I took early retirement, I could read and watch film noir movies all day long! I must have been wasting 10 hours a day working.


   So in order to make all this happen, I did some downsizing and made the mistake of selling my set of Manhunt’s. To make matters even worse, I sold it for only $500, which included the 12 very rare large sized issues.

   Now I began to question my sanity and judgment as a serious collector. I missed the magazine terribly and spend many years whining and complaining about my stupid decision to sell.

   A few years ago at Pulpcon I stumbled across an art dealer who had two of the 1956 original cover paintings used on Manhunt. I immediately bought both and hung them in my living room, despite the nervous complaints from my wife about the scenes showing women being strangled.

   The copies of the magazine came along with the paintings and I rapidly reread both, meanwhile muttering under my breath about mentally defective collectors who sell favorite magazines.


   So for over 10 years, I felt this regret eating away at me until finally this year at the Windy City pulp convention, my desire to rebuild the set burst forth. In a mere two hours, I had gone through 140 dealer’s tables like a buzzsaw and found 39 issues of Manhunt, or about 1/3 of the run.

   The price averaged about $11 or $12 each, some higher, some lower. Now, you would think that this would make me feel relieved and happy. No, not at all. I wanted the complete set of 114 issues. 39 issues were not enough, a mere drop in the bucket.

   Another blog that I follow, hosted by a collector like Steve Lewis who also loves books and magazines, was having to downsize his collection because he was selling his house. Normally he would never consider selling what he also thought was the greatest hardboiled crime digest.


   I made a good offer and he quickly accepted. Also included were the Manhunt companion digests such as Verdict, Murder, Menace, and Mantrap. He also threw in several Giant Manhunt’s, which rebound leftover issues, and the British version titled, Bloodhound.

   The condition was nice, especially the 12 large sized issues which are so rare. One problem was how to smuggle three large boxes into the house without my wife detecting the arrival of over 100 more magazines. The house is already sinking under the weight of thousands of books and magazines(I won’t even go into the subject of the thousands of DVDs).

   When the mailman delivered the boxes I quickly put them into the trunk of my car, giggling insanely at my clever actions. Then I slowly introduced them into the house and no one noticed because I’m always walking around with stacks of books or magazines.

   So ends another successful Adventure in Collecting. Welcome home Manhunt!



NIGHT OF THE QUARTER MOON. MGM, 1959. Also released as Flesh and Flame. Julie London, John Drew Barrymore, Anna Kashfi, Dean Jones, Agnes Moorehead, Nat “King” Cole, James Edwards, Cathy Crosby. Paperback adaption by Franklin Coen (Bantam, 1959). Producer: Albert Zugsmith. Director: Hugo Haas.

   If nobody has ever written a full-length analysis of Hugo Haas’s directorial output, then someone should. He’s known, of course, by a small cult of followers and true believers for such films (lurid dramas) as Pickup (1951), The Girl on the Bridge (1951), Strange Fascination (1952), One Girl’s Confession (1952) and Bait (1954), all variations on a theme.


   That theme being that of middle-aged men or older (often played by Haas himself) being lured into relationships (sexual, of course) with blonde tramps (well-built, of course, and usually played by Cleo Moore), with deadly results.

   This, you may be sure, is the stuff that cults are made of, but even with limited budgets, the films (in my humble opinion) were made with some thought behind them, down to earth, and generally better than better critics than I have considered them to be.


   What could Haas have done with a major studio (MGM) and major money behind him? Well, first of all (deep breath here) Night of the Quarter Moon is not a major disaster, and while it has its faults – quite a few, in fact – there’s enough story line here to provide more than one PhD candidate with a considerable amount of material for more than one dissertation.

   When John Drew Barrymore (a former Korean Conflict prisoner-of war) meets Julie London in Mexico, he doesn’t care that she’s one quarter black (Portuguese-Angolan), but his rich mother (the imperious Agnes Moorehead) back in San Francisco does, when she finds out.

   And equally so do his neighbors, who fear their property values are going to plummet, and who don’t fail to let the newly married couple know about it after they move in.


   Mama, in fact, takes the case to court to get the marriage annulled, while keeping her son under sedation and incommunicado, her contention being that he wasn’t told of his bride’s unfortunate background before the wedding.

   Which leads inexorably to the most overblown (and provocative) portion of the film, an ending that by sheer audacity surely made audiences gasp at the time, and is still very effective now: Julie London’s character must strip in court to show her tan lines, or lack of them.


   Well, OK, but in the context of the movie, it makes sense.

   Julie London, who resembles nothing more than a less full-blown Jane Russell, but not much less, does very well as lady in the case, determined not to let her husband get away from her, and for the right reasons; and John Drew Barrymore, confused by his arrest and subsequent sedation, more than holds his own.

   They make a good couple, mixed-race or not, and if nothing else, the movie might be remembered as a solid romance movie, even without strictly exploitative and over-the-top theatrics Hugo Haas uses to describe the situation they find themselves in, to put it mildly.


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