March 2016


MAX COLLINS – Hard Cash. Nolan #5. Pinnacle, paperback original, 1982. Reprinted as by Max Allan Collins, Perfect Crime Books, softcover, 2012.

   Professional criminal Nolan is going straight now as co-owner and manager of a seafood restaurant “on the banks of the Iowa River,” but his criminal past confronts him in the person of George Rigby, president of a local bank that Nolan had held up a couple of years earlier.

   Rigby is being eased out of his executive position and, knowing that his unfortunate habit of using bank funds for his own purpose will be disclosed in the next audit, wants Nolan to bring off a hit that will enable Rigby to restore the missing funds and support him and his ambitious mistress in his new life. His lever with the unwilling Nolan is a series of compromising photographs, so Nolan and Jon, Nolan’s young comic collector and artist side-kick, agree to co-operate and begin to set up the operation for Christmas Eve.

   Collins’ second plot line also concerns an incident in Nolan’s past, with murderous Sam Comfort and his surviving son, Terry, out to avenge their treatment by Nolan and his friends in an earlier drama of betrayal and revenge.

   The two plots — the bank job and the Comforts’ vengeance — coincide at the bloody climax of a sordid, improbable, and entertaining web of deceit and coincidence.

   Collins returns here to the competent form of the first two Nolan novels, and my only complaint concerns the padded exposition (for the convenience of readers unfamiliar with the earlier novels) and the coincidental deliverance of Nolan and Breen in the climax and denouement.

   Everyone’s plans go awry in this novel, and Nolan is as much a victim as the other characters, although he is luckier than any of his antagonists. The fates do conspire to do in the “truly” wicked, but they also do in one of Nolan’s confederates and spare Nolan himself a couple of turns of the wheel that seem intended only to leave the way open for the next book in the series. Sidekick Jon is still an appealing character, made all the more so by his reluctance to continue his life of crime.

   Nolan has been compared to Richard Stark’s Parker, but the Collins’ series lacks the bitter edge and power of the Stark novels, although this is a good suspense melodrama in a minor key.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 6, No. 4, July-August 1982.

by Francis M. Nevins

   I can’t claim to have read all 70-odd Maigret novels, but I’ve been reading them off-and-on since my teens and I still find many of them fascinating, especially the ones from the Thirties. Unfortunately my French isn’t good enough to allow me to read them as Simenon wrote them, but over the years I’ve sometimes wound up with two different translations of the same book, and a number of them are now being translated yet a third time. Reading two translations side by side is a heady experience, especially if you put on your detective cap and try to figure out what is and what isn’t in the original.

   There were characters a bit like Maigret and characters actually going by that name in a few of the more than 200 pulp novels Simenon wrote under a dozen or so pseudonyms in the 1920s, but the first genuine Maigret was PIETR-LE-LETTON, which was written in 1929 and published by A. Fayard et cie two years later as either the third or the fifth in the monthly Maigret series. In the States, as THE STRANGE CASE OF PETER THE LETT (1933), it was the fourth of six early Maigrets published by the Covici Friede firm.

   I am lucky enough to have a copy of that edition. No translator is credited but various sources in print and online claim that Simenon’s French was first rendered into English by Anthony Abbot. As all lovers of detection know, Abbot was the name under which best-selling novelist Fulton Oursler (1893-1952), following the lead of S. S. Van Dine, both signed and narrated the cases of New York City police commissioner Thatcher Colt, published originally by Covici Friede.

   Many decades ago I read all the Abbot novels and wrote an essay about them which in its final form can be found in my CORNUCOPIA OF CRIME (2010). I had heard the rumor that Oursler had translated the early Maigrets but, since he had died when I was a child, I couldn’t ask him. I did however write his son Will Oursler (1913-1985), who was also a part-time mystery writer both under his own name and as Gale Gallagher and Nick Marino.

   In a letter dated January 4, 1970 — My God! More than 46 years ago! — he replied as follows: “[M]y father did not make the actual translation as he simply was not that fluent in French. It is more probable that most of his effort was in the area of editing and polishing after the translation was done. It is certain that he would not have been capable of translating six Maigret novels.”

   The second translation of PIETR-LE-LETTON, retitled MAIGRET AND THE ENIGMATIC LETT, was by Daphne Woodward, published in 1963 as a Penguin paperback and sold in the U.S. for 65 cents. According to Steve Trussel’s priceless Maigret website, the Woodward version “is much closer to Simenon’s French text, the first being wayward at times.”

   Even without the French text at hand, I’ve found indications that Trussel is right. The novel features an American millionaire staying in the posh Hotel Majestic who is strangely connected with Pietr. The 1933 translation gives his name as Mortimer Livingston, which seems perfectly proper for the character. Daphne Woodward renders the name as Mortimer-Levingston, which is silly but consistent with the young Simenon’s ignorance of all things American.

   This character has a secretary, staying in London but never seen or spoken to. His name in the 1933 translation is Stone, which sounds fine. In Woodward’s rendition he’s called Stones, which is dreadful but again consistent with Simenon’s ignorance. It seems clear that the anonymous original translator went out of his or her way to Americanize various details in the novel that Simenon flubbed. Or was that part of the polishing job by Fulton Oursler?

   Written before Maigret and his world had crystallized in Simenon’s creative mind, PIETR-LE-LETTON is significantly different from almost all the later novels in the series. For one thing, it’s much more violent, with a total of four murders (the work of three different murderers) plus a suicide, committed in Maigret’s presence and with his gun.

   There’s also a great deal more physical action, with Maigret racing from Paris to the Normandy fishing port of F camp and out over the rocks along the muddy seacoast after his chief adversary despite being half-frozen and having been shot in the chest! But there’s a genuine battle of nerves between Maigret and his quarry, more intense and existential than their counterparts in many later books in the series, and the evocation of atmosphere which was Simenon’s trademark is as powerful as in the finest films noir. In either translation this debut novel is a gem.


   In 2014 Penguin Classics released yet another translation, this one by David Bellos and bearing the title PETER THE LATVIAN. Did some political correctness guru decide that Lett was a demeaning term like Polack? And what did Bellos make of passages like the beginning of Chapter 13? In Woodward’s version: “Every race has its own smell, loathed by other races…. In Anna Gorskin’s room you could cut it with a knife…. Flaccid sausages of a repulsive shade of pink, thickly speckled with garlic. A plate with some fried fish floating in a sour liquid.”

   There’s nothing like that first sentence in the 1933 rendition, perhaps because Fulton Oursler cut it out, but we do get to see and smell the “horrible pink sausages, flabby to the touch and filled with garlic” and “a platter containing the remains of a fried fish swimming in a sour-smelling sauce….” Need I mention that this scene takes place in the rue du Roi-de-Sicile, in Paris’s Jewish ghetto?


   While fine-tuning this month’s column I discovered that there really was, or at least might have been, a Latvian criminal named Pietr. He was known as Peter the Painter and his real name may have been Pietr Piatkow, or perhaps Gederts Eliass or Janis Zhaklis. He seems to have emigrated from East Europe to London where he joined an ethnic gang that stole in order to fund their radical political activities.

   He is believed to have taken part in the infamous Siege of Sidney Street which inspired the climax of Hitchcock’s THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934), although a brief sketch in England’s Dictionary of National Biography warns us that “None of the … biographical ‘facts’ about him … is altogether reliable.”

   Whether Simenon had ever heard of this man remains unknown, but in any event the fictional Pietr the Lett is not a leftist radical, does not commit crimes of violence and turns out not even to be Latvian. Which raises another mystery: Why did Simenon call the guy Pietr the Lett? Pietr the Estonian — or the Esty? — would have sounded ridiculous even in French, but there’s absolutely no reason in the novel why he couldn’t have been a genuine Latvian. Ah well, c’est la vie.


   Train murders were something of a Simenon specialty. Of course, when such a crime takes place in a Maigret, it’s bound to lose intensity and vividness simply because we can’t be there to witness it. This is certainly true of the first murder in PIETR-LE-LETTON, and it’s also true of a Maigret short story dating from about seven years later.

   We learn from Steve Trussel’s website that “Jeumont, 51 minutes d’arrêt!” was written in October 1936 and, along with more than a dozen other shorts from the same period, was first collected in France as LES NOUVELLES ENQU TES DE MAIGRET (1944). It was never included in any collection of Maigret shorts published in English but did appear in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, November 1966, as “Inspector Maigret Deduces,” with no translator credit and with an unaccountable 1961 copyright date.

   (The FictionMags Index explains the date — the story’s first appearance in English was in the UK edition of Argosy for October 1961—and identifies the translator as one J.E. Malcolm.)

   As in PIETR-LE-LETTON, Maigret tackles a murder on a train, this one bound from Warsaw to Berlin to Liège in Belgium (Simenon’s birthplace) to Erquelinnes (on the Belgian side of the border with France) to Jeumont (just across the line on the French side) and on to Paris, except that one of the six passengers in a particular compartment is found dead in his seat at Jeumont. The dead man is a wealthy German banker named Otto Bauer.

   Called in by his railroad-detective nephew, Maigret gets in touch with his Berlin counterparts and learns that Bauer was forced out of the banking business “after the National Socialist revolution, but gave an undertaking of loyalty to the Government, and has never been disturbed….” and also that he’s “[c]ontributed one million marks to party funds.”

   Clearly, despite his name, Bauer was a Jew, and was desperately trying to escape Nazi Germany with whatever money he could salvage. That element is what makes this tale unique among the Maigret stories of the late Thirties. At least in translation there’s not a word of sympathy for the victim, not a word of disgust for the regime he was fleeing. For Maigret, and for Simenon I fear, it’s just another factor in another case. The murder weapon, by the way, turns out to be a needle, which was also one of the murder weapons in PIETR-LE-LETTON although not the one used in the train killing.


   I wouldn’t venture to guess how many train murders can be found in Simenon’s stand-alone novels, but the most vivid and intense that I can recall takes place in Chapter 2 of LE LOCATAIRE (1934; translated by Stuart Gilbert as THE LODGER in the two-in-one volume ESCAPE IN VAIN, 1943). Elie Nagear, a desperate young Turkish Jew, bludgeons to death a wealthy Dutch entrepreneur with whom he’s sharing a couchette on the night train from Brussels to Paris after it crosses the French border. (In European trains of the Thirties a couchette was a small chamber used as sleeping quarters by two and sometimes four total strangers.) On the run from the police, he takes a train back to Belgium and holes up in a boarding house for foreign students in the city of Charleroi.

   In Chapter 9 there’s a brief conversation between Elie and a fellow roomer. “They were talking in the papers of the difference between French and Belgian law. Well, suppose someone who’s being proceeded against in Belgium by the French police commits a crime in Brussels, or some other Belgian town…. What I mean is, that a man who’s liable to the death penalty in France might happen to commit a crime in Belgium. In that case, it seems to follow that he should first be tried in Belgium, if it’s in that country he’s arrested. And it also follows, doesn’t it, that he should serve his sentence in that country?”

   What Simenon assumes his readers know is that France at this time still had the death penalty while Belgium had abolished it. On May 10, 1933, in Boullay-les-Trous, a village south of Paris, an obese pornographer named Hyacinthe Danse, who was known to Simenon, murdered both his mother and his mistress. Fearing that he’d be caught and guillotined, Danse took the train to Liège in Belgium, where on May 12 he murdered his childhood confessor (and also Simenon’s), a Jesuit priest named Hault, and then turned himself in.

   This case was apparently still pending in Belgium when Simenon wrote LE LOCATAIRE. Sure enough, in December 1934 Danse was convicted of Hault’s murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, meaning that he couldn’t be extradited to France and stand trial for the other murders until he was dead. Less than two years later, Simenon turned the Danse story into a short Maigret, included as “Death Penalty” in the collection MAIGRET’S PIPE (1977) and discussed in my column for September 2015.

   Which is enough journey to France for one month. Or, as they say on the left bank of the Seine: basta.


FORT APACHE, THE BRONX. Time-Life/20th Century Fox, 1981. Paul Newman, Edward Asner, Ken Wahl, Danny Aiello, Rachel Ticotin, Pam Grier, Kathleen Beller. Screenplay: Heywood Gould, suggested by the experiences of Thomas Mulhearn and Pete Tessitore. Director: Daniel Petrie.

   I would venture that Fort Apache, The Bronx is one of those movies that elicits either strong positive or negative reactions, with few observers taking a neutral position on this gritty police procedural. Part of it, I suppose, concerns the subject matter; namely, the NYPD and its efforts (or lack thereof) to police the decaying, drug-infested, burnt-out South Bronx in late 1970s/early 1980s.

   The other aspect that likely provokes strong reactions is the fact that Fort Apache, The Bronx is less a plot-driven story than it is a character study of a middle aged cop trying to find meaning both personal and professional life. Indeed, the movie veers from crime film to romantic drama in the blink of an eye and then back again to crime film, often leaving the viewer less that surefooted as to where the movie is headed and what’s coming up next: more personal drama or a nasty, violent sequence showing the utter depravity of the criminal element in one of (at the time) New York’s roughest neighborhoods.

   Count me in the (all things considered) strongly positive camp, albeit with some caveats.

    Fort Apache, The Bronx was not directed by a well-known auteur and it certainly doesn’t have the same emotional punch as the grindhouse classic, Death Wish (1974), let alone Martin Scorsese’s brilliantly bleak Taxi Driver (1976), gritty New York films both.

   It does, however, have some exceptional standout performances by not only leading man Paul Newman, but also by supporting cast members Ken Wahl, Ed Asner, and Pam Grier.

   Newman, a fine actor more than capable of taking on demanding roles, portrays Murphy, a cynical, world-weary middle-aged cop stationed in the South Bronx. The precinct house, his real home, is nicknamed “Fort Apache” signifying that the station is less akin to a “normal” police station and more like a Western cavalry outpost in hostile Indian territory. Unfortunately, it’s a theme that doesn’t get played up as much as it might have.

   The plot basics: After a strung-out prostitute named Charlotte (Grier) murders two cops in broad daylight, Murphy and his young partner, Corelli (Wahl) are tasked by their new by-the-book boss (Asner) with rooting out the criminal element from the neighborhood and shaking them down for information on the cop killer. Little do the cops know that the killer isn’t a male suspect; rather that it’s the devilishly sociopathic hooker who has been responsible for an entire series of seemingly senseless grisly slayings. Complicating matters for the mismatched duo is endemic police corruption, the local heroin trade, and Murphy’s burgeoning romance with an emergency room nurse.

   Eventually, all the various subplots come together, some neatly and others not so comprehensively. All of this may give some viewers a sense of incompleteness, as if the various strands were never adequately resolved. But that, in my estimation, was the whole point of the film. Police work, especially in a beleaguered neighborhood in a dying part of town, is never really going to provide its participants with a total sense of closure.

   Overall, Fort Apache, The Bronx is a solid piece of filmmaking. Largely filmed on location, what the movie lacks in imagination, it more than makes up with stark images of decay and dilapidation. There’s one scene in particular, located toward the end of the movie that remains etched in my mind. Murphy (Newman) is walking alone on the sidewalk just below the elevated subway tracks. In the context of what has recently happened to his character, it’s a beautifully haunting scene begging the question as to what possible impact a solitary man can have in the midst of such sadness and disorder.


ROSS THOMAS – Voodoo, Ltd. Durant & Wu #3. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1992; paperback, 1993.

   Well, it’s out: Ross Thomas’s twenty-fourth book, and the third featuring the team of the lean, scarred Quincy Durant and Arthur Wu, pretender to the Chinese throne. What more needs to be said?

   The story takes place about five years after events of Out on the Rim. Durant and Wu are partners in WuDu, Ltd., a London firm that does for you which you might not want to do yourself. They are hired by Help! (a sort of headhunter firm for those with delicate, out-of-the-ordinary, and confidential needs) to find a pair of missing hypnotists. The hypnotists were also furnished by Help! to Ione Gamble, a famous actress-director accused of murdering her ex-lover and producer. Blackmail is feared, among other things.

   Recruited by Artie and Quincy to help are Otherguy Overby, an amiable but ruthless con man (“It was some other guy”), Georgia Blue, a thoroughly ruthless ex-Secret Service agent, and Booth Stallings, the international terrorist expert; all of whom appeared in the preceding Wu-Durant adventure. The interplay of characters among these five forms an integral part of the book.

   All of the things we’ve come to expect from Thomas are here to one degree or another. a convoluted fast-paced plot, thoroughly amoral characters (though usually charmingly so), and all imbued with Thomas’s wryly cynical way of looking at the world and its creatures.

   On the other hand … If you haven’t met the players before, you won’t find the usual carefully built and illuminating characterizations that are one pf Thomas’s strengths, and none of the supporting characters are strong enough to compensate. Too, the plot seems rather standard — for Thomas, anyway.

   Overall, it’s the weakest book he’s done in a long while. But it’s still damned good, and well worth your time.

— Reprinted from Fireman, Fireman, Save My Books #4, November 1992.

Editorial Comment:   Barry’s author profile of Ross Thomas, which anticipated this as his next book, can be found on this blog here.


HOUSE OF 1,000 DOLLS American International Pictures, 1968. Originally released in Spain as La casa de las mil muñecas, 1967. Vincent Price, Martha Hyer and George Nader. Written and produced by Harry Alan Towers. Directed by Jeremy Summers.

   You know a movie’s in trouble when the hero of the piece gets third billing. You know it’s really desperate trouble when that billing reads “George Nader,” an interesting man perhaps, but never the most electrifying of actors.

   Actually, House of 1,000 Dolls has a few stylistic flourishes that make it just about worthwhile. It’ll never make anyone’s “10 Best” list, but it’s an okay time-killer if you’re in the mood.

   Vincent Price and Martha Hyer play traveling magicians in the employ of a shadowy figure known only as “The King of Hearts” using their act to lure beautiful women into sexual slavery in a Tangiers Brothel. This not only gives Price a chance to strut about in cape and top hat, looking regally sinister, but also gives writer/producer Towers ample opportunity to show lotsa young ladies running around in their undies, a win-win situation if ever there was one.

   I have to confess that I’ve only come across one real-life “white slavery” operation and it was a pretty tatty affair involving a few rather unattractive and not-very-bright young ladies (not all of them white, for that matter) held in the thrall (and ratty apartment) of a rather unpleasant and not-very-bright old guy. So maybe I don’t have a sound basis for comparison, but it seems to me that House not only sanitizes the concept but positively glamorizes it.

   In this film the women are all beautiful, the brothel lavish and well-staffed, and the operations positively baroque; one slave is actually delivered to the villains in an ornate coffin transported by a hearse, which strikes me as a lot of overhead for an enterprise like this.

   In keeping with the spirit, Price and Hyer do their act in the finest nightclubs, travel in style and employ a seemingly limitless army of black-clad nasty guys who travel in pairs and prove completely unequal to the task of eliminating George Nader.

   Ah yes: George Nader. It seems he’s a forensic examiner for the NYPD and this makes him an expert in all sorts of crime-fighting, following clues, trailing suspects, wise-cracking at the expense of local cops and bashing about a bit when the occasion calls for it. Yes, of course it does.

   Well you don’t go to a movie like this for stark realism, and I’m happy to say that House of 1,000 Dolls doesn’t bother with any. There’s a fairly rudimentary plot about George’s wife getting enlisted in the brothel’s Ladies Auxiliary, some mystery about who The King of Hearts will turn out to be, a few fights, chases, murders and a slave-girl revolt (are there echoes of Spartacus here?) all handled passably, sometimes stylishly… but somehow never memorably. This is a film you will soon forget, but it’s painless and sporadically fun to watch.

From this Manchester (UK) based singer-songwriter’s 2014 album Haul Away:

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         

THE HILLS RUN RED. C.B. Films S.A., Italy, 1966. United Artists, US, 1967. Original title: Un fiume di dollari. Thomas Hunter, Henry Silva, Dan Duryea, Nando Gazzolo, Nicoletta Machiavelli, Gianna Serra. Screenplay by Dean Craig (Piero Regnoli). Directed by Lee W. Beaver (Carlo Lizziani)

   Imagine a Spaghetti Western without the jangling percussive score or the arty cinematography and directorial flourishes and with a more or less standard Western plot from an average lesser A Western of the fifties, and you pretty much have this. The Hills Run Red is a decent minor Spaghetti Western from producer Dino De Laurentiis shot handsomely in color and on more or less classical revenge Western lines, despite some over the top bits you expect of the sub genre.

   I would warn you of spoilers from here on, but honestly if you can’t figure this one out you have never seen a Western.

   Jerry Brewster (Thomas Hunter) and Cam Siegel (Nando Gazzolo) are ex Confederate soldiers, you can tell by their over the top Southern dubbed accents, who have stolen $600,000 from the U.S. Army and are on the run from pursuing soldiers when just north of the border the Army catches up with them. Brewster loses a game of high card draw and agrees to lead the Army away while Siegel will take the money and promises to take care of Brewster’s son and wife if the latter is captured.

   If you don’t see where this is going, you haven’t been paying attention all these years.

   Sure enough, Brewster is caught and sent to prison where he spends five years in hard labor and inhuman conditions well illustrated during the titles. When he is finally let go he heads home to find his home deserted (and no wonder he needed the money it is pretty palatial for the post Civil War West) and is promptly ambushed by two killers sent by his old pal Siegel who has been waiting five years. He is saved by the timely help of Winnie Getz (Dan Duryea), an out of work drifter who happens to be sleeping in the remains of Brewster’s barn, and learns from a dying killer that his wife died four years earlier never knowing Jerry Brewster was in prison as Jim Houston or had stolen the money and his son was taken in by Siegel, now known as Milton, who let poor Mary starve to death rather than share the money.

   This is accompanied by a half decent song about a golden haired woman.

   Either quite a few scenes of connecting material are cut from the film or the screenplay was written during a weekend binge, because no one ever asks questions like what is an aging man doing sleeping in the deserted Brewster barn in the middle of the day in the first place, or why the gun he provides the unarmed Brewster during the battle with the killers only has two bullets.

   For that matter why didn’t Duryea’s character just kill the two killers himself? There is an answer, but you have to fill it in for yourself because the screenplay leaves you to guess all the stuff most writers would take the time to fill in. I have to wonder if the screenwriter was a son-in-law or nephew or some other relation of Di Laurentiis, if not I hope he wasn’t allowed to write anything after this.

   Brewster swears revenge, and Getz, seeing a chance to get money out of it (exactly how is never explained, but turns out not to matter because … but then I don’t want to give away the big non-surprise), convinces him to play dead while Getz claims to have killed him and gets a job on Milton’s ranch in Austin. There is a fairly nasty scene where they get proof Brewster is dead by carving a tattoo off of his forearm and cauterizing it, but as Spaghetti Westerns go, it is pretty tame. I’ve seen much rougher stuff in American Westerns from a decade earlier. Hell, Gary Cooper lancing the boil on Karl Malden’s ass in Hanging Tree is more disturbing, and its played for laughs.

   From there, it is off to Austin where Milton has his ranch, and is pressuring the other ranchers trying to take all the land in standard Western bad guy fashion, aided by his chief henchman Garcia Mendez (Henry Silva) a sadistic hyena of an assassin and ranch foreman in black who covets Mary Anne (Nicoletta Machiavelli) Milton/Siegel’s sister. Apparently it has never occurred to Mary Anne to ask her brother why they had to change their last name, but she frankly never seems very bright anyway. Even by the standard of Spaghetti Westerns, Mary Anne is dumb as a rock.

   I won’t even bother with the fact this film is supposed to be taking place in at most the 1870‘s yet everyone is carrying hand guns not in common use for another decade. Those are pet peeves of mine and not really fair to the genre under discussion here.

   Brewster, now calling himself Jim Houston, the name he used in prison, shows up and promptly kills two of Mendez men aligning himself with the ranchers and a saloon owner. We are told the sheriff is dead, which still doesn’t explain where the Texas Rangers and Army are, since Austin is the capital of Texas — sorry, keep forgetting it is a Spaghetti Western and they don’t have books in Italy to use for research.

   In short order Brewster finds his son Tim (Loris Loddi), living in poverty working for a brutal smith on the Milton ranch, and after proving himself by beating up about eight of Mendez men is befriended by Mendez the cheerful laughing psychopath — you have to wonder Duryea didn’t keep suspecting he was cast in the wrong role, as Silva seems to be playing a Dan Duryea part but as a Mexican bandit.

   Of course Milton’s sister has eyes for Brewster (who keeps lingering on the Mary part of her name so we get the connection in case we are as dumb as she is) almost as soon as she sees him setting up a rivalry with Mendez that the screenplay lays on but then promptly forgets to follow up on as it hurries to the finale. Silva tries hard but can’t quite master the Duryea leer — or even the Jack Palance leer. I kept wondering if some of the laughing was directed at himself stuck with this screenplay.

   There are a number of big twists in the film that are only twists because the director and screenwriter weren’t familiar enough with the genre to properly set them up. At times it feels as if Di Laurentiis himself must have been shouting at them that they had a movie to make and not to bother with the plot. Quite a few things are never explained and never connected.

   Skipping some of the details of the plot, eventually a big gunfight takes place and the two men wipe out Mendez men in one of those over the top Spaghetti Western blood bath gunfights rather dully staged, save Duryea is enjoying not getting killed for once. He, or his stunt man, even gets to jump off a roof onto a bad guy on a horse. You know Duryea must have wanted to be the jumper and not the jumpee in that scene at least once in his career. Brewster then chases Mendez back to the ranch where Henry Silva gets a ridiculous death scene, involving enough lead to sink the Titanic.

   We have to hope he was getting paid a ridiculously high salary for this.

   Meanwhile a whore (Gianna Serra, who gets the single worst musical number I have ever seen in a Western early on in the film) who helped Mendez trap Brewster by waylaying Tim, has shot Mary Anne when Mendez tried to kidnap his bosses sister and ride away, Mendez has killed the whore/dance hall girl (once you hear her song you know where her talents lie and it an additional motive for Mendez to kill her), and Brewster comforts the wounded Mary Anne before, dressed as Mendez (and I wouldn’t have put those clothes on after putting six or eight holes in Henry Silva), he finally confronts and kills the cowardly Milton (we know he is a coward because earlier he nearly faints at the sight of his own blood) in a decently shot interior gunfight in the dark.

   At this point we discover Mary Anne is alive and it looks like she will end up with Brewster and his son Tim (what’s a dead brother among friends), the ranch is turned over to the Army to make up for the lost $600,000, the Army is told Brewster is dead and the now Jim Houston gets a reward and a badge as sheriff of Austin. (But wait, you say, the Army never knew who Brewster was and thought Jim Houston did the crime and the time so why … better still try not to think about it, it’s one of those uncrossed t’s or undotted i’s which abound in this films screenplay.) It’s a happy ending, shut up and enjoy it.

   Then there is a twist involving Winnie Getz that is never even hinted at in the film, Getz is Colonel Getz, an undercover Army officer trying to recover the stolen money all this time, explaining quite a few things which the screenplay finds so obvious it leaves for us to guess on our own. Most importantly this allows for possibly the only time in his long career of Westerns for Dan Duryea to not only be proven to be a total good guy, but get to literally ride off into the sunset as a bona fide hero. I admit I wanted to tear up a little at the prospect. It’s one of the few films where he even gets out alive, much less a hero.

   Got me right here — I’m tapping my chest, and it isn’t heartburn, though with this film it is hard to tell.

   Hunter overacts terribly at times — screaming his dialogue at other actors is his specialty, and it is a wonder Silva didn’t gain weight, he chews so much scenery, come to think of it he looks a little stuffed here, probably all that pasta, those cheekbones are positively rosy. Duryea seems happy to be getting paid for very little and not getting killed for once.

   The film is not in a class with any of the Eastwood or Lee Van Cleef films, certainly not most of the Django, Sartana, Nobody or other series, but it is not a bad Western, more like a classic Hollywood type than the ultra violent, cartoonish, and at times psycho sexual Spaghetti Western we know and love. It’s just above a passing grade as such things go, a bit like a shaggy puppy that wins you over by wagging its tail harder than it has to despite knocking over a few lamps in the process.

   Jack Elam claimed Henry Fonda called him when they were filming Once Upon a Time in the West and told him to come to Italy, they were paying them for doing nothing. You have to imagine someone told Duryea the same thing.

   But for me The Hills Run Red is worth seeing just to see Dan Duryea get to ride away into the sunset. It was a long time coming, and he honestly seems to be enjoying it, I know I did. Way to go, Dan, you made an entire Western without once shooting anyone in the back.

BLACK ORCHID. General Film Distributors/Kenilworth Film Productions, UK, 1953. Ronald Howard, Olga Edwardes, John Bentley, Mary Laura Wood, Patrick Barr, Sheila Burrell, Russell Napier. Director: Charles Saunders.

   Other than the leading man, Ronald Howard, on occasion known as Sherlock Holmes, the cast consisted of total unknowns to me, but this 60 minute detective thriller, within its limited range, made for an hour’s worth of good watching time. Not only that, I now know the names of two lady players to look out for in the future.

   In Black Orchid, Howard plays a research doctor whose marriage to a society class wife (Mary Laura Wood) is crumbling, and when the woman’s sister (Olga Edwardes) finds his medical research as fascinating as he does, he finds the attraction mutual. Divorce proceedings quickly ensue, but marriage unfortunately does not. It seems as though there was a law in England at the time forbidding men from marrying sisters of divorced wives.

   Until they die. The divorced wives, that is. You can guess what happens next, the police being prodded on by the dead woman’s devoted maid (Sheila Burrell). One clue to attest to the doctor’s innocence is, and maybe you can guess this, too, is a black orchid.

   The satisfaction you can get from watching small compact thrillers such as Black Orchid depends a great deal on your willingness to accept small jumps in logic and a certain trust in the fact that coincidences do happen. Set those aside, and you may have, as I say, a nifty little detective drama on your hands.

“PROMISED LAND.” The pilot episode of Spenser: For Hire. ABC-TV. Season 1, Episode 1. 20 September 1985. Robert Urich, Barbara Stock, Avery Brooks, Geoffrey Lewis, Donna Mitchell, Ron McLarty, Ruth Britt, Richard Jaeckel, Chuck Connors. Based on the novel by Robert B. Parker. Director: Lee H. Katzin.

   The fourth of the Spenser novels, Promised Land was published in 1976, and was awarded an Edgar for best novel by the Mystery Writers of America in 1977. Fans of the series will also know that this is the book that introduced Spenser’s friend Hawk to the series, although for a while we do not know at the beginning whether he is a friend or not.

   It has been a while since I read the book, some 38 years, and while I don’t remember the details of the printed version, I think this two-hour TV movie version (before the commercials were deleted) follows the story line fairly well.

   To wit: Spenser is hired by a real estate developer to find his wife, who after 20 years has left him to find herself. A lot of women were doing that back in 1976. Unfortunately her two new friends are not only interested in women’s liberation, they are also in robbing banks and using the money to buy guns for South American revolutionaries.

   Also unfortunately the real estate broker has a gunman named Hawk on his trail. It seems he owes a lot of money to a crime kingpin named King Powers (Chuck Connors), and somewhat coincidentally Spenser, the tough PI from Boston, has had a brief run-in with Powers in recent days.

   And that about sums it up. Robert Urich as Spenser is tough enough to play the part and also soft enough, but to my mind’s eye, he doesn’t look the part. I happen to think that Spenser looks like his creator, Robert B. Parker in his younger days, in exactly the same way that Mickey Spillane was the perfect person to play Mike Hammer.

   At first Barbara Stock looked maybe five years too young to play Susan Silverman, but by the movie’s end, as she semi-rejects Spenser’s offer of marriage, she had at least started to convince me. Perfectly cast, however, is Avery Brooks as Hawk. He was so good, in fact, that when the primary Spenser series ended in 1988, Brooks was cast as the leading character in another series in 1989 called A Man Called Hawk. (It didn’t last long, however, only 13 episodes.)

   There is a lot of pop psychology that is at the root of this movie, which I am not saying is a bad thing, but it is something you should be aware of if pop psychology is not your thing. The series was filmed on location in Boston, and with real snow on the ground. There are also a lot of close-ups, which occur at regular intervals when certain conversations are deemed more important than others.

   But there is plenty of action, too. My favorite line, though, comes when the wife of Spenser’s client asks him, after she has been rebuffed after making what are called in the vernacular “romantic advances.” She looks at his shelf of books and asks, Have you read all of these?

   His reply: Yeah, and boy are my lips tired.

FROM HEADQUARTERS. Warner Brothers, 1933. George Brent, Margaret Lindsay, Eugene Pallette, Robert Barrat, Henry O’Neill, Hugh Herbert, Dorothy Burgess, Theodore Newton, Hobart Cavanaugh, Ken Murray. Director: William Dieterle.

   That’s quite a cast for a short 64-minute pre-Code detective story, with a director who may not have been known very well back in 1933 but one who, as you know full well, went on to much bigger and better things.

   And it’s quite a mixture. It starts out in near documentary fashion, as if to show the viewer of that era exactly what goes on behind the scenes of a full-fledged murder investigation by a big city police department, complete with fingerprinting, mugshots, line-ups, ballistics testing, ultraviolet rays (to read letters written in invisible ink).

   It’s also a very complicated murder mystery. What at first is assumed to have been a suicide, that of an aging Broadway playboy, turns out to be murder inside, with all kinds of people, it is soon discovered, coming in and out of his apartment all night long.

   It also turns out that the victim was not a very nice man, so almost everyone that was in and out of his apartment is also immediately a suspect.

   It’s also, alas, a comedy, at least in part, since in 1933 almost every detective puzzle mystery has to has lot of humorous shtick — such as a bail bondsman who is constantly walking up and down the halls of police headquarters looking for clients, and a police lab scientist just itching to get his hands on a lovely case of murder. Plus Eugene Pallette as the bullfrog-voiced and bull-headed police sergeant second in command of the case who’s never right about anything.

   There is a bit of romance in the story as well, but after all of the above, it’s very nearly squeezed out: the girl who is the first suspect on the list (Margaret Lindsay) is also the former girl friend of the police lieutenant in charge of the case.

   But all in all, I had a good time with this one, and if you’re fond of movies from this era, I’m sure you will too.

Editorial Comment:   If this review sounds to you as déjà vu all over again, you’re right. David Vineyard reviewed this same movie less than a week ago. Here’s the link. In the comments you will notice that I thought the movie sounded familiar. I did some hunting and I found this old review I wrote about ten years ago after seeing it on a home video tape from TCM. Never one to waste any words I’ve written, well what you see is the result. (I even used the exact same images.)

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