January 2017

THE LAST JOURNEY. Twickenham Films, UK, 1936. Godfrey Tearle, Hugh Williams, Judy Gunn, Mickey Brantford, Julien Mitchell, Olga Lindo, Michael Hogan, Frank Pettingell, Eliot Makeham, Eve Gray, Sydney Fairbrother, Sam Wilkinson, Viola Compton. Screenplay: H. Fowler Mear, based on an original story by Joseph Jefferson Farjeon. Director: Bernard Vorhaus.

   There are a lot of names there in the credits, I grant you, and most of them are total unknowns, but it’s an ensemble cast with lots of screen time for each of them, so I listed them all. Now if I could only mathc up the names with their faces!

   From what I’ve read, must of the British film industry in the 1930s was a vast wasteland, but if so, this has to be one of the better ones, by far. I’ve listed it in my Suspense and Espionage category, but you can forgot the spy part. It’s the story of a railroad engineer about to be railroaded into retirement. H’s not severely disgruntled about that, but he’s gotten into his head that the fireman on his train is having an affair with his wife.

   And as part of the confrontation he plans on having with his previously longtime friend, he plans to run the train as fast as it can until this last journey ends in utter disaster, a plan unknown to the oblivious passengers until train starts to pass through railway stops at breakneck speed without stopping.

   This may be one first “disaster” films of this type ever filmed. On the train are a young newly married couple, he unbeknownst to her a con man interested only in her money; and not on the train but in a motorcar trying to catch up with it her former boy friend; also a male and female pair of thieves trying to get their companion drunk enough to rob him; a well-known doctor whose specialty is hypnotism (this is important); a female abolitionist who wanders up and down the train handing out temperance cards; a stutterer who can’t find anyone who can answer his questions; and so on.

   What adds most to the excitement, including lots of action photography — on the train, on the road, and in the air, are the quick shifts of scenes, faster than most in 1936, as I recall, even in this country. I’d have to see the movie again to see sure I caught everything the first time, and if I decide to do so, I’m sure I won’t be wasting my time.


   There are a growing number of rock bands with all men except for a bad girl lead singer. Young Taylor Momsen (born July 26, 1993) is one of the best singers out there today. Momsen got her start as a model and actress (TV series Gossip Girls). She joined the band The Pretty Reckless in 2009.

   Others in the band include Ben Phillips (guitar, backing vocals), Mark Damon (bass) and Jamie Perkins (drums).

   “Take Me Down” was the first single released off their new album Who You Selling For and continued a string of Billboard number one singles by the group. (Razor & Tie recording, 2016. Lyrics by Ben Phillips and Taylor Momsen.)

BORN TO KILL. RKO Radio Pictures, 1947. Claire Trevor, Lawrence Tierney, Walter Slezak, Phillip Terry, Audrey Long, Elisha Cook Jr., Isabel Jewell, Esther Howard. Screenplay: Eve Greene & Richard Macaulay, based on the novel Deadlier Than the Male, by James Gunn. Director: Robert Wise.

   Do you know what? If you were to put Lawrence Tierney into a tuxedo about to marry a wealthy socialite of the caliber of Georgia Staples (Audrey Long), he’d still look like Lawrence Tierney. One of the premises of this story is that bad guys like Sam Wilde (a very appropriate last name) can be irresistible to women, no matter how much money and common sense they are supposed to have.

   Another premise is that women can be as cold-blooded and filled with ice in their hearts as men can. The title of the film could also apply just as well to Georgia’s sister Helen (Claire Trevor), except she never kills anyone. But Sam does. When a girl he is going with in Reno (Isabel Jewell) decides to make him a little jealous by going out with another guy (Tony Barrett), the two of them end up dead.

   But Helen, accidentally stumbling over their bodies, doesn’t turn a hair. She calmly evaluates the situation, decides she doesn’t need to become involved, and calls for a ticket on a train out of town. Although just divorced, she has a wealthy suitor waiting for her back in San Francisco. She has met Sam in a casino, however, and now again on the train, and if sparks ever really fly in this movie, it is then.

   It is quite an opening, and considering that this movie was made in 1947, I am sure it was quite unique at the time. Unfortunately, and it is here that I may be going heretical on you, but the middle of the film falls to the depths of an almost frothy soap opera. (I did say almost.)

   Only the presence of a scoundrel of a private eye (most excellently played by Walter Slezak) hired by the dead girl’s landlady (Esther Howard), having followed Helen and Sam to San Francisco and snooping around, is there to remind us what a hardboiled crime film it is that we have been watching all along. (Plus of course Lawrence Tierney’s glowering presence in every scene he’s in.)

   This is good film, in my opinion, but not a great one. I think that all of the characters in this film are over the top, some more than others. Personally I stopped believing in it when Claire Trevor walks over the dead bodies without the batting of an eyelash, but I didn’t mind one iota, I’ve decided, in happily going along for the ride.


DAYBREAKERS. Lionsgate, 2009. Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill, Claudia Karvan, Michael Dorman, Isabel Lucas. Screenwriter-directors: Michael & Peter Spierig.

   The Australian-American horror movie Daybreakers opens with an intriguing premise: what if there’s a catastrophic plague that transforms most of the human race into vampires, leaving humans an endangered species. The vampires live essentially like humans used to, driving cars and working in offices. They can’t go out in the sunlight, of course. Most importantly, they need a steady stream of human blood to survive. This poses a significant problem, seeing that humanity is slowly fading away into the dustbin of history.

   That’s why the people at Bromley Marks, a pharmaceutical company run by the nefarious Charles Bromley (Sam Neill) are desperately working on a blood substitute, a synthetic creation that would allow vampire society to thrive without human blood. Hematologist Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), a “good vampire” who doesn’t drink human blood and even has sympathy for the humans, is passionate about the project. But he seems to have doubts about what Bromley’s true intentions are.

   When a chance encounters leads Dalton into the arms of an underground movement of humans, he decides he’s willing to risk everything in order to help build a different world than the one is living in. He begins a scientific project with ex-vampire Lionel “Elvis” Cormac (Willem Dafoe) who has seemingly done the impossible: he’s turned from human to vampire and back to human.

   This is where the movie’s captivating premise begins to fall apart. Dalton and Elvis learn that somehow quick exposure to the sunlight followed by oxygen deprivation allows vampires to regain their human status. Yet, some thirty minutes later in the movie, it turns out that the real cure to vampirism is for vampires to drink the blood of ex-vampires.

   Put outside the scientific absurdities for a moment. There’s no seemingly logical consistency here, let alone a plausible explanation as to why, in all the years that have seemingly passed since the plague, that no one else has discovered these cures. Just because something is “supernatural” doesn’t mean that writers should be able to seemingly make things up on the fly.

   In many ways, this failing is a true shame. Hawke and Neill are fine actors and both put in strong performances as the movie’s hero and villain respectively. And the movie is beautifully shot, giving it a “future noir” aesthetic that must be truly a sight to behold on the big screen. (I watched it on a DVD.) But the story really doesn’t hold together. Which is why I suspect the movie ended more with a graphic bloodbath than with a resolution of the key question plaguing the heart of the movie: what caused the vampire outbreak and how will it be reversed?

It takes me only two notes to recognize this one.


THE GOOD DIE YOUNG. Romulus Films, UK, 1954; United Artists, US, 1955. Laurence Harvey, Gloria Grahame, Richard Basehart, Joan Collins, John Ireland, Stanley Baker, Margaret Leighton and Robert Morley. Screenplay by Vernon Harris and Lewis Gilbert, from a novel by Richard Macaulay. Directed by Lewis Gilbert.

   A bit too much fat on this one, but when it gets lean & mean, it’s just about perfect.

   Richard Basehart, Stanley Baker and John Ireland star as three men in crisis, each for different reasons: Basehart and Ireland are going through domestic problems, and Baker, who grievously injured his hand in a boxing match, is out of work. What it comes down to is that they all need money.

   Laurence Harvey is having domestic problems too, but his are of a different stripe; his rich wife (Margaret Leighton, who married Harvey in real life the next year) is tired of paying his bills while he fools around with other women, and she insists they must make a fresh start in Kenya. So if he wants to stay in London living the life he thinks he deserves, he’d better get rich quick.

   Harvey is at his slimy best in this one, projecting love and goodwill when absolutely necessary, but with a sneer never far from his lips. The perfect sociopath, and so well played that when the notion of committing armed robbery comes up, it seems perfectly natural for him. About an hour or so into the film, he convinces the others that everyone’s problems will be solved and no harm done, and the caper is underway.

   And a good thing too, because that first hour wasn’t much. Stanley Baker’s back story is pretty involving, and Laurence Harvey has a pleasingly acidic encounter with his father (Robert Morley) but the rest is just Richard Basehart trying to get his wife (Joan Collins) out from under her mother’s domination, and John Ireland kvetching at his unfaithful spouse (Gloria Grahame.) I nearly shut the damnthing off….

   â€¦but I’m glad I didn’t because the caper finally gets going, and it’s simply splendid, all fog-bound streets, twisting alleys, noisy train yards, and Laurence Harvey cheerfully shooting down cops, bystanders and his own partners in crime with casual aplomb. It’s handled with a sure feel for pace and tempo by director Gilbert, who did some of the Bond films, and it’s captured with moody fatalism by photographer Jack Asher, who would impart a distinctive look to Hammer’s horror films a few years later. Also, we get that classic feature of the noir film: the mortally wounded protagonist desperately walking toward freedom as he dies.

   There’s just one rub: This film was based on a book by Richard Macaulay, but I haven’t been able to find it offered for sale anywhere or even reviewed anyplace. Has anyone ever seen it?

HELEN McCLOY – Cue for Murder. William Morrow, hardcover, 1942. Reprint editions include: Dell #212 , paperback, [1948], mapback edition; Bantam, paperback, 1965.

   The opening two paragraphs establish the parameters of this finely clued detective puzzler in a most excellent fashion:

   The murder mystery at the Royalty Theatre was solved through the agency of a house fly and a canary.

   The fly discovered the chemical evidence that so impressed the jury at the trial, but the canary provided a psychological clue to the murderer’s identity before the murder was committed. Basil Willing is still troubled by the thought that it might have been prevented if he had read the riddle of the canary sooner.

   Dr. Basil Willing, who over the years appeared in 13 of author Helen McCloy’s 29 novels and short story collections, at this time of his career, extending from 1938 to 1980, was officially a medical assistant to the District Attorney’s office in New York City, specializing in psychiatry. And yes, the statement in the paragraphs above is true, given a very basic concept in pop psychology.

   Dead is an unknown actor playing a dying man during the opening of a Broadway play. When the first act is done, he is discovered to be really dead, and only three people on stage could have done the deed. Even with the finest of timetables, what should be an easy task in narrowing three down to one proves not to be so easy — not without the fly and the canary.

   As finely clued as this story is, Cue for Murder is even more notable for the details of what goes on behind the scenes of a Broadway play, both before the curtain goes up and while the actors go through their night after night routines. As the author, Helen McCloy not only knew what separates a good (or only fair) actor from a great one, but how to put the knowledge into words so that even a layman like myself could tell the difference as well, and get a satisfying sense of recognition in doing so.

   I read the Bantam reprint paperback, which adds an introduction by Anthony Boucher, who praise for the book I can only echo. I enjoyed this one.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Kathleen L. Maio

CHARITY BLACKSTOCK – Dewey Death. William Heinemann, UK, hardcover, 1956. London House & Maxwell, US, hardcover, 1958. Ballantine U2125, paperback, 1964.

   Charity (a.k.a. Lee) Blackstock’s first mystery remains one of the best library mysteries ever published. For London’s Inter-Libraries Despatch Association, the biggest scandal had always been the frequent and imaginative typos (e.g., “Law of Tarts”) by the typing pool on request forms. That is, until the evil-minded office busybody, Mrs. Warren, is found with her neck broken, spilling out of a book sack.

   Despite the investigation led by a Scotland Yard detective, and a second murder, Dewey Death cannot be classified as a classic detective story. It isn’t even a puzzling mystery. Readers, along with various characters, become increasingly aware of the murderer’s identity. This does not, however, lessen the suspense or interest of Blackstock’s novel, which is a masterful mixture of romantic fantasy and harsh realism.

   With a good deal of humor, the author weaves her suspense plot well through the interplay of day-to-day office life. The heroine (like Blackstock under another pseudonym) is an author of historical romances. When she becomes smitten with a dashing co-worker, she soon learns just how dangerous and disruptive a swashbuckling antihero can be in real life.

   Like traditional whodunit writers, Blackstock studies the effects of murder on a small, insular community. But her library locale and her unusual characters are portrayed with a depth unequaled by most of her contemporaries.

   Charity Blackstock created several other excellent suspense novels — The Woman in the Woods (1958) and The Foggy, Foggy Dew (1959) are good examples — before turning to romance fiction more than a decade ago.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

William F. Deeck

OSMINGTON MILLS – No Match for the Law. Geoffrey Bles, UK, hardcover, 1957. No US edition.

   While undoubtedly there will be many reviews [in this issue] of novels dealing with St. Geoffrey’s Day, another presumably won’t hurt. As all of you should know, though maybe the Archbishop of Canterbury doesn’t, St. Geoffrey of Michester received his sainthood, as well he should, for decreeing that no lawyer could set up practice within the bounds of the city.

   In observance of St. Geoffrey’s Day, a cricket match takes place between the “law” — members of the bar — and “order” — local civil officials. Mr. Justice Craven, an immensely unpopular jurist with both those who come to his court and with his family, having scored 42, takes a break and drinks a beverage he made himself from a recipe he found in an old book. Three hours later he dies of oxalic poisoning.

   Because of the judge’s unpopularity, the list of suspects is long. When the judge dies, Chief Inspector Baker of Scotland Yard’s Special Branch is at the cricket match and handles the investigation in exemplary fashion, but how was he to know about the joker in the woodpile? An excellent whodunit.

— Reprinted from MYSTERY READERS JOURNAL, Vol. 7, No. 3, Fall 1991, “Holiday Murders.”

Bio-Bibliographic Notes:   This was the third of ten appearances for Inspector Baker as chronicled by “Osmington Mills,” a pen name of Vivian Collin Brooks, (1922-2002), a female journalist and writer.

JAMES HADLEY CHASE – A Coffin from Hong Kong. Robert Hale, UK, hardcover, 1962; reprinted many times by Grafton, UK, in paperback, including the 12th printing, 1988, shown to the right. No US edition.

   The private eye in A Coffin from Hong Kong is a fellow named Nelson (not Nolan) Ryan, whose home base is Pasadena City, a town somewhere along the California coast. This book is apparently his only appearance.

   The case begins with a phone call from a would-be client that turns out to be a wild goose chase. When he returns to his office he finds a dead Chinese girl, and all of the evidence points to him as the killer. Luckily even though Lt. Retnick,the police detective on the case, got his job only because he’s married to the Mayor’s sister, he’s not a complete fool. It’s obviously a frame-up job.

   Working for the dead girl’s father-in-law, whose son died recently in Hong Kong — the girl was bringing his body back to the US — Ryan is sent back to there to learn more. This is where most of the book takes place, producing lots of atmosphere as well as putting Ryan on the trail of several beautiful women who have even more secrets to be sifted through. PI work sometimes has many perks!

   The story’s competently told, though it rarely rises above that rather standard bar. It’s also a reasonably well-clued fair-play detective novel, which I gladly accepted as an not entirely expected bonus.

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