February 2017


BOUNTY KILLER. Just Chorizo Productions-Kickstart Productions-ARC Entertainment,2013. Matthew Marsden, Kristanna Loken, Christian Pitre, Barak Hardley, Abraham Benrubi, Gary Busey,Beverly D’Angelo, Eve. Screenwriters: Jason Dodson, Colin Ebeling & Henry Saine. Director: Henry Saine.

   I’ll sum this movie as best I can right here at the beginning by calling it a “post-apocalyptic action comedy,” a phrase which I stole from Wikipedia, but what they hey, the shoe fits.

   And truth be told, I liked this one a heck of a lot more than I expected to. As long as I’m quoting or paraphrasing from Wikipedia, I’ll right ahead and tell you that movie was born as a cartoon, then adapted into a graphic novel and a short film, then after the Enron scandal and the financial crisis of 2007-2008, a full-length feature film.

   The premise: White collar corporations has forced the collapse of the United States, and bounty killers have taken it upon themselves to right the wrongs the people behind these companies have done. Two of the most famous of these killers are Drifter (Matthew Marsden) and Mary Death (Christian Pitre), she of the glamorous jumpsuit, high boots, and very deadly weaponry.

   It turns out — it is gradually revealed that — the two main characters have a past. He was her mentor; they were at one time also lovers. Now they are fierce, competitors, even to the death. The executive class aren’t going away easily, however, and thereby lies the story.

   Nor do you need to know more than that. There is a lot of gunfire in this movie, and a lot of very gory deaths. If either of the above bother you, you’d best stay away. But it’s also a comedy, very well choreographed and photographed, and even better, the people in it act like they’re having a very good time, down to the most menial stunt doubles. I didn’t expect to, but I did, too. Have a good time, that is.


GILLIAN B. FARRELL – Alibi for an Actress. Annie McGrogan #1, Pocket, hardcover, 1992; paperback, 1993.

   I recently read a clipping about Ms. Farrell and her first book, and both sounded interesting, so when I came across it in the library I checked it out. I’m not at all sorry I did.

   Annie McGrogan is a serious actress, come to New York from Los Angeles after a love affair and painful divorce, determined to be as successful in the Big Apple as she was in LA. It hasn’t worked out that way, though, and she is down to the bottom of her purse when she sees an ad for a job with a private detective agency. She answers, is hired (though not on the spot), and we’re off.

   Except for her, the agency is comprised of ex-NYC cops, and it’s a brand new world to Annie. Her first assignment is to assist in baby-sitting a famous soap opera star, and she finds out later that the star’s husband has been murdered that same night The agency becomes involved in the murder case, and Annie gets her baptism of fire.

   I liked it. It had a feature that usually turns me off — unrealistic cops and relations therewith — but I liked the characters and writing enough to grit my teeth and get past it. Annie as portrayed by Farrell is a real human being, and a very likeable one. I don’t know how realistic the rest of the characters were, but they were interesting, and I enjoyed reading about them.

   One thing to note: you know how Susan Conant’s books are so doggy that you need to be dipped for fleas when you’ve finished one? Well, you’re in for a similar excursion here into the world of acting, and you may need a rag for the greasepaint. It comes off easy, though.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #6, March 1993.

Bibliographic Notes:   Gillian B. Farrell was the joint pen name of Gillian Murphy Beinhart and Larry Beinhart, the latter having four crime novels to his credit under his own name. There was only one additional adventure for Annie McGrogan, that being Murder and a Muse (Pocket, 1994).


YANKEE FAKIR. Republic, 1947. Douglas Fowley, Joan Woodbury, Clem Bevans, Ransom Sherman, Frank Reicher, Marc Lawrence. Written by Richard S. Conway and Mindret Lord. Directed by W. Lee Wilder.

   I was drawn to this because I wanted to see if Douglas Fowley really played the hero, and while I wasn’t thrilled, I at least kept watching; along the way I discovered a fascinating bit of background and much to wonder at.

   For one thing: Whence that title? Did they imagine folks would beat down the doors to see something called Yankee Fakir? And whence “fakir”? I’ve never met an actual fakir, but they’re well-nigh ubiquitous in The Arabian Nights, so I know one when I see one and there just ain’t any here in this movie.

   For another thing: This was released by Republic, Hollywood’s factory of low-budget thrills, but it’s an independent production by the semi-legendary W. Lee Wilder, older brother of Billy Wilder (you may have heard of him) and auteur of The Great Flamarian, Phantom from Space, Killers from Space, The Snow Creature and Man Without a Body.So you know what to expect. Yankee has none of the pace and polish one expects from a Republic western; in fact, it looks more like something that escaped from PRC or Monogram, what with Joan Woodbury and Douglas Fowley handling the leads.

   I’ve mentioned Douglas Fowley here before: Doc Holliday on TV’s Wyatt Earp; slow-burning director in Singin’ in the Rain; slimy bad guy in dozens of cheap westerns and the actual director of Macumba Love. That’s the guy. Here he loses his familiar snarky moustache and dons a flattering hairpiece as a traveling salesman who falls for a Border Ranger’s daughter and turns detective when someone does the old man in.

   Republic could have made a halfway decent B-western out of that — in fact they probably did, more than once — but Wilder pretty much fritters it away, with comic relief, a cute kid, local color, more comedy (I use the term loosely) and plot complications that pretty much go nowhere. Marc Lawrence, a figure associated with noir in general (and The Asphalt Jungle in particular) adds a moment of interest as a mysterious nasty, but not enough of them, even in a quickie like this.

   But beyond the fascination of seeing a confirmed miscreant like Fowley cast solidly against type, Yankee Fakir raised an eyebrow — not when I watched it, but when I went to research it and encountered the story of the writer, Mindret Lord. There’s not room enough to recount it all here, but I suggest you look him up on IMDB for a story much more intriguing than this feeble movie warrants.

This English band’s third album was released in 1969. Symphonic rock at its finest. I’ve owned my copy ever since:

JOHN H. WATSON, M.D., as edited by LOREN D. ESTLEMAN – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes. Doubleday, hardcover, 1979. Penguin, paperback, 1980. Titan Books, trade paperback, 2010.

   The title says it all, another of the overflow of trifles and otherwise harmless conceits that have been delivered to the dedicated Holmesian over the past few years. Somehow they are all to be fit into the established saga — can they be? — never mind the contortions and dislocated timelines they put the true enthusiast through.

   This, one of the more recent entries, is a followup to Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula, as chronicled by Mr. Estleman, and of which once again no more than the title need be said. In all fairness to the author, and with no further protest, this later adventure is both nobly attempted and capably accomplished.

   The facts of the matter cannot be altered, however. We, as readers, already know the sinister secret held in common by the well-intentioned Dr. Jekyll and his fearsome friend, Mr Hyde. As a direct result, there is no mystery involved in the matter at all. Watching Sherlock Holmes use his famed powers of deduction to untangle the tale of their twisted identities quickly becomes a matter of little more than idle intellectual curiosity.

   It was Robert Louis Stevenson who told is the story first. Even if the participation of the world’s greatest consulting detective were to accepted now as proven fact, at this late date there seems to be little reason for any of the tale to be told again. The single exception may prove to be the newly revealed details of the brief excursion that Holmes and his companion Watson find it necessary to make to the Scottish brothel during their visit to the latter’s alma mater. In search of the truth, of course.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 4, No. 2, March-April 1980 (shortened and slightly revised).


HOT ROD GIRL. American International Pictures, 1956. Lori Nelson, Chuck Connors, John Smith, Mark Andrews, Roxanne Arlen, Frank Gorshin, Fred Essler, Dabbs Greer. Director: Leslie H. Martinson.

   For a movie that doesn’t have much of a story line, let alone any outstanding dialogue, Hot Rod Girl is a surprisingly enjoyable, if utterly juvenile and simplistic, little programmer. With a title like that, you’d think the whole movie revolved around the travails of an ambitious young female race car driver or something to that effect. But you’d be wrong about that, seeing how the main female character is, in many ways, only secondary to the whole affair and that she’s only seen driving a car once – in the opening scene, of course.

   Still, despite the somewhat misleading name, the movie’s got some flair to it. There’s some nice Southern California scenery, some great cars, and a youngish Chuck Connors who portrays Ben Merrill, an easygoing cop who is trying to find a way for his town’s young people to race their cars safely. Rather than have them drive fast around town, he worked to have them drive out on “The Strip,” somewhere out in the desert.

   But kids will be kids. Sometimes they just have to rebel. After a fatal accident takes the life of one of the local hot rod kids, things go from bad to worse for a small group of friends in the racing scene. Antisocial newcomer Bronc Talbott (Mark Andrews) shows up in town, taunts local mechanic Jeff Nothrup (John Smith) and hits on Jeff’s girl, “hot rod girl” Lisa Vernon (Lori Nelson).

   Matters spiral downhill when a car race up in the Hollywood Hills claims the life of a young boy on a bicycle. But with Ben Merrill on the case, and Jeff determined to stop the increasingly violent Bronc Talbott, it’s only a matter of time before things come to a head. And believe me, they do, when fisticuffs start flying in a local diner hangout called Yo-Yo’s. (It’s run by the eponymous Yo-Yo, an immigrant portrayed to perfection by veteran character actor Fred Essler.)

   With a jazzy score and some contemporaneous teenager slang, Hot Rod Girl is a fun, if clumsily executed, juvenile delinquency film. After watching it once, I can’t imagine I’d ever watch it again. But it wasn’t a particularly uncomfortable ride.


Sometimes YouTube videos add a something special to the music. Taj Mahal is always fun to listen to and even more so when you combine his version of “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” with this clip from The Abyss, a Danish silent film from 1910. Also known as The Woman Always Pays, the film was written and directed by Urban Gad and starred Asta Nielsen and Robert Dinesen.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller

LAWRENCE BLOCK – After the First Death. The Macmillan Co., hardcover, 1969. Paperback reprints include: Carroll & Graf, 1994; ibooks, 2002.

   Lawrence Block is a top-flight professional who has written numerous novels featuring extremely diverse characters and situations. His characterization ranges from the grim depths glimpsed in some of his non-series books and in his series about alcoholic ex-policeman Matthew Scudder, to the lightweight but amusing private eye/writer Chip Harrison, burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr, and spy Evan Tanner. Whether Block is chronicling a deadly search or a playful romp, he is a consummate master of suspense and manages to keep his reader fearing for the safety of — and solidly rooting for — his protagonist until the last page is turned.

   The premise of this non-series novel is the real-life nightmare of awakening hung over and in a strange place, in the presence of a corpse. Alex Penn awakes to find himself in what obviously is a cheap Manhattan hotel room; there is the severely mutilated body of a hooker on the floor next to the bed, and Penn, an alcoholic coming out of a blackout, does not remember what has happened. At this point, however, Block adds a new twist to a shocking but stock situation: Penn has killed in this manner during a previous blackout, and has only recently been paroled from prison.

   Determined not to return to prison, Penn escapes from the hotel and hides out from the police. But as he sobers, an image appears to him: that of an arm wielding the murder knife — an arm that is not his. He realizes he isn’t guilty of the crime, has indeed been framed. And he concludes that he may very well also have been framed for the first murder.

   What follows is a cat-and-mouse investigation in which Penn slips from place to place in New York and environs, showing up to question old friends and enemies who he thinks may have wanted to see him convicted of murder. As he becomes more and more convinced of his innocence, he enlists the aid of a sympathetic hooker (and heroin addict) and begins to gather hard evidence.

   The outcome of this investigation hinges on a somewhat unlikely coincidence, but it forces a satisfyingly realistic resolution of Penn’s quandary. Likewise, his growing involvement with Jackie, the hooker who aids him, is believable and satisfying.

   Other Block non-series novels are Death Pulls a Double Cross (1961), The Girl with the Long Green Heart (1965), and The Specialists (1969).

   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.

EDWARD MATHIS – Another Path, Another Dragon. Dan Roman #4. Charles Scribner’s Sons, hardcover, 1988. Ballantine, paperback; 1st printing, May 1990.

   With some reservations, mostly minor, I enjoyed reading From a High Place, the first in this series, well enough that when this fourth Dan Roman adventure came into my possession, I read it right away.

   And I’m glad I did. It’s not as moody and nostalgic as High Place, and in fact Roman is a lot happier with life in general. The reason? Somewhere between book one and book four he has gotten married again, and things are going super well between them.

   And in fact she comes down to the small Texas tow of Jericho Falls to spend a couple of nights in a trailer with him while he’s working on his latest case. Roman tends to keep Susie unaware of what his work entails, and she doesn’t really get involved in this one, either, but when it comes down to it, if it weren’t for the couple of night they spend together in the trailer, Roman would never have found the killer he’s been hired to find. Nicely plotted, that!

   This one revolves around a good old-fashioned backwoods feud and a Romeo and Juliet romance, but now the two are dead, shot and killed. When the old army buddy who’s the local police chief calls on Roman for help, he doesn’t pursue the killer with any amount of finesse, but once he puts two and two together correctly, he does exactly what he’s been hired to do. Who could ask for more?

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