April 2017


RAGE. Warner Brothers, 1972. George C. Scott, Richard Basehart, Martin Sheen, Barnard Hughes, Kenneth Tobey, Robert Walden, Dabbs Greer. Director: George C. Scott.

   Both starring and directed by George S. Scott (his directorial debut), Rage is an uneven thriller about a man at his wits’ end. Scott portrays Dan Logan, a widowed Wyoming rancher raising his young son as best he can. After a night spent outside camping, Logan wakes up to find both his son and his sheep extremely ill. Although the viewer soon learns that Logan’s son was accidentally poisoned by a military chemical weapons project gone wrong, Logan himself is kept in the dark as to what is afflicting his son.

   It seems as though no one can be trusted, a hallmark of the paranoid, political thrillers which were commercially released in the late 1960s and early 1970s. No one except Logan’s personal physician (Richard Basehart) who, truth be told, doesn’t prove particularly useful when Logan needs him the most.

   After Logan learns not only that his son has died, but also that the military and the public health service are doing their best to cover up what transpired, he begins a course of action which is supposed to be the ‘rage’ part of the film. Unfortunately, there’s just not that much rage and, for the most part, Logan ends up targeting people who really didn’t have much directly to do with his son’s death.

   Instead of targeting the hospital staff, including one young physician (Martin Sheen) who repeatedly manipulated him and lied to his face, Logan kills a cat owned by the local public health official, targets the chemical manufacturer for destruction, sets a cop on fire, and shoots an MP at an Army base.

   To be sure, Logan is at war and there are always casualties of war. But the more Logan’s rampage continues, the less sympathetic a character he becomes. Maybe that was the filmmaker’s whole point: that no one is innocent and that righteous rage has the capacity to consume an individual. If that was the case, it just doesn’t gel correctly in this particular movie. Or maybe the film is about the futility of rage in the face of the military-industrial complex.

   When all’s said and done, you might expect that a movie entitled Rage would have just a bit more of it. Scott’s portrayal of Logan is less of a man burning up with rage than a man who, despite being sickened by the same chemical weapon that killed his son, acts rather calmly and methodically. And when it eventually becomes clear how very little revenge ends up being inflicted upon the wrongdoers, it leaves the viewer wondering what the point of the whole proceedings was meant to be.

INGRID THOFT – Brutality. Fina Ludlow #3. Putnam, hardcover, June 2015; trade paperback, December 2016.

   I read Loyalty (2013), the first of Fina’s case adventures, almost three years ago, and you can read my review of it here. I am amused to see that I started my comments then by pointing out how thick the book was, 474 pages. Amused, because I was going to start my comments on this book the same way. It’s 450 pages of small print in the trade paperback edition, and it takes a lot of reading to get from beginning to end.

   And what you get, if you do, is a deep-plunge immersion into two weeks of Fina Ludlow’s life, totally and completely. Not only is she working on a case with lots of offshoots to it, but she also has to deal with members of her family, mostly her dysfunctional parents — her brothers, save one, who is a known pedophile, and their families seem to be normal; a close friend who is being pressured to give up a kidney to an aunt she never knew until the aunt needed one and went looking for her; and a couple of men in her life who sleep over once in a while.

   The case itself is the unexplained death of a young mother and housewife attacked in her kitchen by an unknown intruder. The only thing out of the ordinary about her is that she had been suing the university where she was a soccer player years before. She believed the school was responsible for the memory problems she’d been developing, the athletic department in particular.

   Fina’s approach is a scattergun one. The police can do their investigation their own slow, methodical way. She charges right in, asking questions, stirring up dust, so to speak, and sees how it settles. Existing, it seems, on a diet of Dunkin Donuts fare, not difficult to do in the Boston area where her father is the head of the area’s best known litigation firm, Fina is on the road constantly, juggling her personal life along with whatever case she’s on.

   Her smart aleck attitude gets her a long way into digging out the truth, mitigated greatly by how much she cares. It takes a while to get through as many pages as this, but to my mind, they’re well worth the investment in time.

   I do have one small complaint, however. If I read the ending correctly, one aspect of the case is not yet solved at book’s end. Since every other aspect of Fina’s life is carried over from book to book, I’m assuming this will be also. If not, I’m planning on being ticked off.

   Book two, which I happen to have missed, was Identity (2014). Book four, out only in hardcover so far, is Duplicity. Also of note, I’m sure, is that Brutality was the winner of last year’s Shamus award for best hardcover PI novel. A good choice.

From a self-titled LP released in 1971:

  THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD. Amicus Productions, UK, 1971. Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Nyree Dawn Porter, Denholm Elliott, Jon Pertwee, John Bennett, Ingrid Pitt, Chloe Franks. Screenplay: Robert Bloch. Director: Peter Duffell.

   This four-story-in-one horror film from Amicus has one major flaw, at least looking back upon it now. In spite of the title, there is no blood in it. It was, in fact, rated GP at the time of its release, the equivalent of today’s PG.

   It is possible to give the audience a few chills without a lot of gore, and that’s all the movie does: give the audience a few chills along with a few twists of plot, most of which are foreshadowed well in advance.

   The setting for all four segments is a common looking house in the English countryside, rather large but otherwise not very imposing. But it has its secrets, and each of those who rent it out find out what exactly that means.

   Part One: A writer of horror stories finds that one of the crazed killers he writes about is coming to life and haunting him, but his wife can neither see nor hear the man. The biggest twist in all four stories comes in this one.

   Part Two: A newly retired tenant (Peter Cushing) finds a waxwork museum in town with a figure of a woman inside whose face begins to haunt him. A friend who comes to visit falls under the spell of the waxwork face as well. A rather tepid tale with a easily foreseen ending.

   Part Three: A man (Christopher Lee) who rents the house with his very young daughter hires a tutor for her, a woman who soon learns that this is not a happy twosome she is working for, especially the daughter (a spellbinding Chloe Franks).

   Part Four and the underlying connection between all four segments: An inspector from Scotland Yard comes to the village looking for a famous movie actor (Jon Pertwee), who has disappeared, seemingly (as it turns out) under the spell of a vampire’s cloak. More special effects are used in this segment than any of the others, to little avail.

   There are lots of famous names in the cast, but the stories are both dull and obvious. Personally, I expected more from Robert Bloch, and I was disappointed.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by George Kelley

WILLIAM HJORTSBERG – Falling Angel. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, hardcover, 1978. Fawcett, paperback, 1982; Warner Books, paperback, 1986; St. Martin’s, paperback, 1996. Millipede Press, trade paperback, 2006. Film: Tri-Star, 1987, as Angel Heart (with Mickey Rourke as Harry Angel).

   William Hjortsberg is a highly unconventional writer who delights in mixing genres and breaking molds. His first novel, Alp (1969), blends pornography and mountain climbng; his science-fiction novel, Gray Matters (1971) features a Utopia run by incredible cybernetic machines dedicated to human transcendence while humans rebel against the perfect society. Other experimental works include Symbiography (1973) and Toro! Toro! Toro! (1975).

   In Falling Angel, Hjortsberg combines 1940s private-eye fiction with the occult. PI Harry Angel, a specialist in finding missing persons, is hired to track down a famous Forties singer, Johnny Favorite. The trail leads to Central Park, voodoo ceremonies, a black mass in an abandoned subway station, Coney Island fortune-tellers, and bizarre murders. Harry Angel finds he’s involved in a satanic plot, and he might not be able to escape alive.

   Fallen Angel is William Hjortsberg’s most successful book; descriptions of New York City in the post-World War II era are clever and accurate. A condensed version of Falling Angel was published in Playboy and proved very popular. In trying to describe Falling Angel, Stephen King said, “I’ve never read anything remotely like it. Trying to imagine what might have happened if Raymond Chandler had written The Exorcist is as close as I can come.”

   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 HJORTSBERG, R. I. P.   Quoting from The Rap Sheet earlier this week:

    “The New York City-born Montana novelist who gave us private investigator Harry Angel (in 1978’s Falling Angel), the lively detective pairing of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini (in 1994’s Nevermore), and a drug-fueled nightmare excursion through 1960s Mexico (in 2015’s Mañana) passed away this last Saturday night of pancreatic cancer. Author William Hjortsberg, who was known to friends simply as ‘Gatz,’ was 76 years old.”

Home was Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett’s first album, released by Stax in 1969.

William F. Deeck

WILLIAM RUSHTON – W. G. Grace’s Last Case, or the War of the Worlds, Part Two. Methuen, UK, hardcover, 1984; paperback, 1985. No US edition.

   [England in the 1890s], the War of the Worlds is at an end, with the earth and its microbes victorious. Castor Vilebastard (pronounced “Villibart” according to Vilebastard, but we know better), about to bowl to W. G. Grace, the world’s foremost cricketer, collapses on the pitch at Lord’s, an Apache arrow in his back.

   This novel is what may be called a reverse roman à clef — that is, there are fictitious people going about under real names. There are also real people using their real names.

   Some of the more active real people — there are scores of them — are Grace, Dr John Watson, Inspector Lestrade, Mrs Hudson, Oscar Wilde, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Professor Moriarty. The fictitious people, among others, are Dr Henry Jekyll, along with his compatriot, Mr Hyde, and A. J. Raffles. Lord Greystoke makes a brief appearance.

   Sherlockians will, of course, be fascinated by this new adventure of Dr Watson’s although they may be outraged when they note the suggestion that he has it off with Queen Victoria. They may also be puzzled by Watson’s introducing himself to Grace as “John D. Watson”, as if there weren’t enough problems with the good doctor’s name. To add to the confusion, Watson claims he saw Moriarty vanish over the Reichenbach Falls. And, unfortunately, Watson is portrayed as more than a bit of a nitwit, which he never was.

   Still, the author makes up for these strange statements by telling us, albeit too briefly, how Holmes, with Watson’s inadvertent aid, was responsible for the ultimate defeat of the Martians.

   To enjoy this novel, no reader need be aware of what a silly mid-on or even a silly mid-off does on the cricket field. What is essential to bring to it is an appreciation of delightful farce, verbal slapstick, and good bad puns as Grace, Watson, and allies pursue Pollux Vilebastard, twin brother of Castor and an even bigger villain than Moriarty, to find out just what in (and out of) the world he is up to.

   The Times Literary Supplement called this “a comic tour de force”. A typical English understatement, I’d opine.

— Reprinted from CADS 23, ca. 1994. Email Geoff Bradley for subscription information.

Biographical Note:   From his Wikipedia page: “William George Rushton (18 August 1937 – 11 December 1996) was an English cartoonist, satirist, comedian, actor and performer who co-founded the satirical magazine Private Eye.”


SING AND LIKE IT. RKO, 1934. Nat Pendleton, Zasu Pitts, Edward Everett Horton, Pert Kelton, Ned Sparks and John Qualen. Written by Aben Kandel and Marion Dix. Directed by William A. Seiter.

   Sometimes in Hollywood they gave the stars a day off and turned the character actors loose on a movie, generally with happy results, and this is one of the happiest.

   Nat Pendleton stars as a tough gang boss (“Youse guys are way down on yer kidnappin’s. And the Safecrackin’s off too.”) married to a restless showgirl (Pert Kelton at her sharpest and sexiest). Early on, while cracking a safe in a Bank building, he overhears the Amateur Dramatic Society rehearsing their show and is captivated by Zasu Pitts singing an ode to Mother Love.

   You can probably see it coming from here, but I’ll go on to say that Nat decides Zasu should go to the Big Time with a moving song like this, so he moves her into his penthouse, chaperoned by Ms Kelton — which is a bit like appointing John Waters to the Catholic Legion of Decency — and muscles in on Broadway’s leading impresario, played here by Edward Everett Horton.

   These four play off each other like tennis pros doing mixed doubles: Pendleton’s genial ogre slamming up against Horton’s urbane jellyfish; Zasu’s innocence fluttering up against Pert Kelton’s sharp edges, and all of this propelled by a sharp script and brisk direction. I particularly enjoyed the bit where Pendleton decides the jokes in this show ain’t no good and has his boys write some… followed up many scenes later with the reaction of New York’s drama critics.

   As if this weren’t enough, Sing is graced with the mugs of familiar character actors like Roy D’Arcy, Joe Sawyer, Paul Hurst and Bob Kortman. We also get Ned Sparks’ savage deadpan and a delightful John Qualen, perfectly cast as the lady’s wimpy beau.

   There’s an interesting subtext here: Ms Pitts assumes that all show-people and gangsters are hell-bound degenerates and that sooner or later she will have to sacrifice her innocence for the sake of her art. And while she’s not exactly averse to the idea, there’s a charming moment when John Qualen declares, “I’ll still love you Annie — no matter how steeped in sin you are.”

   Come to think of it, this is a film full of charming moments, all of them served up with agreeable verve by a troupe of players obviously enjoying their time in the spotlight, and making things a lot of fun for the viewer. Catch it if you can.


A song from this English rock band’s 1983 LP The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome. An alternate version was released in the US in 1984 as Keep Your Hands Off My Power Supply/ “Run Runaway,” the first track on the latter LP, was the group’s first hit single in the US.

LESTER DENT – Honey in His Mouth. Hard Case Crime #60, paperback original; 1st printing, October 2009. Cover by Ron Lesser.

   I am sure that every review of this book is going to start the same way, so why should I be any different? Lester Dent, as far as he is going to be remembered, will be known primarily as the author of all but 20 of the 181 Doc Savage novels published in the pulp magazine of the same title in the 1930s and 40s. Unfortunately for Dent, only one of those stories were published under his own name. All of the others were as by Kenneth Robeson.

   When Dent died in 1959, only 54 years old, he was attempting to shift over into writing hardcover mysteries, with only a small amount of success. This particular effort, I am told, was written in 1956 but was never published. What I have been unable to learn so far is why, or more precisely, why not.

   It’s a tough, hard-boiled novel that I would say that most of the companies publishing tough, hard-boiled novels in 1956 would have accepted. If not Gold Medal, then there were quite a few others that (in my opinion) should have welcomed the chance to print this.

   Walter Harsh, the leading character, is a tough one to sympathize with, though. He’s a small-time grifter, basically ignorant but far from stupid, making a few bucks here and there by selling people photographs of themselves through a bit of flim-flam and fancy talking. As the story opens, he’s being chased by a guy in another car who loaned him $712 worth of photo supplies on credit, money Harsh doesn’t have and can’t give back.

   Speeding through the Missouri countryside at high speeds is not a great idea. After the crash, Harsh has one badly smashed arm, the one hanging out the window, and the other guy is dead, crushed under his car as it flipped over him a couple of times.

   Recuperating in a hospital bed, with only his comely lady assistant Vera Sue at his side, Harsh is wondering about his future when the story really begins. Although it takes him a while before he catches on, Harsh is recruited to be a stand-in for a South American dictator whom he closely resemblances, down to the same rare blood type.

   Apparently a revolution in the dictator’s country is in the works, and several of his close associates are making plans to dispose of the man and make off with the millions of dollars of cash and jewels he has stashed away.

   Harsh’s cut? A mere $50,000, and unaware of the higher stakes involved, boy, does he want that money. He is the greediest, meanest, short on finesse son-of-a-bitch ever to get mixed up in a scheme like this. Not even the inclusion of one Miss Muirz, the dictator’s long-time mistress and in on the plot (see the cover) can keep his mind off what he has coming to him.

   There is no explicit sex in this story, only some rough-handed violence, mostly at the hands of Harsh directed toward Vera Sue. Plans such as the one the dictator’s friends have hatched up seldom go well, at least in books, and so it is the case here. Harsh is a piece of work all right. It’s hard to remember another character anything like him, and Dent brings him to life to perfection.

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