June 2017


MOZAMBIQUE. Towers of London / British Lion Films, UK, 1964. Steve Cochran, Hildegarde Neff, Paul Hubschmid, Vivi Bach, Martin Benson. Director: Robert Lynn.

   At least the outdoor scenery is good. That’s basically my assessment of this Harry Alan Towers production about organized crime in Portuguese Africa. Filmed on location, Mozambique is a spy thriller that simply falls flat in producing any sense of intrigue or excitement.

   Even the film’s premise – a Lisbon colonial police inspector enlists Brad Webster (Cochran), a down and out airline pilot, to infiltrate a criminal enterprise in Portugal’s African colony – comes across as contrived. It’s as if someone wanted to film a movie in Mozambique and then came up with a rationale to do so. There are some beautiful women singing in a nightclub, a midget assassin who hides in a suitcase, a lecherous Arab sheik, and various Portuguese and European schemers afoot. But none of it adds up to very much. It’s not altogether without its charms, but it’s hardly a James Bond movie.

   There is one notable aspect to this rather middling affair that is worth mentioning. And that’s Steve Cochran, who appeared in such crime films as White Heat (1949) and Storm Warning (1951) (reviewed here ). Mozambique not only was one of the few films in which Cochran was billed as the leading man, it was also his final film. Cochran, who was also known for his dalliance with Hollywood women such as Mamie van Doran, died on his yacht off the coast of Guatemala the same year the film was released.

77 SUNSET STRIP “Legend of Crystal Dart.” ABC, 15 April 1960 (Season 2, Episode 28.) Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Roger Smith, Marilyn Maxwell, William Schallert, Kurt Kreuger, Jacqueline Beer, Patricia Michon. Teleplay: Gloria Elmore. Director: Montgomery Pittman.

   While the series has not yet officially released on DVD — and why not, I don’t know — scattered episodes of 77 Sunset Strip are being shown on a cable channel called MeTV, which is how I managed to see this one, the first episode I’ve seen since it was first on the air. (Complete seasons are available on the collectors’ market, but in absymal picture quality, even as advertised.)

   Unfortunately, I had no choice as to which one came up first, and this one was it. It’s not representative, I don’t believe. Roger Smith, as Jeff Spencer, co-partner in the firm, shows up in the office only at the beginning and at the end. Kookie (Edd Byrnes) isn’t in this one at all. It’s up to Stu Bailey (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) to work this case completely on his own.

   He’s hired by a former famous French entertainer named Crystal Dart (a very buxom Marilyn Maxwell) to serve an eviction notice to her soon-to-be ex-husband in their isolated mountain lodge up in the mountains. Trapped in a snowstorm with them (as it turns out) are the ghostwriter for her memoirs, his wife, and the nurse/girl friend of Miss Dart’s wheelchair-bound husband.

   Sizzling resentments and vicious arguments quickly break out, some dealing with secrets from the past. Miss Dart has not a friend among them, or so it seems. Bailey is mostly content to sit back with his pipe and casual sweater wear, watching as he does in bemused fashion. It takes a while for a murder to occur, but surprisingly enough, it is not Miss Dart who is the victim.

   Some mild detective work takes place, that plus Stu Bailey’s obvious growing attraction to Miss Dart. In spite of the classic setting, that of an isolated snowbound haven from the elements, the slow pace manages to eliminate all but the smallest hint of suspense. Not the best example to begin with, I suspect.

AGATHA CHRISTIE – Dead Man’s Folly. Dodd Mead, US, hardcover, 1956. Pocket, US, paperback; 1st printing, June 1961. First published in the UK by Collins, hardcover, 1956. Umpteen reprint editions exist, in both hardcover and soft. Made-for-TV movie: CBS, 8 January 1986 (with Peter Ustinov as Poirot, and Jean Stapleton as Mrs. Oliver). Also televised as an episode of Agatha Christie’s Poirot, ITV, UK, 30 October 2013 (Season 13, Episode 3), with David Suchet as Poirot and Zoë Wanamaker as Mrs, Oliver.

   If you’ve never read this book, a folly is probably not what you think it is, not in the context of this particular story. Looking online, I found this definition, which is as good as any: “A costly ornamental building with no practical purpose, especially a tower or mock-Gothic ruin built in a large garden or park.”

   I have a feeling, although I’m not certain, that this book may have been my introduction to both Agatha Christie and her famed Belgian detective, M. Hercule Poirot. The timing is right — 1956 was about the time I signed up with the Dollar Mystery Guild — but it’s also over 60 years ago, and who remembers for sure? I know I’ve read the book before, that much I’m positive of, but when? Only the vaguest of memories.

   In this one Poirot is asked by his good friend and very successful mystery writer Ariadne Oliver to help her with a murder hunt she’s putting on, complete with victim and clues.

   Asking him to pose as the person awarding the top prize to the winner of the contest, what she really wants Poirot to do is tell her why she feels so strangely that something is wrong, that somehow she is not in control of things.

   Poirot is out of his depth. He deals with real murders, real suspects, real clues and real detective work, not fake ones. But it does give Ms. Christie to have some fun with the situation, and to allow the reader to have play along with her. She could wield a very wicked pen when she had the chance to do so, often at the expense of her characters, and so she does here.

   But things eventually turn serious, as we knew it would all along. The young girl who’s playing the part of the victim is instead found really dead, and in the exact place the fake body was to be lying. This narrows the suspects down to only those who knew about Mrs. Oliver’s game ahead of time, ruling out all of the contestants who paid money to solve her make-believe mystery.

   And of course what this means is that in the second half of the book it is Ms. Christie who’s playing a game with the reader. Only in retrospect, though, can it be said that this is a fair play mystery. The clues are there, but they’re obfuscated so well (or badly) that I challenge any reader to make sense of them before Poirot does.

   I hope this does not sound like sour grapes. The sleight of hand, while extremely clever, could have been more sharply done this time, I thought, and the book would have been much better for it. My advice: Read this one very carefully, with the sense that what happens in every scene may be extremely important to the unraveling of the puzzle as it’s presented to you, and report back to me how well you do.

   I don’t know if this last thought of mine deserves a PLOT WARNING or not, since I’m not sure whether it will help or not, but yes, the folly on Sir George Stubbs’s large estate does have a key role to play.


THE DESPERADO. Allied Artists, 1954. Wayne Morris, James Lydon, Beverly Garland, Lee Van Cleef, Dabs Greer John Dierkes, Roy Barcroft. Written by Geoffrey Homes from the novel by Clifton Adams (Gold Medal #121, 1950). Directed by Thomas Carr.

   I finished my inadvertent Wayne Morris Film Festival with this, a surprisingly classy B-western from Allied Artists in the days when they were morphing from Monogram, still churning out second-features but with an eye to moving upscale.

   The plot is the standard revenge story, with Jimmy Lyden (best remembered as Henry Aldrich) out to avenge the murder of his dad, but it’s given a typical 1950s twist: It’s Reconstruction and Texas is run by a bunch of corrupt owlhoots, and when Jimmy runs afoul of them, he goes on the run, a rebellious youth persecuted by an older generation.

   This is a B-western, so it’s not long till he meets up with wanted outlaw Sam Garrett (Morris of course) and the two of them form a shaky friendship that gets tested when Sam cynically lets his new pardner shoot his own way out of a scrap with Lee Van Cleef.

   In fact, cynicism is the mark of Morris’s character here, constantly warning his new buddy not to trust anyone or mix himself up in other people’s fights. When Lyden gets a chance to avenge his dad, Wayne cheerfully urges him to shoot down the unarmed baddies in cold blood, and takes a dim view of his inability to do so. It turns out, though, that other folks have no such tender feelings, and our callow hero gets a murder frame-up added to his troubles.

   With all this and more going on (Lee Van Cleef plays twins, so Jimmy gets to shoot him twice), The Desperado could have easily bogged down in complications, but writer Geoffrey Homes keeps it moving and even throws in a couple of corrupt sheriffs: one (Dabs Greer) likably so and one… well he’s played by Roy Barcroft and enough said.

   Mostly though, the focus is on the uneasy relationship between Morris and Lydon, and it’s here where script, acting and direction come together, and I say this knowing that Wayne Morris and James Lyden are not well-known for deep and insightful acting. But they could rise to the occasions like Strange Illusion and Paths of Glory, and they do quite nicely here.

   Director Thomas Carr was a soul consigned to toil for eternity in B-movies and cheap television, but he took his fate like a low-budget Sisyphus, moving his camera for maximum effect, turning out the best of Bill Eliott’s final westerns with a fluid camera and sure sense of pace, shown here to good effect.

   As for writer Geoffrey Homes (or Daniel Mainwaring, if you prefer) well, his talent was always a variable commodity. His screenplay for Out of the Past is much better than his source novel (Build My Gallows High) which in turn is much much better than any of his other books. His movies range from the excellent Invasion of the Body Snatchers to dreck like The George Raft Story, and The Desperado is somewhere about mid-range: nothing fancy, but solid and enjoyable.

   Oh, and one more footnote: Wayne Morris was a bona fide war hero whose next film after Desperado was Two Guns and a Badge, generally considered the last series B-western. And his first wife was named Bubbles Schinasi.

   Just thought I’d mention it.

IVOR DRUMMOND – The Necklace of Skulls. Jennifer Norrington, Alessandro di Ganzarello, Coleridge Tucker III #7. St. Martin’s Press, US, hardcover, 1977. Dell, US, paperback, 1980 (shown). First published in the UK by Michael Joseph, hardcover, 1977.

   Even today India is large enough and mysterious enough to be the scene of a revived cult of religious fanatics called Thugs, whose sole mission of Earth is to kill other men on behalf of their goddess Kali. The three intrepid adventurers, Colly, Sandro and Jenny, stumble into the worst of what’s going on, and it takes many close calls before they manage their escape, but not before thousands of people in India die, nearly unnoticed in an impoverished land strangled by overpopulation.

   Although the last true pulp magazines expired twenty or so years ago. the kind of breathless romantic adventure fiction that monopolized their now discolored and musty pages can obviously still be found. Modernized, of course, and told by authors with more skill and more time for polishing their work, but it can always be recognized whenever a story is told for the pure fun of it.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 1, No. 6, November 1977 (slightly revised).

      The Colly, Sandro and Jenny series —

1. The Man With The Tiny Head (1969)
2. The Priests Of The Abomination (1970)
3. The Frog In The Moonflower (1972)
4. The Jaws Of The Watchdog (1973)
5. The Power Of The Bug (1974)
6. Tank Of Sacred Eels (1976)
7. The Necklace Of Skulls (1977)
8. A Stench Of Poppies (1978)
9. The Diamonds Of Loretta (1980)


TULSA. Eagle-Lion Films, 1949. Susan Hayward, Robert Preston, Pedro Armendáriz, Lloyd Gough, Chill Wills, Ed Begley, Harry Shannon, Lola Albright. Suggested by a story by Richard Wormser. Director: Stuart Heisler

   I’m going to be honest with you. I enjoyed watching Tulsa way more than I ever expected to. And really, this surprised me. For at the end of the day, there’s nothing all that special about this Technicolor melodrama/modern Western hybrid. Directed by Stuart Heisler, who directed Humphrey Bogart in Tokyo Joe (1949) the very same year, the film stars future Academy Award winner Susan Hayward as Cherokee Lansing, an Oklahoman rancher of mixed heritage who hits it big in the eponymous city’s 1920s oil boom.

   When Cherokee’s rancher father gets killed in an accidental oil rig blowout, she decides that the best way to get even with Bruce Tanner (Lloyd Gough), the oilman she holds responsible is for her to join the business herself. Joining her on her ambitious quest to make a name for herself in the oil industry is geologist Brad Brady (Robert Preston) who, to no one’s surprise, ends up falling for the headstrong redheaded beauty. Complicating matters for Cherokee is her longstanding friendship with local rancher Jim Redbird (Pedro Armendáriz), a man who wants no part in Cherokee’s increasingly ruthless and ambitious plans to become an oil tycoon.

   What makes Tulsa worth watching, however, is not the rather mediocre and predictable plot. No. It’s that, for a low budget western from the late 1940s, Tulsa has surprisingly lots to say about both environmental conservation and race relations in Oklahoma. Some of it is heavy handed, but a lot of it was perhaps just subtle enough to make an impact on some moviegoers when the film first opened.

   Still, if message films aren’t your cup of tea, there’s always Susan Hayward, who is a joy to watch. And there’s a rather spectacular fire sequence at the end of the film, with images of rows of oil derricks up in flames. People must have noticed that intense finale, for it was enough to earn the movie an Oscar nomination for special effects in 1950.


KATE WILHELM – The Best Defense. Barbara Holloway #2, St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, 1994. Fawcett, paperback, 1995.

   Kate Wilhelm is equally well known as a science-fiction and crime writer — not enough in either field — and has written many books in both genres dating back to 1963. She’s written five books about a husband-and-wife private eye team set in Oregon, but this isn’t one of them. She is, I think, under-appreciated.

   Barbara Holloway isn’t looking to take on any new cases, but when the sister of an accused baby killer comes to her and says that the woman’s public defender isn’t doing his job, she agrees to at least look into it. She finds it to be true, and also finds that a concentrated smear campaign is being waged by a local right-wing newspaper publisher — one that is quickly broadened to include her when she takes a hand. She is convinced of the woman’s innocence, which means that there is a real killer loose. As she begins to build her case, she finds tangible evidence of this.

   1994 is shaping up to be my year for courtroom dramas. First William Harrington’s Town on Trial, and now this, both better than any I’ve read in years. I think this is Edgar material. Wilhelm has created an appealing and believable character in Barbara Holloway, and the rest of the characters are equally well done. The courtroom scenes are excellent, and narrative tension is maintained throughout the story.

   Let me revise my opening statement and say that Wilhelm is very under-appreciated. The book, by the way, has much to say about battered women and the more conservative element of the pro-life group, and says it cogently and well. The story is brought to a successful conclusion, it should be noted, without the orgy of violence which has become so prevalent in the field.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #11, January 1994.

       The Barbara Holloway series —

1. Death Qualified (1991)
2. The Best Defense (1994)
3. Malice Prepense (1995), reprinted as For the Defense (1997)
4. Defense for the Devil (1999)
5. No Defense (2000)
6. Desperate Measures (2001)
7. The Clear and Convincing Proof (2003)
8. The Unbidden Truth (2004)
9. Sleight Of Hand (2006)
10. A Wrongful Death (2007)
11. Cold Case (2008)
12. Heaven Is High (2011)
13. By Stone By Blade By Fire (2012)
14. Mirror, Mirror (2017)

   There are also 12 books in Kate Wilhelm’s Constance and Charlie series, the husband-and-wife PI team that Barry mentioned in passing. Not a bad resume for an author who is or will be 89 this year and is still probably better known as a SF writer. (See the comments for a correction on the number of Constance and Charlie books.)

HARMFUL INTENT. CBS, made-for-TV; 14 December 1993. Full title: Robin Cook’s Harmful Intent. Tim Matheson, Emma Samms, Robert Pastorelli, Kurt Fuller, Alex Rocco, John Walcutt. Based on the book by Robin Cook. Director: John Patterson.

   Based on the movie longer, more complete title, I’m sure that Robin Cook’s only intent was to make a few bucks from it. All seriousness aside, it’s a pretty innocuous movie, when it comes down to it. An anesthesiologist makes a mistake in OR, is sued for malpractice, eventually gets convicted for second degree murder, then tries to clear his name while trying to avoid a persistent bounty hunter.

   Emma Samms, as the widow of a former colleague, cheers him on, but she really doesn’t have much else to do. As the fugitive doctor, Tim Matheson quotes most of his dialogue as though it were formed from wood. Robert Pastorelli, as the no-holds-barred bounty hunter, complete with a wild, bushy hairdo and one long earring, was obviously having more fun than anybody.

— Reprinted from Nothing Accompliced #4, November 1993 (slightly revised).

JOSEPH FINDER – Guilty Minds. Nick Heller #3. Dutton, hardcover, 2016; paperback, 2017.

   Nick Heller is, according to the back cover of the softcover edition of this book, “a private spy — an intelligence operative based in Boston who prides himself on uncovering the truth.” His assignment in this case: to find out who’s responsible for a scurrilous story about a Supreme Court justice that’s about to appear in one of those scandal sheet websites that are so widely read around the world today, but most particularly in the DC area.

   The justice is accused of having an ongoing liaison with a call girl in a downtown DC hotel, an accusation that Heller quickly proves to be false. When the call girl is found dead, obviously a suicide, Heller decides to follow up on his own — he doesn’t believe the official verdict — and to find out who’s really behind this ever evolving conspiracy, and why.

   This is PI work in the modern age, no doubt about it. Heller has a staff fully conversant with all kinds of illicit computer spying and other high tech surveillance capability, as well as contacts of all kinds whenever his own staff needs assistance. It does make things a whole easier in one sense, compared with the resources a Philip Marlowe had, or didn’t have — but on the other hand, the villains of the take have equal abilities, and they’re not hesitant about using them.

   I don’t usually tackle books as long as this one — almost 450 pages of small print — but Finder has a very smooth writing technique that allows the reader to gulp in whole paragraphs at a time. Truthfully, though, it’s more of a thriller novel than it is a PI novel, with a lot of firepower bringing the story to a grand slam conclusion in the final few chapters.

   There’s nothing in this one that I’m sure I haven’t read before, but even if so, I didn’t mind at all reading it again.

      The Nick Heller series —

1. Vanished (2009)
2. Buried Secrets (2011)
2.5. Plan B (novells, 2011)
3. Guilty Minds (2016)

   Also of note: “Good and Valuable Consideration: Jack Reacher vs. Nick Heller,” a short story by Lee Child & Joseph Finder included in the ITW (International Thriller Writers) anthology FaceOff (2015).


   One of the virtues of a great song is its ability to tell more than one story by just shifting the singer’s point of view. First, listen to the great Beth Hart sing her song “Tell Her You Belong to Me.”

   How do you visualize the song? Who is the singer?

   Now recently Beth Hart revealed whom she wrote the song about and for.

   Notice how it shifts your opinion of the character who is telling the story of betrayal?

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