June 2017

DEAD PIGEON ON BEETHOVEN STREET. Episode 25, Season 1, of Tatort, Germany, 07 January 1973. Original title: Tote Taube in der Beethovenstraße. Glenn Corbett, Christa Lang, Sieghardt Rupp, Anton Diffring, Stephanie Audran, Eric P. Caspar. Screenwriter-director: Sam Fuller. Novelization: Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street, by Samuel Fuller (Pyramid V3736, paperback original, 1974).

   This is the story of a private eye named Sandy (Glenn Corbett) who comes to Germany on an extremely important case. He’s been hired an United States senator with presidential aspirations to obtain a negative that in the wrong hands could prove to be extremely embarrassing. His partner, who arrived before him, is dead. His objective: find the killer, infiltrate the gang of blackmailers, and save the senator’s hide.

   The killer, as it turns out, is a fellow named Charlie Umlaut. Sandy’s gateway to the gang is a girl named Christa (Christa Lang) who is also the girl in the compromising photograph. She also knows who the leader of the gang is (Anton Diffring), and to gain her confidence, Sandy poses as a rival in the blackmail business. But can Christa herself be trusted, even when propinquity (between herself and Sandy) takes the way of nature and least resistance?

   This was filmed at a low point in Director Sam Fuller’s career. The story had nothing (or very little) to do with the rest of the German series it was filmed as part of. But Fuller had name value, and he was given a a free hand, more or less — given budgetary considerations. The movie (which is what I will call it) is filmed in beautiful colors and fanciful camera angles, and in those two regards, I should consider it a huge success.

   But the story, at least in the longer, restored director’s cut (in the DVD recently released and remastered through the UCLA Archives) becomes repetitious and boring, and the acting is stiff and the dialogue on occasion seemingly ad-libbed. Christa Lang’s awkward body motions, speech patterns and facial expressions can easily become annoying, if you allow them. (She was married to Fuller at the time and until his death.)

   Some reviewers have really disliked this movie. Others call it a work of genius, calling it an inspired collision with (and combination of) Noir and the New Wave. I don’t know as I’d go that far, but Fuller usually knew what he was doing, and while I also don’t know if he did here, maybe he really did. Either that or the movie is a complete failure, and once that is admitted, then perhaps that’s what it was how it was intended, as a complete spoof of the crime genre.

   And maybe this review makes sense too, and maybe it doesn’t.


THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X. Warner Brothers, 1939. Wayne Morris, Priscilla Lane, Humphrey Bogart, Dennis Morgan, John Litel, Lya Lys, Huntz Hall, Olin Howland. Written by Lee Katz and William J. Makin. Directed by Vincent Sherman.

   1939 was the year that brought us Stagecoach, Gone with the Wind, Of Mice and Men, Wizard of Oz… and this, Bogie’s only horror film. He didn’t like it much, but it ain’t all that bad. It isn’t very good, either, but I found it fun.

   Wayne Morris, playing his usual likeable half-wit, is your typical movie reporter of the day: bluff, brassy and smart as a corn cob. As the story opens, he talks his way into an interview with a stage star (Lya Lys, in a rather good sub-Dietrich performance) only to find her dead in her apartment, her body drained of blood—and cue up the ominous music.

   Things take a surprising turn when Wayne’s paper splashes the story across the front page before telling the police, only to have the body disappear when the cops show up… then reappear alive (sort of; she now sports a goth look and talks like Robert Downey in his drug-using days) leading to Wayne getting fired by a typically apoplectic movie-style editor.

   Nothing daunted, our hero hooks up with his doctor buddy (Dennis Morgan) and consults with blood specialist Dr. Flegg (“Interesting stuff, blood!”) who assures him there’s nothing to see here, but….

   About this time we get a look at Dr. Flegg’s assistant, Doctor Quesne, and the jig is up, for it’s no less than Humphrey Bogart, made up like a reverse-Jolson, with pasty white face, dark lips and eyeshadow, with a shock of white in his hair. Doctor Flegg (John Litel, made up with satanic goatee and monocle) explains it all by saying Bogie’s “getting over a shock.”

   It would be easy to say the shock must be appearing in this picture, but as I said, it’s not all that bad. Return is done with typical Warners polish: elaborate sets, glistening photography (by Sid Hickox, of Dark Passage and Colorado Territory) and the usual cast of Warners bit players, all doing their reliable best and keeping a straight face when we learn that Dr Quesne is actually Doctor Xavier, an executed criminal brought back to life and now in need of human blood to keep going.

   I should add however that Return is also heavy-duty stupid. How so? Well for starters, we get a front-page headline of a murder out on the streets before the police can even get to the scene of the crime. Later, a detective tells Dennis Morgan that the coroner has ruled a death by natural causes — while the body is still lying on the floor!

   Further on, our persistent heroes, investigating the supposed death of Dr Xavier, go to the cemetery in the middle of the night and simply have the caretaker dig up the grave, which he does as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Xavier’s coffin turns up empty of course, whereupon the cops compound the stupidity by showing up to arrest Morris and Morgan for stealing the copse! Faced with all this, the notion of raising the dead seems but another improbability, and hardly noticeable.

   For those who don’t know how horror films end, I’m going to throw out a SPOILER ALERT! here and add that in deference to Bogie’s image, the writers allow him to perish shooting it out with the Law in a hail of police bullets. And it’s done well, an exciting moment in a film that can be fun if you’ll let it.


THE FAR FRONTIER. Republic Pictures, 1948. Roy Rogers, Trigger, Gail Davis, Andy Devine, Francis Ford, Roy Barcroft, Clayton Moore, Robert Strange, Riders of the Purple Sage. Director: William Witney.

   With William Whitney at the helm, you just know you’re quite likely going to get a motion picture with some down and dirty fighting in it. While The Far Frontier has some well-choreographed fight scenes, it’s more notable for “death by oil barrel.”

   What’s that, you ask? Well, for starters it’s a particularly brutal way to kill someone. There’s a scene, early on in the movie, in which sadistic human traffickers toss oil barrels down a rocky mountain cliff. In the barrels are the very persons who have hired them to transport them illegally across the U.S.-Mexican border.

   That scene, along with Whitney’s name in the opening credits, gives the viewer the sense that this entry into the extensive Roy Rogers filmography isn’t going to be one of the more innocent, child-friendly ones.

   Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s some singing and lightheartedness and Andy Devine, with that goofy and innocent smile on his face, is there to provide some comic relief to the proceedings. But overall, this Rogers film has a slightly darker story. One that involves coldblooded murder, amnesia, and a blood feud that finally comes to a violent conclusion.

   A final note: there are a few un-credited “actors” in The Far Frontier who portray characters who become essential to the plot.

   I’m talking about pigeons, carrier pigeons to be precise. These little birds are the means by which the film’s primary villain communicates with his minions. Fortunately, Roy is able to get one of the pigeons on the side of justice. Who said birds didn’t matter?

  JOHN FLAGG – Death and the Naked Lady. Stark House Press, trade paperback, 2017. Published in one volume with the novel The Lady and the Cheetah and the short story “Faces Turned Against Him.” Introduction by James Reasoner. First published as a Gold Medal paperback original in 1951 (#151).

   John Flagg, not his real name, wrote eight paperback originals for Gold Medal back in the 1950s and early 60s. Before that, under his own name, John Gearon, he wrote one earlier work of crime fiction, The Velvet Well (Duell, hardcover, 1946) about about a man on the run from some former Nazis in South America.

   Five of the Gold Medal books had a continuing series character named Hart Muldoon, a former OSS agent and man of mystery, or so I’m told, but he does not appear in either this novel or its companion novel in this recently published book from Stark House Press.

   The protagonist in Death and the Naked Lady is a lounge singer named Mac McLean who, thanks to a few very fortunate turn of events, has become very popular in Europe and is on his way by ocean steamer to New York City and a lucrative engagement at the Persian Room there.

   What he doesn’t know is that both murder and international intrigue are following closely on his heels. Telling his own story, if he’s not careful, he’s sure to be accused of being the killer of his close friend and sponsor, Georges Fournier.

   Complicating matters are, first, a collection of jade owls he discovers in his possession, and then, not one, not two, but three beautiful women, all attractive and all (apparently) attracted to him. First, Lady Harcourt, whose husband Albert is a bore and does not seem to see what’s going on under his own nose; second, the stunningly beautiful Lili Fenwick, a girl from the Midwest who’s hit the top as a glamorous movie star; and third, the lady of the title, who made her name in the Folies Bergère but who is now married to a gentleman from Central America and who is rumored to be very powerful or very rich, or both.

   Gearon/Flagg must have been very familiar with the jet transatlantic steamship set, circa 1950, since he describes the people and the boat they’re on so well. Compared with other authors in the Gold Medal stable at the time, he is better at writing than most. What he doesn’t seem to be able to create is the same flow of action as those do whose careers began in the pulp magazines (Bruno Fischer, Day Keene, Edward Aarons and so on).

   That may be true for this book only, though. The story takes place almost entirely on board ship, and while it limits the number of suspects, it also feels cramped at times, with little room left for maneuvering.

   Almost as big a mystery as who killed Fournier, and why did they frame McLean for the murder, is which of the three women will he end up with? My intuition was correct, I’m happy to say, or maybe that’s also because Flagg nailed their personalities, all very distinct, so well. Overall? A very enjoyable read.

Russell Gunn is described online as a “contemporary Neo-bop jazz musician, known primarily for his trumpet playing.” (Wikipedia.) “Fly Me to the Moon” is a track from his first album, Young Gunn, released in 1995, when he was 24, and re-released in 1998 on Young Gunn Plus.



SANDRA WEST PROWELL – The Killing of Monday Brown. Phoebe Siegel #2. Walker, hardcover, 1994. Bantam, paperback, 1996.

   I’ve got this picture of a sweet LOL cozy fan spying the three names on the spine and pouncing on it with little yips of anticipation, carrying it home and settling down with a cup of tea for a nice comfortable read … and then the widening eyes, the shocked expression, the flushed face, and the sense of betrayal. Fair warms my heart, it does.

   Phoebe Siegel is an ex-cop who’s now a private investigator in Billings, Montana. She’s got a large family, an old house she wants to fix up, a lot of emotional baggage, and some bad memories from her last case.

   A murder of Crow Indians from the |nearby reservation show up in her front yard, referred to her by a cop friend of hers who’s their relative. One of the family has been arrested for the murder of an artifact-stealing white man, and they want Phoebe to find out what really happened. There’s a German artifact dealer in town who seems to have an in with the government, and several more complications, one of which being that the Indians hand her a bunch of stolen artifacts.

   This is a pretty good book, and anything but a cozy. Siegel is rougher’n hell and has a mouth on her like a stevedore. She’s an interesting character, and most of the other players are well drawn too.

   Prowell is one of the better prose-handlers I’ve see in the newer writers of late, and has a real feel for the Montana landscape. The plot wasn’t bad at all — I’m always surprised, any more, to be able to I say that — but she tossed in a lot of no-doubt authentic Native American mysticism that she seemed to like a lot, and which didn’t do anything for me at all.

   I haven’t read her first book, which is into its second printing but I’m moderately impressed with this one. I understand she’s got a six-figure contract from Bantam, and that impressive she ain’t.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #12, March 1994.

      The Phoebe Siegel series —

By Evil Means (1993). Nominated for nominated for the Hammett Prize and the Shamus Award.

The Killing of Monday Brown (1994). Nominated for the Shamus Award.
When Wallflowers Die (1996).
An Accepted Sorrow (unpublished).

PASSION. RKO Radio Pictures, 1954. Cornel Wilde, Yvonne De Carlo, Raymond Burr, Lon Chaney Jr., Rodolfo Acosta, John Qualen, Anthony Caruso. Director: Allan Dwan.

   A conflict over land in old Spanish California flares up into the deaths of several members of one homesteading family, and one of the survivors vows vengeance.

   Cornel Wilde and Yvonne De Carlo strike me as being a couple who are absolutely meant for each other, but surprisingly, in this movie they don’t even get to kiss. She’s the tomboy (!) sister of the woman who’s the murder5ed mother of Wilde’s son, and while she is obviously making eyes at him, he is so busy with revenge, he hardly notices her at all. A passionate affair it isn’t.

   Raymond Burr plays the officer of the police who must bring his old friend to justice. If it weren’t for him, I’d never even have considered saving this movie on tape. (And even so, I didn’t.)

COMMENT:  In Brian Garfield’s book on western movies, he calls what this film as a “Bob Steele” plot. If it weren’t such an obvious slur on Bob Steele, I’d agree 100 percent.

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


WICKED WOMAN. United Artists, 1953. Beverly Michaels, Richard Egan, Percy Helton, Evelyn Scott, Robert Osterloh, Frank Ferguson. Written by Clarence Greene and Russell Rouse. Produced by Clarence Greene. Directed by Russsell Rouse, who later married Beverly Michaels, making this a tight-knit ensemble indeed.

   I’m getting to the point where my memory is not to be trusted. Lately as I drive in to work, I can’t recall if I remembered to feed the cat, and it’s even later in the day when I realize I don’t have one. But such are the vagaries of the human mind that when I saw this at CINEVENT I remembered Andrew Sarris making a passing positive reference to it in an article from 1974.

   It’s well worth the mention, a film that floats at the edge of James M. Cain territory like a threatening cloud. Beverly Michaels blows into town on a greyhound, and from the moment she lights a cigarette and asks where to find a cheap room, we can see this dame is trouble and headed for more.

   In short order Bev gets a job as a waitress in a neighborhood bar owned by Evelyn Scott (who is a bit of a lush) run by her hunky husband Richard Egan. She also takes advantage of a mousy – no make that ratty —neighbor across the hall at the boarding house, played to perfection by Percy Helton. It’s obvious from the first that he has a letch for Beverly, and equally obvious that she has only contempt for the little wheezy-voiced fat man, but we shall see…..

   It’s surprising how natural the acting is here. Ms. Michaels seems the perfect tramp, Egan the brainless jock, and Scott the bitch who’s getting in the way as Egan and Michaels start a torrid affair and dream of getting away somewhere — Mexico maybe — if only they could sell the bar without Scott objecting…..

   Using passion instead of brains, Egan and Michaels hatch a plan for her to impersonate the wife and sign the necessary papers, then skip town with the dough. But it seems neither of them knew the paperwork takes a week or ten days to process, resulting in an enjoyably suspenseful stretch with the lovers trying to conceal the deception, even when the new buyer wanders in to look things over.

   And there’s an even nastier wrinkle when the ratty little neighbor tumbles to the scheme and blackmails Michaels for sexual favors — believe, me, there’s nothing as scary or sinister as pipsqueak Percy popping out in the passageway with a cheery “I’ve been waiting for you!”

   From this point on, the plot could have gone any number of places, but it went where I wasn’t expecting it to go. And maybe you won’t expect it either. Suffice it to say, this is tough, cynical and as downbeat as any noir buff could wish for.

   And incidentally, the title song for this enchanting film is sung (belted out, rather) by none other than Herb Jeffries, the Bronze Buckaroo himself!


PASSENGERS. Columbia Pictures, 2016. Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, Andy Garcia, Vince Foster. Director: Morten Tyldum.

   Is Passengers a romance set in outer space or a science fiction movie with a strong romantic theme throughout? I tend to support the latter interpretation. Directed by Norwegian director Morten Tyldum, this extraordinarily well acted film is predominantly a thinking person’s science fiction film, albeit one with a romance unmistakably at its core.

   Many viewers will likely recognize similar themes from the 1972 film Silent Running (reviewed on this blog here ): the terrifying experience of being completely alone in space, the ingenuity needed to adapt to mechanical challenges plaguing a space ship, and the notion of creating an Earth like ecosystem aboard a vessel in outer space.

   Chris Pratt portrays Jim Preston, a mechanic who is thrust into a situation well beyond his control. He, like some 5,000 other passengers, is in a deep hibernation aboard the starship Avalon as it makes its way to Homestead II. These colonists, as well as the crew, were put into a hibernation pods for the long journey. And I do mean long. 120 years in fact.

   But when an asteroid collides with the Avalon, Jim awakes from his deep sleep. Soon enough he finds out that his revival was an accident and that he’s totally alone on the ship. But he’s not alone really, is he? There are close to 5,000 other passengers aboard, all of whom are continuing their deep sleep until they reach Homestead II. Much like Adam in the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden, Jim doesn’t want to be alone. So against his better judgment and his moral understanding of what he is doing is wrong, he decides to use his technical skills to awaken another passenger, the beautiful Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence).

   Soon enough the two of them are romantically involved and settling into their strange new life together on the Avalon. As you might imagine, however, Aurora eventually learns that Jim woke her up. And let’s put it this way: She’s not happy about it. Not in the least. Romance gives way to conflict and unbearable tension as the two people awake on the ship end up completely emotionally isolated from each other. Then things take a turn for the worse. The Avalon begins to break down.

   If the plot sounds simplistic or cliché, trust me when I tell you that it isn’t saccharine or melodramatic in the slightest. The movie raises important themes about technology and about space colonization. Visually stunning, Passengers also benefits from great sound design and a soundtrack that isn’t overbearing in the slightest. For those skeptical of newer science fiction films, it’s worth putting your skepticism aside for this film. It is definitely a film that deserves at least one viewing.

William F. Deeck

JAMES CORBETT – Murder Minus Motive. Herbert Jenkins, UK, 1943. No US edition.

   Though not up to Mr. Corbett’s usual standards of wonderfully awful, Murder Minus Motive nonetheless demonstrates what he is not capable of even when he tries. In this alleged thriller, a medical doctor murders a total stranger for no apparent reason except the way the stranger carries his umbrella. The doctor, a law-abiding citizen — well, obviously for the most part — turns himself in. He claims that he is not insane and was not afflicted with temporary insanity.

   To test the good doctor’s opinion of his own sanity, the police have him examined by Dr. Julian Buxton, an eminent pathologist. (Yes, I’m quite aware this isn’t the role of a pathologist, but the author probably isn’t.) Dr. Buxton, of course, is aware of the difficulties of such an examination and admits that it might take “an hour, an hour and a half — perhaps two hours or longer, even.”

   Dr. Buxton, however, does do a thorough job. Examining the killer the next day, he does blood-pressure tests, finding that the killer had not recently “undergone any great mental stress.” Thus he concludes that the killer is sane now and was sane then.

   Another murder is committed of the same type, this time by a mild-mannered clergyman. When he is examined by yet another pathologist, he, too, is found to be sane and not to have suffered from temporary insanity when he committed the crime. We can be sure that this examination was also a thorough one because the pathologist uses “a pair of stethoscopes.” Blood pressure, strangely, is not mentioned.

   An expert criminologist sums the situation up: “It’s like this — no motive, no murder. No murder, no death-sentence. On the other side; same again. No insanity, no asylum. Deadlock, and there’s only one answer to that — Acquital. Therefore, our master-murderer gets off scot-free.”

   The novel has to be read not to be believed. To employ one of my favorite quotes from Corbett’s works: “The whole thing is so fantastic as to appear incredulous.”

— Reprinted from CADS 12, November 1989. Email Geoff Bradley for subscription information.

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