December 2018

FOLLOW ME QUIETLY. RKO Radio Pictures, 1949. William Lundigan, Dorothy Patrick, Jeff Corey, Nestor Paiva. Screenplay: Lillie Hayward, based on a story co-written by Anthony Mann. Director: Richard O. Fleischer.

   Even though noir maven Eddie Muller recently showed this as part of his “Noir Alley” series on TCM, in his comments afterward he had to fess up and admit that Follow Me Quietly is not a noir film at all. Never the less, it’s a film that comes closer to noir than a lot of films that also aren’t but are dumped into the category anyway.

   This is has little to do with the story line — if anything, this is nothing but a straight-forward police procedural — but it does have a lot to do with the filming, the stylish camera work and lighting, starting with the opening scene, as we watch girl reporter Ann Gorman (Dorothy Patrick)’s feet as she paces back and forth in the rain in front of a small diner while waiting for Lt. Harry Grant (William Lundingan) for some details of the case he’s currently working on.

   The sending is quite striking, too, as we see Grant chasing down the serial killer he’s finally closing in on. The conclusion takes place in some sort of waterworks plant (?), which allows for scene after scene filled with spectacular background shots of pipes and conduits of some sort, railings and walkways, taken from all kinds of angles.

   What comes in between? A fairly ordinary cop film, with an added plus of a romance between the two primary stars that’s only semi-convincing. One unusual visual aspect that I’ve never seen before is instead of the usual police artist’s rendition of the killer’s face (which no one still living has seen) is the creation of a three-dimensional rendition of his body in the form of a faceless dummy.

   This leads to one chilling moment in the middle of the film, which I won’t tell you anything more about — it will more effective if you see it for yourself without warning — but one that’s negated (and truthfully, so is the entire film, if you think about it) when the strangler of at least seven people turns out to be a quiet nebbish sort of guy.

   Lundigan was a competent actor but he was also probably too good-looking to be the primary protagonist in a noir film. Dorothy Patrick, on the other hand, an actress whom I don’t recall ever seeing before, does just fine as a pest of a reporter who’s always in his hair.


TERRIE CURRAN – All Booked Up. Basil & Hortense Killingsley #1. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1987. Worldwide, paperback reprint, July 1989.

   In spite of any and all expectations, given the title and the setting, you know a book is going to present problems for you when (a) all of the leading characters’ names are Edwina Gluck (librarian), Basil Killingsley (professor), Hortense (his wife), Cyril Prout (rare books curator), and Cecil (‘Ceese’) Blinn (Teas oil baron),

   And (b) all of the action takes place in the Smedley, a small research library somewhere in the Boston area. A rare book is missing, and before this tale is over, two persons are dead. Humor is a matter of taste and timing, of course, but generally speaking it needs more than funny names or potty people to satisfy your palate.

   I did not find much to enjoy with this one.

–Reprinted and somewhat revised from from Mystery*File #19, January 1990.

Bibliographic Update:   Two more books in the series have appeared in recent years, both available as ebooks only: Rotten Eggs (November 2012) and Battle of the Books (March 2014).

ONE STEP BEYOND “The Bride Possessed.” ABC, 20 January 1959. Season 1, Episode 1. Virginia Leith, Skip Homeier, Harry Townes, Ann Morrison. Director & host: John Newland.

   In dealing with strange and unusual events in the world around us, there are some similarities between One Step Beyond and the much more well-known series The Twilight Zone, but OSB came along first. TTZ did not begin until October 2, 1959.

   The big difference between the two shows is that the stories on TTZ were fictional (and almost always with a twist at the end) and did not pretend otherwise. The stories on OSB were presented as “fact” and were purportedly based on real events.

   “The Bride Possessed,” the very first episode, is a good example. The theme is that of possession of a living person by the dead, in this case a young bride (Virginia Leith) on her honeymoon who suddenly begins to channel the being of another young woman who has recently committed suicide by jumping from the edge of a cliff into the sea below.

   But it was not suicide, the young bride insists in Leith’s new role in the story, it was murder. Neither her husband (Skip Homeier) nor her doctor know what to make of this until they find the murder weapon.

   That the story is as effectively chilling as it is is due to entirely to Virginia Leith’s convincing transformation from one woman to another and yet in the same body. One regret I had in watching it was how abrupt the ending was. It was up to the host at the end to conclude this first episode’s story line.

   Except for the little I’ve read about it, I know nothing about the rest of the series — it was on for three seasons and some 96 episodes — but from the accounts of others, this episode seems to have set the tone for the series rather well. I watched this one on Amazon Prime, but various episodes have been available in different collected sets of DVD over the years.


THE FALLEN SPARROW. RKO Radio Pictures, 1943. John Garfield, Maureen O’Hara, Walter Slezak, Patricia Morison, Martha O’Driscoll, Bruce Edwards, John Banner, John Miljan, Hugh Beaumont. Based on the novel by Dorothy B. Hughes. Director: Richard Wallace.

   Although released in 1943 and nominally a spy film with patriotic undertones, RKO’s The Fallen Sparrow is far more of a film noir than many of the post-war crime melodramas that contemporary critics have attempted to pigeonhole into that movie genre. From a protagonist teetering on the edge of sanity to the noticeable absence of a traditional upbeat Hollywood ending, the film works best as a study of a man trying to survive in a world that is seemingly one step ahead of him.

   Based on the eponymous novel by Dorothy B. Hughes, the film likewise benefits from its casting of John Garfield as the lead protagonist. He portrays Kit McKittrick, the son of a New York cop who has spent the last two years imprisoned by fascists in Spain. A veteran of the Spanish Civil War, Kit is dealing with the traumatic psychological fallout resulting from his being tortured repeatedly by a Nazi official during his term in captivity. He doesn’t remember his torturer’s face. In fact, it’s not clear that he’s ever seen it. What he does remember is the sound of his persecutor’s limp. A shuffling sound followed by a distinct plodding thud.

   The plot follows Kit as he returns to New York to investigate the apparent suicide of his friend, a New York detective. He suspects not only that his friend was murdered, but also that his death had something to do with Kit’s imprisonment in Spain. And when Kit begins to hear the footsteps of his torturer he begins to wonder whether he’s lost his mind or whether his persecutor has followed him back home.

   Although an enjoyable suspense film, The Fallen Sparrow is not a movie that necessitates repeated viewings. The film can be slow going at times and is rather talky. It’s almost as if the screenwriters literally tried to adapt Hughes’s novel in total rather than capture the essence of her story and then use it to create something excitedly fresh in cinematic form.

MANHANDLED. Paramount Pictures, 1949. Dorothy Lamour, Sterling Hayden, Dan Duryea, Irene Hervey. Director: Lewis R. Foster.

   I started writing this review by running through the basic plot, but after writing three or four lines, I gave up, realizing how dumb it all was. Let’s boil it down to this: crooked private eye frames psychiatrist’s secretary for murder.

   Dan Duryea plays the aforementioned PI in a manner that’ll curl your teeth — and I mean that in a good way. No one was better than he in roles like this. This is one he was meant to play.

   In an early role for him, Sterling Hayden plays a sympathetic insurance guy who’s nowhere to be seen when Miss Lamour needs him most, and the guys on the police force should be in the movies — as comedians. There will be times when I swear you will say that any resemblance to real life is totally coincidental.

   I enjoyed the movie anyway. It isn’t much of a detective or mystery story, but there are enough suspects involved for there to be a surprise or two, and if you can put up with the comedy bits, there are enough of the grimmer elements of the noir school of movie-making to make this a film worth watching out for.

— Reprinted and somewhat revised from Movie.File.8, January 1990.

ROBERT BARNARD – Death of a Mystery Writer. Inspector Meredith #1. Charles Scribners Sons, US, hardcover, 1979. Dell, Scene of the Crime Mystery #4, paperback, October 1980. First published in the UK by Collins, hardcover, 1978, as Unruly Son.

   I do not know how common this phenomenon is, but this is one of those mysteries in which the victim simply takes over the first part of the book and makes it his own. Famed mystery writer Oliver Farleigh-Stubbs is such an individual. Grossly overweight but definitely lord of his own manor, the man delights in being outrageously outrageous.

   By which he loves to make monstrous accusations (some of which are right-on accurate), decry the foibles of his family and friends (those that he has), defame his fellow mystery writers and their craft (to the delight of readers and dedicated fans alike), and in general makes himself a boorish center of shock and disgust or even outright hatred, whenever he walks into a room.

   That he will be the victim of a well-planned murder comes as no surprise, even without the hint given by the American title. But when he dies, all of the air is sucked out of the room, so to speak. The members of his surviving family, their servants, and the staff at his publishing company, formerly butts of all his deliberate rudeness — none of them are as interesting as he was. Not an ounce of real personality to any of them, at least not in comparison.

   A statement of relative blandness which also includes Inspector Meredith, a colorless man whose job it is to determine who it was who slipped the victim a fatal dose of nicotine poison. The killer may be easy to determine by the reader, and perhaps even the means by which he did the deed, but why? For his/her reason, you will have to wait for Meredith to explain.

   The post-murder half of the book is not bad, mind you. Robert Barnard is a better writer than that, but all in all, the end result is a decidedly uneven affair — there’s no getting around it.

PostScript:   Inspector Meredith made a second appearance several years later in At Death’s Door (Collins, 1988), which I have not read.


CROOKS ANONYMOUS. Independent Artists, UK, 1962. Leslie Phillips, Stanley Baxter, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Pauline Jameson, James Robertson Justice, Raymond Huntley and Julie Christie. Written by Jack Davies and Henry Blyth. Directed by Ken Annakin.

   An unexpected Christmas movie.

   Leslie Philips stars as a smooth thief with a jaunty front, given to cigarette holders, poking people with his umbrella and calling everyone “Sport.” As the film opens, he seems rather good at his trade — there’s a clever scene in his apartment where his stripper girlfriend, Babette LaTour (Julie Christie!) challenges him to show her one thing there that isn’t stolen. He casts about a bit, finally points to her picture on the mantle and adds, “Not the frame of course.”

   Persuaded by love to go straight he enrolls in Crooks Anonymous, an institution that reforms crooks, run by Wilfrid Hyde-White, but the bulk of the job is carried by Stanley Baxter, and quite well too, in a variety of disguises as a nasty “Guardian Angel.” We first see him, disguised as a priest, seating himself on a park bench beside two attractive young ladies, and pulling out a book titled Flogging.

   Phillips’ crash course in Honesty is quite amusing, but the film really kicks into high gear when he lands a job as a department store Santa and gets locked in the store on Christmas Eve, with a safe full of untraceable money.

   I won’t go into details here, but it’s riotous fun, perfectly played by a host of British character actors who get a laugh out of every scene. I particularly liked Raymond Huntley (the unspeakable husband in So Evil My Love (reviewed here ) as a nasty store manager, and James Robertson Justice as his nastier boss.

   The Holidays have peaked and waned, but if you can get a look at this one, I guarantee a Holly-Jolly Post-Christmas.

   Back in 1974, if you’d asked me what I thought of this song, I’d probably have said, “Not much.” Neither did anyone else, at the time. I’m glad I’m still around, to have changed my mind.

   From their Wikipedia entry: “The New York Dolls were an American hard rock band formed in New York City in 1971. Along with the Velvet Underground and the Stooges, they were one of the first bands of the early punk rock scenes. Although their original line-up fell apart quickly, the band’s first two albums—New York Dolls (1973) and Too Much Too Soon (1974)—became among the most popular cult records in rock.”


THE NINA B. AFFAIR. Bavaria-Filmkunst Verleih, France-Germany, 1961. Originally released as Affäre Nina B and L’affaire Nina B. Nadjia Tiller, Pierre Brasseur, Walter Giller. Screenplay by Roger Nimier, Jacques Roberts and Robert Siodmak, who also directed. Based on the novel by Johannes Maria Simmel.

   The irony about the work of Johannes Maria Simmel, an international bestselling Austrian author, chemical engineer, and English translator, is that virtually no one in the United States ever heard of him until writers such as Robert Ludlum and Frederick Forsyth came to the fore of popular spy fiction in the seventies and eighties and his work began to appear here in mass market paperbacks published only as by Simmel (much less foreign sounding than Johannes Maria) and proclaimed to be in the tradition of Ludlum and Forsyth, when he was in reality a contemporary of Helen MacInnes (who his Cold War novels resemble more than Ludlum or Forsyth), Sarah Gainham, Paul Hyde Bonner, and Martha Albrand.

   Truth was, Simmell had been writing this sort of thing since 1949 over two decades before Ludlum or Forsyth stuck their hands in, and was far less a thriller writer than a novelist whose work deals with crime and espionage and his personal belief in pacifism, particularly in the aftermath of WW II and the Cold War with often autobiographical references (the antagonist in Nina B. has the same middle name as Simmel) in books like I Confess, Double Agent — Triple Cross, The Caesar Code, and Cain ’67, and who had sixteen books filmed beginning in 1960 as well as penning numerous original screenplays and adaptations. His career and success outside of the American publishing world was quite extensive with twenty-nine books published between 1949 and 1999.

   In addition his devotion to pacifism led to numerous awards over his career, including those from his native country and the UN, as well as his being one of the bestselling authors in the world.

   Among those works was The Nina B. Affair, which was filmed in Germany in 1961, pre-Bond, directed by noted film noir director Robert Siodmak (who previously filmed Simmel’s Mein Schulfreund in 1960), brother of screenwriter Curt “Donovan’s Brain” Siodmak, Robert returning to Germany and reinventing himself as a director of spectacles, Westerns, and dramas when his American career faltered.

   The plot of the 1958 novel borrows pretty freely from both Citizen Kane and Orson Welles’ novel and film Mr. Arkadan, which both owed something to Eric Ambler’s Coffin for Dimitrios, if truth be told, and a Tracy and Hepburn picture Keeper of the Flame based on an I.A.R. Wylie novel, in that it opens at the funeral of the mysterious financier Michel Maria Berrera (Pierre Brasseur), one of those able criminal types beloved by Eric Ambler, in Wiesbaden, West Germany.

   The story is told in flashback by Antoine Holden (Walter Giller), a young man just out of prison whose taciturn attitude Berrera admired and who becomes involved with him, and slowly unwinds the twisty tale of a high stakes blackmailer and corrupt businessman, who it is suggested is much darker than we ever see.

   â€œNothing seems strange to me, I am open to everything.”

   Shot in black and white and using many noir touches from the camera angles, wet night streets, isolated shots of the protagonist, and such it’s difficult not to see this as Euro-noir what with the flashback story structure and the dubious nature of most of the characters including the hero and heroine.

   Holden first arrives at Berrera’s house as the ambulance has just taken away Berrera’s wife, Nina (Nadjia Tiller) who has just attempted suicide. Berrera hires Holden on the spot and from the beginning he is involved in his intrigues including an urgent trip into East Germany for a briefcase full of papers Berrera is desperate to get so he can blackmail a trio of Nazi war criminals now well to do West German businessmen out of a deal they are making with an emerging African nation.

   Berrera ends up in jail with everyone after the papers and Holden faced with violence and bribes and Berrera’s too smooth lawyer, as well as falling for Nina, once Berrera’s secretary, who wants to escape his casual cruelty and overbearing manner.

   True to the book, there are no easy answers in the film. Holden and Nina’s brief affair is doomed by her hatred and fear of Berrera, with everything tumbling out of control when Berrera gets out of jail and makes his last big gamble to win the biggest prize of all, control of the African contracts.

   Some may find the finale a bit stark, but it is a great last shot and a perfect way to end the dark tale about people who are no more innocent than they have to be, caught in the web of a spider whose morals are as dubious as his weak heart, and ends on a perfect ironic note

   Despite a few touches, this is more drama than thriller or suspense, but it clearly benefits from Sidomak’s own American forays into noir storytelling. Acting honors primarily go to Brasseur, who plays Berrera as a fat spider at once threatening and cajoling, generous and ruthless, who plays god with the emotions and feelings of everyone around him, a more subtle James Bond villain, both attractive and evil, and more than deserving of his ironic fate.

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