May 2019

SPENSER: PALE KINGS AND PRINCES. Made for TV movie. Lifetime, 02 January 1994. Robert Urich (Spenser), Barbara Williams (Susan Silverman), Avery Brooks (Hawk), Sonja Smits, Ken James, Maurice Dean Wint, Alex Carter. Screenplay: Robert B. Parker and
Joan H. Parker, based on the former’s book of the same title. Director: Vic Sarin.

   The plot is a little thin in this one, but if you like the Spenser books, as I do in general, but as I know some of you don’t, this is about as close to one of the stories that a filmed version is going to get. I say that not because I’ve read the book as well as seen the movie. The truth is, I read the book so long ago I’m simply not able to compare the two.

   No, the reason for saying this is that Robert B. Parker and his wife Joan are the screenwriters, and she was one of several co-producers. If that doesn’t give you some sort of say in how a movie comes out, it’s difficult to say what does.

   One difference that I seem to remember from the book is that when Spenser makes a trip into the mid-central section of Massachusetts — a small hamlet named Wheaton, which probably doesn’t really exist — to look into the death of a investigate reporter who was killed there, in the movie Susan comes with him. In the book, she only commutes back and forth between Wheaton ad Boston. In the the movie, her motivation for staying close on the scene is that the reporter was one of her clients in psychotherapy.

   What this change does, though, is allow the two of them to work on the investigation together while staying in the same small motel room and eating together in the same dingy diner. This gives the a lot more time to indulge in witty banter together, and to give Susan the opportunity to see her man in action, up close and personal.

   And what action means to Spenser, of course, is barging right in, asking questions, and making a general nuisance of himself — and no small number of enemies, a term that applies to the local police force as well as possible local drug lords. Wheaton has a population that has been substantially bolstered in recent years by a influx of refugee Colombians, and when they have been unable to find work, they have turned to dope peddling, or so it has been rumored. This may be the reason behind the reporter’s death — or it may be his non-stop womanizing ways — or perhaps an even more deadly combo of the two.

   Hawk shows up to help the two of them out when things get a little too tight for them on their own. I can’t think of a better actor to play the part than Avery Brooks, but Robert Urich and Barbara Williams have quite a bit of chemistry together as well. I enjoyed this one.


   Echo Four Two was a 1961 British TV series spin-off from No Hiding Place in which Harry Baxter is promoted to Detective Inspector of the Q Car Squad of E Division. Thirteen episodes were planned, but the final three were cancelled due to an actor’s strike. A second season was discussed, but not commissioned, freeing Det. Insp. Baxter to return to No Hiding Place.

   I kind of doubt whether any viewable episodes exist, but here’s the theme song. Turn this one up. Way up!

   Japan was an English new wave band formed in 1974, gradually shifting from glam-rock to foreign-influenced electronic music before breaking up in December 1982. In that time they had nine UK Top 40 hits

   “In Vogue” is a song from their 1979 LP Quiet Life.


THE YIN AND THE YANG OF MR. GO. Ross Film Productions, UK, 1970. James Mason, Jeff Bridges, Jack McGowran, Irene Tsu, Peter Lind Hayes, Clarissa Kaye(-Mason), Broderick Crawford and Burgess Meredith, who also wrote & directed.

   People ask me why I spend time on bad movies. “Dan,” they ask me, “Why does a good-looking, intelligent man like you spend time on bad movies?”

   Funny you should ask that.

   Most bad films are simply bad, and you won’t read about them here. But now and again, a film is strikingly, memorably, bad, and these I think should be appreciated on their own terms. I mean, when you watch a good movie, or even a competently-made one, you and the filmmaker share common assumptions, and you have some idea what to expect. Here, I was on my own, adrift in a film that could go anywhere.

   I’d like to think this was not the film Burgess Meredith envisioned when he started making it. Word around the ’net is that it was plagued by financial problems, beset by internal strife, and some scenes were clearly added post-production. How else to explain scenes of Brod Crawford acting alone in a room, intercut with scenes of other actors supposedly conversing with him — and none of them even in the movie proper!

   But the fact is, the more I got into this cinematic fever swamp, the more I wondered how anyone could have thought any of it could have made a watchable movie. The cheap color, bad sound and choppy editing don’t help, but they can’t hide the fact that Mr. Go was misconceived and born to calamity.

   Needless to say, I was spellbound.

   For starters, this film is narrated by Buddha. Not some guy named Buddha, THE Buddha: Gautama. Siddhartha. Shakyamuni. The guy with all the statues sitting cross-legged. That’s the one, and every so often we cut to a picture of him and he fills in the narrative gaps in voice-over.

   Said narrative involves Yin Yang Go, a Chinese-German master criminal played by James Mason, in his usual Bored-British manner, headquartered in Macao or Hong Kong (the script is never sure which) and out to get the secret of a new advanced super-weapon from Scientist Pete Martin, played by Peter Lynd Hayes—who will always be Mr. Zabladowski to me.

   To this end, Mason recruits draft-dodger Jeff Bridges to exploit Martin’s weakness for the Rough Trade. Bridges doe his bit in a mildly shocking scene, Mason gets the secret plans, sells them to the bad guys (who are led by his wife, Clarissa Kaye-Mason) who kidnap Bridges’ girlfriend for some reason. Then Brod Crawford’s man (Jack McGowran) shows up and starts chasing everybody. Mason, Bridges and some of the bad guys escape on a helicopter while Clarissa Kaye-Mason tortures Jeff’s girlfriend on a boat, and then….


    …and then Buddha shoots a magical ray from his forehead and turns James Mason into a Good Guy.

   You heard it here, folks. James Mason & Jeff Bridges, still being chased by McGowran, go after the bad guys. And then comes something else I’ve never seen before: Bridges overacts outrageously — in the fight scenes! No kidding, every time he bursts through a door, throws a punch or leaps off a balcony, he strikes a pose like Mighty Mouse.

   By this time I was thoroughly dazzled. And then….

   And then someone apparently took the trouble to tape over this commercial VHS copy, replacing the ending with one of those programs where an artist shows the viewer how to paint awful paintings. And it is a tribute of sorts to The Yin and the Yang of Mr. Go that it took me a minute or two to realize I was no longer watching it.

   I suppose I should seek out a complete DVD or VHS tape of Mr. Go and see how it ends, but I like to remember it like this: Disjointed, misbalanced, completely unpredictable and — and I haven’t even mentioned Director Meredith playing a Chinese herbalist Doctor, or the Loveboat music that jumps and prances in the background, whether it fits or not — no, I like to think that Mr. Go is supposed to end with everybody learning to paint badly.

   And even if that’s not the director’s cut, it’s the version I will cherish.

 MARTIN H. GREENBERG, Editor – Deadly Doings. Ivy, paperback original; 1st printing, 1989.

#7. HELEN NIELSEN “Woman Missing.” Novelette. First published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, May 1960. First collected in Woman Missing and Other Stories (Ace, paperback original, 1961).

   I have a confession to make. This is the first work of fiction by Helen Nielsen I have ever read. This in spite of some eighteen novels, some of which were reprinted in Black Lizard’s series of classic noir fiction in the 1980s, one story collection, dozens of stories for the digest mystery magazines of the 50s and 60s, including Manhunt, and a number of teleplays, including ones for both Perry Mason and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

   The title of “Woman Missing” tells you exactly what the story is about. The wife of a man working the night shift is picked up by a strange man late in the evening, gets into a cab with him, and disappears. Her body is found only later, after much of the investigation by the police has already taken place.

   While it’s not clear at first that this is what it is, what this story eventually becomes is a straightforward police procedural. It’s very well written, but in a strictly non-emotional, non-sensational fashion. There are clues for deductions to be made from, but a lot of what’s accomplished is done by good old-fashioned police work. A routine kind of mystery, solved by dogged persistence, nothing more — but nothing less, either.


Previously in this Martin Greenberg anthology: ERIC AMBLER “The Case of the Emerald Sky.”

STAR TREK: Harlan Ellison’s THE CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER – The Original Teleplay #1 . IDW Publishing, first of a five issue mini-series, August 2014; later collected into book form. Based on Harlan Ellison’s original teleplay, adapted by Scott Tipton and David Tipton. Artwork by J. K. Woodward.

   There’s better than even odds that every Star Trek fan reading this already knows the story behind the scenes of what was the final episode of the first season. Ellison’s original version of the teleplay won the annual Writers Guild of America Award for “Best Episodic Drama on Television.” The version that was shown was substantially different from Ellison’s original story in many ways, but it was still a sensation when shown and in fact was later awarded the Hugo Award in 1968 for the “Best Dramatic Presentation.”

   A loud and public falling out between Harlan Ellison and Gene Roddenberry ensued and lasted for many years. Ellison was not a man who took slights — real or perceived — lightly, to put it mildly.

   Unfortunately I have only the first issue of the comic book mini-series. I will either have to track down the other four or buy the complete collected version in either hardcover or paperback. The people at IDW worked closely with Ellison, and I’m impressed with the end result, the little of it that I have in hand.

   The story has to to with a majestic city on an isolated planet on the rim of the galaxy, a place where time and space converge. A portal exists there that can take those brave or desperate enough into Earth’s past. The 1920s, in fact, and in order to undo a change in the timeline, Kirk, Spock and crew must go back and make things right again. This, they discover, is not so easy to do.

   The artwork is far better than average, verging at time to nothing short of spectacular, and it’s no wonder the folks at NBC said, no, we can’t do that on the budget we have. The likenesses of the main characters, while not as consistent as I’d like, are very very close and always recognizable. The people behind the project had a good time working on it, I’m sure, and it shows.

by Michael Shonk

   Officially, broadcast network TV began in 1946, meaning we are in the seventy-third year of network TV. That is a lot of TV shows.

   Below I pick one series from each decade of TV starting with the 1950s. I will describe it and you can try to guess what TV series I am describing or just skip to the YouTube clip, theme or episode from the mystery series. Since YouTube videos are rarely immortal I will add the answers to the comments.

   We begin in the 1950s. A famous movie actor played a Town Marshal in this Western that aired on NBC during the 1959-60 season. One more clue – one of the Marshal’s Deputies was played by the movie star’s son.

         Answer: Click here.

   In 1967 CBS aired this hour-long series starring John Mills. Mills played a traveling lawyer in the Old West. Sean Garrison played his younger partner and protector. The series lasted thirteen episodes.

         Answer: Click here.

   This ABC TV series from 1970s was part of all three networks run to create TV shows for young viewers. Set during the American Revolution, it featured five young people attempting to aid the patriots against the British. The series lasted fifteen episodes.

         Answer: Click here.

   This series was the first TV adaptation of a story that has been a best-selling book, an iconic film, failed film sequel, and is now a critically acclaimed TV version currently in production for its third season. This 1980 CBS series starred Jim McMullan, James Wainwright and Connie Sellecca.

         Answer: Click here.

   Angie Harmon has starred in several TV series but she played a PI in only one TV series, can you name it? The series aired in 1995- 97 with the style noticeably different in each season. Our YouTube answer is the complete opening episode of the series with one of TV’s oddest introductions to a TV series I have ever seen.

         Answer: Click here.

   This fall Fox will have a new TV series about the son of a serial killer solving murders. The idea is not original, even Fox has done it before. In 2005, this series also aired on Fox and starred Johnny Messner as Detective Jack Hale, a member of the Deviant Crime Unit. No one would work with Jack because he did not get along with others and had a Daddy who was a serial killer.

         Answer: Click here.

   Name this NBC techno-thriller series that aired ten episodes last year (May 2018 – August 2018). In this era of nearly five hundred original scripted TV series a year, you no longer have to be old to be forgotten or never seen.

   The low rated series was set at a high-tech business that had invented a virtual reality machine that offered people a chance to relive their happiest memory. A problem develops when the people refuse to return to reality. Sarah Shahi played an ex-hostage negotiator hired to enter the virtual reality and convince the people to return to their depressing real lives.

         Answer: Click here.


WORKING GIRLS. Paramount Pictures, 1931. Judith Wood, Dorothy Hall, Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers, Paul Lukas, Stuart Erwin, Frances Dee. Director: Dorothy Arzner.

   A thoroughly enjoyable pre-Code comedy/drama, Working Girls may not have all that much to say to contemporary audiences, but has a lot to say about the time and place in which it was filmed. Directed by Dorothy Arzner, the first woman to direct a talkie, this Paramount Pictures release tells the story of two sisters from small-town Indiana as they try to balance work and love in New York City.

   June (Judith Wood) and Mae (Dorothy Hall) Sharpe arrive in Manhattan and take up residence at a woman’s boarding house. Within the first day or so, they are out and about looking for employment and for men to date. June ends up working for a Western Union telegraph office and dating a saxophone player (Stuart Erwin).

   Mae, on the other hand, finds work as a secretary for Dr. Joseph Von Schrader (Paul Lukas), who proceeds to fall in love with his much younger employee. Mae, naturally, doesn’t reciprocate the affection. Instead, she’s got her eyes on Boyd Wheeler (Charles “Buddy” Rogers), a Harvard graduate working in a Manhattan law firm who seems to really care for her.

   Or does he? It would seem that he’s got a fiancée from the wealthy suburbs who he plans to marry soon and that he is just using Mae for a good time.

   While I won’t tell you how the story turns out, I will let you know that Working Girls is simply a fun movie to watch. It’s loaded with sexual innuendo, has some great comedic moments, and benefits greatly from Judith Wood’s hard-boiled, cynical character who has a quick wit as well as stunning looks.

   For contemporary audiences who are all too familiar with romantic comedy tropes, it may not seem like there’s much new under the sun here, but bear in mind this was filmed in 1931. And if you watch it with that fact very much in mind, you’ll surely find a lot to appreciate in this lesser known pre-Code film.

CARTER DICKSON “Persons or Things Unknown.” Short story. First published in The Sketch, UK, Christmas 1938. Collected in The Department of Queer Complaints (Morrow, US, hardcover, 1940). Reprinted in Line-Up, edited by John Rhode (Dodd Mead, US, hardcover, 1940) as by J. Dickson Carr, and probably several other places as well.

   With only one possible flaw as far as I could see, and that one exceedingly non-major, this is one small gem of a story, especially if you’re as big a fan of locked room mysteries as I am. It’s a standalone story with none of Carr/Dickson’s favorite detective characters: Fell, March or Merrivale.

   The story is told instead by the owner of an old drafty manor house in England during a party he’s holding at Christmas time. It seems that there is a story attached to one of the rooms located upstairs, one dating back to the 1600s and the days of the Restoration. As recorded in an old diary and the coroner’s report at the time, it seems that one of two rivals for the hand of the then owner of the house was found stabbed to death in that room, while the other two were there with no other entry possible.

   But the lights had gone out before the fatal attack and no sign of the murder weapon could be found, no matter how hard they looked. It is obvious, so to speak, who the killer was, but without murder weapon to be found, he was never convicted.

   All the clues are there, and in plain sight — with a story from John Dickson Carr, you can count on that — and more than that, one suggestion from the current listeners to the story is made and immediately discounted. I’ve always thought using an icicle to kill someone without a trace would be a good basis for a short story (and it’s probably been done), but it was a warm day for Christmas, and there was a huge shortage of icicles to be used. Furthermore icicles are too fragile to be used very effectively as a weapon, especially many times over.

   As I said earlier, this is a small gem of a tale. My only wish is that it Carr hadn’t needed to tell it as a story within a story, a device I’m never all that crazy about, but that’s a small quibble about a story that’s as good as his one is.

While spending a few minutes of idle time I found I had today, I came across this video on YouTube. I don’t know who put it together — he or she is identified only as RwDt09 — but I found it fascinating. How many of these do you remember?

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