October 2019

HOUSE BY THE RIVER. Republic Pictures, 1950. Louis Hayward, Lee Bowman, Jane Wyatt, Dorothy Patrick, Ann Shoemaker, Jody Gilbert. Based on the book by A. P. Herbert (Methuen, UK, 1920; Knopf, US, 1921). Director: Fritz Lang.

   House by the River is a prime example of a Victorian melodrama and/or Gothic noir. It has its flaws, but with an outstanding cast and Fritz Lang at the helm, it overcomes its lack of a substantial budget to become a movie that more than holds its own today. (Maybe even more so. Bosley Crowther of the The New York Times panned it, quite oblivious to what most moviegoers see in it today.)

   I do not know much about Fritz Lang’s career, and why he was working for the less than stellar Republic Pictures at the time (1950), but the moody atmosphere of death by misfortune (“accidental” strangulation) of a young housemaid by her employer (Louis Hayward) when she refuses his advances — and the aftermath — is remarkably well done, especially the scenes in which Hayward is frantically looking up and down the river in a small rowboat for the wood kindling bag in which he and his partially lame brother (Lee Bowman) disposed of her body makes this, in my opinion, a must-see for any devoted fan of film noir.

   Whew. Let me take a breath. I didn’t realize that that came out as one long sentence until just now. Louis Hayward at first plays his character, a mostly failed writer, as an urbane cad, and gradually works his way up (or down) to showing his true colors as an unmitigated cad. Lee Bowman had been forced into aiding and abetting him for the sake of Hayward’s wife (Jane Wyatt), only to find most of the suspicion of the crime falling on him.

   That’s the story. You can imagine what happens from this point on, or if not, the movie itself is easily available. Do watch it. I couldn’t give it an “A,” I don’t think, but it’s far better than average.

THE ADDAMS FAMILY “Halloween with the Addams Family.” 30 October 1964 (season 1, episode 7). Carolyn Jones, John Astin, Jackie Coogan, Ted Cassidy. Guest starring Skip Homeier and Don Rickles.

   â€Nice knife. Can I play autopsy with it?”

MICHAEL Z. LEWIN “Good Intentions.” Short story. Albert Samson & “Wolfgang Mozart” #2. First published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, November 2012. Collected in Alien Quartet: Albert Samson Stories (iUniverse, paperback, November 2018).

   Albert Samson’s client in this one isn’t really a client, not a paying one, anyway. During Samson’s previous encounter with his, the Shamus award-winning novelette, “Who I Am,” the man called himself LeBron James. In this one, he’s “Wolfgang Mozart,” and who know who he’ll want to be known as in the next two. (See below for a complete list.)

   To tell you the truth, I did not know that author Michael Z. Lewin was still writing about Samson’s adventures. The last Samson novel I read was Called by a Panther, which came out in 1991. I now see that there was another one titled Eye Opener, which was published in 2004, some thirteen years later. I missed that one altogether.

   In any case, when “Wolfgang” comes staggering to Samson’s office door, he collapses on the floor. He has been stabbed four times. By four different knives. In the hospital, though, he does not want the police involved. And for good reason. He’s a kind gentle man who can’t say no, and he’s been operating a batter women’s shelter, unlicensed and totally illegally.

   He also believes — a minor quirk — that his father was an extraterrestrial.

   The Samson books have always been a joy to read, but this one, at least, is laugh out loud funny to read, with the zippiest banter/dialogue I’ve read in a long time. And somewhere along the way, Samson has gained a daughter, and she’s a cop on the Indianapolis police force. I don’t remember her from before, but maybe. Quoting from page 109, after he explains to Nurse Matty who she is:

    “And she’s your daughter?” Matty tilted her head. “Her mother must be very beautiful.”

   I think I enjoyed this story more than any other so far this year. It’s a good detective tale, too.


      The Albert Samson & “Wolfgang Mozart” series —

“Who I Am.” EQMM, December 2011. Shamus Award for best PI Story of 2011
“Good Intentions” EQMM, November 2012.
“Extra Fries.” EQMM, May 2013. Shamus nominee.
“A Question of Fathers.” May 2014.


WHIRLPOOL. 20th Century Fox, 1949. Gene Tierney, Richard Conte, Jose Ferrer, Charles Bickford, Barbara O’Neil, Eduard Franz, Constance Collier. Screenplay by Ben Hecht and Andrew Solt, based on the novel Methinks the Lady by Guy Endore (Duell Sloan & Pearce, 1945).

   Editor’s Note: Before continuing on to read Dan’s review of this film, I strongly advise you go back nine years or so on this blog and read his review of Methinks the Lady, the book by Guy Endore the movie was based upon. You can find it here. Use the reverse arrow on your browser to find your way back, and I hope you will.


   Methinks the Lady was filmed in 1949 as Whirlpool, with a screenplay by Ben Hecht, produced and directed by Otto Preminger as yet another attempt to cash in on the success of Laura (1945), Obce again we get Gene Tierney as the innocent re-shaped by a loquacious Svengali — in this case Jose Ferrar as a quack doctor — and implicated in murder.

   But where Endore’s novel was a Mystery (and so was Laura) we know from the outset that Ferrar is up to something, and we catch on very quickly that he means to frame Gene Tierney for murder. The suspense is in figuring out just how he means to get away with it, and seeing how Tierney will slip out of the web … or if she will…

   Writer Ben Hecht thus turns the book completely inside-out, and he does it to good effect, with neatly-drawn characters and mounting suspense building to an ending that’s plaindamn silly but still lots of fun. Preminger’s direction is elegant as ever, and as for the acting…

   Well, Gene Tierney is surprisingly effective in the more emotional stretches, and there’s Ricard Conte, a strong actor too often wasted in bland parts, here wasted in a bland part. But the show really belongs to Jose Ferrar as the talkative quack, and he makes the story the slimy most of it, exuding an unpleasantness that seems compelling at times without ever engaging audience sympathy. Which I think just the effect they were trying for.

FEMALE JUNGLE. American International, 1955. John Carradine. Lawrence Tierney, Jayne Mansfield, Kathleen Crowley, Burt Kaiser, Bruno Ve Sota, Eve Brent (billed as Jean Lewis). Screenplay by Burt Kaiser and Bruno Ve Sota, based on a story by the former. Produced by Burt Kaiser. Directed by Bruno Ve Sota.

   No matter if it’s only a second- or third-rate movie, you can’t go very far wrong if it begins with a wailing saxophone playing over a darkened street scene, followed by a woman coming rushing out out a neon-lit bar, only to be seen strangled to death, her body left lying in the street.

   This doesn’t leave Eve Brent, in her first movie role, very much screen time, but that fact is mitigated by the presence of Jayne Mansfield in this film, also in her first movie role. Even more significant is the strong performance by Lawrence Tierney in a leading role, that of a drunken police sergeant who’d been in the bar that evening, but who has no memory of what he did for long periods of time while he was there.

   He may even have committed the crime himself. He is not sure, and not knowing is eating away at him. Even though he’s not on duty and has officially been told to go home and sleep it off, he takes it upon himself to do some investigating on his own. The primary suspect is John Carradine, who plays a cultivated but somehow creepy looking newspaper columnist who had escorted the dead woman, an actress, to the premiere of a movie and party afterward earlier that night.

   The story line of the movie is even more complicated than that, however. There is a night club caricaturist involved, and his wife, with whom he has had a fight. And then there’s Candy Price, played by Jayne Mansfield, who appears to be a woman of easy virtue and who lives in the apartment below them. The movie is in black and white, with a lot more black than white, which adds immensely to the pervading atmosphere of hidden motives and underlying menace.

   If this sounds like your kind of movie, it probably is, but I have to add one big warning. The script is not up to tidying up any loose ends that are seemingly tossed aside, even after the movie’s over. The film doesn’t work as a detective story, in other words, which it pretends to be, but as a top notch film noir, it’s aces high.

  POUL ANDERSON “Gibraltar Falls.” Short story. Time Patrol series, First published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, October 1975. Collected in The Guardians of Time (Tor/Pinnacle, paperback, October 1981) and The Dark Between the Stars (Berkley, paperback, December 1981, among others. Reprinted in As Time Goes By, edited by Hank Davis (Baen, trade paperback, February 2015).

   It is the latter anthology, the one edited by Hank Davis, that I’ve just dipped into, with “Gibraltar Falls” being the very first story. The theme connecting all of the tales chosen for inclusion is that of time travel, perhaps my favorite type of science fiction story, combined with romance — romance that is thwarted by chance, perhaps — two lovers separated by time, or death, or even the wrong thing said at the wrong time, but what if one could only go back and make things right? Change the course of history, if only on a very small and almost insignificance scale in the overall scheme of things.

   Such is everyone’s fantasy, looking back at their lives. What might have been, if only …

   Such is the case in “Gibraltar Falls.” Having gone back in time to the end of the Miocene Era to witness the Mediterranean basin being filled by a enormous waterfall flowing from the Atlantic through the Straits of Gibraltar, two members of he Time Patrol meet disaster. She’s pulled in. He, having never told her how much he is in love with her, is unable to save her.

   Can he go back in time, in spite of rules and regulations preventing him, and save her? [WARNING: PLOT ALERT] It turns out that the answer is yes, and while I think it’s a bit a cheat (no further details), this is a fine story, a small personal tale told against the backdrop of the early days of Earth’s history, in Poul Anderson’s usual larger than life style.

PHILLIPS LORE – The Looking Glass Murders. Leo Roi #3. Playboy Press, paperback original, 1980.

   The first Leo Roi detective mystery, Who Killed the Pie Man [reviewed here by fellow blogger J. F. Norris], was published in hardcover in 1975 by Saturday Review Books. Nothing further was heard about him until earlier this year when Playboy Press reprinted the book in paperback. It is now fairly obvious that Lore has had a few more Roi stories stored away in a trunk somewhere since then, for two more in the series have suddenly appeared in rapid succession, both as Playboy paperback originals. (So fast, in fact, that I still haven’t seen a copy of what apparently is the second in the series, Murder Behind Closed Doors.)

   Leo Roi is not a private eye, in the strictest meaning of the term, as he himself would gladly tell you. He is an investigative attorney. But as with Perry Mason, there is very little difference. He is also, excuse the expression, filthy rich. I do not mind this. I am only a little jealous, but the continuing details of his home furnishings, his wardrobe, his fleet of automobiles, these I find boring. You know?

   He is married. Happily so, and his wife Christina actively helps him with his cases, They are also actively trying to start a family. This is boring too.

   The case itself is not without interest. A male middle-aged professor has been living with a student, a coed, also very happily. She is murdered (her name is Alice…), and he (his name is Charles Dodo) is accused.

   Leo Roi is slick, and the D.A. is dumb. And I hate books in which the culprit is known by everyone but the reader and he is caught by he simple expedient of placing some human bait in a trap.

   However, any detective who has the theory Leo Roi has about the reasons behind the decline of American society that he expresses on pages 44 and 45 should definitely not stay unread. It’s just unfortunate that the author who wrote that passage doesn’t write very good mysteries.

–Reprinted in slightly revised form from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 4, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1980.

Bibliographic Note:   I did not know this at the time I wrote this review, or I’m sure I would have mentioned it. Phillips Lore was a pen name of Terrence Lore Smith, (1942-1988), who has four books in Hubin under his own name, two with a series character named Webster Daniels, one of which, The Thief Who Came to Dinner, was the basis for the movie of the same title.

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