March 2021

THE EDGE OF NIGHT. CBS, 16 October 1958. Cast and crew unknown.

   The recent HBO production of Perry Mason may be all the rage, but besides the books by Erle Stanley Gardner it was purportedly based on, most people are aware of the long-running TV series starring Raymond Burr. (There was a later and very short-lived series starring Monte Markham that no one remembers and even fewer saw.)

   Quite forgotten altogether was that Perry Mason was also a radio program that ran as a 15 minute soap opera on CBS radio from 1943 to 1955. When it became time to convert the radio serial to TV, Gardner did not care for the format and refused permission for the project.

   So some changes were made, and the producers of the would-be TV serial changed the title and all of the characters’ name and came up with The Edge of Night. As a soap opera with a harder edge than the competition at the time, it ended its 30 year run in 1984, there being over 7000 episodes before its finish.

   Being telecast live, most of the early episodes have vanished. Here’s one of the earliest ones I’ve discovered. You can watch it here.

   By watching it you can write your own review. Coming the middle of a couple of different stories, with no beginning or end to either, there’s little point in going over the story line, nor even to point out the fact that in the course of a 30 minute format, including commercials (not included), very little seems to happen. What are interesting are the quite inventive camera angles, the sometimes over-the-top acting (but not always) and the fact that everyone seems to smoke!

   “Crossroads” was the first track on the live half of Cream’s Wheels of Fire double album, released in August 1968 by Polydor Records in the UK and Atco Records in the US. I bought a copy the same year, and I think I played the grooves off it. No more Ferrante and Teicher for me!

JAMES McKIMMEY – Blue Mascara Tears. Ballantine, paperback original, 1965.

   In Sam Spade, as everyone knows, we had the detective as conniving con-man; in Philip Marlowe and Lew Archer, the detective as Sir Galahad. In Mike Hammer, of course, we had the detective as one-man jury. Today we have Spenser in the role of detective as social worker, and Bill Pronzini’s nameless private eye as the winner of detective fiction’s hard-luck award of the year.

   As the hero of this rather obscure paperback original, Jack Cummings is a cop, not a private eye, but a cop of the lone-wolf variety. As such, not only is he definitely part of the multi-faceted PI tradition above, but he also extends it into directions never quite followed by any of the others in the field.

   In Jack Cummings, meet the detective as Christ figure.

   The similarity is in more than the initials, and no, it is not entirely coincidental, On page 42, for example, Cummings ponders what it is that he believes in, swimming as he does “through the sea, always working never to become a part of it, because the contamination would be fatal…. Was he only fooling himself, “being Christ-like within his own mind and heart, but deceiving himself…?”

   Or take this conversation on page 138: “The fix is cancer. Somebody’s got to cure it. Who else will, if I don’t?” “They’ll crucify you.” “It’s happened to others,”

   It’s a tough story. the terseness of the opening chapters is reminiscent of none other than Dashiell Hammett himself, and if the dialogue and the rest of the story tails off a bit in comparison – to the level of Erle Stanley Gardner, say (which is no great disparagement, to my mind, but it had to be said) – why, that’s no great surprise either. In spite of all the writers who’ve tried it, Hammett has seldom been equaled, and certainly not for longer stretches.

   Otherwise, here’s a book filled with good, viscerally involving scenes, and plotting that’s far more than merely adequate. It also features the most beautiful hooker in the world (briefly), and yet another victim (the girl with the tears) who did absolutely nothing to deserve her death.

   If you’re a lover of hard-boiled fiction. try to find this one if you can.

Rating: A

–Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 7, No. 5, Sept/Oct 1983.


OTR News from Karl Schadow:

   There were at least three 1930s mystery radio series with science fiction themes from the pen of Fran Striker, an extremely prolific writer of scripts for Old Time Radio. They predate both The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet, the two shows he is most known for writing for. Read the latest about Ultra Violet, The Soul of the Robot and Infra Red in The Old Radio Times. PDF link here.



DASHIELL HAMMETT – The Glass Key. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 1931. First published as a series of four connected novelettes in Black Mask magazine, March through June 1930.

THE GLASS KEY. Paramount, 1935. George Raft, Claire Dodd, Rosalind Keith, Edward Arnold, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, Ray Milland and Tammany Young. Screenplay by Kathryn Scola, Kibec Glasmon, and Harry Ruskin. Directed by Frank Tuttle.

THE GLASS KEY. Paramount, 1942. Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, Brian Donlevy, Bonita Granville, William Bendix, Joseph Calliea and Donald MacBride. Screenplay by Jonathan Latimer. Directed by Stuart Heisler.

MILLER’S CROSSING. Fox, 1990. Albert Finney, Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden, John Turturro, Jon Polito, J.E. Freeman, Steve Buscemi, Sam Raimi and Frances McDormand. Written & directed by Joel & Ethan Coen.

   “Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not hand-wrought dueling pistols, curare and tropical fish.”

   In its short arc, Dashiell Hammett’s fiction went from mysteries to mystery novels, and he seems (to me anyway) to have been on the brink of an actual novel-novel when he went to Hollywood and Hellman and burned himself out. Whatever the case, THE GLASS KEY is balanced nicely between the Mysteries (RED HARVEST, THE DAIN CURSE, THE MALTESE FALCON) and the near-novel that was THE THIN MAN.

   Set in some patently corrupt and nameless city, this is RED HARVEST writ for grown-ups, with gambler Ned Beaumont (Described as slim, mustached, well-dressed, hard-drinking — Hammett day-dreaming in the 3rd person) trying to protect the interests of his buddy, political boss Paul Madvig, and shield him from his own disastrous infatuation with a senator’s daughter, ambitious rivals, and from from taking the rap for a murder he may –or maybe not — have committed.

   Hammett is just as passionate a writer as Woolrich, but he holds his feelings close to the vest, like a card-player with an iffy hand. The strength of Beaumont’s personal honor, and his love for a friend, comes out in action, like the understated effort he takes to collect a gambling debt, and most memorably in the prolonged beating he endures at the hands of sadistic henchman Jeff, to protect Madvig.

   It’s a lengthy scene that becomes the emotional center of the book and lends a sense of uneasy tension to all the subsequent scenes where Jeff appears. Hammett sets up his characters nicely, then plays off our expectations like a real pro, and this finds him at the top of his game or pretty close to it.

   Paramount filmed it twice, first in 1935, then again in ’42. I really want to prefer the earlier version; it has a rough-and-ready pace, some expressive photography, and George Raft is just as inexpressive as Alan Ladd, with a veneer of slickness that suits the character well. There’s a particularly fine moment where he watches a brutal murder without a flicker of emotion. Director Frank Tuttle keeps the camera on Raft, his face lit by a wildly swinging overhead light that slows as a life slowly ebbs away. But the later version boasts a screenplay adaptation superior in most respects, and overall better casting.

   Foremost is Joseph Calliea as Nick Varno (Shad O’Rory in the book and the ’35 film) the gangster angling to supplant Brian Donlevy’s political boss. Calliea projects an icy authority that completely outclasses tepid Robert Gleckler in the earlier film. When Calliea snarls “You talk too much with your mouth, Jeff,” to William Bendix, you feel it in your bones.

   Bendix plays Jeff, the sadistic, sub-normal goon who delights in beating up Alan Ladd, and he conveys all the coiled-spring tension of the character in the book—much better so than Guinn Williams in the ’36 version, who seems just too downright neighborly for the job.

   As for Ladd and Lake, they make the unlikely attraction between the gambler and the society dame believable by dint of type-casting, if nothing else.

   There’s a phrase in Hammett’s book, “little Miss Jesus,” that reappears in the movie MILLER’S CROSSING, but that’s not the only similarity in a film that features Gabriel Byrne as an unlucky gambler and hanger-on to political boss Albert Finney, who has unwisely antagonized gangster Sol Polito and Polito’s psychotic torpedo J.E. Freeman, all for the love of a woman who is playing him.

   MILLER’S CROSSING emerges as a loving homage to THE GLASS KEY, with all the beatings, gang wars, double-dealings and understated feeling of the book, evoked by apt casting (John Turturro’s scheming chiseler is memorably drawn.) and a real feel for atmosphere and action.

   And as if that weren’t enough, there’s a fleeting glimpse of a fight poster featuring “DROP JOHNSON vs LARS THORWALD.”


THE THIRD ALIBI. Grand National Pictures, UK, 1961. NBC, US, TV airing, 1961. Laurence Payne, Patricia Dainton, Jane Griffiths, Edward Underdown, John Arnatt, Cleo Laine. Director: Montgomery Tully. Available on YouTube here.

   A mildly interesting crime thriller that tries hard but doesn’t quite have the oomph to follow through. As the title I am sure suggests, it all revolves about a killer (musical composer Norman Martell whose wife Helen won’t give him a divorce) whose plan includes setting up alibis for both himself and his lover (Helen’s half-sister Peggy Hill) as the deed is done.

   As chance would have it, he can’t pull off the deed. Dead instead is his lover, and what good is an alibi when the wrong woman is dead? The pace is fine – the movie is both short and breezily told – but I’m not sure I understood one of the would-be alibis, and the ending is telegraphed well in advance, which is always a problem when there’s no enough time to pad the story a lot more.

   All of the players were new to me – other than singer Cleo Laine who has one nightclub scene on stage all to herself – but they were all fine in their roles. It was the story that let them down.  If I were to rate this one, I’d give it two stars out of four, but since I don’t do that any more, I won’t.


IF SCIENCE FICTION December 1966. Cover by Jack Gaughan. Overall rating: 3½ stars.

ALGIS BUDRYS “Be Merry.” Novelette. The survivors of the wreck of the Klarri spaceship had brought disease and plague to Earth, but they too were victims of terrestrial sickness. One small settlement finds a cure, but one they are ashamed of. Excellent story spoiled by an over-literary style, delighting in obscurity. (4)

DURANT IMBODEN “The Thousandth Birthday Party.” At age 1000, each person has one chance in 5000 for immortality. (3)

NEAL BARRETT, JR. “Starpath.” Novelette. After a promising beginning, in which the operation of the instant matter transmitter is described, the story ends as a routine tale of war. (2)

LARRY NIVEN “A Relic of the Empire.” Novelette. A xenobiologist learns the location of the puppeteers’ system by using local plant life to defeat a pirate crew. An episode only. (3)

BOB SHAW “Call Me Dumbo.” Novelette. A woman learns the secret of her drugged existence and neatly fails her “husband.” Two men shipwrecked alone on a planet can carry on the race. (4)

ANDREW J. OFFUTT “The Forgotten Gods of Earth.” Kymon of Kir frees the Princess Yasim from the sorcerer Gundrun. (3)

J. T. McINTOSH “Snow White and the Giant.” Serial, part 3 of 4. See report following the January 1967 issue.

– August-September 1967
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Crider


MICHAEL COLLINS – Act of Fear. PI Dan Fortune #1. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1967. Bantam H4369, paperback, 1969. Playboy Press, paperback, 1980.

   Dennis Lynds, using the name Michael Collins, is writing one of the very best of the contemporary private-eye series. All the novels under the Collins name feature Dan Fortune, a one-armed detective who operates out of the Chelsea district of New York City. Fortune’s handicap sets him apart and makes him vulnerable; he is also introspective and compassionate, a believer in absolute truth, a man who is driven to find the answers. Act of Fear, Fortune’s first novel-length case, won an Edgar for Best First Mystery of the year.

   Act of Fear begins, like many mystery novels, with a missing person. Fortune is hired by a young man to find a missing friend. Apparently the friend has good reason to be missing, and Fortune soon discovers that he is not the only one looking. The elements of the case include the mugging of a cop, two murders, and the savage beating of Fortune’s client. The plotting, as in all the Collins books, is intricate, with Fortune following an the threads to their sometimes frayed ends. His fee for the entire case is $50; he spends much more than that in solving it, but once he is involved, he has to find out the truth.

   As usual in Collins’ work, the book has a serious theme, in this case the difficulty of being true to oneself no matter what the consequences. It would be difficult to say that the ending is satisfying, but it is “right” in the sense that it is the only ending appropriate for the story that Collins tells.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

   Back when the Bee Gees were recording hit after hit, I was never particularly a fan, but when I recently found an acoustic version of this song on YouTube, it knocked my socks off.



JEROME DOOLITTLE – Kill Story. Tom Bethany #6. Pocket Books, hardcover, 1995; paperback, 1996.

   Doolittle had told me in a letter that this was going to be called Spread Eagle. but said at EyeCon that Pocket Books had decided the original title might be offensive. He didn’t really understand why, and neither do I. Oh, well.

   Tom Bethany lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and makes his living doing … well, sort of whatever comes to hand. He’s managed to extract himself from all the databases most of us are in, and officially he doesn’t really exist But he’s real, and an old friend asks for his help when one of her old friends is found dead, an apparent suicide.

   She’s not sure it is, but if it was feels the woman was driven to it by the newspaper publishing baron who bought her newspaper, and then fired many of her old friends. The man is known as “the Cobra” in the business, and not because of his looks. Bethany doesn’t know if there’s anything there, but a friend’s a friend and he agrees to poke around in the rubble.

   I think Doolittle is one of consistently best storytellers in the business. Sometimes his plots requite a little suspension of disbelief, but never more than I’ve been able to handle. Bethany, the ex-college wrestler and ex-government pilot in Southeast Asia, is simply a tremendously appealing (and irreverent) character. The first person narration is smooth and witty, but not burdened with a wisecrack every other sentence.

   Doolittle’s books are not “heavy,” and are notably free of angst. What they are is entertaining, and readable, and very much worth your time and mine.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #21, August-September 1995

      The Tom Bethany series

1. Body Scissors (1990)
2. Strangle Hold (1991)

3. Bear Hug (1992)
4. Head Lock (1993)

5. Half Nelson (1994)
6. Kill Story (1995)

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