August 2021

      All I ask is a chance to prove that money can’t make me happy.

   Carson Robson is a name I’m sure will draw a blank from everyone reading this, but back in 1942 he put out a record (a 78) that when my brother and I found it in our parents’ collection, we played so often that I think we wore the grooves off. 78’s being rather fragile items, we both agree that it finally somehow got broken, but while we had it, we loved it.

   And guess what? My brother went looking, and found both sides on YouTube. Isn’t the Internet wonderful?

      Carson Robison – I’m Going Back To Whur I Come From


      Carson Robison – That Old Grey Mare Is Back Where She Used To Be



DONALD STOKES – Captive in the Night. Coward-McCann, hardcover, 1951. Signet 1006, paperback, 1953; cover by James Meese. Crest #126, paperback, March 1956. Wildside Press, trade paperback, 2020.

   â€œLightning ripped silently along the crystalline horizon, where the Mediterranean met the farthest fringe of the stars. Hansen waited for the thunder to follow, tensing himself, to release the pent up urge for action. Instead there came another stab of white weak against the moon. Just like the ack ack when he was first here, thought Hansen.”

   Hansen is Blair Hansen, and here is Algeria. Eight years earlier he was there with the American Army in intelligence. Now he is back, contracted by the fat shady man named Kuhn (think Sidney Greenstreet crossed with Peter Lorre and maybe Eric Pohlman) he first encountered earlier, to get the ore from Kuhn’s iron mine out of a Berber valley under the control of the rebels led by Messali Haji and his men against the French colonizers.

   Blair is there too because of Mari, a woman he knew eight years earlier who betrayed him.

   Even before he can see Kuhn, a woman tries to trap him and Hansen has to deal with two Arabs sent to see why he is there. He doesn’t get along much better with the police, the Brigade. In the best tradition he has walked into a hornet’s nest, one part Warner Brothers movie, a little Beau Geste, and more than a little Mickey Spillane thrown in with a touch of Post War realpolitik and cynicism.

   The local color is well done if laid on a bit thickly, and the tough guy stuff rings true with our “hero” tough as a rusty nail and just about as toxic.

   If you like your action tough and relentless, your heroes unsentimental sociopaths, the action unrelenting, and no one particularly innocent, this is the book for you. Reading it you can just about cast the movie in your head.

   It’s not always pleasant, but it is vividly written, tough minded, and for all the romance of exotic settings and high adventure as hardboiled as anything you are likely to read:

   Mari took a perverse pleasure in making him show his power. “You would not insult me,” she said, “if I were not a widow, all alone, and without anyone to defend me.”

   He laughed, and the deep sound had a ragged edge to it. “You’re about as helpless as a rattlesnake,” he said. Against his drawn skin, his teeth showed startlingly white and sharp, especially the incisors.

   It’s all basic Hollywood action movie 101, but not bad for that. The action moves at a pace, the dramas of several characters weave in and out of the plot including Mari’s adult daughter Celeste and her husband George, and our hero gets by on toughness and an unwillingness to die.

   The cover of the paperback edition from Fawcett Crest is a doozy too, the perfect evocation of the novel.



● PATRICK RUELL – Death Takes the Low Road. Hutchinson, UK, hardcover, 1974. Mysterious Press, US, paperback, 1987.

   A somewhat banal tale, but that’s the only thing that’s at all commonplace about this book. An almost Buchanesque tale of pursuit, the pursued (from the Highlands southwards) being one William Blake Hazlett, a University Registrar who may have a dark side to his life, and his girlfriend, Caroline Nevis, a determined young research student from the colonies (well, they were once!).

   Lots of pace, lots of action, lots of humour. Reminiscent of the later on form Michael Innes. Very enjoyable.

● PATRICK RUELL – Urn Burial. Hutchinson, UK, hardcover, 1975. Foul Play, US, hardcover, 1987.

   I wish I’d tumbled rather earlier to the fact that Ruell is Reginald Hill’s alter ego, Ruell being Hill’s less deductive, more active manifestation.

   Urn Burial concerns ambiguous local government man Sam Lakenheath and delightful fat girl archeologist Zeugma Gray. The scene is set on Thirlsike Waste, a remote and windswept area of Northern Britain where is disused research centre attracts strange people and stranger happenings.

   Mr. Ruell certainly has a talent to amuse and the even rarer talent of leavening the humour (and action) with sinister ingredients. The whole makes first class and riveting reading, and, as a bonus to those so inclined, the villains are of the archest and the natural is mingled with the supernatural. Super stuff.

● REGINALD HILL – A Pinch of Snuff. Collins, UK, hardcover. 1978. Harper, US, hardcover, 1978. Dell, US,paperback, 1984.

   Inspector Pascoe, imaginative, literate, sensitive; Superintendent Dalziel, ruthless, devious — quite a combination. even though they don’t always seem too keen on combining.

   The snuff in this investigation (their fourth, I think) is not at all what you might imagine, as our heroes become involved in the murky world of vice and porno films. And Mr. Hill is as devious as Dalziel and as literate as Pascoe in unraveling the mystery surrounding the filmed murder of one of the porno starlets.

   The author is rapidly becoming one of my favourites.

– Reprinted from The Poison Pen, Volume 6, Number 1 (Spring 1984).


LOVE LAUGHS AT ANDY HARDY. MGM, 1946. Mickey Rooney, Lewis Stone, Fay Holden, Bonita Granville, Lina Romay, Sara Haden, Dorothy Ford. Director: Willis Goldbeck.

   This was the last of the Andy Hardy films before the 1958 reunion film, Andy Hardy Comes Home, and you certainly can tell the series had seen better days. Andy comes home from the war in this one, just before heading off for college as a 20 year old freshman.

   But since Mickey Rooney was something like 26 years old at the time, he looks absolutely ludicrous in a beanie, to say the least. And he’s also far too old to continue his usual juvenile approach to love and romance any longer, even though he’s serious enough about it now to be ready to pop the question to Bonita Granville. But as you can tell from the title,  it doesn’t work out, in a twist of the plot even more ridiculous then the sight of grown men wearing stupid little caps.

   Lina Romay may not set Andy’s heart on fire, but she does add a little spice to the proceedings. And while I haven’t been able to locate Dorothy Ford in any of my standard  references, in this movie she plays a coed who is about 6 foot 6 inches tall, and when she dances with Andy (who comes only about breast high), it is really something to behold:

   Overall, while I didn’t care that much for the picture, Judge Hardy’s patented father-to-son talk with Andy at the end of the movie is as good as ever (but ruined by the local station that interrupted it in mid-sentence for yet another commercial).

– Very slightly revised from Mystery*File 26, December 1990.


DEATH IN PARADISE “The Early Bird.” BBC, 18 February 2014 (Season 3, Episode 6). Kris Marshall, Sara Martins, Danny John-Jules, Gary Carr. Directed by Robert Quinn.

   An organized group of bird watchers is on the island of Sainte Marie looking for a rare green parrot known to exist there and nowhere else. You might not realize that birdwatching is a competitive sport, but it is so in this story. When one of the group is seen getting up early and heading off into the jungle to be first to spot the elusive bird, the others hurriedly get dressed and follow off together in his wake. To their surprise, they find the man dead, with a knife in his back.

   The problem facing the small but highly efficient police force on Sainte Marie is that the area is a restricted region to protect the birds, and all of the people within the sanctuary were in sight of each other between the time the victim was seen and when his body was found. Who could have done it, and more importantly, how?

   I’m usually not very good at puzzles such as this, but I’m going to pat myself soundly on the back by saying that the “how” was easy. I didn’t figure out “who,” but looking back, all of the clues were there. Not all of the episodes of Death in Paradise are “impossible crimes,” but they are all puzzle stories, and they’re awfully good in making sure all of the clues are there for the viewer to see. All you have to do is pay attention!

   What also makes the series so much fun to watch is all of the good-natured camaraderie displayed on the part of the series regulars. Such is the case here.

L. SPRAGUE de CAMP & FLETCHER PRATT – The Carnelian Cube. Lancer 73-662, paperback, 1967. Cover by Kelly Freas. Previously published by Gnome Press, hardcover, 1948.

   While on an archaeological expedition, Arthur Finch discovers a magical red cube of stone that gives its possessor the ability to dream himself into any world he pleases.

   Unfortunately, dream worlds do not always satisfy the wishes that produce them. A perfectly rational world stifles ambition and progress. A world where individuality is supreme is full of conflict, with cooperation nearly impossible. A world of scientists has no feeling for human life. But Finch dreams on, looking for his ideal world.

   A disappointment. The wacky adventures promised merely struggle against dullness. As a vehicle for social commentary, this story creaks and sputters. Lots of ideas in satirical form, but interest lags. In fact, the only thing that maintains this series of adventures as a novel is the underlying prospect of finding a return to Finch’s original world.

   But even this is denied the reader. Lots of questions are never answered (is this typical of fantasy?), not the least of which is the possible physical existence of these dream worlds with histories which seem closely identical to our own. Collapse in real life must be inevitable, if not immediate. Such is the substance of dreams.

Rating: **

–September 1967


THE BLACK SLEEP. Bel-Air Productions/United Artists, 1956. Basil Rathbone, Akim Tamiroff, Lon Chaney, John Carradine, Bela Lugosi, Herbert Rudley, Patricia Blake, Phyllis Stanley, Tor Johnson. Director: Reginald Le Borg.

   The eponymous black sleep in the movie’s title is not a state of being. Rather, it is a thing – a fictional mysterious potion from the Indian subcontinent that puts its users into a deep, quasi-hypnotic state. It’s therefore fittingly ironic that a movie about a sleep-inducing substance is, for the first thirty minutes or so, rather soporific itself.

   Despite the best efforts of the always enjoyable Basil Rathbone to liven things up with philosophical speeches about medicine and the human condition, the first half of The Black Sleep is a stilted, talky affair.

   All that changes in the second half. That’s when this Bel-Air production decides to let its inhibitions fall asunder and for schlocky insanity to ensue. How insane, you ask? Let’s just say that John Carradine portrays a stark raving madman locked in a basement dungeon who believes he is a Crusader out to conquer Jerusalem.

   Like many other horror films from the late 1950s and early 1960s, The Black Sleep is set in Victorian England. Rathbone portrays Sir Joel Cadman, an esteemed surgeon who embarks on a series of highly unethical medical experiments on live human subjects. He has his reasons, of course. His beloved wife has been in a coma for months and he believes that, with the right among of experimentation on others, he can find a way to successfully operate on her and bring her back to full life.

   Cadman, in a conniving manner, enlists the aid of Dr. Gordon Ramsay (Herbert Rudley) to further his work. It’s only a matter of time, however, before Ramsay learns the true nature of Cadman’s vicious work.

   The true star of this horror film, however, is neither Rathbone nor Rudley. That honor goes to veteran character actor Akim Tamiroff. Here, he portrays Odo, a Romani tattoo artist in cahoots with Sir Joel (Rathbone). With a smile a mile wide and his notable South Caucasian accent, Tamiroff chews the scenery and makes the whole affair far livelier than it would have been in his absence.

   Final word about the billing: aside from John Carradine, the movie also has two other horror greats listed in the cast; namely, Lon Chaney Jr. and Bela Lugosi. Neither actor has any lines. Chaney portrays a brute whose brain and mind were destroyed by Cadman’s experiments, while Lugosi portrays Cadman’s mute butler.

   It’s always nice to see these greats on screen, but there’s something obviously very sad about how low both actors’ star powers had fallen by the mid-1950s. This was to be Lugosi’s last complete cinematic role, excepting the truly atrocious Plan 9 From Outer Space (1957).




MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE “The Frame,” CBS, 21 January 1967 (Season 1, Episode 17). Steven Hill, Barbara Bain, Greg Morris, Peter Lupus, Martin Landau. Guest Cast: Simon Oakland, Arthur Batanides, Joe Maross, Joe De Santis. Currently streaming on Paramount Plus.

   After seemingly endless episodes in which the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) rescued Eastern Bloc scientists from behind the Iron Curtain or stopped communist insurgencies in Latin America, it was refreshing to watch an episode of Mission: Impossible‘s season one that didn’t involve international intrigue whatsoever.

   In “The Frame,” Dan Briggs (Steven Hill) and his team aim to stop Jack Wellman, a syndicate boss who has moved beyond racketeering and into the business of assassinating American politicians. And who might that boss be portrayed by, you ask? None other than veteran tough guy character actor Simon Oakland. Many people will remember him primarily as irascible newspaper editor Tony Vincenzo in Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-75). But he also appeared in television shows such as Bonanza, Rawhide, and Hawaii Five-O as well as in numerous crime films and westerns.

   I’ve always been a fan of his work. Oakland, with a loud voice and commiserate imposing physicality, often ends up overshadowing other actors in his midst. Such is the case in this episode of Mission: Impossible. What’s notable is how unobtrusive both Hill and Martin Landau – who I like immensely – are in comparison to the scenery chewing Oakland.

   All told, it is a fun episode, one that benefits from a primarily single-location setting. One in which the IMF team takes on the role of a catering team to serve Wellman and his associates a fancy dinner. What Wellman doesn’t realize is that while he is being treated to a multi-course meal, Barney Collier (Greg Morris) is working diligently to break into his basement vault. And if you’ve ever wanted to see how silly Steven Hill looks in a chef’s hat, this is a golden opportunity.




CAPTAIN BLACKJACK. Alsa Films, UK. 1950, as Black Jack; Classic Pictures, US, 1952.  George Sanders, Herbert Marshall, Patricia Roc, Agnes Moorehead and Marcel Dalio. Written by Julien Duvivier, Robert Gaillard, Michael & Rolland Pertwee, and Charles Spaak. Directed by Julien Duvivier.

   A mess. It sparkles at times, with a great cast, fine locations, and haunting visuals, but it’s still a mess.

   George Sanders made one other film in 1950, All About Eve, and he complained that the producers of Captain Blackjack didn’t know how to make a movie. Certainly, they should have sprung for better film stock and decent sound recording, but their biggest mistake was hiring George Sanders.

   For purposes of the story here, Sanders is a successful smuggler operating out of Mallorca and Tangiers, on the verge of that pre-doomed enterprise, The One Big Score that will enable him to quit the business. When Captain Marcel Dalio seeks his help with the Chalcis, a slowly sinking ship full of refugees, George sails to the rescue, offers a free ride to the beautiful Patricia Roc — who refuses — then takes the six wealthiest passengers and advises Dalio to ground the ship on a nearby island before it sinks with the rest.

   Back in Mallorca, Sanders meets up with an old Doctor-buddy (Herbert Marshall) finds Dalio in town, unencumbered by the Chalcis, and spots Roc working for wealthy and eccentric dowager Agnes Moorehead. And then….

   And then everybody just kind of goofs off for an hour or so of running time. It eventually transpires that Dalio, horny and murderous, conked Roc on the cupola, tossed her in a lifeboat, then locked the other passengers below decks and sank the Chalcis before shooting his first mate and making off for Tangier with Roc.

   It also develops that the Authorities have been tipped off about an anticipated cargo of drugs, and lie in wait for whoever picks it up. Other smugglers have also tumbled to it, and are plotting to take it for themselves. Sanders, however, has been redeemed by his love for Roc, and determines to destroy the filthy stuff before it can bring more misery into the world — or get him locked up in a Spanish hoosegow.

   There are more twists yet to come, Moorhead and Marshall are in fine form, and Marcel Dalio’s greedy killer role will surprise those who remember him as the croupier in Casablanca or the hotelier of Hawks’ To Have and Have Not.

   Director Duvivier evokes some fine, even memorable visuals here: the opening shot of the dying refugee ship limping to shore, Patricia Roc silhouetted against a jagged coast, and our hero stalking a dying man through an eerie cave filled with baroque stalactites and stalagmites. But it’s all for naught, because the leading man seems indifferent to it all.

   At one point Sanders walked off the set, claiming his pay was in arrears, and this may have contributed to the general sense of malaise he projects throughout the film. He never was the most electrifying of thespians, but here he seems near comatose. Even when strangling Agnes Moorehead or drowning poor Dalio, he barely registers a heartbeat.

   And it’s George Sanders after all who’s at the heart of this thing. If we’re to get involved at all, we must believe he’s really anxious about his scheme, really falls in love with Roc, really reforms, and all the rest of it. But he never seems to care.

So why should we?

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