May 2023

THIRTEEN WOMEN. RKO Radio Pictures, 1932. Irene Dunne, Ricardo Cortez, Jill Esmond, Myrna Loy, Mary Duncan, Kay Johnson, Florence Eldridge, C. Henry Gordon, Based on the novel by Tiffany Thayer. Directed by George Archainbaud.

   Rejected by the other girls in a sorority during her seminary days, a half-caste Hindu woman plots a murderous revenge. Using a series of forged horoscopes and a mysterious hypnotic power (plus the power of suggestion), her plot nearly succeeds.

   Not nearly as bloody as today’s thrillers (but certainly in the same vein), what does this movie in is not so much its overly developed sense of melodrama, but the minor gaps in logic. Myrna Loy is simply fine as the villainess, however. No one else comes close.

– Reprinted from Movie.File.2, June 1980.




HARRY CREWS – Naked in Garden Hills. William Morrow, hardcover, 1969. Dell, paperback, January 1970.

   Fat Man’s dad was an imbecile. They lived in a decrepit shack on two acres of dead dirt in the fraudulently named Garden Hills. So when the phosphate magnate came to town, buying up all the hillbilly land, everybody sold but dad. And dad refused every offer that came — til he got a contract. And he signed the contract. For fifty grand for every year the phosphate mine mined.

   Dad was still dumb, though. He builds a castle in the phosphate mill town, and runs around nude all over, screaming about wanting to get turned into phosphate, til one day he jumps in the grinder and his wish comes true.

   So now Fat Man’s got all this money. But he’s got nuthin’ to do. Except eat.

   So he eats. But then he gets so he can’t move so good. He’s five feet tall and five hundred pounds. He can’t move.

   So he hires this midget named Jester. Jester was a jockey til his horse committed suicide by running full speed into a brick wall. Ending Jester’s racing career.

   Jester’d been riding a rocking horse in a full jockey suit atop a dunk tank at the freak fair. Jester became conjugally entwined with the peep show gal who smoked cigarettes from her hoohaa.

   So Jester and his smoky lass came to town to serve the Fat Man.

   Jester acquires a sickly, stickly farm horse, to whom he likes to converse.

   “What do you talk about?”

   â€œYou know about orange groves?”

   â€œOf course I do, you jockey.”

   â€œThis orange grove is about five acres big, full of little stunty, ragged trees eat up with weeds. And them trees got fruit, juicy as baseballs. But what this man does is he buys great big oranges big as my head, buys’m in California and gets’m brought in on a airplane and puts them out in front of them stunty trees. People coming down the pike caint buy’m fast enough. He’s famous as the Lord. They say he grows the sweetest fruit in America. Weren’t long before he put in melons, plums, grapefruits, even grapes. All off them five acres of stunty trees…… And that’s what we talk about……the horse and me. You see?”

   Jester dresses and feeds and bathes the Fat Man.

   Then the phosphate runs out and the money stops.

   And the town starts to go bankrupt, like every spent mining town. And the people start to leave.

   Fat Man doesn’t wanna move. So he subsidizes the town — the twelve families that remain in this town bereft of commerce, on untillable land.

   And then his bread begins to wane. And now the town’s Phosphate Queen’s (that’s the local beauty pageant) been to NYC and come back from her strip-clubbing with an idea that may save the town of Garden Hills. You see, when Dolly the Phosphate Queen came to NYC, she had no money. She just figured she could trade her body for wealth. So she took off her clothes in downtown Manhattan but nobody cared, no one said a word, no one wanted her, no one took her. But then she got in a cage at a Go Go club and took her clothes off there, and folks couldn’t stick cash in her garter fast enough.

   So she figured all they had to do was have a big ole sign on the highway advertising a freakish go-go, and people will come from miles around just to see what’s what. Like Dolly points out, roadside zoos are just putting cows and deer and raccoons and possum and horses and rabbits and chickens in cages and making people pay to see ‘em labelled in a cage. These are the same animals that the same travelers have been seeing for free on the side of the road the entire trip. But no. That’s not how we like to see things. We’d pay to see ‘em up close, labelled, in a cage.

   So she’s got her go go girls in cages, with her pickins from the townies. And she’s got the jockey riding the smoking vagina.

   But what she really needs is the Fat Man.

   And so she starves him out. She pesters him til he finances her plan to save the town, ignorant of her conniving.

   So she spends the Fat Man’s very last cent converting the phosphate factory into a giant off-highway Go Go Club and Freak Show. Painted red.

   And then the food stops coming to the Fat Man, and the Jockey quits helping him and the Fat Man is all alone in his house, no one to dress him, no one to cook for him, no one to bathe him.

   And they barbeque a barbeque and stick the prime rib in the Fat Man’s cage.

   And wait.


   Redneck southern swamplands. You’ve seen it before if you’ve read Harry Crews before. Trailer trash freaks behaving freakishly. My only other reads of Harry Crews have been The Gospel Singer and Feast of Snakes. I’d put this one on a par with those, if less dark and perhaps more of a parable. But I couldn’t tell you what the parable is. It just feels like there’s some symbolism here and that Harry Crews doesn’t know what it is either. Each of these three novels have bizarre occurrences of biblical proportions involving snakes, gospel singers, and circus freaks.

   But what I personally enjoy about these parables is that they have no moral. Nor morals. Noir morals. And confusion prevails. Which suits me.

   I would say ‘if it sounds like your thing, it probably is, and if it sounds like it’s not, it’s not.’ But the point is moot. The book has never been reprinted (*), and it’s selling for hundreds of dollars a copy. It’s not available online anywhere either.

   The only way I was able to read it was thanks to the good folks at the New York Public Library system who have a single copy that they will scan for you if you ask nicely. For 20 pages at a time.

   It was worth it.


(*) [UPDATE.] See comment #2.



COLIN WATSON – Lonelyheart 4122. Inspector Purbright/Flaxborough #4. Eyre & Spottiswoode, UK, hardcover, 1967. Putnam, US, hardcover, 1967. Berkley, US, paperback, 1968. Academy Chicago, US, paperback, 1983. TV movie: ABC, 1972, as The Crooked Hearts (with Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Rosalind Russell, Ross Martin). Two-part TV episodes: BBC, UK, episodes 2 and 3 of Murder Most English: A Flaxborough Chronicle (May 8 & 15, 1977) with Anton Rogers as DI Purbright and Brenda Bruce as Lucilla Teatime.

   This fourth novel in the Flaxborough chronicle marks the arrival in Purbright country of the trim, handsome, and fiftyish Miss Lucilla Teatime, the loveable but nefarious con artist who literally gets away with murder.

   Two ladies seem to have vanished, spinster Martha Reckitt and widowed Mrs. Lilian Bannister. Detective Inspector Purbright, “an expert on female psychology,” according to Chief Constable Harcourt Chubb, feels that a marriage offer is at the bottom of each of the eases in question since both women had “ready money” and matrimonial availability.

   Miss Teatime and Purbright’s roads converge at Handclasp House, a supposed matrimonial agency run by the Staunches and obviously at the core. of the mysterious disappearances. Purbright’s attempt to put Miss Teatime under surveillance aborts when this slippery eel eludes Sgt. Love. Miss Teatime on her own is out to outcon the original con artist, and Purbright in turn must. try to outfox this very foxy lady.

   It’s a double game of cat and mouse, cleverly contrived and hilariously executed, no less than we have come to expect of Colin Watson in this delightful series.

– Reprinted from The Poisoned Pen, Volume 2, Number 4 (July-August 1979).

THE LONE WOLF SPY HUNT. Columbia Pictures, 1939. Warren William (Michael Lanyard), Ida Lupino, Rita Hayworth, Virginia Weidler, Ralph Morgan, Tom Dugan, Don Beddoe. Screenplay: Jonathan Latimer, based upon a story by Louis Joseph Vance. Directed by Peter Godfrey.

   This was the first in a series of nine films that Warren William starred in as the reformed safe-cracker widely known as The Lone Wolf. There were eleven before this one, including six from the silent era. I don’t know how consistent these movies were in terms of continuity, but this one starts off with Michael Lanyard “burdened” down with a daughter (possibly adopted), played most energetically by as extremely tomboyish Virginia Weidler. (*)

   You may have also noticed the presence of both Ida Lupino (as an extremely jealous and overly clingy girl friend) and Rita Hayworth (as a villainess I’d love to have seen more of). Both were in the early stages of their respective careers. Who knew, back in 1939, how famous the two of them would turn out to be?

   Warren William plays his role in the most urbane and cultured way possible, and of course his usual demeanor on the screen, as he deals with the considerable domestic uproars he faces in this film as easily as he does with the spies he is hunting, per the title.

   At this late date the plot doesn’t amount to much: spies trying to obtain some secrete military plans. One way of doing so, they hope, is to frame Lanyard into working for them by leaving one of his signature cigarettes at the scene of another crime.

   There is more emphasis on the comedy this time around than there is an actual mystery, including the aforementioned domestic uproars, a hapless butler, and a couple of hardworking but dumb cops. All in fun, of course, and a good time is had by all.

   Including me.

(*) I note for the record that there was a silent film from 1919 entitled The Lone Wolf’s Daughter. Any connection? I have no idea.  I await enlightenment.

IF SCIENCE FICTION, May 1967. Editor: Frederik Pohl. Cover art: Jack Gaughan. Overall rating: ***½ stars.

KEITH LAUMER “Spaceman!” Serial, part 1 of 3. To be reviewed after the July issue.

TERRY CARR “The Robots Are Here.” Novelette. Robots from the future are busily blocking alternate time tracks in the interest of man. Pleasant, but short and hence inconsequential. (3)

CHARLES W. RUNYON “The Youth Addicts.” Novelette. An attempt to enter the dream memories of a friend’s wife ends in a very strange love triangle., Derivative, but a slightly new twist. (4)

H. H. HOLLIS. Novelette. “The Long, Slow Orbits.” Novelette. A man and woman operate an “underground railroad” for maltreated cyborgs, or “coggers.” Analog to Black situation clear but not pushed. Can anyone be imprisoned in a Klein bottle? (3)

B. K. FILER “The Hole.” First story. Fossils are being destroyed – to hide the secret of the formation of intelligent life on Earth. (4)

A. BERTRAM CHANDLER. “The Road to the Rim.” Serial, Part 2 of 2. To be reported on soon.

– March 1968


BOB HOPE CHRYSLER THEATER. “A Killing at Sundial” NBC, 04 October 1963 (Season One, Episode One). Stuart Whitman, Melvyn Douglas, Angie Dickinson, Joseph Caliea, Robert Emhardt, Malcolm Atterbury. Teleplay: Rod Serling. Directed by Alex Segal. Currently available for streaming on YouTube (see below).

   Sundial is a small Southwestern town slowly wilting under a drought that has bankrupted the town Boss Pat Konkle (Melvyn Douglas) has put most of the residence deep in debt and burdened with unpaid mortgagees. As the hot dusty town threatens to dry up and blow away under the onslaught of poverty and heat, an unlikely savior appears: Billy Cole (Stuart Whitman), an Indian whose father the town lynched before driving Billy out of town years earlier.

   Billy is bitter, ironic, and recently oil rich, interested only in putting a burr under Konkle, not even in renewing his one time interest in Konkle’s beautiful daughter Susan (Angie Dickinson).

   The only person in the world he cares about is Cagewa (Joseph Caliea), an old chief who was mentor and savior to Billy after his father was lynched, and Cagewa fears what it is Billy has come back for.

   That something is revealed at an impromptu service at his father’s unmarked grave Billy invites the town folk to. He has bought all their mortgages and save the town for a price — Pat Konkle dies before morning.

   How, who, none of that concerns Billy. All the wants is Konkle dead before the next sunrise.

   Cagewa is horrified, as much by the willingness of everyone to do the job. Susan tries to explain her father is a broken man who has lost everything. None of that matters to Billy. He will watch as the day winds down and the long hot night rolls by while Konkle becomes more and more aware his many years of Boss rule have won no champions, no friends.

   He is going to die before morning comes.

   â€œKilling at Sundial” was the first episode of the Bob Hope Chrysler Theater in the first season in color in 1963. Aside from a strong cast, it featured a strong teleplay by Rod Serling, touching on familiar Serling elements such as racism, hate, revenge, intolerance, small town prejudice, and broken men, Billy by his hate, Konkle by his arrogance and fear, the town by their greed and desperation.

   The anthology format was made for Serling, and throughout the Fifties and Sixties, he and writers like Abby Mann and Paddy Chayevsky brought high drama to the format, with Serling himself becoming a celebrity hosting The Twilight Zone and as screenwriter for films like Seven Days in May.

   Despite the usual White men in Red face common to the era, this one has a strong narrative line, and fine performances all around with Douglas getting to do some fine emoting as he falls apart ,and Caliea’s quiet dignified Cagewa stealing the whole thing as he did many a film in his long career.

   The finale is powerful even if predictable, ending on a surprisingly dark note for an anthology series episode from this era.

   Perhaps too on the nose for modern audiences at the time, there was a freshness and power to this sort of thing, a too rare look at a darker side of the uniform and bright world many of us had grown up in. As the optimism of the era gave way to questions and fears, even the relatively sedate world of the small screen began to acknowledge that the safe prosperous world we grew up in was not the only one.

   â€œKilling at Sundial” offers a glimpse of sunny hell, and as with most things Rod Serling did, it is worth catching.



BUDD SCHULBERG – The Harder They Fall. Random House, hardcover, 1947. Paperback reprints include Bantam 707, October 1949, and Signet, 1968.

THE HARDER THEY FALL. Columbia Pictures, 1956. Humphrey Bogart, Rod Steiger, Jan Sterling, Mike Lane, Max Baer, Jersey Joe Walcott, Edward Andrews, Harold J. Stone, Carlos Montalban, Nehemiah Persof. Screenplay by Philip Yordan, based on the novel by Budd Schulberg. Directed by Mark Robson.

   Eddie Lewis is press agent for the boxing interests of mob boss Nick Latka. Eddie still has some fantasies about being a ‘real’ writer someday. But for now, he’s getting paid a lot of dough and a percentage to hype up whatever fighter the mob tells him to.

   His newest assignment, however, promises to be harder that all of the others: hyping Man Mountain Toro Molina, Giant of the Andes (based on real life ‘boxer’ Primo Carnera). Molina (as well as Carnera) is 6’7”, 275 pounds. Slow as sludge, with a glass jaw and punches that couldn’t puncture a balloon.

   Molina is a pituitary case, with a body enlarged by glands and muscle bound by a life of lifting wine barrels in Argentina.

   Eddie expresses his concerns about hyping this oafish goon. But Nick, the Boss, reassures him (reminiscent of William Randolph Hearst’s “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war”) you hype the fighter, I’ll make sure he wins the fights.

   From there it’s one fixed fight after another, building up the hype machine, praying on the gullibility of the average fan and the salability of the average reporter.

   And then, when he finally meets a legit fighter that can’t be bought (Max Baer — both in reality in the Max Baer/Primo Carnera fight as well as in the film where Max Baer reprises his role as destroyer of fake fighters), the mob is happy enough to take the 9-5 odds and lay their money on Baer for the win. Carnera/Molina is decimated in the Max Baer fight (in the book he’s named Buddy Stein — in the film Buddy Brannen).

   The book qualifies as noir. There’s nothing redemptive. The whole thing stinks to high heaven. Even the pummeling of Molina is such an absolute decimation and destruction of a basically decent, stupid ox that there’s no schadenfreude to enjoy. Everyone is bought and sold. And after the fight, when ‘El Toro’ decides he’s ready to quit and go home, he’s told that after subtracting all expenses that his total take (for his entire boxing career) amounts to $49.70.

   In the film, when Bogart finds out about this affront to human decency, he gives his entire take to Molina ($16,000). In the book, Eddie Lewis only offers Molina $5,000 — which makes a lot more sense as Eddie does everything in half-measures. In the book, Molina rejects the filthy lucre. In the film, Molina gratefully accepts: At least the world has one true friend!

   In the book, Eddie’s girlfriend dumps him: sick of his hypocrisy and his pretense of being better than the trash he traffics. In the film, Eddie is married and his wife stands by his side, nudging him lovingly towards truth, justice and the America Way.

   The book ends with Eddie in bed with a whore. The movie, with Bogart standing up to corruption: The Harder They Fall in the film is a double entendre referring both to the collapse in the ring of Man Mountain and to Eddie’s outing of mafia corruption in the Free Press! Eddie’s gonna singlehandedly bring down mafia fight fixing! Bogart reprises his role of Rick in Casablanca. Bogart’s corruption is only a pose. Deep down he’s clean and pure and strong. The final image has his devoted wife placing a tea cup and saucer lovingly beside his Remington as he types his expose.

   It’s Bogart’s final role. He looks much older than his 56 years, weak and tired and full of cancer. He tries to convince us that good will prevail, and the swelling orchestra backs him up. But he looks resigned and deathly, like the truth.


   What did I think of them? Well — like I said: the book is noir and the movie isn’t. But just because something is noir or not doesn’t mean it’s good. For me, they both hit me kind of flat. If you’re interested in the basic story it’s pretty much covered in the movie (until the truth is betrayed in the end to allow the audience to leave with a smile and comfort in the fact that all is well and justice will out).

   The movie also leaves out a tremendous amount of sex. More sex than I knew was possible in print in 1947. (Eddie says trying to remember one girl over another is like trying to remember one particular cigarette after you just chain smoked a pack.) El Toro has an affair with the mafia boss’s wife — until he catches her giving a blow job to the chauffeur’s 17-year old nephew (were only the chauffeur the beneficiary I’d make my annual Rosh Hashanah joke about blowing the shofar): ‘La puta! La puta!’ he screams at her.

   The movie also pretty much leaves out the mob element. Although Rod Steiger is a tough guy, it’s not really clear that the repercussions of not going along with his orders are ending belly up in the East River. You’ll merely be fired. (As an aside, if you close your eyes, Steiger’s voice and words sound like a dead ringer for Donald Trump — I’d be shocked if Trump didn’t watch the film when he was a 10 year old boy).

   Anyway. I guess I’d say you can safely skip both the film and the book. They’re okay. But, as good old Robert Louis Stevenson jauntily jotted: ‘the world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.’

My daughter and her husband are visiting me from Illinois this weekend, starting tomorrow and leaving Tuesday. I will probably not have as much time for posting as I usually do, so if this blog goes blank for a while, all is well. Will be back soon!

RICHARD S. PRATHER – Over Her Dear Body. Shell Scott #10. Gold Medal #s887, June 1959. Cover art by Barye Phillips. Many later printings.

   I grew up reading the Shell Scott books, all the way through high school, but if I read this one, it was a long time ago, and no memories of it this past week came back at all. The Shell Scott books, as I remember them, were wacky adventures of a Hollywood-based PI, filled with the three B’s: babes, booze and bullets, but I’ll tell you this up front. I found this one sorely disappointing.

   In reverse order, lots of bullets, a moderate amount of booze, and barely any babes. Pun intended. On a yacht filled with party-goers where he is to meet a client, female, Shell does cross paths another lady, one with no clothes on and swimming off the stern and without a ladder to come up off the water. He is more than happy to provide one, but while whimsically amusing, in essence that’s as far as that goes.

   But while looking for the ladder for the lady, he butts into a stateroom in which a secretive conference is going on, with one of the several guys in attendance ending up dead the next day. Not too surprisingly, the dead man is Shell’s client’s brother. From there the story’s as straight as a string. No surprises, no twists, no fun.

   I think Prather, whether he realized or not, was coasting with this one. He’s fine, even better than fine, in descriptive passages, but the dialogue he puts into Shell Scott’s mouth completely belies the latter’s reputation as being a tough hardboiled detective. He’s whiny, and he’s always trying to come up with excuses for his actions. He’s 180 degrees the opposite of Sam Spade, for one big example, whose thoughts you are never even close to being sure of, ever.

   Once again, I’ll rate this one D for Disappointing, and on my trademarked H/B (hardboiled) scale, a 3.3 maybe, tops. Out of ten.



SANDRA WEST PROWELL – Where Wallflowers Die. Phoebe Siegel #3. Walker, hardcover, 1996. Bantam, paperback, 1997.

   I wasn’t as taken with Phoebe’s first two adventures as a lot of people were. I liked them and liked the character, but thought there were some definite rough edges. Prowell has a strong, individual voice, though.

   A Montana politician who’s running for Governor wants Billings PI Phoebe Siegel to investigate the murder of his wife; the catch is, it occurred 27 years ago, and is still an open case. It’s one her dead father had worked on, one that disturbed him a lot.

   Phoebe doesn’t much like politicians, but takes the case anyway. When she starts opening long-closed doors, bad things come out, past death leads to present, and she comes in harm’s way herself.

   I still think Prowell has a way to go before moving up to the Muller /Grafton/Paretsky /Barnes class, but she’s sure better than some female PI writers who are with bigger publishers for probably bigger bucks. My main problem is just that, mine — I don’t find Phoebe Siegel all that likable a protagonist. Too mindlessly antagonistic and wiseass when it’s not called for. Got a mouth on her like a stevedore, too, which may offend some.

   I do think that Prowell tells a pretty good story, and I liked the fact that the ending was at least semi-realistic and didn’t culminate in an orgy of needless violence. Really, if you take to ol’ Phoebe you’ll probably think these are pretty damned good.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #25, May 1996.


      The Phoebe Siegel series —

1. By Evil Means (1993)
2. The Killing of Monday Brown (1994)
3. When Wallflowers Die (1996)

      Awards —

Dilys Awards Best Book nominee (1994) : By Evil Means
Shamus Awards Best Novel nominee (1995) : The Killing of Monday Brown
Shamus Awards Best Novel nominee (1997) : When Wallflowers Die

Next Page »