June 2023

CLUB HAVANA. PRC, 1946. Tom Neal, Margaret Lindsay, Isabelita (Lita Baron), Marc Lawrence, Ernest Truex. Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer. Currently available on YouTube (see below).

   A typical night at a Latin-American night club, with lots of intertwined stories: young love, a broken heart or two, attempted suicide – and a piano player who can break a gambler’s alibi for the slaying of a showgirl, and calls the police.

   The budget was skimpy. No expensive location shots here. All the action takes place in the night club or just outside the front door. I could have done without the floor show; it’s the characters that make the story, brought to a smashup conclusion.

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


   I did a requested Windows 11 update on my new laptop last night, and I thought all went well until I tried to use the keyboard and … nothing. Dead as a dinosaur. The laptop is new, but the wireless keyboard is well, ancient.

   Spent most of the morning talking to some friendly fellows at Geek Squad but after more than an hour later, they gave up too. They said it was a hardware problem. Make an appointment and bring it in, they said.

   I decided to say goodbye to it instead. The new laptop I have is tiny, and the keys are even smaller, and it’s been a long day. Off to Best Buy tomorrow to get a new keyboard, one large enough for me to be able to use. I’ve started this post three times already. I keep hitting keys I don’t mean to and which do all sorts of strange things I didn’t know computers ought to be able to do, including making everything I’ve written so far get wadded up and vanishing on me.

   I’ll be back as soon as I can, but with some doctor’s appointments coming up, it may be a few days. Stay well, stay safe everyone!

CHRISTIANNA BRAND – Heads You Lose. Inspector Cockrill #1. John Lane/Bodley Head, UK, hardcover, 1941. Dodd Mead, US, hardcover, 1942. Reprint editions include Bantam, paperback July 1988. July 1 13.SO>

   As you might deduce from the title, murder by decapitation, three times over. Not exactly what you’d call a “cozy” mystery, although all the trappings are there: a small English village, the squire’s manor, only six suspects. Inspector Cockrill investigates.

   Patterned after John Dickson Carr, although there’s no locked room — the body found in the snow with no footprint$ around has an easy explanation. But with events bordering the bizarre, and with every word and scene full of extra meaning, it’s Carr a11 right.

– Reprinted from Mystery.File.6, June 1980.

TALES OF WELLS FARGO. “Shotgun Messenger.” NBC, 07 May 1957 (Season One, Episode 6). Dale Robertson (Jim Hardie).  Guest cast: Michael Landon, Walter Sande, Kem Dibbs. Story consultant: Frank Gruber. Teleplay by Sloan Nibley and Dwight Newton. Director: Lew Foster.  Currently available on Starz and free on YouTube (see below).

   A new gold mine means that Wells Fargo needs to set up a new stagecoach route in the area, which means that men must be found right away to be drivers and to ride shotgun. While barely a man, young Tad Cameron (Michael Landon) is hired by Jim Hardie decides to hire him as the latter, even though the boy’s father was fired by Wells Fargo eight years earlier under suspicion of being in cahoots with two outlaws who held up one of their stages.

   And guess what? The same two owlhoots are still around are trying their best to get young Tad to join up with them. Does he? Of course not.

   All in all, a small morality play, as weren’t most adult westerns that overpopulated the nation’s TV screens in the late 50s and early sixties?

   Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

   What was an extra huge viewing bonus was looking back in the YouTube time machine to see Michael Landon as young as he was then and not yet the TV star he was to become.

   That he was a natural is obvious.

RICHARD DEMING – Kiss and Kill. Zenith ZB-36, paperback original; 1st printing, January 1960. Armchair Fiction, softcover, 2016 (published back-to-back with The Dead Stand-In by Frank Kane). Wildside Press, softcover, 2017.

   Two beginners in the confidence racket meet, join forces, get married and go on to bigger and better things. Including murder. Preying on lonely women with more money than sense, Sam and Mavis make a nasty pair, cutting a wide path through rural America.

   They eventually get their comeuppance, of course, one that was obvious long before I caught on. It also makes an amusing social statement. Sam is boss in his family, you see, and it’s that double standard inherent in their operation that catches up with them.

– Reprinted from Mystery.File.6, June 1980.


A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Julie Smith


JANE DENTINGER – First Hit of the Season. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1984. Dell, paperback, 1985. Penguin, paperback, 1993.

   Critic Jason Saylin used his typewriter like a machete, hacking bits and pieces off the reputation of his least favorite actress almost daily. The lady in question, Irene Ingersoll, hated him so much she once dumped a plate of fettucini on him in a restaurant. Which was absolutely no reason to suspect her of doing him in — even though she had excellent opportunity and ample motive.

   Or such is the theory of Ingersoll’s pal, actress and amateur sleuth Jocelyn O’ Roarke. O’ Roarke happens to be the girlfriend of Phillip Gerrard, the detective assigned to the case, who wants her of course, to mind her own business. And that, luckily for Dentinger’s readers, is about as likely as Sarah Bernhardt’s return to the stage.

   Dentinger introduced the likable O’Roarke in her first book, the very well-reviewed Murder on Cue, published in 1983. She’s plucky, smart, and deliciously caustic: “The muscles in Maxine’s face twitched as much as two face jobs would let them.” Dentinger, an actress herself, writes with an insider’s knowledge of Manhattan’s theatrical subculture and with a literacy obviously achieved by voracious reading of books as well as plays. Fans of witty, witchy dialogue will find themselves laughing out loud.

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.

      The Jocelyn O’Roarke series

1. Murder on Cue (1983)
2. First Hit of the Season (1984)
3. Death Mask (1988)
4. Dead Pan (1992)
5. The Queen is Dead (1994)
6. Who Dropped Peter Pan? (1995)

THE OUTSIDER “Periwinkle Blue.” NBC, 02 April 1969 (Season One, Episode 24). Darren McGavin (PI David Ross). Guest cast: Lois Nettleton, Ellen Corby, Douglas Dick, Bill Quinn, Richard Benedict. Series created by Roy Huggins (as John Thomas James). Teleplay by Edward J. Lakso, based on a story by Gene Levitt. Directed by Richard Benedict. Currently streaming on YouTube (see below).

   For beginners, if you’ve never read Michael Shonk’s overview of the series, or you haven’t in a while, let me steer you there first before you read on back here.

   This, however, is an excerpt from his first two paragraphs:

   The Outsider tried hard to be loyal to its noir roots but it was born at the wrong time. From Broadcasting (8-19-68) article entitled “1968-69: The Non Violent Season”:

   Actually no show has had a rougher time of it in the anti-violence climate than the Universal Television–Public Arts Production of The Outsider. It was bought by the network and in production long before the [Bobby] Kennedy assassination.

   The shooting death of Bobby Kennedy is what had happened between the showing of the pilot episode, which Michael reviewed here, and the TV networks were under fire for showing too much violence in their offerings, and The Outsider, once picked up as a series, took the brunt of it.

   Here’s Michael’s opening statement on the pilot film:

   The Outsider is a story suitable for Black Mask magazine, a noirish tale of a loser PI on a simple case that spins out of control with a lying client, violence, betrayal, drugs, seedy L.A. music club life, a femme fatale, and doomed characters.

   In reviewing the series, Michael went into detail about the episodes that were available to him at the time, but “Periwinkle Blue.” was not one of them. Filling in the gap, Mike Doran left a comment talking about it as an episode he still remembered, but no more than that.

   At the beginning of this episode Ross turns down a client who thinks his wife is trying to kill him, thinking that the man was exaggerating several incidents that had recently occurred. Later on, discovering from a newspaper that the man had been killed in a hit-and-run accident, he decides to take the death as a sign that perhaps he was wrong.

   Attending the man’s funeral, he meets the wife (the wholly delightful Lois Nettleton), as obvious a suspect in a case of murder as there could ever be, but yet, over the next few weeks, he is not quite sure. He is attracted to her and her flirty but quietly quirky ways, but there is no way he can dispel the suspicions he has of her. He is puzzled and perplexed, in a role that only a completely bewildered Darren McGavin could play.

   This is, as you can plainly see, not your usual TV PI drama, and to tell you the truth, I think this episode, at least, is all the better for it. If I’ve intrigued you at all, do watch this one.



GUERRILLAS IN PINK LACE. Mont Productions, 1964. George Montgomery, Valerie Varda, Joan Shawnlee. Screenplay by Fred Grofe Jr. Directed by George Montgomery. Currently available on YouTube (see below).

   The movie is bad.

   Bad doesn’t begin to describe it.

   The color photography is washed out. The acting is uniformly bad. The direction is ham-handed. The plot is ludicrous, bordering on racist tropes from twenty years earlier. Sexist doesn’t begin to describe it; there isn’t a woman in it credited with so much as a single brain cell. Sue Ann Langdon or Sherry North could have played every important female in the cast in different wigs, and probably should have.

   Nothing works from the goofy score, to the slightly less sexy for wear guerrillas in pink lace from the title, and there’s not really nudity in it considering it’s only possible reason for existing is sexploitation. There is one broadly slapstick swimming scene for Joan Shawnlee as a brainless brunette nude in the water trying to snatch her bra hooked on a Japanese water can while Murphy and the girls watch helpless, but that’s all the tease this film as to offer.

   And you know what?

   The stupid mess is fun.

   Stupid fun, but fun.

   You see, conman and unlucky gambler Murphy (George Montgomery) is in the Philippines after Pearl Harbor and down on his luck replete with a hangover and black eye, when Father Osgood (not Jim Montgomery, as IMDb insists, but Torn Thatcher) shows up. Father Osgood has a pass to be flown out that day, but he wants to stay behind and help his parishioners face the hardships of Japanese occupation.

   Murphy, of course, agrees to help him.

   He steals a cassock, a pair of glasses, and the Pass and manages to catch a ride to the airport with a bus load of exotic dancers whose boss has talked an officer into a pass. For Murphy it’s a fairly delightful farewell to Manila until the Japanese shoot down the plane.

   Only Murphy and the girls survive and end up on the small island of San Miguel where Murphy, who the girls still believe to be the courageous and Godly Father Osgood, all fine and well and rather cozy until it turns out there are Japanese on the island.

   Two Japanese specifically, an officer and a soldier keeping a radio observation outpost, a fat stupid officer and a cross-dressing (as a geisha girl to sing to the officer while Murphy steals from them and uses their radio to contact the Navy) idiot much put on soldier.

   Laurel and Hardy, Japanese soldiers.

   So while the ladies bathe and exercise and bemoan, Murphy is a man of God and not available, and surprisingly show less skin than the Japanese soldiers, and Murphy steals the Japanese blind and plots to get close to the radio to get a second message out after his initial raid, there is no real threat.

   And then of course the Japanese army shows up and all bets are off.

   Montgomery was a reliable and fairly popular leading man through the Forties into the early Sixties where he moved briefly to the small screen (Cimmaron) and then made several low budget adventure film in the Philippines (this was the third after Huk and The Iron Claw). He was one of the men suspected to be the Masked Rider of the Plains in the Republic serial The Lone Ranger, and again in The Masked Marvel, he was soon co-starring as a poor man’s John Payne opposite the likes of Ginger Rogers (Roxie Hart), cast as Philip Marlowe in The Brasher Doubloon, and in numerous adventure, comedy, and other films.

   In the Fifties he moved primarily into Westerns with some success (Cripple Creek, The Texas Rangers) and was married to singer Diana Shore. He continued to act until 1988, but had long since become popular and respected as a maker of fine furniture.

   Back on San Miguel, the small island, Murphy and the women decided to go out like heroes rather than run from the Japanese. They strip Japanese uniforms off soldiers they knock unconscious, sneak into the base, steal dynamite, and light up the night with an attack that consists of nothing but tossing sticks of dynamite into the camp in the dark among the panicking troops.

   And when they wake up the next morning they find the Japanese of decamped in the night even leaving the radio behind.

   The guerrillas in pink lace have won the battle of San Miguel.

   Murphy finds himself a Major in charge of special operations of San Miguel with his “army” commended for their skills and bravery, but the girls have just found out Murphy is no priest and…

   Well, they’ve been on the island for a while…

   If I’ve spoiled this for you, believe me, the plot is telegraphed in the title. This is no Westward the Women or Guns of Fort Petticoat. None of the cast so much as lose a nail despite the plane crash and living in the jungle.

   Well, one woman gets her hair twisted in a bush. I guess that was traumatic, but as a dramatic high point, it’s fairly lame.

   And there it stands, stupid, badly written, sexist, racist (though no one is much smarter than the Japanese), inexpertly directed by Montgomery (who did better on television and elsewhere), mostly badly acted (Montgomery does manage a kind of goofy charm as Murphy — at least to me) never delivering on the sex, or the comedy, much less the adventure, just an awful movie.

   But, like some shaggy, hair knotted, smelly, overly friendly dogs, I feel a certain good will towards it. Give it a scratch behind the ears — just be sure you wash your hands afterward.

   You wouldn’t want this dog to give you fleas.

   It probably would, and frankly I wouldn’t bet against an STD or two.




THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS. Universal, 1971. George C Scott, Joanne Woodward, Jack Gilford, Lester Rawlins, Al Lewis, Rue McClanahan, Oliver Clark, F. Murray Abraham, Paul Benedict and M. Emmet Walsh. Written by James Goldman. Directed by Anthony Harvey. Currently streaming on YouTube (see below).

   A promising misfire.

   I use the word “promising” advisedly. Well, that is to say, no one actually advised me to call it “promising, “ but I couldn’t help thinking how aptly it applied to a film with an intriguing premise and a story-line strewn with clues that seem to be leading up to something that turns out to…..

   For starters, Giants centers around George C Scott as a paranoid psychotic who believes he is Sherlock Holmes, and sees the hand of Moriarty at work in everything that happens his way. He is also a man of considerable personal charm — distressingly rare in actual paranoids — and persuasiveness — distressingly common in paranoids who run nations, but I digress.

   As the film opens, Scott’s brother is trying to get him committed for venal reasons of his own, and Psychiatrist Mildred Watson (Joanne Woodward) is called in to evaluate him and sign the papers. When her boss at the Mental Hospital pressures Dr Watson (get it?) to skip over the evaluation, she digs her heels in and takes time to really get to know a clearly delusional man who refuses to act like a patient. And as the film progresses, she gets drawn further into his fantasy… or is it fantasy?

   Okay I better post a (WARNING!!) because I’m gonna hint at some plot developments here. And the problem is, there are plenty of developments, but they only lead to other developments. The story seems to be going somewhere, but it never actually gets there — or much of anywhere. Every clue leads to another clue instead of a solution, every action runs to a dead end, and every climax turns to anticlimax, leaving the film meandering and irresolute.

   Perhaps it’s all the more frustrating because there are some clever ideas and good lines here: a pithy comment on Westerns, “There are no masses in Dodge City, only individuals taking responsibility for their own actions.” Scott’s assessment of Woodward’s usefulness, “Just keep saying to yourself, ‘I’m adequate. ‘ “ or “I think if God is dead he laughed himself to death.”

   I could go on. The movie itself sure does. But basically all that cleverness is just elegant gift-wrapping on an empty package.




RAOUL WHITFIELD – Laughing Death.‎ Steeger Books, softcover, July 2021; introduction by James Reasoner. Originally published serially in nine parts in Black Mask magazine from February to October 1929. Previously published in hardcover as Five, as by Temple Field (Farrar & Rinehart, 1931).

   DA Sanford Greer is trying to clean up Center City. Picture Atticus Finch. Precaution’s for the birds. Greer will take death when it comes. Courageously. Bring it on.

   His reward is murder by the mob. The mob has six factions. All six come together with a trigger man from each, a show of unity riddling Greer’s body with bullets from six different guns. The shooters shoot him down, cackling cacophonous laughter. Hence the Laughing Death.

   The body is missing bullets from a .38. One of the six was loyal to Greer and missed his shots. For that, he missed his shot. Snuffed. But not before spilling five names to the DA’s progeny and protege: Gary Greer.

   These five names form the original title for this novel of vengeance: Five. If Gary had it his way, there would only be more five chapters. Each one ending with death. But complications ensue, and it gets tougher and tougher to hunt his prey once his prey get hip to the game.

   Gary is a veteran fighter pilot of the war to end all wars. He runs an airfield near Center City. His plan is to fake his own death in a fiery plane crash, then return, incognito, a ghastly ghost, smirking a deathly grin as he guns these killers down.

   The first two kills are fairly smooth and easy. But then Gary’s cover gets blown, and the hunter becomes the hunted.

   Things are real tough because the head of the mob and the chief of police is the same guy. It’s not just the mob trying to rub out Gary. It’s the cops too. And there’s very little difference. No one’s honest, and besides Gary’s girl and his best buddy, there’s nobody he can trust.

   There’s a bunch of fancy air-flying action, machine guns a-blazing, bombs dropping on buildings, narrow escapes, and poisoned cocktails. Gary Greer, about half-way thru the story, reveals that he’s been deputized by the Feds and has a license to kill. And he does so with impunity. With immunity.

   What starts off as a fairly plausible hardboiled vengeance tale becomes more and more cartoonish, Gary Greer turning proto-James Bond as played by Errol Flynn, impossible escape after impossible escape, all by the skin of his teeth. Of course, when the bad guys have Gary in their sights, they can’t simply plug him. They’ve got to have sneaky surreptitious plans, each more complicated than the last. He must be killed with proper flourish and poetry. You can probably guess who gets the last laugh.

   It’s enjoyable as a B-Movie about a son, a heroic fighter pilot, a veteran of the War, avenging his father’s death and fading out with his beautiful black-haired woman in tow, in love, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Whitfield himself was a fighter-pilot and actor with a nice hardboiled chin and a well-groomed moustache. Perhaps he dreamed of starring in the movie version of Laughing Death / Five.

   If you read it for the B-Movie fighter-pilot revenge tale it is, in black and white, the bad guys in black, the good guys in white, it’s an enjoyable yarn. If you’ve already read Jo Gar and Green Ice and Death in the Bowl and you’re hankering for more Whitfield, it’s a nice light desert. Whipped cream with a cherry on top.

   Also reviewed here.

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