June 2024

ROSS MACDONALD – The Wycherly Woman. Lew Archer #9. Knopf, hardcover, 1961. Published earlier in condensed form in Cosmopolitan, April 1961, under the title “Take My Daughter Home.” Bantam, paperback, 1963. Reprinted many times since.

   Lew Archer is hired by Homer Wycherly to find his daughter Phoebe, who has been missing from school for two months. The case is not as simple as it seems on the surface, however, Two murders occur along the trail that Archer follows back, searching for both Phoebe and her mother. Illicit love has led to divorce, now murder, and blackmail of Phoebe for her mother’s death, which in neurotic fashion she blames herself for.

   You know, it’s great to read a mystery with a complicated plot that doesn’t also need complicated explanation. Excellent writing, in spite of occasionally corny similes that Macdonald seems to feel are expected of him, with a perceptive view of all levels of life.

    All of the characters are realistically portrayed, and become personalities rather than cardboard. Archer;s own outlook on life is succinctly summed up on page 10: Mr. Wycherly doesn’t trust himself “to do all the right things.” Archer doesn’t “trust anyone else to do them.”

Rating:   *****

— July 1968.
Reviewed by TONY BAER:


JOHN EVANS (Howard Browne) – Halo in Blood. Paul Pine #1. Bobbs-Merrill, hardcover, 1946. Reprints include: Bantam #74, paperback, 1946; Quill, paperback, 1984; No Exit Press, paperback, 1988. Also appeared in Mammoth Detective, May 1946, probably in shortened form.

   Rich dude hires PI Paul Pine to break up his daughter’s relationship with a scoundrel. Pine agrees to try to dig up some dirt. But no promises. She’s of age and can date who she wants.

   But it turns out the case isn’t really about breaking up the happy couple at all. Because they’re not a happy couple. Rather, the beau is playboy on the mob’s payroll. His job is to hook rich women and get them to gamble away their fortunes at mafia run gambling houses.

   Then the playboy gets killed and Pine may be next, with the mob and cops after him, and the girl too — but she a much more palatable manner.

   The story is incredibly convoluted, a la Chandler. But you’re too confused to question why, you just go along for the ride.

   And the ride is quite fun. Paul Pine’s a great companion. And you riding shotgun.



M. Columbia, 1951. David Wayne, Howard Da Silva, Martin Gabel, Luther Adler, Steve Brodie, Raymond Burr, Glenn Anders. Director: Joseph Losey.

   Speaking of re-makes, Joseph Losey’s version of M is not an easy film to see, and I’m not sure it was worth the effort. It’s from his “promising” period (before he went to Europe to make deliberately boring pictures) when he was doing movies like The Lawless, The Prowler, and other modestly stylish thrillers hinting he might someday approach the level of Sam Fuller or Joseph H. Lewis.

   M gives us a bit of fine photography, a few neat directorial effects (mostly swiped from Fritz Lang’s original) and some really effective acting: David Wayne as the child-killer; Howard Da Silva as the conscientious cop on his trail; and a team of gangsters (also out to get the killer) that includes Martin Gabel, Raymond Burr, Luther Adler and the inimitable Glenn Anders at his irritating best, as a crook who thinks having a child-murderer at large  may be good for business.

   Unfortunately, Losey can’t seem to think his way around the censorship of the times, which dictated that Law and Order must be seen to prevail at all times, and the result is a rather muddled ending which  is not exactly Losey’s fault, but which when you see how directors like John Huston and Robert Aldrich slipped subversive comments past the censors in things like Asphalt Jungle and Kiss Me Deadly, you can’t help wishing he’d been a bit more inventive.

   Worse, Losey can’t get past his own tendency to preach, and things get badly bogged down while various characters stop the action to explain his moral points to the movie-going masses.

BACKLASH. 20th Century Fox, 1947. Jean Rogers, Richard Travis, Larry Blake, John Eldredge, Robert Shayne, Douglas Fowley, Sara Berner. Screenwriter: Irving Elman. Director: Eugene Forde.

   Not a very promising list of players, I thought while researching this B-level crime film before I watched it, nor did they exceed expectations. And yet they all did the jobs they were assigned, and the photography was fine as well. The story, with one five minute exception, was what left everything down, and I’ll get to that a couple of paragraphs further down.

   Richard Travis is the actor who nominally has the leading male role, but as the district attorney who’s handling the case, he seems to have more interest in the wife (Jean Rogers) of the man who’s presumed dead in an automobile accident (John Eldredge), a noted defense attorney named John Morland who gotten Red Bailey, an even more noted bank robber and killer (Douglas Fowley), off on charges before.

   The movie opens with yet another opportunity for Morland to defend Bailey with the former picking up the latter on a back road and helping him avoid roadblocks and imminent capture. As a prologue, it fails rather badly, as it easily allows the viewer to think Morland’s death later to be a lot more suspicious than (I think) it should have been.

   No matter. The police, in the form of Det. Lt. Jerry McMullen (Larry Blake), seem to be equally suspicious of the death, or in particular, who it was who died soon enough on his own, even though the evidence is pointing directly to Morland’s wife (the lady who again seems to be in a very close relationship with the D.A. See above.)

   If all of this sounds rather complicated it is, but even so, it doesn’t make the story that connects all these people very interesting. It takes a lot of talking to all of these people (and quite a few others) on the part of the homicide detective in charge of the case to move the story along, and then in only fits and bits, and flashbacks, too.

   There is one strange interlude toward the end of the movie that seems to come out of nowhere, but once there becomes a small highlight of the film. John Morland, on the run at the time, tries to take over a hobo’s flop, and they have a short but scintillating conversation together in dim but oh so effective lighting as the hobo gradually realizes who it is he’s talking to. This is the part of the film that’s pure noir. The rest is no more than a less than ordinary crime film.


   On the other hand, Arthur Lyons, reviewing this film in his book on B level films noir, Death on the Cheap, liked this more than I did. After a couple of paragraphs outlining the plot, he says “Told in a series of complicated flashbacks, this is not a bad little flick.”

   He may be right. I may have been harder on it than it deserves. I’ll think about it.

   Later: No, reading my review again, I don’t think so.

Nero Wolfe on Page and (Small U.S.) Screen:
Too Many Clients
by Matthew R. Bradley


   Completing the titular motif of Rex Stout’s Too Many Cooks (1938), Too Many Women (1947), and “Too Many Detectives” (1956), Too Many Clients (1960) opens as Thomas G. Yeager, the executive VP of Continental Plastic Products, arrives unannounced at the brownstone. Hired to confirm that he will be followed from his house on East 68th Street to 156 W. 82nd Street that evening, and ascertain by whom, Archie enlists the services of trusted cabbies Albert Goller and Mike Collins. The client is a no-show, and after Purley answers Archie’s phone call with a tell-tale “Mrs. [emphasis mine] Yeager’s residence,” Lon Cohen at the Gazette reveals that his body was found in an excavation on West 82nd.

   Lord knows, I’ve made little attempt to enumerate pop-culture references in books dating back 90 years, but Lon is jokingly told he will receive a Christmas card from “Archie and Mehitabel and the children,” alluding to the respective cockroach (Archy) and cat created by Don Marquis in his New York Evening Sun column in 1916, whose exploits — beloved of my father, IIRC — were often illustrated by George (Krazy Kat) Herriman. The photos in Lon’s file prove that the “client” was not Yeager…who was already dead, so with their bank balance perilously low, Archie seeks one. From superintendent Cesar Perez and his daughter, Maria, he learns that Yeager, referred to as “Mr. House,” owned 156 W. 82nd.

   After Archie intuits that Cesar found Yeager’s body in his well-used love nest, per Wolfe a “preposterous bower of carnality” — belying the ratty address — and hid it in the Con Ed site, Mrs. Felita Perez offers a $100 fee. They are interrupted by stage star Meg Duncan, whom Archie had recently seen in The Back Door to Heaven, and came for her cigarette case, offering $1,000 to find and keep it for her, “but too many clients can be worse than too few.”

   With Saul Panzer unavailable, he summons Fred Durkin to hold down the fort and restrain any visitors, presumably female, at gunpoint if needed while he returns to the brownstone, where he has arranged for Mr. and Mrs. Perez and (separately) Meg to come.

   Meg concedes “awareness that she had — uh — colleagues. Or rivals,” but either can’t or won’t provide any information regarding them or pay Wolfe $50,000 to suppress possible evidence in a murder. Questioned in Spanish, “one of his six languages,” the Perezes say Yeager paid them $50 a week, letting them live for free in the basement and keep the rent for the rooms on the first four floors; convinced that Felita killed him for “debauch[ing]” Maria, Wolfe refuses their fee, upped to $250. Fred summons Archie, having “caught a fish” who scratched his face: Julia McGee, Yeager’s secretary, sent to seek anything to connect him to the house by Continental prexy Benedict Aiken, joining her chez Wolfe.

   Aiken corroborates Julia and hires Wolfe for an unspecified fee to investigate, if possible protecting the corporation; then, Ellen Yeager arrives and hires him to find her husband’s killer, with a proviso that he will terminate his arrangement with Continental in the event of a conflict. They are interrupted by Cramer, aware that Archie asked Lon about Yeager two hours before he was found but seemingly not of the notorious room, when Fred calls to report another fish, so Archie departs on a pretext. On arrival, Felita shows him a deed sent them by attorney John Morton Seymour, conveying the house to them in the event of Yeager’s death, “so nobody could know he owned [it] and we must not say he owned it.”

   Upstairs, he finds Dinah Hough, who has admired his dancing at the Flamingo and left an umbrella while allegedly avoiding Yeager’s advances; learning that hubby Austin teaches English lit at NYU, Archie pegs him as “Yeager,” who’d quoted Elizabethans and Robert Browning. Brought to Wolfe, he explains his idea that the revelation to Yeager — thought to be alive — of an unidentified impostor would let her know that he knew of their affair. That night, Felita awakens Archie to report that Maria was shot after seeing a movie with friends, and hidden in her drawer, he locates a cache of information on Yeager, including multiple sketches of some eleven women, one dated the night he was killed, resembling Julia.

   Archie requests Felita’s $1 fee to investigate her murder and calls off Fred, summoned by Wolfe along with Julia, who arrives with Aiken and is tricked into admitting she had been there, purportedly to take dictation, finding Yeager dead. Excluded as Wolfe instructs the ’teers, Archie visits Meg, who admits paying Maria $5 in monthly “hush money”; Austin, who has clearly beaten Dinah to a pulp; and Ellen, who insists on seeing the room despite the risk of surveillance.

   They meet Purley on the way out, forcing Archie to lie like mad, backed up by the quick-on-the-uptake Ellen and Felita, but Stebbins is no fool, and all the supposed coincidences get Archie a trip downtown, compartmentalizing two sets of facts.

   Wolfe asks Aiken to bring Julia, and Saul to bring a certain Arthur Wenger, who through the trick picture of the waterfall looking into the office i.d.’s Aiken as the man for whom he duplicated Julia’s highly unusual Rabson keys. Knowing that Yeager would be alone while awaiting her arrival, Aiken eliminated the growing threat to his leadership; he then writes and signs a confession — drafted by and mailed to Wolfe — that conceals the room’s existence before killing himself. Cramer knows damn well from the wording that Wolfe wrote it, but with Aiken dead he is not obliged to reveal his evidence, and the Continental directors agree to pay a $50,000 fee, while Archie returns the cigarette case and umbrella.

   A two-part second-season episode of A Nero Wolfe Mystery, “Too Many Clients” (June 2 & June 9, 2002) was one of director John L’Ecuyer’s four collaborations with screenwriter Sharon Elizabeth Doyle. It boasted an unusually large number of typos in the opening or closing credits, misidentifying the regulars and repertory players cast as Orrie (Trent MacMullen [sic]), Cesar (Alec [sic] Poch-Goldin), Director #2 (David Schurman [sic]) and Woman in Bathroom (Shanon [sic] Jobe) and Kitchen (Hayley Vernon [sic]), respectively. Michael Sarrazin appears in flashbacks, uncredited, as Yeager; sometimes seen as the dreaded Lt. Rowcliff, Bill MacDonald plays Austin, the faux Yeager hiring Archie (Timothy Hutton).

   Covered with a tarp by Cesar out of simple decency, Yeager is found by boys retrieving a ball — which conveniently lands in his open palm — as Archie ponders his absence with Al (Marty Moreau), and after hanging up on Purley (R.D. Reid) he seeks further information from Lon (Saul Rubinek). Well-cast Jeanette Sousa makes her only appearance as Maria, described in the book as “one of the three most beautiful females I have ever seen”; while addressed by name, Felita (Lucy Filippone) says they “were paid not to know” Meg (Kari Matchett). Fred’s (Fulvio Cecere) tedium is well depicted, as is his tussle with Julie (sic; Christine Brubaker), wrapped up in a coverlet, who later calls for Aiken (James Tolkan).

   In his pique over being stymied, Wolfe (Maury Chaykin) even wrangles with Fritz (Colin Fox); as he is being hired by Ellen (Debra Monk), Dinah (Dina Barrington) awakens Fred in the bathtub, and Cramer (Bill Smitrovich) drops in. Called “Mike” in the novel, Meg’s “square-jawed female” employee is now Matilda (Lorca Moore). Found by Saul (Conrad Dunn), Wenger (Robert Bockstael) fingers Aiken, and after his suicide, Doyle eliminates the parting shot with Cramer, jumping ahead to the meeting with the directors — including Richard Waugh and Steve Cumyn — and a new denouement, in which Archie watches the Perezes, whose daughter’s murder must remain officially unsolved, mournfully dancing…

Up next: “Eeny Meeny Murder Mo”

Edition cited:

         Too Many Clients: Bantam (1971)

Online source:

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini


RICHARD FALKIRK – Blackstone’s Fancy. Edmund Blackstone #2. Methuen, UK, hardcover, 1973. Stein & Day, US, hardcover, 1973. Bantam, US, paperback, 1974.

   Edmund Blackstone is a member of England’s pioneering group of public law officers, the Bow Street Runners (as is another prominent fictional detective, Jeremy Sturrock, in a series written by J.G. Jeffreys). Blackstone’s adventures span a total of six novels, of which only the first four were published in this country, and are fascinating portraits of London and its environs in the 1820s.

   Blackstone’s Fancy, the second in the series, involves the redoubtable Blackie in the violent (and al that time illegal, owing to a 1750 act of Parliament) sport of prizefighting, and with its “fancy” — the gamblers and aficionados. many of them aristocrats, who attended the matches and otherwise involved themselves in the sport.

   When Blackstone is ordered to lead a campaign to stamp out prizefighting, he finds himself tom between his loyalties to the Runners and his own self-interest: On the sly, he himself has undertaken the training of a boxing protege, a Negro youth named Ebony Joe. (Blackstone is that rarity among detective heroes, a human being with weaknesses as well as strengths.)

   But this is only one of Blackie’s worries. Among others: Patron of pugilists and zealous reformer Sir Humphrey Cadogan is being blackmailed by one of the whores he “saved”; the man who wrote the blackmail note is brutally murdered; an attempt is made on Blackstone’s own life; and Ebony Joe’s father is kidnapped in an effort to force him to throw his first major bout.

   The plot is cleverly worked out. but the real charm of the novel is Richard Falkirk’s (a pseudonym of Derek Lambert) vivid portrait of the period, with all its social problems, strange pastimes, and criminal excesses. The narrative is also sprinkled with prizefighting history and lore, and with underworld cant, most of it (but not all, unfortunately) accompanied by translations.

   Falkirk’s prose style is evocative, too though it occasionally becomes eccentric, with such dubious lines as “The girl in the bed stirred drowsily, one sleepy breast above the coverlet.”

   All in all, however, this is a delightful series and one wishes that new titles would be added. The other five existing Blackstone novels are Backstone ( 1973 ), Beau Blackstone (1974), Blackstone and the Scourge of Europe ( 1974 ), Blackstone Underground ( 1976), and Blackstone on Broadway (1977). Under his own name, Lambert has also published several suspense novels, among them The Yermakov Transfer (1974).
   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.

NOTE: The review above has been edited to remove a final phrase stating that Derek Lambert was the author of “an excellent biographical study of nine ‘masters of suspense,’ The Dangerous Edge (1976).” This is in error. The author of the latter is actually *Gavin* Lambert. See the comments.

Reviewed by TONY BAER:


ELISABETH SANXAY HOLDING – The Blank Wall.  Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1947. Pocket #662, paperback, 1950. Ace Double G412. paperback, ca.1965, published back-to-back with The Girl Who Had to Die. Included in Women Crime Writers: Four Suspense Novels of the 1940s (Library of America #268. hardcover, 2015. Not yet confirmed: Before being published in book form “The Blank Wall” appeared as a short story in Ladies’ Home Journal.
   [Added later, thanks to David Vineyard in Comment #2 and quoting from IMDb: “Her novel The Blank Wall (1947) was so popular in its day that it was made into a movie titled The Reckless Moment in 1949. In 2001 it was made into the movie The Deep End starring Tilda Swinson.”]

   Mom is trying to hold the fort together while Dad is overseas, fighting the big war. Beautiful daughter is coming of age, 17, with the poor judgment prone to youth. She’s ripe for the picking, and a vulture swoops in to pluck.

   Gramps has words with the scoundrel; shoves him into the lake. He thinks. He thinks he shoved him in the lake. The next morning mom goes to the boathouse and finds the scoundrel impaled on an anchor.
What should mom do? To what lengths will mom go to protect her family. There are no bounds.

   The fortitude of this homemaker-cum-obstructionist mastermind shows the silent strength of maternal instincts facing an existential threat to her home.

   Domestic thriller? The hell with nomenclature. It was good.

APOLOGY FOR MURDER. PRC, 1945. Hugh Beaumont, Ann Savage, Russell Hicks, Charles D. Brown. Director: Sam Newfield.

   Not so very long ago, as you may recall, David Vineyard reviewed a film entitled The Walls Came Tumbling Down, which he called a probably intentional homage to another film entitled The Maltese Falcon. As coincidences sometimes do, coming in pairs, here’s another film, this time from low budget PRC (which does *not* stand for Poverty Row Corporation, although it easily could do so) which is another homage, this time in honor of another well known film noir, this one entitled Double Indemnity.

   As legend or even truth may have it, the working title of Apology for Murder was Single Indemnity, or it was until the people at Paramount got wind of it, and that was the end of that.

   Playing Fred MacMurray’s role was Hugh Beaumont as a brash young reporter who gets involved with the wife (Ann Savage, shortly before she became a short-lived star in a movie titled Detour) of a much older businessman who is becoming more and more tired of her extravagant ways. And she more and more tired of him. What she needs is a way out.

   Her solution to this well-traveled dilemma comes along, most fortuitously for her, in person of Hugh Beaumont’s character, who, as brash as he is, is no match to the charms of the unhappy wife. Their mutual solution (but mostly her idea, when it comes down to it) is the obvious one. After which point things most naturally so sour. When Miss Savage takes up with a lawyer to help break her late husband’s will, it leaves Mr. Beaumont with, well, nothing, and when his editor gets this crazy idea that the accidental death was not really an accident, the walls really start closing in.

   It’s not really a bad picture, but even the dimmest member of the audience will know exactly what will happen next, each step of the way.

    Arthur Lyons, in his book on B level films noir, Death on the Cheap, somewhat challenges the generally accepted idea that the film was a direct ripoff of Double Indemnity. What he suggests is that it might have been based on the same true story which James Cain based his book of the same title on. Lyons goes on to say: “… either way, this is no Double Indemnity, although Ann Savage paints as powerful a picture of sinister femininity as she did of a nasty virago in the noir cult classic Detour.”

   The greatest baseball player of all time makes the greatest catch of all time:




THE WALLS CAME TUMBLING DOWN. Columbia Pictures, 1946. Lee Bowman, Marguerite Chapman, Edgar Buchanan, George Macready, Lee Patrick, Jonathan Hale, J. Edward Bromberg, Miles Mander, Elizabeth Risdon. Screenplay by Wilfred H. Pettitt, based on the novel by Jo Eisinger. Directed by Lothar Mendes.

   The title of the film, and the McGuffin (Leonardo’s The Fall of Jericho), are the only original touches in this out and out rip off of The Maltese Falcon, right down to Lee Patrick as the hero Gilbert “Archer’s” (Lee Bowman) secretary.

   A priest has been murdered to make it look like suicide and gossip columnist Gilbert Archer is out to find his killer which seems to have something to do with a lost Leonardo masterpiece, the priest was hiding to protect it.

   Patricia Foster aka Laura Browning (Marguerite Chapman) is the mystery woman in the case supposedly seeking the painting with her excitable father Ernst Helms (J. Edward Bromberg, think Joel Cairo), while the Reverend Matthew Stoker (Macready) is none too subtle about what he would do to find it with his patroness Catherine Walsh (Elizabeth Risdon) and their lawyer George Bradford (Edgar Buchanan). There’s even a hood name Rausch (Noel Cravat) in the role of an over aged Wilbur.

   Most of the subtlety is gone, as well as any erotic tension between Bowman and Chapman (or the Gutman, Cairo, and Wilbur stand-ins who are all straight), but it is virtually a scene for scene steal from Falcon beyond that down to the bit where Archer (Spade) tips a hotel detective off about Rausch (Wilbur).

   It does vary a bit at the end, the McGuffin isn’t a lead bird, and Chapman and Bowman end in a clinch, but it so blatantly rips off Falcon it’s shocking Hammett or Huston didn’t sue for plagiarism.

   I assume the Eisinger novel was very little like the film, or action surely would have been taken. It feels as if the book might have been rather more pious than this, and too dull to film if you go by the preamble before the Falcon plot kicks in, so it was dressed up with the plot of the Hammett film and novel.

   Macready is sufficiently evil and threatening as a crooked evangelistic type, and Buchanan oily as a crooked lawyer, while Bromberg is about as subtle as a train wreck, but thankfully the plot is changed up enough he makes an early departure as the bodies stack up.

   As far as production values go it looks good, none of the actors are bad, but none of them overly good either. Bowman fared better in a few comedies as a lead or second lead when he had good material. He isn’t awful, he just has nothing to work with other than look like a poor substitute for Bogart (honestly, in this he’s a poor substitute for Ricardo Cortez; the attempts to change his character from solemn avenger of his priest friend to bright fast talking Spade substitute are jarring enough to loosen fillings). His hero has all the charisma of his television Ellery Queen, which is none.

   The whole business about his being out to avenge his friend the priest just doesn’t work with the Falcon plot that requires a fast talking Spade who may or may not be quite honest and didn’t even like his partner, and this being 1946 they don’t dare suggest anything untoward about the dead priest to enliven the plot a little. Hammett’s plot can’t bear any saintly characters other than Effie.

   I suppose if you had never seen The Maltese Falcon and stumbled on this one late one night you might enjoy it. It’s not incompetent, badly acted, cheaply made, or poorly directed. In fact if they had just honestly remade Hammett I might have given it a C for effort, it’s not as bad as the Warren William film by any means.

   But it is a jarring film, lurching from fairly solemn to wise cracking and back again as if Sam Spade had been rewritten as Father Brown, and the result is a film that doesn’t know what it is and as a result isn’t very good as anything.

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