Search Results for 'Anthony Gilbert'

Reviewed by MIKE TOONEY:

ANTHONY GILBERT – Sequel to Murder: The Cases of Arthur Crook and Other Mysteries. Edited and with an introduction by John Cooper. Crippen & Landru, hardcover/trade paperback, September 2017. Collection: 18 stories.

   Anthony Gilbert (Lucy Beatrice Malleson, 1899-1973) was a woman who shared with other successful female crime writers a combination of writing talent and clever plotting skills necessary to make it in detective fiction’s Golden Age. Even after the GA’s decline, however, she retained a high profile on the mystery scene for several decades; novels, short stories, original radio plays, and TV adaptations made her a multimedia presence well into the hippie era, and in fact, the tales in this collection date from as early as 1927 and as late as 1972.

   In his informative Introduction, editor John Cooper fills us in on her writing career, including why she chose “Anthony” instead of “Tony” and “Gilbert” for her nom de plume, and her series characters. Arthur Crook wasn’t the only one, although most readers think of the devious barrister when discussing Gilbert’s work:

    “The author’s most famous detective was the suitably named Arthur Crook,” writes Cooper, describing him as “big, red-haired, slow speaking, beer swilling, pot-bellied, middle-aged,” distinguishable by his “great, circular red face and a crafty eye” and who, if necessary, was willing to go “to unprofessional lengths to clear his clients.” Gilbert reserved Crook primarily for her novels (fifty-one of ’em!), but she did write five short works with him; they’re all in this collection, amounting to roughly half of the page count:

(1) “You Can’t Hang Twice” (1946): If you’ve committed a murder and there’s a witness still running around, what better place to dispose of the problem than a thick, nearly impenetrable London fog? Crookism: “Murderers get caught because they’re yellow. The minute they’ve socked their man they start feverishly buildin’ a little tent to hide in, and presently some chap comes along, who might never have noticed them, but gets curious about the little tent.”

(2) “Once Is Once Too Many” (1955): Climbing a mountain is hazardous enough without somebody waiting nearby to give that little shove that unmistakably says I hate you. Crookism: “They get careless and forget murder’s a game two can play.”

(3) “A Nice Little Mare Called Murder” (1964): The gallows loom large for a man whose only alibi just lost a race at the track—and he doesn’t even play the ponies. Crookism: “When a chap’s paying me to act for him he’s always innocent.”

(4) “Give Me a Ring” (1955): A wrong turn in the fog, a mix-up about a Christmas gift, a needle in the arm—Alice never had it like this in Wonderland. Crookism: “Don’t know what they teach ’em at these posh schools.”

(5) “The Black Hat” (1942): A blackmailer gets his in a blackout; there’s universal agreement that he deserved it, but the man they’ve arrested doesn’t. Crookism: “If I thought you were going to have another chance of killing a chap I’d warn you—never re-visit the scene of the crime.”

   The rest of the stories fall into the miscellaneous category, most of them involving blackmail (evidently her favorite theme): Surprising developments at “The Reading of the Will” … A lawyer’s dilemma in “Curtains for Me” … Spinsters in jeopardy in “Point of No Return” … Double murders in a “Cul-De-Sac” … Inspector Field’s eerie tale of the “Following Feet” … “Three Living … and One Dead”—and one’s a murderer … Knifed in a taxi cab by “The Man with the Chestnut Beard” … There’ll be wedding bells “Over My Dead Body” … The king of the beasts attends “The Funeral of Dendy Watt” … To Inspector Field, there’s no such thing as “Horseshoes for Luck” … Life was looking grand until “He Found Out Too Late How Good an Artist Mabel Was” … Spouse killers in love in “A Day of Encounters” … and a newspaper dated the day of a murder becomes a “Sequel to Murder” (which, says our editor, Gilbert considered “as her best short story”).

   Anthony Gilbert’s short fiction is as durable as her novel work, and the stories in Sequel to Murder are well worth spending time with; the author knew how to write and, an important consideration in mysteries, how to plot. Along with Agatha Christie, she had a talent to deceive.


ANTHONY GILBERT – The Woman in Red. Collins Crime Club, UK, hardcover, 1941. Smith & Durrell, US, hardcover, 1943. Digest-sized paperback: Mercury Mystery #91. Also published as The Mystery of the Woman in Red: Handi-Books #29, paperback, 1944. Film: Columbia, 1945, as My Name Is Julia Ross. Film: MGM, 1987, as Dead of Winter.

MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS. Columbia, 1945. Nina Foch, Dame May Whitty, George Macready. Based on the novel The Woman in Red, by Anthony Gilbert. Director: Joseph H. Lewis.

ANTHONY GILBERT My Name is Julia Ross

   I almost gave up on Anthony Gilbert’s The Woman in Red after the first few pages because it seemed like every other paragraph conveyed some form of Had-she-but-known, often more than once. F’rinstance: She was wondering why she should be so convinced that nothing but harm, of danger even, could come of this venture…her whole being shaken by a protest that was instinctive and illogical In her brain, a voice rang like a chiming bell, “Don’t go,” it pealed, “Don’t go, don’t go, don’t go!”

   At which point I damnear went. But I stayed with it and I’m glad I did. Woman in Red isn’t completely successful, but when the characters talk, they slip the surly bonds of Gilbert’s prose and come alive, with entertaining results. This was my introduction to series sleuth Anthony Crook, a delightfully irreverent character and light counterbalance to the turgid and often ridiculous story around him.

   Well, maybe not ridiculous; the tale of Julia Ross, a working girl who takes a position as an old dowager’s secretary, only to find herself whisked off to a remote house in the country where everyone calls her by another name and treats her like she’s crazy has some effective moments and even generates a good deal of suspense.

   But it’s hard to take a story seriously when the would-be killer tricks our heroine into wearing a red dress so as to rouse the deadly ire of a passing bull. And when the basis of the plot turns out to be a nest of foreign spies being coincidentally pursued by Julia’s beau…. Well I’m just glad there were enough bright characters and tricky bits of business to make it all worthwhile and even entertaining.

   Woman in Red was turned into a film called My Name Is Julia Ross (Columbia,1945) and it had the artistic fortune to be adapted by Muriel Roy Bolton and directed by Joseph H. Lewis, a filmmaker who brought artistry to just about everything he touched. Shot in 18 days (as delightfully detailed in Mike Nevin’s Joseph H. Lewis [Scarecrow, 1998]) on a budget that wouldn’t buy catering on most “A” pictures, this emerges as a riveting, atmospheric film, and one to look out for.

   Nina Foch is excellent as the imperiled heroine, set neatly against Dame May Whitty as the dotty-looking but sinister master- (or should it be mistress?) -mind. Even better, there’s George Macready as Whitty’s not-quite-right son. Bolton re-structures the basis of the plot, replacing spies with a background story that George married a wealthy heiress for her money, then inconveniently killed her. Now he and Mom need a replacement who can be passed off as the wife and meet a more acceptable end so he can inherit her fortune and avoid the gallows.

ANTHONY GILBERT My Name is Julia Ross

   It’s fine work from writer Bolton, who also did an intelligent job on something called The Amazing Mr. X, which I must get around to reviewing someday.

   Director Lewis does an outstanding job with all this. His off-beat angles and compositions are never just showy, but always work to establish character or atmosphere. And he creates a nifty tension between the murderous mother and son, with Whitty always trying to take knives and other sharp objects away, and Macready always on the point of rebelling — a nasty prospect from the look of him, and one he would relish. Macready’s career ran the gamut from the preposterous The Monster and the Ape to the prestigious Paths of Glory, but he was never better than right here, playing off Dame May Whitty like an incestuous Lorre and Greenstreet.

ANTHONY GILBERT My Name is Julia Ross

PostScript:   Mike Grost has a lot to say about this film on his website. Check out his long insightful article here. The movie was also reviewed by J. F. Norris on his blog. Here’s the link.

ANTHONY GILBERT – Death Lifts the Latch. Smith & Durrell, US, hardcover, 1946. Detective Book Club, hardcover reprint, 3-in-1 edition, March 1946. Bantam #768, paperback, April 1950. First published in the UK by Collins Crime Club as Don’t Open the Door, hardcover, 1945.

ANTHONY GILBERT Death Lifts the Latch

   Even though the war seems to be over when this Arthur Crook mystery novel takes place, it wasn’t long over; and even so, the tale has a tangible Victorian feel to it, beginning with the Chapter One, as nurse Nora Deane makes her way in the fog to her next assignment, that of a woman bedridden in her home.

   Helping her make her way through the gloom is a man with a friendly voice but a hidden face, who after leaving her at length at the doorstep, asks if he may stop by the next day and take her to lunch. The date is not to be, however, as during the night her patient dies, under strange circumstances, she confesses to the doctor who arrives too late.

   It is the husband, in cases like this, who is the most obvious suspect, an fact which takes Nurse Deane to the dead woman’s brother at the dead woman’s request the night before. I shall do something a reviewer should not do, and state right out that Nurse Deane is correct. The husband did it.

   But where does the story go from here? Well, go it does, and in directions that caught me flatfooted each step of the way. First the body of the husband is found in a deserted quarry, then the brother disappears. The man in the fog – whom we haven’t forgotten about, have we? – does his best to find Nurse Deane, who by this time has disappeared herself. Enter the notorious criminal lawyer Arthur Crook.

   I enjoyed this book. I enjoy being caught flat-footed, and I enjoy clever writing – a combo you don’t always get, even when start reading relics of books like this one. I was caught so flat-footed that what I thought was a serious flaw in the plot itself was a trap (of sorts) deliberately put in place by the author, whom I give full credit to as being more clever than I.

ANTHONY GILBERT Death Lifts the Latch

   And with that, I think I’ll conclude my comments here by quoting liberally from page 200. Nurse Deane’s second patient, a redoubtable Mrs. Trentham, whose son is a reporter who has a sizable role in solving the case (sort of, since Mr. Crook, who has no Mr. Watson to confide in as the case goes along, confides in no one, but who has all the answers) says to the replacement nurse:

   “…the police and that extraordinary Mr. Crook are sitting by her [Miss Deane’s] bed night and day.”

   The new nurse sniffed. “Funny sort of hospital if they allow those goings-on.”

   “He reminds me rather of Bulldog Drummond – Mr. Crook, I mean,” mused Miss Trentham.

   “I wouldn’t know,” said the nurse, proceeding on an assumption common to her kind that all people over seventy are senile and should be treated as such. “Before my time.”

   “I can’t imagine why you young women are so proud of being born so late,” said Mrs. Trentham sharply. “You missed a great deal.”

   “Going to a better world than yours was,” said the nurse.

   “And you have us to thank for that….”

William F. Deeck

ANTHONY GILBERT Death in the Blackout

  ANTHONY GILBERT – Death in the Blackout. Smith & Durell, US, hardcover, 1943. Paperback reprint: Bantam #51, 1946. Previously published in the UK as The Case of the Tea-Cosy’s Aunt: Collins Crime Club, hc, 1942; Collins White Circle, pb, 1944.

   It has been twenty years or so since I read an Arthur Crook novel by Anthony Gilbert, and those I had read had been from (I shall use the masculine gender to avoid confusion, though Gilbert was, of course, a female) his later period. The novels were supposed to be amusing, and I seldom found them so. Gilbert apparently did better in his earlier works.

   Death in the Blackout is one of the early cases of Arthur Crook, lawyer. Whether Crook is a solicitor or a barrister, should anyone be curious, is information not provided by the author in this novel. Frankly, I don’t recall his ever appearing in court; he seems to be primarily an investigator.

   Crook’s flat is in a building with several other occupants who are almost as strange as he is. A woman who sees spies in the most improbable disguises occupies the ground floor and basement, while flat No.3 boasts the presence of T. Kersey, whom Crook immediately begins calling “Tea-Cosy” and who is a bit unsteady when it comes to the nature of time. Flat No.2 is unoccupied.

ANTHONY GILBERT Death in the Blackout

   Tea-Cosy asks Crook to help him check out his flat when he finds his key is missing. Therein he and Crook find a hat of sort that could belong only to Tea-Cosy’s aunt, but the aunt is not there. Later on, a young lady checking out the unoccupied flat in the hope of renting it discovers the aunt’s body.

   Tea-Cosy disappears before the body is found. Since Crook has adopted Tea-Cosy as a client, and Crook’s clients are always not guilty even when they are, Crook begins investigating. Even when Tea-Cosy, or someone dressed to look like Tea-Cosy, nearly kills the young lady who comes back to the supposedly unoccupied apartment a second time, Crook knows that Tea-Cozy is innocent.

   And, of course, Crook is right. Since there are only a few suspects, the guilty are rather evident, but it is quite interesting, and occasionally amusing, how Crook works it all out from the author’s fair clues.

From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 9, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1987.

ANTHONY GILBERT – The Black Stage.

Penguin, UK, paperback reprint, 1955. Hardcover first edition: Collins Crime Club, 1945. US edition: Smith & Durrell, hc, 1946. Also published as: Murder Cheats the Bride, Bantam #138, pb, 1948.


   Between 1936 and 1974 there were, by my count, 50 recorded adventures of a slightly seedy, badly dressed and deliberately vulgar barrister detective named Arthur Crook, of which total this is one. The author, Anthony Gilbert, is described thusly on the back cover of the 1955 British paperback I happen to have:

    Little is known about the author except that his books are among the most popular stories written today…

   Of course we know better now, but its remarkable that the secret was kept a secret for so long. Anthony Gilbert was in real life a lady named Lucy Beatrice Malleson (1899-1973), and she has a whole string of other novels to her credit, not all criminous, both under this pen name and two or three others.

   The earliest of the Crook stories were never published in the US, but after some point in the early 1940s, all of them seem to have been. Why was he called Crook? What a delightful deceit!

   Ive not read too many of them, and none recently, but I think The Black Stage fits the general overall pattern. Gilbert allows the events leading the inevitable murder to build up gradually, letting the characters (sans Crook) have full rein over their actions and letting the reader in on all of their possible motives, until at last the deed is done. In The Black Stage, thats on page 74. (The lights had gone out immediately before, and when they are restored someone is standing with a gun in her hand over a body on the floor.) Crook is not met until page 94 (out of 219 in all), having been hired to represent the interests of Anne Vereker, the young woman being held for trial.

   Which means, to Crook, finding the true guilty party. Perhaps its true in other books in the series, but theres no courtroom theatrics in this book, only toward the end a reconstruction of the crime, designed solely to confuse the real killer into identifying him or herself.


   Somewhat earlier, on page 148, Crook confides to his assistant that he knows who the killer is. If this had been an Ellery Queen novel, it would have been a terrific spot to have placed a Challenge to the Reader. Which I would have failed, which I almost always do, and in this case, shame on me.

   You might be wondering if the 74 pages of preliminary action were at all boring. No, absolutely not. Not at all.

   Each of the characters in the drama is wonderfully drawn, and with the widow about to marry a man who is so obviously only looking out for himself (and the woman’s diamonds), and not the others living at Four Acres who would be her heirs or who depend so greatly on Tessa Goodier stop and take a breath, Steve it is clear almost from the beginning who the victim will be.

   The anticipation only grows and grows, in other words. The ensuing events and the subsequent investigation of the crime is, believe it or not, marginally less interesting the actions and behavior of the participants less well described. (The author was trying, I believe, to make a relatively simply crime more complex and complicated than it needed to be, but if the middle events were not part of the story, then of course the book would have been, from anyone’s point of view, something less in length than a novel.)

   But I love maps in crime novels (and there is one) and re-creations of crimes (of which I have already mentioned there is one also), so all is not lost, and in fact, much is regained.

   One is only left to wonder in the end, then, whether the RAF officer Anne Vereker met after the war on the train she’s taking back to her home in the English countryside will manage to find her again. Could it be that now that the war is over, that class status will no longer make a difference to them?

   (Not that she may even remember him, but it was he, in the only other part of the story where he comes in again, who recommended Arthur Crook to her cousin to act in her defense. That should count for something, shouldn’t it?)


MICHAEL GILBERT “The Unstoppable Man.” Short story. Inspector Hazelrigg. First US publication in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, February 1954. First published in John Bull, UK, 19 November 1949, as “Amateur in Violence.” First collected in Amateur in Violence (Davis, US, paperback, 1973). Reprinted many times. Film: The Unstoppable Man (Argo, UK, 1960), reviewed here.

   “… never tangle with a wholehearted amateur.”

   Those are the final words of Michael Gilbert’s Inspector Hazelrigg in this tale, and if you have ever read this oft anthologized story, you will have little trouble recalling them. In fact, they likely have the same impact now as you recall them they did when you first read them in one of the best known stories in Gilbert’s long career.

   I suppose there are some who think of Gilbert as primarily a quiet writer, a British solicitor who wrote a certain kind of story, a far cry from his more violent American contemporaries. Of course that isn’t true. The truth is, Gilbert always wrote with a quiet savagery that belied his civilized settings and background. He had a fine eye for the darker, hidden side beneath the civilized soul of his fellow Brits, whether they were spies, solicitors, school masters, actors, prisoners of war, or policemen.

   Gilbert not only produced fine puzzles and character studies, but when he wanted to, he could chill to the bone, producing nerve wracking suspense and high adventure. Think of some of those icy Calder and Behrens stories, some of the adventures of Patrick Petrella, and no few of the novels, that could suddenly go as dark and violent as any of their American cousins.

   This was the first story of Gilbert’s I ever read, and I was a devout follower ever after.

   “The Unstoppable Man” first appeared in this country in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in February 1954 in an issue that touted it contained no reprints. Among the all-new material were an Anthony Boucher story, one by Victor Canning, and others by Roy Vickers, Zelda Popkin, Phyllis Bentley, and Youngman Carter. Even in that company, though, Gilbert’s tale sticks out.

   It’s a simple story. It opens with the Inspector describing the sort of man who would frighten him as a pursuer.

   “He’d be English … Anglo-Saxon anyway, getting on for middle age, and a first class businessman. He would have some former experience of lethal weapons — as an infantry soldier, perhaps in one of the world wars. But definitely an amateur — an amateur in violence.”

   The amateur in question is Mr. Collet, managing director of a shipping firm who son has been kidnapped and wants to know whether or not kidnappers can be trusted to return their victim alive. Mr. Collet is in troublem and the kidnappers have his son.

   The kidnapper is Joe Keller with his gang. Keller is a man who has kidnapped and tortured children before. He is holding Mr. Collet’s son and the police dare not rush the place for fear they will kill the child.

   Mr. Collet has one request of the police, get him and his kit into the bedroom with his son before they rush the house. He will take care of the rest, though he doesn’t let on how, since he doesn’t want a gun. The police agree and get Collet into the room with his son. Their chances are slim as Keller and his gang will go for the child as soon as the police move in. There is no reason for them not to kill father and son at that point.

   All that stands between the child and death is Hazelrigg’s “amateur in violence,” the quiet but strangely assured Mr. Collet.

   I won’t spoil if for you if somehow you have missed this little gem from Mr. Gilbert from his Inspector Hazelrigg series. It’s such a good ending that Gilbert used variations on it in a couple of books, including a crossover novella with Calder, Behrens, and Patrick Petrella, and one of his early novels. I should point out that every time Gilbert delivers the goods, but perhaps never with quite the impact of this version.

   I can only say without giving it away, that the ending is a corker, savage, shocking, and memorable.

   You may never read Michael Gilbert quite the same way again. Whatever else you won’t forget Gilbert’s “amateur in violence.” You may even find you feel a little pity for Joe Keller and his gang … they never had a chance.

IT’S ABOUT CRIME, by Marvin Lachman

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
Vol. 11, No. 1, Winter 1989.


   Finally, Michael Gilbert is getting the recognition he deserves. In 1987 he received a Grand Master Award from MWA, in 1988 publishers seem to be falling all over themselves to reprint him, and that is good news for American mystery readers.

   Incidentally, Gilbert, who only recently retired as an attorney, did virtually all his writing while commuting by train to London. Yet he had a very active practice and even was Raymond Chandler’s solicitor, writing his will. I am in awe of Gilbert since my own railroad-commuting days were much less productive, limited to reading the newspaper in the morning and napping, despite my best efforts to stay awake, in the evening.


   Penguin has reprinted Smallbone Deceased for $3.95, and there is no better possible introduction to Gilbert than this very early (1950) work. It contains many of the elements of the classic puzzle: the bizarre crime (a body is found in a large deed box at a law office), a diagram of the office, and clever chapter headings which fit in with the legal background of this mystery.

   Gilbert’s sophisticated writing and expert character development make this book very “modern” for its time, since it was written when most puzzle writers used large chunks of cardboard with which they created the people in their books.


   Gilbert is one of the finest short-story writers around, and Carroll and Graf has reprinted his wonderful collection of Calder and Behrens spy stories, Game Without Rules (1967), $3.95. This edition contains the original British titles, though many stories appeared in EQMM under different titles.

   By whatever name, most of the stories In this collection are a perfect antidote for readers who are tired of the cynicism and lack of action in John Le Carre. Gilbert’s adept plotting and wit make each story a joy to read and convince me the short story is the proper length for espionage fiction. Especially recommended are “The Cat Cracker,” “Trembling’s Tours,” and “Hellige Nacht,” three of the very best spy short stories ever.


   Carroll and Graf has also reprinted, for $3.95, Overdrive (1967), a novel which received considerable critical acclaim, though I found the protagonist, Oliver Nugent, too ruthless to permit me to identify with him.

   Allen J. Hubin’s highly favorable review of this book in a Minneapolis newspaper was brought to the attention of the editor of the New York Times Book Review and led to, from 1968 to 1971, his being the first (and far and away the best) replacement for Anthony Boucher.

   From Perennial Library comes The Country-House Burglar (1955), $4.95, and The Crack in the Teacup (1966), $3.95, two village mysteries which stress the charm of the British countryside but crackle with surprise and clever plotting. A bonus is the subtle way Gilbert works choral singing and cricket, respectively, into the stories.


Smallbone Deceased. Hodder & Stoughton, UK. hardcover. 1950. Harper & Brothers, US, hardcover, 1950.

Game Without Rules. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1968. Harper & Row, US, hardcover, 1967.

Overdrive. Harper & Row, US, hardcover, 1968. First published in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton as The Dust and the Heat, hardcover, 1967.

The Country-House Burglar. Harper & Brothers, US, hardcover, 1955. First published in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton as Sky High, hardcover, 1955.

The Crack in the Teacup. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1966. Harper & Row, US, hardcover, 1966.

An Annotated Crime Fiction Bibliography of the
Lending Library Publishers: 1936-1967
by William F. Deeck

From the back cover:

    “Murder at 3¢ a Day is the first and only reference volume devoted entirely to the lending-library publishers that flourished from the mid 1930s into the 1960s. More than ten years in compilation, it contains full listings of mystery and detective fiction published under such imprints as Phoenix Press, Hillman-Curl, Mystery House, Gateway, Arcadia House, Dodge, and Caslon.

    “Included are dust jacket blurbs, settings, and leading characters for each title, as well as descriptions of jacket illustrations and names of the artists who designed them. Also included: an article about the lending-library trade written in 1939 by Charles S. Strong, who specialized in this type of novel; a tongue-in-cheek article on Phoenix Press mysteries by Bill Pronzini; brief biographies of many lending library writers; and selected period newspaper reviews of various titles.

    “Readers and aficionados alike will find a wealth of fascinating and often amusing information about this little known variety of crime fiction. Murder at 3¢ a Day is a must for any reference shelf.”


   A supplement to the book can be found at Thanks to the collection of Bill Pronzini and his gracious generosity, this is an online compendium of all of the covers of the books included in Bill Deeck’s book, which was published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box Press in 2006.

   Bill Pronzini is adding to his collection all the time. Here below are the covers added in the past two months, missing from earlier versions of the website. Some covers are still missing. Check through the website. If you can fill in any of the gaps, please let Bill or I know!

CLINTON BESTOR – The Corpse Came Calling (Phoenix Press, 1941)

ADELINE McELFRESH – My Heart Went Dead (Phoenix Press, 1949)

EDGAR WALLACE & ROBERT CURTIS – The Mouthpiece (Dodge, 1936)

GWYN EVANS – Satan Ltd. (Godwin, 1935)

MARK HANSOM – The Shadow on the House (Godwin, 1935)

JACK MANN – Dead Man’s Chest (Godwin, 1935)

DONALD STUART – The White Friar (Godwin, 1935)

ANTHONY GILBERT – She Vanished in the Dawn (Mystery Houise, 1941)

ANNE TEDLOCK BROOKS – Undertow (Arcadia House, 1943)

THEY MET IN THE DARK. General Films, UK, 1943. James Mason, Joyce Howard, Tom Walls, Phyllis Stanley, Edward Rigby, Ronald Ward, David Farrar, Karel Stepanek, Patricia Medina. Based on the novel The Vanished Corpse, by Anthony Gilbert (US title: She Vanished in the Dawn). Director: Carl Lamac.

   A very minor wartime British spy film cum murder mystery that has only a couple of points worthy of notice, in my opinion. The first is that it is based on an Arthur Crook detective novel by Anthony Gilbert, Crook being a low-life London lawyer who had over 50 recorded adventures from the good lady’s pen (or typewriter, as the case may be).

   There is no Mr. Crook in the movie, though, and even though I’m not sure where he would have fit in, I’d have liked to have seen who they might have picked to play him. It wouldn’t have been the utterly handsome but oh so brooding James Mason — the second reason for you to see this movie, should you ever have the opportunity.

   In the film Mason plays a Royal Navy commander who is given his walking papers after allowing the Nazis to blow up a ship under his watch. Knowing he has been given faked orders, he tracks down a manicurist who may have switched them on him first to a bar then to an old deserted house which (of course) is not really deserted. From another direction comes Laura Verity (Joyce Howard) who expects to find her uncles living there but instead finds the manicurist’s dead body.

   Which quickly enough disappears à la the title of Anthony Gilbert’s novel. She suspects the commander, and to clear her name from providing the police false information, she decides to solve the case. He, of course, wishes to clear his name from more serious charges and is constantly annoyed to find the girl’s path continually crossing and interfering with his.

   Which means, of course, they soon find themselves falling in love, all the while eluding the Navy, a gang of Nazi spies, an oh-so-British police inspector, all against a backdrop of a music hall complete with many songs and a harmonica player who is… Well, I shouldn’t tell you, should I?

   The story’s rather a sorry mess, but the two leading players make it fun. Minor league fun, but still fun. But if James Mason hadn’t been in it, it never would have turned up again years later, in of all things, a DVD boxed set of British noir films. But noir? Not on your life.



Part 5.0: Theatre of Crime (US)

   Taking its cue from 1930s and 1940s radio drama, the U.S. television play format (initially a live presentation) gathered strength during the 1950s. Presented in various anthology series, the form evolved from live performances to filmed episodes (as developments in broadcast technology progressed).

   Unlike contemporary British television (BBC), with its roots in theatre (the stage), American television drew on professional elements from Radio and from Hollywood (when the latter saw fit to work for the small-screen). By the 1960s, some of the on-screen results were simply astounding.

   The Crime and Mystery genre was represented not only by some outstanding individual plays presented in general anthology series (such as Studio One) but also by entire anthology collections dedicated to the theme. Unfortunately, most of these genre-based anthologies tended to feature ordinary television suspense yarns (usually concerning devious murderers or remorseful fugitives).

   I have, therefore, omitted many of these anthologies (such as Hands of Destiny, DuMont, 1950-51; The George Sanders Mystery Theatre, NBC, 1957; Panic!, NBC, 1957) from this overview.

   In the beginning, Studio One (aka Westinghouse Studio One; CBS, 1948-58) appeared to have only one thing going for it, a brutally realistic adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s “Glass Key” (May 1949). But then, later in 1949, another Hammett appeared, “Two Sharp Knives”.

   It was the beginning of a Studio One deluge, sweeping in with “The Room Upstairs” (1950), from Mildred Davis, “Shield for Murder” (1951), from William P. McGivern, “Nightfall” (1951), from David Goodis, “Mr. Mummery’s Suspicion” (1951), from Dorothy L. Sayers, and “The King in Yellow” (1951), from Raymond Chandler.

   In 1952 they presented “The Devil in Velvet”, from John Dickson Carr, “They Came to Baghdad”, from Agatha Christie, “Stan, the Killer” and, later, “Black Rain” (1953), from Georges Simenon, “Little Men, Big World”, from W.R. Burnett, and “The Hospital”, from Kenneth Fearing. 1953 saw “Sentence of Death”, from Thomas Walsh. In 1954 came “Let Me Go, Lover”, from Charlotte Armstrong.

   By 1955 this deluge was down to a trickle, with “Donovan’s Brain”, from Curt Siodmak, and, in 1956, “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, from Patricia Highsmith. The final drops (genre-wise) were squeezed out with “First Prize for Murder” (1957), from John D. MacDonald, and “A Dead Ringer” (1958), from James Hadley Chase. Along the way, Studio One’s two-part “The Defender” (1957), by Reginald Rose, became the inspiration for the excellent 1961-65 series The Defenders (CBS).

   Taking its title literally, Suspense (CBS, 1949-54) showcased stories by Cornell Woolrich, John Dickson Carr, Craig Rice, Stanley Ellin, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edgar Allan Poe, Joel Townsley Rogers, Arthur Conan Doyle, John Collier, Geoffrey Household, Georges Simenon, Wilkie Collins, and many others. But before the mouth-watering begins, it should be noted that these plays were broadcast live and therefore less than a third of them survive.

   [Places like The Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago, Museum of Television and Radio in New York and The Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles may have viewing copies of some surviving episodes. Then, there’s always the Internet Archive – Moving Images – Television to explore:]

   Recipient of a Special Edgar Award in 1951, The Web (CBS, 1950-54) was a live New York series presenting stories from the works of the Mystery Writers of America (MWA). Tantalizing in the extreme, especially with so little to go on in terms of detailed episode credits, one can only imagine (fantasize, even) the possible selection of genre stories translated here for television.

   Living up to its name, Danger (CBS, 1950-55) certainly satisfied its viewers with moments like Philip MacDonald’s “The Green and Gold String” (1950), John Dickson Carr’s “Charles Markham, Antique Dealer” (1951), Anthony Boucher’s “Mr. Lupescu” (1951), William L. Stuart’s “Blackmail” (1953) and Daphne du Maurier’s “The Birds” (1955). At the same time the series also promoted the early careers of directors Sidney Lumet and John Frankenheimer as well as actor James Dean.

   Another live and prestigious series was Robert Montgomery Presents (NBC, 1950-57) which invested in some noteworthy episodes, particularly during the earlier seasons. Included were presentations based on works by Dorothy B. Hughes, Cornell Woolrich, Raymond Chandler (“The Big Sleep”, 1950), Wilkie Collins, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Hemingway (“The Killers, 1955) and Fredric Brown.

   Inner Sanctum (NBC, 1953-54) featured stories based on the popular 1940s radio series, which included Edgar Wallace as story source for “The Lonely One” (1954) and author John Roeburt as a contributor of various teleplays.

   Based also on a popular radio series was the earlier Lights Out (NBC, 1949-52). Similar in atmosphere and theme to Inner Sanctum, it presented stories by Edgar Allan Poe (“The Fall of the House of Usher”, 1949; “The Masque of the Red Death”, 1951; “The Pit”, 1952), August Derleth (“Rendezvous”, 1950), Dorothy L. Sayers (“The Leopard Lady”, 1950), Ira Levin (“Leda’s Portrait”, 1951), Fredric Brown (“The Pattern”, 1951) and Cornell Woolrich (“Nightmare”, 1952).

   Filmed at Elstree in England for NBC, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Presents (NBC, 1953-57; ITV/UK from 1955) presented one particular episode which is worth being celebrated by fans of the genre because it represents the only proposal (to my knowledge) for a Bulldog Drummond TV series: the half-hour pilot episode “The Ludlow Affair” (NBC, 1957), with Robert Beatty as our hero and the scene-stealing Michael Ripper as his sidekick.

   Climax! (CBS, 1954-58) got itself off to an enterprising start with Chandler’s “The Long Goodbye”, starring Dick Powell again as Marlowe, and followed it up quickly with Bayard Veiller’s “The Thirteenth Chair”, Fleming’s “Casino Royal” and Lucille Fletcher’s “Sorry, Wrong Number”.

   The rest of its TV treasures consisted of works by Mary Roberts Rinehart, Eric Ambler, A.A. Fair [Erle Stanley Gardner], John D. MacDonald, George Hopley [Cornell Woolrich], Patricia Highsmith, Ursula Curtiss, Charlotte Armstrong, Ed McBain [Evan Hunter], and John Dickson Carr.

Warner Brothers Presents (ABC, 1955-57) was the umbrella title for Conflict (ABC, 1956-57), an anthology presenting compositions by Frederick Brady and Thomas Walsh as well as the first pilot (“Anything for Money”, 1957) for the influential 77 Sunset Strip (ABC, 1958-63).

   Lux Video Theatre (CBS, 1950-54; NBC, 1954-57) ran for some seven years, but the NBC seasons were the ones that were of the most interest. During this period the series began featuring teleplay adaptations based on screenplays from some notable Hollywood movies. For instance, there was “Double Indemnity” (1954), “So Evil My Love” (1955), “Shadow of a Doubt” (1955), “My Name is Julia Ross” (1955), “The Suspect” (1955), “Suspicion” (1955), “Ivy” (1956), “Witness to Murder” (1956), “Mildred Pierce” (1956), “The Guilty” (1956) and “The Black Angel” (1957).

   The first genre anthology to be filmed by a major studio (Universal), Alfred Hitchcock Presents (CBS, 1955-60; NBC, 1960-62) has over the decades acquired something of a mystique of its own.

   Utilizing the art and craft of many screenwriters, big-screen actors and like-minded directors, the series’ producers (Joan Harrison and, later, Norman Lloyd) provided a wonderful insight into the workings of the famed Hitchcock (his Shamley Productions produced the series for which he was executive producer). Hitchcock was also savvy enough to explore the work of a vast range of lesser-known genre authors.

   Story sources for Alfred Hitchcock Presents include Lillian de la Torre, C.B. Gilford, Michael Arlen, Norman Daniels, Richard Deming (1915-1983), Henry Slesar, Lawrence Treat, Roy Vickers, Harold Q. Masur, Brett Halliday [Davis Dresser], Margaret Manners, Helen Neilsen, Anthony Gilbert [Lucy Beatrice Malleson], Dorothy Salisbury Davis, and Ed Lacy.

   It may not come as too much of a surprise to many readers that the highly-praised 1960 film Psycho was made at Universal by Hitchcock’s TV team, conspicuous by the striking monochromatic imagery of Shamley’s cinematographer John L. Russell.

   The series was revived by NBC (1985-86) and featured colorized Hitchcock intros of the now-deceased host from the original 1950s show. Befittingly macabre or merely mindless? Then, USA Cable Network continued the title (1987-88) with some additional episodes.

   Hitchcock’s Shamley Productions turned to NBC for Suspicion (NBC, 1957-58), even while Alfred Hitchcock Presents was still running over on CBS. The series consisted half-and-half of filmed (Shamley) and live presentations, including Woolrich’s “Four O’Clock”, Helen McCloy’s “The Other Side of the Curtain”, and the rarely-seen “Voice in the Night” (1958) by William Hope Hodgson. “Eye for an Eye” (1958) was the pilot episode for Ray Milland’s 1959-60 private eye series Markham (CBS).

   Kraft Television Theatre became Kraft Mystery Theatre (NBC) for the summer of 1958. The series presented many fine and unexpected works, most notably Ed McBain’s [billed as Evan Hunter] “Killer’s Choice”, the Larry Cohen-scripted “The Eighty Seventh Precinct” [from the McBain novels] and “Night Cry” [from the 1948 novel by William L. Stuart; filmed in 1950 as Where the Sidewalk Ends]. Kraft Television Theatre was the last of the live shows when it faded in 1958, everybody else having already turned to filmed recordings.

   There is one particularly interesting episode of the anthology Pursuit (CBS, 1958-59): “Epitaph for a Golden Girl” (1959), adapted by Lorenzo Semple Jr. from a short story by Ross MacDonald. The story originated in EQMM in June 1946 as “Find the Woman,” with MacDonald writing as Kenneth Millar. In the Pursuit adaptation, star Michael Rennie’s private detective is now called Rogers (instead of Lew Archer).

   In April 1959, Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse (CBS, 1958-60) presented writer Paul Monash’s two-part “The Untouchables” which served as a suitably violent introduction to the popular and controversial series The Untouchables (ABC, 1959-63). The series helped launch the action-filled 1959 to 1962 television gangster phase (to be a later Part in this TV history overview).

   A second Part of this “Theatre of Crime (US)” will follow shortly, concluding the US history of the genre anthology from the 1960s onwards.

Note:   The introduction to this series of columns by Tise Vahimagi on TV mysteries and crime shows may be found here, followed by:

Part 1: Basic Characteristics (A Swift Overview)
Part 2.0: Evolution of the TV Genre (UK)
Part 2.1: Evolution of the TV Genre (US)
Part 3.0: Cold War Adventurers (The First Spy Cycle)
Part 3.1: Adventurers (Sleuths Without Portfolio).
Part 4.0: Themes and Strands (1950s Police Dramas).
Part 4.1: Themes and Strands (Durbridge Cliffhangers)