Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett in print and on television

Last week, Evan Lewis posted a link to a 1949 TV broadcast of Dashiell Hammett’s The Glass Key.

(Check it out here.)

As I commented on his site, if the 1950s were considered the Golden Age of television, then the 1940s were the Stone Age of TV.

That said, the play is surprisingly good.

Sure, the sets are cardboard and some of the acting is more suited to the stage than the screen, but overall, it was a very smart production.

The Hammett novel, which I posted about (here), is a complicated yarn of murder and political corruption.

Nick Beaumont is an advisor and right-hand man to Paul Madvig, a political power broker. In the book, Hammett showed the strong ties between the men who were long-time friends.

A lot of that was lost in the 1942 movie starring Alan Ladd as Nick and Brian Donlevy as Paul because the story needed to be trimmed down to fit a movie’s normal running time. (There is also a 1935 version starring George Raft and Edward Arnold, but I have not seen it.)

Even more of the flavor of the book was cut to fit the story into a one-hour television play. But Worthington Miner, a big producer in early television, did a good job adapting it. Enough of the plot is retained and it moves along nicely.

Donald Briggs was a pretty good Nick. He was believable as a sharp guy, but not as a tough guy, which Nick was in the book. In that respect, he reminded me of Robert Montgomery in “Ride the Pink Horse.”

The production was broadcast live but preserved on film by a crude method of pointing a movie camera at a monitor. Compared to today’s productions, the quality of a Kinescope is horrible. But, it is better than not having it.

So, if you are at home (and I hope you are staying safe) and looking for something to watch. Give this one a try.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

DVR Alert: Film Noir Triple Feature

On Thursday, March 26, Turner Classic Movies will show three classics of film noir:

“Crime Wave” at 1:30 p.m. (EDT);

“The Killing” at 2:45 p.m.; and

“The Asphalt Jungle” at 4:15 p.m.

All three star tough-guy Sterling Hayden. Two are heist movies in which Hayden plays one of the robbers.

In Stanley Kubrick’s “The Killing” from 1956, he is the leader of a

crew out to rob a race track. The picture was based on a Lionel White novel.

In John Huston’s “The Asphalt Jungle” from 1950 and based on a W.R. Burnett novel, he is the muscle protecting the master-mind of a jewelry store heist.

Hayden plays a cop in 1953’s “Crime Wave,” which I reviewed here.

All three are well worth the time.

If you miss any or all of them, sign up for Watch TCM, the Turner Classic Movies streaming site. Most films shown on TCM land on the site a few hours later and stay there for a week or more. The streaming site is free with your cable subscription.

Friday, February 21, 2020

B-movie thriller "White Fire"

“White Fire,” from 1953, is yet another example of a well-made British B-picture.

It is the story of American Merchant Marine officer, Gregor Stevens, on leave in London and looking for his brother. Turns out, the brother is due to hang in three days for murder. (The title of this film when shown in England was, “3 Days to the Gallows.”)

Stevens races around town, running down clues, fighting with hoods and ducking gunmen, as he tries to clear his brother.

There are some significant plot holes in the script. But director John Gilling keeps everything moving so fast that viewers won’t care. Gilling spent most of the 1950s turning out tight little thrillers,

Tough-guy actor Scott Brady (the younger brother of tough-guy actor Lawrence Tierney) does a good job as Gregor Stevens. His action-packed performance had me wondering why he was not a bigger star in Hollywood? Maybe Tinseltown was under the spell of the method actors at that time.

Mary Castle plays a nightclub singer who gets involved with Stevens. Her presence in the movie is a bit of a shock. Mary Castle was a dead-ringer for Rita Hayworth.

Another plus is all the location filming the production did around London.

B-movies are not for everyone, but I happen to like them. “White Fire,” is one of the better Bs.It can be found on YouTube.

Friday, February 14, 2020

An Order for Murder by Steve Fisher

Here’s a story I got a charge out of when I read it the other day.

“An Order for Murder,” by Steve Fisher, is a short yarn from 1936 about a hit man who wants to change careers and become a mystery writer.

It is available here at pulpgen.com.

That site has a huge collection of stories from the pulp magazines. I’ve spent hours on it, randomly reading short tales by well-known and little-known writers.

Steve Fisher (1912-1980) wrote short stories for the pulps and the slicks. He wrote screenplays in Hollywood. And he wrote books. His 1941 crime novel, I Wake Up Screaming, is on my TBR list.

Read more about Steve Fisher here.

(For more posts on books, head over to Todd Mason’s blog.)

(Also, check out my crime novel, Lyme Depot. Thanks.)

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Under A Raging Moon by Frank Zafiro

"Couldn’t put it down," is a phrase I rarely use. But it is the best way to describe my reaction to Frank Zafiro’s novel, Under A Raging Moon.

An armed robber is frustrating officers of a city police force in Washington state.

Dubbed “Scarface" by the cops, the elusive criminal robs convenience stores. He holds a gun on the clerks, takes all the cash, and gets away long before the cops arrive.

One night, officers chase Scarface. But the man scales a tall fence, fires off several shots at his pursuers, and disappears into the night. This violent junkie is more dangerous than the police first thought. His moves reveal advanced military training.

Under A Raging Moon follows a handful men and women, patrol officers of the River City police department, on their nightly rounds. Their work makes for a fast, exciting, and authentic read.

Frank Zafiro, a 20-year veteran of the Spokane, Washington police department, knows the way cops work, play and talk. Under A Raging Moon is the first book in his River City series. It is a terrific read and I look forward to riding along with the officers in the next book.

(For more posts on books, head over to Todd Mason’s blog.)

(Also, check out my crime novel, Lyme Depot. Thanks.)

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Kevin Costner in crazy “Criminal”

The 2016 film, “Criminal,” is a loopy mashup of a crime movie, spy thriller and science fiction yarn.

Jerico, played by Kevin Costner, is an unregenerate career criminal. He is crafty, resourceful, violent and without a conscience. The problem with his brain is exactly what the doctor ordered for an experimental project.

A doctor working for the government implants the memories of a murdered agent into Jerico’s head so the criminal can complete the agent’s mission.

Possessing part of the agent’s mind along with his own hilariously anti-social behavior, Jerico’s journey is a hoot.

A character getting his brain tweaked and surprised by his new thoughts is a concept that’s been done before. But, when this film was over, my wife and I looked at each other and laughed, saying, “What a crazy film,” and, “That was a lot of fun.”

Also in the movie are Gal Gadot, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, and Ryan Reynolds.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

No Country For Old Men, the book

Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men is an excellent crime novel and a fine book.

If there is a sense of surprise in that statement, it is because I did not care for the 2007 movie based on it. I avoided the book until recently. I should have known better. McCarthy is a hell of a good writer, if one with a very bleak take on life.

No Country For Old Men, published in 2005, is well crafted, involving, and often stunning.

In it, McCarthy sets up three parallel stories that take place in 1980.

Llewellyn Moss, a 36-year-old Vietnam vet living in West Texas, comes upon the scene of a massacre. Out in the desert, two rival drug gangs shot the hell out of each other. They left a lot of dead bodies and a satchel containing $2.4 million in cash. Moss takes the money  and runs off, thinking no one will ever know. But readers know something and he does not. There is a hired killer after him.

A mysterious and lethal weirdo named Chigurh is sent to retrieve the money and in no time is on Moss’ trail. He lives by his own code and no one, but no one, gets in his way or stops him.

No matter where Moss runs or how clever he thinks he is, he has Chigurh after him.

The third story is about Ed Tom Bell, a county sheriff in his late 50s, who starts following the bloody trail of Chigurh. While Bell is experienced and cautious, readers will stress themselves out worrying about him, too.

Cormac McCarthy writes some of the most dead-on, authentic dialogue. But, if I have any bone to pick with the book, it is that I wish he had placed quotation marks around the characters’ lines.

If people skipped this novel because they saw the movie, I would urge them to go get a copy and read it.

(For more posts on books, head over to Todd Mason’s blog.)

(Also, check out my crime novel, Lyme Depot. Thanks.)

Friday, January 10, 2020

Peter Cushing in noir bank robbery film Cash on Demand

Andre Morell and Peter Cushing
Back in December, Eddie Muller, on his TCM program Noir Alley, presented a terrific, if little known film, called “Cash on Demand.”

It is a combination bank-heist story and reworking of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Peter Cushing plays a stiff-necked manager of a neighborhood bank branch who is blackmailed into helping a suave thief rob his own bank. Andre Morell plays the thief.

This little, 89-minute film has a small cast and most of the action takes place in the cramped spaces of the bank.

It is well worth seeing – if it can be found.

Watch Eddie Muller’s introduction to the movie here.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

O. Henry and Season’s Reading

O. Henry (William Sydney Porter)
This was supposed to be my Christmas post, but things got hectic and it never made it to this page.

But since what follows are also winter stories, it is still the season to read them.

In December, I located my old, 972-page Collected Stores of O. Henry. I blew off the dust and cracked it open to “The Cop and the Anthem.”

The story is beautifully structured. It is a lesson in economic writing. And has a perfect surprise ending. It slams down hard and fast on Soapy, a homeless man whose hope is just about restored when reality bites him. When I first read it in grade school, I laughed at the irony. Last month I did not laugh.

Most of the stories I read had the classic O. Henry twist ending, but none of them seemed as light as I remembered. They all seemed dark.

In “Compliments of the Season,” Fuzzy, a down-and-out drunk earns a reward from a wealthy family. When he is invited to have a drink he attempts to give a traditional toast revealing he was raised to be a gentleman but somehow fell to the gutter. The twist at the end could not lighten this tale.

Some of the stories were dark and weird, like “A Chaparral Christmas” from 1903. In it, a Western killer’s present to a woman is not murdering her husband.

Even one of his most famous stories, “The Gift of the Magi,” seemed too bitter. Maybe it was just me.

William Sydney Porter (1862-1910), who signed his work, O. Henry, wrote more than 600 short stories. They were originally published in magazines of his era, and quite a few first appeared in the New York World newspaper’s Sunday magazine. Today, most of his stories can be found on the Web.

Of the stories I read this season, my favorite was “The Last Leaf.” In Greenwich Village in the early 1900s, a young woman in danger of dying of pneumonia is given hope. It is one of the author’s most gentle surprise endings.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Richard Jewell is a movie to see, but...

The new film directed by Clint Eastwood, “Richard Jewell,” is a story he wanted to tell for years, he said.

Jewell was the security guard who spotted a suspicious bag at an outdoor concert during the 1996 summer Olympics in Atlanta. He rallied police and when the bomb squad examined the backpack they founded it contained explosives.

Before Jewell and others could clear the area, the bomb went off killing one, injuring more than 100. A second person died of a heart attack. Had Jewell not seen the unattended backpack, the bomb could have killed many more.


Hauser directed by Eastwood
Richard Jewell was a national hero for a brief time until tips to the media made him the suspect in the bombing. His life was turned inside out for months until he was cleared.

Paul Walter Hauser gives what may be the best performance of the year as Jewell. Also excellent were Sam Rockwell as his lawyer, Kathy Bates as his mother, Jon Hamm as an FBI investigator and Olivia Wilde as a reporter from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution who broke the suspicion story.

But the Atlanta paper objects to the way it and its reporter are portrayed and its lawyers sent a letter of complaint to Warner Bros. asking the studio to put a disclaimer on the movie. (Read more about it here.)