Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Film Noir: Alias Nick Beal

The 1949 film noir, “Alias Nick Beal,” is a movie I waited decades to see again. This month, I got my chance thanks to a late-night showing on Turner Classic Movies.

Foster, an ambitious district attorney, lacking evidence to prosecute a slick racketeer, states aloud he would sell his soul to nail the guy. Right on cue, he receives a note to meet a mysterious and sinister man named Nick Beal who claims he can help.

Beal’s help is strictly illegal, but Foster gets the evidence he needs and never questions how Beal accomplished the impossible. Beal continues to help Foster win cases and eventually become governor. Before calling for the ultimate payment, Beal insists Foster appoint certain people to influential offices.

Foster is in too deep, but a close friend, a local pastor is on to the devil in disguise and steps in to help his friend.

Nick Beal is played by a quietly understated Ray Milland, who is usually the sophisticated lead, sometimes the comic hero. Foster is played by character actor Thomas Mitchell, who was Scarlet O’Hara’s father in “Gone with the Wind” and the drunken doctor in “Stagecoach.” The pastor is played by George Macready, who usually portrayed villains. Audrey Totter is a woman recruited by Beal to lead Foster astray, and Geraldine Wall is Foster’s strong, upstanding wife.

“Alias Nick Beal” plays out in deep shadow, fog and settings straight out of German Expressionism. A waterfront dive Beal uses as his meeting place with Foster is literally crooked, with a sloping floor, a bar angling downhill and cockeyed tables. The saloon, with its sketchy lighting, is as disorienting to the viewer as it is to Foster.

Director John Farrow displays some of the fluid camera work that made his 1948 film version of “The Big Clock” – also with Milland – so interesting. And the subtle, low key tone of the film adds to the mystery and menace.

“Alias Nick Beal” is well worth a look, and now that TCM has shown it, let’s hope it is not decades before it airs again.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

FFB: Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope

Last month, Patti Abbott on her blog asked the question: What book has been on your to-be-read pile the longest?

For me, it had to be Anthony Hope’s 1894 novel, The Prisoner of Zenda. That one was on a shelf behind my desk for – I don’t know how long.

Last week, looking for a fun summer read, I took it down and gave it a try. It grabbed me right from the start and I sped through it in no time. That last is not hard to do. The paperback was 159 pages. The adventure tale was a pure pleasure as told by Hope in a brisk, exciting style. He kept the story moving on every page, and even had his first person narrator, Rudolf Rasendyll, apologize to the reader when he felt the need to provide a bit of background before pressing on with the action.

Rasendyll, an English gentleman, travels to the fictional kingdom of Ruritania, a small, German-speaking state, curious to see where a distant part of his family came from. Generations back, the then king of Ruritania visited Britain, had an affair with an English woman, and ever since an occasional descendant of the lady inherits the unmistakable looks of the Ruritanian royal family. Rudolf Rasendyll, inherited those looks, and once in the country, finds that he is a dead ringer for the new king.

By chance, English Rudolf meets King Rudolf and, delighted, the king invites him to dinner at his country lodge along with his faithful companions, a loyal old soldier, Colonel Sapt, and a young nobleman, Fritz von Tarlenheim. These two men are astonished by the identical looks of the two Rudolfs.

That night, the king’s evil half brother, Michael, springs a plot to seize the throne of Ruritania by kidnapping the king and holding him prisoner at his castle in the country’s region of Zenda. But Fritz and Sapt counter Michael by coaching English Rudolf and convincing him to impersonate the king until they can rescue royal Rudolf. These events send the adventure into high gear as Michael and his gang try to eliminate both Rudolfs. English Rudolf, is successful in his impersonation, and for weeks takes on the role of the king and does it well. But thrown together with the beautiful Princess Flavia – whom the king, through long arrangement, is to marry – Rudolf falls in love with her himself. Rudolf even considers remaining on the throne of Ruritania. But he is a high-minded Englishman, and his code of honor will not allow him to follow his heart. Instead, he carries out his task and risks his own life fighting to rescue the king.


Even though I knew the story well, having seen three movie versions of it – the 1922 silent, a 1952 MGM remake, and best of all, the 1937 David O. Selznick production – I still enjoyed the novel. Where the movies had to streamline the story, reducing the amount of action and behind the scenes intrigue, the novel was free to plunge Rudolf into many more situations.

Reading The Prisoner of Zenda, I found the time period a little hazy. The independent kingdom could have been one of the German states of the mid-19th century, before unification. But that is a minor point.

Another small point that intrigued me came at the beginning when Rudolf Rasendyll explains to his sister-in-law that he sees no need to work since his late father set him up with a comfortable annual income of £2,000. Wondering how much that would be in today’s U.S. dollars, I used some on-line conversion sites and figured £2,000 in 1894 would now be more than $265,000 a year.

The Prisoner of Zenda was the most enjoyable book I have read so far this summer, and I look forward to reading Anthony Hope’s sequel, Rupert of Hentzau.

(For more posts on books, check out Patti Abbott’s blog.)

Monday, July 31, 2017

“Tim’s Vermeer” is a Video to See

Tim Jenison, an inventor and entrepreneur who made a bundle in the tech industry with innovative computer graphics, read a couple of books each of which touching on the idea that Johannes Vermeer, the 17th century Dutch painter, may not have been so much an artist as an inventor.

Using lenses available in his day and the concept of a camera obscura, Vermeer may have painted his masterpieces by using a form of image projection.

Intrigued by this concept, Tim set out to recreate the ancient technology Vermeer may have used, and to paint his own picture in Vermeer’s style.

The project took years, but Tim seemed to be on to something.

This documentary follows his incredibly painstaking process, including building a replica of Vermeer’s studio and creating paints from scratch to match what was available in Holland at the time.

Tim’s journey is so intriguing, so interesting and so revealing, that halfway through the movie, I suspected the whole thing was a hoax – a mockumentary. After all, the film was produced by Penn and Teller, the comedy and magic team.

But “Tim’s Vermeer” is real, the man's dedication and persistence is amazing, and the 80-minute movie is worth watching.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

FFB: The Money Trap by Lionel White

Lionel White is known for his heist novels in which tough, confident criminals make intricate plans, hire the guys they need to pull off the caper, and then ruthlessly execute the plan, only to have their heads handed to them.

Unlike White’s famous book, The Killing, his 1963 novel, The Money Trap, does not follow a criminal gang but two New York City police detectives. The book is also unusual because their plans are not thought out in precise detail.

Detective Joe Baron and his friend and partner, Detective Pete Delanos, are assigned a simple case of attempted robbery of a doctor’s office which ended in the death of a junkie burglar at the hands of the medical man who came home early and shot him.

But before he kicks off, the junkie tells Pete the doc is dirty, is selling drugs, and has about a million bucks in cash in his safe. He dies and Pete finds the combination to the safe in his pocket.

Pete takes his partner aside and tells him what he discovered and how easy it would be for them to break in and steal the dough.

Joe is intrigued. He is an honest cop, but he could use the cash. He is married to a young woman raised around money. She is not only used to having things, but also has a trust fund providing her with a larger annual income than Joe makes on the force. Joe resents his wife’s money. His pride will not let him take anything from her. He is in debt after buying a house in an upscale neighborhood to please her, and every day he sinks deeper into a financial hole. He also feels he is the butt of jokes among his wealthy neighbors.

All this drives him to go along with Pete. Together they make some sketchy plans, Pete insisting it will be easy.

But this is a Lionel White novel, and in White’s world nothing is easy and little goes as planned.

The Money Trap is written in White’s blunt, forceful, straight forward style. It is a style he mostly likely developed during his years as a newspaper reporter and editor and later as an editor of detective magazines. The book is a quick read with nicely developed characters – except for the doctor who is a bit of a throwback to the days of the evil criminal genius. The other characters, the cops, the mugs, a chorus girl, and some snotty neighbors, are well done.

(To read my review of Lionel White’s The Killing, click here. To read my review of his novel The Snatchers, click here.)

(To read more posts on books, check out Patti Abbott’s blog, here.)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

"The Hero" is a Movie to See

Some fans of actor Sam Elliott are not too keen on his new, non-Western movie, “The Hero.”

This is a quiet, slow-paced film of 70-ish Lee Hayden, a once popular star of Westerns, who now earns a living doing TV commercial voice-overs, and who spends far too much time smoking dope and daydreaming of a glorious return to the big screen.

Lee has a cordial relationship with his ex-wife (played by Elliott's real-life wife, Katherine Ross), but no rapport at all with his adult daughter.

Then two things happen that shake him up. He finds out he has cancer. And he meets 30-ish woman who is interested in him.

Sam Elliott gives a subtle, deeply-felt performance in this film.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

FFB: The Killing by Lionel White

Johnny Clay plans the perfect caper, a racetrack heist, worked out and timed to the split second in Lionel White’s 1955 novel, The Killing. Clay had four years to figure out the details while serving time in Sing Sing. Once out, he puts his plan into play.

He recruits four men, all in need of money – big money – and all clean. They have no police records. Each also has something Clay requires for his scheme to work.

Marvin Unger, a sour little man needs to make up his heavy losses in the stock market. Big Mike Henty, a racetrack bartender with a weakness for the horses, needs money to move his wife and daughter out of the slums. Randy Keenan, a police officer, owes big dough to a loan shark. And George Peaty, a race track cashier, needs lots of money to please his hot, young, high-maintenance wife, Sherry.

Sherry, who is seeing a smooth gangster on the side, poses an early complication in the story. To impress her and assure her he is going to come into money, Peaty tells her the set up. He does this against Clay’s strict orders for everyone involved to keep his mouth shut.

Johnny is the only cool pro among his gang of amateurs. Each of the others has his doubts and fears. And, as often happens in a Lionel White novel, the carefully planned robbery has too many ways of going wrong. If any one of his men screws up, they could all wind up in jail – or dead.


Lionel White's writing has the clean snap of someone who spent many years knocking out newspaper copy and editing crime stories. He started his writing career as a reporter in the 1920s. He later became a newspaper editor and went on to edit detective magazines. The Killing (originally published as Clean Break) is probably his best known novel. He wrote 38 books between the early 1950s and the 1970s, including The Snatchers (which I wrote about here).

White's characters all ring true. He does not do lengthy descriptions of people or places, but gives the reader enough to form vivid mental pictures.

This is a second reading of The Killing. The first was more than 20 years ago when I picked up a 1988 Black Lizard paperback reprint of the novel. Even though I knew the story – as well as the Stanley Kubrick film version – The Killing still delivered a punch.

(For more posts on books, check out Patti Abbott’s blog.)

Monday, July 3, 2017

James Cagney, Yankee Doodle, and Happy Fourth!


Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, and a movie that is as much a part of the Independence Day celebration as “A Christmas Carol” is to Christmas and “The Quiet Man” is to St. Patrick’s Day, is “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

The film is the1942 Warner Bros. biography of Broadway song and dance man, George M. Cohan, who wrote the book and lyrics, produced, directed and starred in his own musicals in the early 20th century.

Cohan’s songs included “Grand Old Flag,” “Over There,” and “Give My Regards to Broadway,” all of which – and more – are featured in the movie.

The picture stars Cagney as Cohan and Joan Leslie as his wife, Mary. It was directed by the versatile Michael Curtiz.

The final dance Cagney performs as the aging Cohan is this brief walk down a staircase in the White House after a visit with the President of the United States.

Here is a clip. But, please, do not try this at home.

“Yankee Doodle Dandy,” is schedule to show at 8 p.m. (Eastern time), July 4, on Turner Classic Movies.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

"Paris Can Wait" is a Movie to See


Despite the opinions of some film critics, I am recommending a little road movie called, “Paris Can Wait.”

It is the story of Anne, a woman of a certain age, who is in Cannes with her film-producer husband. When he has to fly off on business, Anne hesitantly accepts an invitation from his French colleague to return to Paris in his car.

And with that, she is off on an unexpected adventure.

While she wants to get to the city as quickly as possible, Jacques is in no hurry. He wants to stop and eat at great restaurants and see the countryside. “Paris can wait,” he tells her.

Anne is played by Diane Lane. Jacques is played by Arnaud Viard. And Anne’s husband is played by Alec Baldwin in a small part.

The film is a romantic tour. Everywhere they go is gorgeous. Even a service station where they stop for gas is picture perfect.

If you want ugly reality, this is not the movie for you. If you want a 90-minute visual vacation, see “Paris Can Wait.”

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

John Wayne in “This Little Bullet”


The other day, I was looking at the list of John Wayne's films on the IMDb and my eye stopped on an unknown title. I thought I had seen all of the Duke’s pictures. But there was one listed from 1970 that not only had I never seen, but also had never heard of.

Wedged between “The Undefeated,” from 1969, and “Chisum,” from 1970, was “This Little Bullet.”

On the page for the film, the IMDb noted it was an 88-minute American movie.

But, reading further, I learned “This Little Bullet” was not a John Wayne western. Nor was it a contemporary cop film, like the ones he made late in his career like “McQ” from 1974 and “Brannigan” from 1975.

In fact, it wasn’t a John Wayne movie at all.

It was an 18-minute gun-safety film featuring Wayne and produced by the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

John Wayne, wearing a cowboy hat, western clothes and holding a rifle, introduces the subject which he then turns over to a shooting instructor. The instructor, Jack Ellison of the Arizona Firearms Safety Program, then runs through several demonstrations. Wayne comments on the demonstrations and warns of the power and destructiveness of one little bullet. He returns at the end for some parting comments.

This little film is packaged with two other safety films in a DVD, which must account for the 88-minute running time.

A viewer on YouTube remembered “This Little Bullet” being shown in schools throughout Arizona.

No matter which side of the gun debate you come down on, this safety film, and John Wayne’s presence in it, is worth a look.

And – because the makers of instructional and corporate films rarely get any recognition – the film was directed and edited by Wes Keyes; written by Bob Hernbrode; photographed by Davd Daughtry; and had Dale Dundas as technical advisor.

(For more posts on film and television, check out Todd Mason’s blog.)

Saturday, June 10, 2017

“Megan Leavey” is a Movie to See

A super, non-super-hero, movie opened locally and we caught one of the first showings. The film is “Megan Leavey” and it is a good one.

The story is based on the experiences of the real Megan Leavey who joined the Marines in the early 2000s, worked, worked out, and trained to be good enough to join the K-9 unit. There, she was assigned to the most vicious dog in the military kennel, learned to work with it as a bomb-detecting team, and was sent to Iraq where she and her dog conducted some hair-raising searches.

Kate Mara does a terrific job playing Megan Leavey. The actor and rapper, Common, is excellent as the sergeant in charge of the K-9 training program. And, director Gabriella Cowperthwaite, who previously made documentaries, does an excellent job here. The cast is strong, the action is well done, and the emotions are right up there, as you would expect in a dog movie.

If it is playing at a theater near you, go see it. If has not opened, keep an eye out for it.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

“Lawrence of Arabia” before O’Toole & Lean

T.E. LAWRENCE
Last week’s post on the low budget 1944 film, “Action in Arabia,” drew an interesting comment from Sergio, who blogs at the terrific site, Tipping My Fedora.” He said the large scale shots of Arab fighters were filmed years earlier for a never-completed movie about T.E. Lawrence. This intrigued me enough to hunt for more about this early version of “Lawrence of Arabia.”

In a 2011 post on “Action in Arabia,” Mark Gabrish Conlan said Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack planned a Lawrence film after they finished “King Kong.” They took the first production steps, sending Schoedsack to the Middle East to shoot scenes of mounted Arab fighters. The Lawrence film was cancelled and years later, the scenes filmed wound up in “Action in Arabia”.


COOPER & SCHOEDSACK

LESLIE HOWARD
 The Cooper and Schoedsack production that almost happened makes for a great “one-that-got-away” story. Before making their now famous studio productions in Hollywood, the team made some fine documentaries in far off places during the silent era. A great one is “Grass” from 1925. Cooper and Schoedsack recorded the journey of a tribe of about 50,000 people and their livestock over mountains between Turkey and Iran to reach good grazing lands.

Another site, Crawley’s Casting Calls, provides the bumpy history of attempts to make a movie about T.E. Lawrence. Crawley’s says Cooper and Schoedsack also considered hiring Howard Hawks to direct Ronald Colman as Lawrence. Around the same time, producer Alexander Korda also wanted to make a “Lawrence of Arabia” with Leslie Howard playing Lawrence, which would have been excellent casting. Korda produced some big pictures with exotic locals around that time, including “The Four Feathers” in 1939. His Lawrence film could have been a Technicolor spectacular.

Cooper and Schoedsack had also produced a version of “The Four Feathers” in 1929.

Too bad Korda, Cooper and Schoedsack could not have teamed up. They would have made a terrific movie. But, if they had, we may never have gotten David Lean’s great 1962 film.

DAVID LEAN
PETER O'TOOLE



















And Lean’s casting of Peter O’Toole in the lead (although not his first choice), was pretty darn good, too.

(For more posts on movies and television, check out Todd Mason’s blog.)

Friday, June 2, 2017

No Beast So Fierce by Edward Bunker

Edward Bunker’s 1973 novel, No Beast So Fierce, is no book for the feint of heart.

This story of 31-year-old Max Dembo, who is released from prison after eight years and never wants to return, but cannot tolerate the rules, regulations, and boredom of straight life and returns to crime is filled with crude, coarse scenes, and language so raw, it must have curled the hair of readers five decades ago. (Of course, similar scenes and language are now accepted entertainment on cable TV.)

Max, who spent a good part of his life behind bars, from reform school, to county jails, to the California prison system, is released at the beginning of the book and he vows never to return. It is 1964 and he is going home to Los Angeles determined to get a job and live a straight life. But his plans have big flaws. Max does not know how to live a straight life. The only life he knows is crime, and the only people he knows are criminals. He finds it impossible to straddle the straight world and the underworld and after a short struggle, gives up and turns back to crime. He regrets not being able to turn his life around, yet he craves action and enjoys the outlaw life.

No Beast So Fierce starts off hard. The prison situation is hard, and the language of the men inside is hard. Once out and reverting back to his old ways, the story meanders a bit and introduces too many petty thieves, drunks and junkies. But Bunker’s purpose is clear, he is sticking the readers face into the hard realities of these character’s lives – the crummy living conditions, the edginess and violence around them, the day-to-day, hand-to-mouth existence. And he knows what he is talking about. Bunker spent time in reform schools and state prisons until he straightened himself out. He began reading and then writing. Every page has the odor of reality on it. This man knew what he was talking about.

Once Max gets to work robbing, the book picks up speed. He goes from a supermarket stick up, to bank robbery to a major jewelry heist. And when things start to go wrong, they really go wrong for Max, and the story flies to its conclusion.

No Beast So Fierce, like other Bunker novels, is a fast read, but a gritty, grubby one, which will leave you feeling like you need to go outside, breathe the fresh air, and thank your lucky stars you are not in Max Dembo’s world (at least, I hope you are not).

Edward Bunker was born in 1933 in Los Angeles. He died in 2005 in Burbank, California.

(To see my review of Bunker's novel Dog Eat Dog. click here.) 

 (For more posts on books this week, check out Todd Mason’s blog.)

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

World War II Spy Film “Action in Arabia”

Last Sunday, as part of its Memorial Day weekend of war pictures, Turner Classic Movies showed a little, and little known, espionage film from 1944 called “Action in Arabia.”

The movie, made two years after “Casablanca,” owes a lot to that Academy Award winning Humphrey Bogart flick. While “Action in Arabia” could not hope to match the older film, it has plenty of intrigue and style.

George Sanders stars as a newspaper reporter in Damascus, waiting for a flight out of the region when a colleague is stabled to death. Sanders refuses to leave until he finds out why. He starts his investigation by searching for the woman his friend met and went off with. The antagonistic French authorities want Sanders to go home. American not-so-undercover agents want Sanders to go home. A sinister hotel owner wants Sanders to go home. And bunch of other people want Sanders dead as he gets too close to solving the mystery.

The mystery is not much of a puzzle. Nazi agents in the region are stirring up and recruiting Arab fighters to come into the war on their side.

The story line is corny and simple, too many characters are thin stereotypes, and most of the action scenes are just so-so, but the ever-suave Sanders brings a sophistication to the movie. He also wears a white dinner jacket well, as Bogart did in “Casablanca.”

Director Leonide Moguy gives this 75-minute, black and white film a smooth, slick, and very dark atmosphere. Russian-born Moguy, who directed films in France before going to Hollywood, makes the most of this little RKO production. It looks less like the usual Hollywood movie of the time and more like a European film. If the name Leonide Moguy sounds familiar, it may be because Quentin Tarantino used the name for one of his characters in “Django Unchained” as a tribute to a filmmaker whose movies he likes.

Early in “Action in Arabia,” Sanders’ character meets an attractive, mysterious woman, played by co-star Virginia Bruce, gambling at a baccarat table. A surprisingly similar baccarat scene was filmed 18 years later by director Terrence Young for “Dr. No.” Young’s scene introduced Bond, James Bond.

(For more posts on film and television, check out Todd Mason's blog.) 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Early police-procedural film, Naked City, holds up

Television’s “Law & Order” from the 1990s and 2000s, may owe a nod of gratitude to the movie, “The Naked City,” for showing how a fast-paced, no-nonsense, police procedural is done.

The 1948 picture is the granddaddy of police procedural films and TV, and all these years later it still holds up.

Like the film, “Law & Order” follows two detectives as they work a case, spending little or no time on their personal lives. Also like the movie, the show was filmed entirely in New York City.

At the time the movie was made, location filming was rare. Hollywood started doing more movies in real places after Louis DeRochemont, a producer of newsreels, made several features partially on location in the mid-1940s. But the extensive use of locations in “The Naked City” was unique enough to be noted in a voice-over prologue delivered by producer Mark Hellinger.

The location photography is a big plus for the movie. It gives the film a documentary reality. It also gives viewers today a glimpse of city life as it was nearly 70 years ago. 

In the opening, Hellinger, and director Jules Dassin present New York in a rough-edged travelogue. They show the life of the city during the day, then at night, and wind up in the apartment of a model. The model is murdered by two thugs, her body discovered in the morning by a house keeper. The police arrive, the crime scene unit goes to work, and the case goes to a veteran detective, Lt. Dan Muldoon. He is assisted by a young detective, Jimmy Halloran, newly promoted into the squad. Muldoon, played by Barry Fitzgerald and Halloran, played by Don Taylor, are the main characters. The filmmakers follow them as they work to find out why the girl was murdered, who did it, and were to find the bad guys.

Fitzgerald, the Irish actor best known for his parts in “The Quiet Man,” and “Going My Way,” seems like an odd choice for the lead role as a detective. But it was a canny choice. Not only was Fitzgerald a versatile actor, but he also brought warmth to the movie. Without him, its realistic story and settings could have been too coarse and cold. Don Taylor was another good choice. Taylor had been around a few years in small parts, but at the time of “The Naked City” he was starting to break through. He was a post-war every man and may be best remembered as Elizabeth Taylor’s fiancée in “Father of the Bride.”


Ted de Corsia plays the baddie the cops are after, and that is not a spoiler. Seen at the beginning, he also turns up at other times in the film, following the detectives’ progress.

When Halloran gets a break, learning where he can find the man he is hunting, he makes a mistake and goes after him alone. The picture winds up in an exciting chase around the tenement streets of Manhattan and onto one of its bridges.

Jules Dassin, who made a mark with noir films in the mid-1940s, does an excellent job in keeping this 96-minute, black-and-white movie moving. Soon after making “The Naked City” Dassin ran afoul of the House Un-American Activities Committee. He found himself unable to work in America, went to England, and there made the Richard Widmark noir classic, “Night and the City.” Dassin then moved to Paris where he made the heist classic “Rififi.” Finally he moved to Greece where he married actress Melina Mercouri. Together they made several films including the social comedy “Never on Sunday,” and the comic heist film, “Topkapi.”

One of the writers on the picture, Albert Maltz, was later jailed for contempt of Congress by the House Un-American Activities Committee. He was one of the famous “Hollywood Ten” – 10 writers and directors who resisted the committee’s insistence they confess to being Communists and accuse friends and associates of being Communists.

The other writer on the film was Malvin Wald, the younger brother of Warner Bros. writer and producer, Jerry Wald.

Before "The Naked City" was released, producer Mark Hellinger died of a heart attack in December 1947 at the age of 44. Hellinger, a famous New York newspaper columnist of the 1930s, went to Hollywood where he produced some great films like the James Cagney gangster picture, “The Roaring ’20s,” and the noir classic “The Killers.” Heard a second time in “The Naked City,” he delivers a spoken epilogue that has this classic closing line:

“There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.”

(For more posts on movies and TV, check out Todd Mason’s blog.)

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Excellent British Crime Series “Line of Duty”

My friend Col of Col’s Criminal Library put me on to a terrific British television series called “Line of Duty.”

This show is so good, I had to do my part and pass along the tip.

The first season (a five-episode series on two DVDs here in the U.S.) starts with a bang. A heavily armed police task force hits an apartment block, crashes in on a suspected terrorist, kills him in front of his family, only to find out it is the wrong address.

Blame flows down from the brass, landing on a young cop, Sgt. Steve Arnott. He is ordered to lie at an inquisition. He refuses and his career is over, unless he accepts the only position left open to him in the police department – an investigator in AC-12. This is the hated unit investigating corrupt cops.

Arnott’s new boss has a target in mind – DCI Tony Gates, a chief inspector with a track record so good, he must be faking it. Gates’ cases are complicated with plenty of room for the cops in his squad to fudge facts, bend the rules, and even commit crimes themselves.

With his only choices being investigate Gates or quit the force, Arnott is conflicted. He wants to work, but he also longs to be a regular cop and give the subject a break.

And that sums up the first 20 minutes of this five-hour series.



Steve Arnott is played by Martin Compston, a good actor I have not seen before. His boss is played by the Irish actor Adrian Dunbar who has been around a while, and who has a stare so steady in interrogation scenes you may want to do some confessing yourself. DCI Gates is played by Lennie James, a powerful and charismatic presence who will have viewers wondering if he is really guilty and hoping he is not. Fleming, another member of the anti-corruption unit is played by Vicky McClure, an actress with just the right amount of toughness and vulnerability to seem genuine in the part.

“Line of Duty” is not to be missed.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Cary Grant & Audrey Hepburn in “Charade”

Over the weekend, I heard the theme from the movie “Charade” and that spurred me to watch it again.

I have seen “Charade” a half a dozen times over the years, and even though I know the story, know the mystery’s solution, know where the clues are planted, I still enjoy it.

While on vacation at a French mountain resort, Regina Lambert, played by the elegant Audrey Hepburn (in clothes designed by Givenchy) contemplates divorce from her shady husband. She does not have to think too long about it because he is murdered on a train by men searching for stolen money. The men and the husband were all in on the theft, but the husband made off with it, and now they want their share.

Regina meets a dashing, mysterious and somewhat older man, played by Cary Grant, who volunteers to protect her from the bad guys. Or, does he just want the money himself?

Grant was 25 years older than Hepburn, but that hardly matters since these movie stars are such charismatic superstars, complete with their own unique accents.

So right there, the movie has two of the most charming people ever to appear on the silver – or Technicolor – screen.

Hepburn and Grant are plunked down in Paris to solve the mystery, while trying hard not to be killed by three odd villains played by James Coburn, George Kennedy, and Ned Glass. Into this mix comes a square, but humorous American government man, played by Walter Matthau.

For just under two hours, this group dodges, attacks, evades, and detects in a clever, intricate, and light script by Peter Stone and Marc Behm. The doings were guided by director Stanley Donen, in a departure from the musicals he made in the 1950s, many with Gene Kelly.

And talking about music, “Charade” has one of the best theme songs courtesy of the great Henry Mancini. If you don’t remember what it sounded like, click here and listen.

Now a question:

Was there ever a cooler, classier, comic-mystery-thriller than this 1963 film?

Maybe there was. “North by Northwest”? Perhaps. But for me, Hepburn and Grant were a better combo than Grant and Saint.

(For more posts on film and television, check out Todd Mason’s blog.)

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

“It Always Rains on Sunday” Kitchen Sink Noir

As a fan of British films, particularly those of the post-World War II period, I waited a long time before catching “It Always Rains on Sunday”.

The movie is a surprising combination of styles, one that was near its height when it came out in 1947 and another not quite a style yet. “It Always Rains on Sunday” is a crime picture, a thriller with film-noir touches, and an early example of “kitchen sink” drama, a style that would catch on a decade later with the “angry young man” dramas.

This film could be called an angry young woman film. In fact it has several angry young women in it.

Rose, played by Googie Withers, is a former barmaid whose boyfriend proposes to her just before getting arrested and shipped off to prison. She settles for a man 15 years her senior whom she marries. When the picture opens, she is living with him and his two grown daughters and little son in a tiny attached house. A good deal of Rose’s life, and this movie, is spent in the cramped kitchen which doubles as the dining room, laundry room, and bathroom – that is, the tub is in there, too. The other fixture, I am guessing, is out behind the house.

One night, Rose’s former boyfriend escapes from jail and hides in a shed in her backyard. She finds him, takes him in, feeds him and lets him sleep in her bed while the rest of the family is out on a rainy Sunday. But family members keep returning to the house, giving Rose and the con several scares and breaking up a rekindled romance.

In the meantime, one step-daughter is seeing a shady, married man. The shady man’s brother, a small-time gambler and fence of stolen items, is putting the moves of the other, more naïve step-daughter. And the married man’s wife, who catches on to the affair, is the fourth angry woman in this film.

This moody, edgy film has some unusual twists for its time. It is as crowded with story as its streets are crowded with people. In a subplot, three petty criminals try to unload stolen goods and immediately attract the attention of a police detective, played by Jack Warner (not the Hollywood mogul, but the British actor who looked a bit like Jack Hawkins). The detective is happy to pinch them, but he is busy on the trail of Rose’s old boyfriend. The circle quickly closes in on Rose and the con.

The man makes a run for it and Rose considers suicide in a subtle but horrifying scene in the kitchen.

This rough, crude drama winds itself up with an exciting finish in a railroad yard.

“It Always Rains on Sunday,” based on a novel by Arthur Le Bern, was directed by Robert Hamer, and was produced by Michael Balcon and Henry Cornelius at Ealing Studios. Ealing was famous for its Alec Guinness comedies, but the company produced a variety of very good dramas in the 1940s and 1950s. “It Always Rains on Sunday” was one of them and it is well worth seeing.

(For more posts on film and television, check out Todd Mason's blog.)

Friday, April 7, 2017

FFB: The James Deans by Reed Farrel Coleman

Moe Prager is a former New York City cop who left the force after a knee injury. He splits his time between the up-scale wine shop he owns with his brother, and the occasional private investigation job.

At the beginning of The James Deans, a wealthy man pressures Moe to investigate the unsolved case of a murdered intern of a state senator. The crime derailed the career of the politician, changing him from a rising star to a prime suspect. His wealthy backer wants him cleared so the man can continue his climb.

As a cop in Brooklyn ten years earlier, Moe Prager made the papers when he solved a missing child case. The rich man believes Moe is luckier than the police and the private investigators stumped by the case.

The pressure applied to Moe comes in the form of a state inspector arriving at his wine shop. The message to Moe is people with political pull can make his life miserable if he refuses to work the case. Moe agrees to take a look. A friend in the NYPD helps him with department information. But another former cop, the hard-drinking father of the dead woman, refuses to talk to Moe, which is a smaller mystery within the larger story.

Moe digs into the case, exposing other mysteries and placing himself, his brother, and his wife and child in danger.

The James Deans is Reed Farrel Coleman’s third Moe Prager mystery, but the first I have read. Meeting his cool, savvy P.I. and sampling his hard-edged writing style, I will be reading more Moe Prager stories, soon.


(For more posts on books, check out Patti Abbott's blog.)

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Western Movie: Return to Warbow

“Return to Warbow” is one of the better, budget Westerns turned out by Hollywood in the 1950s.

Clay Hollister, a prisoner for eleven years at Yuma for robbing a stagecoach, is on a work detail outside the walls when he coordinates a violent escape. He and two others use their picks and shovels on the guards, steal the work wagon and drive the team of horses nearly to death in their getaway.

The men head for the town of Warbow where Clay plans to meet his brother, Frank, who was in on the robbery, got away and promised to hold the loot until Clay returned. Clay and his tough, untrustworthy gang make their way to the home of Clay’s former love. She is now married to the owner of the stage outfit, whom Clay will force to go fetch his brother. When the brother, now a drunk, learns Clay has escaped, he is terrified.

The prison notifies the sheriff of Warbow of Clay’s escape. The sheriff forms a posse and they comb the area for the gang. Complicating matters, Clay can barely control the two men he brought with him who have no regard for anyone but themselves and are a danger to the woman and her young son.

This 67-minute, Technicolor movie from 1958, has enough action, violence, twists and turns for a full-length feature. It moves along at a nice pace.

Clay is played by Phil Carey, an actor who appeared in many films and television shows from the early 1950s through the 1970s. The owner of the stage line is played by Andrew Duggan, another actor who shows up in supporting roles in movies and TV. Carey, listed on the IMDb as 6-foot-4, and Duggan at 6-foot-5, both close in age, both World War II vets, are well-matched as rivals. Robert J. Wilke, another big guy, 6-2, made a career of playing hard-bitten bad men, and here he is the member of the gang Clay has the most to worry about. Clay’s love interest is played by Catherine McLeod, and her son by Christopher Olsen, one of the better child actors. Clay’s brother Frank is played by James Griffith, a good character actor of the day. And, in a small role, Jay Silverheels, best remembered as Tonto in “The Lone Ranger” series, plays a former stage employee who was blinded in Clay’s hold up.

“Return to Warbow” was written by Les Savage, Jr., based on his novel. It was directed by Ray Nazarro, a man who made dozens of Westerns in the 1940s and 1950s.

(For more posts on film and TV, check out Todd Mason’s blog.)

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

“Seven Keys” a Tight Little British Mystery Movie

Released in 1961, “Seven Keys” is a fast-paced English crime film about a surly prisoner named Russell, played by Alan Dobie, who is informed by the warden that he has inherited a strange gift from a fellow inmate who died behind bars.

The inheritance is a ring of keys. Russell learns the old prisoner was sent to jail for embezzling £20,000. The money was never recovered and the warden, the guards, the police, and Russell suspect one of the keys will open the secret hiding place of all that loot.

Once Russell is out of the can, he goes through the keys, one-by-one, discovering what each opens. While working his way through the ring, he attracts the attention of baddies who would also like to get their hands on the cash.

This quirky little movie, with a running time of just 57 minutes, was most likely the second feature on a double bill, but it is miles ahead of the usual B-picture. The twisty story, the acting, and the visual style are well above average.

“Seven Keys” was directed by Pat Jackson, who went from making documentaries in the 1930s and 1940s, to feature films in the 1950s, to television in the 1960s and 1970s. He directed several episodes of two shows starring Patrick McGoohan – “Danger Man” (called “Secret Agent” in the U.S.) and “The Prisoner.” Both of those shows have some of the flavor found in “Seven Keys.”

The quirky, jaunty quality of “Seven Keys” with its snappy pace and eccentric supporting characters, may be the influence of producer Julian Wintle. In the 1960s, he produced all the Emma Peel episodes of “The Avengers.”

The writers on the film were Henry Blyth and Jack Davies. Davies had a long career in movies, including the scripts for the tricky Michael Caine picture, “Gambit,” and the comedy, “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines.”

This good little film is out on DVD, part of a series of box sets called "The Edgar Wallace Mysteries." But the discs are not available in a format for the U.S. and Canada.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

“Road House” with Patrick Swayze, Sam Elliott

The 1989 movie “Road House” is a rip-roaring action comedy that took me 28 years to see.

Dalton, played by Patrick Swayze, the coolest, toughest bar bouncer in the country is hired to come to a small town and clean up the roughest dive in the burg. Liking the challenge, as well as the big bucks that go along with the job, Dalton sets out to kick ass. And he does, although it takes him half the movie to whup all the dirtbags, and to teach the bouncers and bartenders how to do the same, with style.

Dalton takes his lumps along the way, and when he can’t administer first aid to himself, he is forced to go the hospital, where he meets a beautiful young doctor, played by Kelly Lynch, and – well, you are way ahead of me.

The biggest problem in the town is a rich gangster named Wesley, who is running a protection racket and collecting from all the honest businessmen. Wesley is played with zeal by the great Ben Gazzara, who all but steals the show from Swayze.

Just when Wesley and his goons step up their strong-arm methods, Dalton’s old mentor, Wade, played by Sam Elliott, rides into town to help. Elliott is another actor who nearly steals the show from Swayze. But Swayze persists, taking on the gang, including a one-on-one martial arts showdown with Wesley’s top henchman, and finally Wesley himself.

This film was directed by Rowdy Herrington, who made a handful of action and crime films over the years, along with an interesting movie about pro golfer Bobby Jones. “Road House” was produced by Joel Silver who made tons of action films since the late 1970s.