Friday, June 12, 2020

"Collateral" is a series to watch

A pizza delivery man is shot down in the streets of London, but not robbed. The killing was a hit carried out by a professional. But who would want this young guy killed?

That is the question a police detective, played by Carey Mulligan, wants to answer in "Collateral," a four-part British mystery series written by David Hare.

The man killed was an Iraqi refugee. He was delivering a pie to the kooky ex-wife of a Member of Parliament. A stoned young woman sitting unseen on a step caught a glimpse of the shooter. But she does not want to be involved for fear of exposing her private life. Something is up with the woman managing the pizza place who sent the man on the delivery.

The links to the crime are murky and varied.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Free Film Festival Online

Today is the first day of the 10-day We Are One: A Global Film Festival.

Check the schedule pages for the films and the days and times they play.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Young Dr. Kildare a novel by Max Brand

Two years after publishing a short story about a young medical doctor (reviewed here), Max Brand wrote a full novel about the character.

Young Dr. Kildare was serialized in Argosy in 1938, and came out as a book in 1940. It is the beginning of the story of James Kildare. It is both a chronicle of his first days on the job and the mystery he needed to unravel to save a patient.

The novel opens with the new doctor returning to his family home in New England where his parents have prepared an office for him. They expect him to begin his practice side by side with his father, the town doctor.

But young Kildare has other plans. At first he does not discuss them for fear of disappointing his parents. He does not want to be a small-town doctor. He wants to go into a prestigious intern program at a city hospital.

One night, he tells this to a local girl he grew up with and who is in love with him. Here, the bright young doctor seems a little dense. Not only does he hurt her, but also strings her along.

In his first few days on the job, he angers the head of the hospital. He also ticks off brilliant but ornery old diagnostician, Dr. Leonard Gillespie.

Kildare’s first assignment is ambulance duty. On a call, he saves a young woman who attempted suicide. The stodgy old doctors want to confine the girl as a dangerous mental patient. But Kildare discovers she has a guilty secret. He refuses to break his word to the girl by revealing what she told him. For this, he faces dismissal from the hospital. The young doc defies everyone and goes out to investigate the true story behind the girl’s secret.

Turns out, the girl fell in with some artists, one of whom got her stoned and, she thinks, took advantage of her. This may have been hot stuff in 1938. It was evidently too hot for MGM. When the studio made the film, “Young Dr. Kildare," it eliminated the drug angle completely.

Kildare solves the mystery of what actually happened to the girl and restores his own position in the hospital. He also earns the respect of Dr. Gillespie by correctly diagnosing the old man’s cancer (and without blood tests and scans – this is one hell of a doctor). Gillespie takes Kildare on as his assistant and pupil and everyone is happy – except the girl he left behind in the little town.

All this sounds like pretty corny stuff – and it is – but Young Dr. Kildare is an enjoyable read.

There are plenty of problems with story but I will leave them all alone except one. Brand did not handle the suspense well. When Kildare receives an important clue about the girl’s secret, he does not fly into action, but mopes about for a while.

Unlike some other Max Brand books I have read, his dialogue here is not too bad and he tells his story in a light, breezy style.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Max Brand’s Dr. Kildare

New York hospital, a model for the Dr. Kildare stories?
In the 1930’s, Max Brand, prolific author of Westerns, started a modern series. It featured James Kildare, a young doctor working as an intern at a large city hospital.

The Secret of Dr. Kildare, the third novel in the series, sat unread on my shelf for years. I took it down recently when looking for something light to read. It did not grab me. But it did send me looking for the origins of the Kildare series.

Brand introduced Kildare in “Internes Can’t Take Money,” a short story in the March 1936 issue of Cosmopolitan . It is in The Collected Stories of Max Brand.

“Internes Can’t Take Money” is far from a great story, but it has some good things in it. The best thing is the character of bright, strong-minded Kildare who will bend hospital rules.

Most of the story does not take place in the hospital but in a nearby saloon in the tenement section of the city. Kildare patches up a thug wounded in a fight. A local tough guy insists on giving the doctor a lot of money for his work and for not reporting it. Kildare refuses the money. Instead, he convinces the man to put it to better use, paying off the gambling debts of a fellow doctor.

Brand was an expert at moving a story along. But some of his story strains credulity. For instance, Kildare, alone in a crummy apartment, performs a difficult operation.

In a 1934 letter, quoted in The Max Brand Companion, he called his writing “improvisation rather than composing.” I like that. It sounds like jazz.

Missing from this short story is the brilliant, cranky and demanding head of diagnostic medicine, Dr. Leonard Gillespie. He shows up in future stories.

Brand is far from my favorite author. But his first novel in the series, Young Dr. Kildare, hit a homerun with me. Next time, I will post about that book.

Friday, May 1, 2020

“Searching” is a suspense film to see

“Searching,” is a film that did not get many rating stars on our cable channel guide, but whose description sounded intriguing. It turned out to be pretty good movie.

John Cho plays a single dad whose teenage daughter never came home from a friend’s house. He contacts the police and the investigating officer, played by Debra Messing, urges him to go through the girl’s social media and contact her friends.

The idea of a missing child almost always works in a suspense picture, but “Searching” adds an element – some might call it a gimmick. The entire movie plays out on a computer screen. That sounds extremely limiting, but director Aneesh Chaganty keeps it all moving and interesting.

If you get the chance to see “Searching,” ignore the critics and give it a try.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Live by Night by Dennis Lehane

There is an awful lot of good stuff in Dennis Lehane’s 2012 gangster novel Live by Night.

This story of Boston bootleggers, beginning in the mid-1920s and ending in the mid-1930s, is not the tough, fast crime novel I was expecting when I picked it up.

At the start, Joe Coughlin is a 20-year-old punk and stick-up man with an unusual background. He did not grow up on the mean streets, but in the suburbs. His father was a high-ranking member of the Boston Police Department.

During one of his robberies, Joe meets Emma Gould, and is infatuated by this girl with eyes as cold as her personality. She is nothing but trouble for Joe. But then Joe is not as bright as he thinks he is. Even with his rise in the illegal liquor business and his becoming an underworld boss in Florida, he makes a ton of mistakes, mostly due to his inherent softness.

Lehane’s depictions of 1920s Boston and 1930s Tampa are loaded with atmosphere and history. The connections with Cuba and the rum-running from that island nation to the U.S. was a highlight.

But the book is heavy with dialogue that struck me as too modern and some of the action – like the attack on a boat – read like scenes from an exploitation movie.

Lehane, author of Mystic River and many other novels, spins a good yarn, but frankly I was expecting more from him.

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

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

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is Marvelous

One of the best written, best acted, best produced shows is “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

Miriam Maisel is a young, New York, Jewish, mother of two, who has a gift for being funny. The show follows her from her first, accidental, stand-up comedy performances, to her rise in the Greenwich Village club scene, and beyond.

Set in 1958, 1959, and 1960 (so far), a big part of the show is about how this woman, played by Rachel Brosnahan, breaks into a man’s world. Very, very few women were stand-up comics at that time.

The show is also about her vulgar and hilarious friend and manager, played by Alex Borstein.

It is also about Miriam’s nutty family: her ex-husband, played by Michael Zegen; her father, played by Tony Shalhoub; her mother, played by Marin Hinkle; her ex-father-in law, played by Kevin Pollak; and her ex-mother-in law, played by Caroline Aaron. Viewers will get to know them all and more.

There is also the mysterious recurring character of  real-life comedian Lenny Bruce, played by Luke Kirby.

Every episode is fast and funny, and for all of us here, hunkered down at home, it is a great break from crisis around us.

Check it out. (But be warned, the language is rough and definitely not for the kiddies.)

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell

Faceless Killers was Henning Mankell’s first Detective Kurt Wallander novel and just recently it became my first reading experience with the author.

A few years ago, I enjoyed a couple of the Kurt Wallander TV movies starring Kenneth Branagh as the Swedish police detective. But the novel remained in my TBR pile for a long time. That was a mistake, because Faceless Killers is a terrific book. Not only is it an intriguing mystery and a nice character study, but also a comment on a changing world.

Fortyish Wallendar, confronted with the horrific murder of an elderly farmer and his wife, wonders what is happening to his country when this level of violence reaches even the calm, remote rural areas of southern Sweden.

When it leaks that the suspect may be a refuge living in one of the local migrant camps, a hate group threatens to retaliate against the immigrants. Before the killer can be caught, refuges are assaulted and killed.

There is a strange lack of urgency on the part of the police. Perhaps Mankell wrote it that way to show a police force not used to handling this kind of case or the increasing frequency of cases like it.

Kurt Wallander is all too human. He is divorced and out of touch with his adult daughter. The relative he is closest to is his nasty, overbearing father who is in the early stages of dementia.

Makell’s book is at its best when it follows the dogged efforts of Wallander to find the killer. Where it falters is in a couple of action passages. The author goes too far making the book feel like a Hollywood movie. But Mankell reins it all in and sets it back on track.

By my count, Henning Mankell (1940-2015) wrote nine novels, one novella and several short stories featuring Wallander.

Faceless Killers was nicely translated by Steven T. Murray and is a book I should not have waited so long to read.

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

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

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

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.