Wednesday, December 23, 2020

A Film Noir Christmas Carol

This week, I am looking forward to watching – for the umpteenth time – the 1951 version of “A Christmas Carol.” It is the one starring Alistair Sim as Scrooge and the one I consider the best of the bunch.

Sim looks like he is having the time of his life playing the old skinflint. Director Brian Desmond Hurst keeps the actor on course and the sentimentality under control, especially in the Tiny Tim scenes and the flashbacks of the young Ebenezer. He also keeps the action clipping right along as he shoves Scrooge into some wonderfully nightmarish sequences.

The fright and anxiety of Scrooge, the high contrast black and white photography and the moody sets, place Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella in the world of film noir.

Its depiction of 19th century England could also group it with director David Lean’s two terrific Dickens films, “Great Expectations” (1946) and “Oliver Twist” (1948).

Anyone who has not seen it, should look for it and watch it. Anyone who has seen it will probably watch it again.

Here’s wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday Season. Hope you will visit this page again in the New Year.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Guilty Bystander by Wade Miller

If Bob Wade and Bill Miller (writing as Wade Miller) set out to create one of the most noir of noir novels, they achieved their goal – although they came perilously close to parody with Guilty Bystander.

The writing partners poured everything into this one. There is a drunken, down-and-out detective, a seedy hotel, a femme fatale, a good girl who could be more “fatale” than the other woman, a kidnapped child, a fortune in missing jewels, a bunch of rival gangsters, a couple of mysterious murders, and a lot of violent action.

Oh yeah, and rain. It rains all the time in this not-so-sunny California setting.

One morning, Max Thursday, wakes with a world-class hangover to find his ex-wife in his shabby hotel room with bad news. Their little boy has been kidnapped and her new husband, a doctor, has disappeared.

Max sets out to find the boy. The clues he picks up keep leading him back to a woman named Angel who, coincidentally, lives in his hotel. Angel knows far too many shady characters.

In the course of the 144 pages of the Signet paperback I picked up somewhere for a buck (original price, 25 cents), Max gets framed, beaten, tortured, and dunked in the ocean – twice – before putting the puzzle together, recovering the child and solving the murders and the mystery of the jewels.

Bob Wade (1920-2012) and Bill Miller (1920-1961) wrote more than 30 novels together, including Kiss Her Goodbye  (see here) and Kitten With A Whip (see here). There is more about them at Thrilling Detective.

(For more posts on books, head over to Todd Mason’s blog.)
(And remember, my book,
Lyme Depot, would make a great gift for a crime reader.)

Monday, November 30, 2020

Moive “A Man’s Head” from a Georges Simenon novel

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a piece about one of Georges Simenon’s best novels featuring Paris police Superintendent Jules Maigret. (The post is here.)

Days after finishing the book, I had the chance to see an early French production of one of the Maigret books.

The 1933 movie, “A Man’s Head” (“La tĂȘte d'un homme”), was well made and had just about the best Maigret I have ever seen playing the part of the detective.

The movie takes its time before bringing Maigret into the story. It starts in a boulevard cafe where a broke bon vivant muses out loud that he would pay 100,000 francs to have his aunt killed so he could inherit her money. Moments later, a note is slipped to the man from someone taking up his offer.

The criminal is engaged and a man supplied with a key and map of the old lady’s house enters only to find the woman dead. The wannabe killer has a sneaky accomplice who tells his frightened partner to leave town and hide while he cleans up any clues. The first man runs but the second man cleans up nothing, giving the police all they need for an arrest.

But Maigret sorts things out and before arresting the real murderer spends time with the second man to understand him and learn his real reason – beyond the money – for killing the old woman.

French actor Harry Baur played Maigret and I do not think he ever played the Superintendent again, which is too bad.

Director Julien Duvivier, who was one of the best filmmakers of his era, captured the tone and pace of Simenon’s books, with some poetic realism and a dash of German Expressionism thrown in. This 87-year-old film still works.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Maigret and the Headless Corpse by Georges Simenon


The first week of this month - which included Election Day - required a good, calm crime story, a book that before opening it a reader knows the mystery will be solved and order restored. 


It called for a visit with methodical, introspective Chief Superintendent Jules Maigret, author Georges Simenon’s fictional Paris police detective.


The mystery in his 1955 novel, Maigret and the Headless Corpse, as the title explains, begins with the discovery of a dismembered body in a canal. All the parts of the murdered man are recovered, except the head. Based on the medical examiner’s findings and the section of Paris in which the body was discovered, Maigret quickly comes up with a possible identity of the man and a possible suspect.


The suspect is the man’s wife. As Maigret learns about her, a second suspect and then a third come into focus. The wife is a puzzle to him. She is a woman who seems numb to the world and Maigret spends a considerable amount of time figuring out what makes her tick. His process is fascinating.


For a man who wrote at breakneck speed, Simenon’s novel has an almost leisurely pace.


Maigret and the Headless Corpse is considered one of Simenon's best, and I agree, although I have only read a fraction of his 390 books. Included in that output are his 75 Maigret novels.


(For more posts on books, see Todd Mason’s blog.)

(And, if you haven’t already, please see my book, Lyme Depot. Thanks.)

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Twenty Plus Two by Frank Gruber

Frank Gruber’s 1961 novel, Twenty Plus Two, is a fast-paced mystery about Tom Alder, an unlicensed sleuth whose specialty is finding missing heirs to great fortunes.


No one asks him, but the heir he is searching for in this book is Doris Delaney, who, 22 years earlier, disappeared from a girls’ boarding school and was never heard from again.


Was she abducted? Was she killed?


The infamous disappearance made headlines around the country.


Alder’s interest in the case is piqued when a woman is murdered and among her effects are a couple of old newspaper clippings about the Doris Delaney case.


Alder is vaguely interested in who the murdered woman was and who would want to kill her. He is more interested in why the woman had clippings about Doris Delaney.


The mystery leads Alder from his home town of Los Angeles to New York, then to Chicago, and more. Along the way, he encounters some beautiful women and a notorious con man who wants Alder to find his missing brother.


As in many classic hard-boiled mysteries, the two cases are connected, but Gruber cleverly strings the reader along to the end before revealing the connection.


Gruber constructs his story so well, planting red herrings, adding unexpected twists and turns, and pacing the whole thing so swiftly that obvious questions are forgotten as Alder barrels ahead on his search.


Frank Gruber (1904-1969) may be better known for his Westerns than his mysteries (at least that was my introduction to him). He started his career writing for the pulps in the 1930s. His memoir about those days, The Pulp Jungle (which I reviewed here), is a terrific read. He also wrote scripts in Hollywood from the 1940s to the 1960s.


(For more posts on books, see Todd Mason’s blog.)


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

Monday, October 26, 2020

Suspenseful horror film Corruption starring Peter Cushing

Never a big fan of the Hammer horror movies, it was not until recently that I was won over by the work of actor Peter Cushing.

Last year, I saw him in the 1961 bank robbery film “Cash on Demand” where he played the stiff-necked branch manager. Then, last week I saw him in a terrific little gore-fest called “Corruption” from 1968, which is not a Hammer film.

Cushing plays an eminent surgeon in love with a model, played by Sue Lloyd. An accident he causes damages her face. The doctor locks himself away and obsessively researches medical remedies to restore the young woman’s beauty. 


He comes up with an unproven theory but will need to the pituitary gland of a recently deceased young woman. There happens to be such a corpse at his hospital. 


But the procedure turns out to be a temporary fix and the model’s repaired skin starts to decay. 


The only solution for a true cure is to get the gland of a living woman. So the obsessed surgeon goes out and kills a young prostitute. This seems to work, at first, but it too fails and the doc must kill again. 

This weird little movie will keep viewers glued to the screen through the bloodshed and the crazy violent ending involving a runaway surgical laser.

Cushing plays the doctor to the hilt and completely straight, never winking at the audience to let them know he was a well trained theater actor before finding his niche in horror pictures. 


“Corruption” is a guilty pleasure.