Behind the Mask (1946)

US / 68 minutes / bw / Monogram Dir: Phil Karlson, possibly augmented on bad days by William Beaudine Pr: Joe Kaufmann Scr: George Callahan Story: Arthur Hoerl, based on characters created by Walter B. Gibson and stories in Shadow Magazine Cine: William Sickner Cast: Kane Richmond, Barbara Reed (i.e., Barbara Read), George Chandler, Dorothea Kent, Joseph Crehan, Pierre Watkin, Robert Shayne, June Clyde, James Cardwell, Marjorie Hoshelle, Joyce Compton, Ed Gargan, Lou Crosby, Bill Christy, Nancy Brinckman, Dewey Robinson, Jean Carlin, Laura Stevens.

Kane Richmond as Lamont and Barbara Read as Margo

In the second of Monogram’s three installments of Shadow chronicles—the first was The Shadow Returns (1946)—the “humor” has been allowed to swallow up entirely any elements of suspense that might have been there.

On the eve of the marriage between Lamont (Richmond) and his secretary, Margo (Read), someone impersonating The Shadow knocks off blackmailing journalist Jeff “Man About Town” Mann of the Daily Bulletin (Cardwell) and—for no apparent reason—a Continue reading

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book: When Elves Attack (2011) by Tim Dorsey

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So the Providence Journal thinks Florida’s Tim Dorsey is “The undisputed king of the comic crime novel,” eh? Their reviewer might want to sample some Donald E. Westlake or, just within Florida, Carl Hiaasen and even Edna Buchanan. Okay, so Buchanan’s more a crime novelist with a splendid sense of humor than an out-and-out comedy crime writer, but I think the point still stands. Karen Kijewski, Kinky Friedman and even Janet Evanovich (even though I don’t personally get along with her work) might be worth a look too. I’m sure you can think of others . . . some of them doubtless blindingly obvious.

Whatever: back to this particular book.

I haven’t read any of the Serge Storm (as in storm serge; geddit?) novels before, and was startled to find this was #14 in the series — or really #13A, being a sort of half-length Christmas special.

Serge is a psychopath along the lines of the (far more somber) titular character in Bradley Denton’s Blackburn, a novel that should be required reading for every crime-fiction aficionado. Serge, like Blackburn, is a serial killer but one who chooses as his victims people without whom society will actually be better off — the kind of people who, while not necessarily criminal in any legal sense, in one way or another make life unpleasant for everyone around them.

In this book he and his dope-devouring sidekick Coleman celebrate a Florida Christmas in an inimitable way, by dressing up as Christmas elves — “wildcat elves,” as Serge describes the pair at one point — and doing their best to do good. Most but not all of their attempts to be seasonally benevolent end in mayhem and disaster, and there are a couple of murders along the way, but they mean well.

When Elves Attack is Continue reading

book: The Lazarus Curse (2014) by Tessa Harris

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My first encounter with this series and, for reasons I’ll explain, my last.

It’s 1783 and the Royal Society’s latest expedition to the Caribbean (think “Voyage of the Beagle” but a few decades earlier and with a more limited scope) is returning with countless plant and animal specimens but not, alas, its two scientists; the only survivor of the scientific team is its illustrator, Matthew Bartlett. Soon, though, Bartlett disappears in suspicious circumstances, and a headless corpse found in the Thames seems to tell its own story. At the time of his disappearance Bartlett had with him the journal that the expedition’s principal scientist kept containing all his detailed notes on their findings.

What could have attracted the attentions of murderous badhats? We don’t have to wait long to find out. There have been rumors that Continue reading

The Shadow Returns (1946)

US / 61 minutes / bw / Monogram Dir: Phil Rosen Pr: Joe Kaufman Scr: George Callahan Story: Walter B. Gibson for the character and the stories in Shadow Magazine. Cine: William Sickner Cast: Kane Richmond, Barbara Reed (i.e., Barbara Read), Tom Dugan, Joseph Crehan, Pierre Watkin, Robert Emmett Keane, Frank Reicher, Lester Dorr, Rebel Randall, Emmett Vogan, Sherry Hall, Cyril Delevanti.

This was the first of three comedy-crime adaptations to screen of Walter B. Gibson’s famous pulp character that Poverty Row studio Monogram released in 1946. The other two were Behind the Mask and The Missing Lady. This one had Phil Rosen at the helm (although it has been reported that William Beaudine did some filling in); the other two were done by Phil Karlson.

Lamont Cranston (Richmond) is outwardly a respectable young man of business who never seems to do any work; because he’s the cherished nephew of Police Commissioner J.R. Weston (Watkin), he and his secretary/fiancée Margo Lane (Read) are allowed to horn in on police investigations, to the ill concealed fury of Inspector Cardona (Crehan).

But there’s more to Lamont Cranston than meets the eye. His secret persona is as The Shadow, a mysterious vigilante crime-solver who, on donning his special garb—a mask and fedora—slips unobtrusively from Continue reading

book: Bad Debts (2005) by Peter Temple

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A few months ago Pam and I watched, over a period of two or three weeks, the three Jack Irish TV movies and the second of the two series that followed those movies (our library didn’t have the first series). The stars of the show are Guy Pearce, Aaron Pedersen and, at least in the movies, Marta Dusseldorp. These Australian outings are much recommended, with some great character actors supporting the principals.

So, of course, I decided to get hold of the first novel in the late Peter Temple’s series that formed the basis for the TV pieces. For obvious reasons I delayed the reading for a few months to make sure the first of the TV movies was no longer fresh in my mind (as we old geezers like to euphemize).

The long and the short is that I Continue reading

Enemy Agent (1940)

US / 61 minutes / bw / Universal Dir: Lew Landers Assoc Pr: Ben Pivar Scr: Sam Robins, Edmund L. Hartmann Story: Sam Robins Cine: Jerome Ash Cast: Richard Cromwell, Helen Vinson, Robert Armstrong, Marjorie Reynolds, Jack Arnold (i.e., Vinton Hayworth), Russell Hicks, Philip Dorn, Jack LaRue, Bradley Page, Abner Biberman, Luis Alberni, Jack Carson, Milburn Stone.

A fast-moving little B-movie that capitalized on the fact that the US was becoming paranoid about fascist conquests of democracy in Europe while at the same time Corporate America, Hollywood included, was nervous about adversely affecting business through upsetting the Nazis. So we’re given no clue here as to who the jackbooted, sauerkraut-scarfing foreign power is that seeks the secrets of the new flying fortress aircraft and its fiendishly accurate bombsight.

Richard Cromwell as Jimmy.

The plans are being worked on at the Fulton Aircraft Co. by draftsman Jimmy Saunders (Cromwell), and he becomes first suspect of the FBI’s Agent Gordon (Armstrong) after their original suspect, Evans (uncredited), is gunned down. We know, however, that the Fulton employee who’s really the spy is Jimmy’s colleague Lester “Les” Taylor (Arnold).

Robert Armstrong as Agent Gordon.

Taylor is working for espionage kingpin Dr. Jeffry (sic) Arnold (Dorn), whose goons Alex (LaRue) and Baronoff (Biberman) were the ones who Continue reading

book: Snow White Must Die (2010; trans 2013 Steven T. Murray) by Nele Neuhaus

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A long, moderately involved police procedural that reads throughout (at least in the English translation) as if it’s sorely in need of a final polish.

Ten years ago young Tobi Sartorius was sent to prison for the murder of two teenage ex-girlfriends on a night when he was drunk to the point that he later could remember nothing of what might have happened. Still, the circumstantial evidence against him was so strong that even he believes he must have committed the double slaying. Now that he’s been released he returns to his home village of Altenhain to discover his parents have split and his father is living as a reclusive, persecuted pariah.

Soon an attempt is made on the life of Tobi’s estranged mother and, in investigating that crime, detectives Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver von Bodenstein of the Division of Violent Crimes in Hofheim find themselves drawn back into re-investigating the crime of which Tobi was found guilty.

Tobi is not entirely Continue reading

Overnight Sensation (1984)

US / 28 minutes / color / Bloom Dir & Pr: Jon N. Bloom Scr: Craig Buck Story: “The Colonel’s Lady” (1947; Creatures of Circumstance) by W. Somerset Maugham Cine: James Glennon Cast: Robert Loggia, Louise Fletcher, Shari Belafonte-Harper, Parley Baer, Lee Garlington, Vincent Guastaferro, Ed Bakey, Kirk Scott, Marcelo Tubert, Mary Woronov, Joanne Dusseau, Eric Poppick.

I’m beginning to think that W. Somerset Maugham is a sort of unsung hero of film noir. A couple of his novels gave rise to SECRET AGENT (1936) and the much later CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY (1944), while his play The Letter (1927) spawned The Letter (1929), The LETTER (1940) and The UNFAITHFUL (1947). His story “Pearls” (1927; vt “A String of Beads”) sparked several TV pieces, including A String of Beads (1953 TVM), which I recently covered on this site. I’m sure more will turn up as this site grows.

Robert Loggia as George.

Overnight Sensation is a loose adaptation of a Maugham story that I haven’t read. (Thanks to an unfortunate encounter with his Cakes and Ale [1930; vt The Skeleton in the Cupboard], which bored me silly when I was about 14, I’ve grossly underread Maugham, something I should rectify.) To be honest, aside from the Maugham connection, its connection to the noir ethos is tenuous at best until the final moments, when the true ironic horror of the situation is revealed. (I’m going to Continue reading

book: The Burgess Boys (2013) by Elizabeth Strout

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I’m really not quite sure why I enjoyed this book as much as I did. It’s for the most part extremely well written (the two or three bits of ugly phrasing — no more than two or three — jar far more than they would in a less accomplished text), but then I read quite a lot of very well written books that have more compelling plots, more incident and more sympathetic characters. Yet for some reason I kept turning the pages of The Burgess Boys, rapt.

When their mother died, the two Burgess boys, Jim and younger brother Bob, left their hometown, Shirley Falls, Maine, for NYC to follow divergent legal careers: Jim became a high-flying defense attorney after succeeding in a spectacular case not unlike the O.J. Simpson one; Bob, by contrast, joined the public defender’s office. Susan, Bob’s twin, stayed on in the family home in Shirley Falls to raise her son Zach, now an ungainly teenager who has difficulty fitting in. (He gives the impression of borderline autism, but apparently that’s not the case.)

One day Zach causes an outcry when Continue reading

Exposed (1947)

US / 59 minutes / bw / Republic Dir: George Blair Assoc Pr: William J. O’Sullivan Scr: Royal K. Cole, Charles Moran Story: Charles Moran Cine: William Bradford Cast: Adele Mara, Robert Scott (i.e., Mark Roberts), Adrian Booth (i.e., Lorna Gray), Robert Armstrong, William Haade, Bob Steele, Harry Shannon, Charles Evans, Joyce Compton, Russell Hicks, Paul E. Burns, Colin Campbell, Edward Gargan, Mary Gordon, Patricia Knox.

Adele Mara as Belinda.

Not long after a goon called Chicago (Steele) tries to abduct her from her normal lunchtime eaterie, PI Belinda Prentice (Mara) is hired by a businessman, Colonel William K. Bentry (Hicks), to investigate his stepson and heir, William “Bill” Foresman III (Scott), who has been behaving unusually—notably by making unexplained withdrawals from company funds.

William Haade as Iggy.

Before Belinda—aided by hunky sidekick Iggy (Haade)—has properly gotten her investigation underway, the Colonel is found dead with a letter opener stuck in his chest. It’s soon revealed that the letter opener is a red herring: he was in the habit of Continue reading