Madame Sin (1972 TVM)

UK / 76 minutes / color / 2X, ITC, ABC Dir: David Greene Pr: Julian Wintle, Lou Morheim Scr: Barry Oringer, David Greene Story: Lou Morheim, Barry Shear (creators) Cine: Tony Richmond Cast: Bette Davis, Robert Wagner, Denholm Elliott, Gordon Jackson, Dudley Sutton, Catherine Schell, Pik-Sen Lim, Alan Dobie, Roy Kinnear, Al Mancini, Paul Maxwell, Charles Lloyd Pack, Paul Maxwell, David Healy, Burt Kwouk.

When retired spy Anthony “Tony” Lawrence (Wagner) turns down a recruitment offer made to him by sophisticatedly scuzzy Malcolm de Vere (Elliott), he’s electronically disabled and flown to an island castle somewhere off the Scottish coast that fronts for the hi-tech lair of Ernst Blofeld Madame Sin (Davis).

Bette Davis as Madame Sin.

Madame Sin is a criminal mastermind who’s surrounded herself with scientists, at least one of them officially dead, who’re capable of doing the most alarming things with technology. It’s through using one of their gadgets, an ultrasound gun capable of sending people into a seemingly drugged semi-coma, that de Vere’s henchwomen, disguised as fetching nuns, disabled Tony so de Vere and sidekick Monk (Sutton) can abduct him.

Robert Wagner as Tony.

Denholm Elliott as de Vere.

Tony was lucky, Madame Sin assures him. Turn up the volume on the gadget and it can Continue reading

Too Many Suspects (1975 TVM)

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“In a few minutes, this woman will be dead. The question is: Who killed her? . . . Match wits with Ellery Queen and see if you can guess: Whodunnit?
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US / 98 minutes / color / Fairmont Foxcroft, Universal Dir: David Greene Pr & Scr: Richard Levinson, William Link Story: The Fourth Side of the Triangle (1965) by Avram Davidson writing as Ellery Queen Cine: Howard Schwartz Cast: Jim Hutton, David Wayne, Ray Milland, Kim Hunter, John Hillerman, John Larch, Tim O’Connor, Nancy Mehta (i.e., Nancy Kovack), Warren Berlinger, Monte Markham, Gail Strickland, Tom Reese, Vic Mohica, Dwan Smith, John Finnegan, Rosanna Huffman, James Lydon, Basil Hoffman, Frannie Michel.

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“B–b–b–b–b–but!” I can hear you cry. “Surely there can be few things less noirish than the pilot movie for an Ellery Queen TV series? Even Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies have more of the mean streets about them than Jim Hutton as Ellery Queen.”

You forget two things. First, that your humble scribe has had an affection for the tales of Ellery Queen that has lasted most of his reading life. Second, that, like it or lump it—and Raymond Chandler famously lumped it—without the strand of crime fiction of which Ellery Queen is a prime representative, the hardboiled strand might not have flourished. And without hardboiled crime fiction we might not have had film noir. Let’s remember, too, that there wasn’t a whole heck of a lot of difference between an Ellery Queen movie of the early 1940s and The FALCON TAKES OVER (1942), based on Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely (1940), or, for that matter, DANGEROUS FEMALE (1931) and SATAN MET A LADY (1935), both based on Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon (1930).

Leaving those justifications aside, the year selected for this month in Rich Westwood’s Crimes of the Century feature at his Past Offences blog is 1975 and, although there were other possible candidate movies—such as Arthur Marks’s humdinger A Woman for All Men (1975)—this was the one that I fancied watching and writing about.

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It’s 1947 in NYC and, as the movie opens in the apartment of swish fashion designer Monica Gray (Mehta/Kovack), we hear a voice in the background:

“Good evening. This is our fourth week of bringing you world and local news through the exciting new medium of television.”

A shot rings out, and what we next see is Monica crawling agonizedly across the carpet to pull the plugs of her TV set and her electric clock from the wall. It is exactly 10.25pm.

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Monica Gray Nancy Kovack) has just moments to live.

The case goes to Inspector Richard Queen (Wayne) of the NYPD’s 3rd Division, and he’s intrigued enough by the supposed clue of the plugs being pulled from their sockets that he lures his son, mystery writer Ellery Queen (Hutton), into the investigation, despite Ellery’s state of panic about Continue reading

I Start Counting (1969)

UK / 105 minutes / color / Triumvirate, UA Dir & Pr: David Greene Scr: Richard Harris Story: I Start Counting (1966) by Audrey Erskine Lindop Cine: Alex Thomson Cast: Jenny Agutter, Bryan Marshall, Clare Sutcliffe, Simon Ward, Gregory Phillips, Madge Ryan, Billy Russell, Lana Morris, Fay Compton, Charles Lloyd Pack, Michael Feast, Lewis Fiander, Lally Bowers, Gordon Richardson.

I Start Counting - 0 opener

In an unnamed suburb of an unnamed large city—it feels much like a London suburb—orphan Wynne Kinch (Agutter), who declares herself to be not so much 14 as nearly 15, lives in a tower block with her adoptive family. She’s suffering a severe adolescent crush—which of course she believes to be the love of her life—on her much older adoptive brother George (Marshall), reckoning that the difference in their ages (he’s 32) won’t matter so much in a few years’ time. He’s one half of the small contracting business Kinch & Wells, Joiners & Decorators, although we’re never introduced to Wells.

One day, as he prepares to take her and her friend Corinne Eldridge (Sutcliffe) to school in the company van, George picks up a package and mentions that he’s just “going to drop this in with Mr. Chapman” . . . except that Wynne spots him instead stuffing it into someone’s dustbin. Earlier that morning, as she spied on him while he was shaving, she noticed scratches on his back. The conclusion seems to her obvious: he must be the serial killer who’s terrorizing the neighborhood, murdering young girls and dumping them on Dalstead Common. That evening Wynne digs out the package from the bin and discovers it’s a sweater she knitted for George, now with a big bloodstain on it.

I Start Counting - 1 The scratches on George's back

The scratches on George’s back.

Wynne’s passion for George is such that she really doesn’t care if he’s a serial killer; somehow their mutual love will solve that little problem, and she’ll be able to shield him from those who would wish to hunt him down and harm him. Rather than report her discovery of the sweater to the authorities—or even to her mum (Ryan) and granddad (Russell)—she smuggles it out to the family’s previous home, now abandoned and scheduled for demolition, and does her best to incinerate it in the furnace there. She gets the job just half done when she realizes the smoke pouring out of the cottage chimney could act as a beacon for the inquisitive . . .

I Start Counting - 2 Corinne & Wynne watch events through the back window of bus

Corinne (Clare Sutcliffe) and Wynne (Jenny Agutter) watch events at a crime scene through the back window of their bus.

That old family home is on the edge of Dalstead Common, and for those who don’t drive—like schoolgirls—can be reached from the nearest bus stop only by crossing the common. Nonetheless Wynne and Corinne come here from time to time to Continue reading

Dark Light, The (1951)

UK / 82 minutes / bw / Hammer, Exclusive Dir & Scr: Vernon Sewell Pr: Michael Carreras Cine: Moray Grant Cast: Albert Lieven, David Greene, Norman MacOwan, Martin Benson, Catherine Blake (i.e. Katharine Blake), Jack Stewart, Joan Carol, John Harvey, John Longden.

Yachtsman Roger (Harvey) and his wife Joan (Carol) are sailing near the Thimble Rock Lighthouse when they see that its light is dark. Going ashore with mate Stephen (Longden), they find a Mary Celeste-like situation, the place obviously having been not long abandoned, albeit in orderly fashion . . .

Flashback to the previous day, when the three-strong crew of the lighthouse—young, near-simpleminded Johnny (Greene), older, cynical Matt (Stewart) and skipper Rigby (MacOwan)—rescue the occupants of a dinghy—Mark Conway (Lieven), Linda (Blake) and Luigi (Benson)—who tell a story of their yacht having foundered. We soon find out that in fact the trio are bank robbers on the run, that under cover of fog they scuppered their escape vessel, the Egret, and that during the robbery Luigi fatally shot a cashier.

The Dark Light - 1 'Coo - one of them's a girl' says Johnny of the dinghy

“Coo — one of them’s a girl,” says sharp-eyed Johnny of the dinghy.

Skipper Rigby is adamant that the trio stay aboard until morning, when help can be sought from a passing ship, but unsurprisingly they want to be well away by then. They rope Matt in to aid them in getting to the French coast and then, when it emerges they’ll have to row the whole way, Linda uses lies and half-promises to lure Johnny into joining them. Just before they depart, unknown to the others, Luigi goes back and, after a fight, murders Continue reading