Saturday, December 31, 2016


This the splash page to MARVEL: THE LOST GENERATION #6 published in September 2000. The lettering, as you can see by the credits, is by Jack Morelli. Note the font used for the word "crisis". Where have we seen that before?

Coincidence? I don't think so.


Carey Lowell (born February 11, 1961), played CIA agent Pam Bouvier in the second Timothy Dalton James Bond thriller, LICENSE TO KILL (1989). The lovely Ms. Lowell has appeared in several films and television series, most notably on LAW AND ORDER from 1996 to 2001.


I must confess that I'm not much of a fan of Agatha Christie. To be honest, I've read exactly one of her books in my life. It was for a class I took in college on detective fiction and for the life of me, I don't remember which book it was other than that it featured Hercule Poirot. I've seen some of the films based on her books but by and large, the type of drawing room murder mysteries that she perfected, along with Dorothy L. Sayers and others, are just not my cup of tea. I enjoy a good puzzle as much as the next reader but for feats of pure detection and ratiocination I much prefer a Sherlock Holmes story. And for crime stories in general, give me something hardboiled, down and dirty every time. Regular readers of this blog can look and see the types of crime stories that float my boat.

That said, I enjoyed watching AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (1945) yesterday afternoon. I'd seen it years ago but had long since forgotten the identity of the killer. It's a simple enough story. Ten people are brought to a remote island by an unknown host. Once assembled, it's revealed that each person is guilty of a heinous crime and they are all to be killed, one by one, until there's only one person left.

The victims are dispatched with aplomb until there are only two people left alive but neither is the killer. That means that someone faked his or her death and is still alive and plotting on the island.

Full of atmosphere, NONE is a claustrophobic exercise in suspense, with most of the action taking place entirely within the confines of a massive house. It's stagy and talky in places but director Rene Clair keeps things moving at a good pace. One curious note: several times throughout the film, characters will look and speak directly into the camera as if addressing the audience.

Veteran character actors Barry Fitzgerald and Walter Huston steal the show with their broad performances while Louis Hayward (looking like the love child of Orson Welles and Raymond Massey), is the stalwart hero of the piece with a secret of his own.

Released in the UK as TEN LITTLE INDIANS, AND THEN THERE WERE NONE follows the stage version of Christie's novel more closely than the novel itself. It's all great, murderous fun and games, a pleasant diversion on a bleak winter's afternoon.

Friday, December 30, 2016


Eunice Gayson, born March 17, 1931 and still with us at the time of this post, appeared as Sylvia Trench in the first two James Bond films, DR. NO (1962) and FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963), which makes her the first official "Bond Girl". The lovely lady also starred in Hammer Films THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958) and on episodes of the British television series DANGER MAN, THE SAINT and THE AVENGERS.


Film noir is a house of cards built on a very shaky foundation. It's a foundation made of sand, that sand comprised of numerous genre tropes and signature elements, among them the deadly femme fatale and protagonists who consistently make bad choices. Bad? Make that lethal.

DETOUR, Edgar G. Ulmer's 1945 minimalist masterpiece, contains both of those elements in spades. Piano player Al (Tom Neal), yearns to break free of the two bit New York night club where he performs nightly, accompanying his girlfriend singer Sue (Claudia Drake). When Sue leaves for greener pastures in California, without asking Al to accompany her, he becomes determined to make his way to the promised land and find Sue by any means necessary.

That means hitchhiking cross country. Along the way, Al is picked up by Charlie Haskell, Jr. (Edmund MacDonald), a glad-handing, big-talker with a questionable past. The two become traveling companions and things are going well until Haskell suddenly collapses dead in the front seat of the car. Al decides to ditch the body, dress himself in the dead man's clothes and continue on to the next big city where he plans to ditch the car. But when he stops for gas, he picks up Vera (Ann Savage), a hitchhiker who had previously ridden with Haskell.

Vera is not your typical film noir femme fatale. She's a fury, a harpy, an uncapped volcano of rage and hatred and all of it is directed at Al. The two become trapped by circumstances, the shrewish Vera screaming at Al and dictating their every move. Al yearns to escape from her clutches and find some way out of the mess he's gotten himself  into. He just wants to go to California, re-connect with Sue and find some modicum of happiness and normalcy.

But that's not to be as things take a wicked, deadly twist for Al and Vera, a twist that sends Al spiraling even deeper into a whirlpool of doom.

Bleak doesn't begin to describe this exercise in existential despair. Shot on a shoestring budget in a matter of days, DETOUR ranks as Ulmer's best film, an undisputed film noir masterpiece. Ulmer, a European emigre, made more than thirty films in the United States from 1933 to 1964 but fame always eluded him. He was stuck doing mostly grade B and lower genre fare, most of which is forgettable, disposable cinematic junk. But he did film THE BLACK CAT (1934), at Universal with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi in their first on-screen pairing. It's a bizarre, outre film, one that ranks second among my favorite Universal horror films after BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935). Ulmer also directed the low-budget science fiction classic, THE MAN FROM PLANET X (1951) in which he got the most out of a minuscule budget and a handful of sets.

DETOUR is one of the touchstones of film noir. If you're just starting to discover the pleasures of noir, this is a great film to start with. Genre veterans and aficionados already know what a terrific film it is. Highly recommended.

Thursday, December 29, 2016


The daily, physical print and ink version of The Austin American-Statesman has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. In fact, I can recall when there were two daily editions, a morning, the American, and an afternoon, the Statesman (or was it the other way around?). And I can recall going downtown on Saturday nights and buying the Sunday paper from an honest to gosh "newsboy" on the corner of Sixth and Congress.

My family always had a subscription and at some point, I took over the cost and became the subscriber. No matter where I've lived over the years, the newspaper was always there, at the foot of the driveway, sometimes wrapped in plastic, sometimes not (and sometimes soaked in water, no matter what) waiting for me. Getting up and going out and getting the paper was an ingrained part of my daily routine. I would read the headlines while I ate my breakfast and then retire to my bedroom (now, upstairs to the man cave) with a cup of coffee to read more, almost always the sports and lifestyle/entertainment (wherever the funnies were) sections. On Sundays, I always read the Books and Insight section, now sadly reduced to just Insight.

As a subscriber, I've also received in my email box every day for the last couple of years, a link to the online version of the Statesman, the e-paper edition. I would never click on this, I always deleted it because I wanted to read my paper the old-fashioned way. As long as the Statesman was offering a print and ink edition, by god, I was going to read it that way, digital be damned. I want a PAPER, dammit. That's the way I've always read it and that's the way I'll continue to read it as along as it's still available.

But times change. When Judy told me a few weeks back how much our annual subscription to the Statesman cost (over $500), I couldn't believe it. That was way too much money to be spending in my opinion and so, it finally came down to a matter of economics. I decided, on my own, to pull the plug on the physical delivery part of the subscription and finally submit to reading the paper online.

This was a major, life-shifting event for me as old habits die hard around here. But like Clint Eastwood said in HEARTBREAK RIDGE, "adapt, overcome, improvise!"

I've been reading the Statesman every morning on my computer for almost a month now. It took me awhile to get used to it and figure out the navigation tools but I'm comfortable with it now. As part of this radical new way to consume the news, I've made a pledge to myself regarding my newspaper reading. In an effort to combat the rampant ignorance in this country, the rise of "fake news", the belief that "facts don't matter", the election of a self confessed and proud of it non-reader to the highest office in the land and a host of other societal ills, I've changed the way I read the paper. I now read the A section almost entirely and if I have time to get deeper into the paper, I do. But I want to be informed about the major, top stories in Austin, Texas, the USA and the world. The only way to fight stupid people is to become smarter yourself.

Granted, there are other bigger daily newspapers out there that offer more content and better reportage. But I claim the Statesman as my own. After all, I've not only been a constant reader I was also a contributor for a time back in the 1990s when I freelanced for them on a regular basis.

So, I've finally entered the 21st century when it comes to reading the newspaper. Who knows what other momentous, life changing events are in store for 2017? Stick with me and let's find out together.


Ann Miller (April 12, 1923-January 22, 2004), was born in Chireno, Texas. She made over forty films in her career, which ran from 1934 to 2001. She appeared mostly in musicals and romantic comedies where she had a chance to dance. And boy, could she dance! I first became aware of her when I was just a kid, seeing her in television commercials. I really had no idea who this woman was other than that she was always smiling and vivacious. It was only later, when I saw some of her films, that I came to really like her. I always found her sexy as hell. I think she would have been great as a femme fatale in a film noir. Does anyone out there know if she ever made such a film? I'd love to see it.


I watched BACKGROUND TO DANGER, a 1943 Warner Brothers WWII spy thriller, for the first time the other night and loved every minute of it. I was not familiar with this one going in but watching it reminded me of the good old days when local television stations would run old movies late at night. Of course, there was always the monster/horror/science fiction stuff that I loved but sometimes, I 'd take a chance on an old film I hadn't heard of and of a different genre and experience the joy of discovery. That's how I first saw CASABLANCA (1941) and several other vintage Warner Brothers films.

BACKGROUND TO DANGER has many similarities to CASABLANCA. It's set in an exotic locale, Turkey, in the midst of WWII and features two of the stars of that film, Peter Lorre and Sydney cGreenstreet. I love these guys and I'll watch anything they appear in together. Lorre excelled at playing weasels while Greenstreet exuded rotund menace (he was often filmed from below, his bulk filling the frame) in every scene. Add in tough guy George Raft (filling in for Bogie, and replete with trench coat) and you've got one checkuva fun little film.

Raft stars as American Joe Barton, a salesman of oil field equipment in the middle east. In fact, he's introduced in a early scene that takes place in, of all places, Aleppo, Syria. Barton soon becomes caught in the middle of a Nazi scheme (engineered by Greenstreet), to flood Turkish newspapers with plans for a Russian invasion into the neutral country. The threat of war would allow the Germans to enter Turkey on the premise of defending them from the non-existent Russian advance and conquer the country. Lorre and Brenda Marshall are two Russian spies who are treated somewhat sympathetically (remember, at this point in the war, the United States and Soviet Russia were allies). But all is not what it seems. SPOILER: Barton is really an American agent and he ultimately teams up with Lorre and Marshall to defeat Greenstreet.

There's plenty of gun fights, car chases, narrow escapes and reversals of fortune to keep the plot moving at a good clip, making the eighty minutes of running time fly by. The screenplay, by W.R. Burnett (with contributions by William Faulkner and Daniel Fuchs) is based on Eric Ambler's 1937 novel UNCOMMON DANGER. Director Raoul Walsh makes good use of the Warner back lot, stock footage (one scene is lifted directly from CASABLANCA) and miniature work to create a Turkey that could only exist in a Hollywood film. Future director Don Siegel edited the many montage sequences that appear in the film, a task he also performed on CASABLANCA.

BACKGROUND TO DANGER isn't a classic, masterpiece by any means. But it is one helluva good little movie, one which I thoroughly enjoyed. One thing I really liked was the title card of the film:

A font style that was later used here:

Friday, December 16, 2016


Imagine someone like notorious bad movie maker Ed Woods mounting a sequel to Orson Welles's CITIZEN KANE (1941). The film does not need a sequel but if one was to be made, the last person you would want to be in charge of the production would be the hapless, clueless and untalented Wood.

While not on quite the same level of ineptitude involved in the above scenario, that's kind of what happened when hack director Peter Hyams helmed 2010 (1984), a sequel to Stanley Kubrick's immortal masterpiece 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968). Hyams, who began his directorial career in 1972, had previously directed only two science fiction films, the cult favorite CAPRICORN ONE (1978) and the Sean Connery starring outer space murder mystery OUTLAND (1981). Neither film was very good but Hyams was working steadily and producing slightly upscale B movies. But he was no George Lucas or Steven Spielberg and he was certainly no Stanley Kubrick. 

2001 was a landmark achievement in both film in general and the cinema of the fantastic in particular. It was ambitious, ambiguous, puzzling, mysterious and full to bursting with awe and wonder. It left many moviegoers scratching their heads and wondering what it was that they had just seen.

The screenplay by Arthur C. Clarke and Kubrick was turned into a novel by Clarke and reading that book answered some of the questions raised by the film but 2001 was, in many ways, a Rorschach test for each individual viewer. In short, it could mean almost whatever you wanted it to mean. It didn't need a sequel to explain away dangling plot threads and tie up loose ends. It was complete and total unto itself, a remarkable cinematic experience that was like nothing ever seen before.

But Clarke himself penned the sequel novel 2010: ODYSSEY TWO in 1982 and when the book was purchased and went into production by MGM Studios, Peter Hyams was put in charge. He did quadruple duty as director, producer, screenwriter and cinematographer (there's a rumor that he also drove the craft services truck). Kubrick didn't offer any objections and consented to let Hyams make the film as long as he would "just go do your own movie."

Set nine years after the failure of the Discovery One mission in the first film, Dr. Heywood Floyd (Roy Scheider), has retired from the National Council for Astronautics, feeling guilty over the deaths of the Discovery crew members. He's a university chancellor now but at the beginning of the film he's approached by a Russian scientist who tells him that the Russians are launching their own mission to Jupiter in an attempt to recover the Discovery and find out what went wrong. They need help from Floyd and two other American scientists (Bob Balaban and John Lithgow) and since the Russians mission is already planned and can get to deep space before an American crew can launch, Floyd signs on.

The Russian ship is  commanded by Tanya Kirbuk (get it?) (Helen Mirren). They find the Discovery spinning in orbit around Jupiter. The vessel is secured and breached and HAL 9000 is reactivated. But before you know it, another mysterious monolith appears in space, this one bigger than the ones seen before. A Russian astronaut dies attempting to explore the monolith, a tragedy which sets in motion a chain of events that will radically transform that sector of the solar system.

2010 answers some questions posed by Kubrick's film while creating more mysteries of it own. It's not the dazzling adventure through time and space that was a highlight of 2001 but it is, believe it or not, actually a fairly solid piece of outer space exploration and adventure. Hyams does a decent job in all of his various tasks and the film received five Academy Award nominations: Best Art Direction, Best Makeup, Best Visual Effects, Best Costume Design and Best Sound. 

Arthur C. Clarke has a cameo appearance early in the film. He's seen sitting on a park bench, feeding pigeons, outside of the White House while Floyd has a meeting on an adjacent bench. And a dummy copy of TIME magazine is seen in one shot with the headline "WAR" above head shots of Clarke and Kubrick.

2010 is not a bad movie. However, it is an entirely unnecessary one and I can't help but wish that all of that money, time and talent was put towards making an original science fiction film instead of a footnote to a masterpiece. 

Sunday, December 11, 2016


I halfway watched DAMON AND PYTHIAS (1962) this afternoon. When I wasn't watching the film, I was enjoying several unscheduled short naps on the couch. But even dozing off a few times didn't hurt my movie viewing. I had no trouble picking up on what was going on in this lackluster, routine "sword and sandal" adventure film. Based on the Greek legend of Damon and Pythias and set in Syracuse during the reign of Dionysius (432-367 BC), is pretty standard stuff. There are no muscle men in the cast, no fantasy elements at all, a couple of attractive Italian actresses (Ilaria Occhini and Liana Orfei)  and a rather meager budget with which to bring the screenplay, by Samuel Marx, Franco Riganti, Paola Ojetti and Bridget Boland, to life under the yeoman direction of Curtis Bernhardt. An epic it ain't.

What's most interesting about this film is the presence of American actor Guy Williams in the role of Damon. Williams rocketed to fame and fortune by riding a midnight black stallion and playing the part of Zorro in the ABC-TV series from 1957-1959. During the course of two seasons, 78 thirty minute episodes were produced by Walt Disney Studios for airing in prime time. Four additional hour long episodes were later broadcast in 1960 and 1961. ZORRO was a smash hit for all concerned. The network got high ratings while Disney cashed in with tons of tie-in merchandise and two theatrically released films that were comprised of various episodes edited together.

And of course, Williams became a bonafide star and household name. And why not? He was tall, dark and handsome with dashing good looks and he played Zorro to perfection. For many baby-boomers, his interpretation of this masked swashbuckling righter-of-wrongs is the definitive one.

So, given all of that, you would naturally assume that big things were awaiting Williams when production of ZORRO ceased. He ended up going to Europe (as many American actors did in those days), where he made DAMON AND PYTHIAS in Italy in 1962, followed by CAPTAIN SINDBAD in Germany the same year. By the way, CAPTAIN SINDBAD has no relation to Ray Harryhausen's SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958). There was a Gold Key movie comic adaptation of the film, a comic I happen to own, along with a copy of the film on DVD. I have yet to watch it but maybe one of these days....

Williams returned to the United States to appear on the hugely popular western TV series BONANZA, which dominated it's time period Sunday nights on NBC for years. Williams was cast as Ben Cartwright's (Lorne Greene) nephew but he only appeared in five episodes before the part was dropped due to fears of co-star Pernell Roberts, who played Adam Cartwright, that Williams would usurp his screen time.

But Williams landed on his feet in a big way. He starred as Professor John Robinson on Irwin Allen's LOST IN SPACE, which ran on CBS from 1965-1968.

Getting back to DAMON AND PYTHIAS. It isn't a bad movie. I've certainly seen worse "sword and sandal" movies. It's earnest and straightforward with fairly decent performances from most of the cast, especially Williams. It just wasn't compelling enough for me to stave off several short naps. Your mileage may vary.

Friday, December 9, 2016


Take a long, hard look at the cover art of THE SHADOW: THE WEALTH SEEKER, pictured above. The art is by the legendary comic book artist Jim Steranko. It's a fabulous, evocative image, redolent with the heady perfume of pulp fiction. A beautiful, buxom, raven ctressed damsel in distress. A masked villain in formal clothes (dig that top hat!) with a tommy gun (my favorite old-time firearm) pointed at our hero, the masked avenger of the night, The Shadow. I love it! The shame is that no scene remotely like this one occurs anywhere within the actual pulp novel reprinted behind this cover. And that's a real shame because THE WEALTH SEEKER sure could have used the vitality that this artwork radiates.

THE WEALTH SEEKER by Walter Gibson, was the 46th Shadow pulp adventure published. It came out in January 1934, the very heart of the Great Depression. The paperback reprint pictured above (and that I finished reading the other night), was published in February 1978. With it's narrative roots in a time of immense economic hard times, it's only fitting that the plot of WEALTH SEEKER should deal primarily with money.

Folsom Satruff (love these names!) is a very wealthy individual who gives large sums of money away to folks in need. He does so under the mysterious name of "Dorand". Only a small circle of friends and confidants are aware of Satruff's secret identity but it's not long before gangdom discovers the secret and plots to rob the millionaire's home, where he keeps his treasures in a fortified vault. Two separate assaults result in the deaths of several mobsters but during the robbery attempts, it becomes clear that there's someone inside the "Dorand" operation who is leaking information to the underworld, vital secrets about the whereabouts of the treasure and how best to capture it.

The identity of the inside man is finally revealed at novel's end but frankly, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. If this person is acquiring all of these ill-gotten gains, why is he so quick to give some of it away? Is it a money laundering scheme? This plot point is never really made clear.

On balance, THE WEALTH SEEKER is a pretty routine mystery novel. The Shadow doesn't have a whole lot to do in this one except engage in several gun battles in which his immense automatics spit flame and leaden death. The hard truth about the pulp jungle is that authors like Gibson were cranking these books out under an incredible deadline and they didn't always have the luxury of a second draft or careful edit and rewrite. It was get this one written and submitted to the editors and immediately start work on the next one. Under such circumstances no reader or Shadow fan can possibly expect every novel to be a great one. Sometimes you just have to settle for "okay".

But even a merely "okay" original Shadow pulp thriller is worth reading and enjoying.

Friday, December 2, 2016


Anthony Horowitz's MORIARTY (2015), is a Sherlock Holmes story in which the Great Detective does not appear. That's because the action in the book takes place after the "deaths" of both Moriarty and Holmes at Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, an event that Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle engineered to get rid of the characters. The death of Holmes was, of course, temporary, as Doyle eventually was forced to resurrect the sleuth due to reader demand.

Here, both Holmes and Moriarty have met their deaths in the treacherous falls. Scotland Yard inspector Athelney Jones, a Holmes protege, is on the scene to investigate, tie up loose ends and confirm the deaths, While in Switzerland, he meets Pinkerton agent Frederick Chase, an American detective who has come to Europe with a specific task. American master criminal Clarence Devereux and his henchmen, have come to London to fill the void left by the death of Moriarty. Devereux intends to be the new king of crime in the London underworld and it's up to Jones and Chase to put a stop to his nefarious plans.

All that sounds pretty simple and straightforward but it's not. That's because MORIARTY is one gigantic magic trick, a feat of literary prestidigitation that Horowitz executes with remarkable skill and aplomb. For three quarters of the book he has us looking over here, when what's really happening is going on over here. It's a remarkable "gotcha" narrative moment that I did not see coming and one which I guarantee will take you by surprise.

Fun and fast paced, MORIARTY is the second Horowitz Holmes novel. Both his previous book, THE HOUSE OF SILK and this one are fully authorized by the Conan Doyle Estate Ltd. and that's a genuine seal of approval for Holmes fans. MORIARTY would make one heck of a good movie if anyone is paying attention. It's far better material than either of the lame Robert Downey Jr. Holmes films.

Read MORIARTY and prepare to be amazed by a literary sleight of hand that will leave you in awe of master magician  Anthony Horowitz. Highly recommended.