Friday, September 4, 2015

Friday (Not so) Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN by Peter Lovesey


Not really forgotten or overlooked since this is Lovesey's latest in the popular Peter Diamond series set in Bath, England, but what the heck. I did have a couple of other books lined up but then I saw that John (at Pretty Sinister Books) had already beaten me to the punch. So I got into a snit and decided to review the Diamond book since it was still lingering in my mind and you know how rare an occurrence that can be.

I've been reading Peter Lovesey's Chief Inspector Peter Diamond books for several years and while they can be either hit or miss, I'm glad to say that I enjoyed this latest one very much. Nothing can beat THE HOUSESITTER which I think is Lovesey's best Diamond book so far (of the ones I've read, that is) - a classic in police procedural detection - but I keep hoping he'll come up with something as good or better one of these days. So far - no dice. But still I liked this latest effort. (My second favorite, since you must be wondering, is THE VAULT.)

The last few Diamond books have been so/so in my opinion, though others have liked them more than I. What can I say? I'm either hard to please or maybe I don't know what I'm talking about. Take your pick.

In DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN, we finally have Lovesey getting back to form or at least, the form that I like.

Here, a very reluctant Peter Diamond is forced to take a trip out of Bath alongside his boss, Assistant Chief Constable Georgina Dallymore. The officious Dallymore is very hard to take and nowhere in any of the books does she actually come alive as a real person. Hard to tell why, but there it is. Still she's in the story more as a prop for Diamond to play against and for that, she's fine.

The two are on their way to check up on a fellow cop who's been relieved of duty because of some sort of bad show. Unfortunately, the cop is Hen Mallin, a detective whom Diamond admires and has worked with in the past. (Actually there is a Hen Mallin series begun by Peter Lovesey which is about three books along - I have one waiting for me at the library as we speak.)

At any rate, we suspect going in that all is not how it seems, but we wait to find out how Diamond is going to get to the bottom of a case (while partially keeping his boss in the dark) that begins as alleged police misconduct but spreads outward to include an egregious multitude of missing persons, several murders, a man wrongly convicted, a bunch of eccentric artists, a girls' school, a guy who specializes in an ingenious method of disposing of bodies and my only quibble (a very minor one) is that in the end the guilty person confesses all in a most unlikely way.

When it comes to modern day police procedurals, Peter Diamond is an acquired taste; I like that he operates out of Bath (mostly) and the clever cases contrived by Lovesey are usually pretty hard nuts to crack. However, Diamond lacks charm and can be off-putting. He is a widower with a gruff persona (and little sense of humor) who shines at police investigation especially when he's rubbing his superiors the wrong way. Sound familiar?

For charm I'd go to inspector Bill Slider in the London police procedural books written by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. Very similar type series but set in London and Slider has a quiet charm so lacking in Diamond. But in truth, they're both good series if you like this type of thing, and I do.

Since it's Friday, don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.


Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday Forgotten Book: MURDER GONE MAD (possibly 1931) by Philip MacDonald


I suppose Philip MacDonald is best known as the author of THE LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER - an Anthony Gethryn book - which was turned into a rather strange 1963 Make-up Fest movie joke by John Huston, a joke that didn't work. The only things that saved the film (at least for me) were the basic plot (one of the most ingenuous of all time), the actors George C. Scott, Jacques Roux, Herbert Marshall, Clive Brook AND a terrific ending. In fact, the movie has a much better ending than the book. MacDonald's endings always seemed to need work.

MURDER GONE MAD as another example, a very odd book in one major respect: the murderer is really, REALLY mad but no reason for the madness is given by the author. Now, normally, I wouldn't mind that so much if only I got a hint of the sort of mania plaguing the killer (not that I want a whole chapter devoted to the killer's thoughts - no, I hate that) but a hint here and there seems, to me, a bit necessary for this sort of thing.

Killer mania in and of itself - existing in a vacuum so to speak - is just not that interesting. So the ending of MURDER GONE MAD is a bit deflating, even if the choice of killer is surprising. (Mystery experts among us might begin to figure it out about three quarters of the way in.) I mean, why was this person driven to kill? Give us a hint. (Or maybe MacDonald did and I missed it?)

Still, I'm recommending this book for those who enjoy a real, rip-roaring, can't put it down, old fashioned serial killer rampage set in an English country town. Warning, though, the first murder is very hard to take and I wonder at MacDonald's beginning the book this way, but if you skim it, you'll be all right - the rest of the book is terrific. It all depends on what you read these books for. They're not meant to be real life after all - that's what I tell myself. Hard as it may be to believe, I read vintage mysteries for relaxation. Yeah, strange, I know. But I think it's all about the bad guy getting it in the end. I'm not, lately, in the mood for ambivalence.

What makes MURDER GONE MAD eminently readable - at least to me - is the frenzied hunt for the killer. Philip MacDonald was a master at creating mass hysteria, nasty murderers and police turmoil.

In MURDER GONE MAD, we have a killer sending taunting letters (significantly signed, 'the butcher') to the newspaper, and a bunch of local cops unable to get a handle on things as the murders mount. Superintendent Arnold Pike of the Criminal Investigation Department - a guy with an obvious rep - is taken off another job and sent to the village of Holmdale, in order to catch a clever killer and most importantly, stop 'questions from being asked in the House'.

"...If only these country police would ask us in at once instead of waiting until they've made a mess of everything, life might be easier."

Pike nodded. "By jing, sir," he said, "I echo that wish!" He turned to the door; then checked. "By the way, sir," he said, 'heard anything of Colonel Gethryn [Anthony Gethryn] How he is, I mean, sir?"

Lucas grinned and shook his head. "No. Beyond the fact that he's going to be in bed for another three weeks with that leg, nothing." He smiled at Pike with some slyness. "Why? Want help already?"

Pike laughed. "I'm not proud, sir, you know. I was just wondering whether, if he wasn't doing anything, he might like to come down."

"Well, he can't," said Lucas and laughed again. "And, anyhow, it's not his line, and you know it. This isn't a job for a man so much as a job for an organization. When you can't find a motive - in fact, where there isn't a motive, you're dealing with some form or other of lust-killing; and to pick a lust-killer - who may be, on the surface, a most ordinary, respectable citizen - out of a crowd of six thousand citizens isn't a job which can be done by deduction. It's got to be done by massed police work, cleverly directed..."

So Pike is sent to 'cleverly direct' and we know it's not going to be an Anthony Gethryn book.

But all in all, despite the ending, MURDER GONE MAD is worth tracking down. (Abe Books has some very cheap copies with free delivery.)

An aside: MacDonald wrote at least one other serial killer book (also read recently by yours truly) called, MYSTERY OF THE DEAD POLICE which is almost as good (despite needing major editing and tightening). But the difference is that in this book, we do learn the killer's motivation through several chapters written from his point of view. Yeah, yeah, I said I hated that - but I hung in there with this one (the chapters aren't that long or involved). You all know how contrary I can be.

I will definitely be hunting down more Philip MacDonald books even if I didn't like the first Anthony Gethryn, THE RASP and didn't think much of THE RYNOX MURDER, (mainly because I figured out the big surprise early). Thankfully, MacDonald wrote a lot of books.

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book is a weekly meme hosted by author Patricia Abbott at her blog, Pattinase. Don't forget to check in and see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Tuesday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film: KRAKATOA KATIE starring Mighty Mouse



Two days late and you know how that goes. But since today is the official anniversary of the most gigantic, earth shattering (practically) natural eruption ever: Krakatau aka Krakatao volcano in 1883, what film could possibly be more appropriate? MIGHTY MOUSE IN KRAKATOA, released in 1945 and directed by Connie Rasinski for Terry Toons.

The History channel has all the info on Mother Nature's most volatile eruption. A volcanic event which was felt around the world. In fact, it would surprise me if we weren't all still breathing Krakatau dust.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sunday Salon: Water Music

French painter Paul Signac (1963 - 1935) - Capo di Noli, 1898


American painter Childe Hassam (1859 - 1935)



French painter Robert Antoine Pinchon (1886 - 1943) - via


American Impressionist painter Guy Rose (1867 - 1925) Mist Over Point Lobos


French painter Gustave Caillebotte (1848 - 1894) - via Sunflowers on the Banks of the Seine


English painter Dame Laura Knight (1877 - 1970) - via


American contemporary painter Carol Zimmerman - via


American painter John Singer Sargent (1856 - 1925) - via


American contemporary painter Jennifer Diehl - via


Nice places to be, near the water, in the water, on the water. Especially during these ultra heated days of August. I like to pretend. And here are some wonderful paintings to pretend with. Of course, accompanied by Handel's 'Water Music'.


Friday, August 21, 2015

Friday Forgotten Book: THE DOORS OF SLEEP (1955) by Thurman Warriner


I know nothing whatever about this author except that he was an English writer who wrote mysteries and most of them are impossible to find. (Though the ones he wrote under the pseudonym of Simon Troy are easier to find in this country.) But thanks to my friend John at Pretty Sinister Books, I am now the proud owner of a Penguin copy of THE DOORS OF SLEEP (as unprepossessing a mystery title as anyone can imagine but there's method to the madness) and even more importantly, I loved reading it and getting to meet the quirky crime-solving, twosome, Mr. Ambo and Archdeacon Toft.

Since John reviewed this just last month on his blog, all I'm going to do is link to his post and let you read (if you haven't already) his excellent review. He will reveal to you the ample delights in store.

Link to John's review here.

THE DOORS OF SLEEP is a nice, old fashioned good against evil type plot, the evil part being troweled on with a heavy hand (not that I mind that) in the person of one rather vile individual named Charlesworth Vinery. A creature who positively dotes on nasty behavior, especially towards his young and saintly wife who for reasons unknown hasn't yet stuck a knife in him and run off with his younger brother, the composer. She and the younger he are bound by honor though her hubby is bound by nothing. He even keeps a room in the house dedicated to evil thoughts (or some such thing) - a room known as the 'the sanctuary' - yeah a very nasty type is Mr. Vinery.

WORSE YET, he was known, once upon a time, to have killed a cat, or at least so the rumor goes. I mean, can it get any worse than that?

How is such a man to be dealt with? More importantly, why did his wife marry him in the first place? That part of the story isn't fleshed out much, and since we enter the story when all this is a fait accompli, we push forward from there.

The elderly Mr. Ambo and his pal, the also elderly and rather rotund, Archdeacon Toft have been invited by Vinery for a few days stay. Mr. Ambo (whom I instantly adored) has known the heroine since she was a child and is worried not only for her safety but for her sanity. Something has to be done, but what?

Okay, enough from me - go read John's review, he has all the plot details - the stuff I always forget.

In truth, THE DOORS OF SLEEP is a cozy masquerading as a dark tale of terror. Which it also kind of is. You'll see.

Since it's Friday, it's Forgotten Book Day over at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase Don't forget to check in and see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Forgotten (or Overlooked) Films: 23 PACES TO BAKER STREET (1956) starring Van Johnson, Vera Miles and Cecil Parker


The Spanish poster for 23 PACES TO BAKER STREET - Of all the film's posters online, this is the one I liked best. So A 23 PASOS DE BAKER STREET it is.

The last time I watched this film it was years ago on late night television, prior to that I'd seen it in the theater with friends. Admittedly, this is the sort of film that does very well in a theater setting, less so on TV and even less so on my computer screen. But there's no denying it has its moments, primarily because of its foggy London-town atmospherics.

My main problem is that Van Johnson is so caustic in the lead role that you can't for one moment imagine anyone having tender feelings for him (Johnson almost always had this screen persona which is what, in my view, kept him from reaching the very top tier of leading men during the heyday of ). But the film still works on other levels, still engaging and still drawing you into the vile mystery at its heart: the worst sort of crime, the kidnapping of a child.

23 PACES TO BAKER STREET is a 1956 film directed by Henry Hathaway with a screenplay by Nigel Balchin based on a Philip MacDonald's suspense novel. (MacDonald of THE LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER writing fame.) The stars are Van Johnson, Vera Miles and the always appealing Cecil Parker. It's shot in the color of the day which tends to look grubby in hindsight and you might as well forget about the outside night scenes - black and nearly impenetrable.


At any rate, Phillip Hannon (Van Johnson) is a successful American playwright living in London. For reasons unknown to us, he has lost his eyesight and as the film opens, he is a blind, bitter and resentful man. Not a lot of laughs is our Philip. He does, however, have an associate, Bob Matthews (Cecil Parker) who (for reasons equally unexplained) remains at his side to run errands, transcribe Hannon's work and handle whatever else needs handling.

Having left behind a broken engagement to his one time secretary, Jean Lennox (Vera Miles), Hannon is surprised one evening when she shows up in London on a holiday. Though she nervously behaves as if she's stepping on eggshells when dealing with the playwright, it's not hard to tell that she's still in love with him. (The question is: why?) Well, it's equally obvious that Hannon wants nothing to do with her in any romantic way and he basically dismisses her visit and thanks for stopping by - that sort of thing. Very ungentlemanly. But you're supposed to understand that he's only behaving this way for her own good. Right.

That same night he makes his way to a local pub to have a drink. While there he overhears a sinister sounding conversation. (And may I chime in with a word for the delightful Estelle Winwood who plays the barkeep at the pub. She's wonderful as always.)


Alarmed by what he overhears, Hannon goes to the police with his story and naturally enough they have a hard time believing what he believes  - that some sort of crime is being planned. But since Hannon is a famous playwright, they humor him and do make some desultory inquires which lead nowhere.


But Hannon - from memory - has recorded the conversation he overheard at the pub, on his large taping apparatus (which he uses to create his plays). "Dialogue is my business," he says, rightly enough and he broods over the thing until he comes up with a couple of ideas that may or may not put him and his friends in peril. You see he'd overheard a couple of names and a date and knows that time is of the essence.


Putting his friends in peril doesn't seem to bother Hannon much and the fact that his blindness might put him in physical danger doesn't seem to occur to him. It's full speed ahead most especially when he figures out that what he overheard has something to do with the possible kidnapping of a child. Then, of course, we say go right ahead and get yourself killed - the saving of a child is worth any risk. (Though one wonders why Hannon doesn't just hire a private detective to do his running around - but why quibble.)


Very quickly, Hannon and Bob (Cecil Parker) and Jean (Vera Miles) team up to figure out the who and the what of the nasty  plot, Jean, grateful, that Hannon is showing an interest in life. But soon after that, Hannon stupidly finds himself in deadly peril of his own making but is rescued by Bob and the cops. And that very night, Scotland Yard shows up to discuss the murder of the young woman whom Hannon had initially overheard speaking in the bar. But clues are few and far between and the Yard hardly knows where to begin their investigation though Hannon tells them that whatever is going to happen is going to happen the next day.

This is a good film that could have been even better, but maybe I'm being picky. We do get a proper hair-raising encounter in the and a surprise which is no real surprise to those of us who have been reading and viewing mysteries since the dawn of time, though the effect is still good.

Actually this is the sort of film that passes muster on a cold winter night when one is comfortably ensconced before the television with a hot cup of tea and a scone or two. Though I watched it again on a hot summer night with a glass of white wine. Good enough.

Just a thought: This would probably lend itself to a rather good remake starring, oh, say, Colin Firth.
Then again, what film wouldn't benefit by the inclusion of Colin Firth - thinking out loud here.

And since it's Tuesday, don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other forgotten or overlooked films, television or other audio-visuals other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Friday Forgotten Books: HOUSES OF DOOM

'Past the House of Mystery' by American painter Charles Burchfield (1893 - 1967) This artwork has not (to my knowledge) ever been used for the cover of a mystery, but wouldn't you agree that it should be? 

Murderous Houses. You know what I mean. Of course they feature most especially in gothic mysteries, but not always, regular mysteries like a nicely spooky house too though occasionally the mystery within has little to do with the house on the cover. (I hate when that happens.) The creepy house is simply there as a lure for suckers like me.

For if the cover art features a sinister house, then I will always pick up the book and, at least, take a good look. And doesn't it make your blood boil when the title features a house but the cover art doesn't? Drives me mad. But then, I've been known to overreact.













via

And since it's Friday, don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked mysteries other bloggers are talking about today. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Tuesday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film Turned On Its Head - Sort Of. And A Quiz - Sort of.

American artist, Mabel Dwight via

And now for something a little different: 

Off the top of my head (no looking things up), I've listed a few viscerally unforgettable moments from movies of the past. Things I'll never forget (even burdened with old lady memory).

When you finish reading my faves, I expect you to name a few of yours (that's kind of the quizzy part) off the top of your head(s) and no fair looking things up.

Okay, here goes:

Listed in the order I thought of them, (more or less) and separated by color to make them easier to read:

The lit match cut to the heat of the desert in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. One of the great examples of the film editor's art.

The approach from a far off distance of Omar Sharif on camel-back from LAWRENCE OF 
ARABIA.

The very first glimpse of C3PO in the first chaotic scenes on board the enemy ship in STAR WARS. I was thunderstruck.

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing Cheek to Cheek in TOP HAT, where his dancing is tantamount to making love to her.

Gene Kelly's ambitious American in Paris ballet sequence in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS done to Gershwin's music. The yellow jockey outfit. The yellow jockey outfit. Gene Kelly's tush.

'What are the 39 steps?' question shouted by Hannaday from the music hall audience near the end of THE 39 STEPS

Woman with knife in back stumbles out of the kitchen into Richard Hannay's arms near the beginning of THE 39 STEPS.

The very atmospheric (and frightening) swimming pool scene in CAT PEOPLE

The heart pounding opening credits of one of the more underrated westerns, THE BIG COUNTRY.

The thunderous approach to the canyon of Charles Bickford's riders in THE BIG COUNTRY.

'Generosity! That was my first mistake.' Eli Wallach as the Mexican bandit responds as the seven gunfighters pop out of the woodwork in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.

The scene where La Bete (the Beast) laps water out of Beauty's cupped hands in LA BELLE ET LA BETE.

The scene where the Beast carries Beauty into her bedroom and as they move into the room, her clothes change magically in LA BELLE ET LA BETE.

The glove, and the mystical white horse in LA BELLE ET LA BETE.

The hanging laundry scene in LA BELLE ET LA BETE.

The scene where Beauty walks through the long tiled hall of the castle and the candelabras are arms holding candles which sway as she glides by in LA BELLE ET LA BETE.

The end of A NEW LEAF where Walter Matthau is resigned to his fate.

The scene in LAURA where Gene Tierney (Laura) walks through the door and catches Dana (the gloomy cop) Andrews off guard.

The scene at the museum with the fragile dinosaur skeleton near the very end of BRINGING UP BABY.

The Manhattan lightning storm at the beginning of THE GHOST BREAKERS.

The erotically charged close up of Jean Simmons lying on the beach after she's escaped from the yacht (she'd been kidnapped) in THE BLUE LAGOON.


The extraordinary opening sequence by, I think, Saul Bass to a very bad film, WALK ON THE WILD SIDE. Ignore the film, but watch the opening credits.

The scissor scene where Grace Kelly kills the man trying to kill her in DIAL M FOR MURDER.

"Frau Brucher!" sends the horses rearing up in terror from Mel Brooks' YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.

"Is this England?" asks Mel Brooks (dressed as Hitler) at the very, very end of his imperfect interpretation of the Jack Benny classic, TO BE OR NOT TO BE.

How many of these moments do you remember? 

Here's the chance to name some of your own favorites. Don't be bashful. We're all movie mavens here.

In addition, here are more moments that I remembered afterwards and banged my head for not remembering them the first time around:

The shipwreck in THE BLACK STALLION, the horse jumping over the railing.

The horse's hooves as they swim underwater for the first time in THE BLACK STALLION.

The horse gingerly approaches the boy on the desert island and takes the food offered him in THE BLACK STALLION.

The boy wakes to find a cobra about to strike - the horse appears out of nowhere and pounds the snake into the sand in THE BLACK STALLION.

The helicopter shot of the boy riding the horse for the first time in THE BLACK STALLION.

Later, in the credits, the boy and horse rolling in the sand in THE BLACK STALLION.

The opera scene in THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION.

The scene in BAMBI when the frantic doe tells her boy, "Run. Run and don't look back!" 

The nude swimming sequence in TARZAN AND HIS MATE.

In ET, the magical moment when the kids on bikes fly away as they're about to be cornered by government agents.

Also:

Since it's Tuesday, don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what forgotten (or overlooked) Films, Television or Other Audio/Visuals other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: OPERATION PAX (1951) by Michael Innes (John Appleby - Number 12)


I know, I know, I promised no more Michael Innes.  I lied.

So here we are again. And you're probably relieved to learn that I'm not reviewing THE CASE OF THE JOURNEYING BOY as well, another amazingly wonderful Innes book. In fact, that and OPERATION PAX were so good (read them one into the other) my brain is till humming. But I'm only going to review the one this time out. Tossed a coin.

Note: It's no secret that I will love any book set in or near Oxford especially if they are as exciting and well written as this one.

More a thriller than a mystery, OPERATION PAX is another in the decidedly loony adventures into which Michael Innes was so fond of tossing his Scotland Yard Inspector, John Appleby. The occasionally too sedate Appleby began life at Scotland Yard and somehow along the way, became landed gentry, an unofficial 'spy' and a dogged suppressor of bad guys bent on world domination, all rolled into one. How he manages to remain so calm is beyond me. Extreme and willing suspension of disbelief is needed if you're to go along with these plots and accept as rational all manner of absurdity. Luckily, I have more than enough willing suspension for all of us.

The story begins in a rather unpromising sort of way, we're at a bank alongside a weaselly con-man and thief named Routh, who, when we first meet him is in the midst of trying to profit from his latest small time con. A coward and a sneak, Routh quickly finds himself on the run in the English countryside where he is soon caught up in the sinister activities of the inhabitants of a manor house in Milton Porcorum, another of those oddly named places the English are so enamored of.

Routh on the lamb is never for one moment allowed to become sympathetic (although I kind of wish he had been) but he is, nevertheless, the unlikely magnet which draws the various ingredients together in this, yet another Innes plot of world domination.

In OPERATION PAX we will meet Jane Appleby, Inspector Appleby's college-age sister who is up at Oxford, engaged to be married and becoming concerned when her fiance goes missing. Later, the most thrilling part of the story is very nicely turned over to Jane when she jumps deep into the fray with a heroically inclined cab-driver named Roger Remnant (who first tells her he is a twin named 'Enery) at her side, to hunt down a nest of culprits who, earlier, may or may not have kidnapped her fiance.

Just short of Witney, it occurred to Jane that the young man styling himself 'Enery might eventually find her behaviour odd. She had very little to go upon. Indeed, all she could do was to poke about Milton Porcorum inquiring for an ambulance. And that must be a proceeding that would strike anyone as a little out of the way. She had better, therefore, do some explaining. On the other hand it would not do to explain too much. It she announced that it was her aim to track down and interview a number of men who had just carried out a highly criminal abduction, he might suppose her to be mad or at least unwomanly. He would probably suggest applying to the police. 

But she had done that - she was sure in the most effective way possible - by sending John the telegram; and now it was a point of honour to push straight in herself. If the ambulance led to Geoffrey [Jane's fiance] , and to piercing the dark veil that had made a nightmare of her life week after week for what seemed an eternity, she must follow it at any hazard whatsoever, and with all the speed that a hired car could muster.

Jane determined to reopen communications. She therefore leant across the front seat. "May I explain a little?" she asked.

"Does a romantic secret cloud your birth too?"

Jane ignored this. "What I'm looking for," she said, "is an ambulance."

"Isn't that a trifle pessimistic? I'm quite a careful driver - although you are making me go at a fair lick."

"It's impossible to talk to you."

"Not a bit. I'm attending. And I'll find you an ambulance if I possibly can. Any particular sort?"

"I want to trace an ambulance. It left Oxford - Radcliffe Square, to be exact - at eleven o'clock, and I think it's going to this Milton Porcorum, or to somewhere near there. There is somebody in it that I want to keep in contact with. Only I wasn't told just where it's bound for."

The young man received this in silence. But he had the air of giving the matter a good deal of thought. When he did speak, it was with appearance of irrelevance. "My name is not 'Enery."

"I didn't think that it was for a moment."

This is the kind of writing that speaks volumes to me and which will keep me reading ad infinitum. Why? Because I love this sort of adventure and these sorts of people. Have done so since I was a kid.

The last part of the book which mostly takes place in the vaulted underground beneath Oxford's Bodleian Library is mysterious, atmospheric, thrilling, spooky and a library lover's delight.

Look, OPERATION PAX is a book filled with surprises galore, a very major red herring, a group of clever, sinister and seemingly omniscient bad guys, a remote estate in the middle of nowhere, lions (yes, lions, well, one lion) and tigers, a bunch of obstreperous school boys and girls on bikes who arrive just in the nick of time, a man inside a cat, bizarre experiments, and as if that weren't enough, there's a mysterious formula copied on a slip of paper by the aforementioned Routh, which must be found at all costs. You've heard the expression, 'villains who will stop at nothing' - well, this is a prime example. If that's not enough to tempt you, then there's no hope for you at all. Ha!

When Innes was writing this type of book, all bets were certainly off and anything was possible. Thank goodness.

And finally, since it's Friday, don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other Forgotten or Overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Tuesday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film: PENNY AND THE POWNALL CASE (1948) starring Christopher Lee and Peggy Evans



Though it may not look it, this fast-moving little film is an early J. Arthur Rank production. It tells the story of a ditzy model named Penny Justin (Peggy Evans) who poses for an artist named Jonathan Blair (a very young Christopher Lee) who in turn works for - I suppose - a newspaper syndicate who publishes a comic strip about the adventures of a girl named Penny. Confusing I know, but it's how things were supposedly done in the old days. I mean, live models posed for the artists who drew for the comics. (Remember the Martin and Lewis musical, ARTISTS AND MODELS? Sort of like that but with no singing, no Shirley MacLaine and no yucks.)


PENNY AND THE POWNALL CASE is a 1948 film directed by Slim Hand (that's what it says here), with a screenplay by W.E. Fairchild based on his original story. The film's cast includes a very young Diana Dors (in dark, unflattering hairdos) as Penny's roommate Molly who also happens to be private secretary to Scotland Yard Inspector Michael Carson (Ralph Michael). 


Penny is annoyingly enamored of dashing detective stories. She dreams of mystery and adventure and of playing heroine in a real-life detecting case when lo and behold one drops directly into her lap. A spy named Pownall has been killed while attempting to deliver secret information regarding Nazi war criminals still on the run. These Nazis are attempting to escape retribution using the ports of Calais, France and a port city in Spain. (Not sure of the geographical connection, but this is what I surmise.)


Anyway, it conveniently turns out that the comic strip Blair and Penny work on is somehow being used to give the war criminals necessary information on dates and such. Penny spies on her boss and sees something suspicious which she then decides to tell her friend Molly who works at Scotland Yard but has zero interest in playing detective.


When her artist boss tells Penny they must go to Spain as part of their work (I know - huh?)  and they will be travelling together, Penny at first demurs but then when she decides her boss is an agent she resolves to go along and do some sleuthing on her own. 


At the same time, Molly's boss, the Scotland Yard Inspector finds out that Spain needs looking into and decides to go sleuthing. Might as well, the previous agents having all been done in by the bad guys.

Once in Spain, Penny and the Inspector will run into each other (actually, she saves his life) and soon enough, Penny is making her dream come true: she is working on a REAL spy case with Scotland Yard!

This is an enjoyable little film less than an hour long, about the length of a television episode - so there's little time investment. For me, the most interesting aspects of the 45 or so minutes are these:


1) Seeing the young Christopher Lee playing his first villain. (I'm not telling you anything you won't figure out almost immediately.) From little acorns mighty oaks will grow.

2) Seeing future va-va-voom girl Diana Dors playing a young sexless frump.

3) Watching, in stupified awe, the most godawful dress designs ever created for a movie heroine in the history of the cinema. In one scene, Penny wears a heart-shaped bonnet (yes, a bonnet) and a frock with two heart shaped pockets. This hilarious outfit has to be seen to be believed. (In truth it's like a cartoon get-up, something Minnie Mouse might have worn) I think it's probably worthwhile to see the film just for this AND the hat Penny wears near the end with a feather about a yard long sticking straight up. Oh my goodness. Poor Penny, she may be a fine, if clutzy, detective, but her taste in clothing needs so much refining I wouldn't even know where to begin.

Take a look.


And since it's Tuesday, don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other films, television, and other audio/visuals other bloggers may be talking about today.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Second Ode to A Mustache : MORE Movie Pencil Thins


I believe my original Ode to A Pencil Thin Mustache post is still my most popular post. I love that so many movie mavens get my sense of humor and share my love of pencil thin lip fuzz. And so in the furtherance of movie mustache love, here is my second Pencil Thin post created after I realized that I was, WAY overdue in the Pencil Thin Stakes. And also because I was chastised by a reader for leaving Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. off the original list.

Speaking of which:


Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. is looking particularly elegant and fetching in this gorgeous photo by George Hurrell. Son of a silent film giant, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. never did quite rise to the stardom level of his iconic dad, but did quite good enough career-wise. (He was also a highly decorated Naval officer.) I loved him best in SINBAD THE SAILOR with Maureen O'Hara.

Fairbanks remains one of the most elegantly groomed and tailored stars of that era (in fact, of any era). He is also one of the very few actors whom I could have seen playing in The Thin Man movies had William Powell not been available.


In my view, John Hodiak, an actor who died too young (at just 41) was one of those leading men called into action when a slight oddity in the lead or secondary role was needed. He somehow managed to radiate strength and weakness in equal amounts - not that easy to do. And he usually looked as if he were hibernating some godawful truth. There's just something about his face that tells you this is not a man to turn to for cozy warmth. Without the 'stache his face just looked all at sea and kind of blank. Opposite Judy Garland in THE HARVEY GIRLS, he intimidated almost without meaning to and yet somehow made it work. Though in truth he looked better alongside statuesque Angela Lansbury who played the tough saloon girl he dumps for diminutive Judy.


Tyrone Power, always an underrated actor, never looked quite right minus his mustache - he was too beautiful, too vulnerable and fragile looking. Here he is in THE MARK OF ZORRO (in which he is both insouciant and dangerous), playing both the foppish dilettante and the athletic righter of wrongs in old California. Power also wore a mustache when going the swash and buckle route, which he did in several films. But Power was not physically imposing where one would expect a pirate to be - think Erroll Flynn. Actually neither was John Payne (who also played at pirates), but that's a story for another day. Power died young at the age of 44 of a heart attack while filming SOLOMON AND SHEBA in Spain.


Well, we all loved the very elegant Clifton Webb as the eccentric and mean-spirited Waldo Lydecker in LAURA, but he played a variety of roles in his long and varied acting life, usually with mustache in place. Webb had one of those larger-than-life personas that tended to take over the screen even in a group scene and don't think he didn't know it. I loved him best as Ewen Montagu in the superb spy thriller, THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS and as the doomed, aging writer in THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN alongside Dorothy McGuire - both actors make the most of a lackluster script and manage to steal the film away from their younger and very bland co-stars. I also loved Webb in the film about marching king, John Phillip Sousa, which I kind of remember seeing in the theater. I'm a big fan of marching music.


The oh-so-wonderful Erik Rhodes (no, not the porn star - be warned if you google the name) was a tremendously funny actor who practically stole any movie he was ever in for more than ten minutes. He managed to hold his own opposite Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in THE GAY DIVORCEE and TOP HAT, in one as a paid divorce co-respondent (dues paying member of the co-respondent union) and in the other a fashion designer who refers to himself in the third person. Two hilarious performances which must be seen to be believed - Rhodes' onscreen persona was that of a foreign fellow slightly at sea, language-wise and the mustache was part of his slightly sleazy on-screen charm - so hard to imagine him without it.


Academy Award winning actor, Melvyn Douglaswas the best first and second banana leading man in the business. A very enjoyable screen presence, he had the kind of face that simply begged for a mustache so he was rarely seen without it - at least that I can remember. He always entertained with his performances but most of the time I got the impression that he'd stopped off at the studio for a few scenes on his way to somewhere else. In fact, I read that he resented the lightweight parts he was offered in the early years of his career. (Though he tended to be awfully charming in those roles.)

 In my view, the older Douglas got, the better his acting. Most especially memorable were his Oscar winning supporting roles in HUD (1963), playing Paul Newman's father and later in BEING THERE (1979) with Peter Sellers and Shirley MacLaine for which he won his second Oscar.


In my biased view, John Russell was one of the handsomest men in the history of movies; his hard, chiseled good looks defied categorization. He also had a rich, deep speaking voice - swoon. Russell never became a Movie Star in the sense that some of his contemporaries did though during the early days of television he starred in the Warner Bros. show LAWMAN, as a wooden faced marshal who kept the peace in his town with the help of youthful Peter Brown as his deputy. In films Russell mostly played bad guys and to my eye, always seemed out of place in modern day clothing.

As a teenager I fell madly in love with John Russell when he played the Hunkpapa Sioux Indian chief, Gall (sans mustache, naturally) in YELLOWSTONE KELLY, a western starring Clint Walker who was not a bad looker himself. The problem with Russell was that he had limited acting scope but oh, who cared, he was so broodingly good looking. One of those rare few who didn't need the mustache to carry the day, though it did add a certain warmth to his often cold film persona.


Robert Taylor was a huge star when being a huge star meant something. In the beginning he was almost as good looking as Tyrone Power (evidence: see CAMILLE where Taylor played opposite Great Garbo and it was hard to tell who was the better looking), but his looks seemed to be cast in a slightly more rugged vein than Power. Though his acting chops were not of top caliber form, he often managed to overcome a tendency to emulate wood. Under questioning during the outrageous (and unfair) McCarthy Hearings (meant to roust Communists from the Hollywood movie community, but all it did was ruin lives and careers) Taylor apparently named some actors he said he 'thought' were communists because of their behavior during SAG meetings. He didn't age well and died relatively young, at the age of 57, from lung cancer.


Robert Preston didn't always wear a mustache onscreen, but when he did I think he looked much more dashing than when he didn't. Preston was most famous, I suppose, for playing the lead in THE MUSIC MAN on Broadway, for which he'd won a Tony (he also played the role in the film adaptation). I remember him most as Centauri, the endearing, other-worldly guide who helps turn a young, trailer-park teen into a warrior in THE LAST STARFIGHTER - a wonderful part which he played with obvious relish. I also loved him as the flamboyant gay impresario in VICTOR, VICTORIA.


Oh look at this sinister picture of Cesar Romero - Latin lover extraordinaire and gay icon. A charming man and competent actor who over the years squired a bevy of beauties to all important Hollywood events only to remain a 'confirmed bachelor' all his days. Of course he spent most of his life in the closet, self-protection in the days when being gay meant the death of a career. Romero aged wonderfully (amassing a gorgeous head of white hair) and always seemed to me to be a true gentleman delighted with life. I know he played The Joker in the Batman series on early television with Adam West, but I remember Romero best as the sulky gigolo groom in THE THIN MAN with William Powell and also as the elegant psychic in CHARLIE CHAN ON TREASURE ISLAND.



Mandrake the Magician back in the day when men slicked their hair and flexed their eyebrows in the most alarmingly fetching way. (Nobody does this anymore - have you noticed? Slicking and flexing are lost arts.)  This is such a gorgeous drawing that I had to include it on my list even if the movie version was live action starring Warren Hull WITHOUT a mustache - obviously a major tonsorial faux pas. I'm not sure who the artist of this particular drawing was, perhaps Phil Davis or Fred Fredericks.

First created in 1934 by Lee Walker (who also created The Phantom), Mandrake and his cohort, Prince Lothar, were an unlikely but very popular crime stopping duo, a strip which continues to the present day. In 1939 the characters' adventures were turned into a serial by Columbia Pictures. And later, an unsold television pilot filmed mostly in Bermuda starred real life magician Coe Norton WITH mustache and the always imposing Woody Strode (who later went on to a Hollywood career) as Prince Lothar.

So there you have them, m'dears. But please don't expect a third installment, I think I've probably exhausted the pencil thin mustache annals of Hollywood heart throbs.