Friday, October 31, 2014

A Quick Review: DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLEY - PBS Masterpiece Mystery


Just finished watching Episode One on the PBS (available until Nov. 2nd, I think) website. DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLEY is based on the book by mystery great P.D. James. A book I'd very eagerly looked forward to because, after all, P.D. James created the Commander Adam Dalgliesh books, ipso-facto, this Jane Austen pastiche had to be good.

Boy was I wrong. The book is dreadful.So bad I couldn't even finish it. But I won't go into details here. I wrote about my disappointment earlier this year and that's enough.

Somehow I though the television film would have to be better than the book. Right? PBS. Masterpiece Mystery. Matthew Rhys. Need I say more?

Gee whiz, I was wrong again.

If this first episode is anything to go by, I won't be watching the second or the third. This is dreary stuff, limp and uninspired, even hard to understand. The production is abysmally cast with people whose accents don't seem to be quite the proper thing. Several of them sound almost American in tone and we know they are Brits. The dialogue has no crispness, no Austen tone at all. This is Regency England or at least, a few years past the Regency - mid-19th century. So what gives?

The casting is so entirely wrong. Even Matthew Rhys seems not able to live up to Pemberley, that glorious house. Actually, the house itself is the best thing about the production. The camera-work is wonderful too and the scenery. But ladies and gents, that's not enough.

In comparison to the superb PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (1995) starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle and an incredibly fine cast, this production is just lame. There I've said it. Lame and boring.

Anna Maxwell Martin (who is wonderful in THE BLETCHLEY CIRCLE) is entirely miscast, lost in the part of Elizabeth Bennett Darcy. She looks haggard, not at all lovely, her costumes so ill-fitted they make her look less like the lady of the manor and more like a downstairs servant. In one scene she is wearing this dreary hat that any housemaid might wear and wearing it askew - didn't someone notice? She looks NOTHING like the Elizabeth Bennett so wonderfully played by Jennifer Ehle. I'm talking about the character's style and zest. In comparison, this Elizabeth Bennett looks like a washerwoman.

But the rest of the lackluster cast including the Bennett mother, father and sisters are no better. Who are these people? You'll note that I don't bother to name names. One is hard put to differentiate between them.

Matthew Rhys as Darcy is nice to look at but a bit too rugged in my opinion, not refined enough, and hardly seems in command of his surroundings.

What ever happened to the delightful Miss Bennett? Has marriage to Darcy turned her into a drudge?  From the first she appears to be wearing the same ugly green dress for an entire day - morning to night, even though company is expected - a ball is planned at Pemberley.

 Later, sister Jane shows up in an outfit almost the same color as Liz's - they blend into each other - something that I would have thought was a costume design no-no. The men's neckcloths and linen appear damp and soiled and not at all the sort of thing that would have been worn by people of this social class. Yes, it's the country, but really, would they have all looked so sloppy?

What the heck happened here? Did they run out of money? Attention to detail, the niceties of costume and language are the main reasons we love these sorts of things. When all that is missing all that's left is soap opera  - and not very good soap opera at that. Oh yeah and there's a murder. But the guy who's killed is no one we have any emotional interest in. So from the first we're hampered by lack of connection.

I simply had to write this tonight. I'm sorry to be so harsh, but I was SO disappointed. I hate when that happens.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tuesday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film: ANATOMY OF A MURDER (1959) starring James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Arthur O'Connell, Eve Arden, George C. Scott



Hadn't seen this in many years and the truth is I remembered it as being better than it is. But still, it's what we used to call, 'a pretty good flick'.

ANATOMY OF A MURDER is a film directed by Otto Preminger, from a script by Wendell Mayes based on the novel by Robert Traver and starring James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazarra, Arthur O'Connell, Eve Arden and George C. Scott.

Watched it last night on Netflix streaming and thought I'd jot down a few of my impressions:

Here, in my view, is one instance where the Saul Bass credits don't work as well as they might. Bass, as everyone knows was a brilliant graphic artist and designer, creator of many iconic film opening credits. Among my favorites: THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM, WALK ON THE WILD SIDE, WEST SIDE STORY, THE BIG COUNTRY and so on and so on - fabulous stuff. Actually, in some cases, the credits themselves were better than the movie, as in the remarkable credits for WALK ON THE WILD SIDE which was an abysmal flopperoo.

Well, my reasoning for not liking the fit of Bass's modernistic credits for ANATOMY OF A MURDER is that the movie is not especially 'modernistic' in tone or subject or even in point of view - though of course there is all that talk about a woman's panties and even, dare I say it, the mention of sperm.Shocking, I suppose, in its time.

The credits are done in a very graphic style which is jarring in the sense that they mislead. But in this view I am probably in the minority and really, the credits are intriguing enough to capture the attention. Mustn't nitpick.

The low-key soundtrack is by Duke Ellington who rarely fails (he even has a small part as - what else? - a jazz musician), the music is alluring if maybe slightly too modern in feel. But it captures the 'sleaze' quotient of the crime.

The bare-bones plot:

Lt. Frederick Manion (the very intense Ben Gazarra) has been arrested for the murder of a local bar-tender named Barney Quill. Manion claims he shot Quill (five times) because the man raped and beat his wife, Laura (the beautiful and always vulnerable Lee Remick). From behind bars, Manion hires lawyer Paul Biegler (the laconic James Stewart) to defend him. Biegler has, as his 'crew' a hard-drinking, older 'law-clerk' Parnell McCarthy (the irascible Arthur O'Connell) and a wise-cracking secretary, Maida Rutledge (the always wonderful Eve Arden who made a career of wise-cracking).

Lt. Manion will plead guilty due to temporary insanity, a defense which the wily Biegler nudges him into.

Though most of the film takes place inside a courtroom, the setting is a bland, run-of-the-mill Michigan town near the Canadian border - try as I might, I never did catch the name. The film is shot in a slightly clunky way in black and white by Sam Leavitt. There are unaccountable moments in the beginning of the film when the camera-work seems almost amateurish, but it may just be that the version Netlix is streaming is not the best available. There are also some very claustrophobic scenes in Paul Biegler's small ugly house in which James Steward just seems too tall and too big for the rooms. (Actually, even Eve Arden looks odd inside that house.) But maybe that's intentional, at any rate, I couldn't wait to leave and head for the courthouse.

The lurid courtroom dramatics are powerful. The details of the sordid crime are gone into with a stoic 1959 relish which is at times appalling and at other times grimly laughable.

James Stewart shines as a lawyer outraged by the violence done to the wife of his client and eager to keep the prosecutors from glossing over the motive for hubby's extreme retribution. There is no 'crime passionel' aspect to the murder, since the Lt. waited an hour before heading out to kill the man who'd attacked his wife.

Inside that courtroom are two scene-stealers who manage to steal the show right out from under Stewart's nose: George C. Scott as a state attorney brought in to bolster the prosecution and best of all, Joseph N. Welch as the Judge.

Joseph N. Welch, James Stewart, Brooks West, George C. Scott

Joseph N. Welch was a curious bit of casting. He was a hero, a real lawyer, the head counsel for the U.S. Army while it was being investigated (in 1954) by the nefarious Senator Joseph McCarthy's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations which was on the hunt for communist activity therein. The investigation came to be known as the Army-McCarthy hearings.

Welch uttered the famous words: "Senator you've done enough. Have you no decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

As Judge Weaver, Welch gently wrestles the picture from the rest of the more seasoned cast and is a delight to behold. I would watch this film again purely for his performance.

George C. Scott as Assistant State Attorney General Claude Dancer is so intense in his role that he out-inteses Ben Gazzara which is no small feat let me tell you. In his powerful scenes with Lee Remick he seems to abuse her physically while never coming in contact with her. I thought for a moment he was going to jump out of his skin. He is as repellent as a cobra. That battered profile of his works a treat in close-ups.


But the rest of the cast is almost as good:

Lee Remick as Laura Manion is heart-breaking in her courtroom scenes, most of all because she seems so puzzled by it all. She plays a woman used to being oggled by men and not averse to drawing attention to herself by her 'jiggly' style of dress (she doesn't even wear a girdle for God's sake!). She sends out lures consciously or unconsciously that most men would have to be dead not to notice - even that old sweetheart, James Stewart, looks as if he'd like nothing more than to spend the night up at the trailer-park. Oh yes, Laura and her hubby live in a trailer - within walking distance of the local bar and grill and pinball machine emporium. (Well, one pinball machine does not an emporium make, but you know what I mean.)

James Stewart can't help looking like a sheepdog in his scenes with Lee Remick.

Despite her womanly wiles, Laura has a kind of naive quality which makes her seem less like a femme fatale and more like a lost innocent. In a way, she is the enigma at the heart of the film. She never seems outraged by the attack on her person or the fact that she has been raped. Rather she seems almost accepting of it. As she is accepting of the fact that no one thought to call the police and report the attack until after her hubby had killed the perp.

So strange to see a U.S. Army soldier sporting a cigarette holder. Kind of takes away from Ben Gazzara's intenseness. But I'm sure there was a very definite reason.

Ben Gazzara as Lt. Manion is another enigma. He is unlikable, not averse to slapping his wife around and basically unrepentant. Gazzara plays the part not in any way meant to make us feel sorry for his predicament which, in a way, is a weakness in the story.

There seems to be a heartbreaking futility in the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Manion.

James Stewart is wonderful as a guy with an obviously huge ego and a brilliant canny mind - a guy who, for whatever reason, is a lifelong bachelor seemingly devoid of ambition and apparently satisfied to wile away the days barely making a living and fishing for trout. We learn little of his background - except that he likes to fish and play or listen to jazz - but maybe that's okay. Still, I did wonder at his oddly uncomfortable way of living. Wondered too, why he'd need a secretary if his client list was so paltry. Still, I wouldn't have missed Eve Arden for the world.

Though ANATOMY OF A MURDER is a terrific courtroom drama not to be missed, it is not a great film. And here the blame goes to Otto Preminger who's directing wizardry isn't enough to quite hold the thing together.

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 and/or Other Audio/Visuals other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Gothic Imagination - Part Two: Books to be Read on any Chilly October Eve


It's that spooky time of year when our thoughts turn to ghosts and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night. I'm not a real reader of horror (DRACULA being the rare exception), so a few ghoulishly good atmospheric reads are as far as I go. Where I've reviewed the book in the past, I've linked the review - where I haven't, I haven't.

I've recommended DRACULA before but, I'm unrepentant, and will probably recommend it again. I waited years to read this because I thought it would be hokie and scary and full of over-the-top 'ugh!' stuff. Silly me.

This is the perfect horror tale. It is gloomy, eerie, creepy, dark, frightening and yes, over-the-top - but in a good way. My innermost feeling is that having read this one, I probably don't need to read any other vampire or horror book - nothing could top this. And since that coincides with the recognition that I am a reader who does not like to be scared, well, there you have it. This scared me enough for a hundred books.

My review of DRACULA.

Free download of DRACULA at Project Guttenberg.



Another book I keep recommending year in and year out, another book I had put off reading because I thought oh, well, the hero seems inert and the story sounds too soporific, too utterly Victorian. Count Fosco, really, he must be a buffoon - no one's afraid of a buffoon. Well, I was wrong, the book is an atmospheric delight of shivery goodness. Told from the point of view of various different characters with different axes to grind, it all makes for the sort of story you think you've tired of hearing but come to find out, you haven't.

My review of THE WOMAN IN WHITE - Part One. Part Two.



Haven't read this, but was intrigued by the cover art and let's face it, I've heard of this author for years  - who could forget that oddly dramatic name? The synopsis does sound as if this would make for a terrific chilly October read.

I'm not big on the supernatural when it comes to things jumping out of the woodwork and attaching themselves to our psyches but maybe I'm not getting what Le Fanu is all about - the Wikipedia page says this is not a novel of the supernatural. So I'm of two minds about it all. Truth is, I might not read this anytime soon but if you have or you will, I'd appreciate a 'heads-up'.

UNCLE SILAS - the plot.

Free downloads of a bunch of Sheridan Le Fanu stories at Project Guttenberg.



The perfect gothic novel as far as I'm concerned. Also the perfect feminist novel. Jane Eyre is the original romantic heroine with an iron backbone - a woman completely self-aware - a woman with a deeply rooted sense of morality and self-worth. All heroines of all gothic romance novels which came afterwards are based on Jane, pure and simple.

Mr. Rochester, of course,  is the dark and sinister hero upon which all dark and sinister heroes are based from then on as well.

As for why this makes for a great chilly October read, well, there is that mad woman in the attic. And the setting, my friends, the setting.

Project Guttenberg free download of JANE EYRE.



I'll bet every high school girl has read this, but that doesn't cancel its allure. This is classic chilly October reading in my book. Who doesn't know the first lines? "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again..." The perfect opening for the sort of book which can be read in one sitting, especially if it's dark and cold outside and you're tucked under a warm blanket with a cup of tea and a sleepy dog. A little lightning and thunder for sound effects wouldn't hurt.

Our poor unnamed heroine has a lot to contend with: an impulse marriage, an imperiously handsome and secretive hero (who can occasionally be a block-head), a malevolent housekeeper devoted to the memory of a dead first wife, and another large estate with a very nice name.

Every library in the world should have a copy.



Even people who haven't actually read the Conan Doyle story still claim to know it. Those that have seen the various movies based on the book will feel they know it as well. We, of course, being Conan Doyle aficionados, smile indulgently. The written story - which can also be read in one fell swoop on one chilly October eve - is so much better than any of the film versions. Why that should be, I don't know, but in my opinion none of the film versions have ever done real justice to the actual tale.

I've lost count of how many times I've read THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES and each and every time I am drawn in once again by its mysterious spell. It is Victorian England, we're tramping along on the dark and forbidding Yorkshire moors, and the game is afoot. What could be better?

"Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound."

The audio books I've listened to over the years weave their own kind of spell, I never tire of listening. Lately it is the Simon Vance version from audible - one word: superb.

Free download of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES from Project Guttenberg.



What was it about Victorian England, do you suppose, that brought out the foulest deeds and the nastiest, vilest villains ever to have slunk down a dark alley - not to mention, the creepiest crimes imaginable? Maybe it was all that pretense of perfection and decorum. At any rate here, the remarkable writer Lynn Shepherd (whose MURDER AT MANSFIELD PARK was/is an instant classic far as I'm concerned) takes several characters from Dickens' BLEAK HOUSE (The Solitary House was the books original title, by the way) and reveals a grim tale of hideous murder and chicanery. Need I add that this is the perfect tale for a chilly October eve?

I haven't listened to the audio of this one because I'm convinced it would be far too unsettling.

Kirkus Review of THE SOLITARY HOUSE.

My review of THE SOLITARY HOUSE.



One of the more perfect Gothic Romances of my youth, the second of Victoria Holt's books and still, I think, one of her very best after MISTRESS OF MELLYN (which I've recommended to you before as perfect October reading).

The Yorkshire Moors, a house named Kirkland Revels, an innocent young bride - sound familiar? Well, these things are a given when approaching a Gothic Romance (it's part of their accepted comfortableness), the rest is up to the writer's imagination and talent and Holt was one of the more talented writers of this sort of thing. The result is a very well conceptualized and intriguing mystery of family secrets, betrayal and death - the stuff that makes the world go round.

KIRKLAND REVELS on goodreads.


THROUGH THE TEMPESTS DARK AND WILD - A Story of Mary Shelley, Creator of Frankenstein by Sharon Darrow, illustrated by Angela Barrett.

Haven't read this yet, but it looks like something I will be adding to my library very soon. A beautifully illustrated account of the two years Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley spent in Scotland when she was a lonely teenager spurned by her stepmother and sent away by her father. Here the book supposes, the beginnings of one of the more famous horror tales ever written, FRANKENSTEIN, may have begun festering in Mary's vivid imagination.

Sharon Darrow writes the fictionalized account. The illustrations are by Angela Barrett, one of the more formidable talents working today. Do not miss seeing her work whatever you do. Her version of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is remarkable, as are her illustrations for THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK , and ANNA KARENINA , among many other classics.



Not meant to be especially gothic but nevertheless it is exactly that as most of the action takes place at night at a dark estate called Pemberley. Wait, Pemberley? Yes, Pemberley, the family seat of the Darcy family once upon a time. Not that this book has anything to do with Jane Austen's classic - except for the setting. And why that should be I leave to scholars of T.H. White to try and figure out.

This is White's first and only mystery novel and to my way of thinking, he should have gone ahead and written many more. But for whatever reason he didn't. But he left us a doozy of mystery debut worth the reading and re-reading. We know going in who the killer is but that doesn't stop the mysterious doings and skulking about in the night. A shivery book, perfect for a dark and stormy night in October.

My review of DARKNESS AT PEMBERLEY.



Okay, here's a book that doesn't take place in England but upstate Northeast or Midwest, America. It is from the queen of the 'had I but known' school of mystery delights, Mary Roberts Rinehart. Naturally enough, we have a big old country house full of secrets and dark imaginings - the kind we all love. Also naturally enough, the rural electricity is faulty - hence the family must resort to flickering candles at every opportunity which, of course, make all the odd sounds and disturbances in the night that much more eerie and scary.

My review of THE CIRCULAR STAIRCASE.



And just in case you need an actual, hard copy notepad to make lists and such - what better than an Edward Gorey version?

Not all these are forgotten or even overlooked, but still, I'm featuring them as part of the FFB meme hosted by Patti Abbott at her blog, Pattinase. Don't forget to check in.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tuesday Forgotten Film: THE BIRDS (1963) starring Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Suzanne Pleshette, Jessica Tandy


Not a film that is 'officially' forgotten, for sure, but what the heck. It's one of the more perfect Chilly October viewing pleasures and always worth talking about. In fact, I can envision a Halloween party with everyone dressed as one type of bird or another, all siting around eating wings (ha!) and watching the Hitchcock classic - although perhaps the liquor content should be kept to a minimum lest some birds get carried away with the film's theme of anarchy and destruction.

At any rate, THE BIRDS (1963) is directed by Alfred Hitchcock, from a screenplay by Evan Hunter based on a story by Daphne Du Maurier and starring Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Suzanne Pleshette and Jessica Tandy. It is a film that these many years later, still retains the ability to shock and awe. The gifted Hitchcock, more a master of mystery, suspense and spy thrillers and not especially known for this sort of thing - special effects and 'end of the world' scenarios - still manages to adorn THE BIRDS with his own peculiar touches in between murderous avian attacks.

Haven't seen the film recently, but sometimes that's the best time to write about a movie -  I've been thinking about various scenes which have remained (despite old lady memory) in my mind. It's funny how that works, some movies you forget completely - or almost - others, like THE BIRDS, continue to live for one reason or another.

THE BIRDS: Sounds and sights I remember (off the top of my head).

Playful Hitchcock: The pet shop scene in the beginning with the two quiet little parakeets (or canaries) in a cage. So sweet. So non-threatening. Not happy to be caged, but surely...

The blond society deb, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren), spontaneously deciding to follow hunky Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) - wouldn't you? And into the pet shop they go. She, assured of her icy allure, he instantly intrigued by it. In Hitchcock films, blonds get away with all sorts of forward behavior.

But what is is about sleepy Bodega Bay, California that attracts the sudden influx of avian life to its shores? Curiously, down near the water, a bunch of sea gulls seem to be holding a class reunion.

Speaking of classes, there's the scene of a bunch of screaming kids being sent home from school - chased by birds. Horrific. Children in a Hitchcock film are rarely safe.

Remember the jungle gym covered in birds perched and waiting?

Then there's the brunette (and therefore automatically sultry) Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleschette), small town Bodega Bay teacher who resents the influx of a sophisticated deb with eyes for the guy she's got a crush on. Poor Annie. Her gruesome death I've always seen as more a Hitchcockian comment on brunettes with romantic dreams than anything else. I mean, how dare she aspire to the hero when Tippi (with a decidedly elegant French chignon) is in town?

The vivid gas station explosion which, to my mind, suddenly catapults the film outward in a very vivid way makes for an unforgettable scene. Hitchcock knew that fireworks would be required at some point and this comes out of the blue.

Later, the barricading of the cozy, private house (Jessica Tandy lives there for goodness' sake!) against the assaulting forces of nature. The birds in the chimney. Beaks piercing through the wood door. Obviously more is at work here than just birds run amok. But what?

Yeah, pretty good stuff and I'm really happy that, far as I know, this is one film that hasn't had a modern day re-do.
(See Di's comment below for additional data on that score.)

Perfect Chilly October viewing.

To read more specifically about the film itself, I like this excellent post by iluvcinema 

Madame Alexander doll - source

Sometimes you just have to shake your head.

Since it's Tuesday, don't forget to check in later at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other Forgotten and/or Overlooked Films, Television or other Audio/Visuals, other bloggers are talking about today.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Saturday Salon: The Gothic Imagination in Artwork: Being That It's October and All

Austrian artist/illustrator/print-maker Alfred Kubin (1877 - 1959) - source


French painter Robert Delaunay (1885 - 1941) - source


Canadian/French artist/illustrator Nicholas De Lort - source


British illustrator Louise Brierly - source


American painter/illustrator Mark English / Dracula - source


Ukrainian painter Sigismund Ivanowski (1879 - 1944) - source


American painter/illustrator Aaron Westfield - source


Danish illustrator John Kenn Mortensen - source


German Painter Casper David Friedrich (1774 - 1840) - source


English painter and illustrator Frederick Walker (1840 - 1875) - Theater poster art for Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White - source


This is my Part One of a two part post - the Second Part will feature the Gothic Imagination in books perfect for Chilly October Reading. You know the sorts of things I mean but stay tuned anyway.

And if you, like me, can't get enough of all this gothic gloominess, here's a link to my Pinterest board: A Gothic Imagination.

Friday, October 17, 2014

FFB: THE VERGE PRACTICE (2003) By Barry Maitland (Chilly October Reading)


Detective Chief Inspector David Brock and Detective Sergeant Kathy Kolla of Scotland Yard are the appealing duo of Barry Maitland's terrific police procedural series which I've just recently begun reading. I'd read one out of sequence (the excellent NO TRACE) a couple of years ago and always meant to go back, but you know how that goes.

The truth is that I've discovered that the books don't have to be read in sequence, anyway, so wherever you begin is good.

Author Barry Maitland was born in Scotland, grew up in London and now lives in Australia. He was a Professor of Architecture at a university there and has since retired from teaching to write full time. This intriguing series set in England, is the happy result. David Brock and Kathy Kolla are an effective team even if they often work separately and Kolla has a seeming penchant for placing herself in danger. There is no romance between them as Brock is quite a bit older than Kolla whose own love life seems to be of the hit or miss variety. (One does wish she'd settle down with 'the right man' but then it wouldn't be a 'modern' sort of series.)

I've lately been in the mood for 'thumping good reads' and THE VERGE PRACTICE is a perfect example - it is imaginatively conceived and executed, the sort of book which draws you immediately into its midst and doesn't let up until the very end (an ending which will definitely leave you wanting more).

I urge you to read this enticing (if slightly far-fetched) thriller even if it is the seventh entry in the series. Trust me, you will not be missing anything important as each book is more or less self-contained. The 'far-fetchedness' I mention is not a fault - it all depends on how likely you are to accept that an ace can be palmed right in front of your face by a very fine magician - metaphorically speaking. There - I can say no more.

When a young wife is found murdered, the husband, naturally enough, is the first suspect. Most especially since said hubby, the famed architect Charles Verge, has disappeared without a trace. The police remain stumped as to his whereabouts. The high profile case draws to a standstill.

It is several months later when Brock and Kolla are asked to delve into the cold case. Expediency is paramount as a brand newly finished prison designed by the missing architect is scheduled to be opened with great fanfare. But if Verge is, indeed, a murderer than his work can't be lauded by personages of the Royal sort, but if it can be proven that Verge is dead, a victim alongside his wife (as his rather imposing mother insists), then all is forgiven and the prison (acknowledged to be Verge's finest work) can be unveiled with proper pomp and circumstance.

As Brock and Kolla delve into the case with fresh eyes, they almost immediately come up with a small something overlooked by the previous detective team. You and I both know that there are no small somethings when it comes to a murder investigation and this first lead in a heretofore unfathomable mystery will soon draw the current investigative team into an even bigger conundrum.

We're in the middle of a case in which nothing is as it first appears, nothing is to be taken at face value. Just when you think you've figured it out, trust me, you haven't. All I can say is that the denouement is a doozy, unlike anything I've ever read before.

A terrific book in keeping with our Chilly October Reading theme.

Link to Barry Maitland's Fantastic Fiction page for a complete listing of his books. Other Barry Maitland books I've read and highly recommend: THE MALCONTENTA, THE CHALON HEADS, SILVERMEADOW, NO TRACE, DARK MIRROR.

And don't forget to check in at Patti Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other Forgotten or Overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tuesday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film: HOLD THAT GHOST (1941) starring Bud Abbott and Lou Costello


If you have low tolerance for foolishness, you probably won't like this film much. But if you're feeling indulgent and you have an idea of how Abbott and Costello get on, this is a fun film to watch on a chilly October eve, with maybe a plate of accompanying vittles and a hot chocolate.

"Are you scared?"
"No. But if you see a pair of pants flying across the room, don't grab 'em cause I'll be in 'em."

HOLD THAT GHOST (1941) is an RKO film directed by Arthur Lubin and starring the once upon a time famed comedy duo of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello who are an acquired taste which you may not have acquired unless you too grew up watching them on television. Their brand of comedy is of the slapstick variety with Costello (the chubby one) being on the receiving end of many of Abbott's occasionally cringe-inducing slaps and digs. It takes getting used to. But when we were kids we thought it was hilarious.


That being said, some of their schticks are still funny and I've always had a secret liking for this particular film and for ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948) (which I think is their best) and ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE KILLER, BORIS KARLOFF (1949) and WHO DONE IT? (1942). Obviously there's a theme going on here, admittedly I'm not a fan of the Abbott and Costello movies NOT featuring a mystery gimmick of some sort. The exception to that rule would be THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES in which Lou Costello played a ghost left over from the Revolutionary War and Abbott played a modern day psychiatrist - although maybe playing a cowardly ghost could be considered gimmicky enough.

In HOLD THAT GHOST the pair are up to their usual idiocy playing two numb-skulls who go from inept waiters, to inept gas station attendants to inept inheritors of a gang-land chief's road house: a spooky old place in which it is rumored, the dead guy hid all his money. Such a strong rumor naturally enough lures all sorts of bad-guy types to the house looking for the dough on a dark and stormy night.


Chaperoned by Charlie Smith (the very long-lived, sneery-faced actor, Marc Lawrence) playing a crooked lawyer's henchman (the first to die of course), and three travelers (Evelyn Ankers, Joan Davis and Richard Carlson) Lou and Bud are soon up to their ears in spooky doings and dead bodies. The famous 'candle scene' alone is worth the price of admission which, since you can watch the film for free at the link below, amounts to zip, but you know what I mean.

Joan Davis and Lou Costello. Uh-ohsource

And as if that weren't enough, in the end you get a nifty song and dance number from the Andrew Sisters, "Is it me or just my money...oh, oh, oh, Aurora."  FUN.

Link to watch HOLD THAT GHOST online.

Since it's Tuesday, don't forget to check in later 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.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sunday Salon: The Best Time of Year

Canadian painter David Langevin - 'The Colors of October' - source


Swiss painter Felix Vallotton 1921 (1865- 1925) - source

American illustrator Eric Drooker - source

Canadian Plein Air painter Adam Noonan - source


American illustrator Edna Eicke (1919 - 1979) - source

It's Autumn and you know what that means: one day it's too chilly, the next it's too warm and there's no point trying to figure out in advance what to wear. But besides that, it's a beautiful time of year - always been my favorite. I think it all has to do with that 'back to school' thrill of excitement which, no matter how old we get, we never seem to shake. And that's a good thing, I think.

Vintage Little Golden Book - source

Friday, October 10, 2014

FFB: THE VAULT (1999) by Peter Lovesey (Chilly October Reading)


It's a funny thing, but I don't have much affection for Lovesey's main protagonist and I really feel for his underlings who often receive the brunt of his short temper. He is Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond of the Bath Police aka 'the murder man' as he refers to himself. I find the unkempt Diamond unpleasantly curt, a bit too churlish, and all together not my cup of tea. Though admittedly he does occasionally have moments of likability, those moments are few and far between.

Yet I do like and recommend the books which, in my view, is a tribute to prolific author Peter Lovesey's writing and plotting ability, even if his characterization of Diamond takes getting used to. But then, I suppose, being a hardened bloodhound is not necessarily a job for nice folk. Even if Bath, England doesn't jump immediately to mind when one is thinking of murder capitals of the world - apparently even this ancient and beguiling city has an underbelly of unsavory crime.

The setting resonates with me (I was fortunate enough to visit Bath years ago - it is a splendidly beautiful place) and I like that once in a while the historic Roman Baths (for which the city is named) come into play as settings for murder and whatnot.

And I do especially like the older SoHo Press editions of Lovesey's books. They are just the right size for night time reading.

THE VAULT is a particularly flavorful murder tale with a nice creep quotient - something which doesn't necessarily resonate in all the Diamond books - but which makes this an excellent choice for the month of October. The story features two murder investigations which, in the end, converge, sense is finally made of senseless notions and clues as Diamond sorts out the truth and we even learn a little literary history in the bargain.

In the beginning were the bones. Yes, some bones are found buried in concrete in an underground vault under The Pump Room, a vault with was once part of a demolished building next door. Don't you love it when a mystery begins with newly discovered bones? I do. But here's where it gets even better: turns out that the long forgotten demolished building was the one in which Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley wrote most of her manuscript for FRANKENSTEIN. Who knew? Well, apparently nobody in the story does know, except for a book collecting American professor traveling in Bath with his wife and eager to discover the provenance of a book he's recently acquired which features Wollstonecraft's inscription and address.

Once the press learns of this bizarre coincidence - bones being discovered under the house where the most famous monster tale of all time was written - well, you can imagine the furor. (And Detective Superintendent Diamond's disgust, except when lunching at the Pump Room Restaurant - perks of the current game.) But when a tourist goes missing and another murder is added to the mix along with an inquisitive female reporter who yearns to be a cop, an enigmatic puppeteer, several unknown watercolors purportedly by William Blake, the writing box of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and an especially galling attempted murder, it all makes for a very entertaining tale of death and chicanery.

Along the way we also find out that the Hollywood version of FRANKENSTEIN had little to do with the literary version and that Mary Wollstonecraft scandalously married the poet Shelley just two months after the suicide death of his first wife, Harriet. (Of course, Mary had already borne Shelley a child. Despite what some would have you think, the Regency world was not all Jane Austen manners and propriety.)

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

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Tuesday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film: MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY (1993) starring Woody Allen and Diane Keaton


I am not a Woody Allen acolyte but I do love New York and I do love mysteries. Though at first I didn't love this film, thought it too meandering around the plot as usual with Woody Allen. But after reading Dorian's wonderfully adoring review of MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY, I decided to give it another look-see.

Lo and behold, I am now a convert. I do love this movie even with its meandering faults. Thanks be to Dorian. 

The unfancy title, MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY, is exactly what it says, a murder mystery set in Manhattan, a film directed by Woody Allen, screenplay by Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman and starring Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Alan Alda, Anjelica Houston, Joy Behar (we love Joy Behar around these parts), Ron Rifkin, Jerry Adler and Lynn Cohen.


The big attraction for me, of course, is the setting: Manhattan. The streets, the restaurants (even the famed 21 Club where I (trying not to gawk) once attended a business lunch alongside Helen Gurley Brown, my boss the fashion editor, and several other important business types), the ambience of the film is all so wonderfully New Yawk as I remember it from having spent a good portion of my life there. I love that Allen always shows people walking and talking on location, on the streets of the city. (Well, he lives there, so he should know the best locations I'd think.)

In fact, the murder in the title takes place inside a comfortable Manhattan high rise. (The sort with an awning and a doorman.) On the case are Carol and Larry Lipton (Diane Keaton and Woody Allen) who are, conveniently, neighbors of the murder victim. 


At the beginning and in oh-so-typical Woody Allen style, Larry is all over jittery and reluctant to get involved, Carol is the one who thinks murder is afoot even when everyone else (including the cops) assumes the victim died naturally of a heart attack. But Carol can be persuasive and after many at length conversations, the couple is drawn into a series of fumbling sleuthing adventures which are, in a low-key comedy kind of way, fun to watch. 

Larry Adler, Lynn Cohen, Woody Allen and Diane Keaton - the evening before the murder most foul. 

An elderly couple, Paul and Lillian House (Jerry Adler and Lynn Cohen) are the neighbors which capture Carol Lipton's nosy (let's face it) interest. When Lillian suddenly dies of a heart attack, Carol is suspicious though it was a known fact that Lillian had a heart condition. After much discussion (lots of smart New Yawkese talky-talk going on in this film), with Larry and with skeptical friends, Carol manages to come up with a couple of clues and drags the still VERY reluctant Larry (he'd rather mind his own business in typical New York fashion) into the mix.


That's the plot. Not exactly earth-shattering, but intriguing enough. It's the sort of tale that works best, I would imagine, if you've ever lived or visited New York and gotten a hint or two of the flavor of the city. The 'flavor' of the city is what Woody Allen does best. He knows these sorts of people, he understands the workings of the city and its many well-heeled professionals. 


Though Alan Alda is not my first choice when I think of Manhattan, he actually fits right in as Ted, a friend of the sleuthing couple. Ted has a roving eye on Carol - she, well aware of it, doesn't reciprocate though I don't see how she could not be tempted - I mean, Woody Allen.


By the way: someone explain to me the coupling of Diane Keaton and Woody Allen. Please. Although they look funny enough together on screen (and did in real life). It still takes a bit of work for me to accept that Carol would walk down the aisle with Larry. 

But maybe he makes her laugh. 

Since this is Tuesday, don't forget to check in later with Todd's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other forgotten (or overlooked) films, television or other audio/visuals other bloggers are talking about today.