Steve

Sep 292014
 
Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


CHEYENNE. Warner Brothers, 1947. Dennis Morgan, Jane Wyman, Janis Paige, Bruce Bennett, Alan Hale, Arthur Kennedy, John Ridgely, Barton MacLane, Tom Tyle, Bob Steele. Screenwrters: Alan LeMay & Thames Williamson, based on the story “The Wyoming Kid” by Paul I. Wellman. Director: Raoul Walsh.

   Cheyenne is a movie with an identity crisis. It’s a Western, but also a mystery. It’s a comedy, but it feels like a would-be musical, especially given the fact that the score by Max Steiner occasionally overwhelms the dialogue and the plot. There are some gritty fight sequences, but also ridiculously light, borderline risqué, romantic moments.

   And with a screenplay by Western writer Alan LeMay and direction by Warner Brothers’ go-to guy for action films, Raoul Walsh, you might think you’re in for a psychological Western. But you’d be wrong. Cheyenne is much more typical of a late 1940s Western, one that doesn’t push the envelope very far.

   In that sense, the casting of Dennis Morgan and Jane Wyman, talented actors both, as the leads was a perfectly good decision. Plus what’s not to like about Alan Hale as Fred Durkin, a goofy, yellow Wyoming lawman?

   Morgan portrays James Wylie, a gentleman gambler and a cheat. After getting himself into a pickle in Laramie, he’s faced with a choice. Either work for the law or be sent back to Nevada to face justice for some past misdeed. Wylie’s a smart man and quite debonair. He chooses to work for the law, an easy choice. His mission: seek out a mysterious bandit named The Poet who is stealing from the Wells Fargo Stage Line.

   Wylie heads from Laramie to Cheyenne, encountering a group of bandits led by a man named Sundance (Arthur Kennedy) along the way. He also makes the acquaintance of a lovely young woman, Ann Kincaid (Wyman) who engages him in a bit of push and pull deception and flirtation.

   Theirs is a Western battle of the sexes, one that would be pulled off with much better effect by John Wayne and Angie Dickinson in Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo (1959). There’s just not that much visible chemistry between these two leads. Morgan just isn’t gritty enough for a Western hero.

   Cheyenne does have some mystery, but not all that much. There’s quite a bit of mistaken identities and assumed identities, lies big and small. It doesn’t take all that long, however, to figure out that Wells Fargo employee, Ed Landers (Bruce Bennett) is up to no good or that saloon girl, Emily Carson (Janis Paige) is going to play an important role in the film.

Altogether, it’s a pleasant enough affair. Someone should just have turned down the musical fanfare a bit.

 Posted by at 11:59 pm
Sep 292014
 
IT’S ABOUT CRIME: A. A. MILNE
by Marv Lachman


   Though he died in 1956 and wrote only one true mystery novel, A. A. Milne is a writer who keeps cropping up. As parents we likely have read his Winnie-the-Pooh stories to our children. As mystery fans we probably have read his classic novel, The Red House Mystery, and Raymond Chandler’s devastating criticism of it in “The Simple Art of Murder.”

   Milne wrote other works that fall into our genre, including his very first sale as a free-lance writer, a delightful little Holmesian parody, “The Rape of the Sherlock” (1903). He also wrote several plays with mystery elements, including one, The Perfect Alibi (1928), which is clearly a forerunner of Sleuth, Witness for the Prosecution, and Death Trap.

   Though it is long out of print, Milne’s Autobiography (1939) is worth searching for in your local library. It’s a delightfully witty picture of someone growing up in Victorian England. At one point Milne remarks that “Very few Victorians were on Christian name terms with each other; Holmes, after twenty years of intimacy, was still calling his colleague Watson.”

   Finishing a chapter on how he writes, Milne provides some clever, though helpful, advice to those of us with authorial ambitions:

    “For myself I have now no faith in miraculous conception. I have given it every chance. I have spent many mornings at Lord’s hoping that inspiration would come, many days on golf courses; I have even gone to sleep in the afternoon, in case inspiration cared to take me by surprise, In vain. The only way I can get an “idea” is to sit at my desk and dredge for it. This is the real labour of authorship with which no other labour in the world is comparable.”

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 8, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1986.


 Posted by at 7:46 pm
Sep 272014
 

HORROR ISLAND. Universal Pictures, 1941. Dick Foran, Leo Carrillo, Peggy Moran, Fuzzy Knight, John Eldredge, Lewis Howard, Hobart Cavanaugh, Walter Catlett, Ralf Harolde, Iris Adrian. Director: George Waggner.

   Sometimes you’re expecting one thing and you get something else. Not all the time, not most of the time. It’s actually rather seldom, and sometimes it doesn’t turn out well at all. But when it does — and I imagine you’ve guessed by now that this is one of those times — it’s makes you feel great just to be able to stand up and tell other people about it.

   Or maybe just a little foolish.

   Horror Island may not be to all tastes. You have to be fond of creaky but often still entertaining tales of old dark houses or mansions, isolated for one reason or another from the rest of the world — snowbound, stormbound (lots of thunder and lightning), or the like — filled with strangers, mostly, with some kind of evil or sinister presence among them, or controlling them in weird or evil ways for some nefarious purpose unknown.

   And — of course! — lots of hidden panels and secret passageways, suits of armor perhaps with eyes peering out from within, painting with peepholes and in active use. You know what I mean. It’s all kind of silly and fun, except when the dead bodies start to pile up, at which point your sense of make believe has to kick in. The actors are not taking this all very seriously, so why should you?

   What makes Horror Island a little different is that it takes place on (guess what) an island, where two enterprising entrepreneurs (Dick Foran and Fuzzy Knight) have created a tourist trap mystery-adventure cruise, complete with a castle-like mansion and all the trimmings (see above). And naturally a treasure map that helps attract a small boatful of various individuals of both genders and with all kinds of motives (not all of them good).

   Even though this came in a boxset of DVDs entitled Universal Horror: Classic Movie Archive (along with such non-ringers as The Black Cat, Man Made Monster, Night Monster and Captive Wild Woman), you will noticed that I have classified this as a comedy as well as a mystery. And so it is, and if you’re in the same mindset as I am, it’s a gem.

 Posted by at 8:01 pm
Sep 272014
 
THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


ELIZABETH HELY – A Mark of Displeasure. Scribner, hardcover, 1960. Heinemann, UK, hardcover, 1961.

   Visiting Edinburgh, Scotland, for the first time, Commissaire Antoine Cirret of the Paris Sûreté is somewhat bemused. The references to the weather by everyone he meets lead him, temporarily, to believe that many of the inhabitants of that city are weather fetishists.

   In Edinburgh at the request of a friend to support him while he’s giving a concert, Cirret goes to sleep during the “Emperor Concerto.” This does not, Cirret would assure you, mean he does not think much of his friend’s technique; it’s just that he does not care that much about music.

   Alec Trevor, the friend and pianist, also has friends in the city, one of whom dies while leaving the concert. Except for Cirret’s curiosity, the murder of a not-much-loved widow by nicotine poisoning would not have been detected.

   The poisoner is known to the reader and maybe to Cirret. Since she is also a friend of Trevor’s, Cirret disturbs the musician by wanting to investigate the case. Actually, Cirret doesn’t care who did it; he, as a humanitarian, merely wants no repetition of the crime.

   Hely presents a wicked but well-liked murderess whose motives are, she assures herself, of the highest, and a delightful detective in Cirret, who looks much like a monkey and may have that creature’s sense of humor. There aren’t that many French detectives that I have enjoyed reading about, but Cirret is an exception.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.


Bio-Bibliographic Notes: Elizabeth Hely was the pen name of Nancy Elizabeth Brassey Leslie Younger, (1913-1981). Her criminous output as a writer consisted of three books in the Cirret series (see below), plus one standalone, The Long Shot (Heinemann, 1963).

       The Commissaire Antoine Cirret series —

   Dominant Third. Heinemann, UK, 1959. US title: I’ll Be Judge, I’ll Be Jury. Scribner, 1959.
   A Mark of Displeasure. Heinemann, UK, 1961. Scribner, US, 1960.
   Package Deal. Hale 1965. No US edition. TV movie: Universal, 1968, as The Smugglers (with Shirley Booth and Emilio Fernández as Inspector Cesare Brunelli).

 Posted by at 6:38 pm
Sep 272014
 
Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


THE JUGGLER. Columbia Pictures, 1953. Kirk Douglas, Milly Vitale, Paul Stewart, Joseph Walsh, Alf Kjellin, Beverly Washburn, Charles Lane. Director: Edward Dmytryk.

   The Juggler is a good, although deeply unsettling, film about a Holocaust survivor with what we’d now likely call post-traumatic stress. Directed by Edward Dmytryk, this Stanley Kramer production stars Kirk Douglas (born Isser Danielovitch) as Hans Muller, a German Jewish refugee who arrives in Israel in 1949, just after the nascent Jewish state had defeated several invading Arab armies.

   The film’s title comes from Muller’s profession. Prior to his traumatic experiences in concentration camps and losing his wife in the war, he was a famous juggler and entertainer in Germany. Muller (Douglas) is the definition of a sad clown, a man who, from the outside looking in, jokes around to cheer others up.

   But he’s deeply scarred man inside, plagued by guilt for not leaving Germany earlier. (For historical purposes, it’s interesting to note that Muller’s character is an assimilated German Jew rather than an Eastern European Jew from Poland or Russia, people who didn’t face the same historical choices as did German Jews, many of whom did emigrate to Palestine in the 1930s.) After a tense encounter with a refugee camp doctor who urges Muller to seek the aid of a psychiatrist, Muller flees the confines of the Israeli resettlement camp for the city of Haifa.

   While walking on a city street, Muller witnesses a policeman talking to another man. This triggers something terrible inside of him. He begins to run. In a vividly realized scene, a frantic Muller courses down stone steps. The policeman, who we soon learn was looking for a suspect, chases after him. In a fit of fear and rage, Muller strikes the policeman with his feet, seriously injuring the Israeli cop.

   Enter Israeli investigator, Karni (Paul Stewart). Karni, along with a witness, seek to track down the man responsible for the injured Haifa cop. The trail leads them to the resettlement camp and eventually they have a face and a name. That man’s name is Muller. Karni is resolute. He will get his man.

   In the meantime, Muller has teamed up with an Israeli orphan boy by the name of Josh. The two of them hike through the beautiful countryside of northern Israel, eventually settling in at an Israeli kibbutz close to the Syrian border.

   It’s there that Muller encounters Yael (Milly Vitale), a woman who is willing to give the hurt Muller a second chance at life. When Karni shows up, however, she realizes just how troubled a man her love really is. Muller barricades himself in one of the kibbutz’s buildings, loaded rifle in hand.

   The final showdown is in some ways reminiscent of Edward Dmytryk’s The Sniper (1952), also produced by Stanley Kramer. In that film, a deeply troubled war veteran goes on a killing spree in San Francisco, eventually holing himself up in a small boarding house room. In The Juggler, the protagonist/anti-hero isn’t responsible for murdering anyone, so much as for failing to acknowledge how desperate in need of help he really is.

   While The Juggler was not a commercial success and is at times, a very uneven film, it remains an important work. It should be of particular interest to persons interested in Kirk Douglas’s filmography. Douglas is really good here, delivering his performance with a mixture of drama, humor, and pathos. His fits of anger seem extraordinarily real and have an unnerving sense about them.

Indeed, there’s almost something noir about Muller’s plight. He’s a man who commits a crime and is hunted by the police. But at the end of the day, he’s hunted – and haunted – by so much more than a lone Israeli detective. It’s not the easiest film to watch, but it’s worth the effort.

 Posted by at 2:01 am
Sep 262014
 
REVIEWED BY J. RANDOLPH COX:         


DELL SHANNON – Chance to Kill. William Morrow, hardcover, 1967. Pyramid T2388, paperback, January 1971.

   After reading Marv Lachman’s review of Dell Shannon’s Mark of Murder (and see the comments following), I was prompted to give this one a try again, a book I hadn’t read in over 45 years, Chance to Kill.

   As a police procedural it deals with more than a single murder. To quote the dust jacket blurb: “Two heist men wanted for double homicide…the body of a young punk in an alley…the corpse of a girl in a dry riverbed … in fact, everything more or less routine for Lt. Luis Mendoza and his colleagues in the Los Angeles Police Department.”

   Then things go really bad because the murdered girl is a policewoman and she is black. (Of course, in 1967 that meant referring to her as Negro.) Interesting characters and situations. So many of them are described as “nice and ordinary.” The quest for another Kipling for Mendoza’s collection comes up from time to time, but seems to serve no purpose except to add a new dimension to his character, along with references to his family when he goes home at the end of the day.

   His dialogue is sprinkled with Spanish phrases to show he is Latino. He picks up a handful of Kipling titles and quotes from him (the only thing Kipling means to his co-worker Hackett is the phrase “the white man’s burden”).

   I found the prices of things in 1967 interesting. Was everything that affordable in 1967? I didn’t think so at the time. The solution is revealed plausibly and points to a character I hadn’t really noticed. Mendoza ends by going home to his family, his wife, the twins, the cats, and there is a Kipling he has yet to read. Someone told him there was a story in it with a message about doing a good job. He might take the day off and read that.

   Not much politics here, but there is a hint of how liberal things are getting, but you find that in a lot of popular fiction in 1967. Linington/Shannon was active in the John Birch Society. Someday I’ll have to look at some of the Mendoza titles on my shelves from the later years.

 Posted by at 7:04 pm
Sep 262014
 
REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


MAX CARTER – Call Me Killer! Avon A542, paperback original, 1953.

   The damnedest thing I’ve read in a long time (is the title an homage to Melville or Merman?) not least because I can’t find any references to “Max Carter” and I can’t say whether he wrote anything else, used another pen name or just appeared, dropped this bombshell and stole softly into the pulp-paper night.

   The story starts with the narrator, Ed Dirke, a one-time successful playwright being released from prison after a seven-year stretch for murdering his girlfriend. In a quick flashback, Dirke tells us how his brother Carl manipulated him into the killing, and lets us know he’s out to settle things Old-Testament-style with a life for a life.

   Turns out Dirk’s brother won’t play Abel to his Cain all that easily though; Carl is a big-time buyer-and-seller of anything profitable, and he’s surrounded himself with a lot of big and well-armed disciples, as well as a few well-cantilevered dames with moves that would make a Bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window, as the man says.

   Come to think of it, there’s only one woman in the whole book who keeps her clothes on for more than a couple pages, and like a hero out of Spillane, Dirke is what they call “sexually active” these days whenever he’s not being beaten up, bound, shot-at or merely propositioned.

   Pretty standard stuff so far, but Dirke isn’t your average paperback tough-guy. He’s more writer than fighter, and his relationship with his brother borders on the unnatural. He’s also subject to blackouts, and his actions take a turn very early on that changes the reader’s whole outlook on the tale as we realize that our hero may be hallucinating as much as he’s narrating.

   I won’t give any more away, except to say that the action is routine paperback riot, no better or worse than a dozen other hard-boiled histories, but Carter puts a subversive enough edge to it that I wish I knew who-the-hell he was.

 Posted by at 1:31 am
Sep 252014
 
Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         


BECAUSE OF THE CATS. Fons Rademakers Production Amsterdam, 1973. International Coproductions, US, 1974 (dubbed). Bryan Marshall, Alexandra Stewart, Edward Judd, Anthony Allen, Sylvia Kristel, George Baker. Screenplay: Hugo Claus, based on the novel by Nicholas Freeling. Directed by Fons Rademaker.

   If I ever knew this film existed I had forgotten it until I found it on YouTube.

   By any standards this is an odd film. On one hand it is virtually hard core with graphic scenes of male and female full frontal nudity, brutal rape, and one really strange murder; on the other it is a well done and faithful adaptation of the novel that introduced Nicholas Freeling’s Piet Van der Valk to detective fans everywhere.

   I can honestly say I’ve seen nothing like it.

   I’ll go farther in that I don’t think anything really like it came along until the 1990s and Basic Instinct.

   A group of well to do bored youths have formed a club and a sadistic, sociopathic, and hypnotic nilhist has turned them from a group of juvenile delinquents into a Manson like cult. When they break into the home of a well do to middle age couple (shades of A Clockwork Orange, which is nowhere near as graphic or disturbing) they smash the home up and when the couple surprise them, force the husband (and us — in flashback as the wife tells what happened to Van der Valk —Bryan Marshall) to watch her being gang-raped.

   This is an extremely violent rape scene, more like something you might expect in one of Jess Franco’s later films than a detective story. The exploitative and voyeuristic aspects of the crime are blatant and it is obvious the director is having it both ways, both a depiction of a brutal crime and an uncomfortable glimpse at our own voyeuristic impulses collectively and individually. Those of you familiar with Italian giallo films of this era may be surprised how far beyond that this goes. I’m not sure I have seen anything like it in a mainstream film of this era, even some with a reputation for shock.

   Van der Valk is called in and begins to investigate doggedly. You might expect the sex aspect to take a back seat then, but during the investigation Van der Valk meets a woman from his past (Alexandra Stewart) and they have graphic full frontal nudity sex albeit as a key element of the plot. Much as he is in the novels, Van der Valk is portrayed warts and all.

   Later, one of the girls caught up in the plot, Sylvia Kristel, recounts another graphic murder of a young man replete with full nudity, sex, and a truly disturbing scene when all the girls, all nude, drown him while he is making love to Kristel. Prior to that a ritual held by the cult with a dead cat is truly uncomfortable to watch.

   Eventually Van der Valk tracks down the hypnotic sociopath behind it all Eric Mierle (Anthony Allen), is nearly killed by him, and when his old flame kills Mierle saving him, Van der Valk stages it to look like he did the shooting in the true high-handed tradition of great detectives everywhere.

   This is actually a good seventies detective film with Marshall well cast as Van der Valk (played by Barry Foster on television), and somewhat mindful of Freeling’s description in the book — albeit better looking. Almost everything from the book is here and accurate including Van der Valk’s French wife, Arlette, though she plays no real role other than someone to cheat on.

   Even the graphic sexual content is true to the novel, though in the book it is revealed in Van der Valk’s Maigret-like interviews with victims and suspects. Presenting it this graphically in flashback rather than dialogue changes more than you might expect, and I’m not sure if the salacious and voyeuristic feel of the film is accidental because of that or deliberate.

   Filmed in the flat seventies style matter-of-factly, though stylishly, with the rich colors of the era predominant in clothes and backgrounds (during the night swim drowning scene the water is startlingly blue and clear the nubile bodies a stark contrast to the horror of their crime), and a few psychedelic touch, it’s very much of its era, yet much more blatantly sexual than even many films meant to shock audiences in that era.

   It’s almost as if they had taken one of those German, French, or Italian soft porn films of the era that used to show up late on Showtime and injected an actual detective story into it. It’s a bit wrenching if you don’t know what’s coming as if they didn’t want the audience to know quite how to react to it. It must have been truly uncomfortable to watch in a theater. I mentioned Franco, but it could also have been made by Jean Rollin, Tinto Brass, or other of the era’s more exploitative directors.

   This is a well made and well told adaptation of Freeling’s novel, and it captures some of the qualities of his work and aspects of the novel I would have thought couldn’t be filmed. Marshall has a great face that certainly reflects his odd moments of reflection, anger, disgust, and pity. Still it is one of those films that always seems to be on the verge of saying something important and never quite gets it out.

   But if nudity, graphic brutal sex, and feigned rape disturb you skip this one.

 Posted by at 11:20 pm
Sep 252014
 
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Francis M. Nevins


WILLIAM ARDEN – A Dark Power. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1968. Berkley, paperback, 1970.

   During the same years he was writing the Dan Fortune private-eye novels under his Michael Collins by-line, Dennis Lynds took on the pseudonym William Arden and launched another series, this one dealing with industrial spy and PI-in-spite-of-himself Kane Jackson.

   The five Jackson novels are written in a spare, unadorned third-person style reminiscent of Dashiell Hammett’s, and their protagonist is very much the hard-bitten operative, without the leavening of compassion one finds in other Lynds detectives, like Dan Fortune or Paul Shaw.

   Most of the Jackson exploits are distinguished by their setting in the jungle of high-level capitalism, principally in the chemical, metallurgical, and pharmaceutical industries where Lynds worked as a trade-publications editor before turning to fiction.

   In A Dark Power, first and freshest of the series, Jackson is hired by a New Jersey pharmaceutical combine to recover a missing sample of a drug potentially worth millions. The trail leads through the mazes of interoffice love affairs and power struggles, and several corpses are strewn along the path.

   Although Lynds tends to get lost in his own plot labyrinths, this time he keeps the story line under firm control, meshing counterplots with fine precision, skillfully portraying people trapped by their own drives, and capping the action with a double surprise climax. Jackson reaches the truth by clever guesswork rather than reasoning, but this is the only weakness in one of the best PI novels of the Sixties.

   Of the four later Jackson exploits, the most interesting is Die to a Distant Drum (1972), which, like Lynds’s novels as by Mark Sadler, takes as background the turmoil of the Vietnam era. Jackson poses as a revolutionary bomb-maker and joins a Weatherman faction in order to infiltrate a chemical plant and bring out certain evidence of industrial piracy. The result, as usual with Lynds under whatever by-line, is a fine and thoughtful thriller.

         ———
   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

      The Kane Jackson series –

A Dark Power. Dodd, 1968.
Deal in Violence. Dodd, 1969.
The Goliath Scheme. Dodd, 1970.

Die to a Distant Drum. Dodd, 1972.
Deadly Legacy. Dodd, 1973.

 Posted by at 2:42 am
Sep 242014
 
REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


“Second Thunder.” An episode of BLUE THUNDER. ABC, 6 January 1984. Rastar Production Inc and Public Arts Inc in association with Sony Pictures Television. Cast: James Farentino as Frank Chaney, Dana Carvey as “Jafo” Wonderlove, Sandy McPeak as Captain Braddock, Bubba Smith as Bubba, Dick Butkus as “Ski” and Ann Cooper as J. J. Douglas. Guest Cast: Richard Lynch. Executive Producer: Roy Huggins. Co-Executive Producer: David Moessinger. Producers: Jeri Taylor and Donald A. Baer. Teleplay by David Moessinger and Jeri Taylor. Story by Fred McKnight. Directed by Gilbert Shilton.

   There are very few reasons to remember this series unless you were a young person during 1984 and enjoyed watching helicopters and explosions.

   The success of the film BLUE THUNDER in 1983 led Columbia Pictures (owned by Sony) to adapt the idea into a TV series. ABC bought the idea and scheduled it as a mid-season replacement for Friday at 9 to 10pm (Eastern).

   According to TVTango.com, the first episode “Second Thunder” received the ratings of 17.9 versus CBS’s DALLAS (25.4) and NBC’s Movie THE JERK, TOO (9.6 overall). The series was quickly cancelled with only 11 episodes filmed and aired.

   The most positive part of this was that one of television’s most creative producers, Roy Huggins, came out of semi-retirement to executive produce (showrun) the series.

   However, Huggins did not last long. As he explained, “The people at ABC wanted to produce the show. I wasn’t being allowed to produce the show, so I quit. I had the same argument 35 years ago when I started in television. These people weren’t even born then.” (ROY HUGGINS: CREATOR OF MAVERICK, 77 SUNSET STRIP, THE FUGITIVE AND THE ROCKFORD FILES by Paul Green, McFarland 2014)

   The series attempted to mimic the film’s style but not its substance. There was a key difference between the two as the TV version approved of the idea of local police possessing top military hardware while the movie’s had the opposite view. Oh, and one of the character’s nickname “Jafo” bowed to TV censors and the f stood for “frustrated” (“Just Another Frustrated Observer”) rather than the stronger f word used in the film.

   The first episode “Second Thunder” featured a drug smuggler with a grudge against Blue Thunder’s pilot Frank. The bad guy P.V.C. is willing to kill as many people as necessary to get Frank to meet him in a shoot-out in the sky. Frank is willing, but his Captain won’t let him because it is not by the book.

   Currently all eleven episodes are available to view on You Tube, but BLUE THUNDER was released on DVD in 2006. Here is “Second Thunder.”

   The problems of this episode and the series overall are obvious – lack of budget, bad writing, and a cliché cast of characters. You know what you are in for when the helicopter Blue Thunder is the most interesting character.

   In this episode, James Farentino came off smug and annoying as the self-centered rogue pilot Lt. Frank Chaney. Dana Carvey was tolerable as the too cute character “Jafo,” the navigator and computer expert. As if Carvey was not enough humor the series featured the comedic relief team of Dick Butkus and Bubba Smith, two ex-football players in real life and in character, who manned the “Rolling Thunder” a giant van that supplied ground support and offer something to go with the helicopter should any toy company be interested.

   Sandy McPeak offered nothing new playing the by the book grumpy Captain Braddock who dislikes Frank and exists only for gratuitous character conflict. Only Richard Lynch gave a nice performance as the cliché villain with a less than sane sense of humor.

   While TV series have starred helicopters before (WHIRLYBIRDS (Syndicated, 1957), CHOPPER ONE (ABC, 1974), etc), the season of 1983-84 featured two, BLUE THUNDER and CBS’s AIRWOLF. The latter was the more successful of the two with viewers. BLUE THUNDER may have had the better helicopter but AIRWOLF offered more interesting characters, relationships that interested the viewer and better stories.

   Granted the series was aimed at a young audience but the writing was horrible by even kid TV standards. The script was burdened by too many amateurish writing errors such as characters that told us what was happening as if this was radio and we couldn’t see.

    “Here they come with the bomb,” Jafo announces as we watch the bomb squad arrive carrying the bomb.

   Somehow they resisted labeling that device as “The Bomb,” but every gadget used in Blue Thunder had a button that would light up with its name so when Frank told “Jafo” to use some gadget such as “whisper mode” a button lit up with “whisper mode” on it.

   The villain’s name P.V.C. was pointless when the intent was it to be mysterious. The writers made the mistake of having Captain Braddock comment about how mysterious it was but then never answered the mystery. The villain’s end would insult the intelligence of a comic book reader. (It did mine.)

   Weak acting with bad characters and inept writing, you would think they would at least get the star’s scenes right. But even the air action with Blue Thunder was flawed by a lack of budget that forced the use of too many reused shots and footage from the film.

   Toss in bad production values such as cheap sets and locations that had been overused by THE A-TEAM and you give up trying to find any redeeming value to this TV series.

   And it was not just this one episode; for example in the last episode “The Island” Bubba and Ski take their positions behind barrels marked petrol for their gun battle with the bad guys.

   Thanks to the DVD and the helicopter there are several reviews of BLUE THUNDER on the Internet, yet none I found mentioned Roy Huggins.

   I wonder what kind of series BLUE THUNDER would have been if ABC had let Huggins have his way. It is interesting that the next series Huggins would work on was NBC’s HUNTER when Stephen J. Cannell asked him to take over after the disastrous first season. One of Huggins first changes with HUNTER was to feature less action and focus more on developing the characters. Funny, that is just what BLUE THUNDER needed (and some decent Huggins approved writers).

 Posted by at 2:17 am