Mar 272015
Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

THE DEVIL THUMBS A RIDE. RKO Radio Pictures, 1947. Lawrence Tierney, Ted North, Nan Leslie, Betty Lawford , Andrew Tombes, Harry Shannon, Glen Vernon, Marian Carr, William Gould. Screenwriter-director: Felix E. Feist, based on a novel by Robert C. Du Soe.

   You don’t watch the crime film, The Devil Thumbs a Ride, for the rather formulaic plot about an outlaw on the run. No, you watch for it for the noir atmosphere, set as it is in the late 1940s on one shadowy and violent Southern California night.

   Most of all, you watch it for Lawrence Tierney. He portrays Steve Morgan, an inveterate liar, a forger, and a murderer.

   Directed by Felix Feist, The Devil Thumbs a Ride is a taut thriller, economical on time, but rich in black humor, cynicism, and suspense. Replete with believable, punchy dialogue, the film tells the story of the diabolical Morgan, who after killing a cashier in San Diego, hitches a ride with Jimmy Ferguson (Ted North), a traveling salesman from Los Angeles who was in town for a drunken birthday celebration. The two men end up also giving a lift to two women they encounter in a gas station parking lot and off they go.

   There’s murder, mayhem, and madness a plenty. Look for the close up shots of Tierney’s eyes. It’s not fancy camera work by any means, but they tell you all you need to know about who’s the charming devil in this one. Tierney was one of a kind, no doubt about it.

 Posted by at 4:53 am
Mar 272015

ROBERT AMES – Awake and Die. Gold Medal #518, paperback original; 1st printing, September 1955.

   Not much seems to be known about the author. This is the third of three crime novels he wrote for Gold Medal, the earlier ones being The Devil Drives (1952) and The Dangerous One (1954), both of which I own, but this is the first of the three that I’ve read. In Crime Fiction IV, Al Hubin tells us that Robert Ames was a pen name of Charles Clifford, but that he was not the same Charles L. Clifford who wrote While the Bells Ran, which I reviewed here some short time ago.

   Unless, maybe? At the moment this is all I know, so it’s possible that the two are one and the same. To stay on the safe side, however, let’s assume they’re not. It makes no difference, really, in whether this is a book you’d enjoy reading or not.

   Awake and Die is told in first person a hunky young war veteran named Will Peters who came home from Korea with a bullet removed from his head and a 50% disability pension. He’s working as a clamdigger along the Jersey shore as the story begins, which it does with some gusto, right off the bat.

   First he meets a the girl of his dreams on a dock, dressed in white shirt with nothing underneath, red shorts and with long tanned legs. She’s married but that doesn’t seem to stop her from having all eyes for Will. Nor he for her, for that matter.

   Will, however, is encumbered with a live-in lady friend who has become increasingly tiresome to live with, and another young female acquaintance who with a little encouragement, wouldn’t mind taking the other woman’s place.

   Three women interested in him, as pleasant as that may sound, is at least two more than Will can handle. At the same time that Will has plans for his live-in lady friend, unfortunately for her, quite coincidentally Mrs. Grace (the one on the dock) has a husband she is no longer very fond of, to put it mildly.

   Two, no make that three deaths later, Will’s destiny is in the hand of Chris, female acquaintance number three, plus (quite surreally) a hermit who lives on the shore and does not speak except ventriloqistically through his three companions, a dog, a cat, and a seagull. A recently demoted cop named Rogers hangs tight on Will’s tail constantly, wanting his old job back, and knowing just how he’s going to do it.

   The story that plays out from here is more than competently told, but while there is a twist or two along the way, I had in mind a couple of even better ones. Toward the end of the tale a couple of questions I had about the telling are answered, so all of the loose ends are tied up, but in true noir fashion, not too happily for most of the participants. I’ve read better along these same lines, but equally so, I hasten to add, many that were a whole lot worse.

 Posted by at 2:15 am
Mar 262015

CROSSING JORDAN. “Pilot Episode.” NBC. 24 September 2001 (Season 1, Episode 1). Jill Hennessy, Miguel Ferrer, Ken Howard, Lois Nettleton, plus a large ensemble cast. Creator/screenwriter: Tim Kring. Director: Allan Arkush.

   Please forgive the lack of screen credits. This is the only episode of Crossing Jordan I’ve seen so far, and I haven’t yet placed names with faces, nor do I know how long some of the faces will last. I didn’t include any names in the guest cast, either, since most of this first episode was devoted to introducing the characters, not the story itself.

   Which was OK, or maybe even more than that, but if you’ll allow me, I’ll get to that in a minute. The series was on for six years, and I won’t lie to you: I’d barely heard of it before buying a box set of DVDs of the first season. I can’t tell you why it’s been under my radar all this time.

   Or maybe I can. (A) A lack of time to follow everything that’s on TV, even crime-solving shows, and (B) an assumption that new shows won’t last, so why start watching them, but missing one like this one that does catch on, and it’s too late to catch up with the story line, or so I think.

   Dr. Jordan Cavanaugh (Jill Hennessy) is a medical examiner who insists on helping the police solve the cases her dead bodies involve her in, against all of their wishes. She’s beautiful, smart-talking, feisty, has a problem with anger management, and as a direct result, she has run out of places to work until her former boss, Dr. Garret Macy (Miguel Ferrer), convinces his superiorss to hire her back at the Massachusetts Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

   I gather her father (Ken Howard) doesn’t stick around for the entire series, but at least during the first season he’s an ex-homicide detective who helps Jordan solve her cases by playing a version of killer/victim to re-enact the crime given the facts as she has them. He’s glad to see her again, but Jordan has problems, in the pilot, at least, with the fact that there is a new woman in his life, Jordan’s mother having been murdered when she was a child. This may explain some of the chips on her shoulder.

   There are quite few others in the ensemble cast, as I said earlier, all of whom get a brief introduction and some exposure in this first episode. The story itself is interesting without being overly memorable. It turns out that a young prostitute, found dead in an alley and suspected of dying of a drug overdose, is actually a virgin. It is then discovered that she came to Boston looking for her father, and — well, I needn’t tell you everything, need I?

   I do like the characters, and so did the general viewing public, given that the series lasted for so long. It’s one I’ll keep watching, at least through the first season, which is all that’s been officially released on DVD. (The problem being rights to the music played in the back ground.)

 Posted by at 3:12 am
Mar 252015

MICHAEL CRAVEN – The Detective & the Pipe Girl. Bourbon Street Books, trade paperback; 1st printing, 2014.

   I’m going to go back a way before I begin. I don’t know the exact year it was, but it has to have been sometime in the early 1970s, soon after my wife and I moved to this house in Connecticut where we’ve lived ever since. The local comic book dealer put on a pulp and paperback convention, and Paul you can tell me if I’m wrong, but as I recall, it was in Wethersfield, the next town over.

   The guest of honor, or one of them — that I don’t remember — was Mike Avallone. Among other things, he was the creator of Ed Noon, the leading protagonist in quite a few private eye novels. During the panel of size one he was on, he was lamenting the “death of the PI novel,” among other matters. In the Q&A session that followed, I had the temerity to point out that there were these new guys in town, a fellow named Spenser and another chap who shall remain Nameless.

   Mike, of course, would hear nothing of it. They’ll soon be gone, was his response, and soon enough, mark my words, he said, nobody will be writing about private eyes any more. I guess you know where this is going. Here it is, nearly 50 years later, and not only are PIs not dead as a genre, they may be more plentiful than ever before. (I may be exaggerating there. Robert B. Parker and Bill Pronzini, each in their own individualistic way, were responsible for a big boom renaissance in the field, starting in the early 70s and continuing on into the 80s and today. You can fill in the names of the other authors who came along on your own, I believe.)

   Mike was wrong, but while I obviously didn’t press him on the point, I felt then as I do now, that much of his complaint was that publishers didn’t want any any more adventures of Ed Noon.

   Forgive the long intro, but this, all of the above, is what came to mind while I was reading The Detective & the Pipe Girl, the first recorded case of a Los Angeles-based PI named John Darville. (Craven has written on earlier book, Body Copy, a PI novel with ex-surfer turned Malibu private detective Donald Tremaine as the leading character.)

   I haven’t read the earlier book, but I have so far managed to not read it. Not yet, that is, based on how much I enjoyed reading this one.

   I’ve been thinking about it, and while I’m sure that every other review that you read of this book will tell you what a “pipe girl” is, I’m not going to. I’ve checked on Google, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the term is Craven’s own invention, and once again I’m going to let him tell you about it when you read this book, and if you’re a PI fan, I hope you will.

   Darville, who tells his story himself, is hired in this book by a famous but now aging film director to locate a girl he had a small affair with before his wife found out. Which he was OK with, he says, but he was able to stay in touch with her until recently. The phone number he has for her is not working, and she is not returning his attempts to talk to her again.

   So, OK, the plot’s not a new one, but Craven has is own voice, or Darville does, in a usual but still different wise-ass sort of way, and while we meet many obvious Hollywood types while Darville tries to track the girl down (which he does, and I’ll say no more), we also get a guided tour through all parts of the many neighborhoods that make up the greater Los Angeles area, with many asides as he does so. Since I was there not too long ago, the names of the towns and the streets and his digressive impressions of them were very familiar to me.

   The plot is not without its flaws, and I could include a few of them in this review, but once again I’ve decided not to, except for one, the long overly expository ending, easily excused, I think, in the overall scheme of things. It’s also a happy ending for Darville personally, I’m happy to say, and he concludes the book with a few truths about life, of which the least is the following, but it still resonated with me when I read it for the first time:

    “If you ever find yourself standing outside a crowded restaurant in the hot sun on the weekend waiting to be seated for brunch, it may be time to rethink things.”

 Posted by at 1:41 pm
Mar 242015
Reviewed by DAN STUMPF:         

RIMFIRE. Lippert/Screen Guild, 1949. James Millican, Mary Beth Hughes, Reed Hadley, Victor Killian, Henry Hull, Fuzzy Knight, Chris-Pin Martin, Glenn Strange, Jason Robards Sr., I. Stanford Jolley and the ubiquitous (at Lippert) Margia Dean. Written by Ron Ormond, Arthur St. Claire and Frank Wisbar. Directed by B. Reeves Eason.

   Not a terribly good movie, but an unusual and intriguing one, Rimfire offers James Millican as an undercover cavalry officer in search of a purloined gold shipment. Early on he stops a stagecoach robbery (masterminded by that stalwart of the genre, the fancy-vested saloon-owner) and gets a job as deputy for the local sheriff.

   All pretty standard stuff, but it happens that one of the stagecoach passengers is a savvy gambler known as the Abilene Kid (saturnine Reed Hadley) who knows a thing or two about the local bad guys, and in short order, he’s framed for cheating at cards with a marked deck and promptly hanged by the law-abiding citizenry.

   Well I wasn’t expecting that. Nor the next part where a ghostly shadow shows up at odd times and starts murdering the rest of the cast, leaving a playing card at the scene of each slaying.

   The origins of this bit aren’t far to seek. Co-writer Frank Wisbar is best known for writing/directing Strangler of the Swamp (PRC, 1946) which also featured the ghost of a wrongly-hanged man exacting revenge. Director B. Reeves Eason, who helmed such off-beat adventures as Undersea Kingdom and Darkest Africa (both Mascot, 1936) knew his way around the world of low-budget thrills, so Rimfire achieves a certain eerie resonance as we see each doomed victim suddenly shrouded by shadow, staring fearfully into the camera as a sepulchral voice tells him his time has come. And some of the murders are unusually grim for a B-western.

   Alas, however, and also alack while you’re up, the makers of this thing opted for a fairly conventional “surprise” ending which I saw coming about 10 minutes in. Damn shame, that.

   Along the way though there’s some fairly chilling fun to be had, and if Rimfire never makes it into the ranks of Creepy Classics or Western Noir, at least it offers something a little out the ordinary to keep you watching.

 Posted by at 10:05 pm
Mar 242015
Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

WHITE ZOMBIE. United Artists, 1932. Bela Lugosi, Madge Bellamy, Joseph Cawthorn, Robert Frazer, John Harron, Brandon Hurst, George Burr MacAnnan. Director: Victor Halperin.

   I recently had the opportunity to attend a screening of White Zombie at the Billy Wilder Theater here in Los Angeles. Presented as part of the UCLA Festival of Restoration, the low budget production is a zombie story, a fairy tale, and a fever dream wrapped into one idiosyncratic, but thoroughly watchable, celluloid package.

   Directed by Victor Halperin, White Zombie isn’t nearly as lavish as Dracula, nor is it as philosophically rich as The Wolf Man. But it is a lot better than many of the later Poverty Row productions in which Lugosi starred in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

   Although it was cheaply made with some incredibly clunky moments of both acting and dialogue, the film has its atmospheric charms and benefits from an exquisitely mischievous performance by Lugosi. In this post-Dracula outing, he portrays Murder Legendre, a white Haitian plantation owner and a master of voodoo who puts the enchanting Madeleine Short Parker (Madge Bellamy) under his spell. That is, until her white knight husband storms Legendre’s fortress to rescue his one true love from the evil madman’s clutches!

   It’s silly, magical fun.

 Posted by at 4:44 am
Mar 242015
Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:          

J. A. KONRATH – Rusty Nail. Hyperion, hardcover, 2006; softcover, 2007.

   I have said it before and will reiterate, I have had it with serial killers. I just don’t read or buy serial killer books. In fact, the only reason I picked this one up was because Publisher’s Weekly described it as a “cross between Carl Hiaason and Thomas Harris.”

   That, I admit, piqued my curiosity, and since it was a Dollar Store Wonder what could I lose? I could afford to risk 109 pennies (with tax).

   The heroine of this series is Lieutenant Jacqueline ‘Jack’ Daniels, second generation Chicago homicide cop, age 46, looks younger, dresses nice by shopping smart, and has a self confessed smart mouth. Her life isn’t looking all that good either. Her mother, the first generation homicide cop, is in a hospice facility in a coma Jack blames herself for. Her partner, Herb Benedict, her strong right had and friend is about to discover he has a tumor from his colonoscopy. She screwed up the relationship with the man she loved, and he has someone new. And there is a copycat killer following the path of Phil Kork, the serial killer whose capture made her famous, in fact, a little too famous.

   A big part of her problem is sexist and none-too-bright Harry McGlade. Harry was a private eye who helped her catch Kork and parlayed it into fame for both of them. Something the department is none to happy about:

   “The superintendent has been getting some flack lately about that TV show.”

   “TV show?”

   “That series with the PI and the fat woman who plays you.”

   The series is called Fatal Autonomy, and it has made Harry McGlade rich and Jack miserable. Whenever she introduces herself to anyone they comment she has lost weight. They can’t separate her from her job, and she can’t separate herself from Harry. He even wants her to be his ‘best man’ at his wedding.

   Worse still, the woman he is marrying, Holly, is a Barbie doll private eye, younger than Jack, smart, a fine markswoman, black belt, and to add insult to injury sincere, friendly, and despite Jack’s best — or worst — efforts, determined to be friends and help catch the copycat killer. She even saves Jack’s life. How dare she?

   There is also her cat, Mr. Friskers, who doesn’t seem to like her, but her Mother loves him; her lack of a sex life; and the fact it seems the serial killer is seeking revenge on Jack and everyone who was involved in catching and killing Phil Kork, including everyone and everything Jack loves.

   Jack is on the trail though, and the hunt will take her through the Mid-West into Kork’s family history and a virtual family reunion of serial killers and mass graves. Meanwhile Konrath introduces us in alternating chapters to Alex, the serial killer behind these murders and from a twisted and shocking history tied to the Kork’s.

   Aside from being literally knee deep in rotting corpses, Jack also manages to get shot at, threatened with losing her job, and seriously singed in a fire. It’s enough to make a girl wear cheap sensible shoes to work — a real trial for the fashion and name brand conscious Jack.

   If you haven’t caught on yet that comparison to Carl Hiaason and Thomas Harris was accurate. The serial killer is a monster, and graphically, if never exploitatively, described — it’s all Jack can do to keep from ruining a few crime scenes. What balances that is Jack is smart, attractive, good company, a genuinely good detective, and best of all, fall out of the chair and roll on the floor funny. Slight smiles aren’t her style. Jack is laugh-out-loud funny, and few books get audible chuckles out of me:

   His head was bald, but he had bushy white eyebrows long enough to comb, and enough ear hair to stuff a pillow.

   The shoes (Dior) were acquired at an outlet store and had been mispriced. I got them for eight bucks. I remember holding my breath when the cashier rang them up, figuring she’d notice. She didn’t. That’s been the high point of my year so far.

   He had to be putting me on. No one was this slow outside of Hee Haw.

   All play and no work makes Jack a bit flighty.

   … a careful mirror examination of my face, studying the wrinkles and deciding I needed nothing short of spackle to fill them in.

   Told by the FBI, who are trying to horn in, the obviously copycat murders are copycat murders “… was your first clue the note or that it took place in the same house as the Kork murders?”

   Mr. Friskers had his face buried in his bowl. He hissed at my interruption of his gluttony. I hissed back and set the bag on the corner, next to the sink. The cat ran up and swiped a claw at my leg… It was always my left leg. He’d clawed me a dozen times, but never the right leg. Sadism with an agenda.

   “Hey, your name is Jack Daniels.”

   “That’s me, lightly braised but in the flesh.”

   “I like that TV show that you’re in, that Fatal Autonomy. You’re pretty funny. I loved the one where you were screaming and screaming and screaming for help and that private eye guy took off his dirty sock and crammed it in your mouth.”

   I gave him a weak smile. “Yeah, good episode.”

   Peter chimed in, “My favorite is the one where you tracked down that killer and went to shoot him but forgot to load your gun.” He slapped his leg grinning. “Classic.”

   There is a nice twist at the end, not really withheld from the reader, and for once a least likely suspect that has been set up right, and all the subplots stay raveled together for the multiple payoffs.

   The titles are all mixed drinks. Rusty Nail, Whisky Sour, Bloody Mary and more. I can say honestly, that serial killer or not, I would read another one, and these days that is praise for any series, serial killers or not. Jack Daniels proves almost as good company as her namesake, and if you stay up all night with her, you can still go to work in the morning and there is no hangover.

   One last great line, delivered by Herb’s wife. It turns out Herb didn’t have a tumor, but he did have a heart attack, which Jack has trouble understanding why they didn’t find earlier until Herb’s wife Bernice explains: “It’s hard to diagnose a heart condition by sticking a camera up your ass.”

   That sums up Jack’s life and Rusty Nail as well as anything.

      The Jack Daniels series -

1. Whiskey Sour (2004)

2. Bloody Mary (2005)
3. Rusty Nail (2006)
4. Dirty Martini (2007)
5. Fuzzy Navel (2008)
6. Cherry Bomb (2009)

7. Shaken (2010)
8. Stirred (2011) (with Blake Crouch)

65 Proof: Jack Daniels and Other Thriller Stories (2009)
Shot of Tequila (2009)   [ebook]
Jack Daniels Stories: Fifteen Mystery Tales (2010)
With A Twist (2011)   [short story]
Jacked Up! (2013) (with Jack Kilborn and Tracy Sharp) [novella]

 Posted by at 1:07 am
Mar 232015
William F. Deeck

FRANK SHAY – The Charming Murder. Macaulay, hardcover, 1930.

   This is Frank Shay’s first attempt, and that is indeed the operative word, at a mystery novel. There is a fine plot here, one worthy of Queen, Carr, or Christie. As it is worked out, however, it is unworthy of almost anyone.

   Dr. Jack Charming is an unhappy man, for several undeniable reasons: He is a millionaire and he is irresistible to women. Both of these drawbacks are getting in the way of his practice of medicine, his simple rounds in the hospital, and his marrying the not-yet-divorced fourth wife of a bounder. She appears to be no great catch, but such apparently is love.

   Charming has invited seven friends — and with friends like his he has no need for enemies — for cocktails and a buffet. At about 9:45 p.m. off they all go to the theater, followed by drinks at a nightclub, and then back to the doctor’s apartment. The doctor sends in his guests and keeps the taxi to take home the woman he wants to marry. The guests go into the apartment to discover the police, who inform them that Dr. Charming was shot dead in the apartment while they — well, most of them; things are a bit unclear here — were all there about 9:30 p.m.

   A nifty puzzle to work out, eh? Does the author accomplish the feat? Yes. Is it satisfactory ? No.

   The first-person narrator, a newspaperman of the not-too-bright breed that was prominent in those days, tells the reader in a prologue that “no one, save these same guests and his servants,” had access to Dr. Charming’s apartment at the time of the murder. He lies. At least five others did, and there was only one servant.

   The stage presentation that the group goes to see is Professor Proteus, an impersonator. During his act, he impersonates George Washington delivering his “Farewell Address to his Generals” — no, I hadn’t known about this either. His impersonation is “pure genius,” although how anyone would be able to judge is beyond me.

   Getting closer to the present, Proteus makes himself up like Abraham Lincoln and delivers the Gettysburg Address. The audience stamps on the floor after this performance, presumably in approval. Perhaps some of them were there for the original and remember it well.

   Finally, in the here and now, Proteus makes himself up to look like Charles Lindbergh standing in front of the “Spirit of St. Louis.” No remarks this time — what would they be? — but the house shakes with applause. A little authorial license here, one presumes. Proteus is obviously on to a good thing with this group.

   Then, as a departure from his regular act, Proteus says he will make himself up to look like a member of the audience. Dr. Charming is chosen, and Proteus does such a good job that even Charming’s friends can’t tell him from the good doctor.

   It turns out that Proteus has been paid by one of the Doctor’s party to impersonate him. Why? I don’t know, Proteus doesn’t know, and if the author knows, he isn’t splitting.

   A police sergeant, the newspaper reporter, and the widower of the woman Dr. Charming wanted to marry — yes, she’s dead, too, murdered about the same time as the Doctor but In a different place — are returning from the dead woman’s apartment. The widower won’t answer the sergeant’s questions, so the sergeant turns a flashlight on him and discovers that the man’s pupils do not respond to light, which means he’s either dead or the sergeant thinks he is. The sergeant gets out of the taxi an d tells the driver to take the corpse to the morgue, Ah, those were simpler days!

   The doctor’s apartment, joined to his office, is on the ground floor. In one of the many summings-up by police lieutenant Daniel (Deedee) Donor, he has one of the suspects going upstairs. One of the suspects is shot and killed while in the apartment, apparently by someone who thought he and the victim were on the second floor.

   Four people enter the apartment through a door that only the police have noticed. The reason it has not been noticed is that it is blocked by a steel cabinet. The question of how that group got through the steel cabinet is never raised.

   The group of four contained a gangster, his hit man who was supposed to kill Charming, and two people who were to play other roles but would have made excellent witnesses to the murder, something that seems not to have occurred to the gangster. Something else had not occurred to the gangster, and who this time can blame him? “I hears someone in the bathroom and when I whispers to ’em to lay quiet the guy with the gun lets it go off.” Good hit men have always been hard to find. Luckily for the gangster, someone else had already shot Charming.

   The man impersonating Charming — not Professor Proteus, remember — was dubious about being able to do the job successfully, but after “trailing” Charming for several days he is able to fool Charming’s friends, Charming’s mistress, and Charming’s would-like-to-be mistresses under the most testing of circumstances.

   The narrator becomes drunk and starts slurring his words, except when the author forgets to have him do it.

   Those who enjoy what Bill Pronzini deems “alternative classics” ought to appreciate this novel. Others should shun it.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 9, No. 6, November-December 1987.

Bibliographic Note:   There was a second case that was solved by the same detective, that being chronicled in Murder on Cape Cod (Macaulay, 1931). A quick search on the Internet suggests that the second book is more difficult to obtain then the first.

 Posted by at 12:48 am
Mar 222015

DOUG ALLYN – Motown Underground. Lupe Garcia #2. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1993. No paperback edition.

   Allyn is the author of short stories and a previous Garcia novel [The Cheerio Killings, St. Martin’s, 1989], but his main livelihood is leading and playing in a rock band. His Detroit reminds me of Solamita’s NYC, and like Solamita’s stories, his are filled with mean, hard people on both sides of the law.

   Garcia is a Detroit cop on leave after an explosion that injured him and killed others, and is thinking about quitting. An old friend dying of cancer asks his help in getting out of an arrangement with a crook who is taking over his nightclub, but before Garcia can do anything, the crook is killed and his friend commits suicide. The cops think Garcia killed the crook, and he finds himself between their rock and a gangster hard place.

   This is a rough story, full of mean people, bad language, and bloody violence. It’s well and tersely written, with good dialogue and mostly believable characters. The ending didn’t quite come off, though, and I’m not sure I liked any of the characters enough to give a damn.

– Reprinted from Ah, Sweet Mysteries #9, September 1993.

Bibliographic Note:   These were only the two recorded advenures of Lupe Garcia.

 Posted by at 8:26 pm
Mar 222015
Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

THE DEADLY TRACKERS. Warner Brothers, 1973. Richard Harris, Rod Taylor, Al Lettieri, Neville Brand, William Smith. Based on a story by Samuel Fuller. Directors: Barry Shear & Samuel Fuller, the latter uncredited.

   The first three minutes of The Deadly Trackers are about as annoying as you can possibly get. In what appears to be an attempt to be artistic and edgy, the movie begins with an unnecessary voice-over dialogue and a frame by frame introduction to the main character, Sean Kilpatrick (Richard Harris), a pacifist sheriff in a small border town.

   It’s enough to make you want to turn the whole thing off.

   I’m guess I am glad I didn’t. While I’d never go so far to say The Deadly Trackers is a particularly good or an effective Western, it does have something worthwhile going for it. That would be Al Lettieri (The Getaway, Mr. Majestyk), a veteran crime film actor who died at the early age of 47 in 1975. Lettieri portrays Gutierrez, a Mexican lawman, who is just about the remotely likable character in this gritty, sweaty, revenge thriller.

   The plot is simple enough. After Kilpatrick (Harris) witnesses his wife and son killed by the cruel Frank Brand (Rod Taylor), he gives up his pacifist ways (a little too easily, it should be noted) and sets out to seek Brand and his three henchmen, Schoolboy (William Smith), Choo Choo (a tired looking Neville Brand), and Jacob (Paul Benjamin). None of these men are particularly interesting villains save Choo Choo, a man with part of a railroad track for a hand.

   After crossing the border, Kilpatrick encounters Mexican lawman Gutierrez and engages in a series of cat and mouse chases with him. By the time the whole thing’s over, Kilpatrick has turned into a carbon copy of the man who killed his family. In the matter of less than two hours running time, he’s become a truly despicable character, so much so that you’re not sad when [SPOILER ALERT] Gutierrez shoots the lout in the back.

   And therein lies the problem with The Deadly Trackers. There’s no one really to root for. It’s mainly just a bunch of dirty, sickly looking men doing horrible things to one another.

   That may be a necessary ingredient for a certain type of Western, but it’s not sufficient to make this anything other than a historical curiosity: an American Spaghetti Western morality play about how blood lust corrupts, a story that attempts to be more profound than it actually is.

   The movie does have some decent cinematography, but it would have been a whole lot better had the film been told from Gutierrez’s point of view. He seems like the only character in this film that you wouldn’t be terrified to be around for more than a minute or two.

 Posted by at 2:57 am