Steve

Feb 012015
 
Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:          


FEMALE ON THE BEACH. Universal International, 1955. Joan Crawford, Jeff Chandler, Jan Sterling, Cecil Kellaway, Natalie Schafer. Director: Joseph Pevney.

   There’s that infamous scene in The Hustler (1961), the one anybody who’s ever watched the film will not easily forget. Where Piper Laurie’s character uses lipstick to scribble on a bathroom mirror, following a seedy dalliance with George C. Scott’s character and just prior to taking her own life. The words: PERVERTED. TWISTED. CRIPPLED. Those words speak volumes about the lurid, seedy, sad atmosphere that permeates Robert Rossen’s masterpiece.

   And that’s the same type of environment that seems to exist in the 1955 thriller, Female on the Beach, in which a (miscast) thirty-something Jeff Chandler portrays Drummond Hall, a rather uninspiring character who falls for, and marries, a fifty-year old sauced up widow, Lynn Markham (Joan Crawford). For most of the movie, we are led to believe that “Drummy” (Chandler) murdered the previous tenant of Markham’s beach house and that he ultimately has his eye on Markham’s life as well. Notice that I say: “seems to.” That’s because the story, the characters, and the atmosphere never quite gel into a coherent, believable cinematic whole.

   But it’s not for a lack of trying.

   In fact, the movie tries too hard to be something that it’s not: a compellingly watchable murder mystery. And don’t let the black and white cinematography fool you, for it’s not noir, either. Not remotely. Instead, it’s a middling thriller with some good moments, over the top acting from Joan Crawford, and a lurid, psychologically twisted claustrophobic Orange County, California beach house setting. I guess that’s worth something.

   The push-and-pull, cat-and-mouse love affair between Chandler and Crawford is alternately bizarre, off-putting, and unintentionally hilarious. Check that: maybe it was intended to be funny, or at least tongue firmly in cheek. Make no mistake: Female on the Beach is a strange movie about strange characters doing strange things on the beach. But ultimately, despite Chandler’s best efforts at portraying a character quite different from those larger than live heroes he often portrays, it’s not a particularly engrossing film.

 Posted by at 1:43 am
Jan 312015
 
THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


CAROLYN WELLS – The Clue of the Eyelash. J. B. Lippincott, 1933; A. L. Burt, reprint hardcover, no date; Triangle, reprint hardcover, 1938.

   Fleming Stone, called the “ubiquitous” by the publisher most bafflingly, but maybe they mean he has appeared in many books, is dining at the home of Wiley Vane, dilettante collector of old coins, rare books, etc, along with a number of other guests. One of his relatives finds Vane shot in the head, but dinner goes on nonetheless. Wouldn’t want to announce his murder and ruin a social event, would we?

   The only clue Stone has is a false eyelash, an item that he is not acquainted with, but that he and we become all too familiar with as the novel progresses, if that is what it does indeed do.

   The murderer was evident early on to this reviewer, who doesn’t spot many, although the motive wasn’t transparent. But I fancy my incorrect theory of why the crime was committed a lot more than I do the murderer’s alleged reason.

   A tedious investigation by Wells’s Fleming Stone, but interesting in that Stone is twice given strychnine by the murderer and survives. Stone, knowing that the murderer would try to dispose of him in this fashion — how he knows this is never provided to the reader and why he takes the poison is another secret — has his doctor’s word that a tumbler of “strong spirits” taken shortly before the strychnine will make the poison ineffective.

   The author says this is a fact, and I’m not going to experiment to disprove it. The murderer tries to poison Stone again, in a triumph of hope over experience, but Stone once more has taken strong drink rather than demur at taking the poison.
One does wonder who the human guinea pigs were who tested this counteragent and what might have been the fate of those who drank only, say, a half tumbler.

   A novel for those who will read anything.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 12, No. 1, Winter 1990.


 Posted by at 7:37 pm
Jan 312015
 

LAWRENCE KINSLEY – The Red-Light Victim. Tower, paperback original, 1981.

   The title and the cover design (multiple shots of a half-nude dancer) are a trifle misleading. Yes, I know that in the world of paperback promotion this is hardly anything new, but here the publisher had a glorious opportunity to cash in on the anti-nuclear movement that’s sweeping the country, and what do they pick out as the essential ingredient in this book instead? Sex, that’s what. Can you dig it?

   Jason O’Neil is the hero, a Boston-based private eye who’s hired by his former girl friend’s roommate to find her. She’s a physics major and a top student at B. U., and she’s suddenly disappeared. The trail leads O’Neil to the Combat Zone all right, but only briefly. (But long enough for the cover shots to be taken, right?)

   Jennifer (that’s her name) was also a high echelon member of the campus anti-nuclear organization, which, mixed with a little Cosa Nostra involvement, happens to be enough to fill out the rest of the book, with a long ways to go. It seems the group plans to … but that’s for you to read and find out, isn’t it?

   As a mystery, the book rambles on for too long (over 300 pages), but its tone, wholly pessimistic about the age of the atom, is probably more effective in its purpose than a truckload of slogan-spouting rock stars, movie actresses. and other uninformed but self-proclaimed experts.

   Nevertheless, and all social significance aside, the characters are vividly drawn, and the detective work is effective enough to suggest that Jason O’Neil is worthy of an encore. You’ll have to give him some time, though. He was pretty emotionally wrapped up in this one.

Rating:  B minus.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1981 (slightly revised).


Bibliographic Note:   Not only was this Jason O’Neil’s solo appearance in print, it is also the author’s only entry in Al Hubin’s bibliography of crime fiction.

 Posted by at 2:25 am
Jan 302015
 

MEET MR. CALLAGHAN. Eros Films, UK, 1954. Derrick de Marney, Harriette Johns, Peter Neil, Adrienne Corri, Larry Burns, Trevor Reid, Delphi Lawrence. Based on the novel The Urgent Hangman by Peter Cheyney. Director: Charles Saunders.

   Every once in a while, if you watch enough old movies on DVD, even the most obscure ones, you run across one that you enjoy so much you know about it. Such is the case with Meet Mr. Callaghan, and luckily I so have a blog by which I can you, at least, about it.

   I’ve not been able to confirm that The Urgent Hangman is indeed the Peter Cheyney novel the movie’s based on — that will have to wait — but Slim Callaghan is a British PI who appears in any number of Cheyney’s novels and short stories, and at the moment one mention on IMDb is all I have to work with.

   And The Urgent Hangman is the first Slim Callaghan novel, and if it’s as good as the movie, it would be well worth reading. Callaghan is one of those PIs whom, once you hire him, just won’t let go, even if you want to fire him. He’ll do everything in the book on your behalf, even if you come to detest him, as young and beautiful Cynthia Meraulton (Harriette Johns) soon discovers, and even outside the book, as demonstrated on this case.

   Callaghan, you see, if one those PIs who believe in manipulating evidence, intimidating witnesses, bribing and double-crossing suspects and whatever else it takes. I was reminded in this regard of Perry Mason, whose actions are also often questionable but always make sense in the end. But Callaghan goes Mason the extra mile. Mason stays within the law, Callaghan skirts just on the other side of it.

   The case: Cynthia Meraulton fears that her stepfather may be murdered and she will be set up to take the blame by one of the man’s sons, who are all included in the man’s will. Red flags go up as soon as Callaghan learns that the man has been killed, and quite probably right around the time Cynthia was in his office.

   Derrick de Marney, who plays Slim Callaghan, reminded me at times of Robert Mitchum, not so much the droopy eyelids, but on occasions those too. But I’m thinking more of the laconic almost deadpan delivery, but very British in nature. It is difficult to put into words — I don’t believe I’ve come across anything like it before, and de Marney is very very good at it.

   There are also several good-looking women in this movie, including Delphi Lawrence, who plays Callghan’s secretary Effie Perkins, who unlike Sam Spade’s Effie, is not loyal, far from it.

   The detective work is very good, and the complicated plot holds together, but it’s the overall sense of good humor that really carries the day — not laugh out loud funny, but the mood is light enough to smile almost constantly.

   There was a second Slim Callaghan movie made the next year, Amazing Mr. Callaghan, said to have been based on the novel Sorry You Have Been Troubled, but that one stars Tony Wright and was made in France by another filming company altogether, which is too bad, since I’d like to see another one made by the same crew as was responsible for this one.

 Posted by at 2:05 am
Jan 292015
 
MURDERER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS
by Mike Tooney


SLEEPING CAR TO TRIESTE. General Film Distributors, UK, 1948; Eagle-Lion Films, US, 1949. Jean Kent, Albert Lieven, Derrick De Marney, Paul Dupuis, Rona Anderson, David Tomlinson, Bonar Colleano, Finlay Currie, Grégoire Aslan, Alan Wheatley, Hugh Burden, David Hutcheson, Claude Larue, Zena Marshall, Leslie Weston, Eugene Deckers. Writers: Clifford Grey (story), William Douglas-Home (writer), Allan MacKinnon (writer). Director: John Paddy Carstairs.

   We watch as an important diary is abducted from a wall safe in a Paris embassy and one of the staff has the misfortune to witness the theft, with fatal results. The thief passes the book to an accomplice and then suavely rejoins the party in progress. As the plot unfurls we learn that this diary contains enough explosive information to ignite another war in Central Europe.

   What our murderous book taker doesn’t count on is being double-crossed by his accomplice, who intends to sell it to the highest bidder. What our double-crossing accomplice doesn’t count on is being closely pursued by the other guy aboard the Orient Express. He has already killed once for the diary, and as we’ll see he won’t hesitate to do it again.

   For a story of murder and political intrigue, this movie has a remarkably light tone. Much of the film is taken up with amusing character interaction — even the villain seems to have a human side. That, as much as the rest of the plot, makes Sleeping Car to Trieste highly watchable.

   Both IMDb and Wikipedia inform us that Sleeping Car is a remake of a 1932 British film called Rome Express (in which, incidentally, Finlay Currie appeared as another character), with a somewhat different plot line and writers.

   Take note of the steward who can’t keep his tunic buttoned, Eugene Deckers, a Belgian actor who appeared many times in many disguises on the 1954 Ronald Howard Sherlock Holmes series, most memorably as Harry Crocker, the disappearance expert.

   Viewers might remember David Tomlinson as the father in Disney’s Mary Poppins; in Sleeping Car he’s endowed with just one brain cell more than Bertie Wooster, his unwitting interference deflecting the story in unexpected directions.

 Posted by at 7:13 pm
Jan 292015
 
Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:          


ORRIE HITT – I’ll Call Every Monday. Red Lantern Books, hardcover, 1953. Avon #554, paperback reprint, 1954.

   I got the impression that she was short because I could see a lot of one leg. It was straight and firm and rounded and not too long from the knee down to her foot. She had the accordion in her lap and this had pulled her dress up.

   I was trying to think how I would describe Orrie Hitt’s writing style, and I went through quite a few ideas such as ‘post war spicy pulp’ or ‘hard-boiled soft-core,’ but I finally came up with the most accurate description I could think of.

   Orrie Hitt wrote in paperback covers.

   Read that passage above and tell me if you can’t see that cover by Avati, McGinnis, or Saber. The man wrote in paperback covers.

   That’s not a knock. It’s a vivid and entertaining style with a flavor of the pulps but adapted to the post war hard-boiled paperback original industry he worked in. He isn’t a lost master, but he wrote professional readable books sometimes a bit above the average and there were actual plots between the not quite sex scenes.

   It is difficult to remember how hot this was when written. Today it’s at worst frustrating. It’s the fifties juvenile kind of sex where the hero wants to see the girl naked, but he’s not quite sure what to do when she is. When anything actually does happen, you have to go back and reread the passage to be sure it did.

   I’m not complaining that it is not more graphic, only pointing out that it is hard to believe you had to read this with a flashlight under the sheets or hide it in your treehouse from your parents.

   This one was published by Avon. Beacon or Midwood were more often his style.

   The hero of this one is Nicky Weaver, a bit of a drifter, the usual WWII veteran of popular fiction of the era.. As the novel begins he’s selling insurance in Devans a small town in upstate New York USA.

   MONDAY IS A BIG day on an insurance debit. Monday is the day when the housewives hang out their wash, lie to every bill collector in town—and are thankful that they didn’t get themselves higher than a kite over the week-end.

   If you get the idea early that Nicky is a poor man’s Walter Neff from Double Indemnity you wouldn’t be far off; the film version anyway with that mouthful of Chandleresque wiseacre observations; first person Smart Aleck. The girl with the accordion is a sweet kid who lives where he does.

   She had on a dark blue dress and the way she was standing she was outlined against the window. She had high pointed breasts, a pulled-in middle that didn’t amount to anything, and a set of hips that drove the temperature in the room up to about a hundred and twenty.

   That’s Sally, the accordion girl, and another paperback cover moment. There are several of them along the way with her and others.

   The chief female in question appears shortly after. She has a husband and she’s buying life insurance on herself, for now. She’s Irene Shofield, wife of Shepard Shofield:

   She was tall, about five-seven, and she looked like she had about a forty-inch bust. Her hair was blonde, almost to the point of being white, and it was held in place by a green scarf that came up through her curls and ended in a little bow on top. She wore yellow shorts that were plenty short and a halter of the same color that wasn’t holding up anything that couldn’t have stayed up by itself.

   Irene does things to Nicky:

   She sat up, bent forward and put the glass down on the ground beside the bench. Her halter was loose and I felt my temperature getting up to sunstroke stage.

   As you might guess Shepard really needs life insurance. You see, in New York State if the wife is insured for over $1,000 the husband has to have coverage as well. That must have come as a surprise to Irene, such a thing would never occur to her. Whether that was true or not about the insurance, Hitt sells it and writes believably about what Nicky is all about, not only in his pants, but in his work. His attention to the details of the business weaving in and out around Nicky may remind you of John D. MacDonald, a lesser John D. MacDonald, but still.

   The book moves well, is well plotted, and if no surprises it has no disappointments either. Hitt’s not in the class of a Ed Lacy, a Harry Whittington, or a Day Keene, and he’s a shade on the sleazy side, but he’s the king of what he did.

   While Nicky struggles with his itch for the troubled close to illegal Sally and the seduction by the gorgeous Irene a colleague, Dell Waters, dies, and Dell told his wife that Nicky was a good guy who could help her, and of course she is attractive and represents the healthy side of Nicky’s libido. I can’t say she mourns very long though.

   I watched her as she worked. Her arms were strong and brown and she handled the hook like she knew what she was doing… She worked with a slow rhythm that made her look cool even there in the hot sun. Once or twice she bent over to pull an old piece of wire out of the way. When she did that her blouse sagged in front. There was no doubt about her being all woman.

   Bess and her kids are Nicky’s salvation, if Irene doesn’t drown him in desire and her plans. Irene is a shade on the sociopathic side. Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity is pure as the driven snow compared to Irene.

   There are a good many complications and situations for hot breathing and some panting with Sally, Bess, and especially Irene, and Irene will show her true colors with Nicky having to make the big choice between her and murder.

   There’s even a plot and several sub-plots that don’t quite get in the way of the panting, but the tame sex that seldom gets beyond a kiss, a bit of groping, loose clothing, and the temperature of the woman-in-question’s body under her clothes. “Pointed breasts” is about as graphic as it gets. This is much tamer than anything in Spillane’s work, whatever kind of hound Nicky is.

   The difference is the sex is really what this and most of Hitt’s books are about. The plot is incidental to that paperback cover style of writing.

   It’s a fairly standard paperback original suspense novel, Hitt a bit better as a writer than some, at least enough to be memorable. If you didn’t already know that he was a collectible writer from the era, you would likely read another one by him. This one is what John D. MacDonald might have written if he was just a paperback original writer and not John D. MacDonald. It’s what people thought Gold Medal was giving them, when they were giving them so much more in most cases.

   Something is missing though, and it escapes me exactly what it is. The same plot, the same level of writing in other hands didn’t feel trashy, and this does. I’m not saying it’s bad trash, though. I enjoyed it for the hour and fifteen minutes it filled. I’m just not sure I’ll remember much of it a month from now or be able to distinguish it from another Orrie Hitt book.

   There is a mystery involved here as well. Sometime later Hitt wrote a book called Ladies’ Man. That book is in the third person and features a hero named Nicky Weaver who used to sell insurance and takes a job selling advertising for a small radio station in a new town, gets involved with a woman and a bit of embezzlement, and ends up a murderer being arrested as the book ends. If he’s the same guy, he’s bi-polar at the least.

   I’ll leave that one for someone else to solve, but it’s also written in paperback covers.

 Posted by at 2:48 am
Jan 282015
 

LOUIS TRIMBLE – Stab in the Dark. Ace Double D-157; paperback original, 1957.

   A bit of preamble before I get to the review itself. Earlier this month I read and reviewed the other half of this Ace Double, that being Never Say No to a Killer, by Jonathan Gant, a pen name of Clifton Adams, an author probably better known for his western novels for Gold Medal.

   Having the book out and in my hands, it was quite natural for me to read the other half, a story I thought I’d like better, as it is a private eye novel, which I always enjoy, and the Gant book being rather derivative in nature, reminding Dan Stumpf in particular of Horace McCoy’s Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, as he so stated in an early comment to that post.

   Well, trying to make a long story shorter, it’s been a struggle to finish the second half of the book, the novel by Trimble. So far I’ve been reading it at night just before bed, and managing to move along a a lizard’s pace of maybe 30 pages a night. I’m not finished yet, and I think I will continue on with it, but after reading a review I wrote of the book back in 1991, perhaps I will concede, saying that sometimes retreat is the better part of valor.

   Here’s what I had to say the first time around:

   Louis Trimble rote a host of second- and third-rate detective novels through the late 1940s, 50s and early 60s, and this is one of them. During that same time period he also wrote a lot of westerns, many [also] packaged as halves of Ace Doubles, and somehow ended up writing science fiction, of all things, before he was finished.

   Since Hubin doesn’t state otherwise, this one turns out to have been the only appearance of PI Paul Knox. He’s apparently a man of some wealth, having inherited some money, quit the police force, and joined an world-wide private detective agency. On this case, he’s after a huge pornography/blackmail ring, but his contact at the Winton hotel is dead on his (Knox’s) arrival, an icepick in his eye.

   A few curious matters arise, but most of them — like the business of the whiskey bottle and Cora Deane’s missing panties — are merely thrown away [FOOTNOTE] and although it goes on for 171 pages, long by Ace Double standards, the basic flaw in this mystery is one that’s fatal by any standards. It;s dull, it’s not very interesting, and it’s boring.

[FOOTNOTE] and [WARNING:   Extremely Minor Plot Alert.] The titillating bit with the whiskey bottle and the panties — well, it kept me thinking about it quite a while — is finally described on p. 167 as “Red herrings … just foolishness, really.”

   In other words, it didn’t mean anything, anything at all, and it never did. It was something thrown in just to tweak the reader’s interest, and it wouldn’t [be] worth mentioning if it weren’t for the fact that it’s the only bit of the plot that’s worth mentioning at all.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File 29, March 1991.


[UPDATE] 01-28-15.   I’ll probably skim on for a while on my current and second go-around. But this is discouraging. It’s been the only thing keeping me going and here I have my own review showing up in timely fashion to tell me to forget it.

 Posted by at 5:35 am
Jan 282015
 
Reviewed by Mark D. Nevins:


JOHN D. MacDONALD – The Green Ripper. J. B. Lippincott, hardcover, 1979. Fawcett Gold Medal, paperback, 1981. Reprinted many times since.

   I noted in my review of the previous entry in the Travis McGee series, The Empty Copper Sea, that the overall tone of the books seemed to be changing — and with The Green Ripper, the change is really palpable.

   To start, this book follows directly from the prior: one lovely lass in danger in Copper actually lived through that book’s climax (“Travis Girls” have even less likelihood of survival than “Bond Girls”), and by the beginning of Green, Travis is starting to think “she’s the one.”

   Of course, that doesn’t last long, and the main plot trajectory is McGee going undercover to infiltrate a religious cult that’s up to no good. (I’m avoiding spoilers that you can probably guess.)

   Published in 1979, this story feels a lot more current and “real” than the Gold Medal vibe of the first 3/4ths of the series: the story is plausible (and foreshadows events like Waco, Texas); Travis comes alive as a character in his anger and frustrated helplessness; and the overall feeling is much more Nightly News than Drug Store Spinner Rack: it’s like the Polaroid colors of the rest of the series snap into something more like digital focus in Green.

   In some ways I miss the nostalgia of the earlier series, but the verisimilitude and violence in this one show MacDonald working at a new level. This is a fine thriller, and would work great as a stand-alone for a new reader; but in the context of the 21-book series (with, I am lamenting, only 3 more to go) The Green Ripper is a real high point as well as a powerful inflection point.

   Since one of the things that pleases me most about this series is MacDonald’s “literariness” via McGee’s voice, I’ll again share a passage I dog-eared:

   An empty path to walk. It leads toward superstition and paranoia, two whistle stops on the road to incurable depression. Once upon a time I took a random walk across a field. I went hither and yon, ambling along, looking at the sky and the trees, nibbling grass, kicking rocks. The first Jeep to start across that field blew up. So did the people who went to get the people who’d been in the Jeep. And I stood right there, sweaty and safe, trembling inside, while the experts dug over ninety mines out of that field, defused them, stacked them, and took them away. That’s the way it goes sometimes. Philosophy 401, with Professor McGee. Life is a minefield. Think that over and write a paper on it, class.

   and

   I put the pin in my pocket. Talisman of some kind. Rub the tiny green face with the ball of the thumb. Like a worry stone, to relieve executive tensions. The times I remembered seeing it, she had worn it on the left side, where the slope of the breast began. She had bought it, she said, at a craft shop in San. Francisco at Girardelli Square. I hadn’t been there with her. All the places I hadn’t been with her, I would never be with her. And at those unknown places, at unknown times, there would be less of me present. There can be few things worse than unconsciously saving things up to tell someone you will never see again.

 Posted by at 2:00 am
Jan 272015
 
Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:          


NONE BUT THE BRAVE. Golden Harvest Company, Hong Kong, 1973. Original title: Tie wa. Cinemation Industries, US, 1974. Also known as Kung Fu Girl. Pei-pei Cheng, Wei Ou, James Tien, Wei Lo, Chen Yuen Lung (Jackie Chan). Screenplay and director: Wei Lo.

   If one were to fully appreciate None But The Brave (aka Kung Fu Girl), it’d probably help to know a bit about early twentieth-century Chinese-Japanese diplomatic relations. The film, which stars Chinese actress Pei-Pei Cheng (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon), takes place during a tenuous time for China’s future, when the leadership in Beijing is in the process of making concessions to Japan.

   The movie is filled with both martial arts action sequences and a healthy dose of political intrigue. Pei-Pei Cheng portrays a girl who pretends to be the long-lost sister of a Chinese military official in Beijing. Her ultimate goal is to manipulate him so as to free one of the revolutionary party leaders opposed to selling China out to the Japanese.

   Along the way, she has to contend with a Japanese official who takes a fancy to her, as well as a member of his entourage (portrayed by a young Jackie Chan) who wants to fight her.

   Sometimes the plot isn’t the easiest to follow, but it all sort of comes together by the end. There is some absolutely great cinematography present here; this isn’t some cheap, shoddy grindhouse kung fu film. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!) Pei-Pei Cheng is wonderfully electric. Her smile and energy are infectious. Even if you’re not the biggest fan of martial arts films, this one takes some patience, but is well worth a look, if only to catch a glimpse of one of Hong Kong’s best-known female action stars in her prime.

 Posted by at 9:51 pm
Jan 272015
 

HOME, SWEET HOMICIDE. 20th Century Fox, 1946. Peggy Ann Garner, Randolph Scott, Lynn Bari, Dean Stockwell, Connie Marshall, James Gleason, Anabel Shaw, Barbara Whiting, John Shepperd, Stanley Logan. Based on the novel by Craig Rice. Director: Lloyd Bacon.

   First of all, anyone wishing to know more about the book, the movie, and author Craig Rice in general, ought to read Jeffrey Marks’ long online article on all of the above. This very informative essay makes for fascinating reading, either before or after watching the film. It probably makes more sense to read it afterward, but since there has never been an official release of the movie that I know of, you might not want to wait until you find a non-official copy, luckily a task not too difficult to do.

   Marks says that the story is more than slightly autobiographical in nature, and that’s easy to believe. Lynn Bari plays Marian Carstairs, a widow with three precocious children. She makes a living and a home for them all by spending most of her time in her upstairs study working on and typing out another Bill Smith mystery novel. In her absence, the three children, two older girls and a young tow-haired lad named Archie (played by ten-year-old Dean Stockwell), have taken over the household chores, and all in all are doing very well at it,

   The three of them are also concerned about the romantic interest they think their mother needs, but even more importantly when they hear shots inside a neighbor’s house, they think their mother ought to get credit for solving the murder, and from that moment on, they do their best to keep the police from cracking the case ahead of her.

   Which is where Randolph Scott comes in. By some strange coincidence his name is Bill Smith, also, a chance event which gets the Carstairs children thinking. He’s the “enemy” on one hand, albeit a friendly one, and yet he might be exactly what they are looking for in terms of their mother’s insufficient love life.

   No matter. Solving the case comes first, which they do, in roundabout fashion, with a narrow escape or two, something they hadn’t taken into consideration — that killers really don’t want to get caught.

   Even though Randolph Scott usually played the quintessential cowboy, his long and lanky frame fits the suit, tie and hat of a homicide detective very well. He doesn’t have a lot of chemistry with Lynn Bari’s character, but he’s wonderful with the children, both with his patience and exasperation with them, sometimes at the same time. But it’s the chemistry between the children themselves (the two older ones played by Peggy Ann Garner and Connie Marshall) that’s the reason that this movie has just become one of my favorites. (It’s long list, but this one is now there.)

   As child actors go, they’re all naturals, funny, sophisticated (or so the oldest thinks), picked on (so Archie thinks) and charming. As mysteries go, I knew who the killer was almost right away, and you probably will too. But don’t let that make you put off finding a copy of this most delightful film for yourself. If you’ve read this far into the review, you’ll regret it if you do.

 Posted by at 4:24 am