Assassin lit as pure entertainment.
Assassin lit as pure entertainment.
ROGUE. DirecTV, Season One (10 episodes), April-May 2013. Thandie Newton, Marton Csokas, Sarah Jeffery, Joshua Sasse, Kavan Smith, Leah Gibson, Jarod Joseph, Ian Tracey, Ian Hart.
I don’t have a hookup with DirecTV, so I had to wait for the series to come out on DVD to be able to watch it, that and a span of a couple of weeks to find the time. For me, it started slowly but gradually caught my attention, and I ended up watching the last two episodes in one evening (last night).
The star of the series is without a doubt Thandie Newton, who plays Grace Travis, a black police officer from the San Jose Police Department who has been working undercover for the Oakland police to get the goods on Jimmy Laszlo (Marton Csokas), a local crime boss controlling the waterfront area. But obsessed with finding out who killed her young son in what was written off as a tragic but accidental drive-by shooting, she finds herself getting deeper and deeper into a complicated plot of greed, revenge, mob killings and more, alienating her own family while getting closer and closer to the man she is supposed to be bringing down.
It takes all ten episodes for the entire story line to work its way through, and naturally there is plenty of violence to go along with it, some of shockingly graphic. And perhaps equally naturally not everyone in the cast survives to the end, some a lot sooner than viewers might expect, including this one. There is also, given the freedom of not being seen on broadcast TV, quite a few almost as graphic sex scenes.
The setting, mostly in around the Oakland waterfront (but probably filmed in Canada) and the seedier sections of that particular town, is beautifully filmed, and the plot has enough twists and turns to keep everyone’s minds constantly in high gear.
The largest downside is the level of the actors’ performances. I found them uneven, to say it mildly, from actor and actor, and even in the case of some of the players, from scene to scene. Some of the dialogue is awkward and clunky, though, and tough to bring off convincingly, so the actors don’t deserve all of the blame.
Thandie Newton carries the show well, however. The character she plays is both tough and vulnerable, and she is placed in any number of situations in which she can show off how she tries to deal with them, and believe me, she gets into quite a few scrapes and narrow escapes. It would be a strenuous role for anyone, especially the vulnerability Newton’s character has to display, as mentioned above, and I think she nails it. I can’t imagine anyone else playing the part.
The series deserved a second season, and it got one. It’s playing now but will end its run this week.
With the U.S. southern border so much in the news these days, Hard Case Crime’s reissue of Lawrence Block’s 1962 pulp novel Borderline would definitely seem to be riding the zeitgeist. Set in the early sixties, the book follows a quartet of aimless Americans as they cross the line ‘tween El Paso and Juarez, moving across the border for “excitement,” which they get in spades.
FURY AT GUNSIGHT PASS. Columbia, 1956. David Brian, Neville Brand, Richard Long, Lisa Davis, Percy Helton, Morris Ankrum, Wally Vernon. Written by David Lang. Directed by Fred F. Sears.
Whence this film?
A stylish, well-paced and intelligent western, written and directed by talents whose careers could be charitably described as “undistinguished.” Writer David Lang was responsible for a long, long list of forgettable B-movies followed by work on every low-budget television series known to man; and as for director Fred F. Sears, well, he started out acting in “Durango Kid” movies, moved on to directing them, then continued directing, sort of. The same year as this film he made probably his best-remembered movie, Earth vs. Flying Saucers, and the next year followed it up with The Giant Claw — a film equally memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Perhaps we’ll never know what burst of creative inspiration produced Fury at Gunsight Pass, but it’s a film well worth catching, filled with smoothly tracking and complex camerawork, vigorous shoot-outs, complex characters and a story that stubbornly refuses to settle into any familiar pattern.
David Brian (looking unsettlingly like William Boyd in his western garb) and Neville Brand are co-leaders of an outlaw gang planning to rob a bank in the small town of Gunsight Pass. Of the other outlaws, the only actor you might recognize is perennial side-kick Wally Vernon, but they do a fine job of looking nasty, even when just sitting around, and when they go into action they more than fill the requisite boots. Turns out the local undertaker (the indefatigable Percy Helton) is inside man on the job, and it further develops that Brian plans to double-cross Brand and take off with the loot.
Well, he’s not the only one with a hidden agenda, as things fall apart in spectacular fashion, the loot walks off, the townspeople capture the bad guys, then the bad guys capture the townspeople, and the whole thing gets resolved amid a furious and very cinematic dust storm.
David Brian was never the most electrifying of actors, but he puts in a nice turn here, the wheels of deceit clicking very audibly on his face, and Neville Brand is as engagingly unpleasant as ever. David Long (you may remember him from the “Ma & Pa Kettle” flicks, or as the leading man in House on Haunted Hill, or even from Nanny and the Professor) is too pretty to take seriously at first, but he manages a very creditable Hero part stacked against long odds. The other actors, including Morris Ankrum, that grand old man of Sci-Fi movies, lend what is generally known as Solid Support.
But it’s the tricky plot and assured direction that carry the day here, keeping the movie constantly on the move, twisting and turning where and when one least expects it, and finally ending up with a very satisfying and unpretentious bit of film-making where you might not expect to find it.
The Girl With The Long Green Heart is the only novel I’ve read by Block, but if it is any indication of the quality of the rest of his work, then Block’s reputation as a premier crime fiction author has been justly earned. The book offers a wickedly clever and highly stylized narrative center on a grift being pulled off by a veteran con-man who has agreed to do one last job before going straight. The story reads like a smooth screen play that would be well suited for the likes of George Clooney or Brad Pitt, but the narrative is not simply fluff. It has existentialist and feminist overtones while linking both to an attack on capitalism. The novel offers some engaging themes and that are made easy to digest because of Block’s entertaining, engrossing, and quickly paced narrative execution. It is simply put, a model in story telling within the genre.
OSMINGTON MILLS – At One Fell Swoop. Geoffrey Bles, UK, hardcover, 1963. Roy, US, hardcover, 1965.
Aware that the case won’t do his career any good, Superintendent William Baker of Scotland Yard’s Special Branch nonetheless undertakes the investigation of the missing head of the C.I.D. in Bramwith. The policeman, a lay preacher in the Johnsonite sect, had disappeared shortly before he was to address a centenary celebration of the sect, if the Johnsonites can be said to celebrate.
Since the policeman’s wife had tried to divorce him for cruelty and now has a lover, she and the lover are the first suspects, if there has indeed been foul play. Information also turns up that the C.I.D. man had with him on his travels two warrants; perhaps the individuals sought made sure that the warrants would not be served.
Possible, too, is the involvement of the police superintendent where the C.I.D. man was going to serve the warrants. But what role does the leek slasher play?
A good investigation by Baker and his assistant, Inspector Hughes, and an engrossing portrait of a fundamentalist Christian sect. Forgive the far-fetched coincidences and enjoy this one.
The Insp. (Supt.) William Baker series —
Unlucky Break. Bles, 1955.
The Case of the Flying Fifteen. , Bles, 1956.
No Match for the Law. Bles, 1957.
Misguided Missile. Bles 1958.
Stairway to Murder. Bles, 1959.
Trial by Ordeal. Bles, 1961.
Headlines Make Murder. Bles, 1962.
At One Fell Swoop. Bles, 1963.
Traitor Betrayed. Bles, 1964.
Enemies of the Bride. Bles, 1966.
Osmington Mills was the pseudonym of Vivian Collin Brooks (1922-2002), whose other series, eight in all, recorded the cases of Chief Insp. Rupert “Rip” Irving and P.C. (Sgt.) Patrick C. Shirley.
THREE BLONDES IN HIS LIFE. Cinema Associates, 1961. Jock Mahoney, Greta Thyssen, Jesse White, Elaine Edwards, Anthony Dexter, Valerie Porter. Director: Leon Chooluck.
When an insurance investigator on the West Coast mysteriously disappears, the head of the firm on the East Coast sends Duke Wallace, Jock Mahoney’s character, across country to find out what happened.
Turns out that the man in question was seriously attracted to blondes, and his wife has dyed her hair that color to keep him, to little avail. It also turns out that the man is dead, in what appears to be a love nest cabin up in the mountains. There are two other blondes in the story, both love-starved wives involved in cases that Collins (the dead man) had been working and closed.
What this is is the kind of movie in which we see just how love-starved the three blondes are, as Duke makes his appointed rounds (in suit and tie) to each of the three ladies in question and in turn, but the funny thing is that he always manages to keep the suit and tie on, or at least he does while the cameras are rolling.
There also is a lot of emphasis on bosoms and bottoms, including those of the secretary of the fellow who heads up the West Coast office, but since she’s a brunette, she doesn’t really count, but I’ll mention the actress who plays her, Darlene Hendricks, just for the record.
I was reminded a lot of the second- or third-rank tier of fictional PI’s in the paperbacks of the 50s and 60s, guys like Johnny Liddell, Peter Chambers and Lou Largo. The budget was smaller than it might have been, though, and the story seems to end just as the money probably ran out.
There is one fight scene that might make this movie worth watching, though, if you happen to watch long enough. It comes quite close to end, and it begins with Duke, or rather Jock Mahoney doing his own stunts (or so I’m told), crashing headlong through a closed door, clear across the room at full tilt, and ramming into the guy inside, uptilting him as well as himself against a stuffed chair and into the wall on the left side of the screen, upon which point they manage to smash up the rest of the room very thoroughly and badly.
It nearly took my breath away, it did.
SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE DEADLY NECKLACE. Central Cinema Company Film, Germany, 1962. Original title: Sherlock Holmes und das Halsband des Todes. Christopher Lee (Sherlock Holmes), Thorley Walters (Dr. Watson), Hans Söhnker (Professor Moriarty), Hans Nielsen, Senta Berger, Ivan Desny, Wolfgang Lukschy, Leon Askin, Edith Schultze-Westrum (Mrs. Hudson). Screenplay: Curt Siodmak, based on the novel The Valley of Fear, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. (Co-)Director: Terence Fisher.
In spite of some very good scenes, this film was largely a disappointment, the first reason being that all of the English-speaking actors, including Christopher Lee, were dubbed (or redubbed) back into English, by the voices of others. What a waste of talent, and only to save a few dollars in production costs (as I understand it).
Perhaps even better than Lee in the leading role is the German actor who plays Moriarty, and very much Holmes’ equal in several tense scenes they share together. As Dr. Watson, British character actor Thorley Walters plays the part as one or two notches above the level of Nigel Bruce’s bumbling portrayal, but no more than that, nor is he nearly as charming.
There is very little resemblance to the story in this film to Doyle’s Valley of Fear, but the one scene which appears in each is one of the better ones in the film. The “Deadly Necklace” of the title is one that belonged to Queen Cleopatra of Egypt, and Dr. Moriarty is determined to have it in his possession, at all costs. Sherlock Holmes demurs, and the game is on.
The setting seems to be in the 1910s, based on the use of vintage autos of that era rather than hansom cabs, which clashes with a very nice jazzy and swinging film score much more appropriate to a jazzy and swinging movie from the 1960s.
But the biggest problem is the presence of scenes that exist only for cinematic effect and otherwise do not go anywhere, such as an opening scene with Holmes (in disguise) watching Moriarty at the docks before we know who either player is, and which is not referred to later on except in the briefest of mentions.
Or another in which Holmes (in disguise) calls for help in front of his apartment in Baker Street, is “rescued” by Watson, who finds him collapsed on the doorstep and does not recognize his friend. It is all a hoax played by Holmes on Watson, but why?
And, oh, one other thing. Whenever I leave my car, whether I’m involved in an accident or not, I always take my keys with me.
Give this one a pass, unless you’re a fan of Christopher Lee. Fans of Sherlock Holmes might otherwise want to stay away, or at least don’t go too far out of your way to obtain a copy, even though copies are easily (and quite inexpensively) found.
Burglars Can’t be Choosers is highly recommended; it is a nice change from so many of the modern-day thriller novels filled with violence, dozens of unnecessary murders, sex and profanity. The fact that this novel is still in print after all these years should be confirmation as to the fact that this is a good entertaining novel and well-worth reading.