Feb 202015
 
Reviewed by Mark D. Nevins:


  JOHN D. MacDONALD – Free Fall in Crimson. Harper & Row, hardcover, 1981. Fawcett Gold Medal, paperback, 1982. Reprinted many times since.

   I’m coming to the end of my run of the McGee series: Freefall in Crimson is the antepenultimate (how often does one get to use that word?), and so I’m somewhat disappointed to say, having just finished it, that it’s probably my second-least-favorite in the series. (My least favorite is Nightmare in Pink: the story seemed contrived and the psychedelic drug references have really not aged well.)

   The set-up in Crimson gave no indication that the book would fail to please: the estranged son of a wealthy businessman suspects his father was murdered, and locates problem-solver McGee through some old mutual connections (including a femme fatale from #4, The Quick Red Fox).

   Sounds like a typical kickoff for Travis, but the book fails to deliver the goods, at least by the standards JDM set for himself. I have a few thoughts on what’s “wrong” with Crimson:

   1. After the emotional intensity of The Green Ripper [reviewed here ], JDM may simply have been set for a let-down. (Green is far from my favorite, but it’s a massive step in a different direction from the series’ trajectory — an exhausting experience for the reader and, I expect, for the author as well.)

   2. JDM is a master of storytelling and pacing, and both seemed a bit left-footed here. The chapters and “story chunks” felt disproportionate, and the “mystery” didn’t really hang together: a quick pivot from tracks discovered in the bushes to deep undercover with motorcycle gangs; some amateur porno stuff that seemed like an afterthought and lazy; and a mob scene that advances the plot in a clunky deus-ex-machina way. Even the “economics” didn’t hang together as credibly as they do in so many of the other mysteries–and that’s an area JDM loves.

   3. The violence was a bit much — and more egregious than thrilling. Part of that was because it was rushed through (the main baddy Grizzel’s rampage was quick, and much of it “off-screen”), and part was that the bad guy didn’t have the deep intensity of some of the other major psychologically broken bad guys Trav has faced before. (My points 2 and 3 actually cross here–the last 30-40 pages of the book felt like they had been written in a single draft, and not polished up and filled out.)

   I also wonder if, and this may be a reach, JDM wasn’t also having a sort of change-of-heart as he wrote this book — hence the strange rough treatment of Meyer at the end. As Travis the protagonist has started to get weary of the world and its changes, has MacDonald the author also grown weary of the mystery/thriller genre? To some extent Green and Crimson seem to criticize the genre itself by the way they yank us out of the comfortable mood we’ve gotten used to getting into, in a comfortable chair with a McGee in our hands. I’ll need to think more about this angle as I make my way through Cinnamon and Silver.

   I can’t believe there are only two McGees left. I have sometimes thought it would be great to have someone else take a crack at a new McGee — but it would have to be a very careful choice, and I don’t like Stephen King (who has apparently offered) as a candidate. I’d choose a more “literary” writer, much as the Fleming estate has been doing with the James Bond series. Just like, as I’ve often thought, I’d love to see Garry Disher write a new Stark/Westlake “Parker” novel.

   One final problem with Crimson: it’s oddly lacking in the sorts of poetic writing I’ve come to love in a McGee book. There were a few pages I dog-eared, but the passages were short and lacked the usual elaborate internal monologue:

    “That is one of the great troubles, I thought, after I hung up. The people you have great empathy with are never conveniently located nearby. Many are, but the rest are scattered far and wide. You see them too seldom. But you can always pick up right where you left off. You know who they are. They know who you are. No reintroductions required.”

   and

    “Once in a great while, like once every fifty miles, I even got a look at a tiny slice of the Gulf of Mexico, way off to the right. And remembered bringing the Flush down this coast with Gretel aboard. And wished I could cry as easily as a child does.”

   (If you’ve read The Green Ripper, that last one should make you choke up a little.)

 Posted by at 1:13 am
Feb 192015
 

WAYNE D. OVERHOLSER – Fabulous Gunman. Macmillan, hardcover, 1952. Dell #729, paperback, 1953; reprinted by Dell several times. Also: Leisure, paperback, 1991; Leisure Double, paperback, bound with Steel to the South, 1994.

   According to his Wikipedia page, Overholser wrote something close to a hundred western novels, under both his own name and several pseudonyms, including Lee Leighton, John S. Daniels, Dan J. Stevens and Joseph Wayne. His first novel was Buckaroo’s Code (1947), but well before then, he was a prolific writer for the westerns pulps, beginning with a story called “Wanted Man” (Popular Western, December 1936).

   And even so, while I’m not sure, this may be the first of his work that I’ve ever read. I am sure it is the first in the last 30 years, which is entirely too bad, as I enjoyed this one quite a bit.

   It occurred to me as I was reading it that it might even be considered a Private Eye novel, not quite, and certainty not in the traditional sense, but it comes close. Bill Womack is, in the traditional western sense, a gun for hire. Not a Paladin, by any means, for he’s quick on the gun and has killed many men with it, not caring who has hired him or the reason why.

   But age and notoriety is catching up with him, and when he’s hired by twin siblings, Rose and Ed Hovey, to protect their father from the mess he’s in — a range war is about to begin, and Grant Hovey is right in the middle, a victim of his own weaknesses — Womack starts to ponder the meaning of the word justice, and whether or not a man can ever retire from the business of hiring out his guns to anyone who can pay the price.

   As I say, a traditional western through and through, which also means a more than a little romance is involved as well. Not with the wife of the biggest rancher on the range, although Womack at first is attracted, but (as it turns out) the beautiful Nita Chapman has eyes for someone else.

   It’s a long book with a complicated plot, and a lot of men don’t live to see the end of it. Overholser handles the varied strands of the story very well, all of an adult nature, and by adult I do not mean anything rated more than PG. A kiss at the end is all Womack has been working for.

 Posted by at 4:02 am
Feb 182015
 
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini


JOHN FRANKLIN BARDIN – The Deadly Percheron. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1946. Reprints include: MacFadden Bartell, paperback, 1968; Penguin, paperback, 1988; Poisoned Pen Press, trade paperback, 1998; Centipede Press, 2006.

   New York psychiatrist George Matthews is visited by a young man named Jacob Blunt who wears flowers in his hair, gives away quarters to people on the street, and fears he is losing his mind — all because of the manipulation of three-foot-tall “leprechauns.”

   Matthews doesn’t believe in the leprechauns, of course, but neither does he believe Blunt is anything but sane. He agrees to accompany the young man to meet one of the gnomes, Eustace, who looks suspiciously like a midget and who insists that Blunt now start giving away horses instead of quarters, beginning with a Percheron to the star of a hit Broadway show.

   The star turns up murdered, the man the police arrest as Jacob Blunt turns out to be an imposter, and an attempt is made on Matthews’s life in a subway station. At which point matters really become bizarre. Matthews wakes up in a mental hospital some six months later, suffering from partial amnesia and with a hideous scar disfiguring his face.

   It is only after he adopts an entirely new identity that he is able to effect a release from the hospital and to begin, torturously, to piece his life back together and seek out the truth about the strange events surrounding Jacob Blunt, the leprechauns, and the deadly Percheron.

   A most unusual and ingeniously constructed mystery up to a point. Suspense is high throughout, and there are some forcefully written scenes. But the book’s weaknesses far outweigh its strengths. Other scenes and much of the plot strain credulity to the breaking point, the characterization is weak (Matthews isn’t very likeable, for one), the dialogue is stilted, and the explanation behind all the bizarre happenings is downright silly. All in all, The Deadly Percheron is a vaguely irritating and unsatisfying novel.

   Bardin has his admirers, who praise the hallucinatory quality of this and such other mysteries as The Last of Philip Banter (1947), Devil Take the Blue-Tail Fly (1948), Purloining Tiny (1978), and four published under the pseudonyms Gregory Tree and Douglas Ashe. But he is definitely an acquired taste, like olives and rutabagas.

         ———
   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.

 Posted by at 8:46 pm
Feb 172015
 
Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


HANGMAN’S KNOT. Columbia Pictures, 1952. Randolph Scott, Donna Reed, Claude Jarman Jr., Frank Faylen, Glenn Langan, Richard Denning, Lee Marvin, Jeanette Nolan, Clem Bevans, Ray Teal. Written and directed by Roy Huggins.

   Hangman’s Knot has Randolph Scott and Lee Marvin in it —two of my all time favorite actors — so I had pretty high hopes prior to watching this lesser known early 1950s Western. Unfortunately, despite solid performances by both these men (especially Marvin), the movie never really gets that far off the proverbial ground.

   It’s not that Hangman’s Knot is remotely a bad film; it’s just that it devolves into (trust me, I almost feel guilty saying this) somewhat mediocre, even somewhat clichéd, post Civil War-era, Western. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just that I couldn’t help but watch this film without subconsciously comparing it the decidedly excellent Budd Boetticher-directed Westerns that Scott would star in as the golden age for the Western genre wound on.

   Written and directed by Roy Huggins and produced by Harry Joe Brown, Hangman’s Knot features Scott as Major Matt Stewart, a Confederate officer tasked with stealing a gold shipment from Union troops in Nevada. The mission, which he carries out with the assistance of his sociopath comrade (Lee Marvin), is a success.

   The catch: as it turns out, the war is already over, making these Confederate soldiers just a bunch of outlaws. They are literally men without a country.

   The rest of the movie follows these happenstance outlaws as they hole up in a way station with a group of hostages and surrounded by a ragtag posse out for the gold. About those aforementioned hostages: did I mention that one of them is a lovely young Yankee woman (Donna Reed) who, by the end, falls in love with our tall and handsome Southern protagonist? Love conquers all or something like that.

 Posted by at 6:40 pm
Feb 172015
 
Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


HANGMAN’S KNOT. Columbia Pictures, 1952. Randolph Scott, Donna Reed, Claude Jarman Jr., Frank Faylen, Glenn Langan, Richard Denning, Lee Marvin, Jeanette Nolan, Clem Bevans, Ray Teal. Written and directed by Roy Huggins.

   Hangman’s Knot has Randolph Scott and Lee Marvin in it —two of my all time favorite actors — so I had pretty high hopes prior to watching this lesser known early 1950s Western. Unfortunately, despite solid performances by both these men (especially Marvin), the movie never really gets that far off the proverbial ground.

   It’s not that Hangman’s Knot is remotely a bad film; it’s just that it devolves into (trust me, I almost feel guilty saying this) somewhat mediocre, even somewhat clichéd, post Civil War-era, Western. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just that I couldn’t help but watch this film without subconsciously comparing it the decidedly excellent Budd Boetticher-directed Westerns that Scott would star in as the golden age for the Western genre wound on.

   Written and directed by Roy Huggins and produced by Harry Joe Brown, Hangman’s Knot features Scott as Major Matt Stewart, a Confederate officer tasked with stealing a gold shipment from Union troops in Nevada. The mission, which he carries out with the assistance of his sociopath comrade (Lee Marvin), is a success.

   The catch: as it turns out, the war is already over, making these Confederate soldiers just a bunch of outlaws. They are literally men without a country.

   The rest of the movie follows these happenstance outlaws as they hole up in a way station with a group of hostages and surrounded by a ragtag posse out for the gold. About those aforementioned hostages: did I mention that one of them is a lovely young Yankee woman (Donna Reed) who, by the end, falls in love with our tall and handsome Southern protagonist? Love conquers all or something like that.

 Posted by at 6:39 pm
Feb 172015
 

SUSAN RICHARD – Chateau Saxony. Paperback Library; paperback original, 1971.

   You pick a book at random, around here at least, and you never know exactly what you may find. This looks like a perfectly ordinary gothic romance novel from the 70s, and that’s precisely what it is. Checking with Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV, you then discover that “Susan Richard” is a pseudonym, of Julie Ellis, who also wrote mysteries and crime fiction (mostly other gothics) as Susan Marino and Susan Marvin.

   Most of her books seem to have been written as by Julie Ellis, and over the years – from the titles, at least – it appears that she is now writing what is called “romantic suspense” – gothics as such having lost some of their appeal. (There simply can’t be that many spooky castles and mansions still remaining anywhere in the world.)

   While the first book that Hubin lists for her as being crime fiction, The Secret of the Villa Como, as by Susan Marvin, came out from Lancer in 1966, Julie Ellis seems to have had another early career writing as Joan Ellis for the relatively sexy line of Midwood paperbacks from the even earlier 1960s – for example, The Hot Canary (Midwood, 1963), The Strange Compulsion of Laura M. (Midwood, 1962), Liza’s Apartment (Midwood, 1961) and Gang Girl (Midwood, 1964).

   INSERT: There is a short interview with Julie Ellis you can find online that was conducted by Lynn Munroe before her death in 2006. She was not bothered by the attention paid to her early “sexy” novels, but rather she seemed to enjoy the attention and was a guest at several of Gary Lovisi’s annual paperback shows in Manhattan. I never met her, but after writing this review, I was in touch with her several times by email.

   So. Chateau Saxony is where young, unattached Laurie Stanton finds herself going after graduating from college – Switzerland, that is, near Geneva, where she by happenstance has been hired to teach French to a young wealthy businessman’s stubborn grandmother, who’d rather be back home in New England.

   The house itself is not spooky, but the servants do not seem to like her, and soon after Laurie’s arrival, strange events begin to happen: a rock and a trivet are thrown through her window; she finds a voodoo doll on her bed; a fire breaks out in her room. The grandmother, Diedre, on several occasions, claims to have ESP and warns Laurie that if she stays, something horrible will happen at the chateau that summer.

   The challenge to the author is, if you’re going by the rules, is to have all of these events happen, and yet make them seem reasonable, with everyday kinds of explanations, so that in effect, nothing seems to happen while there really is. And – if you were wondering – why does Laurie stay? There is the young wealthy millionaire (I guess that was redundant) whom she finds herself falling in love with. And, it as gradually becomes clear, although under the most chaste of circumstances, he with her.

   The last incident that Laurie must face could have been enhanced into a fairly decent locked-room mystery – a pendant is stolen from her room while she is sleeping and locked in – but after nearly 150 pages of gradually growing suspense and atmosphere (mostly the latter), the whole affair seems to come unraveled and is solved all too quickly. I imagine I should have spotted the person responsible, but I confess that I did not. I am embarrassed, but I will never lie to you.

— June 2004

 Posted by at 2:46 am
Feb 162015
 
Reviewed by DAN STUMPF:         


PROFESSOR BEWARE. Paramount, 1938. Harold Lloyd, Phyllis Welch, Raymond Walburn, Lionel Stander, William Frawley, and Montague Love as Professor Schmutz. Written by Delmer Daves. Directed by Elliott Nugent.

   Not a completely successful film, nor a consistently funny one, Professor Beware flopped at the box office, leading to Lloyd’s retirement (until Mad Wednesday anyway) but I find it a charming thing, with a screamingly funny wrap-up.

   This starts off with a creepy pastiche of The Mummy (Universal, 1932) as a star-crossed Egyptian Romeo gets entombed alive, the result it seems of a misunderstanding involving a vestal virgin or some such. Flash forward to 1938 and we find the ancient swain reincarnated as our Egyptologist Hero and launched on a cross country chase with a madcap heiress in true screwball-comedy fashion.

   The problem here is that the resulting escapades ain’t all that funny. There’s a clever line here and there, a fleetingly funny bit of business now and then, and Phyllis Welch, in her one and only starring film, has the requisite cute-and-perky act down pat, but the story lacks sustained comic momentum, and Lloyd’s best and most athletic days were now behind him.

   Instead of the cheerful ballet of Harold at his best, we get some rather dire back-projection and a faintly unfocused odyssey as he tries to escape the curse of his ancient progenitor, the heiress and cops chase after him, and a slew of comic character actors do what they can in brief bits — my favorite being Montagu Love as Professor Schmutz; he doesn’t do anything funny, I just like the name “Professor Schmutz.”

   But I said early on that I liked this film, and I do. There’s a certain eerie mood hung on the theme of Harold trying to cheat his fate that sustains the story in spite of itself, and it comes together in a thoughtful moment when our hero figures out that if risking a horrible death is the price of true love…. Well, maybe it’s worth it.

   Of course it helps that Professor Beware wraps up with a full ten minutes of delightful sight gags, wonderfully conceived, and beautifully shot and edited as Harold storms a yacht and we get that wonderful feel of his Silent Movie days, that this guy can sweep a football field or climb a skyscraper and take us right along with him.

 Posted by at 3:06 pm
Feb 162015
 
Reviewed by MIKE TOONEY:


THE HONEY POT. United Artists, 1967, 132 minutes (cut down from 150). Rex Harrison, Susan Hayward, Cliff Robertson, Capucine, Edie Adams, Maggie Smith, Adolfo Celi, Hugh Manning. Based on the play Mr. Fox of Venice (1959) by Frederick Knott, which was based on the novel The Evil of the Day (1955) by Thomas Sterling, which was based on the play Volpone (1605) by Ben Jonson. Screenplay and direction: Joseph L. Mankiewicz.

   Anyone familiar with Ben Jonson’s play knows that Volpone (“The Fox”) spends a lot of the time pretending he is deathly sick in one way or another to acquire unmerited wealth. Cecil Fox (Harrison) seems to be on his deathbed, too, and has called for his three favorite intimate female acquaintances to gather round him in his villa in Venice.

   The consensus is that, since he has no heirs, Fox wants to bestow his worldly goods on one (or possibly all) of his mistresses. But before that happy event, murder claims one of them, with suspicion falling equally on everybody. It will take all the worldly wisdom of a mild-mannered Venetian detective (Celi) to sort it all out.

   Since The Honey Pot was creatively Joseph Mankiewicz’s baby, he can be praised what for what’s good and blamed for what’s bad about the film. The good stuff: the acting (overall everyone’s fine, especially Rex Harrison) and the plot (it moves along, with a couple of nice twists). The bad stuff: While Susan Hayward’s performance is good enough, she’s hampered by one of the most inauthentic Texas accents ever committed to film — and then there’s that egregiously smart-alecky dialogue that Cliff Robertson, in particular, is saddled with.

   American audiences will probably remember Alolfo Celi for his role as supervillain and adept H-bomb snatcher Emilio Largo in the 1965 James Bond film Thunderball.

   If you’ve never seen The Honey Pot and you like your whodunits to have at least some mystery about them, you would do well to avoid the IMDb, Wikipedia, and TCM entries since they all give away those “nice twists” we noted above.

 Posted by at 3:53 am
Feb 152015
 
REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


MATT HELM. ABC-TV. Made-for-TV Movie: 7 May 1975. TV series: 20 September 1975 to 3 January 1976. Meadway Production in association with Columbia Pictures Television. Cast: Tony Franciosa as Matt Helm, Laraine Stephens as Claire Kronski, and Gene Evans as Sergeant Hanrahan. Based on characters created by Donald Hamilton. Developed for television by Sam Rolfe. Produced by Charles B. Fitzsimons and Ken Pettus. Executive Story Consultant: James Schmerer. Executive Consultant: Irving Allen.

   As with many fictional characters, Matt Helm has an identity crisis when it comes to his life in books, films and television. Matt Helm has always adapted to what was popular at the time. The character created by Donald Hamilton for a series of books, starting with Death of a Citizen in 1960, was a government assassin fighting the Cold War during a time when such a paperback series character was popular.

   The movie Helm was one of the endless numbers of James Bond parodies popular in films during the 60s and 70s. And the TV version joined the large group of ex-something (be it ex-con, ex-cop, or in Helm’s case ex-spy) turned 70’s PI with a fast car. Matt Helm liked to join the crowd.

   The TV movie version of Helm developed by Sam Rolfe was an ex-spy turned PI with a beautiful lover, a liberated lawyer who didn’t mind supplying the cheesecake. This Helm had a dark side, while he still was able to contact The Director and his old agency The Machine, Helm had quit the spy business after tiring of all the lies and bad things he had to do. While reformed and sanitized for 70s TV, this Helm was closer to Hamilton’s version than the movie version ever got.

   Sadly the TV version had something in common with the film version: both were made by Columbia Pictures and producer Irving Allen. What saved the TV Movie was the talent of writer Sam Rolfe who had created or developed such TV series as Have Gun, Will Travel, Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Delphi Bureau. His screenplay (with Harold Jack Bloom) for The Naked Spur (1953) received an Oscar nomination.

   Yes, it is a 1970s TV Movie, so there were cheesy moments and it was not quality drama, but it was and still remains a mindlessly fun entertaining TV mystery thriller. Rolfe’s script featured a strong plot and enough twists to keep the viewer involved. Rolfe, one of the best TV Movie pilot writers of the time, was also able to make Helm interesting, and the film had enough possible story directions to inspire several seasons of story lines. It would be something the weekly series would not take advantage of.

   The rest of the production was above average for the standard 70s TV Movie, thanks in large part to the work of Producer-Director Buzz Kulik. Tony Franciosa played his usual character, the same guy he played in Name of the Game, Search, and every other character he played on television. Laraine Stephens (Mrs. David Gerber. Gerber was an award winning producer (Police Story) and at the time head of Columbia Pictures Television) was fine as liberated and sexually active Claire Kronski. The only other character from the pilot to make it to the series was Helm’s police contact and friend Sergeant Hanrahan played by the capable Gene Evans.

MATT HELM. 7 May 1975. Written by Sam Rolfe. Executive Producer: Irving Allen. Produced and Directed by Buzz Kulik. Guest Cast: John Vernon, Ann Turkel, Patrick Macnee, Michael C. Gwynne. *** When a PI she hired is killed Maggie turns to Matt for help to find her father’s killer.

   Maggie’s father had been killed when she was very young. Now a successful actress Maggie can afford to hire someone to find her father’s killer. She and Matt meet through Kronski who is the actress’ lawyer. When Matt learns a casual friend and fellow PI had been killed he takes the case.

   Maggie’s father had been a Captain in the Army who was murdered by his Sergeant when he uncovered the Sergeant’s smuggling ring. The killer vanished. The murdered PI thought he had found the killer, now known as Harry Paine. Matt remembers Harry from his days with The Machine. It is not a happy memory. As Matt searches for Maggie’s father killer, everyone including an old friend from The Machine warn Matt to drop the case.

   As with most TV shows there were changes made from the TV Movie pilot to the weekly series. Jerry Fielding’s theme from the TV Movie was replaced by a theme written by Morton Stevens. The series added a new character to the supporting cast, Ethel (Jeff Donnell), an annoying woman who took Matt’s messages. On the plus side the one bad subplot from the TV Movie featuring the angry PI hating Police Sergeant (Val Bisoglio) was dropped.

   Irving Allen remained, now credited as executive consultant (there was no on air credit for executive producer). Buzz Kulik and Sam Rolfe were gone. Charles B. Fitzsimons and Ken Pettus became the producers. James Schmerer, who had been the associate producer for the film The Silencers (1966), was the series executive story consultant.

   The dark ex-spy side of Helm was basically gone. The character now was just another TV PI, closer to being Tony Franciosa than any version of Helm. The stories were inferior PI procedurals with enough plot holes to turn the cheese to Swiss, bad acting doomed by cardboard characters, directors missing shots, and enough padding to fill a mattress warehouse.

“Now I Lay Me Down To Die.” 27 September 1975. Written by Gerry Day and Bethel Leslie. Directed by Earl Bellamy. Guest Cast: Shelley Fabares, Burr DeBenning, Ian McShane. *** Rich woman known for her charity work hires Matt to find a serial killer whose last victim was her surrogate father.

   This is a cheese fest even Wisconsin would wince at. So lets play 70’s TV PI Cliché Bingo!

   It featured a serial killer. The Killer was female. She was nuts. She had duel personalities. Chris the good girl was rich and spent her time working for charities. Tina the bad girl was a hooker. She killed her johns after sex. She loved her work.

   The audience knows who the killer is before any of the characters including Chris. There is a gratuitous subplot about Chris’s evil husband. He is in debt. He is going to steal her fortune. She won’t get the money from dead Daddy’s will until next week. This subplot will be ignored at the end.

   There is more? Yep, Matt had barely started when someone (we never are really sure who or why) tries to kill him. Car Chase!! Matt tracks down Tina and gets knocked out from behind. Talking head scene where an expert refuses to answer questions while answering questions to explain killer’s actions.

   Female expert flirts with Matt. Police know where possible clue is but can’t get search warrant. Licensed PI ignoring rule of law plans illegal search believing a court of law would not toss out such evidence. Chris confesses before talking to her lawyer a few feet away. Ending ties things up in neat little bow as if victims were mere plot devices. BINGO! Extra point – famous ex-teen queen plays World’s most overdressed psycho killer hooker!

   The series faced even more challenges than bad writing and acting. ABC put it in a suicidal time slot, Saturday at 10pm-11pm, opposite of two popular series, CBS’s Carol Burnett Show and NBC’s Saturday Night at the Movies. And there may have been behind the scenes problems with Tony Franciosa’s temper.

   According to gossip columnist Maggie Daly (Chicago Tribune, 30 October 1975), while on location at the Burbank Water and Power plant Franciosa and director Richard Benedict (an ex-fighter) got into a physical fight that didn’t stop until the two fighters and the entire cast and crew were tossed off the location.

   Not surprisingly, Matt Helm lasted only thirteen episodes. The final episode to air “Die Once, Die Twice” (January 3, 1976) began with Matt happily leaving on a spy adventure for The Machine. Sadly, the mission was kept secret from us, and instead we got a 70s cheesy lawyer show featuring Kronski.

   I certainly recommend the TV Movie. But while I am curious what TV series Matt Helm might have inflicted on the spy genre, after watching four episodes of this series and its attempts at the PI and lawyer genre I rejoice ABC put TV series Matt Helm out of my misery.

SOURCE:

And thanks to the always informative Thrilling Detective website for filling in my gaps of knowledge about the book series by Donald Hamilton.

 Posted by at 3:42 am
Feb 132015
 
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Robert E. Briney


HELEN McCLOY – The Singing Diamonds and Other Stories. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1965. No paperback edition.

   Helen McCloy wrote relatively few mystery short stories, and only four of the eight stories in this collection fall into the mystery category. All of them, however, are superior examples of the form. They all appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and each of them was a prizewinner in the magazine’s annual contests.

   The book opens with what is probably the author’s most famous short work, “Chinoiserie,” written in Paris in 1935 but not published until 1946. It makes use of the author’s art background in a tale of obsession and revenge set in nineteenth-century Peking.

   The title story, “The Singing Diamonds,” features Basil Willing. The “diamonds” of the title are a species of flying saucer: “nine flat, elongated squares, like the pips on a nine of diamonds, flying in V-formation at 1,500 miles per hour,” seen by a navy pilot and by six other eyewitnesses scattered around the country and overseas.

   Shortly after the sighting, the witnesses, one by one, die in unexplained ways. One of the survivors comes to Basil Willing for help. Are the deaths just an amazing coincidence, or are they murder? And how could such murders have been carried out? Willing’s acute mind is equal to the task of ferreting out the truth. The story may be too fantastic for some tastes, but it is an astonishing tour de force of mystery and detection.

   Another Basil Willing story, “Through a Glass, Darkly,” was expanded to a full-length novel under the same title. The remaining mystery, “The Other Side of the Curtain,” is a gem of psychological suspense: A young wife, troubled by a threatening dream, visits a psychiatrist for help, but finds herself sinking deeper and deeper into the nightmare….

   It is difficult to believe that the other four stories in the book were written by the same author. “Number Ten Q Street,” “Silence Burning,” “Surprise, Surprise!” and “Windless” are science fiction of a ponderous and heavily didactic variety, minor exercises at best. But the four mystery stories make the volume worth tracking down.

         ———
   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.

 Posted by at 7:49 pm