by Adam Hall
The Peking Dossier
by Linda Stewart
CORNERED. RKO Radio Pictures, 1945. Dick Powell, Walter Slezak, Micheline Cheirel, Nina Vale, Morris Carnovsky, Edgar Barrier, Steven Geray. Director: Edward Dmytryk
Cornered is the type of suspense film where, for a time at least, you really don’t have a clue exactly where you’re headed. But you’re in good company, because the film’s protagonist doesn’t really know what’s going on all around him, either. It’s not the easiest plot structure to pull off in a book, let alone a film.
You’d surely agree with me that far too many crime films have been ruined by a director holding back important information about what’s going on from the viewer without his ultimately, and successfully, clearing the obfuscation so as to bring the plot to a satisfying conclusion. Sometimes, trying to do too much to give the film an air of mystery ends up letting all the air out of the proverbial bag.
In Edward Dymytrk’s Cornered, however, the mystifying and suspenseful plot ultimately works quite well. This is thanks in no small part to the film’s casting of Dick Powell as Laurence Gerard, a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot on the hunt for a Nazi collaborator, and Walter Slezak as Melchior Incza, an enterprising scoundrel who serves as Gerard’s Virgil on a tour of the war criminal underground of Buenos Aries. Powell and Slezak are both such talented actors that you don’t mind not being temporarily in the dark.
On the surface, at least, the plot is fairly straightforward. The Second World War is officially over. Unofficially, of course, there are many unresolved issues. The murder of Laurence Gerard’s French wife is one of them. Gerard resolves that he will track down his wife’s killer, a French collaborator by the name of Marcel Jarnac. He travels from France to Switzerland and then to Argentina on the hunt for the mysterious man.
Once he arrives in Buenos Aires, Gerard is immediately thrust into a web of deception and psychological turmoil. He’s not sure whom to trust or who is lying to him. All the while, he is struggling with headaches, a reminder that the recently concluded war’s casualties include those struggling with post-traumatic stress.
Among the nefarious, or potentially dangerous people he encounters are the enigmatic Melchior Incza (Slezak), the sophisticated Argentinian lawyer, Manuel Santana (Morris Carnovsky), and a woman who is thought to be Jarnac’s wife (Micheline Cheirel). All the players seem to have hidden agendas.
But Gerard is a man on a mission of revenge and will not heed calls to abandon his task, no matter what the cost. He descends deeper into the shadowy underground of Buenos Aires, all culminating in a violent showdown on the waterfront in which we finally see the unassuming Jarnac. He looks like he could easily blend into a crowd without anyone noticing something was amiss.
And that’s the point. Fascism hides in plain sight. It is Jarnac, in his discussion with a captive Gerard, who most clearly enunciates the film’s strong anti-fascist message and warning: the Second World War may be over, but fascists like him still live, hidden both in plain sight and in the shadows.
In conclusion, Cornered is both a suspense film and an early example of film noir. Gerard is caught up is a labyrinth of uncertainty, often subject to historical forces well out of his control. Many of the film’s pivotal scenes occur in interior settings, well away from the disinfectant power of bright sunlight. Nowhere is this the case more striking than in a beautifully filmed sequence in the Buenos Aires subway in which a traumatized Gerard struggles to maintain his composure in a broken world.
BEVERLEY NICHOLS – The Moonflower Murder. E. P. Dutton, UK, hardcover, 1955. First published in the UK: Hutchinson, hardcover, 1955, as The Moonflower.
In his second recorded case since his retirement as a private detective, Horatio Green is in Dartmoor in hopes of viewing the blooming of the fabulous Moonflower, transported at great expense from South America. Since he had some twenty-five years earlier investigated a jewelry theft for the owner of the Moonflower, Green had been invited to her estate to view the plant.
The plant does bloom, forty-eight hours early, but its owner is not there to view it. Someone had strangled her and made off with her jewels.
Since Superintendent Waller of Scotland Yard — both a friend and rival of Green’s — is in the area dealing with a recent escape from Princetown Prison, he begins an investigation of the crime with Green’s help. With the aid of his keen olfactory sense, Green identifies the culprit, while I wondered about genetics and slipshod post-mortems.
Nichols first novel featuring Green — No Man’s Street — seemed to me to be a book by an accomplished author feeling his way into the mystery field, and thus left something to be desired. He does much better here.
NOTE: Bill’s review of Murder by Request, also by Beverley Nichols, was posted here earlier on this blog. Following that review is some biographical information about the author and a complete listing of his Horatio Green series.
Just a quick note to say I got tons of email from folks congratulating me on being featured in the newest KDP newsletter.
Pretty cool. If you’d told me couple of years ago I’d be featured by Amazon as an example of indie success, I’d have said you were insane.
Now, you’re the smartest guy in the room.
Hopefully sales will go through the roof. My gut says probably not, but hey, can’t complain about an Amazon feature, especially when it didn’t cost anything. I mean, I could, because God knows I could complain about anything, but I won’t. For which we are all grateful.
I’ve also gotten a spate of questions asking what my secret is. To that end, here is everything I know about self-publishing and writing, collected as a few blogs that lay it all out. I have no additional info to share – this represents everything I’ve learned and done, and represents my current and past approach:
Good luck with your writing. It’s an interesting and difficult road, but one I’m glad to have traveled.
Methinks there's dirty work afoot...
"On the Saturday morning at twelve o'clock he left England, on the wildest chase that any man had ever undertaken. And behind him, did he but know it, stalked the shadow of death."
Cue the organ music. Get the monsters and misfits ready offstage. Could that melodramatic bit of writing have originated with anyone other than the master of the early English thriller, Edgar Wallace? Of course not. It is, in fact, a key development in the rather confusing but thoroughly entertaining plot of The Door With Seven Locks, first published in 1926, and a fine example of the kind of book which made Edgar Wallace one of the most popular novelists of his day. The Door with Seven Locks is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to that full review by clicking here.
The plot is difficult to sum up in a few well-chosen words. It begins with a Scotland Yard detective who is about to retire from the force. He becomes involved with a small-time crook, an expert at picking locks, who tells him about a recent lock-picking job that has made him quite nervous. Before he can pass along details, the lock-picker is murdered. Next, our retiring detective gets involved in a couple of seemingly unrelated incidents – the theft of an obscure book from a lending library (whose librarian, a young woman, will be the heroine of the story), and an assignment to go chasing around the world after a very rich and very elusive young heir who is rarely seen. That assignment leads to the departure I quoted at the beginning of this post.
In the midst of all this chasing about, we discover that there is a desperate search under way for seven individual keys which, when all used together, can open a mysterious door in a family's tomb. We meet a doctor – clearly an unsympathetic and sinister character – who is suspected of carrying out unethical medical experiments, to say the least. And we get glimpses of some powerful and dangerous creatures who may or may not be linked to the doctor. Add in our heroine’s unfortunate habit of getting herself into dangerous situations and you have a very fast-moving, easy-to-read and easy-to-enjoy – if not very easy to summarize - thriller. The Door with Seven Locks is certainly Wallace in fine form.
Wallace's popularity has endured, by the way: more than 160 movies have been made from his work, more than have been made from any other author's books. In fact, this book was made into a movie which was given a new but entirely appropriate name: Chamber of Horrors. They don't write 'em like that any more, do they?
As part of my continuing commitment to the Vintage Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge under way at the My Reader's Block blog, I am submitting this to cover the Bingo square calling for one book that has been made into a movie. For details about the challenge, and what I'm doing for it, please click here.