Feb 282015
 
Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


VIBES. Columbia Pictures, 1988. Cyndi Lauper, Jeff Goldblum, Peter Falk, Julian Sands, Googy Gress, Elizabeth Peña. Director: Ken Kwapis.

   Vibes is the cult classic that could have been. A quirky quasi-ensemble cast (check); a mash-up of genres, ranging from romantic comedy to adventure film and fantasy and back again (check); and quite a few memorable, downright repeatedly quotable, moments (check). And for a while, Vibes manages to feel like a hangout film, a movie where you just feel like you’re there, or you’d like to be there, just hanging out, shooting the breeze, with the main characters.

   But it wasn’t to be. Indeed, Vibes really doesn’t seem to have all that much of a critical reputation or a cult following. Which is somewhat of a shame, because it really is a daring, albeit wildly uneven, little comedy-adventure film that is worth watching, if only once. It benefits greatly from the screen presence of both Jeff Goldblum and Peter Falk, as well as 1980s pop singer, Cyndi Lauper, in a film role.

   The plot centers around two New York psychics, Nick Deezy (Goldblum) and Sylvia Pickel (Lauper) who travel to Ecuador at the behest of con artist/criminal/man of mystery, Harry Buscofusco (Falk) to allegedly search for a missing man. A search that turns into a hunt for Inca gold. Which transforms into an encounter with a relic from an ancient alien civilization and a source of psychic power. (Try selling that script today: “So tell me what your screenplay’s about.”). There’s also a budding romance between Deezy and Pickel.

   It’s a difficult plot to pull off successfully and, at times, the movie just falls painfully flat. The ending, in particular, is a serious let down. But the journey to the ending, literally and metaphorically, is half the fun. And the cast, particularly Goldblum, seems to be in on the joke. It’s no classic, cult or otherwise, but it’s an enjoyable enough movie to watch, the later into the night the better. And it’s definitely a product of the 1980s, like for sure.

 Posted by at 5:12 am

Murderer’s Maze by John Marsh

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Feb 282015
 
A Ray Fenton Adventure





Ray Felton did not want to go back to work but he could not let a woman be set upon by two guys and when he heard why she was attacked, he was determined to see it through. How often is a man given a chance to bring down a crime kingpin and former traitor.

Printing History
Written by John Marsh (1907-1997)

John Gifford
1957 
 Posted by at 2:45 am

Just for Openers

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Feb 272015
 


I was contacted in mid-January of this year by Adam Thompson, “an editor and writer at The Wall Street Journal,” who told me via e-mail that he was “pondering doing a piece on people who are able to find the most obscure intros to TV shows and put them online.” He was referring to The Rap Sheet’s YouTube page. “I found you after a search for the Scarecrow & Mrs. King intro,” Thompson explained, “and was kind of amazed at the number of intros you’d posted. Would you have a few moments to tell me about this? How many you’ve posted, how long it takes to find these things, whether there’s a missing intro out there that you’re trying especially hard to find, etc.?”

Although I thought this was a rather odd subject for the Journal to tackle. I was glad to answer his questions. A month and a half have passed now, though, since I did that, and there’s been no sign of the article Thompson proposed. So I figure his interest has waned. Nonetheless, I put some effort into responding to Thompson’s query; and since I have indeed tried to develop The Rap Sheet’s YouTube page over time, I thought you might be interested in what I told him.
I created that YouTube “channel” you came across as an entertaining supplement to my award-winning crime-fiction blog, The Rap Sheet (http://therapsheet.blogspot.com/). I have long been a fan of vintage TV mystery and crime dramas, and every once in a while I’d come across the main title sequence from one of those shows on YouTube. Finally, in 2010, I decided to collect a few of them. That enterprise grew and grew, until now I have more than 300 such opening sequences posted.

I don’t spend a lot of time trying to expand the offerings on that page, but I have accumulated more than 600 subscribers over the years, so I guess I’m doing enough to please some people. Probably folks much like me, who remember these old shows and get a kick out of seeing at least some portion of them resurrected. I’m not in the questionable business of uploading whole episodes of classic programs onto YouTube; that would seem to be an obvious violation of copyrights. I see what I do as a small tribute to some older shows that many viewers have never heard of, but would do well to investigate further. Use of these clips is for historical and entertainment purposes only, and is not meant to establish ownership of such materials.

As I said, it has taken me years to accumulate all these series intros, but I don’t devote a lot of energy to the game. I check in regularly on YouTube and use Google alerts, looking for the TV intros I remember best and would like to showcase for Rap Sheet readers. By that means I have located most of the entries on my wish list, including the hard-to-find openings from the 1976 private-eye series City of Angels (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGcaFtxJH8A), the 1982-1983 comedy-drama Tucker’s Witch (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7buWx-U_-so), the 2001 cop show Big Apple (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xPA-HBkE2g4), and the 1974-1975 historical crime series, The Manhunter (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3fEorRm_90c).

There are still a number of main title sequences I’d like to add to my collection. For instance, I haven’t yet managed to dig up the original, 1972-1973 opening from The NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie “wheel series” (with theme music by Quincy Jones) -- though I have posted a later version of that opening (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9IGmzsX8ek). I’m also still on the hunt for the introductions from Dog and Cat (1977, starring Lou Antonio and Kim Basinger), Chase (1973-1974, starring Mitchell Ryan), Caribe (1975, starring Stacy Keach), Dellaventura (1997-1998, starring Danny Aiello), and Michael Hayes (1997-1998, starring David Caruso). But give me time. I’m patient, and these intros have a tendency to pop up on the Web when you least expect to see them. There always seems to be someone out there with access to old shows and the time to upload them to YouTube.

Thank goodness.
Since I wrote to Thompson, I have managed to locate those hard-to-find openings to Dog and Cat and Dellaventura, but I’m still searching for the rest. Let me know if you spot them.
Feb 272015
 


READ MORE:Leonard Nimoy, Spock of Star Trek, Dies at 83,” by Virginia Heffernan (The New York Times); “Star Trek Is Great, and Leonard Nimoy’s Spock Was the Greatest Thing About It,” by Matthew Yglesias (Vox); “Leonard Nimoy, R.I.P.,” by Michael Hadley (It’s About TV!); “Mort: Mr. Spock,” by Don Herron (Up and Down These Mean Streets); “A Word About Leonard Nimoy,” by Jeri Westerson (Getting Medieval); “Leonard Nimoy Dies at 83, Dabbled in Spy Entertainment,” by Bill Koenig (The Spy Command); “The Iconic ‘Live Long and Prosper’ Hand Gesture Was Originally a Jewish Sign,” by Daven Hiskey (Today I Found Out); “How Leonard Nimoy Made Spock an American Jewish Icon,” by Matthew Rozsa (Salon); “Leonard Nimoy, You Will Be Sorely Missed,” by Paul Morris (Little Things); “‘I Have Been--and Always Shall Be--Your Friend,’” by Josh Marshall (Talking Points Memo); “Remembering Leonard Nimoy, 1931-2015” (StarTrek.com).
Feb 272015
 

http://www.classicfilmtvcafe.com/ 

Hey, something's wrong with this plane!
The Horror at 37,000 Feet. What can you say about a movie in which William Shatner gives the most credible performance? That’s the challenge with The Horror at 37,000 Feet, a 1973 made-for-TV film with a better reputation than it deserves. It makes one wonder if the film’s admirers have actually sat through all 73 minutes. The premise shows promise: An airplane departs London with a handful of passengers and cargo consisting of remnants from an abbey used by Druids for sacrificial rituals. It’s not long before the plane comes to a standstill mid-flight, the cabin temperature drops to icy depths, and possessed passengers start spewing Latin. The cast consists of TV veterans Chuck Connors, Buddy Ebsen, Roy Thinnes, Paul Winfield, and Shatner. They struggle with poorly-developed characters, bad dialogue, and inane plotting. At one point, Connors’ pilot copes with the situation by telling the stewardesses to offer free alcoholic beverages! Only Shatner rises above these ruins as a defrocked priest who ultimately takes matters into his own hands. My advice is to steer clear of The Horror at 37,000 Feet and seek out three other nifty made-for-TV terror tales:  Gargoyles (1972), Trilogy of Terror (1975), and Spectre (1977).


I don't think a single strand of
Lawford's hair moves during the film.
Ellery Queen: Don’t Look Behind You. Before NBC launched the popular Ellery Queen series with Jim Hutton in 1975, it made an earlier TV movie with Peter Lawford as the literary detective. Ellery Queen: Don’t Look Behind You (1971) was intended as a pilot for a prospective series that never materialized. It’s easy to see why, although it’s not a total disaster. Based on the 1949 Ellery Queen novel Cat of Many Tails, the plot revolves around a series of apparently unrelated NYC murders committed by a killer dubbed “The Hydra” by the press. The connection between the crimes is a clever one, but it’s revealed with almost half the running time remaining. Even worse, it doesn't take much deduction to figure out the killer’s identity (there are only two viable suspects and one is much too obvious). Unlike Hutton’s 1940s-set series, Don’t Look Behind You is a contemporary mystery and Ellery has been transformed into a ladies man. In lieu of his father, Inspector Queen (wonderfully played by David Wayne in Hutton’s show), Harry Morgan plays an uncle that works for the police department. Lawford and Morgan don’t really click and Stefanie Powers is wasted as a suspect that gets involved with Ellery. Although the teleplay is credited to Ted Leighton, Columbo creators William Link and Richard Levinson may have penned an earlier draft. In an interview on the Ellery Queen TV series DVD boxed set, William Link mentions working on an Ellery Queen movie. However, the script was rewritten while he and Levinson were vacationing in Europe. They had their names removed from it. Given the timing, I suspect he was referring to Ellery Queen: Don’t Look Behind You.



THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST

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Feb 272015
 


THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST
Book One  Jan 2015
Edited by Arkay Olgar
Larque Press LLC
116 pages

Growing up in the 50s and 60s, we were lucky enough to enjoy all the wonderful little magazines available on the newsstands during those decades.  They were called digest and they covered every genre imaginable.  We fondly remember having subscriptions to both The Worlds of If and Analog; two of our favorite sci-fi monthlies.  Every now and then we’d pick up a mystery digest like Alfred Hitchcok and Ellery Queen as well.  It seemed whenever any particular mystery series made it big in the paperback field, invariably there would be a digest monthly. I can still recall picking up copies of The 87th Precinct Mystery Magazine and Shell Scott Mystery Magazine.  Both were short-lived, but not so the popular Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine that, as best I can remember, was around for a long time.

Today the digests are all but gone save for a handful.  Which is why we were delighted to see the arrival of a brand new title that is actually devoted to those great little monthlies; The Digest Enthusiast.  Issue number one is an eclectic treasure of both factual article on specific digest titles of old, a review of another little series, The Paperback Parade, and three really excellent short stories done in various lengths by writers Joe Wehrle Jr, Lesann Berry and Richard Krauss.  We hope this inclusion of short fiction will be permanent feature and offer new pulp writers another market for their tales.

Among some of the digest title histories examined here are Coronet, Galaxy Science Fiction and Photo-rama to name a few.  We have to confess, our favorite article was the interview with Canadian fan/writer Matthew Turcotte in regards to his collection of Archie Digests which he claims is well over thousand issues strong.  Just amazing.

The Digest Enthusiast is extremely well produced, with clean layouts and clear, expertly printed articles about a lost American publishing format.  We recommend it highly to all our pulp readers.


Feb 272015
 

LAWRENCE BLOCK – The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza. Random House, hardcover, 1980. Pocket, paperback, 1982. Reprinted many times since, including Signet, paperback, December 1998.

   The copy I just read was a fairly recent Signet paperback from the 1990s, so it took me by surprise the first time Bernie Rhodenbarr, the bookshop owner in Greenwich Villagewho does a little burglary on the side, needed to find a phone booth to make a telephone call in New York City.

   How many generations ago was 1980? Long before Google came along, that’s for sure. Think how much time Bernie could have saved making a whole series of long distance calls, trying to track down information about a rare coin called the 1913 V-Nickel.

   Today, you could look it up. According to web page on the other side of the link, the coin, were you to burgle a home in Manhattan and find one, would be worth three to four million dollars, perhaps more.

   And burgle a home in Manhattan and find one is exactly what Bernie and Carolyn Kaiser, his lesbian friend and oft-times confederate in crime, do. Soon ending up dead is Bernie’s good friend (and neighborhood fence), elderly Abel Crowe. Since the theft matches Bernie’s MO, the police suspect him for not only that killing, but also the death of the wife whose home was robbed. One problem: Bernie and Carolyn were the only the second of three sets of burglars that night.

   Which means there are a lot of characters to keep track of, even more than this brief outline of the story might suggest. But Bernie tells the story in such a light, humorous way, punctuated by witty observations about the city and its inhabitants, that the pages simply fly by in very enjoyable fashion.

   Until that is, page 223 of a 302 page novel, when the shark is jumped or the pooch is tipped or whatever the current vernacular may be. Now this is between only you and me, and it may be only me, but up until that time I got the idea that Bernie and I were buddies, and he was keeping me informed of everything he wa seeing and doing.

   But on page 223 he suddenly cuts me out of the picture. He tells Carolyn who he thinks did it. Reluctantly, to be sure. It takes until page 224 before she convinces him to tell her everything. Me, nothing. And here I thought we were friends.

   Of course, I really didn’t want him to tell me, but why Carolyn? I was disappointed.

   It also put a strain on Bernie in the pages that follow. Doing this and that, going here and there, making those phone calls to who knows who, and not being able to tell me what it was that he was doing. It’s not until one of those “gather everybody together in one place” that Bernie reveals the truth and gets the killer (or killers) to confess.

   And of course a book by Spinoza takes its rightful place in the denouement, exactly as the title says it would.

       The Bernie Rhodenbarr novels —

Burglars Can’t Be Choosers (1977)

The Burglar in the Closet (1978)

The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling (1979)
The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza (1980)
The Burglar Who Painted Like Mondrian (1983)
The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams (1994)
The Burglar Who Thought He Was Bogart (1995)
The Burglar In The Library (1997).
The Burglar In The Rye (1999)
The Burglar on the Prowl (2004)
The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons (2013)

PostScript:   I do not know what kind of name Rhodenbarr is — Googling it turned up only six full pages of Bernie’s before I gave up. Perhaps Lawrence Block simply made it up. That plus the fact that Bernie tells the story himself makes it difficult to put a face to the character. I do not know who should play him in the TV series I have in mind.

    One thing for sure. It won’t be Whoopi Goldberg.

 Posted by at 6:43 pm

FORGOTTEN BOOKS: CROSS COUNTRY

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Feb 272015
 

FORGOTTEN BOOKS: CROSS COUNTRY

Herbert D. Kastle wrote a number of science fiction stories in magazines of the 1950s. That's where I first read him. Later in the 1960s he was writing those fat sexy bestseller-type novels that owed more to marketing and Harold Robbins than his presumed muse. Then in 1974 he wrote CROSS COUNTRY. Here's a quote from one of the reviews: "This novel seems to occupy the same dark and twisted territory as the works of Jim Thompson. Characters interact in a dance of barely suppressed psychopathological urges and desires that is as grotesquely fascinating as a multi-car pileup on the freeway. It may leave you feeling unclean afterwards, but chances are you will not forget it."

Damn straight. It really is a sewer of sex and terror and blood-soaked suspense. I read it in one long sitting. If it's trash, as some called it at the time, it is spellbinding trash. 

IMDB sums up the story line succintly: "After a woman is found butchered in her New York apartment, suspicion falls on her estranged husband, an ad executive who has suddenly left town on a cross-country road trip. He takes along a beautiful girl he met in a bar and a drifter he picked up along the way. A cop sets out after the husband, but he's more interested in shaking him down than bringing him back."

Kastle masterfully controls his long nightmare journey and you buy into his paranoia. He shows you an American wasteland of truck stops, motels, convenience stores connected by interstate highway and darkness. By book's end everyone will betray everyone else. This is survival of the fittest enacted by a Yuppie businessman, sociopathic hippies and a crooked cop. The sheer nastiness of Kastle's existential vision make this book impossible to forget. Thirty-some years after I first read it I still think of it from time to time when hundreds of other novels have fled from memory.


It's a vision of hell that fascinates you as it troubles your conscience.
Feb 272015
 

From the archives
leopard13 is the internet moniker of a father of two, spouse to one, who blogs out of The City of the Angels. He owns a first edition copy of the book below and one day hopes to have the author autograph for him.

The Ninth Configuration, by William Peter Blatty (Harper & Row 1978)


Just say the name, William Peter Blatty. It does have its own sense of meter as it rolls off the tongue, now doesn't it? You'll most likely recognize it, too. Just the same, saying it three times in front of a mirror won’t cause anything bad to happen, either -- contrary to urban legend. If you love books and reading, whether you are a baby boomer or Generation X, Y, or even Z, odds-on you've heard of him. Such is the legacy of authoring a horror novel as famous as 1971's The Exorcist (which would go on to even greater notoriety when it was adapted to the screen in 1973's film of the novel). However, along with the popularity and fame for a book that became an all-encompassing event, it can be too much of good thing. 'Event' novels can take on a life of their own, and they can build to the point that all other work by the same author lies in its shadow. Obscured because they are not anything like that book. Such was the consequence for the next novel by author Blatty that it seemed to fall by the wayside when it was published in 1978. That forgotten, but wonderful, piece of elegant writing was, The Ninth Configuration.
What was released that year actually germinated from a hasty 1966 novel titled, Twinkle, Twinkle, Killer Kane! From his author's note: "Its basic concept was surely the best I have ever created, but what was published was just as surely no more than the notes for a novel -- some sketches, unformed, unfinished, lacking even a plot." Luckily, for those of us who read the re-envisioned work in the late 70's (and those who would go on to discover and appreciate it decades later), it is an overlooked book worth remembering. Ironically, WPB has said more than once he considers it his unofficial sequel to The Exorcist. Although The Ninth Configuration shares a very loose connection (via an unnamed character) from that novel, the genre and plot line couldn't be more divergent. Plus, it works whether or not you've read the legendary blockbuster that preceded it.
The novel's story centers upon a select small group of military men secluded away with what are believed to be inexplicable mental disorders. Or, being highly intelligent men, they could be faking it--which could be the reason nothing has worked and why they continue their stay at a decaying Gothic mansion. Their treatment, and sanity, ultimately hinges upon one Marine Colonel Kane (a psychiatrist who may have his own issues) brought to the sheltered facility to seek the answers in the most unexpected of ways. Blatty crafts the story as a mystery to be solved, planting its seeds in the unusual interactions that take place. The author’s dialogue between the patients and staff are quite purpose-built, madcap, and unexpected. I cannot describe it any better than what a good friend wrote in a review of his, "Because the story is relatively brief, no words are wasted in an attempt to be lyrical or poetic. Yet somehow there are moments of utter poetry in the exchanges between doctor and patients, and in Kane's own introspective reasonings." While the material covered is meaty, it is one of the few novels that made be laugh out loud, and had my eyes welling by the time I finished it.
One could describe WPB as an author who writes eloquent, thought provoking fiction that draws in his readers with clever, humorous dialogue (keep in mind, he also wrote the screenplay for the comedy, A Shot In The Dark). Or put another way, he’s a humorous, clever writer who puts out eloquent novels that catch the readers off guard by being thought provoking. I'd say both are true. He just happened to author a chart topping novel of horror that eclipsed everything before, or since, in his bibliography. However, The Ninth Configuration remains perhaps a more intriguing read, and worth exploration by those who haven't experienced it. As well, for those of us who are film buffs, sprinkled throughout, the author references classic movie moments and dialogue within this novel. A few years after its publication, William Peter Blatty would pen and direct its film adaptation in 1980. Not surprisingly, it has developed a strong cult following, and many believe the story is more immersive on the screen (consider me in both groups). The 1978 novel is a svelte 135-page work, and next year TNC will be re-released by Centipede Press as a new edition. Purportedly, it will combine both novels and will include a long essay by film scholar Mark Kermode in a 292-page hardcover. So on this Friday, The Ninth Configuration is not forgotten (at least, by me anyways).
"Every kind thought is the hope of the world."

Sergio Angelini, THE QUIET AMERICAN, Graham Greene
Joe Barone, ASSASSINS OF ATHENS, Jeffrey Siger
Les Blatt, THE DOORBELL RANG, Nero Wolfe
Brian Busby, BAROMETER RISING, Hugh Maclennan
David Cranmer, THE LIGHTHOUSE, Edgar Allan Poe
Bill Crider, DREAM LOVERS, Dodd Darin
Martin Edward, DEATH BY REQUEST, Romilly and Katherine John
Curt Evans, A LIFE OF CRIME, Sinclair Gluck
Ed Gorman, CROSS COUNTRY, Herbert Kastle
John Hegenberger, THE BRIGHTEST BUCCANEER, Leslie Charteris
Rick Horton, A DIVERSITY OF CREATURES, Rudyard Kipling
Randy Johnson, DEVILS AND DUST, J.D. Rhoades
George Kelley, SOME CAME RUNNING, James Jones
Margot Kinberg, A NICE QUIET HOLIDAY, Aditya Sudarshan
Rob Kitchin, THE YARD, Alex Grecian
B.V. Lawson, WINDY CITY, Hugh Holton
Evan Lewis, THE TRAILSMAN: TEXAS UPRISING, Stephen Mertz
Steve Lewis, THE INTERLOPERS, Donald Hamilton
Neer, THE MORTAL RALLY MYSTERY, John Rhode
J.F. Norris, THE FETISH MURDERS, Avon Curry
James Reasoner, ROCKET ROBINSON AND THE PHAROAH'S FORTUNE, Sean O'Neill
Richard Robinson, WATSON'S CHOICE, Gladys Mitchell 
Ron Schee, BLUE PETER, Luke Allan 
R.T. CRIPPEN, John Boyne
Kerrie Smith, ANGLE OF INVESTIGATION, Michael Connelly
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, MASTERS OF NOIR, Vol. 2
TracyK, THE CALLING, Inger Ash Wolfe


ALSO MY REVIEW OF BLACK SEA in Crimespree Magazine.
Feb 272015
 

by Erin Mitchell

This post was inspired by a segment on RTE Radio 1 about THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, during which John Connolly valiantly tolerated some pretty impressive book snobbery. Click here to listen (popcorn at the ready recommended).

 

1. Use the phrase “transcends the genre” frequently and in a complimentary fashion. (For more on this, please read Sarah Weinman’s excellent piece on the topic.)

 

2. Damn genre authors with faint praise at every opportunity.

 

3. Choose one or two popular genre novels and refer to them as your guilty pleasure. You need not have actually read them.

 

4. Have (ideally snarky) opinions about books you wouldn’t be caught dead reading.

 

5. Speak often and loudly about your love of reading, but take no action whatsoever to encourage other people to read.

 

6. Should you accidentally (or under duress) read and enjoy a genre novel, be sure to point out the ways in which is isn’t really a genre novel (see #1).

 

7. Should you happen to encounter a writer of said genre novels in the course of your fabulous life, be sure to educate him or her all that is wrong with genre fiction.

 

8. Never, ever set foot in a library, unless it is a private one or you are attending a specific (ideally invitation-only) event.

 

9. Criticize common readers whenever possible. Sharing lists of obscure books you absolutely adore on social media is an excellent means to illustrate how much better you are as a reader and a human being, and be sure to express your shock and outrage should any of your “friends” not have read and appreciated them all.

 

10. Remember that people who live outside wherever you do (or New York City or London) and/or possess less formal education than you do are lesser life forms, and couldn’t possibly know a single thing about Real and Worthwhile Literature.

 

Together, we can make the world safe for Real Literature and save potential readers from themselves.