Nov 232014
 
Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         


SUSAN SLEPT HERE. RKO Radio Pictures, 1954. Dick Powell, Debbie Reynolds, Anne Francis, Glenda Farrell, Alvy Moore, Horace McMahon, Les Tremayne. Screenplay by Alex Gottlieb, based on his play with Steve Fisher Directed by Frank Tashlin.

   “Any judge that starts handing out 17 year old girls to thirty five year old lawyers is going to be elected President next time.”

   This surprisingly open sex farce squeaks by for inclusion on this blog because it stars a former Philip Marlowe, Honey West, and is based on a play co-written by Steve Fisher (I Wake Up Screaming) — and yes, it as about as tentative as a connection to this site as I could find, but I came up with one anyway. You don’t have to buy it, just accept it.

   I don’t think you could sell this one today or make it, but somehow with Dick Powell and Debbie Reynolds and narrated by Powell’s screenwriter character’s Oscar, this one skates all over its premise, never quite going too far or letting you really consider what is going on here.

   Powell is Mark Christopher, screenwriter and novelist, whose career is headed south for the pole in double time. On Christmas Eve his cop pal Horace MacMahon shows up on his doorstep with juvenile delinquent Susan Landis, Debbie Reynolds, in tow. Christopher once considered writing a movie about a JD, maybe if he spends the evening with her he’ll get some ideas.

   Ideas he gets. Not for a screenplay, though.

   Powell is none too happy, but he can’t throw her back in reform school on Christmas Eve, so after they calm her down a bit, he arranges for his secretary Maud, Glenda Farrell (keep an eye out for Red Skelton in a cameo as her long lost boyfriend Oswald — “You’ll get another Oscar, I get an Oswald”), to keep her, but Maud is on a bender, and his old Navy pal Virgil, Alvy Moore, who was his lieutenant in the war, leaves him in the lurch. His fiancee Isabella, Anne Francis, isn’t the forgiving sort either when Susan answers his phone.

   Susan: She said she was going out with the assistant butler … What does an assistant butler do?

   After a night that includes a long gin game, an uncomfortable couch and Susan sleeping with a rolling pen under her pillow in his bedroom, Powell calls in lawyer Les Tremayne with the bright idea of marrying Susan — she has a paper from her mother in Peru on her honeymoon allowing her to marry — to keep her out of reform school. Of course in name only. When she is 18 and safe in four months, they’ll get her an annulment, some money, and a job.

   So it’s off to Vegas, and a honeymoon night spent on the dance floor, and the next morning Mark takes off to work in Sun Valley as Hurricane Isabella hits. Susan plans to leave, but Maud persuades her to take some motherly advice.

   Virgil: You, a mother?

   Maud: I typed the script for “Stella Dallas.”

   So Susan stays and spider lady Isabella gets thrown out, though she’s not through.

   Mark can’t get a divorce because they never consummated the marriage and Susan lets his lawyer know in no uncertain terms Mark can’t have an annulment, but he can a divorce. Then she very publicly lets everyone think she is pregnant and Mark assumes it was Virgil.

   Then his lawyer’s analyst convinces him that he’s in love with Susan.

   Mark: How can I love her, she’s a delinquent girl?

   Dr.: You seem to be a delinquent husband.

   Of course the age difference does come up, a determined Mark no match for an even more determined Susan.

   Mark: When I’m 60 how old will you be?

   Susan and Mark together: I’ll (You’ll) never be over 30.

   As Virgil informs him: You accidentally married the right girl.

   Of course Reynolds had a career at this point as the sexy wholesome outspoken but practical virgin (Tammy) and film makers of the era were experts at the tease, but this one teases hard with a difficult subject, and it could go so wrong so easily and doesn’t.

   Other than Cary Grant, I can’t think of any actor by Powell who could bring this off half so well.

   I suppose some one will find this offensive, but this is Hollywood and not the real world, a romantic comedy, and not a police blotter or a case for a social worker. Lighten up, recognize this has no connection to reality, and enjoy some fine players, finely playing their assigned rolls.

   This was Powell’s last film, and ironically includes a musical fantasy sequence from Susan’s dream, though he doesn’t croon. Don Cornell does the only song in the film other than the brief title song (“So This is the Kingdom of Heaven”). It’s fitting Powell that should go back to his roots for his last screen outing. He even wears a sailor suit in the fantasy sequence.

   To give this full credit, maybe no one in the world but Debbie Reynolds and Dick Powell could have pulled off how sexy this film is without offending anyone, and Frank Tashlin is one of the few directors who could have brought it off. (Tashlin had a great touch with humor and sex for someone who started out directing cartoons and made his live screen debut with Bob Hope and Trigger in Son of Paleface.)

   Susan Slept Here is bright, funny, sexy, gorgeous to look at, and deftly done at all points. Reynolds and Francis are at their most attractive and it is always fun to see Francis get a shot at comedy, something she was quite adept at. There is a very funny and at the same time sexy scene when teen Susan compares herself to Francis’s sexy photo and tries to rearrange things to better recreate it. It’s a perfect showcase for what Reynolds did better than almost anyone else. It’s fine and funny final nod to the medium for Powell, and its nice to see Farrell still funny and sassy this late in the game.

   It’s the kind of thing Rock Hudson and Doris Day would later do to great success, but lacking in the rather tasteless sniggering attitude to sex of those films.

 Posted by at 6:37 pm
Nov 232014
 



Posted: 22 Nov 2014 06:52 AM PST  BY BEN BOULDEN
A Grue of Ice was published in the U. K. in 1962 as a hardcover, and it was released in the U. S. that same year with the title The Disappearing Island. The edition that caught my eye is a mass market published by Fontana in 1973. The art is vivid. It features a bright single engine float plane in the foreground and shadowy warship in a gray background. The artist: Unknown.




































The opening paragraph:

“‘Drake Passage!’”

Geoffrey Jenkins was a second tier adventure writer during the genre’s golden age—1950s to the 1980s—which means his work, on average, was good, but a step below the genre’s best. His work is comparable to Alistair MacLean, Desmond Bagley, Jack Higgins, and Gavin Lyall. He was South African, and, according to Wikipedia, he wrote the first James Bond novel after Ian Fleming’s death, which was never published and is presumed lost.

Interestingly, Merriam-Webster defines “grue” as—1. “a fit of shivering…” and 2. “gruesome quality or effect”

This is the tenth in a series of posts featuring the cover art ad miscellany of books I find at thrift stores and used bookshops. It is reserved for books I purchase as much for the cover art as the story or author.
Nov 232014
 

Jessy Randall

81ZqOFyzSjLIn her new book Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned", Lena Dunham includes a section entitled "17 Things I Learned from My Father."

Number 13: "Hitting a creative wall? Take a break from work to watch a procedural. They always solve the case, and so will you."

So that's why we read mysteries!

I'm serious. That might be why.

Nov 232014
 
Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


  THE UNSTOPPABLE MAN. Argo Film Productions, UK, 1960. US release, 1961. Cameron Mitchell, Marius Goring (Inspector Hazelrigg), Harry H. Corbett, Lois Maxwell, Denis Gilmore, Humphrey Lestocq, Ann Sears. Based on the short story “Amateur in Violence,” by Michael Gilbert. Director: Terry Bishop.

   Sometimes criminals, despite all the possible planning, still pick the wrong target. That’s definitely the case in The Unstoppable Man, a taut British thriller. Directed by Terry Bishop, the movie stars Cameron Mitchell, a veteran actor best known for his work in American and Italian film as well on American television.

   Mitchell portrays James Kennedy, an American businessman in London whose business acumen seemingly is unparalleled. Kennedy is put to the test when his young son is kidnapped and held for ransom by a motley crew of thugs. Scotland Yard wants to take the lead, but Kennedy has his own plans. They include paying off the hostage takers in a greater amount than they demand, with the expectation that thieves aren’t the most honest of men and will gladly turn on each other for a few quid more.

   In The Unstoppable Man, that proves to be the case.

   One of the kidnapper gang ends up dead and helps lead Kennedy (and the cops) to the house where his son is being held. It’s there that the action finally, and somewhat belatedly, kicks in. Although he’s a man more used to the boardroom, Kennedy shows he can brawl as if he were in a barroom. There’s even a great scene – a pivotal one – where Kennedy utilizes a would-be flamethrower against a man involved in his son’s kidnapping.

   While there’s nothing in The Unstoppable Man that’s exceptional, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good — make that a very good — crime film. Running at around seventy minutes, it’s economical both on plot and the viewer’s time. But what it lacks in originality, it makes up for in atmosphere and an early 1960s jazz-influenced soundtrack that works very well.

   For crime fans, it’s worth watching if you get the opportunity. For Mitchell fans (and I know that some are out there), it’s a must see.

 Posted by at 4:22 am
Nov 232014
 
The 2014 USA Fiction Challenge is heading to the home stretch. This time we visit the state of New York as well as the city of New York. The highlight will be Valerie Frankel's A Body To Die For.

 

Investigating the suspected infidelities of a former tennis pro's wife, private detective Wanda Mallory becomes an unlikely member of an elite health club, where she uncovers a series of other crimes, including murder.



Printing History
Written by Valerie Frankel

Simon & Shuster, Inc
Pocket Books
ISBN 671 79520
July 1995

E Book
August 2010

Kindle Edition
February 2011

 Posted by at 2:56 am

Three and a Half Years

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Nov 222014
 

December will be my 42nd month self-publishing.

The world’s changed a lot since summer, 2011. Gone are the euphoric days where bright new names were selling millions of .99 books, seemingly with ease. Gone too are the heady times where you could run a free Select promo and sell 10K novels at $4 a pop in the afterglow. It was an incredible period, and I feel fortunate I got to participate on the second half of it.

***

My buddy D.D. VanDyke has released his new mystery novel, Loose Ends, and is running a giveaway everyone should sign up for. Just do it unless you want that Ebola that’s going around. And if you act now, you can get it for only .99!

***

That golden era lasted about two years. Kindles were the new shiny plaything and everyone wanted one. And they needed content. Enter indie authors, who could sell a novel for less than a fast food meal.

Fast forward to today. 2014 marked a big change in many authors’ fortunes. The marketing gimmick of running Select free days on Amazon and seeing a big spike in sales afterward are over. Likewise, the effectiveness of putting your first book perma-free has diminished – either because of Amazon monkeying with their algos (free books don’t show up in also boughts any more, as one example of how visibility has been reduced) or due to a glut of free content.

Since summer, selling indie books has gotten even tougher. Amazon introduced Kindle Unlimited, which enables customers to pay $10 a month and borrow as many books as they like – with the caveat that only some titles are in the program, which pays $1.33 for a borrow instead of the royalty an author would normally see (except for Amazon imprints and trad pubs, which see their full royalty on a borrow); a windfall for those writing 10K short stories or serials, but not so great for those with novels, hence limited participation. I have some of my stuff in the program, and those are doing okay, for the ones selected for Amazon promos. The others can’t get arrested. So for me, net neutral, as over 20 of my novels aren’t participating.

But the effect it’s had on a lot of indie authors’s sales has been devastating, because apparently many of those who might have bought a book are now no longer buyers, they’re borrowers. I’m hearing stories of 60, 70, 80% drops in sales from authors who are recognized names and who shift tonnage of books. Some genres have been hit harder than others, which makes sense – for instance, NA and romance, which are well known for having voracious readerships, have seen the biggest drops in sales. My action thriller genre, not nearly as bad, however it’s still down.

So what’s an author to do? My strategy is to continue writing books I’d want to read, and hope that my readership grows over time, and feels that my stories and prose are a fair value at their $5 or so price point. I’ve had an amazing three and a half year trajectory, culminating with the release of my co-authored novel with Clive Cussler, The Eye of Heaven, in September. I can’t bitch. I mean, I can and do, but I really have no grounds for it.

My thinking is that this is a business of peaks and valleys, as is all retail, and while the valleys suck, they’re necessary if you’re going to have peaks at all. My philosophy is that if you can have higher lows and higher highs, that’s awesome. If not, change it up, look hard at what you’re doing, and ask yourself what you can do better – then do it. Aside from that, I know of no magic bullet, but after three and a half years of writing for a living, I can think of worse ways to spend my time, and I’m always extremely grateful to my readership, because there are any number of great books out there, and I’m fortunate they’re reading mine.

Now go buy my crap so I can continue punishing my liver. Because it’s evil and deserves it. Trust me. I would know. Bad dirty organs. Bad bad bad.

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Nov 222014
 

Marilyn Thiele

One night earlier this week, I pulled up to my garage door. It was late (for me) and dark. I was tired and just wanted to eat and go to bed. My husband spends two or three nights a week away, so all was quiet. And there in my headlights – a large carton with the “smiley arrow” of my least favorite retailer emblazoned on it. Aggravating enough to have to get out of the car in the cold and drag the carton inside; more aggravating because I don’t have the same happy reaction to receiving a package from this source as I do from Talbot’s or Land’s End.

The package was addressed to my husband, so I left it unopened in a prominent location. Even after all these years, we still respect the privacy of mail, packages, etc. But after all these years, I did feel free to get a little snarky when speaking to him on the phone: “Since when are we shopping on the dark side?” He disclaimed any contact with the despised source of the shipment, and technically, he had not crossed over. When the package was opened, it contained envelopes of an uncommon size which he had ordered from a small company. But guess who did the fulfillment and shipping?

This incident got me thinking about how this one large company has permeated every aspect of our lives, and how hard they are to avoid. In my shop I have daily reminders. Yesterday a customer asked if we had free Wi-Fi so that she could check her wish-list on A#%&* against my used-book prices. She was not consciously “showrooming” (identifying books she wanted or that I recommended to order elsewhere later), but doing what she considered to be normal comparison shopping. It never occurred to her that I might bristle (which action I carefully concealed) at the mention of the name. For her, and many others, the main retailer is A#%&*. She was astute enough, however, to realize that her chosen source is not always the cheapest despite what they would have you believe.

I have observed for a long while the use of the word “Kindle” as a synonym for “electronic reader.” In fact, I rarely hear “electronic reader” except from my own mouth. I can be reading on my iPad and have someone ask how I like reading on my “Kindle.” I was surprised to see in recent analyses of A#%&*’s business that they have about 60% of the e-book market; I would have thought it was higher. If the ordinary shopper, desiring an e-reader, searches on-line for “kindle,” they will have several models to choose from, but will also become a captive customer, since they will have only once source for books.

One company’s domination of a market to the point that they can set prices not only for customers who have no choice but for their suppliers who are equally without options is illegal; it’s called a monopoly. Whether A#%&*’s market power has reached that point is a subject of debate, and will sooner or later be resolved in the courts. While closing the doors of some competitors, they have opened doors to entrepreneurs and to authors that were not available before. And they have not succeeded in enmeshing themselves in every market they have entered. Witness the Fire Phone. Or their foray into publishing, where the refusal of independent booksellers to carry their books has actually kept authors away and contributed to the recent resignation of a high-profile editor of their “literary” imprint. But for the most part, it’s hard to avoid contact. Audible.com, Good Reads, now television; if you want the most common sources of entertainment or the easiest to access, they’ve bought it or created an alternative. I may be the last person in the country without a Prime account.

My resentment of the dominance of A#%&* in every aspect of our lives has recently been supplemented by another concern. The company does not seem to be profitable. Lynne Patrick wrote here a few weeks ago about the simple concept that any business needs to make enough money to pay its bills to continue operating, and needs to show a return on investment if it hopes to keep investors. (“It’s a mystery”) Although Lynne did not mention A#%&* by name, her post was closely timed to the quarterly earnings reports, which were coupled with the company’s own forecast of even greater losses in the fourth quarter. The response is that they are investing for the future. I, too, would like to take all my sales revenue and invest it in more inventory, technology upgrades, redecorating, and many other projects that would enhance future business. Unfortunately, the electric company, the book publishers, and many others would like to be paid for the products and services they have already supplied. I’m not sure how to work around that without bankruptcy.

What if my fantasy were to come true, and there was no more A#%&*? For me, it would probably have little impact. There would be an increase in sales which would be pleasant. But what about overall book sales? The publishers and authors would suffer. More chain and independent stores would surely appear, along with additional on-line retailers. But it would take some time. The manufacturer of oddly sized envelopes would have to find an alternative for fulfilling and shipping orders. Authors who have found a place to sell their work (even at 99 cents) and get some exposure would be back to trying to drive traffic to their own websites What about all the manufacturers and retailers, large and small, who rely on this one company as their prime outlet? Every area of commerce that has been overtly or covertly infiltrated by the overpowering retailer would suffer. Alternatives would spring up, but not overnight. There would be a big hit to this slowly recovering economy. So is Amazon (there, I said it!) too big to fail? Would they get a government bailout? I wonder.

 

Nov 222014
 
Joe R. Lansdale's The Thicket (2013) is a bit like Cormac McCarthy wrote a novel from a treatment by Robert E. Howard: it's a weird, brutal and merciless story that moves on with the speed of a bullet, set in the desolate wasteland of the early 20th century Texas.

The Thicket is a western that pulls no punches. Everything is dirty and violent, but Lansdale makes the people he writes about come alive. The reader cares for them and really wishes no harm would come to them - and then Lansdale makes the worst happen. The bad guys are really scary. The Thicket is truly a gripping read.

The book loses some of its momentum after the first half, and some of the characters lose their spark a bit (especially prostitute Jimmie Sue, who seems very vibrant at first), but the first half and the climax just before the end is some of the best stuff I've read all year. Can't wait for the movie to come out.