Category: Golden Age Article

DVD Review: Forgotten Noir and Crime, Volume 12


Forgotten Noir and Crime, Volume 12 collects another three rare low-budget films.

First up is The Treasure of Monte Cristo: A seaman (Glenn Langan) on shore leave is swept up into romance and marries a mysterious woman (Adele Jurgens) and then finds himself framed for murder. This is a clever plot and it’s gutsy for a low-budget film to try to write a modern-day sequel to one of literature’s great classics. There are nice location scenes and Langan and Jergens (who would later marry) are both pretty good. The rest of the acting is uneven and some plot points are not well-realized, including a confusing escape sequence. Still, this is a fun story.

The second film is Roaring City, the second of the Dennis O’Brien films which adapted two Johnny Madero radio scripts per film. Hugh Beaumont does seem to settle into his role as the tough talking private eye, strolling casually through scenes pipe in hand and finding a way to deliver the over the top hard boiled lines with as much credibility as he could muster. Similarly, Edward Brophy settles into his role as sidekick/roommate/drunk Professor Schicker.  The film is fun and breezy but not without errors. Outside of Beaumont and Brophy, the acting is so-so and there’s a pretty significant continuity error in the second half. O’Brien tells the Professor he’s agreed to go on a date and pretend to be a woman’s husband before he goes on the date and then after he’s inevitably framed for murder, he tells the Professor all over again as if he hadn’t told him the first time. Still, if you can get past hiccups like this, it’s not a bad way to spend about an hour.

The final film is Sky Liner, which is about a murder occuring mid-flight and being investigated before the plane lands. This is a film with silliness that includes ridiculously fast autopsies, but it’s a good setting and with a breezy pace that’s a tad under 50 minutes. There is a longer version of the film that includes a juvenile song number and a subplot about a newlywed couple. I can’t help but feel that this is probably the best cut of the film.

Overall, these are pretty good, low-budget films. They’re quirky and fun. There’s plenty of flaws to be found, but also fun elements that will bring a smile to the face of classic film buffs.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

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Audio Drama Review: The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas, Volume 8

The eighth volume of Twilight Zone radio dramas features six more stories adapted from the classic TV series.

“The Long Morrow” is about an astronaut who is chosen for a long-term deep-space mission because he has no attachments to anyone on Earth. Right before he’s scheduled to leave, he goes on a date, meets a woman, and falls deeply in love with her. He’s to go into a stasis capsule and not age during the whole voyage. There’s a lot I like about this story. The romance and character stuff is engaging, but they also explore some interesting sci-fi concepts that a lot of the “going into stasis until you arrive on a new planet” stories kind of ignore. It’s an all-around solid listen.

“The 7th is Made of Phantoms” is about an Army National Guard Unit in the 1960s that’s on maneuvers and finds itself interacting with the Battle of Little Big Horn. This is one of those stories that I just don’t get the point, the moral, or the lesson. There’s no explanation or hint of one, so it’s a very unsatisfying story.

“Mirror Image” is a really unsettling tale where a woman with an apparently poor memory at a bus station comes to believe she has a doppelganger who is trying to take her place. There’s little atmosphere or real explanation of what’s going on, but it really builds tension and atmosphere to make it a worthwhile listen.

“A Thing About Machines:” A man who lives alone seems to be constantly at war with his machines and for his machines, the feeling appears to be mutual. This one doesn’t work for me because the machines only go so far, and since we’re not dealing with like a computer or artificial intelligence, it’s just a bit silly.

“The Last Night of Jockey”-A disgraced jockey gets one wish and wants to make himself a big man. This is an interesting story and it works as a morality tale. It’s an interesting theme that the Twilight Zone examines where a protagonist thinks they need just one break in order to escape their failed lives, they get a break, and ultimately they prove that fundamentally their own character flaws led to their downfall.

“The Fever”-A tightwad (Stacy Keach) is afraid his long-suffering wife will get hooked into out-of-control gambling when they win a free trip to Vegas. So, of course, it happens to the husband instead. This has been a pretty common plot, though this has a supernatural twist. The success of the production ultimately comes down to Keach’s performance.

The stories in this set are fine, but I’d only say “The Long Morrow” and “Mirror Image” are very strong pieces. This is one collection where it may make sense to go on audible or the Itunes store and purchase your favorite episode as a standalone, because the quality in this set is a bit mixed.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Book Review: The Misadventures of Nero Wolfe

The Misadventures of Nero Wolfe is an anthology of parodies, pastiches, and a few other things that are hard to categorize, all inspired by Rex Stout’s greatest literary creation. I’m going to give a detailed look at everything in the book.

“Red Orchids” by French Author Thomas Narcejac finds Wolfe out from the Brownstone to investigate a case with the promise of a rare, red orchid. This translation by Narcejac does a fair job capturing the Wolfe-Archie relationship, but there’s too much emphasis on Wolfe firing Archie, which wasn’t nearly as much of a thing in the novels. It’s not a bad read at all.

Next, we get an excerpt from Marion Mainwaring’s book Murder by Pastiche. The book contains several pastiches of detective characters solving mysteries. Here we get a flavor for how the Wolfe pastiche works and the author does a great job capturing both Archie and Wolfe. It was well-written and made me want to read the whole book.

I should not like “Archie Hunters” as much as I do as it’s a bit ham-fisted. It involves a parody of Mike Hammer meeting up with Nero Wolfe. Writer Jon L. Breen states he was not a fan of Mike Hammer. This is hardly a necessary statement when he named the parody Mack Himmler. In addition, Breen (through Wolfe) gives us the moral of the story. I think makes it work is the degree to which Mr. Breen commits to it. While he’s having Wolfe make a broadly political (not partisan) point, it’s so in keeping with Wolfe’s voice and something I could actually imagine Wolfe saying.

“The Frightened Man” is a pastiche that uses different character names but is inspired by Wolfe. It’s a solid entry, though a bit short for my tastes.

As to the first Chapter of Murder in E Minor by Robert Goldsborough, I’ve had my issues with Goldsborough’s Wolfe books, but this is the one is good. It does a solid job capturing the feel of Stout’s work. The first chapter is well-written and I wouldn’t mind reading the book again.

“The Purloined Platypus” finds Wolfe and Archie solving the mystery of a museum theft in the present day. It’s a good story, but the mystery is more okay, and the author is fine but not brilliant at capturing the voices and transferring the main characters to the 21st Century. However, I’m a bit prejudiced as its hard for me to wrap my head around the idea of Archie taking pictures with his phone and finding information on the Internet.

“The House on 35th Street” and “The Sidekick Case” are two of the parodies that were run by the Saturday Review. Both are short, but I think this is a case where brevity is the soul of wit. “The House on 35th Street” pokes fun at the conventions of Stout novels, while “The Sidekick Paper” takes on bad word usage in a way that you could believe Wolfe actually would.

“The Case of the Disposable Jalopy” is a parody with Wolfe and Archie in a futuristic world where both have aged (contrary to Stout’s general practice.) Archie no longer has his photographic memory and Wolfe’s mental powers have gone downhill. In addition, due to automation, most jobs have been eliminated with people living on a negative income tax and Fritz forced to buy lower class food on a budget. This is very much a sort of a Saturday Night Live sort of take on Nero Wolfe (from when Saturday Night Live was actually funny) and it’s a solid piece of humor. It’s committed to its premise, and the humor is far more hit than miss, although one of the jokes feels a bit tasteless. Overall, it’s a fairly solid parody.

 “As Dark as Christmas Gets” finds a Nero Wolfe fan who believes Nero Wolfe is real and hopes to gain his favor. Leo Haig is brought in to solve the mystery of a Cornell Woolrich manuscript that disappeared at the Christmas Party. This was a good story with some intelligent dialogue and fairly drawn characters. Haig’s Archie Goodwin character Chip is more vulgar than Archie, but not so much it got in my way of enjoying this short.

Next up is, “Who’s Afraid of Nero Wolfe” and the lead detective Claudius Lyon is the answer to the question. Lyon, like Haig, believes Wolfe is real, but is afraid of getting sued by him, so his detective work is strictly amateur which also avoids the requirement of a license. This is a fun story about a search for a missing poetry contest winner from several years back. It revolves around word play and as far as a mystery goes, it works. I enjoyed all the little twists that Loren Estleman took on the Nero Wolfe world, starting with Lyon being located in Flatbush.

In “Julius Katz and the Case of the Exploding Wine” writer David Zeltserman takes a few of the ideas from the Wolfe story and adds a whole lot to it. Katz has an Archie, but Archie in this case is an AI in a tie clip that advises Katz who is a wine-drinking gambler with a fifth degree black belt. However, like Wolfe, Katz is lazy and needs prodded to go to work. I enjoyed this and all of the twists and turns. There were characters who had very definitive counterparts in the Wolfe stories (ex: Detective Cramer), but others you have to guess at.

“The Possibly Last Case of Tiberius Dingo” is an original short story for this collection that finds a Wolfe-like detective in a state of semi-retirement but tempted to take on one final case. The writer isn’t as immersed in the Wolfe canon as other contributors and it shows but not too much. The story is still an entertaining read with some clever twists. I found the ending uncomfortable, but other than that, this was fine.

The book has a section entitled potpourri, which is a bunch of miscellaneous bits and bobs about Wolfe.

“The Woman Who Read Nero Wolfe” is a delightful short about an intelligent 500 pound circus woman who takes to reading Nero Wolfe and then has to solve the murder of a young woman she’d taken under her wing. Pithy, fun, and has a superb twist. 

“Sam Buried Caesar” is from a series of short stories about a police inspector who named his children after famous detectives. This is the story of ten-year-old Nero Wolfe and the detective agency he founded with his friend and assistant Artie. This originally appeared in Ellery Queen Magazine and a story like this poses a unique challenge because it’s got to be true to being a story about kids, without boring the adults. This story nails it and was just a lot of fun to read.

The book includes Chapter 24 from Rasputin’s Revenge. Writer John Lescroat posited that Nero Wolfe was the illegitimate son of Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler and born under the name Auguste Lupa. This chapter appears to be from the end of the mystery where Holmes, Watson, and Lupa are talking. This is fine and features interesting interactions. 

Joseph Goodrich adapted a couple of Nero Wolfe stories to the stage and the first scene of Might as Well Be Dead is included. This is probably as close to seeing the play as most of us are going to get as these haven’t been widely distributed or performed. The play appears to have some good ideas like having Archie as an on the on-stage narrator and really seems to condense the initial client interview from the book so the action can get moving. Other choices I’m less sure of, but they might make sense in the context of the full play. Its hard to evaluate it based on one scene.

The final short story by Robert Lopestri is amusing tale of two grandparents telling their granddaughter what it was like to live next to Nero Wolfe and why they eventually decided to move away. It’s an amusing and clever take.

While I have criticisms of many pieces in this book, I liked them all. If you’re a Wolfe fan, this book is for you. Taken together, the book is a fantastic tribute to Nero Wolfe and shows a bit of how Rex Stout’s work has been inspiring authors with the amazing characters and world he created.

Rating: Very Satisfactory

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Streaming Review: T-Men

In the 1947 film T-Men, two Treasury agents (Dennis O’Keefe and Alfred Ryder) travel to Detroit and go undercover in an attempt to infiltrate and ultimately break a counterfeiting ring.

T-men was a very entertaining bit of noir. It has the same cinematographer as He Walked by Night, and if you enjoyed the look of that film, you’ll probably like this one as well.

It’s one of those procedurals like He Walked by Night which really strove to portray the real life work of the investigator. So there’s a lot of detail, a lot of different scenes and minor characters who pop-up as our heroes try to work their way to the top, through a long tangled web of the underworld from creating their criminal identities to solving the case and making the bust. 

The script is smart, well-written and well-thought out. Our heroes are in constant peril and we’re given a reminder of how much they and, by extension, real-life Treasury Agents risk in the course of their work. Throughout most of the time, the film takes a deliberate pace, but it definitely picks up in the last ten minutes as the case comes to a finale.

The acting is solid. Outside of O’Keefe, most of the cast is made up of veteran character actors who manage to play their parts without seeming over-the-top, campy, or too stereotypical. Wallace Ford as the Schemer may have been my favorite performance. The main rising star in this is June Lockheart (Lost in Space) who appears as one of the agents’ wives.

The criticisms I’ve read online have basically come down to complaints about it being a procedural noir made in 1940s. If you want something faster paced or less detailed, this may not be the film for you. However, if you appreciate the realistic procedural films of the 1940s, this is a must-see.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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Currently Available for free Streaming with Amazon Prime or on Blu-ray/DVD with two other films.

Graphic Novel Review: Dick Tracy: Dead or Alive

Dick Tracy made a big arrest and got fired for it. However, the City by the Lake desperately needs cleaning up, so the City by the Lake calls him and he gets to work, and it’s not too long before he’s framed for a crime he didn’t commit, and hunted by dishonest cops, and needs new allies to clear his name and bust the rackets.

Dick Tracy: Dead or Alive can be a bit jarring. Dick Tracy looks and acts like he always did. Only in a city that despite its retro designs, is chocked full of modern technology. Of course, this may come off as less surprising to fans of the strip which has had to find a way to keep current while maintaining the timeless qualities of Tracy. This book doesn’t do a pretty decent job of it.

The book does a decent job re-imagining some Dick Tracy characters  without going too far or making them unrecognizable. When Tracy is on the run, he’s given his watch, which is introduced as a specially designed device that gets around spying technology.’

If I had a complaint about changes, it’d be with Tess Trueheart. Tess has always been a tough character to do and an easy one to turn into a two dimensional damsel in distress trope. However, this book turns into a more modern trope, that’s just as two dimensional.

The art is fun and very fitting for a Dick Tracy book. The story’s not a masterpiece. But at just over 100 pages, it’s a breezy, fun read that manages to capture the Spirit of Dick Tracy and provide a lot of great, two-fisted action and a few surprises along the way.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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