The Great Detectives of Old Time Radio The great ones are back in action.

18Apr/151

Audio Drama Review: Star Wars: The Original Radio Drama

Following the success of the first Star Wars film, George Lucas sold the rights to do a radio adaption to National Public Radio for $1. Adapting movies to radio was a tradition that dated back to the 1930s with the Lux Radio Theater. And in some ways, the resulting Star Wars radio drama bore some similarities to the old Lux Radio Theater with two stars (Mark Hamill as Luke, and Anthony Daniels as 3CPO) returning for their original while other actors filled in other lead roles.

But in other ways, the production was entirely different. Instead of condensing a story like Star Wars into an hour, this expanded it into 13 25 minute episodes, allowing for an expanded narrative.

So how did it work?

Positives:
The expansion of Star Wars into a multi-part audio epic makes a lot of sense given that it’s modeled after golden age sci-fi serials.

The sound design is absolutely gorgeous as it’s done with Lucasfilms cooperation and the same sound from the original film. But they do a good job of creating soundscapes in other areas including the race through Beggar’s Canyon.

The actors who take over roles played in the film are mostly just as good as the original actors, which is a testament to the strength of the story. I actually thought Ann Sachs was a slight upgrade from Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia.

Most of the expansions of the story were  thoughtful. The series begins with two episodes that serve as establishing shots for Luke and Leia prior to the events of the film, and it’s  nice to hear. We get to have Luke racing through Beggar’s Canyon and we also get to see him interacting with Biggs and trying to soldier through his uncle Owen’s constantly putting him off about going to the Academy. His frustration comes off as more reason and less immature.

The audio drama really fleshes out Leia’s character beautifully. She’s far stronger than in the film and more relatable. I really loved everything new they wrote for Leia. One highlight is a much better, more emotionally engaged reaction to the destruction of her home planet of Alderaan than in the movie.

The plot arcs for Luke and Hans Solo were also improved. You really got the sense growing throughout the story that Hans was or had once been more than just a smuggler out for himself in a way you don’t get from the film. Also, there’s enough time to discuss the insanity putting a back country pilot with no experience in space in charge of fighter as the radio drama has time for concerns to be raised about the efficacy of sending Luke Skywalker into battle.

These slight changes made the journey of Hans and Luke far more engaging. Hans’  journey reminds me of Rick from Casablanca (only with the Milennium Falcon) and Luke’s journey contains echoes of the Bible’s David.

We got a little bit more of a taste of the political intrigue on the Death Star and some insight into Grand Moff Tarkin’s decision to remain on the Death Star during the Rebel attack.

While most of the cast are obscure players, there are a few future stars featured. Perry King played Hans Solo three years before getting the lead in Riptide. David Alan Grier made his acting debut. Adam Arkin also features.

Negatives:

Perry King isn’t bad as Hans Solo but he’s a  downgrade from Harrison Ford, who’s the hardest member of the cast to replace.

While most of the material added was interesting, that greatest bane of serialized drama from the Adventures of Superman to Doctor Who shows up in the form of several scenes that are padding. The worst offender was a scene in which Obi-wan Kenobe taught Luke the proper stance for holding a Light-saber. That’d be boring TV, but it’s  mind-numbing audio.

Most of the production holds together because of the strong story and great sound design. There are several scenes where the lack of skill and experience in transferring visual adventures to an aural medium become apparent. Examples includes the Trash Compactor scene or Luke swinging Leia across a chasm in the Death Star.

The final scene may have been the worst. The production crew wanting to recapture every single moment of the film couldn’t figure out how to do the scene where Luke, Hans, and Chewie received medals from Leia so instead they had Hans and Luke bickering  with Leia joining in the arguing. Not a good way to end.

What’s odd about this is that the Star Wars Audio Drama was produced in Los Angeles in 1980, when many of the people who made the Golden Age of radio so magical were not only alive, but also active in productions like the CBS Mystery Theater. I wonder if it ever occurred to NPR to see if any of these people would have been willing to volunteer their services. If they had, this might not have had so many bumpy spots.

The one really odd change in this was that Darth Vader doesn’t appear during the climatic Death Star battle scene. It's mentioned that he's out leading the attack, but we don’t hear him inside his TIE fighter getting a lock on Luke Skywalker before the Millennium Falcon swoops in and that does hurt the drama of that vital scene.

Conclusion:

I used to watch the original Star Wars film several times each year, and did a couple times watching through the entire series in one sitting.

Yet, I haven’t done this for more than a decade. Part of it was growing up and not having time to watch 90 minute movies often, part of it was the prequels which, while having their highlights, replaced the fun, adventure, and heroism of the originals with annoying side characters, big CGI effects, and darkness. Along the way, the prequels’ portrayal of both Anakin Skywalker and the Jedi Knights was disappointing to say the least.

What I loved about this Audio Drama is it managed to recapture the fun and excitement when I watched and rewatched the original Star Wars film so many years. Of course, it’s not easy to get over prequel fatique as I found myself thinking how amazingly off-base Obi-wan’s description of Anakin was based on what I'd seen in the prequels. It wasn’t gilding the lily. It was gilding the skunk cabbage.

I found to properly enjoy Star Wars again,  I needed to follow the advice of Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back. I had to unlearn what I’d learned. And this wonderful audio drama helps to do that as it immerses listeners in the wonderful and fascinating world of the original Star Wars characters.

It has its weak points, as well as some unnecessary padding,  and could have stood some more expert direction to make this an even better production, but there’s no denying that it does a great job of capturing the essence of a movie grabbed the attention of the world and still holds a place in the hearts of fans to this day.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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11Apr/150

Book Review: Tears of the Giraffe

Tears of the Giraffe is the second installment of the No. 1 Ladies Detective series in which Mma Precious Ramotswe runs her No. 1 Detective Agency in Bostwana.

At the end of the first book,  mechanic Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni proposed to Ma Ramotswe, and the story dwells quite a bit on their engagement and giving us a slightly broader view of J.L.B. Matekoni. While at the detective agency, she takes the seemingly impossible task of solving the nine year old mystery of the disappearance of a young American man for his distraught and now widowed mother.

There's really so much to love about this book  "Tears of the Giraffe" really is a relaxing cozy mystery and in Ma Ramotswe and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, writer Alexander McCall Smith creates two wonderful characters. Maketoni really comes into focus as a kind and compassionate man who helps out at the local orphan farm and even takes in two foster children (without telling Ma Ramotswe.)

The book's greatest success is in making readers who come from different cultures understand how these characters think and relate to them. It's done so beautifully and naturally and in a way that doesn't feel like the writer's wagging a finger and saying, "This is how everyone should think!" but rather you feel like you're seeing how they think.  They're interesting characters with a very different spin on the world than readers in the U.K. or in America, but it doesn't feel forced. One thing I found fascinating was when Ma Ramostwe thought poorly of a college professor who didn't hire  servants. While in America, we might think hiring servants is lazy or putting on airs, she thought that by hiring others to work for you, you weer helping to support the community.

The mystery itself has a great emotional core.  Ma Ramotswe's goal is to bring some peace and closure to this woman.  The mystery doesn't require any sort of great deduction, but it does require Ma Ramotswe's intuition and craftiness to solve the case.

While talking about positives, I should also praise audiobook narrator Lisette Lecat who does fantastic job reading the books. Her typical reading voice is a somewhat posh British voice but she manages to give each of the characters a life of their own. Her reading of the American widow was superb. I was blown by how natural her American accent sounded.

This entry was more focused than the first book.  In the original, Smith had Ma Ramotswe stop and have flashbacks that were almost essays and there were multiple cases running throughout the book. Here the book manages to focus mostly on Ma Ramostwe's and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni's engagement and the related plots of the adoption of the children and Maketoni's jealous maid who wants to be rid of Ma Ramotswe for her own reasons.

The story does suffer a little when a second case is added to the mix. A butcher shows up asking for the Agency to investigate his wayward wife. While it leads to some interesting discussions, the case isn't all that interesting and slows down the book's momentum. The resolution occurs off-page and we're only told about it later. The story served as a first case for Mma Makutsi, Ma Ramotswe's secretary who is promoted to "assistant detective" in this book. While I didn't like the case, I concede it does open the door for more plot twists and stories in the future.

Overall, this is a delightful read and also an excellent audiobook. Smith masters what books can do at their best: transport you to another place and even into other minds.  This book is fun and thoughtful and a great read for fans of cozier mysteries.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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4Apr/150

Telefilm Review: The Clocks


In, “The Clocks” a woman from a secretarial service is found running away in terror from a house in which a man has been found murdered by a young naval intelligence officer.. The secretary’s employer had sent her there in response to a phone call but the owner of the house claims never to have called to request the secretary’s services. In addition at the scene of the crime, four clocks are found each set to 4:13 P.M. but one of them disappears.

The police belive the woman committed the murder, but the Navy intelligence man doesn’t. However, it becomes clear that his judgment has been clouded, and it’s up to Poirot to sort out the truth.

The novel on which the telefilm was based was written Post World War II, though the film is set in the 1930s. There are a few signs of this, the biggest of which is the treatment of Poirot. The post-WW2 novels tended to have Poirot viewed with less respect by the local police. Instead of getting a compliant, respectful and cooperative colleague like Japp, the Clocks leaves Poirot with Inspector Hardcastle (Phil Daniels) who is not sure of Poirot despite assurances from Scotland Yard and Naval Intelligence. Hardcastle lives by a simple axiom that “somebody saw something” and doesn’t take much stock in Poirot’s hunches or vague statements include Poirot’s pronouncement that when it came to the unidentified victim “It doesn’t matter who he is, but who he is,” leading Hardcastle to mock Poirot, though it turned out Poirot had a serious point. There’s a great interplay and Hardcastle is a fine police foil for Poirot.

As usual, the production values are great with a beautiful period feel, and a superb cast. The mystery is complicated without being too convoluted and there are some very believable motivations for the criminals.

Overall, a very satisfying adaptation.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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28Mar/150

TV Series Review: Broadchurch Series 1


In the first series of Broadchurch from 2013, a small English town is shaken by the death of eleven year old Danny Lattimer (Oskar McNamara) and Alex Hardy (David Tennant), a detective inspector newly arrived in Broadchurch and lifelong local Detective Seargeant Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) are charged with investigating the case, and along the way they unearth many buried secrets of Broadchurch’s citizens.

While Tennant is the best known star in the series internationally, it’d be a mistake to assume that this a series about the investigators alone or primarily a David Tennant vehicle. The series is just not about the mystery, though there are plenty of clues and red herrings, but how this affects an entire community and then there are separate plots that work their way through Broadchurch: How the family handles this as well as learning of the husband’s infidelity, a discouraged minister, an ambitious young reporter, a self-proclaimed psychic telephone repairman, and then the suspects: some are hiding something, but in a few cases, we learn that people we've been suspecting have only been trying to hide a very painful past. It's not a story with disposable characters.

As such, the middle four episodes feel like an ensemble piece and a very good one at that. What Broadchurch does is make characters who feel like real people.  There are secrets but most of them aren't off the wall things. There's real human conflict at work.

My favorite character outside of the leads was Reverend Paul Coates (Arthur Darvill of Doctor Who) who was really revealed to be a strong character despite starting off looking much more like

In the hands of an amateur or a weak creative team, this type of story becomes a mess of characters running around. At the same time, the series succeeds on a directorial level. The way the story of Broadchurch is told is superb and nearly flawless with music, acting, and storytelling working together to tell a narrative. This is brilliant filmmaking and art on television which is just not something you see.

The mystery is good, although it's probably the weakest part of the series. There are a lot of clues and red herring thrown in throughout the series. It's hard to sort through, and the most important clues are ones that Alex Hardy knows but doesn't share with the audience. Still, there are a few clues to the killer that the attentive viewer can pick up.

While this is a great series, it's one that really requires parental discretion and is definitely not for the whole family.  The series deals with serious issues that surround the death of a child and what could motivate it. While it was produced for broadcast television, it was produced for British broadcast television which has different standards than broadcasts in other countries. There's very little sexual content or  violence  but some language that would not make it on American broadcast television.  For the most part, , the use of these elements in the series were not gratuitous which is a tribute to the talent of the creative team to tell a good story.

Overall, this is a great example of what Television can be but so often isn't.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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21Mar/150

Book Review: Playback


While the second to last Philip Marlowe novel was the longest, the last was the shortest, coming in at about 170 pages in its most recent reprint.

In it, Marlowe is hired by an attorney to follow a woman with very little explantion. He follows her to Esmerelda, a fictionalized version of LaJolla.

There Marlowe encounters blackmail and a corpse that disappears from the balcony of the woman he was hired to follow.

All things considered, this is a book that I wish Raymond Chandler hadn’t bothered to right. The beginning is promising, but 2/3 through the story begins to collapse.

Chandler, at his finest wrote involved and complex tales of mystery. There was always more than meets the eye to a Chandler mystery. Here, there is far less. I literally said out loud, "That's it!" and tossed the book aside until my determination to finish books I start compelled me to read on.

Chandler's characters are also far flatter than in previous works. You won't find any characters who approach the level of those in other novels. There's no one like General Sternwood, Moose Malloy, Bill Chess, or Terry Lennox in this entire novel.

While the dialogue isn't as good as in other books, there's still a few decent lines in this one and that's one saving grace.

And then there are the other issues of Marlowe's encounters with two different women. Thankfully, there's nothing shown, which is the most artful thing about this portion of the book. The writing by Chandler is just embarrassing.  The dialogue is awful, and the set up is clumsy.   The relationship with Linda Loring in The Long Goodbye is elevated to some high exalted status of her being an old flame, when she just came over for an evening before leaving town.

Worse than that, Marlowe admits that sleeping with one of the women was unethical as an Investigator and then it does it anyway and it's not like there's some psychological reason for it or an internal struggle that Marlowe's better nature loses, there's no reason at all given.  At the end of the book, it appears that all that remains of the ethical core of Marlowe from The Big Sleep is an eccentric aversion to taking money for getting himself beaten up and inconvenienced.

The book is sad because it shows how much of a toll alcoholism and depression took on a great author. It's one of the worst books written about a classic detective by his actual creator. It's the one Marlowe book that's never been made into a movie and hopefully never will be. It's a forgettable or at least I hope it is as I'll certainly be doing my best to forget it.

Rating: 1.75 out of 5.00

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14Mar/152

Audio Drama Review: I Was a Communist for the FBI

To see my review of the film, click here.

I Was a Communist for the FBI was a syndicated radio show produced by Ziv and began to air in 1952 and ‘53 with Dana Andrews playing Matt Cvetic with 78 separate broadcasts prepared with only a few  repeats. While the film focused on the end of Cvetic’s career, this focused on the beginning and middle.

The important thing to understand about the I Was a Communist for the FBI radio show is that it had far less to do with the real Cvetic than the film. This is subtly hinted at at the end of the program with lines like, “Many of the incidents portrayed are based on the experiences of Matt Cvetic...” which also meant that many were not.

Ziv often did programs were the lead character was based on a real person but the incidents and stories were mostly works of fiction. This could be seen in Ziv’s 1959-61 Television series, “Lock Up.” There really was an attorney named Herbert L. Maris but the televised version’s exploits had little to do with the real life Philadelphia lawyer.

The fact of the matter is that no real person’s life has enough interesting juicy incidents to make up seventy-eight television or radio episodes. This in part explains the “unreal” nature of, I Was a Communist for the FBI which will have Cvetic trying to take over a Boy Scout troop in one episode, escorting a Soviet Agent around in another, trying to reform the image of a Communist front group in another, and in yet another being tasked with sabotaging early computer technology. While the fictional Cvetic’s exploits are rarely unreal, it’s hard to swallow that the same man got all of these assignments. However, the format of the show requires a suspension of disbelief similar to how we accept Joe Friday changing departments every week on Dragnet.

At their best, episodes of I Was a Communist for the FBI manage to portray tactics that Communists used in America or in other countries. While the movie’s communist leaders were bald-faced opportunists, the cell group leaders in the radio show are mostly fanatics (though occasionally hypocritical ones)  The Communist Party of the radio is far more like a cult than a political party as members deride “Borgeois sentimentality” and demand absolute obedience and dedication to the party. The ruthlessness of the party plays out more in the radio than the film because of the greater scope and variety of the episodes because we see so many different episodes. The communists are willing to blackmail, steal, or murder.  They'll turn a father's son against him to keep him in line. While publicly championing the little guy, they'll crush anyone who gets in their way.

It also featured a great psychological element. For Cvetic, the fear of discovery is constant. The Communists don't trust each other in the first place as he's frequently followed by fellow "comrades" and even has his phone tapped and listened to. He faces tough questions. Does he help someone who sounds like she might want to leave the party or does he act like a "good party" member in the belief that she's testing him?

In one episode he's gotten into the bad habit of talking in his sleep and to his horror finds out that the Comrade he's staying at happens to record the room at night. At the same time, the FBI often doesn't tell Cvetic everything or he can't make contact. All this makes Cvetic constantly on edge In one episode, Cvetic was diagnosed with hypertension which is something that anyone who followed the series could readily believe.

The theme of isolation and self-loathing is here just like the film, though its more intimate as Cvetic's narration carries the story. The episode loops around eventually to one thought, "I'm a Communist for the FBI and I walk alone."

The series, like most other great Ziv shows in the era featured solid production values and most great radio talent of the era appeared including Gerald Mohr, Virginia Gregg, and Harry Bartel.  Olan Soule played Agent Beaker of the FBI with many actors playing party bosses and official. The best of these was William Conrad who portrayed the gruff and sinister Comrade Revchinko.

Most of the episodes had a very similar cadence of Cvetic being given an assignment by the Communists and him trying to undermine it with the help of the FBI. One exception to that was, "The Black Gospel" in which the villain was a nihilist who threatened to out Cvetic as an FBI informant unless he went along with their anarchist scheme.

The series was not without flaws. It managed to undercut its own point in a couple of ways. First and foremost, if you're going to portray the Communists as such an existential threat, it would be more believable if these fictional foes weren't so unbelievably thick. Cvetic is constantly involved in operations in which everyone else is arrested or the Party's ends are defeated. Over the course of more than seventy episodes and the Party is constantly giving him commendations while never considering that everything they put him on falls apart. By contrast, in the film, Cvetic succeeded as a Communist and was thus able to provide information to the FBI by gaining the Party's confidence through success.

While the series included some very plausible Communist plots, there are a few stories that have premises that are a little too silly. I could see Communists trying to gain access to early computers and sabotage U.S. research. I have a little more trouble with a Communist plot to take over the local 4H club. (Yes, seriously.) There was also the episode where Cvetic got a Communist front group to give blood and Revchinko insisted on having Communist goons hijack the Red Cross truck and steal the blood, so that the blood wouldn't get to the distribution center because that's worth risking exposure and the capture of an operative.

In the end, I Was a Communist for the FBI is worthwhile series. It succeeded in portraying Communism the soul-crushing system it was that left more than 100 million dead in its wake and brilliantly showed the mental strain that double age and informants for the FBI faced. It has tense suspenseful moments found  However, it's quality is hampered by repetitive and occasionally contrived stories that make the Communists seem hapless.  Still, it's a unique series in the golden age of radio that makes for an enjoyable listen.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5.0

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7Mar/150

Telefilm Review: Columbo: A Stitch in Crime

Peter Falk and Leonard Nimoy
Originally, this week was slated to feature a review of the radio series, I Was a Communist for the FBI.  However due to the passing of Leonard Nimoy, I've opted for something a little different my radio of the radio version of I Was a Communist for the FBI appears next week. 

Leonard Nimoy recently passed away. He's best known for playing the role of Mr. Spock. He played the character in Eighty Episodes of the original 1960s TV series, eight movies, a guest appearance on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and he voiced the character in twenty-two episodes of the animated series.

Yet, Nimoy's sixty year career was more than sixty year as actor, director, producer, and writer went far beyond a single role. As an actor, he was among the best of his time.

This is well-illustrated in the 1973 Telefilm, A Stitch in Crime in which Nimoy plays Doctor  Barry Mayfield, an ambitious heart surgeons who is partnered with an older doctor (Will Geer) in a research project. He performs surgery on his partner but Nurse Sharon Martin (Anne Francis) becomes suspicious and makes some calls and plans to discuss her concern. Before she can, Doctor Mayfield murders her in the Hospital parking lot.

There's so much that makes the film work. The music is great and at no time is it better than in the murder scene, as it adds to the suspense. Hy Averback's directing is flawless with him taking advantage of every minute of the 70+ minute screen time.

The supporting cast is among the best Columbo ever had. Golden Globe actress Anne Francis was a great  choice to play Sharon Martin, as the character was someone we really sympathized with which isn't always the case with Columbo victims.  And to add to our sense of sympathy, Doctor Mayfield's partner Doctor Hidemann is played by none other than the actor who played Grandpa Walton.

The story also had a bit of mystery as to what Mayfield's endgame was. We had a sense early on based on Nurse Martin's reaction that it was something sinister involving Doctor Hidemann but we don't learn what until the final fifteen minutes.

However, the key strength of Columbo is the interaction between the detective and the murderer.  There's a rhythm to it much like a dance and that dance was never more perfectly executed than in A Stitch in Crime. 

Columbo begins as usual with friendliness and a bit of a comic and sloppy presence, perhaps even more so as he's eating at the crime scene and has a cold. Doctor Mayfield is similarly polite and helpful, at one point helping Columbo with his cold and writing him a prescription for medicine. I once thought this was a goof as what Doctor writes a prescription to someone they didn't formally examine and whose history they don't know? Now, I tend to think of it as a sign of arrogance.

And arrogance defines Mayfield as a character. Nimoy's portrayal combines that with the cool headedness of a surgeon and Mayfield easily becomes one of Columbo's most sinister opponents.  Only one Columbo killer looked more sinister than Nimoy did in the moment before Sharon Martin was killed. (Rip Torn in "Death Hits the Jackpot") and his coolness throughout makes him more intimidating.

Mayfield's arrogance leads him to taunt Columbo. When Columbo is barely hinting that Mayfield may have planted evidence that points to Martin's death being drug-related, Mayfield demands to know what motivate he would have. Columbo responds, "You ask tough questions, sir." Mayfield flashed a grin. "So do juries."

Ultimately, when Columbo learns Doctor Hidemann's life is at risk, he confronts Mayfield and when Mayfield begins laughing at him, Columbo has one of his few bursts of anger as he slams a carafe of water down and accuses Mayfield of murder.

The only thing that surpasses that moment is the end of the episode. It's more typical for Columbo to spend several minutes exposing the murderer in grand style.   However in A Stitch in Crime,  Columbo nearly failed. Columbo's final gambit appears to fail and he concedes to Mayfield and walks away. The surgeon showing signs of relief. It appears the murderer has won until the final minute when Columbo returns and we find that Mayfield's calm demeanor proved to be his undoing.

The ending is a great payoff for what I think is Columbo's greatest episode. It was an episode that knew when to follow the formula the series was already becoming famous for and when to diverge. It featured two fine actors who were used to their full potential to create an episode that stands out even in a series that was full of great episodes.

Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0

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28Feb/151

DVD Review: I Was a Communist for the FBI


This week and next two weeks from now, I'll be taking a look at I Was a Communist for the FBI.  The first post will talk about the movie and next will discuss the radio program.

Any discussion of Communism in the 1950s will be controversial due to the “red scare.” My understanding based on the study of the era is that two things are true: 1) there were many innocent people charged with being Communists and 2) there were actual Communist who working to infiltrate others as agents of the Soviet Union and still others working to undermine and basic the basic social systems of the United States in order to bring about a people’s revolution.

There is also debate on the exact role that the real Matt Cvetic had or what he accomplished in his undercover work, but this debate doesn’t really matter as both the Movie and the Radio show were very fictionalized (though in different ways), so the exact truth of what actually happened to Cvetic has little to do with either.

In the film, Cvetic (played by Night Beat’s Frank Lovejoy) is in the tale end of his 9 years as a Communist for the FBI and it’s a miserable lot in life. His mother is dying and he rushes to her bedside too late to tell her the truth. His brothers look on with contempt for being a Communist and for the pain that brought his mother. When Cvetic's son learns that Cvetic is a Communist, he turns on him as well.

Cvetic has worked his way up into high circles of the American Communist Party and the film draws an interesting line between the rank and file Communists as represented by a Cvetic’s son’s teacher and the leadership.

The leadership is two faced and hypocritical. With rank and file party members, they're all about equality and the revolution of the proletariat. Among themselves, they're far more honest. When the Communists take over, someone's going to be in charge, so it might as well be them. They want to be like the pigs in George Orwell's Animal Farm. One of them who is working actively to incite Communist activists among Blacks casually drops the "n-word" and persists with even when Cvetic challenges him on it. Cvetic is ironically considered the "true believer" of this group of senior party members.

The party leaders are also cunning and ruthless, not caring if innocents or bystanders are hurt in the process. In one scene, dedicated to helping the Soviets stop American steel production by staging strikes with fake protesters. This leads to people being savagely beaten including Cvetic's own brother.

The teacher decides she's had enough and wants out of the party but the party sets out to liquidate her and Cvetic has to foil the plan without breaking his cover.  This is a bit of an add on but it's decently done.

Overall, the movie shows some ways in which Communists did  or could have operated at the highest levels  particularly how on one occasion, they staged a filibuster and managed to force their way through a non-Communist union to get their way on the strike.

The film is in a way targeted towards the casual Communist and tried to warn of the long-suspected ties between the Community Party USA and the Soviet Union in hopes of encouraging people to leave before they got in too deep similar to a radio series of the time called Last Man Out. 

Ultimately, nothing was too original about the movie's message or propaganda value but what makes it stand out is the performance of Lovejoy as Matt Cvetic, a man whose position is eating him up. After 9 years, he hates the people who like him and is alienated from his friends and family, he takes part in despicable plots. Lovejoy does a good job portraying a tortured man who continues being ripped apart by what he does because his love for country and concern for his son's future is worth the sacrifice even if part of that sacrifice is being despised by his son.

Overall,  this is a good but flawed film, with an ending that's a bit confusing. Still, this is a decent film that rises above average due to the complex issues surrounding Matt Cvetic.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

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21Feb/150

Book Review: The Jade Ogre

In this 1992 Will Murray novel, the legendary adventure Doc Savage faces a deadly challenge when he battles the Jade Ogre, a strange being whose decapitated arms fly on their own and deal a horrible green death to the Ogre's enemies.

The Jade Ogre is unusual in that Murray adapted the idea from a story original Doc Savage writer Lester Dent had written about a private detective, so this story has a bit of a mystery element in it and some detective tropes that play a role such as Doc explaining the solution to his aides at the end. However, the mystery is much more a matter of how rather than who as Murray provides more than enough clues to figure out who is behind the Jade Ogre. Also this makes more sense understanding it was based on a serialized story as it does have a very strong serialized feel.

In addition to the mystery, the book delivered the usual things we expect from Doc Savage with plenty of action, adventure, gadgets, and some great interaction between Doc's assistants. Here, as in the other more recent books, the number of supporting players is kept down to a minimum with Ham, Monk, and Pat Savage appearing. Murray is even more careful about overusing assistants as for most of the book, only two are "on stage" at once with Pat and Ham together early and Monk and Ham late. This allows enough interaction between the Bronze Man's two most beloved assistants (Monk and Ham) without their carping on each other becoming monotonous.

As always, Murray achieves a great period feel and this book succeeds in transporting readers back to the 1930s.

The story has one major plot hole and that comes from the whodunit plot. We learn that when Doc gives the solution that several others had figured out who the guilty party was. This leads the question of why everyone followed a crazed murder blindly into a trap.

Beyond that, there are more things that could be nitpicked, but at the end of the day, this isn't great literature, it's Doc Savage. And this book lives up to the high standards set by other installments in this series. So if you have a love of 1930s Pulp fiction in your soul, this book is for you.

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14Feb/150

DVD Review: The Mask Of Dimitrios (1944)

In Mask of Dimitros, Cornelius Leyden (Peter Lorre), a Dutch mystery writer becomes intrigued when the body of a notorious criminal named Dimitros (Zachary Scott in his first role) washes up on shore. Leyden begins to trace the sordid career of Dimitros. Along the way, he encounters the mysterious man named Mr. Peters (Sidney Greenstreet) who also has an interest in Dimitros.

Leyden is a very different from the typical Lorre role. While Leyden’s a mystery writer, prior to seeing Dimitrios, he’s never seen a dead body. He goes through the story with a certain innocence and naivete that makes the character likable.

Greenstreet is far closer to type with Peters, an experienced criminal with genteel manners. It’d be tempting to view Peters as just another version of the Kasper Gutman character from the Maltese Falcon, but there’s a bit more to Peter than that, which becomes clear as the movie plays out. The film’s best scenes are the ones between Lorre and Greenstreet. The chemistry between the two is superb and every moment with them sharing the screen is a joy.

Most of the scenes with Zachary Scott were flashbacks to his very active criminal career as a sinister ruthless criminal. Sometimes, it felt these scenes went on too long particularly as the mystery surrounding Mr. Peters became far more interesting than recalling that Dimitros was a scoundrel. Still Scott was a great heavy.

The film was made in 1944 and arguably this would have looked better had it been filed without the restrictions inherent with wartime filmmaking but in the pre or post war eras, but still the movie doesn’t look bad and has some great atmospheric scenes.

This isn’t a must-watch film or a classic but it’s certainly a well-made film featuring two of Hollywood’s most memorable actors in roles that are a little out of the ordinary.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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