Category: Golden Age Article

DVD Review: The Line Up

The Line Up is a noir film based on the 1954-60 TV series of the same name (later syndicated as San Francisco Beat.) The film begins with an exciting scene where a cabbie flees police and drives erratically until he’s shot. Lieutenant Guthrie (Warner Anderson) and the police discover a smuggling ring which smuggles heroin through the baggage of innocent people and then retrieves the heroin from them.

There are two basic reasons to see this film:

The first are the stars are not the police but the villains. Dancer (Eli Wallach) is a psychopathic gangster and is assisted by his wiser mentor Julian (Robert Keith) in collecting the drugs and disposing of those who know too much which turns out to be most people.

Unlike in an earlier era where these two would walk around sounding dopey, Dancer and Julian are constantly well-spoken, polite, even friendly when the job calls for it. However, in an instant, they turn deadly. Julian sums up Dancer well, “There’s never been a guy like Dancer. He’s a wonderful, pure pathological study. He’s a psychopath with no inhibitions.” Wallach makes the character very believable and menacing.

Johnny Dollar star Bob Bailey has one scene in this film as a finger man telling Dancer who the drugs had been smuggled in with. It’s a decent performance.

Also, though he only appeared in one scene where he barely spoke, Vaughn Taylor turns in a memorable performance as the drug kingpin, “The Man.” It’s practically an acting clinic on how much can be communicated using only facial expressions.

The second big reason to see this is San Francisco. So much of the movie is shot on location in the City by the Bay. The locations aren’t only good looking but they’re used in some innovative ways in the story. It really makes for a unique look.

The film’s biggest issue is the police characters. The film’s intent was to rope in the 30 million fans of the TV series, “The Line Up,” which is why stars of that series were brought in. However, these scenes are the least interesting in the film. Not bad per se, just obligatory. Policework can be interesting in a Noir film (see: He Walked by Night) but it doesn’t happen here.

In addition to the trailer, the DVD release includes a kind of interesting special feature with Dark Knight Director Christopher Nolan discussing how the NOIR genre influenced him. I was surprised that this film had a commentary track, but listening to it, I found it a bit unpleasant as one of the commentators was just randomly foul-mouthed rather than insightful or funny.

Overall, The Line-Up is a solid film and there’s much to recommend it to those who love Noir films, San Francisco, or Bob Bailey. Ironically, the only thing you won’t get out of it is a sense what the classic radio series the Line Up looked like on film.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Book Review: The Sinister Shadow

Doc Savage and the Shadow are two of the greatest pulp heroes of all time. Yet, they’ve never met in their original book medium. There have been attempts to do this in comic book form, but the ones I’ve read have been somewhat underwhelming.

The Sinister Shadow by Will Murray takes an original idea by Lester Dent in order to bring these two legends of the 1930s together in one book.

In the books, “Lamont Cranston” was not the true identity of the Shadow. Rather, the Shadow forced Cranston to let him impersonate him when Cranston was away from the city (which was most of the time) on the threat that, if he didn’t, the Shadow would completely steal Cranston’s identity, leaving Cranston without a place in the world because somebody’s got to fight evil, right? In the pulps, Cranston’s amused by this and agrees. In this book, Cranston isn’t as much amused as resigned.

However, Cranston receives a blackmail notice from a villain identifying himself as the Funeral Director who threatens to kill Cranston unless he gives him $50,000. Cranston thinks the villain is the Shadow and turns to Doc Savage’s aide Ham Brooks for help. Before they can get to Doc, both are kidnapped. This leads to both the Shadow and Doc Savage being on the trail of the Funeral Director.

The book has a lot to offer. Much of it is spent with Doc and friends suspecting the Shadow as the creepy methods of the Funeral Director seem his style and the Shadow works outside the law while Doc is an honorary Inspector for the NYPD. In addition, Doc and his men have a no killing rule, while the Shadow has no qualms about dealing out rough justice to the criminal world. Thus our two protagonists spend time hunting and battling each other before turning to the real bad guy. These parts of the book are fun and Murray does a good job writing both characters. Doc’s men are their usual selves while Doc remains ever the unflappable and brilliant man of bronze. The Shadow is mysterious and baffles the great Doc Savage with his strange methods. Doc’s assistants also are great though they’re pushed more to the background than usual. The Shadow’s henchmen are generic and lack a lot of personality.

As for the villain, the Funeral Director is a perfect foil for our protagonists. He’s a creepy, evil villain whose theme is centered around death and dying complete with coffins. It seems like an obvious idea for a supervillain but I’ve never read it done before. Why the Funeral Director came after Cranston is never satisfactorily explained and it comes off as a plot convenience.

This book is enjoyable, though it’s not Shakespeare or even Raymond Chandler. It’s a new pulp adventure team up from the man who is better at recapturing the spirit of the original pulps than any other writer today. While I won’t say it exceeded my expectations, it certainly met them. After nearly eighty years, Will Murray finally created a story worthy of these two great characters and if you’re a fan of either one, it’s a worthwhile read.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Sherlock Series 4 Review

Sherlock Series 4 features three feature-length episodes, “The Six Thatchers,” “The Lying Detective,” and “The Final Problem.”

The series was certainly different from the prior three. It would be inaccurate to say there’s no mystery in this season but they’re definitely very different sorts of mysteries.  We’ll go ahead and examine each episode in turn.

Warning, spoilers ahead for the first episode.

“The Six Thatchers” follows the events of Series 3 and the nightmare trip which was, “The Abominable Bride,” with Holmes having been given clemency for committing murder at the end of Series 3 in order to confront the seeming return of Moriarty. Holmes’ reaction is to put that off until something happens with Moriarty or whoever’s impersonating him. He returns to being a detective and texting all the time. While showing texts in Series 1 was interesting, it became incessant at the start of this episode. Characters should text far less than people in real life do.

There are some things I liked about this episode. I thought it was funny when Holmes offered to give Lestrade credit for solving a case, and Lestrade pointed out he’d done that before, and Watson wrote about it on his blog, making Lestrade look foolish. It’s a subtle dig at the original stories which were published by Dr. Watson in-universe, including stories where Holmes agrees to let Lestrade take credit for solving the case while the story exists in-universe and reveals otherwise.

The first half of “The Six Thatchers” is a well-done modern retelling of “The Six Napoleons,” which I really enjoyed. It leads into an ex-spy colleague of Mary Watson hunting her down for betraying him and the rest of her team.

Mary runs away. Sherlock tracks her down and searches for the real traitor. They confront the traitor unarmed and the traitor tries to kill Sherlock and Mary throws herself in the way of the bullet and is killed.

I found the “Mary has another secret” plot to be a bit of a rehash of plot points from Series Three. It was sad to see Mary go, but she died in the books, so it’s hard to complain about that. This episode was okay, not great, but it had some good moments.

“The Lying Detective,” finds Watson having cutting Holmes out of his life for failing to fulfill his vow to protect the Watson family. Holmes’ health is deteriorating, even as he pursues a rich man named Culverton Smith who may or may not be a serial killer.

This story leaves you constantly questioning who you can trust. Holmes has been taking drugs, and we’re given reason to question if what the audience sees is real or drug-induced fantasies. At the same time, Watson is hallucinating about Mary, with Mary even being helpful enough to tell him that she’s a hallucination created by his own mind.

This story does keep you thinking as there’s suspense about what exactly has happened. There’s not a question of who did it since there’s not a specific crime being investigated. That lets the central conflict be a battle of wits between Holmes and Smith.

Not being sure what you’re seeing is true makes for an interesting story, but I wouldn’t want to see another episode like this.

The series wraps up with, “The Final Problem,” in which we finally find out what was behind Moriarty’s re-appearance after dying in Series 2 as well as Sherlock finally learning the truth of his own past. I enjoyed this episode for the most part. It is much more psychological thriller than a typical murder mystery, but it has more use of deductive skills than any other episode this series. The final few minutes are superb as they say a lot about the man Sherlock has become without him saying much of anything.

On the other hand, to enjoy this, you have to accept Sherlock’s opponent in this story is a supervillain with the power to control any person if they get within three feet of her and speak to her alone. It can be disconcerting when a Sherlock Holmes story takes a giant step outside the realms of reasoning that’s such a hallmark of the character. To be fair, Steven Moffat is far from the first to do this. Sherlock Holmes has appeared in numerous pastiches that have put him up against supernatural creatures, aliens from outer space, and all other sorts of weirdness. This sort of thing certainly has been done worse.

The decisions this series have certainly been controversial, but I understand why they were made. When this series started in 2010, Moffat set Sherlock on a journey. In Series 1, Sherlock could be far more cold and oblivious to how others feel, and in many ways he couldn’t care less. In the first episode, Inspector Lestrade expressed his hope for Holmes, “Sherlock Holmes is a great man, and I think one day, if we’re very, very lucky, he might even be a good one.”

And that’s been the journey Sherlock’s been on. It’s not unheard of to do this in modern detective programs. In Monk, Adrian Monk was on a journey to become whole and find peace. The big difference between Sherlock and Monk is Monk aired sixteen hours of new episodes per year for eight seasons and worked Monk’s emotional journey into that series.

The challenge with Sherlock is they’ve gotten three feature-length episodes every two to three years due to the rising popularity of the series stars. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have both become major stars in Hollywood and scheduling has become more difficult. Who knows when they will be able to do a Series 5 or if they will be able to. Moffat seems to have wanted to ensure that character arc was completed, so a lot of character-related stuff was shoved into Series 4 in order to give the series a good stopping place.

The challenge is Moffat squeezed so much character work into this series, the mystery elements suffer. And to further along Sherlock’s character story, the show does some things that compromise Watson’s character.

Whether you enjoy it will depend on what you’re looking for. If all you want is a simple, well-written detective story, you’re going to be disappointed. The more invested your are in these characters, the more you’ll get out of it and the more forgiving you’ll be about the series’ flaws as you get to see Sherlock’s personal growth.

I was invested enough that I enjoyed the series,  but I’ll be okay if there’s not an additional series or future one-shot movies. Unlike the previous three finales, “The Final Problem” doesn’t end with a cliffhanger that demands another series. Unless Moffat plans on bringing viewers the type of mysteries that got people into Sherlock in the first place, it’s probably best just to leave it there.

Rating: 3.25 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: The Avengers: The Comic Strip Adaptations, Volume 2

The second and final volume of Big Finish’s Avengers Comic Strip adaptations offers four more hour long adventures featuring Julia Wadham and Olivia Poulet playing the iconic roles of of John Steed and Emma Peel.

The set begins with “Playtime is Over” in which Steed and Peel investigate a series of daring robberies apparently committed by children. When a man who has offered them a lead is murdered by a toy boat, that sets them onto a toy factory run by an eccentric man who never quite grew up.

This takes the offbeat nature of the Avengers and ups the zaniness to the level of a 1960s Batman TV episode. It’s incredible fun, if a bit predictable at times.

In “The Antongoniser,” after several strange deaths, Steed and Mrs. Peel are put on the case and discover the cause of death is animals gone bad. This is an entertaining program, with some fun moments, but it doesn’t measure up to the better episodes in the series with a mystery that’s too quickly solved and a villain that’s not that interesting. Still, worth a listen due to the fun one-liners.

In, “The Mad Hatter,” a visiting foreign princess becomes a target for assassins. As the title implies, a theme villain is behind it, but the story has a lot of twists on its way to the big reveal. The dialogue is hilarious as are many of the situations. Although, the idea of a rattlesnake being hidden in a bowler hat does cross the line from hilarious to ludicrous. Still, a fun episode.

“The Secret Six” is a perfect finale for the comic strip stories as Steed and Mrs. Peel find themselves prisoners at a country estate where they are held by six master criminals from around the globe who have decided that eliminating Steed and Peel is critical for their evil plans to succeed. It’s an action packed and dizzying ride as the two have to dodge bullets and even a tank in their quest to stay alive. Overall, this is a fun and exhilarating conclusion to the series. My only complaint is  several of the six villains were not quite credible as crime bosses. In the end, that doesn’t stop this finale from being a pleasure to listen to.

Ratings: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Graphic Novel Review: The Ocean of Osyria

The Ocean of Osyria is the first book in the Hardy Boys graphic novel series from Papercutz setting the Hardy’s adventures in modern day.

The basic plot is that the Hardy’s old pal Chet Morton gets into trouble when he accidently buys an art treasure off of an online auction site. Now, the Hardys have to clear him in a globe-trotting adventure that takes them to the Middle East and Europe.

The book does a good job capturing the Hardy Boys’ basic personalities. The mystery is kind of light and the focus of the book is on adventure. The numerous locations in the story are very well-drawn. The book does borrow a bit from the Hardy Boys Case Files of the late 1980s and 1990s with the involvement of a secret government agency in setting the Hardys on the case. In addition, we do get Frank and Joe’s girlfriends involved in the adventure which didn’t usually happen either in the original series or in the later books. The art is vibrant and exciting.

As someone who devoured the Case Files in the 1990s, I do find the graphic novel format weaker. You lose a lot of relationship moments between Frank and Joe and really don’t get to know a lot of the side characters. The story is also simple compared to the complexity that could be developed in a 150 page paperback novel. But then again, I found of Ocean of Osyria fast-paced and fun. Frank and Joe Hardy lived the life and had the adventures that every boy dreams of and the graphic novel still captures that spirit nicely. Overall, this is a solid book and it’s a nice way to introduce younger comic fans to the Hardy Boys.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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