Tag: mixed review

Book Review: The Case of the Crime King

The Case of the Crime King was Richard Deming’s second original Dragnet tie-in novel for the original 1951-59 TV series.

The book focuses on Lt. Joe Friday and Sergeant Frank Smith’s efforts to break up a robbery ring. The case begins with the arrest of a clever criminal who Friday and Smith catch and send to prison.

Word begins to leak out of prison that about a new statewide gang with plans to accumulate a fortune and use the money to get one big score that will leave them living like kings. Friday and Smith are sure their man is behind it, but proving it is another matter.

The stakes have never been higher in a Dragnet case file as the lives of thousands and the freedom of millions depend on Friday and Smith stopping this criminal gang’s plot.

Like in his first effort, The Case of the Courteous Killer, Deming manages to capture the spirit of Dragnet, only telling a more complex case. In many ways, the case calls to mind the 1954 Dragnet film which focused on a gang-related investigation, only there are no out-of-character moments for Friday or Smith and we get a more satisfying resolution. The criminal is genuinely clever and the narrative remains at a strong level throughout. Unlike The Case of the Courteous Killer, there’s not really a sag in the story.

Worth noting is that The Case of the Crime King acknowledged the existence of steamier sides of life and Los Angeles that the 1950’s series avoided as it includes references to prostitutes and the criminals use an adult movie theater as an alibi. Neither aspect is written about in a salacious manner, but it does signal a slight shift that would be seen in the 1960’s revival.

On October 5, 2019, a review was held in the City of Boise, in and for the County of Ada. In a moment, the results of that review:

Verdict:

I will say that while this book was a fun read, I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the Case of the Courteous Killer. That case had a killer who came after Sergeant Friday and put him in peril. Here the criminals are dangerous but far more methodical. It also had less of Smith’s humor, which disappointed.

If you love Dragnet and you like mysteries of this era Dragnet: The Case of the Crime King is a worthwhile read and at $2.99 in the Kindle Store, it’s a great deal. It’s a well-written case that was probably better than most of the episodes aired during the original series’ final season.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchase

Film Review: Alias Boston Blackie

I noticed Alias Boston Blackie was available for free viewing on Amazon Prime, which is a treat given Sony holds the rights to the Boston Blackie series and has not done much to make the films available. While this was released in April 1942, it’s the most Christmasy detective film I’ve seen from the 1940s, so much so I debated not reviewing it until Christmas, but since it might disappear from Amazon before then, I decided to review it now.

Alias Boston Blackie find Blackie (Chester Morris) staging a Christmas Eve show for prisoners.  Inspector Farraday (Richard Lane) comes along for the ride suspecting Blackie is up to no good. However, a bitter prisoner (future Academy Award nominee Larry Parks) claims he was framed. He decides to tie up a performing clown and take his place so he can get to the outside and enact vengeance on the men who framed him. Blackie needs to stop him before the prisoner gets Blackie and his sister (Adele Mara) in trouble.

What Worked:

Morris’ portrayal of Boston Blackie is the best I’ve seen.  This film avoids the worst fault of Blackie as a character as he can sometimes seem a bit “too cool for school.” Here Blackie is more grounded. The script acknowledges Blackie’s been to prison and Farraday sent him there. Blackie expresses an understandable note of annoyance at Farraday’s continued suspicion.

I also like Farraday in this one as he seems more competent and believable than in many of the radio episodes. Blackie still gets the better of Farraday several times throughout the story, but it feels less like Blackie is fighting a battle of wits with an unarmed man than it does in some later films.

Detective Matthews schtick as a bit of a dim bulb policeman works far better than it did in the later film A Close Call for Boston Blackie which I reviewed previously. He’s helped by Farraday’s competence.

There are fun antics and clever turns as Blackie has to dodge the police and find some way out of this mess. There were a couple moments when I was expecting the film to go one direction and it went somewhere else entirely, leaving me pleasantly surprised. It was both exciting and amusing.

George Stone made a decent showing here as Blackie’s sidekick Runt, delivering a few laughs, and never becoming annoying.

I like the Christmas vibe, which the film uses just right. While the movie’s not overly sentimental, it does maintain a holiday feel without overdoing it. It’s the type of detective movie you’d reach for around the holidays when you want their flavor without being drenched.

Also, we get to see the character of Arthur Manleder, who I’d only heard in the 1944 Summer radio series.  

What Doesn’t Work

Larry Park’s character is loathsome. Giving the escaped prisoner a sister who was one of the performers served a plot purpose of explaining why Blackie tries to reason with the guy so he can return the escapee without getting the sister in trouble. However, the guy’s response to Blackie’s overtures and his willingness to expose his sister to legal jeopardy to carry out this revenge plot makes me despite this character. That’s a problem as the movie’s focus eventually shifts to Blackie trying to uncover proof of the escaped would-be murderer’s innocence.

I also have to say the prisoner had his own private office as the prison’s “dramatic director” that he could access while guards were everywhere. This is one of the silliest plot ideas I’ve ever heard.

Being only sixty-seven minutes hurts this film as its more than forty minutes in when Blackie shifts from tracking down the prisoner to proving his innocence which makes for a bit of a rushed story towards the end.

Overall:

I enjoyed this quite a bit. It’s still a B-movie, but it’s a pretty well-done film despite its flaws. Chester Morris turns in a solid performance and most of the rest of the cast is on-point. It’s a fun, fast-paced film with fun comic moments. Watch it now, or wait until December and hope it’s still on Amazon to watch so you can enjoy it in all its Christmasy glory.

Rating: 4 out of 5

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchase

Telefilm Review: Murder She Wrote: It’s a Dog’s Life

While Jessica is visiting her horse-trainer cousin down South, her cousin’s wealthy employer dies and bypasses his money-grubbing relatives to leave the bulk of his estate to his beloved dog. The dog is then accused of biting a neighboring farmer and then the dog is accused of a bizarre murder.

What Works

Dan O’Herlihy is only in this a few minutes as the wealthy patriarch who dies, but he plays a likable if eccentric old guy who’s beset by vultures. His delivery and timing in the video gives maximum impact.

Jessica remains likable and shrewd in her method of solving the crime. Suspicion her cousin is the murderer gives her a solid incentive to be involved in the case.

While the whodunit is made obvious, the how and why of the murderer’s plan are more interesting and Jessica unravels those well.

With Southern stereotypes abounding in this episode, I appreciated a scene where one character told another to stop acting like a stereotypical hillbilly.

Fans of A Life in Your Hands will appreciate when Jessica acts as Amicus Curiae at a Coroner’s Inquest so she can confront the murderer in a Perry Mason style.

What Doesn’t Work

The episode does rely a bit on stereotypes of Southerners including the somewhat dense Deputy Sheriff.

While in each of the previous episodes, I’ve commented (mostly positively) on Jessica’s police foils, the Sheriff in this story doesn’t make any impression at all. He’s generic (we don’t even learn his name) and aloof, and little more than a dumb local cop Jessica has to clean up after.

The same could be said of most of the characters. Even good actors like Dean Jones and Forest Tucker are given little material to work with. Other than the deceased millionaire, no character stands apart from stereotypical murder suspects. The most interesting character is the supernaturally-obsessed Morgana (Cathryn Damon.) However, she could easily become annoying if overused.

The identity of the murderer was obvious with every red-flag clue calling out one person. It didn’t help that the will made the SPCA the secondary beneficiary if anything happened to the dog. So while I could believe most of the family would gladly kill a family member or frame a dog for a few hundred thousand dollars, the entire situation made motive less plausible. Though not much less plausible than the motive we were given.

Interesting Note:

Two former cast members from F-Troop: Tucker (Sergeant O’Rourke) and James Hampton (Corporal Dobbs) appear together in one scene.

Overall:

Did Murder She Wrote go to the dogs in this episode? No It’s a serviceable hour of mystery which highlights Angela Lansbury’s ability to engage even on a weak script.

However, this episode is the weakest so far. The script and characters feel mailed in when compared to more interesting and better-developed episodes that preceded it. Still, thanks to Lansbury, it still offers a decent forty-five minutes of entertainment.

Rating: 3.25 out of 5

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchase

Telefilm Review: Murder She Wrote: The Deadly Lady

In “The Deadly Lady,” some time has passed since The Murder of Sherlock Holmes as the episode shows Jessica has a proof copy of a new book and is working on yet another. Wealthy financier Stephen Earl is apparently killed in a storm on a boat with his daughters, who will each receive $25 million at his death. Sheriff Amos Tupper (Tom Bosley) suspects foul play and calls Jessica Fletcher in for her advice and he meets the man’s daughters, most of whom seem to have little love lost for him. At the same time, a drifter named Ralph (Howard Duff) comes to Jessica’s house seeking work and she gives him some work and befriends him.

Thanks to a local newspaperman, she sees a picture of the financier and realizes it’s the drifter, which means he didn’t die in the storm,  clearing one of his daughters who confessed to the “murder.” However when his body washes up on the beach, Jessica has to find out who killed him and why.

What Works:

The scenes between Howard Duff and Angela Lansbury were just superb.  Stephen Earl/Ralph is trying to sell Jessica a false story, several in fact, so that he can stay on the down low in Cabot Cove, though Jessica uses her deductive skills to see through most all of them. She’s still very kind and empathetic towards him and genuinely likes him, which gives her some added to motivation to solve his eventual murder.

We meet our first two Cabot Cove recurring characters. Tom Bosley (Happy Days, Wait Till Your Father Gets Home) would play Sheriff Tupper for the first four seasons on Murder She Wrote before leaving the role to become the lead in The Father Dowling Mysteries. In this episode, Tupper is a solid small-town lawman who does what needs to be done and refuses to alter his ways for high-powered, wealthy out-of-towners who descend on the town in the wake of news of Earl’s death. 

This episode features Claude Akins’ first episode as fishing boat Captain Ethan Clagg, an irascible character who enjoys taking good-natured shots at his friends in Cabot Cove. Akins makes the character work which is a challenge because that type of character can easily become annoying.

Dack Rambo does a nice-turn as the sleazy, money-grubbing husband of one of the daughters. He’s one of those characters you love to hate and Rambo’s quite good at making the character come to life.

What You Just Have to Accept:

Cabot Cove is supposed to be a small town in Maine, but this introductory episode is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of feeling like it’s set there.  The actors attempt New England rural accents with varying degrees of success, and some exteriors shots look passable, although the eagle eye will notice several dead giveaways that this was shot in Mendocino, California. 

It’s the type of production issue that’s fair to acknowledge, but not fair to hold against the show. It was good enough for its time. I just needed to bring my own imagination and suspension of disbelief to buy this location as being in Maine.

What Doesn’t Work:

Sherriff Tupper calls Jessica in when he thinks there might be a murder, but then when he finds an important crime scene, the story implies he told a deputy to not tell her where he was. The deputy then takes a phone call right in front of Jessica,  revealing the location and Jessica goes out there, with Sheriff Tupper none to happy to see her.

The whole sequence is a bit of pointless padding that goes against Tupper’s character as we’d seen it in the episode.

While Murder She Wrote is sometimes criticized for having plots resolved with Jessica finding the solution but the audience isn’t let on until she gives the solution to others, this particular episode has the opposite problem. The clues and overall solution are too simple and easy.  Though that may not be  the worst thing for the first hour-long episode.

Overall Thoughts:

A murderer who crosses Jessica Fletcher’s path is in serious trouble, but it’s pretty much hopeless for the murderer who decides that Cabot Cover is a good place to commit a killing.  The murderer caught in this episode won’t be the last one to try that fool’s errand and suffer the consequences.

While the mystery is a simple affair, Angela Lansbury carries it often with style, helped by a great guest performance by Howard Duff. This story gets the regular run of hour-long Murder She Wrote episodes off to a fine start.

Rating:4.0 out of 5.0

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchase

Audio Drama Review: The Avengers: The Comic Strip Adaptations Volume 03: Steed & Tara King

Big Finish has released two prior sets of Comic Strip adaptations based on the 1960s Avengers TV show featuring John Steed and Emma Peel. This set features adaptions of comics strips featuring Steed (Julian Wadham) and Peel’s successor Tara King (Emily Woodward) There are four episodes on the set and here’s a run-down on each:

In It’s a Wild, Wild, Wild West: There have been several Old West style stick-ups and Steed and Tara King suspect an American-style Dude ranch opened in England and all is not what you expect. This is a well-acted story and the writing and acting is good enough to make a fairly absurd plot entertaining.

Under the Weather is not as humorous as other episodes. Steed and Tara race to save England from sinister forces that have seized control of the weather. This one has more mystery to it than many other episodes, while still having a far out concept that fits the Avengers of the later seasons.

Spycraft feels more like the Lost Episodes from Season 1 of the Avengers rather than comic strip adaptations as Steed and King are charged with guarding an important leader of an emerging African democracy. While working undercover, they stumble into agents of his own country’s government that are also working undercover.

The story has slow moments but does get going once they team up . Overall, this is a solid story with some of the most fun moments in the set.

…Now You Don’t is a standard “evil hypnotist” story where Tara is hypnotized to kill Mother. Decently executed, and well acted, but the villain is undone because he doesn’t understand the basic rules of hypnotism. Also Dorney’s decision to adapt this story and to then adapt the one that came before it featuring Emma Peel in the next box set is a little baffling and feels like just making things complicated for the sake of it.

Overall, this was a decent box set, without any bad stories, but it’s not as enjoyable as the Emma Peel box sets or the “Lost Episodes” productions Big Finish did. This felt like it took a middle ground approach between the strait-laced drama of the Lost Episodes and the wacky situations of the comic strip adaptations and wasn’t as satisfying as either.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchase