Category: Golden Age Article

Book Review: Deadly Image

Casey notices an old friend who manages his small investment getting uncharacteristically roaring drunk at a bar. The man’s wife asks for a ride home and Casey is asked to hold some film for another photographer, film that is going to be more than a bit dangerous for him. Before he knows it, the veteran crime photographer has a web of murder and blackmail to untangle.

This novel, featuring the character of Jack Casey, was published in 1962, well after the character’s heyday in the 1930s and 1940s. Yet the writing of George Harmon Coxe, who’d written another photographer mystery series in the intervening years, remained exactly the same. In fact if you were to level a criticism of the book, it would be that it doesn’t feel like a book from 1962, with very few clues to its more recent vintage. The big one is that Casey has a small investment portfolio. It’s hard to imagine a hard boiled character in the 1930s investing in the stock market given how skittish people were after the Crash.

Beyond that, it’s a very well-written mystery with a lot of elements to it, more than you would expect for a book of its relatively short length. However, it’s easy to follow and the clues are all there if you’re paying attention. Casey remains the same honorable and decent guy he always was, and the story holds your attention throughout.

After reading three of his books, my opinion of Coxe as a writer is that he’s not one of those brilliant must-read writers of the classics of detective fiction like Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett. However, Coxe was talented and wrote diverting smart mysteries that are worth a look. I put him in the same category as Britt Halliday and plan on visiting some of his other works.

This was a fun book and it won’t be the last time, I read one of Coxe’s novels.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

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Blu-ray Review: 4-film Collection


This Warner Archives collection features four Noir films of different sorts.

One note on the quality of the set. I ordered this set twice. The first time I watched the first film and it was fine. I waited a few weeks to watch the second and all the remaining disks were bad and I was past the return window. Then the next time, the second and third films played fine but the fourth was unwatchable and I was once again past the return window. Given that this happened with two sets in row, it’d be critical to check all disks before watching. Now onto the films.

Murder My Sweet (1944): This was an adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel Farewell, My Lovely. It stars Dick Powell as Philip Marlowe. The film allowed Powell to transition from the light musical comedy roles that defined his early career into the more hardboiled and serious roles that he played for the rest of his career. Powell turns in a superb performance that captures the character perfectly. I don’t think there’s been a better on-screen Marlowe.

Powell’s supporting cast is superb as well. Claire Trevor and Anne Shirley are great as the female leads. Mike Mazurki is superb as the towering thug Moose Malloy. Malloy is terrifying but not entirely unsympathetic. This was the result of some smart changes from the book.

Beyond, the movie has some good camera work and solid incidental music. It’s easily my favorite film in the set.

Out of the Past  (1947) stars Robert Mitchum as private investigator Jeff Balley, who has gone into hiding and running a gas station after crossing a sinister client (Kirk Douglas).

Out of the Past has a lot of twists and turns. At first, I thought it might be a story centered on a flashback like The Killers, but there are plenty of past and present activities that really build suspense. Kirk Douglas hadn’t yet become a superstar, but he’s marvelous, providing equal measures of charm and menace. Jane Greer is great as the femme fatale who really drives the action in the film.

Gun Crazy (1950) is about a troubled young man (John Doll) who is a great marksman but afraid of killing anyone. He marries a woman (Peggy Cummins) who’s already killed, someone. while both are working at the circus. Together they spend his life savings on their honeymoon and then she leads him into a life of crime.

The acting was good and there were some really superb moments from a technical standpoint. I had trouble getting into this one because I thought the premise and some of the psychology were a little too contrived. Still, I can see why it’s viewed as a Noir classic. It just wasn’t for me.

The Set-Up (1949) is a boxing film, but different than many others. The focus of most famous boxing films is huge prize fights that go fifteen rounds with the championship of the world at stake. The Set-Up is about pro boxing in a more seedy part of town. The central story is about a three-round fight fought by an over-the-hill boxer (Robert Ryan) with a losing record. His cornermen agree their guy will take a dive for a local gambler without even cutting their boxer in for a cut of the $50 bribe or telling him he’s supposed to take a dive because they’re so sure he’ll lose, but what if he doesn’t?

There’s so much to like about this film. This is one of those films that really works to make its location feel like a real place. There are so many realistic touches to make this feel like a real arena and give the viewer the impression they’re seeing what boxing is like for all the pro-fighters who never quite make the top tier.  The acting is realistic and adds to the atmosphere the film’s trying to establish.

While I think all of these films look good., this one may be my favorite from an artistic perspective. One thing the movie really went for was capturing how bloodthirsty fans could be at a match and they really excelled themselves in that.

It’s also the shortest film in the collection (at only 72 minutes) which leads to a very pacey film that doesn’t waste any time in crafting a compelling narrative. While it wasn’t my favorite film in the collection, this may be the best one.

Overall, if you love noir movies from this era, this is well worth getting. Do watch out for discs that don’t work, but other than that this is a collection of superb exemplars of American noir films.

Rating:4 out of 5

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Audio Drama Review: George Edwards’ Les Miserables, Volumes 1 and 2

Radio Archives often comes up with unique offerings that separate it from other old time radio sellers. Such is the case with its two-volume release of the Australian serial adaptation of Les Miserables by Australian actor/producer George Edwards.

Transcription disks of the fifty-two episode 1949 serial are not in general circulation, so this has been a treat that has not been heard in decades.

The sound quality is immaculate and I expect nothing less from this company. Radio Archives has consistently shown a talent for bringing these golden age treasures to listeners in sound quality that exceeds what most original listeners heard over the radio.

The classic story follows Jean Valjean, an ex-convict who spent nineteen years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread and for subsequent escape attempts. On his release, Valjean is forced to carry a yellow passport that causes would-be employers and landlords to repel him, but his life is changed forever by the kindness of a bishop.

Les Miserables is a massive work with a giant cast of characters and no adaptation can capture everything. Still, the story seemed to get most of the essential and best-known elements of the novel and makes it fit into the serial format. Episodes five and six are missing from the collection, but I didn’t really feel I missed much by their absence. Episode four ends just after Valjean’s encounter with the Bishop and episode seven starts just after Valjean has become mayor of a small town under an assumed name. Even basic familiarity with the story kind of allows you to fill in the blanks and Valjean himself summarizes important details.

The story does take a few twists noticeably different from the book, and ends in a very different way, which may offend literary purists, but is nevertheless is still a reasonably satisfying ending to the story.

There were a couple moments I questioned in this. Given the limited time for the adaptation, it was odd that the story includes both Valjean as a prisoner showing a feat of strength and Inspect Javert having a flashback to that exact same scene a few episodes later. A little bit of exposition or a shorter flashback would have provided economy and more time to expand the story. Or they could not have shown the scene at all the first time, since we were going to have Javert remember.

The sound design and music on the production is, for the most part, standard and competent in a way that you’d expect from a production of the era. It uses similar themes and musical bridges over and over again. But there are also some high points in the series that really are brought home by some really outstanding musical arrangements.

The unnamed cast is solid. There’s not a weak performance in the entire company. The actor who plays Inspector Javert delivers the best performance. He brings out Javert’s manic madness in a way that’s captivating. He makes every ridiculous, mad step Javert takes in the story completely believable. In another context, the performance might be over the top, but this actor nailed the performance and captured the character of Javert in a way that really elevates the entire production.

Radio Archives released the set in two volumes. The first collected episodes one through four and seven through twenty-seven. The second volume collected volumes twenty-eight through fifty-two.

If you’ve listened to and enjoyed other George Edwards serials such as The Adventures of Marco Polo or if you’d just like to hear a fresh serialized take on Les Miserables, this is a collection worth listening to.

Radio: 4.5 out of 5

Volumes 1 and 2 of Les Miserables are available to purchase as downloads on the Radio Archives websites.

Book Review: The Glass Key

The Glass Key was a 1931 novel by Dashiell Hammett (best known for The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man.) The story follows Ned Beaumont, a gambler and the chief lieutenant and best friend of town’s corrupt political boss Paul Madvig. Madvig has been calling the shots in his town for many years but now is facing challenges. Madvig plans to endorse a Senator who had been previously been Independent of him but figures he can only survive with Madvig’s support. However, everything gets complicated when the Senator’s son is murdered and signs point to Madvig as the culprit.

The mystery in the story is one of the better plots from Hammett. The clues are well-placed. A fair play purist can go through the book and find everything laid out but not in a way that’s very obvious. It’s well-plot and well-paced, making for a solid reading experience.

As a protagonist, Beaumont is actually very interesting. He’s neither a policeman or a professional detective, but he thinks on his feet, is bright, and generally makes smart moves throughout the book. He is, at best, a morally gray character who works in the furtherance of a corrupt political machine. Yet, he has a couple of virtues that do make him appealing. Chief among them is his personal loyalty.

We”re told that Madvig had help Beaumont out of the gutter when he’d come to town and Beaumont has never forgotten that. He tries to help Madvig often in spite of the political bosses instinct.The Glass Key portrays Madvig as a political boss in decline. It’s not that Madvig doesn’t possess political capital, but rather that it’s dwindling. Beaumont spots mistakes and pitfalls of Madvig’s attempts to maintain his power and tries to warn him. When Madvig refuses to pay attention, Beaumont decides to clear out of town. However, he refuses to provide information to a rival political boss that could be used against Madvig even though it leads to Beaumont being beaten and hospitalized.

Beaumont decides to staon on to clear up the murder of the Senator’s son but finds Madvig as an impediment to resolving the issue. Is Madvig really behind the killing? The book really toys with us right until the last few chapters and a surprising reveal.

The book’s only weakness is that the characters are almost completely unremarkable beyond Beaumont and Madvig. There’s no Casper Gutman or Joel Cairo in this book. Just a pretty run-of-the-mill bunch of underworld characters, society people, and non-descript political figures.

Beyond that weakness, this book is a gem of a mystery and well worth reading for fans of hard boiled fiction.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

 

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Audio Drama Review: The Hound of the Baskervilles

The Hound of the Baskervilles is like the Christmas Carol. You don’t watch or listen to an adaptation to find out what happens but to see how well the creators have captured the story. Big Finish does a superb job of capturing the spirit of the Hound of the Baskervilles in a very traditionalist adaptation. Amazingly, the entire program was recorded and rehearsed in a single day.

The cast is wonderful. Richard Earl has got the part of Watson nailed and that’s vital since most of the story centers around him. John Banks and Charlie Norfolk did Yeoman’s work, playing five parts and three parts respectively. They did it so seamlessly, I didn’t know they didn’t have separate actors for each part until I listened to the Extra’s CD. Samuel Clemens is very compelling as Sir Henry Baskerville. And of course, Nicholas Briggs is great as Holmes.Of course, what makes the piece so atmospheric over audio is the sound design and music, coupled with Earl’s narration and they did an incredibly good job in post-production. It captured the spookiness and suspense of the story. Overall, Big Finish does Doyle’s most legendary story justice in a superb adaptation.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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A version of this review was posted in 2015

Book Review: The Hound of the Baskervilles

A version of this review was posted in 2012.

The Hound of the Baskervilles marked Sherlock Holmes return to literature after he was killed off by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in “The Final Problem” eight years previously. Doyle had not yet brought Holmes back to life. This story was set prior to “The Final Problem.”

Sir Henry Baskerville is the heir of his late uncle Charle’s Estate. However, his uncle passed away under mysterious circumstances and one of Sir Charles’ friends, Dr. James Mortimer comes to Holmes to ask for assistance. Local legend is that Sir Charles was killed by a ghostly hound that haunts the moor to avenge the sins of one of the Baskerville ancestors. Mortimer confides to Holmes that he found a hound’s footprint at the scene of the death.

Intrigued, Holmes takes the case, and the case gets more interesting when Holmes spots a man following them in London and someone steals one of Sir Henry’s boots. Surprisingly, Holmes doesn’t go to Dartmoor, but sends Watson to investigate and report his finding to Holmes.

Watson finds strange goings-on: suspicious-acting servants, a dangerous convict on the moor, and of course, the legend of the hound.

This remains the most oft retold Holmes story and a pioneering mystery story that has been ripped off repeatedly over the years. While it’s a Holmes story, with Holmes absent from the main action for about half the book, it gives Watson a chance to shine and show his intelligence and resourcefulness.

Despite its popularity, I didn’t enjoy this as much as The Sign of Four. However, this is a matter of taste. The Sign of Four was an action-packed thriller while Hound of the Baskervilles relied much more on a build-up of suspense. This one builds slowly and in a less skillful hand, it would have been easy for The Hound of the Baskervilles to become boring, but Doyle sensibly used Watson’s reports to Holmes and Watson’s diary entries to avoid bogging the story.

Overall, the Hound of the Baskervilles deserves its reputation as a true detective fiction classic.

Rating: 4.75 out of 5.00

DVD Review: The Saint Double Feature

Editor’s Note: A version of this review was posted in 2014.

In 1941, George Sanders left the role Simon Templar in the Saint series and was replaced by Hugh Sinclair.

The contrasts between Sanders and Sinclair is pretty striking.  For Sanders, the Saint was an early highlight of a career that would see him earn parts in A pictures and even earn an Academy Award. For Sinclair, this was as good as it got.  Sinclair just didn’t have the presence that Sanders did, and so both of his Saint films were below Sanders best stories. Though both films were better than Sanders subpar The Saint’s Double Trouble.  

The Saint’s Vacation (1941)  is the better of the two films and truthfully above average when compared to most 1940s B detective features. The Saint is on vacation and gets involved in international intrigue over a music box that serves as the stories Macguffin. It’s not an original idea, but the execution of it in this film is pretty enjoyable. The end is somewhat frustrating and drawn out particularly since we never get to find out what exactly the hubbub was about other than that it was a Macguffin.

The Saint Meets the Tiger  (1943) is based on the first Saint Novel and finds the Saint on the trail of international gold smugglers. Most of the movie is a little boring and hard to follow, so it’s a bit below average. However, at the end of the movie, we get a madcap scene where the Saint’s sidekick and girlfriend are knocking people out aboard a ship really livens things up.

So in short,  the two films are almost mere images of each other. The Saint’s Vacation is an above average film that’s pretty interesting in the beginning but is bogged down by a slow ending. The Saint Meets the Tiger is a below average film that’s propped up by an ending that’s a lot more fun than the film itself.

Overall, I’d give the DVD 3.0 out of 5.0 and recommend it only for Saint completists at its retail price.

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