Friday, January 15, 2021
Dragnet: "Big Crazy" 8/30/51
A woman disappears and her husband hints that he murdered her while bragging about having been an abusive husband. But his neighbors all agree that he had been a hen-pecked milquetoast. So the detectives have a mentally unstable suspect for a murder that might not have been committed.
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Thursday, January 14, 2021
Read/Watch 'em In Order #121
The sixth movie in the Whistler series--movies based on the radio show of the same name--is another quietly suspenseful story. The Secret of the Whistler (1946) is similar in a way to the previous year's Voice of the Whistler, in that a large chunk of its 65-minute run-time is devoted to setting up the crimes that will eventually be committed.
But that short run-time and another strong performance by Richard Dix keeps the story from dragging. This time, Dix plays an artist named Ralph Harrison, who has very little talent but is able to live off his wealthy wife's fortune.
His wife, by the way, is physically frail and has suffered several heart attacks. So when Ralph falls for a pretty model named Kay Morrell (Leslie Brooks), he figures it won't be long before they are free to get married. In retrospect, though, he should have made sure his wife wasn't nearby listening when he explains this to Kay.
Ralph soon learns he's going to be kicked to the curb and cut out of his wife's will. In response to this, he drops poison into his wife's medicine.
I mentioned Dix's strong performance as Ralph. Dix is playing a guy who is definitely a self-centered jerk, but murder is something that is normally far above his pay grade. Dix portrayal of him as nervous and sometimes near outright panic--both while committing the murder and later worrying about being found out--gives backbone to a good script.
Ralph marries Kay, but news about another husband who was arrested for killing his wife worries him constantly. The fact that he can't find his first wife's diary and doesn't know if there is anything in it that can hurt him is yet another worry. And, after a while, Kay begins to wonder about Ralph as well. Has she indeed married a murderer?
This all leads up to a violent and satisfyingly ironic climax.
Another good, solid entry in a well-written and well-produced series.
Wednesday, January 13, 2021
cover art by Lew Sayre Schwartz;
(Batman and Robin figures drawn by Bob Kane)
One can argue that during the Silver Age, Batman comics walked a little too far out of the shadows, with the silly stories featuring a Dark Knight who was no longer dark. (Mirroring the 1990s, when Batman walked way too far into the shadows.) But therre is no denying that many Silver Age Batman stories were lots of fun.
Batman #59 (June-July 1950) includes a story that gives us a perfect example of Silver Age silly fun. "Batman in the Future," written by Bill Finger and drawn by Lew Sayre Schwartz (with Bob Kane drawing the Dynamtic Duo), is a joy to read.
The story begins with Batman and Robin catching the Joker and tossing him in the slammer. When the Joker mentions that he commits crime in part because his ancestors were famous clowns, Batman decides the thing to do is to travel 100 years into the past to study these influences. He and Robin go to Professor Nichols, who has a method of sending people into the past via hypnotism.
But Nichols inadvertantly sends them 100 years into the future, where they see a future version of the Joker chasing someone. They stop the arch-criminal--only to discover this Joker is not an arch-criminal,
He is a decendent of Joker, but he fights on the sides of good as Police Chief Rokej.
So at first it appears that Batman and Robin are going to be tossed in the Future Slammer. But Batman has Rokej compare his skin pores to a 20th Century picture of himself to prove he's the real thing. Before you can say "Holy Plot Device!" the two time travelers are recruited to help with a case.
Someone is sabotaging a particular brand of new space ship, leaving them easy prey for space pirates. It's suspected to be an inside job, so Bruce and Dick get jobs in the factory that makes the ships.
Soon, they've saved the owner of the factory and get permission to build a Space Batplane. That allows them to take their adventure into space, where they foil and capture the pirates.
But a Bat Signal projected on the moon brings them back to Earth, where they learn the space ship factory has been badly damaged by sabotage. One wonders how large a budget Chief Rokej has available to him if he can whip up a Bat Signal that projects an image half-a-million miles away.
Anyway, the only way the space ship company can survive is to win a major upcoming space race and the only way for this to happen is for the Space Batplane to compete. But things go awry early in the race when the Batplane's fuel supply is sabotaged and it drifts into a Sargosso Sea of lost spaceships.
Monday, January 11, 2021
Saturday, January 9, 2021
Friday, January 8, 2021
Thursday, January 7, 2021
When Roger Moore died a few years ago, I felt obligated to watch one of his Bond movies. That was The Spy Who Loved Me, which epitomizes that actor's films. It was absurdly over the top, but also enormous fun. It also gave us Jaws, arguably the best henchman ever (however badly he was handled in the awful Moonraker).
So when Sean Connery died recently, I wanted to watch one of his Bond films. (I also want to watch Connery's best ever films--The Wind and the Lion and The Man Who Would be King.) But which one? Goldfinger and Thunderball are my favorites and I will undoubtably watch them soon, but I decided to watch Dr. No (1962), Connery's first Bond movie.
I know most of my readers are likely to be members of the global Nerd Herd, so a lot of you probably already know this: Connery actually isn't the first person to play James Bond. In 1954, the TV series Climax! produced a live adaptation of Casino Royale, the first Bond novel. Peter Lorre was the villain and and Barry Nelson played the American spy Jimmy Bond.
But Dr. No took Bond back to his appropriate British roots. The movie also gives us the iconic Bond theme music, though we don't yet get to hear a title song unique to this particular movie. That's a tradition that would begin two movies later with Goldfinger.
There's also no spy gadgets--we wait another movie (From Russia, With Love) to meet gadgeteer Q and watch him explain how a booby-trapped briefcase works. In Dr. No, we meet the an armorer who (at M's orders) takes away Bond's .25 caliber Berreta and gives him the Walther PPK the character would carry for decades.
By the time we get to the end of Connery's run, the films were mixing self-aware parody into the plots, but with Dr. No, the elements that create a Bond film were just being introduced. There was nothing to parody yet and, though there is humor injected via Bond's dry sense of humor, the movie takes itself seriously. Dr. No is a well-constructed spy thriller with a strong hero, one of the most memorable Bond girls and a great villain.
It does take us awhile to actually meet the villain, though. Bond spends most of his time in Jamaica, investigating the disappearance of another British agent. It's relatively late in the film that the case takes him to Crab Key, a remote island on which the Chinese/German mad scientist Dr. No has set up shop. In addition to a small army of guards, he also has an atomic-powered Macguffin that he's using to electronically knock down American rockets.
Joseph Wiseman gives a great performance as Dr. No, exuding just the right mixture of brilliance and insanity. I wish he had been given more of a presence in the movie, but it can also be argued that his late introduction gives the character more dramatic punch.
Connery, in the meantime, humanizes Bond. He is capable and professional. He can also be ruthless, as we see when he rather casually assassinates one of No's agents. But he can also be hurt (he's pretty disheveled after being brutally beaten by Dr. No's men). And he can be frightened. When he awakes at night to find a tarantula has been put in his bed, he's very near panic.
The movie has its flaws. Bad rear projection during a car chase spoils the tension of that scene. Dr. No's lair doesn't look anywhere near as impressive as lairs we'll see in later movies and his atomic reactor is absurdly easy to sabotage.
In the book, Bond kills Dr. No in a very original way, while the movie ends with a so-so and far-too-short fight between the two before the doctor bites it. Also, Bond's escape through a booby-trapped air vent was a lot more epic in the book. (I include a clip of that scene here, though, because it does show us a disheveled and bloodied Bond we'll rarely see again.)