Monday, November 24, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Films: The Island of Doomed Men Starring Peter Lorre

This 1940 above-average crime melodrama stars Peter Lorre as the villain, a role he usually relished and performed with panache. However, this film just didn't give him a lot to work with, I'm afraid. The plot is a straightforward if not familiar one. Robert Wilcox stars as Agent 64, a secret operative of Uncle Sam. Wilcox intentionally goes to prison and is later paroled into the care of Lorre who is running a diamond mining operation on a remote, forgotten island found within the United States's jurisdiction (somewhere in Key West?). The trouble is Lorre is actually a slave driver, and nobody can get off his private prison of an island, including his young, attractive wife played by Rochelle Hudson. I have to give Lorre credit for trying to infuse his bad guy character with evil madness. His shooting his wife's pet monkey convinced me he was off his rocker. Perhaps the 68-minute run time could have been extended to work in a couple of more plot twists. Or it may have been the subject of a good horror novel. Interestingly, both Wilcox and Hudson later died prematurely of heart attacks. gives The Island of Doomed Men a 5.9 rating, and that might be a bit low. At least watching Peter Lorre is always a treat.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"Doc Martin" And Me

Last night, I stayed up late to watch another episode of "Doc Martin," a British medical comedy television show starring Martin Clunes as the title character. I've been watching the series out of order, and it's been a challenge to keep up on who is doing what. But that's not what makes the show great fun for me. Doc Martin is a clueless middle-aged curmudgeon who tries to make sense of his world, but it still baffles him. His bedside manner is terrible, but his gruff bluntness always gets the patients's diagnosis right. I get a laugh out of watching him, but I also empathize with his struggles. Martin Clunes makes the doc an interesting fellow. Plus, the setting of the sleepy Cornish village of Portwenn is the type of gorgeous spot where I'd like to spend my vacation. One of these days, I'll sit down and watch the episodes in the right order. Until then, I'll fit them into my writing schedule as time allows. It's a great TV series.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Films: Harry In Your Pocket Starring James Coburn (1973)

I was in the mood to see a James Coburn flick, so I settled on this 1973 crime drama where Coburn/Harry plays a master pickpocket who runs a team and turns a pretty nifty profit. Michael Sarrazin and the foxy Trish Van Devere (actor George C. Scott's wife) play a young couple Harry decides to train in the illegal craft. Walter Pidgeon is a geezer who plays Harry's oily partner, but who also has a bad coke habit. I got to see all sorts of tricks and stunts where the pickpockets make their scores on the different unsuspecting marks. In 1973, there was still enough paper money carried out there to make stealing it a lucrative enterprise. Harry mostly keeps the young couple around so he can get Trish into bed with him. Meantime, Sarrazin believes he is accomplished enough to strike out on his own without Harry's constant oversight. It's debatable if Sarrazin is as good as he thinks he is, but Harry manages to keep him in line for a while anyway. I liked the jargon and techniques, but I had to wonder about the ending. Anyway, a solid film for crime fans.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Shiver Me Timbers!

We got our first blast of Arctic cold temperatures this week. Winter is here. Resistance is futile. Ironically, or perhaps not, I like to work on my novels set in the summertime during the winter. The time slot between the American holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year's Day is a favorite of mine to be writing. Between dodging the Fed Ex delivery vans whipping around the streets in my neighborhood, I'll typically be working on the draft of a new book. This year I have a couple of ideas, and I'll have to decide soon which one I want to tackle. No doubt it will be a cozy mystery title, the next one in one of my two cozy series. I have the drafts of a few crime noirs waiting for me to get back and polish them for publication. I can go between working on my hard-boiled and soft-boiled fiction without too much trouble. My books newsletter will be hitting the streets next month. If you'd like to receive a copy of it, send me your email, and I'll add you to the mailing list. Meantime, throw another log on the fire and stay warm.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Films: Shield For Murder Starring Edmond O'Brien

I was in the mood for watching a gritty film noir, and this 1954 dirty cop drama was spot-on. Based on crime novelist's William P. McGivern's novel of the same name, the fine movie stars O'Brien (who also directed) in a tight, restrained performance as a cynical, crooked police detective. Making a greedy and ill-advised move, he rips off a bag man's 25 grand stake intended to go to the local crime boss, and the trouble begins as O'Brien tries to cover up his crimes, his including murders. There's a surprising amount of rough stuff by 1954's standards. Carolyn Jones (later "Morticia" on The Addams Family) plays a vampy bar floozy who keeps the sweaty O'Brien company for a while. Look for Richard Deacon (later "Mel" on The Dick Van Dyke Show) in a minor and uncredited role. Claude Atkins playing a gun-toting thug has a rousing climatic scene with O'Brien. rates Shield for Murder with 6.8, but I enjoyed it more than their viewers evidently did. Now I'll have to read the William P. McGivern book! He must have liked the crooked cops theme because I read his Rogue Cop similar to this plot.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Peyton Place? Where Is That?

While I was growing up in a small town, I heard it sometimes compared to "Peyton Place," often leaving me to wonder where exactly it was located, and what it represented. I'm not sure how or where along the line I learned about Peyton Place, and it wasn't in complimentary terms either about the small town or its residents. Wikipedia tells me the bestselling novel Peyton Place was published in 1956, making the event before my time, at least my time for remembering it. I've never read the novel, and I probably never will.

Which brings me to the present time as I was revising one of my novels-in-progress. My editor's eye caught my use of "Peyton Place," and I wondered if my readers would know what I was referring to. Given the context, they probably could reasonably guess at the meaning I was trying to convey. Of course, there is always Google easily accessed on web-enabled smart phones to look up Peyton Place. I'm the curious sort who is always looking stuff up online. Anyway, I decided to leave the Peyton Place reference in my novel because my readers group is in the age 50+ category, and they would probably know what it means.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Films: SHOCK CORRIDOR Directed by Sam Fuller

This harrowing 1963 movie directed and written by Sam Fuller is about an ambitious journalist (Peter Breck) who wants in the worst way to land a Pulitzer Prize and catapult his career into the big leagues. He convinces his reluctant stripper girlfriend (Constance Towers) to pose as his sister and uses their trumped up incestuous relationship as his ticket to get committed to the mental hospital where a lurid murder has occurred. Of course, once he's locked inside the booby hatch, he becomes institutionalized, and things go downhill from that point. I can see how raw the material was in 1963, and even today it's unsettling to watch. Breck does a good job playing the journalist. One of the more unforgettable inmates is James Best, later to become the bumbling Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane in the Dukes of Hazzard ("You dipstick!"). But this bleak movie is anything but humorous. Since it was made so late in 1963, I suppose it qualifies as neo-noir. At any rate, rates it 7.6/10.0 which is a high mark, and I'd agree with it.