Sunday, May 31, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Films: Born to Kill (1947)

This gritty, well-acted film noir from 1947 is directed by the reliable Robert Wise. The main stars are Lawrence Tierney, Claire Trevor, and Walter Slezak. But the weasel-faced great character actor Elisha Cook, Jr. steals the show for me. Tierney had a long acting career including a fine role in a 1990 Seinfeld episode. In this film he does a lot of shifty eye mannerisms and speaks in clipped dialogue. The never colder Claire Trevor is the femme fatale of femme fatales. Walter Slezak plays the bible-quoting, seedy private eye. Esther Howard plays the perfect floozy who is determined to solve the murder. The film, considered by many as a classic, is a lot of fun to watch.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Tuesday's Forgotten Movies: Ministry of Fear Directed by Fritz Lang

I've been a big fan of Director Fritz Lang's movies for some time, and I never pass up the chance to watch a new one (for me, at least) like Ministry of Fear based on Graham Greene's novel. Throw in the talented Dan Duryea playing a bit role, and I've simply got to watch it. I wasn't disappointed in this atmospheric espionage drama involving Nazi spies, desired objects smuggled in baked cakes, and a most odd first editions bookstore. Ray Milland plays a likeable protagonist, and the lovely Marjorie Reynolds is his romantic interest. Lang does some artful things with the camerawork, and the pace moves right along. I haven't read Greene's book, so I don't know how faithfully the movies follows his work of fiction. While Ministry of Fear doesn't rate as high as the classic The Third Man (Greene wrote the screenplay, then the novel) does, I enjoyed watching it just the same. You might, too.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Tuesday's Forgotten Movies: The Prowler Starring Van Heflin

I'm a bit late with this post, but better late than never, as they say. This gritty, well-acted 1951 film noir stars Van Heflin and Evelyn Keyes playing in meaty roles as the romantic interests. Both competent actors are very fine. I've seen them in other movies but always as support players and never as the dramatic leads. When Susan Gilvray (Keyes) reports a prowler she thinks she has spotted outside her house, the police officer Webb Garwood (Heflin) arrives and investigates. Susan is a lonely, rich housewife, and Webb is a greedy ex-jock. When they meet, the love/lust bug bites them. Of course, Susan is married, and Webb strings Susan along until he can figure out how to do away with hubbie and get away with it. Everything goes smoothly until new complications develop, and the lovers have flee to a deserted old mining town where things really come unraveled. Their roughing it while staying at the primitive mining camp is somewhat puzzling, since their clothes never get dirty, and they eat rather well. John Maxwell also stars, and the uncredited Dalton Trumbo wrote the snappy script. He also is the voice behind Susan's hubbie who has a popular radio show. gives The Prowler an impressive 7.3/10 rating, and I'd concur with it.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Introducing My New Cozy Mystery Title: THE AMBER TOP HAT

They're back...Isabel & Alma are sleuthing again. Quiet Anchorage, Virginia, is just like any other small town but with one notable difference: the dead bodies keep turning up. Fortunately, Sheriff Roscoe Fox, who never met a sugar-glazed doughnut served with coffee he didn’t like, can depend on the sisters sleuths Isabel and Alma Trumbo. This time tragedy strikes Blue Trent, one of the codgers affectionately known as the Three Musketeers who warm the wooden bench just outside the flower shop on Main Street. One summer morning, Blue’s nephew Ralph is discovered murdered while seated inside his taxicab, leaving Blue devastated. Alarmed about their old friend’s emotional state, Isabel and Alma put away their Scrabble board, grab their pocketbooks, and get busy doing what they do best: snooping. The clues have never been any scarcer, and they have their detective work cut out for them. Their spunky young assistant Sammi Jo also pitches in. The amber “top hat” sign mounted to the roof of Ralph’s taxicab just might hold the key to unlock the mystery of his murder. The fourth series title, The Amber Top Hat is a clean read and a traditional whodunit set in a charming small town. Join Isabel and Alma when they set off on solving their latest mystery as amateur sleuths that is as fun and challenging for them as it is for the reader.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Cozy Place Where The Sun Always Shines

One of the things I've discovered is casting my story on a sunny, clear day sets a cheerier mood and creates more likeable characters than a story that happens on a rainy, dreary day. It only makes sense. So, I decided to just use bright sunny days in my two cozy mystery series. Furthermore, I also decided I'd set my cozies in the good, old summertime of the year. This idea is especially appealing when I sit and write the cozy title during the cold wintertime. My latest cozy title is The Corpse Wore Gingham, the first book in my Piper & Bill Robins Cozy Mystery Series. The sun is always shining down on Piper and Bill.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Films: The Killers Starring Burt Lancaster

This 1946 film noir classic is hardly a forgotten movie, but I saw it for the first time, and liked it fine. It stars Burt Lancaster in his movie debut, the drop-dead gorgeous Ava Gardner, and Edmond O'Brien. William Conrad plays one of the killers sent to blow away Ole "The Swede" Andreson (Lancaster). I've seen Conrad in quite a few films noir, and he's always reliable. From what I remember of the famous Ernest Hemingway short story, the movie provides the back story of what may have transpired before the execution takes place. Life insurance investigator Jim Reardon (O'Brien) draws the assignment to investigate the murder since Ole took out a $2,500 insurance policy. Reardon gets an able assist from an old neighborhood pal of Ole's, Police Lieutenant Sam Lubinsky played by the droll Sam Levene. Ava Gardner plays the femme fatale Kitty Collins who Ole has the misfortune to fall deeply in love with enough to take a three-year prison rap for her. Lancaster played his role rather understated while O'Brien did a solid job playing the persistent, tough-nosed insurance detective. The narration is told through an interesting series of flashbacks, and the plot is complicated by crosses and double crosses. For the most part, I could follow the bouncing ball of the plot. Where did the stolen dough end up is the question I kept asking myself. By the final scene, I found out the answer. The Killers is a quite enjoyable movie and worth seeing for a second time.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Films: The Lineup Starring Eli Wallach

This rather late entry in the film noir genre was directed by the stalwart Don Siegel in 1958 and stars a manic Eli Wallach and a suave Robert Keith as partners and hit men. I've enjoyed Don Siegel's other crime pictures, and this one didn't leave me disappointed either. The cops-and-robbers chase scene finale on the unfinished Embarcadero Freeway is alone worth the time spent watching The Lineup. Wallach and the older Keith (playing Wallach's mentor) show up in San Francisco where the film is shot on location as a pair of psychopathic hit men. Their task is to make a pick up of heroin smuggled into the country by unsuspecting tourists who just disembarked from a cruise ship back from the Orient. What makes the hit men so fascinating (remember this picture is from 1958) is how their casual violence is portrayed. For some screwy and creepy reason, Keith always wants to know the dying words of their victims. One thing I noticed was the cops having to use the police call boxes on the streets to reach the station house except for the motorcycle cop who uses the radio on his bike. Also, I saw a dirigible (or is it a UFO?) floating above the Golden Gate Bridge in one of the scenes. The thing hovering in the sky really bugged me. didn't the film editors catch it before releasing the movie to the public? Stirling Silliphant (he once won an Edgar Award from MWA) wrote the sturdy script. Anyway, I enjoyed watching The Lineup, and you might, too.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Welcome To The Small Town I Call Quiet Anchorage

As far as I know, no small town exists that is named Quiet Anchorage. I googled it, too. There is just plain Anchorage up in Alaska, but I can find no Quiet Anchorage. But it's my literary small town. I don't remember how I derived the small town's name. Maybe I spotted the nautical term—quiet anchorage—used somewhere in my reading and adopted it. I know the small town’s creation came from my recollections of having grown up in a similar rural town found in northern Virginia.

Main Street is where much of the action takes place in the Quiet Anchorage of my Isabel & Alma Trumbo Cozy Mystery Series. The sun is always shining there. Really. It never rains. A wooden bench is situated in front of the flower shop where the three well-liked codgers--Willie, Blue, and Ossie--like to sit and watch everything going on. Nothing much gets by them.

A softball pitch down the street is the town pharmacy where prescription medicine is sold at the pharmacy counter and banana splits at the soda fountain counter. Naturally, a railroad track runs through one end of Quiet Anchorage. Following the scheduled trains's whistles plays a large part in the townies's (i.e., the residents) daily routines.

There is a men's barbershop and a lady's hair salon, though you won't find many scenes taking place there. I think the settings have been overused. Instead, the laundromat is where the always busy but friendly pair of lady gossips--Lotus and Rosie--hang out, catching up on the latest news. If you need groceries, the IGA should suit your shopping needs. The proprietor--Jumpy--is a burly man with a quick smile and a sales pitch for his lamb chop specials.

Several blocks over from Main Street is Church Street with a brick rambler and a powder blue sedan parked in the driveway. My sister sleuths Isabel and Alma Trumbo reside there with their lovable beagle named Petey Samson (yes, he uses two names as I tell why in my book). Isabel is older and wiser while Alma sometimes goes off half-cocked.

They spend a lot of their time doing stuff on Main Street. You can read about their start as a pair of sleuths in the first book Quiet Anchorage, which is named after their small town. Now you know all about Quiet Anchorage. I hope you'll stop by for a read.