Film Review – THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING (1975)

THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING (1975, UK/USA) ****
Action, Adventure
dist. Allied Artists Pictures; pr co. Columbia Pictures Corporation / Devon / Persky-Bright; d. John Huston; w. John Huston, Gladys Hill (based on the story by Rudyard Kipling); pr. John Foreman; ph. Oswald Morris (Technicolor. 35mm. Panavision (anamorphic). 2.39:1); m. Maurice Jarre; ed. Russell Lloyd; pd. Alexandre Trauner; ad. Tony Inglis; rel. 27 November 1975 (Iran), 16 December 1975 (USA), 18 December 1975 (UK); BBFC cert: PG; r/t. 129m.
cast: Sean Connery (Daniel Dravot), Michael Caine (Peachy Carnehan), Christopher Plummer (Rudyard Kipling), Saeed Jaffrey (Billy Fish), Larbi Doghmi (Ootah), Jack May (District Commissioner), Karroom Ben Bouih (Kafu Selim), Mohammad Shamsi (Babu), Albert Moses (Ghulam), Paul Antrim (Mulvaney), Graham Acres (Officer), The Blue Dancers of Goulamine (Dancers), Shakira Caine (Roxanne).
Two British soldiers in India decide to resign from the Army and set themselves up as deities in Kafiristan–a land where no white man has set foot since Alexander. This critically acclaimed morality piece was a commercial failure at the box office despite the star power and strong chemistry between Connery and Caine. It is only in the passing years that its stature has grown. The two leads are excellent, as is Plummer as the author, then a journalist, Rudyard Kipling. The film’s technical attributes are top-notch from production and costume design to its photography and location. The moral tale is laced with humour and adventure before its downbeat finale issues its warning message. The tone may shift jarringly from time to time, but this remains an impressive production expertly directed by a past master.
AAN: Best Writing, Screenplay Adapted from Other Material (John Huston, Gladys Hill); Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Alexandre Trauner, Tony Inglis, Peter James); Best Costume Design (Edith Head); Best Film Editing (Russell Lloyd).

Book Review – ‘TIL DEATH (1959) by Ed McBain

‘TIL DEATH (1959) ***
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Penguin, 1986, 160pp (157pp)
First published in 1959 (USA)
© Ed McBain, 1959
ISBN: 978-0-140-02164-6
Blurb: The wedding day of Detective Steve Carella’s sister Angela should be the most romantic, special day of her life. But it might turn out to be the worst if her brother can’t figure out which man on the guest list has come to murder the groom. Carella and the men from the 87th Precinct find themselves on the clock as they desperately hunt amongst the name cards and catered dinners for the would-be assailant. Trouble is, the crowd has numerous people with viable motives: the best man who stands to inherit everything the groom owns, the ex-boyfriend with a homicidal crush, and even an ex-GI with a score to settle. But time is ticking, and if they don’t act fast, Angela will become a bride—and a widow—on the same day.
Comment: The ninth in the 87th Precinct series written by Ed McBain is this offbeat story set at the wedding of Carella’s sister. As such the story acts as a diversion from the grittier storylines that precede and follow it. The result is a minor entry in the series that coasts on McBain’s command of his characters and dialogue. The plot itself often lacks plausibility and as such fails to engage in the way his earlier titles did. Even at a brief page count of just under 160 pages, there are elements of padding where the author and his characters philosophise. That said McBain’s skill as a writer gets him through to a tense, if somewhat familiar, finale. Not top-draw McBain, but an often fun and diverting and easy read despite this.

Book Review – LADY KILLER (1958) by Ed McBain

LADY KILLER (1958) ***
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Penguin, 1986, 176pp (172pp)
First published in 1958 (USA)
© Ed McBain, 1958
ISBN: 978-0-140-02019-9
Blurb: “I will kill the Lady tonight at 8. What can you do about it?” The boys of the 87th have just twelve hours to find out who the crank letter writer is–and who he means by “the Lady “–for whom there will be no second chance.
Comment: This is often listed as the eighth of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels, but as I read through it I realised it was written and set before Killer’s Wedge, so is the seventh. Having read the whole series before, this can now be seen as a warm-up for some of the Deaf Man cases that infrequently occupied the squad’s time. Here a would-be killer taunts the squad that he will kill “The Lady” at 8 pm and it is up to the detectives to track down who wrote the note and who the intended target is. The investigation leads the squad down some blind alleys before they close in on their target. The book is one of the lesser of the early entries which, whilst endowed with McBain’s usual excellent prose and dialogue, feels a little bit manufactured and the conclusion leaves the reader questioning the motives of the detectives’ quarry. It is still a quick and entertaining read and a formula that McBain would develop better in the Deaf Man books.

Book Review – KILLER’S WEDGE (1959) by Ed McBain

KILLER’S WEDGE (1959) ****
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Allison & Busby, 2007, 242pp (233pp)
First published in 1958 (USA)
© The Estate of Ed McBain, 1958
ISBN: 978-0-749-08023-5
Book CoverBlurb: Her game was death – and her name was Virginia Dodge. She was out to put a bullet through Steve Carella’s brain, and she didn’t care if she has to kill all the boys in the 87th Precinct to do it. So Virginia, armed with gun and bottle of nitro-glycerine, spent a quiet afternoon in the precinct house, terrorizing Lieutenant Byrnes and his detectives with her clever little homemade bomb. They all sat there waiting for Steve Carella. Could all the men of the 87th, prisoners of one crazy broad, be powerless to save Carella from his rendezvous with death…?
Comment: This is the seventh of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels and here he takes a different approach by making the main plot a tense thriller and the sub-plot a mystery. The revenge plot in which Virginia Dodge holds the 87th squad captive at gunpoint with a jar of nitro is extremely well written by McBain as the tension escalates. He uses third person and first person perspectives to heighten the tension and frame the varying viewpoints of the characters. Meanwhile, Virginia’s intended target, Steve Carella, is investigating the death of a wealthy socialite found hanged in a locked room. The latter sub-plot follows a very traditional mystery path and is merely a supporting function to the main story. Suspense is heightened when Carella’s wife, Teddy, arrives at the squad room only to be confronted by the siege. A successful diversion for the series continuing McBain’s impressive run.

Film Review – ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948)

ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948, USA) ***
Comedy, Horror, Sci-Fi
dist. Universal Pictures (USA), General Film Distributors (GFD) (UK); pr co. Universal International Pictures (UI); d. Charles Barton; w. Robert Lees, Frederic I. Rinaldo, John Grant; pr. Robert Arthur; ph. Charles Van Enger (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Frank Skinner; ed. Frank Gross; ad. Hilyard M. Brown, Bernard Herzbrun; rel. 15 June 1948 (USA), August 1949 (UK); BBFC cert: PG; r/t. 83m.
cast: Bud Abbott (Chick), Lou Costello (Wilbur), Lon Chaney Jr. (Lawrence Talbot / The Wolfman), Bela Lugosi (Dracula), Glenn Strange (Monster), Lenore Aubert (Sandra Mornay), Jane Randolph (Joan Raymond), Frank Ferguson (Mr. McDougal), Charles Bradstreet (Dr. Stevens).
Abbott and Costello play two hapless freight handlers who find themselves encountering Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster and the Wolf Man. Enjoyment of this horror comedy will depend on your tolerance of the antics of the comedy duo who lack the sophistication, inventiveness and dignity of Laurel & Hardy, but became immensely popular nonetheless. One or two amusing moments do surface, and it is great to see Lugosi, Chaney and co. in action again. Lugosi is particularly effective returning to his signature role of Count Dracula. Watch out for the final gag, which is the best of the production. In 2001, the Library of Congress selected this film for preservation in the National Film Registry. On screen title: BUD ABBOTT AND LOU COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. UK Title: ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE GHOSTS.

Film Review – HOG WILD (1930)

HOG WILD (1930, USA) ****
Comedy
dist. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) (USA), Jury Metro-Goldwyn (UK); pr co. Hal Roach Studios; d. James Parrott; w. H.M. Walker (dialogue) (based on a story by Stan Laurel and Leo McCarey (uncredited)); pr. Hal Roach (uncredited); ph. George Stevens (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. md. Marvin Hatley; ed. Richard C. Currier; rel. 31 May 1930 (USA), 25 August 1930 (UK); BBFC cert: U; r/t. 19m.
cast: Stan Laurel (Stan), Oliver Hardy (Ollie), Dorothy Granger (Tillie – The Hardys’ Maid / Girl Lifting Her Skirt by Puddle (uncredited)), Fay Holderness (Mrs. Hardy (uncredited)), Charles McMurphy (Streetcar Conductor (uncredited)).
Vintage Laurel & Hardy short in which Mrs. Hardy insists that Oliver mount the radio aerial on the roof before he goes off gallivanting with his friend Stanley. Inventive slapstick sight gags abound, not least the hilarious closing gag involving L&H’s car becoming sandwiched between trams. Original UK title: AERIAL ANTICS.

TV Review – VIGIL (2021)

VIGIL (2021, UK) ***½
Crime, Drama

pr co. World Productions; net. BBC One; exec pr. Tom Edge, Jake Lushington, James Strong, Leslie Finlay, Simon Heath, Gaynor Holmes, Roderick Seligman; pr. Angie Daniell; d. Isabelle Sieb, James Strong; w. Tom Edge, Chandni Lakhani, Ed Macdonald (based on an original idea by George Aza-Selinger); ph. Matt Gray, Ruairí O’Brien; m. Glenn Gregory, Berenice Scott; ed. Chris Buckland, Nikki McChristie, Steven Worsley; pd. Tom Sayer; b/cast. 29 August-26 September 2021; r/t. 6 x 60m.

cast. Suranne Jones (Detective Chief Inspector Amy Silva), Rose Leslie (Detective Sergeant Kirsten Longacre), Shaun Evans (Warrant Officer Elliot Glover), Martin Compston (Chief Petty Officer Craig Burke), Paterson Joseph (Commander Neil Newsome), Adam James (Lieutenant Commander Mark Prentice), Gary Lewis (Detective Superintendent Colin Robertson), Lauren Lyle (Jade Antoniak), Lolita Chakrabarti (Lieutenant Commander Erin Branning), Dan Li (Lieutenant Commander Hennessy), Lorne MacFadyen (Petty Officer Matthew Doward), Connor Swindells (Lieutenant Simon Hadlow), Lois Chimimba (Chief Petty Officer Tara Kierly), Daniel Portman (Chief Petty Officer Gary Walsh), Anjli Mohindra (Surgeon Lieutenant Tiffany Docherty), Anita Vettesse (Petty Officer Jackie Hamilton), Stephen Dillane (Rear Admiral Shaw).

This expansive and ambitious mix of crime mystery, conspiracy and international politics sees Detective Chief Inspector Amy Silva (Jones) of the Scottish Police Service sent to HMS Vigil, a Vanguard class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, to investigate a death on board, which takes place shortly after the mysterious disappearance of a Scottish fishing trawler. Her investigations, and those of her colleagues ashore, bring the police into conflict with the Royal Navy and MI5, the British Security Service. The plot is mixed with a tragic back story for Jones leading to her tentative relationship with Leslie. It is these domestic scenes that tend to slow an otherwise fats-paced and enjoyable thriller that plays on its audiences phobias and paranoia. The direction is strong and the script, though exceedingly complicated, has sufficient intrigue and character conflict to retain interest. The production design is excellent, although the submarine interiors seem larger than you might expect, likely to accommodate camera movement and shot framing. The denouement is a little protracted, but overall this is an often tense and enjoyable production.

Genesis – Manchester Arena, 24 September 2021

Well they may well all be over 70 now and Phil Collins not in the best of health, but Genesis still turned on the magic last night at the Manchester Arena. A delay of over an hour due to a generator failure only helped to add to the anticipation (maybe the puncture they had on the way up from Birmingham should have been a warning). The Mexican Wave even played its part in keeping the audience happy whilst the technical issue was addressed. There is a sense of finality about this tour and there was a distinct ambience of warmth, nostalgia and huge affection around the arena – this was at its height with the stirring performances of Afterglow and I Know What I Like which genuinely touched the emotions. The staging was quite simply stunning and the band were in great form musically. Yes, Phil’s vocals are not what they were in his heyday, but he found new ways to compensate and the addition of backing singers Patrick Smyth and Daniel Pearce helped considerably. A special word for Nic Collins, Phil’s son, on drums. You could see Phil’s pride as he watched Nic tackle the drum parts Phil himself had written, whilst adding his own muscular character. Phil was in excellent humour and there was good banter with the audience and Mike, Tony and Daryl along with Nic provided some really powerful musical moments. If, as I strongly suspect, this is the last time I see my favourite band then they are certainly going out on a high.
Tony Banks – Keyboards
Phil Collins – Lead Vocals, Tambourine
Mike Rutherford – Guitar, Bass
with:
Daryl Stuermer – Guitar, Bass
Nic Collins – Drums
Daniel Pearce – Backing Vocals, Percussion
Patrick Smyth – Backing Vocals
setlist:
Duke’s Intro
Turn It On Again
Mama
Land of Confusion
Home by the Sea/Second Home by the Sea
Fading Lights/The Cinema Show/Afterglow
That’s All (acoustic)
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (new arrangement)
Follow You Follow Me (acoustic)
Duchess
No Son of Mine
Firth of Fifth (instrumental)
I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)
Domino
Throwing It All Away
Tonight, Tonight, Tonight
Invisible Touch
Encore:
I Can’t Dance
Dancing With the Moonlit Knight/The Carpet Crawlers

Book Review – KILLER’S PAYOFF (1958) by Ed McBain

KILLER’S PAYOFF (1958) ****
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Penguin, 1987, 160pp
First published in 1958 (USA)
© Ed McBain, 1958
ISBN: 978-0-140-02119-6
Blurb: He appeared to be a decent, upright, honest citizen….And yet appearances can be more than deceiving in the world of blackmail and extortion. The shocking gangland-style murder of known blackmailer Sy Kramer begs the question: which of Kramer’s marks had given him his very last payoff? A politician’s beautiful wife with a deadly secret? An overly interested ex-con? A wealthy soft-drinks executive? Or the mystery person who had fattened Kramer’s wallet by the thousands? The detectives of the 87th Precinct must break the chain that links the dead man’s associates and single out a killer — before someone else cashes it in.
Comment: This is the sixth of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct books and it is clear that the author has found his rhythm. This is a tight mystery that introduces a wide range of characters as murder suspects – the victim being a dislikeable extortionist. Steve Carella and Cotton Hawes take the lead in the investigation and McBain has fun developing Hawes’ character – making him something of a lothario. The dialogue is as snappy as ever and the investigation moves along in a logical and procedural fashion. However it is instinct that leads to a resolution, demonstrating the need for human proactivity. Another highly enjoyable read in this influential series.

Book Review – GENESIS – 1975 TO 2021: THE PHIL COLLINS YEARS (2021)

GENESIS – 1975 TO 2021: THE PHIL COLLINS YEARS (2021) ***½
by Mario Giammetti
This paperback edition published by Kingmaker Publishing, 2021, 290pp
© Mario Giammetti, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-838491-80-2

Blurb: The definitive biography of the later years of one of the world’s greatest bands. The book contains numerous exclusive interviews with band members and all of the important personalities who were part of the story of Genesis from 1975 onwards (including Ray Wilson who fronted the band for 1997’s Calling All Stations album and subsequent tour before the return of Phil Collins in 2007). The book covers the full story of the band extensively, taking readers through each album and tour. Additionally it features a number of previously unpublished photographs.

Comment:  This is the follow-up to Mario Giammetti’s Genesis: 1967 to 1975 – The Peter Gabriel Years published the previous year. I was hugely impressed with that first volume, which provided much new information on that period of the band’s history through the author’s interviews with band members and offered well-rounded assessments of the band’s output. That this new book is less successful than its predecessor may not be surprising to those familiar with the author’s love of the Gabriel era of the band. Genesis fans are often split into two camps – those who grew up with or preferred listening to the band’s progressive recordings and those who caught up with the band when they became a trio and started having hits. Whilst Giammetti recognises the strengths of much of the material from the latter period, he does not hide his disdain for certain aspects of the band’s success in the mid-80s. He has a particular dislike of 1986’s Invisible Touch album, which he describes as “the weakest album in the history of Genesis”. He laments that the album was the band at its commercial peak and disliked their use of studio electronics and new musical equipment. Whilst I have some sympathy with his case against synthetic drums (the awful Simmons kits of the day lacked player expression), I challenge his view that the songs on the album were sub-standard – he states “there isn’t a single song that is exceptional”. The album produced five top 5 singles in the US and stayed on the UK album charts for over a year. An album with that much success cannot be written off with the casualness it is here. No-one complains that The Beatles’ pop songs were poor because they were commercial hits, yet with Genesis their later albums are seen as a betrayal by fans who wanted them to carry on producing songs in the way they had done in the 70s.  This seeming prejudice aside, Giammetti does acknowledge the band could not sustain itself in a changing musical landscape by clinging to old musical philosophies and accepts the simplification of their sound as a necessity. He is much fairer, and clearer, in his assessment of albums such as Duke and We Can’t Dance. However, it is also obvious the author has personally less to say about the songs from this period in general than he did in his first volume and he leaves most of the words to the band members themselves. A lot of what they say is very interesting and there are again new things to be learned from interviews conducted directly with the author and other sources close to him. The book as a whole is generally a good companion to the earlier volume and is both informative and enlightening through those band interviews. What made the first volume so successful, however, was the marriage of the band’s views with the analysis of the author. Here, though, there is an obvious gap between Giammetti’s view of the material and that of the band. Not a bad thing in itself, but the author’s contrary views are often restricted to a couple of sentences without any real substantive analysis or insight to qualify those sentences. It sounds like I have been harsh on this book because I do not always agree with the author’s view. There is an oft-quoted saying that “opinions are like a**holes – everybody has one.” I would also add that everybody is entitled to one – an opinion that is. I would just like to see those views better expressed and rationalised. In its layout, the book follows the same template as the first volume and the sections covering the tours and the evolving set lists are well laid out. There is also exploration of the music scene and its trends to contrast with the band’s albums. This is a book then that completes Giammetti’s overview of the band and one that is welcome for that, but perhaps the definitive assessment of the band’s career, and in particular the so-called “Collins era”, is still to be written. (Note: Despite the title, Giammetti also covers Ray Wilson’s brief tenure with the band following Collins’ departure in 1996).