Film Review – THE FRONT (1976)

Front, The (1976; USA; Metrocolor; 95m) ∗∗∗∗  d. Martin Ritt; w. Walter Bernstein; ph. Michael Chapman; m. Dave Grusin.  Cast: Woody Allen, Zero Mostel, Michael Murphy, Andrea Marcovicci, Herschel Bernardi, Remak Ramsay, Josef Sommer, Lloyd Gough, David Margulies, Danny Aiello, Marvin Lichterman, Joshua Shelley, Norman Rose, Charles Kimbrough, Georgann Johnson. A cashier poses as a writer for blacklisted talents to submit their work through, but the injustice around him pushes him to take a stand. Poignant, funny and sharply scripted commentary on the blacklisting of artists during the US’s communist witch-hunt of the 1950s. Allen gives his most assured performance to date as the front of the title. Several people involved in this film were themselves on the McCarthy-era blacklists. Last on-screen film project for Mostel. [12]

Comic Book Review – SHAFT: IMITATION OF LIFE (2016)

SHAFT: IMITATION OF LIFE  (2016, Dynamite Entertainment, 4 issues, 4 x 32 pp) ∗∗∗∗
Shaft Created by Ernest Tidyman
Written and Lettered by David F. Walker
Illustrated by Dietrich Smith
Coloured by Alex Guimares
Cover by Matthew Clark
Cover Colours by Vinicius Andrade

Blurb: The only thing John Shaft wanted was a simple case, one where no one got hurt or killed. He figured working as a consultant on a low budget film would be easy money. He was wrong… dead wrong.

David Walker’s second Shaft comic book series, which follows last year’s excellent Shaft: A Complicated Man, has an altogether different tone to that hard-hitting debut. There is a dark satirical feel to a story that explores the underbelly of the sleazy porn industry in 1970s New York. Not only does Walker tackle this in graphic detail, but he also challenges Shaft’s own homophobic viewpoint by having his client/sidekick be a gay teenager. Finally with Shaft also hired as consultant to a Blaxploitation movie, which turns out to be a horrendous parody of the real Shaft film, Walker throws his own punches at the producers of the new Shaft film in development – which is reported to be taking a more comedic tone.

The opening sequence replays the end of Tidyman’s Shaft novel with the rescue of the kidnapped Beatrice Persons, daughter of Harlem crime lord Knocks Persons, from the Mafia. The remainder of the first issue deals with Shaft being hired to trace a missing teenage boy and in the process hooking up with Tito, a gay teenager. The plot diverges in issue 2 toward Shaft being hired as consultant on a Blaxploitation movie based on his life. Over the next two issues the two plot strands come together as the movie’s star is kidnapped by “Lollipop” Lou Peraino who runs the Mafia funded porn industry and, having funded the movie, is owed money. Shaft plans and leads a rescue attempt and in the process finds the missing teenager at Peraino’s porn film factory.

This series features the art work of Dietrich Smith (replacing the more textural Bilquis Everly) and the bold colouring of Alex Guimares. Together they create a colourful view of 1970s NYC and present memorable characters that complement perfectly Walker’s tough script. There is an excellent sequence at the start of issue 3 in Shaft’s office where he is in discussion with two NYPD vice cops that is beautifully illustrated. In turn, Walker continues to have fun with Tidyman’s creation and obviously enjoys exploring the more satirical aspects of his story.

Whilst Shaft: Imitation of Life doesn’t quite match the levels of brilliance of its predecessor, it is still an entertaining ride with aspects of social commentary added to a winning formula. Here’s looking forward to a third series from Walker and co. very soon.


First reviews of Shaft: Imitation of Life #4

The first reviews of the final issue of Shaft: Imitation of Life – Part Four: All the World’s a Stage are in:-

a tense issue that concludes the series in terrific fashion. David F. Walker’s script balances the action with thematic content, giving a layer of depth to the issue that could have easily spiraled into simply being a fiery conclusion. Artist Dietrich Smith and colorist Alex Guimaráes’ bring the world to life in theatrical fashion, heightening the drama of the story. In short, Shaft: Imitation of Life #4 is a fantastic ending to a superb series, worthy of John Shaft.” – Robert Reed,

“Writer David F. Walker oozes the aesthetic of this time period and the visuals from Dietrich Smith and Alex Guimaraes take the reader right back to the era of polyester and shag carpets. Wonderful work.” – Hannibal Tabu,

“David Walker and Dietrich Smith’s sequel to last year’s superb “Shaft” six-parter does so, as well, wrapping things up with a bow and some clever-if-somewhat-obvious “metafictional” nods to John Shaft’s place in popular culture history. Can we get another series next year, please?” – Alex K Cossa,

Film Review – THE DARK CORNER (1946)

Dark Corner, The (1946; USA; B&W; 99m) ∗∗∗½  d. Henry Hathaway; w. Jay Dratler, Bernard C. Schoenfeld; ph. Joseph MacDonald; m. Cyril J. Mockridge.  Cast: Lucille Ball, Clifton Webb, William Bendix, Mark Stevens, Kurt Kreuger, Cathy Downs, Reed Hadley, Constance Collier, Eddie Heywood. Secretary tries to help her private eye boss, who is framed for a murder. Film noir has many positives – including Ball’s energetic performance and Webb’s slimy art dealer. It is sumptuously shot with great use of light and shadow by MacDonald. Stevens is somewhat two-dimensional as the framed PI and there are some plot conveniences that lead to a rushed denouement, but it is a good example of the genre. Based on the serial story by Leo Rosten. [PG]

Film Review – WHEN EIGHT BELLS TOLL (1971)

When Eight Bells Toll (1971; UK; Eastmancolor; 94m) ∗∗∗  d. Etienne Perier; w. Alistair MacLean; ph. Arthur Ibbetson; m. Angela Morley (as Walter Stott).  Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Nathalie Delon, Robert Morley, Jack Hawkins, Corin Redgrave, Derek Bond, Ferdy Mayne, Maurice Roëves, Leon Collins, Wendy Allnutt, Peter Arne, Oliver MacGreevy, Jon Croft. A British agent is on a mission to determine the whereabouts of a ship that disappeared near the coast of Scotland.  Enjoyable and lively, if slight, spy adventure is helped by witty dialogue and performances – notably Hopkins and Morley – as well as great Scottish locations. Hawkins’ voice is dubbed by Charles Gray. MacLean scripted from his own novel. [15]

Film Review – FRENCH CONNECTION II (1975)

French Connection II (1975; USA; DeLuxe; 119m) ∗∗∗∗  d. John Frankenheimer; w. Alexander Jacobs, Robert Dillon, Laurie Dillon; ph. Claude Renoir; m. Don Ellis.  Cast: Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey, Bernard Fresson, Cathleen Nesbitt, Jean-Pierre Castaldi, Charles Millot, Philippe Leotard, Ed Lauter, Samantha Llorens, Andre Penvern, Reine Prat, Ham-Chau Luong, Jacques Dynam, Raoul Delfosse, Malek Kateb. “Popeye” Doyle (Hackman) travels to Marseilles to find Alain Charnier (Rey), the drug smuggler that eluded him in New York. Riveting follow-up to THE FRENCH CONNECTION with a gripping performance by Hackman. The sequence where Hackman is recovering in cold turkey having been captured and fed heroin by Rey is chilling in its authenticity. Great action-packed conclusion as Hackman and his French colleague Fresson close in on the smugglers. Followed by POPEYE DOYLE (1986) (TV). [18]

Book Review – A COP’S TALE – NYPD: THE VIOLENT YEARS by Detective Sergeant Jim O’Neil (Retired) with Mel Fazzino (2009)


Blurb: A Cop’s Tale focuses on New York City’s most violent and corrupt years, the 1960s to early 1980s. Jim O’Neil – a former NYPD cop – delivers a rare look at the brand of law enforcement that ended Frank Lucas’s grip on the Harlem drug trade, his cracking open of the Black Liberation Army case, and his experience as the first cop on the scene at the Dog Day Afternoon bank robbery.

I bought this book to aid me in my research into crime and policing methods in New York in the 1970s, when the city was in financial and social crisis. The book actually covers the period of Jim O’Neil’s service in the New York Police department between 1963 and 1984. O’Neil was a highly regarded detective working in some of the city’s most crime ridden locations. It is an honest account of O’Neil’s experience on the front line working in some of the toughest precincts in the city. The main focus of the book covers O’Neil’s time as a detective in Brooklyn’s notorious 73rd Precinct (known as Fort Zinderneuf) and later in Harlem’s 32nd Precinct (known as Dodge City). In between time there are stints with a specialised robbery division and Internal Affairs.

O’Neil’s first-hand account of his experiences are extremely enlightening and frank – notably around the methods used in the detection of crime, policing on the streets and building of a network of informants by frequenting the same bars as the crooks. The anecdotes are real and are both funny and shocking. O’Neil pulls no punches and delivers it as it was. He offers no apologies for the methods used by officers and detectives and indeed puts a strong case for them. These methods are shown to be justified by the results they created. The breaking of the Black Liberation Army terrorist organisation and the deconstruction of the drugs empire in Harlem being two key examples.

However, O’Neil does not condone much of the corruption that took place in the department during this period. he is as harsh in his judgement of a cop taking bribes or dealing dope as he is of the dope pushers, murderers and rapists on the street. He is also scathing in his judgement of the reforms introduced in the early 1970s by Police Commissioner Patrick Murphy, which limited the interactions cops could have on the streets and re-structured the department. Equally he has the utmost admiration for some of his senior officers and the repair work done by Michael J Codd between 1974-8 upon his election as Commissioner.

Reading this book may not be comfortable for the more liberal minded, but it is historically accurate, honest and gives the reader a real insight into what the cops had to deal with during the city’s years of decadence.

Film Review – WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS (1950)

Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950; USA; B&W; 95m) ∗∗∗∗  d. Otto Preminger; w. Ben Hecht, Victor Trivas, Frank P. Rosenberg, Robert E. Kent; ph. Joseph LaShelle; m. Cyril J. Mockridge.  Cast: Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, Gary Merrill, Bert Freed, Tom Tully, Karl Malden, Ruth Donnelly, Craig Stevens. A detective is already in trouble with his superiors for his brutal tactics when he accidentally kills a murder suspect. To protect himself, he decides to cover it up and pin the killing on a racketeer he hates and knows has committed many crimes like this in the past. Brooding film-noir efficiently directed and with a strong cast. Andrews stands out as haunted detective who uses violent methods. Moodily shot on location in Manhattan, New York, with evocative score by Mockridge. Based on the novel “Night Cry” by William L. Stuart. [12]

Film Review – WHERE EAGLES DARE (1968)

Where Eagles Dare (1968; UK/USA; Metrocolor; 158m) ∗∗∗∗  d. Brian G. Hutton; w. Alistair MacLean; ph. Arthur Ibbetson; m. Ron Goodwin.  Cast: Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood, Robert Beatty, Mary Ure, Patrick Wymark, Michael Hordern, Donald Houston, Peter Barkworth, Ferdy Mayne, Anton Diffring, William Squire, Brook Williams, Neil McCarthy, Vincent Ball, Derren Nesbitt. Allied agents stage a daring raid on a castle where the Nazis are holding an American General prisoner, but that’s not all that’s really going on. Spectacular action mixes with intrigue in this enormously entertaining adventure. Burton makes an unlikely hero and Eastwood gives stoic support. Beautifully photographed in the Austrian Alps. MacLean wrote the script and novel simultaneously over a period of six weeks. [PG]