Book Review – AXE (1964) by Ed McBain

AXE (1964) **½
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Pan Books, 1975, 141pp
First published in 1964
© Ed McBain, 1964
ISBN: 978-0-3302-4410-8
Blurb: Eighty-six-year-old George Lasser was the superintendent of a building in the 87th Precinct until just recently. Unfortunately, his tenure ended in the building’s basement with a sharp, heavy blade of an axe in his head…There are no witnesses, no suspects, and no clues. The wife and son? They’re both a little off-kilter, but they have alibis. Just when Carella and Hawes are about to put the case on the shelf, the killer strikes again. Now the detectives are hot on the trail of a man crazy enough to murder with an axe.
Comment: The 18th book in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct is a little lacklustre after the excellent Ten Plus One. McBain seems short on ideas and the mystery elements fail to engage. By now the author was slowing his series output from three novels a year to one and he lost some momentum as a result. This particular mystery is wrapped up very quickly after following the usual dead-end leads – indeed the book is remarkably short, even for McBain at 141 pages. This being McBain, though, there is still much to enjoy in the dialogue and familiar characters, but ultimately this is a rare example of a master of his craft off his game.

Film Review – THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972)

THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972, USA, 117m, PG) ****
Action, Adventure
dist. Twentieth Century Fox; pr co. Twentieth Century Fox / Irwin Allen Productions / Kent Productions ; d. Ronald Neame; w. Stirling Silliphant, Wendell Mayes (based on the novel by Paul Gallico); pr. Irwin Allen; ph. Harold E. Stine (DeLuxe | 2.39:1, 2.20:1 (70mm prints)); m. John Williams; ed. Harold F. Kress; pd. William J. Creber.
cast: Gene Hackman (Reverend Scott), Ernest Borgnine (Mike Rogo), Red Buttons (James Martin), Carol Lynley (Nonnie Parry), Roddy McDowall (Acres), Stella Stevens (Linda Rogo), Shelley Winters (Belle Rosen), Jack Albertson (Manny Rosen), Pamela Sue Martin (Susan Shelby), Arthur O’Connell (Chaplain), Leslie Nielsen (Captain Harrison), Eric Shea (Robin), Fred Sadoff (Linarcos), Sheila Allen (Nurse (as Sheila Mathews)), Jan Arvan (Doctor Caravello), Byron Webster (Purser), John Crawford (Chief Engineer), Bob Hastings (M. C.), Erik L. Nelson (Mr. Tinkham).
Ocean bound from New York City to Greece on New Year’s Eve, the luxury passenger ship the S.S. Poseidon is capsized by a tidal wave. With the captain (Nielsen) dead, a group of surviving passengers, led by the passionate clergyman (Hackman), struggle through numerous obstacles and a labyrinth of ladders and tunnels in a desperate attempt to reach the surface through the ship’s hull. Following 1970s AIRPORT, this was the movie that set the benchmark for the disaster cycle of the 1970s and made Irwin Allen the king of the blockbuster. The impressive all-star ensemble cast ensures investment in the characters as well as the spectacle. Hackman and Borgnine (as a former cop) are particularly impressive in their antagonistic roles, Whilst Stevens has fun as Borgnine’s reformed hooker wife. Winters gained weight, which is thoughtlessly referenced on numerous occasions by other characters, specifically for her role. Excellent production design and tight direction by Neame help make this an exciting and tense affair. Followed by BEYOND THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1979) and remade for TV in 2005 and again for theatrical release as POSEIDON in 2006.
AA: Best Music, Original Song (Al Kasha, Joel Hirschhorn for the song “The Morning After”); Special Achievement Award for visual effects (L.B. Abbott, A.D. Flowers).
AAN: Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Shelley Winters); Best Cinematography (Harold E. Stine); Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (William J. Creber, Raphael Bretton); Best Costume Design (Paul Zastupnevich); Best Sound (Theodore Soderberg, Herman Lewis); Best Film Editing (Harold F. Kress); Best Music, Original Dramatic Score (John Williams).

Film Review – EARTHQUAKE (1974)

EARTHQUAKE (1974, USA, 123m, PG) ***
Action, Drama, Thriller
dist. Universal Pictures (USA), Cinema International Corporation (CIC) (UK); pr co. Universal Pictures / The Filmakers Group; d. Mark Robson; w. George Fox, Mario Puzo; pr. Mark Robson; ph. Philip H. Lathrop (Technicolor | 2.35:1); m. John Williams; ed. Dorothy Spencer; pd. Alexander Golitzen; ad. E. Preston Ames.
cast: Charlton Heston (Graff), Ava Gardner (Remy), George Kennedy (Slade), Lorne Greene (Royce), Geneviève Bujold (Denise), Richard Roundtree (Miles), Marjoe Gortner (Jody), Barry Sullivan (Stockle), Lloyd Nolan (Dr. Vance), Victoria Principal (Rosa), Walter Matthau (Drunk (as Walter Matuschanskayasky)), Monica Lewis (Barbara), Gabriel Dell (Sal), Pedro Armendáriz Jr. (Chavez), Lloyd Gough (Cameron), John Randolph (Mayor), Kip Niven (Walter Russell), Scott Hylands (Asst. Caretaker), Tiger Williams (Corry), Donald Moffat (Dr. Harvey Johnson).
A major earthquake hits Los Angeles and various stock characters are thrown into the chaos and destruction. Successful architect Heston argues with his drunken and demanding wife, Gardner, who is also the daughter of his boss Greene.  Bujold is Heston’s distraction from his marriage. Kennedy is a cop suspended for insubordination. Roundtree is an Evel Knievel copyist assisted by Principal. Gortner is a loner army reservist who has fascist tendencies. As the personal dramas are explored, the city is shaken by tremors leading to the inevitable titular event. This is the kind of movie Roland Emmerich has made his fortune producing in more recent times. Here, pre-CGI, the scenes of huge destruction are technically well achieved for the period with some effective matte work and wall-shaking sound (Sensurround was a much-touted new approach to sonics, which ultimately never took). The cast is solid, although Gardner’s histrionics veer toward melodrama. The movie ends abruptly with most of the personal stories left unresolved. Additional footage was shot, without the involvement of Robson, for the 152m TV version.
AA: Best Sound (Ronald Pierce, Melvin M. Metcalfe Sr.); Special Achievement Award for Visual Effects (Frank Brendel, Glen Robinson, Albert Whitlock)
AAN: Best Cinematography (Philip H. Lathrop); Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Alexander Golitzen, E. Preston Ames, Frank R. McKelvy); Best Film Editing (Dorothy Spencer)

Book Review – TEN PLUS ONE (1963) by Ed McBain

TEN PLUS ONE (1963) ****
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Pan Books, 1975, 192pp
First published in 1963
© Ed McBain, 1963
ISBN: 978-0-3302-4116-8
Blurb: When Anthony Forrest walked out of the office building, the only thoughts on his mind were of an impending birthday and a meeting with his wife for dinner. And a deadly bullet saw to it that they were the last thoughts on his mind. The problem for Detectives Steve Carella and Meyer Meyer of the 87th Precinct is that Forrest isn’t alone. An anonymous sniper is unofficially holding the city hostage, frustrating the police as one by one the denizens of Isola drop like flies. With fear gripping the citizenry and the pressure on the 87th mounting, finding a killer whose victims are random is the greatest challenge the detectives have ever faced—and the deadliest game the city has ever known.
Comment: The seventeenth book in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct is amongst his best work to date. There is confidence evident in the writing that confirms McBain was in total command of his craft. The dialogue is the sharpest and wittiest to date – Monoghan and Monroe at the first crime scene are priceless – and all the characters are well-drawn and feel real. There is also a broadening of the scope as other precincts are brought into the story and the book is also the longest to date. The plot is a familiar one with a group of estranged people linked by a historic event who find themselves being killed one by one. As the suspect list narrows and the net closes on the killer, the tension builds. McBain paces the book perfectly to produce a gem.

Film Review – THE CONCORDE…AIRPORT ’79 (1979)

THE CONCORDE … AIRPORT ’79 (1979, USA, 113m, PG)
Action, Drama, Thriller
dist. Universal Pictures (USA), Cinema International Corporation (CIC) (UK); pr co. Universal Pictures; d. David Lowell Rich; w. Eric Roth (based on a story by Jenning Lang); pr. Jennings Lang; ph. Philip H. Lathrop (Technicolor | 1.85:1); m. Lalo Schifrin; ed. Dorothy Spencer; pd. Henry Bumstead.
cast: Alain Delon (Capt. Paul Metrand), Susan Blakely (Maggie Whelan), Robert Wagner (Dr. Kevin Harrison), Sylvia Kristel (Isabelle), George Kennedy (Capt. Joe Patroni), Eddie Albert (Eli Sands), Bibi Andersson (Francine), Charo (Margarita), John Davidson (Robert Palmer), Andrea Marcovicci (Alicia Rogov), Martha Raye (Loretta), Cicely Tyson (Elaine), Jimmie Walker (Boisie), David Warner (Peter O’Neill), Mercedes McCambridge (Nelli), Avery Schreiber (Coach Markov), Sybil Danning (Amy), Monica Lewis (Gretchen), Nicolas Coster (Dr. Stone), Robin Gammell (William Halpern).
Based on a story by Jennings Lang read the titles. Lang executive produced the previous films in the series and this is his only writing credit during his long movie career. It would be interesting to know at what point screenplay writer Roth and director Lowell Rich realised they had signed on to such a turkey. Journalist Blakely discovers that her married boyfriend, Wagner, heads a company that is involved in illegal arms sales. To stop her from going public, Wagner decides to bring down the Concorde she is taking from Washington to Moscow via Paris. Pilots Delon and Kennedy, this time in a starring role returning as Joe Patroni, to keep the plane in the air. The preposterous premise plays out even more ludicrously on screen with appalling dialogue and it is hard to determine the unintended from any intended laughs. The earlier entries in the series may have been hokey at times but each had its moments of suspense and drama. This fourth film is poorly assembled and an embarrassment for many of the actors. All this said the film is never boring, as you find yourself laughing at it too much, and therefore not totally wretched. Raye’s final feature film. TV versions run to 132m and incredibly 176m.

Film Review – AIRPORT ’77 (1977)

AIRPORT ’77 (1977, USA, 114m, PG) ***
Action, Drama, Thriller
dist. Universal Pictures; pr co. Universal Pictures; d. Jerry Jameson; w. Michael Scheff, David Spector (based on a story by H.A.L. Craig and Charles Kuenstle and the novel “Airport” by Arthur Hailey); pr. William Frye; ph. Philip H. Lathrop (Technicolor | 2.35:1); m. John Cacavas; ed. Robert Watts, J. Terry Williams; pd. George C. Webb.
cast: Jack Lemmon (Don Gallagher), Lee Grant (Karen Wallace), Brenda Vaccaro (Eve Clayton), Joseph Cotten (Nicholas St. Downs III), Olivia de Havilland (Emily Livingston), Darren McGavin (Stan Buchek), Christopher Lee (Martin Wallace), Robert Foxworth (Chambers), Robert Hooks (Eddie), George Kennedy (Joe Patroni), James Stewart (Philip Stevens), Monte Markham (Banker), Kathleen Quinlan (Julie), Gil Gerard (Frank Powers), James Booth (Ralph Crawford), Monica Lewis (Anne), Maidie Norman (Dorothy), Pamela Bellwood (Lisa), Arlene Golonka (Mrs. Jane Stern), Tom Sullivan (Steve), M. Emmet Walsh (Dr. Williams), Michael Pataki (Wilson).
The second sequel to AIRPORT also takes its lead from THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE as a botched mid-air hijack of multi-millionaire Stewart’s private 747, carrying a collection of priceless works of art, results in the plane crashing into the sea. As the stricken airliner sinks, its passengers and crew, led by pilot Lemmon, are faced with a nightmare fight for survival. Despite the far-fetched nature of its premise, the film manages to deliver a decent number of thrills. The game cast help to sell the scenario, with Lemmon and McGavin delivering convincing performances. The film does have the usual array of stock characters and their domestic baggage, but the action takes centre stage once the plane hits the water and Jameson keeps the tension high through to the finale. Network TV version added additional footage, including deleted scenes and newly shot footage, and runs 182m. Followed by THE CONCORDE… AIRPORT ’79 (1979).
AAN: Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (George C. Webb, Mickey S. Michaels); Best Costume Design (Edith Head, Burton Miller).

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: LEGEND OF THE SEA DEVILS (2021)

DOCTOR WHO: LEGEND OF THE SEA DEVILS (2022, UK, 47m, 12) **½
Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi
dist. BBC; pr co. BBC Studios; d. Haolu Wang; w. Ella Road, Chris Chibnall; exec pr. Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; pr. Nikki Wilson; ph. Mark Waters (Colour | 2.00:1); m. Segun Akinola; ed. Tom White; pd. Dafydd Shurmer; ad. Ifan Lewis; cos. Ray Holman; vfx. DNEG, sp fx. Real SFX.
cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), John Bishop (Dan Lewis), Marlowe Chan-Reeves (Ying Ki), Crystal Yu (Madame Ching), Craige Els (Marsissus), Arthur Lee (Ji-Hun), David Tse (Ying Wai), Simon Carew (Sea Devil), Jon Davey (Sea Devil), Chester Durrant (Sea Devil), Mickey Lewis (Sea Devil).
The Easter Special and penultimate outing for Jodie Whitaker’s Doctor is yet another frenetic and haphazard episode. The Doctor, Yaz (Gill) and Dan (Bishop) travel to 19th century China, where a small coastal village is under threat from both the fearsome pirate queen Madame Ching (Yu) and a monstrous force, which she unwittingly unleashes. The production looks glossy and the effects work is good, but here again, the script tries to cram in too much plot and action leaving little room for breath or dramatic build-up. There is also the constant background (and not so background) music that often drowns out the dialogue in the sound mix. Whilst it is good to see the Sea Devils make an appearance, they lack the menace they had in their debut back in Jon Pertwee’s tenure. There is still much to like in the performances of Gill and Bishop, whilst Whitaker’s energy only partially offsets her lack of gravitas.

Film Review – AIRPORT 1975 (1974)

AIRPORT 1975 (1974, USA, 107m, PG) **½
Action, Drama, Thriller
dist. Universal Pictures; pr co. Universal Pictures; d. Jack Smight; w. Don Ingalls (based on the novel “Airport” by Arthur Hailey); pr. William Frye; ph. Philip H. Lathrop (Technicolor | 2.35:1); m. John Cacavas; ed. Terry Williams; ad. George C. Webb.
cast: Charlton Heston (Alan Murdock), Karen Black (Nancy Pryor), George Kennedy (Joe Patroni), Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (Captain Stacy), Susan Clark (Helen Patroni), Helen Reddy (Sister Ruth), Linda Blair (Janice Abbott), Dana Andrews (Scott Freeman), Roy Thinnes (Urias), Sid Caesar (Barney), Myrna Loy (Mrs. Devaney), Ed Nelson (Major John Alexander), Nancy Olson (Mrs. Abbott), Larry Storch (Glenn Purcell), Martha Scott (Sister Beatrice), Jerry Stiller (Sam), Norman Fell (Bill), Conrad Janis (Arnie), Beverly Garland (Mrs. Scott Freeman), Linda Harrison (Winnie (as Augusta Summerland)), Guy Stockwell (Colonel Moss), Erik Estrada (Julio), Kip Niven (Lt. Thatcher), Charles White (Fat Man), Brian Morrison (Joseph Patroni, Jr.), Amy Farrell (Amy), Irene Tsu (Carol), Ken Sansom (Gary), Alan Fudge (Danton), Christopher Norris (Bette), Austin Stoker (Air Force Sgt.), John Lupton (Oringer), Gene Dynarski (1st. Friend), Aldine King (Aldine), Sharon Gless (Sharon), Laurette Spang (Arlene), Gloria Swanson (Gloria Swanson).
This first sequel to 1970’s AIRPORT follows the same formula. This time an in-flight collision incapacitates the pilots of an airplane bound for Los Angeles. Stewardess Black is forced to take over the controls, whilst on the ground her boyfriend Heston, a retired test pilot, tries to talk her through piloting and landing the 747 aircraft. The all-star cast make up the passengers, but they are a mere diversion from the main action taking place in the plane’s cockpit. Ingalls’ script distributes lines evenly amongst them but to little dramatic effect. The sub-plot regarding Blair’s character, in transit for a kidney transplant, fails to build any drama. Black gives the film’s strongest performance, adeptly conveying the fear and responsibility that rests on her shoulders, whilst Heston delivers his usual square-jawed heroics. The finale, despite its familiarity and inconsistent execution, does create some tension and ultimately the film is a mixed bag lacking the gloss of the original but being more concise. The aerial shots over Heber City, Utah and the Wasatch Mountains are stunningly photographed. Swanson’s final film and she reportedly wrote all her own dialogue. Followed by AIRPORT ’77 (1977).

Book Review – LIKE LOVE (1962) by Ed McBain

LIKE LOVE (1962) ***
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Mandarin, 1992, 176pp
First published in 1962
© Ed McBain, 1962
ISBN: 978-0-7493-0898-8
Blurb: A young girl jumps to her death. A salesman gets blown apart. Two semi-naked bodies are found dead on a bed with all the hallmarks of a love pact. Spring really was here for the 87th Precinct. Steve Carella and Cotton Hawes thought the double suicide stank of homicide, but they just couldn’t get a break. Fortunately, Hawes has something else going on in his life at the moment – something like love.
Comment: The sixteenth book in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series sees the squad investigating a seeming suicide, but suspecting murder. This represents a new angle for McBain as the book opens with another suicide, a girl jilted in love who Carella fails to talk down from a high-rise window ledge. The main plot revolves around the seeming pact between secret lovers. McBain carries the story forward through his regular cast of detectives, with Kling still grieving from the events of Lady, Lady, I Dit It! For the most part, the mystery remains intriguing and it seems it will go cold. The case is eventually solved, but, unusually for McBain, the motivation behind the killing feels extremely weak here. As a result, despite the author’s trademark dialogue, this is less satisfying than the majority of the series to date.

Film Review – AIRPORT (1970)

AIRPORT (1970, USA, 137m, PG) ***
Drama, Thriller
dist. Universal Pictures; pr co. Universal Pictures / Ross Hunter Productions; d. George Seaton; w. George Seaton (based on the novel by Arthur Hailey); pr. Ross Hunter; ph. Ernest Laszlo (Technicolor | 2.20:1); m. Alfred Newman; ed. Stuart Gilmore; ad. E. Preston Ames, Alexander Golitzen.
cast: Burt Lancaster (Mel Bakersfeld), Dean Martin (Vernon Demerest), Jean Seberg (Tanya Livingston), Jacqueline Bisset (Gwen Meighen), George Kennedy (Patroni), Helen Hayes (Ada Quonsett), Van Heflin (D.O. Guerrero), Maureen Stapleton (Inez Guerrero), Barry Nelson (Anson Harris), Dana Wynter (Cindy), Lloyd Nolan (Harry Standish), Barbara Hale (Sarah Demerest), Gary Collins (Cy Jordan), John Findlater (Peter Coakley), Jessie Royce Landis (Mrs. Harriet DuBarry Mossman), Larry Gates (Commissioner Ackerman), Peter Turgeon (Marcus Rathbone), Whit Bissell (Mr. Davidson), Virginia Grey (Mrs. Schultz), Eileen Wesson (Judy Barton).
The cycle of 1970s all-star, big-budget disaster movies began with this adaptation of Arthur Hailey’s best-selling novel. Lancaster plays the general manager of a Chicago-area airport, who must contend with a massive snowstorm and other issues, both work-related and personal, while the troubled Heflin threatens to blow up an airliner on a flight to Rome piloted by Martin. The first half of the film sets up the characters and their domestic situations and is deliberately paced by Seaton, who uses various split-screen techniques, skilfully edited by Gilmore, to help with pacing. His script is wordy, and dialogue is sometimes stilted as he often feels the need to explain airport protocol through character discussion. Lancaster is imposing and Martin plays the material deadly straight. Kennedy’s confident trouble-shooter, Joe Patroni, would go on to appear in all three sequels. The rest of the cast give solid if often earnest, performances and Hayes won an Oscar for her eccentric stowaway. The tension, aided by Newman’s vigorous score, builds in the final third as Heflin is discovered and the threat to the flight becomes real. The film inexplicably received ten Oscar nominations, but only Hayes picked up an award. Hailey was reportedly paid $500,000 for the screen rights. Henry Hathaway directed some of the outdoor winter scenes uncredited covering for a sick Seaton. This was the final film of both Heflin and Landis. Shot in 70 mm Todd-AO. Followed by three sequels: AIRPORT 1975 (1974), AIRPORT ‘77 (1977), and THE CONCORDE…AIRPORT ’79 (1979).
AA: Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Helen Hayes).
AAN: Best Picture; Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Maureen Stapleton); Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (George Seaton); Best Cinematography (Ernest Laszlo); Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Alexander Golitzen, E. Preston Ames, Jack D. Moore, Mickey S. Michaels); Best Costume Design (Edith Head); Best Sound (Ronald Pierce, David H. Moriarty); Best Film Editing (Stuart Gilmore) and Best Music, Original Score (Alfred Newman).