Film Review – THE SAINT AND THE BRAVE GOOSE (1979)

THE SAINT AND THE BRAVE GOOSE (1979, UK, 94m, PG) **½
Action, Crime, Mystery
pr co. ITC Entertainment; d. Cyril Frankel; w. John Kruse (based on the character created by Leslie Charteris); exec pr. Robert S. Baker; ph. Frank Watts (Colour | 1.33:1); m. John Scott; ed. Bert Rule; pd. John Stoll.
cast: Ian Ogilvy (Simon Templar), Gayle Hunnicutt (Annabel West), Stratford Johns (George Duchamps), Derren Nesbitt (Insp. Lebec), Joe Lynch (Capt. Finnigan), Michelle Newell (Genevieve), Edward Brayshaw (Oscar West), Peggy Thorpe-Bates (Mrs. Cloonan), John Hallam (Bernadotti), Leon Lissek (Pancho), Michael Robbins (Beeky), Prentis Hancock (Vic), Wensley Pithey (Franklyn), Cyril Luckham (Coroner).
Originally broadcast as “Collision Course” a two-part episode of Return of the Saint (1978-9), this was compiled into a feature film for the home video market as well as receiving a limited theatrical release. Hunnicutt’s husband is killed when his power boat blows up during a race and sets off for the French Riviera to collect ‘The Brave Goose’, a luxury yacht he has left her. She is followed by associates of her husband, who believe she knows the whereabouts of the spoils of a gold bullion robbery, whilst the Saint (Ogilvy) is also on her trail. Although shot on location in France, the film struggles to escape the limitations of its TV budget and whilst the story is passable it rarely catches fire. Ogilvy lacks the charisma Roger Moore brought to the role a decade earlier and Frankel’s direction is a little flat. Some good underwater footage during the finale adds much-needed suspense to an otherwise overly familiar tale.

Film Review – THE LOST WORLD (1960)

THE LOST WORLD (1960, USA, 97m, PG) ***
Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
dist. Twentieth Century Fox; pr co. Saratoga Productions; d. Irwin Allen; w. Charles Bennett, Irwin Allen (based on the novel by Arthur Conan Doyle); pr. Irwin Allen; ph. Winton C. Hoch (DeLuxe | 2.35:1); m. Paul Sawtell, Bert Shefter; ed. Hugh S. Fowler; ad. Duncan Cramer, Walter M. Simonds.
cast: Michael Rennie (Lord John Roxton), Jill St. John (Jennifer Holmes), David Hedison (Ed Malone), Claude Rains (Prof. George Edward Challenger), Fernando Lamas (Manuel Gomez), Richard Haydn (Prof. Summerlee), Ray Stricklyn (David Holmes), Jay Novello (Costa), Vitina Marcus (Native Girl), Ian Wolfe (Burton White), Colin Campbell (Prof. Waldron (uncredited)), John Graham (Stuart Holmes (uncredited)).
This adaptation of Conan Doyle’s classic adventure is given a contemporary setting. Allen had also wanted to use stop-motion dinosaurs, but due to budget constraints, he had to use lizards with plastic horns and spikes on model sets. You could hardly call them dinosaurs. That said the production is enjoyable hokum with familiar thrills and excitements. The story sees anthropology professor George Challenger (Rains), explorer Lord John Roxton (Rennie) and an assorted team of thrill-seekers and experts, led by Hedison and including the delectable St. John, trek through a South American rainforest Rains claims is home to living prehistoric creatures. There they meet the dangers of the environment and a lost native tribe. Rains has enormous fun as the eccentric Challenger and Hedison makes an admirable action hero. Rennie, however, seems a little old for his role and at odds with the material. If you can get past the cut-price effects work and often flat direction, this makes for diverting entertainment but fails to do Conan Doyle’s novel justice.

Book Review – SADIE WHEN SHE DIED (1972) by Ed McBain

SADIE WHEN SHE DIED (1972) ****
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Pan Books, 1974, 160pp
First published in 1972
© Ed McBain, 1972
ISBN: 978-0-3302-4012-9
Blurb: Christmas is coming. But erudite attorney Gerry Fletcher got his present early: his wife’s body with a knife buried in it. Though he shamelessly cops to being happy she’s dead, his alibi is airtight and all signs point to a burglary gone bad. But even when detectives Steve Carella and Bert Kling follow the clues to a junky punk and get a full confession, Carella can’t quit thinking there’s something about the case that’s as phoney as a sidewalk Santa’s beard. Maybe it’s because the victim’s husband wants to pal around with the suspicious cop on a cryptic pub crawl through the urban jungle. Or maybe it’s the dead woman’s double identity and little black book full of secret lovers. Whether she was Sarah the shrewish wife or Sadie the sex-crazy swinger, there’s more to her murder than just a bad case of wrong place, wrong time. And Carella won’t rest till his cuffs are on the killer.
Comment: The 26th book in the 87th Precinct series by Ed McBain is one of the strongest. McBain skillfully navigates us through Carella’s dogged investigation of Fletcher by creating a relationship between the two similar to the formula used in the Columbo TV series (for which McBain would later adapt a couple of his novels). This is again another experiment in format for McBain, but here he is much more successful. A subplot involves Kling and his relationship with the mysterious Nora Simonov, which lands him in more trouble than he has bargained for. As would become an increasingly used formula, the two plots have no link, merely show McBain’s broader cast of characters in their ongoing domestic and work lives. As Carella closes in on Fletcher, the attorney becomes increasingly paranoid and the plot is neatly brought to a satisfying conclusion as Carella’s stakeout unearths the secrets of Fletcher’s marriage.

Book Review – HAIL, HAIL THE GANG’S ALL HERE! (1971) by Ed McBain

HAIL, HAIL THE GANG’S ALL HERE! (1971) ***
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Coronet Books, 1995, 190pp
First published in 1971
© Ed McBain, 1971
ISBN: 978-0-3405-9330-1
Blurb: There are 186 patrolmen and a handful of detectives in the 87th Precinct, but it’s never quite enough. Because between petty crimes and major felonies, between crimes of hate and crimes of passion, the city never sleeps — and for these cops, a day never ends… The night shift has a murdered go-go dancer, a firebombed black church, a house full of ghosts, and a mother trying to get her twenty-two year-old to come home. The day shift: a naked hippie lying smashed on the concrete, two murderous armed robbers in Halloween masks, and a man beaten senseless by four guys using sawed-off broom handles. Altogether, it’s a day in the life. But for a certain cop in the 87th Precinct, it could just be his last…
Comment: In the 25th book in the 87th Precinct series McBain again looks to try something new in an attempt to freshen up the series. This time he presents a day’s caseload for the detectives of the 87th squad, each of which could have been a short story in its own right. The book is not structured in traditional chapters, and is instead divided into two sections – “nightshade” and “Daywatch”.  These sections deal with the detective’s night and day shifts and follow the teams as they investigate a number of contrasting crimes. As the book’s title suggests, McBain gives space to all the detectives on the squad, allowing each to have a moment in the sun, This means we get to meet some of the squad who have been rarely featured previously, as well as all the regulars. The result is a disjointed novel, that perhaps represents the realistic caseload handling of a detective squad, but lacks a central hook that threads through the cases together. The dialogue is as strong as ever and the broader character spectrum provides additional interest. An interesting experiment, albeit one that lacks cohesion.

Film Review – FANATIC (1965)

FANATIC (1965, UK, 96m, 15) ***
Horror, Thriller
dist. Columbia Pictures; pr co. Hammer Films; d. Silvio Narizzano; w. Richard Matheson (based on the novel “Nightmare” by Anne Blaisdell); pr. Anthony Hinds; ph. Arthur Ibbetson (Colour | 1.85:1); m. Wilfred Josephs; ed. John Dunsford; pd. Peter Proud.
cast: Tallulah Bankhead (Mrs. Trefoile), Stefanie Powers (Patricia Carroll), Peter Vaughan (Harry), Maurice Kaufmann (Alan Glentower), Yootha Joyce (Anna), Donald Sutherland (Joseph), Gwendolyn Watts (Gloria), Robert Dorning (Ormsby), Philip Gilbert (Oscar), Winifred Dennis (Shopkeeper), Diana King (Woman Shopper), Henry McGee (Rector (uncredited)).
This is a largely effective psychological thriller starring Powers as an American woman who travels to London to marry her boyfriend (Kaufmann). While there, she stops by to visit the mother of her deceased ex-fiancé (Bankhead), intending to pay her respects. Upon arriving, however, Powers discovers that Bankhead’s grief for her son has transformed her into a sociopath and Bankhead holds Powers prisoner to cleanse her soul. Bankhead has great fun as the unhinged religious fanatic, whilst Powers is also good as the unwitting victim of her obsession. There are good roles for Joyce and Vaughan as Bankhead’s hired help who have become converted to Bankhead’s preaching. Sutherland makes his big-screen debut as a simple-minded hired hand. There are occasional stylish touches from director Narizzano, despite sometimes jarring tonal shifts during the first act, and the story comes nicely to the boil in its finale. US title: DIE! DIE! MY DARLING.

Film Review – ALFIE DARLING (1975)

ALFIE DARLING (1975, UK, 102m, 15) *½
Comedy, Drama
dist. EMI Distribution (UK), Cinema National (USA); pr co. Signal; d. Ken Hughes; w. Ken Hughes (based on the novel by Bill Naughton); pr. Dugald Rankin; ph. Ousama Rawi (Technicolor | 1.66:1); m. Alan Price; ed. John Trumper; pd. Harry Pottle.
cast: Alan Price (Alfie Elkins), Jill Townsend (Abby Summers), Paul Copley (Bakey), Joan Collins (Fay), Sheila White (Norma), Annie Ross (Claire), Hannah Gordon (Dora), Roger Lumont (Pierre), Rula Lenska (Louise), Minah Bird (Gloria), Derek Smith (Harold), Vicki Michelle (Bird), Brian Wilde (Doctor), Robin Parkinson (Parker), Rosalind Elliot (Secretary), Jenny Hanley (Receptionist), Ben Aris (Advertising Man), Timothy Peters (Advertising Man), Hugh Walters (Hugh, Advertising Man), Sally Bulloch (Clerk).
Belated sequel to ALFIE (1966) with Price taking over the lead role of Alfie Elkins from Michael Caine. Alfie is up to his old womanizing ways–until he meets his match in a sophisticated magazine editor (Townsend). His pursuit is complicated by his ongoing sexual encounters including with neighbour White and upmarket Collins, whose jealous husband won’t let him forget about his time with his wife. There really isn’t much substance on the bones here and the film lacks the moral and social commentary of Lewis Gilbert’s original film. Price lacks acting chops and charisma, whilst the first half of the movie serves little more than to tackily exploit Alfie’s libido with a succession of women. Price’s ‘real’ romance with Townsend fails to convince as the actors lack chemistry (despite a reported off-screen affair) and the scenario feels weak. The tragic ending looks to add a level of pathos, but we have not invested enough in the characters for it to hit home. Price contributed the music score and songs with the theme song (inserted into scenes with Price and Townsend in France) sung by Cilla Black.

Film Review – STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951)

STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951, USA, 101m, PG) ****½
Crime, Film-Noir, Thriller
dist. Warner Bros.; pr co. Warner Bros.; d. Alfred Hitchcock; w. Raymond Chandler, Czenzi Ormonde, Whitfield Cook (based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith); pr. Alfred Hitchcock (uncredited); ph. Robert Burks (B&W | 1.37:1); m. Dimitri Tiomkin; ed. William H. Ziegler; ad. Ted Haworth.
cast: Farley Granger (Guy Haines), Ruth Roman (Anne Morton), Robert Walker (Bruno Antony), Leo G. Carroll (Sen. Morton), Patricia Hitchcock (Barbara Morton), Kasey Rogers (Miriam Joyce Haines (as Laura Elliott)), Marion Lorne (Mrs. Antony), Jonathan Hale (Mr. Antony), Howard St. John (Police Capt. Turley), John Brown (Prof. Collins), Norma Varden (Mrs. Cunningham), Robert Gist (Det. Leslie Hennessey).
Patricia Highsmith’s thriller is expertly adapted for the big screen by Hitchcock from a script by Chandler, Ormonde and Cook. Tennis star Granger is enraged by his estranged wife’s (Rogers) refusal to sign their divorce papers so he can marry senator Carroll’s daughter (Roman). On a train journey, he strikes up a conversation with stranger Walker and unwittingly sets in motion the killing of his wife by the psychopathic Walker. Walker then urges Granger to reciprocate by killing Walker’s father. Granger, who is now the police prime suspect in the killing of his wife, is caught in a conundrum. Whilst the premise may be a conceit, the story creates considerable suspense, all beautifully captured by Burks’ shadowy photography and emphasised by Tiomkin’s complimentary score. Walker gives an expert performance, mixing menace and charm and the pacing of the story is perfect, with key moments expertly edited by Ziegler for maximum tension.
AAN: Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (Robert Burks)

Film Review – THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960)

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960, USA, 128m, PG) ****
Western
dist. United Artists; pr co. The Mirisch Company / Alpha Productions; d. John Sturges; w. William Roberts; pr. John Sturges; ph. Charles Lang (DeLuxe | 2.35:1); m. Elmer Bernstein; ed. Ferris Webster; ad. Edward Fitzgerald.
cast: Yul Brynner (Chris Larabee Adams), Eli Wallach (Calvera), Steve McQueen (Vin Tanner), Horst Buchholz (Chico), Charles Bronson (Bernardo O’Reilly), Robert Vaughn (Lee), Brad Dexter (Harry Luck), James Coburn (Britt), Jorge Martínez de Hoyos (Hilario), Vladimir Sokoloff (Old Man), Rosenda Monteros (Petra), Rico Alaniz (Sotero), Pepe Hern (Tomas), Natividad Vacío (Villager (as Natividad Vacio)), Mario Navarro (Boy with O’Reilly), Danny Bravo (Boy with O’Reilly), John A. Alonzo (Miguel), Val Avery (Henry), Whit Bissell (Chamlee), Robert J. Wilke (Wallace).
John Sturges’ remake of Akira Kurosawa’s SEVEN SAMURAI (1954) is packed with iconic moments delivered with aplomb by a cast of future stars. A Mexican village is at the mercy of Wallach and his band of outlaws. The farming villagers are too afraid to fight for themselves and hire seven American gunslingers, led by Brynner, to help them fight back. The gunmen train the villagers to defend themselves and then plan a trap for the bandits. The film has become immensely popular over the years, largely due to its cast. Brynner is a commanding presence and McQueen the epitome of cool. Bronson and Coburn also get the opportunity to show their potential and Vaughn’s character is an interesting psychological contradiction. Buchholz is a little excitable as a proud Mexican out to prove himself. There are slow patches to navigate, but the shootouts are well-staged and exciting, if slightly over-choreographed. Bernstein’s rousing musical score has become a classic. Followed by three sequels – RETURN OF THE SEVEN (1966), GUNS OF THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1969) and THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN RIDE! (1972) – and a TV series (1998-2000). Remade in 2016.
AAN: Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Elmer Bernstein).

Book Review – JIGSAW (1970) by Ed McBain

JIGSAW (1970) ***
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Pan Books, 1972, 159pp
First published in 1970
© Ed McBain, 1970
ISBN: 978-0-3302-3172-3
Blurb: Every day the men of the 87th Precinct solve puzzles. Of lives interrupted, lives intertwined and lives gone wrong on the streets of the city where they work. Sometimes the clues come easy. Sometimes they come covered in blood… Six years ago four men robbed a bank. Then a shootout left them dead, and 750 grand missing. Now Detectives Carella and Brown are finding pieces of a photograph, each piece tied to a name, each name tied to a murder, each murder tied to the bank robbery six years ago. The 87th Precinct cops know that the complete picture will lead them to the money. They just don’t know how many people still have to die — before the last piece falls into place.
Comment: The 24th book in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series is a literal puzzle as the detectives look to piece together a photograph to discover where $750,000 in stolen loot is buried and to solve some murders along the way. Here, McBain follows a mainly traditional format, but spices the story with elements of racial tension as Arthur Brown becomes the lead detective on the case. The solution is achieved through Brown’s acted physical intimidation of a southern girl who has become embroiled in the plot, but along the way we see him deal with society’s prejudices with mixed emotions. McBain’s writing is as assured as ever, but you can feel him reaching to add something new to the series and this case enables his characters to adapt their approach accordingly. A solid entry in the series.

Film Review – MAN OF THE WEST (1958)

MAN OF THE WEST (1958, USA, 100m, 12) ****
Western
dist. United Artists; pr co. Ashton Productions / Walter Mirisch Productions; d. Anthony Mann; w. Reginald Rose (based on the novel “The Border Jumpers” by Will C. Brown); pr. Walter Mirisch; ph. Ernest Haller (DeLuxe | 2.35:1); m. Leigh Harline; ed. Richard V. Heermance; ad. Hilyard M. Brown.
cast: Gary Cooper (Link Jones), Julie London (Billie Ellis), Lee J. Cobb (Dock Tobin), Arthur O’Connell (Sam Beasley), Jack Lord (Coaley), John Dehner (Claude), Royal Dano (Trout), Robert J. Wilke (Ponch), Joe Dominguez (Mexican Man (uncredited)), Dick Elliott (Willie (uncredited)), Frank Ferguson (Crosscut Marshal (uncredited)), Herman Hack (Train Passenger (uncredited)), Signe Hack (Train Passenger (uncredited)), Ann Kunde (Train Passenger (uncredited)), Tom London (Tom (uncredited)), Tina Menard (Juanita (uncredited)), Emory Parnell (Henry (uncredited)), Chuck Roberson (Rifleman-Guard on Train (uncredited)), Glen Walters (Train Passenger (uncredited)), Guy Wilkerson (Train Conductor (uncredited)), Jack Williams (Alcutt (uncredited)).
This psychological western sees Cooper in fine form as an ex-outlaw aboard a train when bandits rob it. When Cooper tries to intervene, he is knocked unconscious and left stranded in the middle of nowhere with a saloon singer (London) and con man (O’Connell). Cooper leads them to his nearby former home, which is now the hideout for the bandit led by his uncle (Cobb). He must re-join the old gang for one last holdup to save his friends. Mann directs with a sureness of hand and total control of the material. A strong script by Rose, adapted from a novel by Will C. Brown gives Cooper, Cobb and co plenty to get their teeth into. The cast gives excellent performances as the tension mounts between the bandits and their captives. Cooper is splendid conveying a man wrestling with a past he would rather forget, whilst Cobb is frightening as his unstable older mentor. Standout scenes include an exhausting fistfight between Cooper and Lord and a superbly staged shootout in a ghost town as Cooper looks to gain the upper hand. The result is another example of Mann’s mastery of his craft and his ability to elevate seemingly familiar material to new heights.