Book Review – FUZZ (1968) by Ed McBain

FUZZ (1968) ****
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Pan Books, 1970, 205pp
First published in 1968
© Ed McBain, 1968
ISBN: 978-0-3300-2463-9
Blurb: The detectives of the 87th Precinct are confronted with a call – clearly a crank call – that threatens the life of the city’s parks commissioner unless a ransom of $5,000 is paid. The deadline soon passes and the parks commissioner is shot in the head as he leaves a rock concert. Soon, another anonymous warning follows and the deputy mayor is blown up in his Cadillac. The next target is the young, charismatic Kennedy-esque mayor who is on the hit list of what can only be called a serial assassin. It is up to the hardworking detectives of the 87th Precinct to find the shrewd murderer before he can strike again.
Comment: Ed McBain returns with the 22nd book in his 87th Precinct series following a two-year break. The book is a mix of detection, thrills and comedy, with the latter adding a delicious flavour to the mix. McBain is not afraid to show the fallibilities of his detective heroes and here they are often made to look inept by their master-criminal nemesis the Deaf Man, returning after his appearance in book number 12, The Heckler (1960). Three separate cases here dovetail through happenstance into a chaotic finale. For once the solution is not achieved through procedural detective work, it is merely resolved through blind luck. The Deaf Man’s scheme is clever and is only undone through his own vanity and bad timing. The dialogue is amongst the best in the series, notably in the sidebars: the station being decorated apple green by two painters who trade verbal barbs with the detectives; Meyer looking to sue an author who has used his name for the title of his book. The comedy is broadest in a stakeout in Grover park with Kling and Meyer dressed as nuns; Willis is a sleeping bag with female detective Eileen Burke; Genero disguised as a blind man with his guide dog who ends up shooting his own leg. That McBain juggles these elements, both serious and comic, so well is a testament to his skills. The result is one of the strongest books in the series, which would be adapted for the big screen four years later.

Film Review – THE ROAD TO HONG KONG (1962)

THE ROAD TO HONG KONG (1962, UK, 91m, U) ***
Comedy, Musical
dist. United Artists; pr co. Melnor Films; d. Norman Panama; w. Melvin Frank, Norman Panama; pr. Melvin Frank; ph. Jack Hildyard (B&W | 1.66:1); m. Robert Farnon; m/l. James Van Heusen, Sammy Cahn; ed. Alan Osbiston, John C. Smith, John Victor Smith; pd. Roger K. Furse; ad. Syd Cain, William Hutchinson.
cast: Bing Crosby (Harry Turner), Bob Hope (Chester Babcock), Joan Collins (Diane), Robert Morley (Leader of the 3rd Echelon), Walter Gotell (Dr. Zorbb), Felix Aylmer (Grand Lama), Alan Gifford (American Official), Michel Mok (Undetermined Role), Katya Douglas (3rd Echelon Receptionist), Roger Delgado (Jhinnah), Robert Ayres (American Official), Mei Ling (Ming Toy), Jacqueline Jones (Blonde at Airport), Yvonne Shima (Poon Soon), Dorothy Lamour (Dorothy Lamour).
Belated seventh and final film in the Hope/Crosby “Road to” series sees the pair trying hard to recreate the magic as con men who get embroiled in international intrigue. When Hope accidentally memorises and destroys the only copy of a secret Russian formula for new and improved rocket fuel, the duo tries to stay alive while keeping the formula out of enemy hands. The direction and editing are flabby and the routines seem a little dated in their 1960s setting. There are the usual in-jokes and Hope delivers slick one-liners, whilst Bing also gets in a couple of songs. Collins makes a game sparring partner and Lamour turns up late in the proceedings. Peter Sellers, Dean Martin, David Niven and Frank Sinatra are among the stars making unbilled cameo appearances.

Film Review – THE DUKE (2020)

THE DUKE (2020, UK, 96m, 12) ****
Biography, Comedy
dist. Pathe UK (UK), Sony Pictures Classics (USA); pr co. Pathe UK / Ingenious Media / Screen Yorkshire / Neon Films; d. Roger Michell; w. Richard Bean, Clive Coleman; pr. Nicky Bentham; ph. Mike Eley (Colour | 2.39:1); m. George Fenton; ed. Kristina Hetherington; pd. Kristian Milsted; ad. Adam Tomlinson.
cast: Jim Broadbent (Kempton Bunton), Helen Mirren (Dorothy Bunton), Fionn Whitehead (Jackie Bunton), Matthew Goode (Jeremy Hutchinson QC), Aimée Kelly (Irene Boslover), Craig Conway (Mr Walker), Simon Hubbard (PC Myton), Jack Bandeira (Kenny Bunton), Heather Craney (Debbie – Clerk of the Court), Cliff Burnett (Wilf), Ashley Kumar (Javid Akram), Charlie Richmond (PO Official 1), James Wilby (Judge Aarvold), John Heffernan (Neddie Cussen), Michael Mather (Eddie), Anna Maxwell Martin (Mrs Gowling), Michael Hodgson (Barry Spence), Richard McCabe (Rab Butler), Andrew Havill (Sir Philip Hendy), Val McLane (Freda).
Delightfully performed story of Kempton Bunton (Broadbent), a 60-year-old taxi driver, who in 1961 stole Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London. He sent ransom notes saying that he would return the painting on the condition that the government invested more in care for the elderly. Broadbent is superb as the likeable and funny campaigner whilst Mirren is equally impressive as his long-suffering wife. A subplot involving the death of their teenage daughter a few years earlier adds a level of pathos and gives the characterisations some depth. The court scenes in the film’s final act give Broadbent his moment in the spotlight and are hilarious. 1960s Newcastle is splendidly captured in all its grit and grime by cinematographer Eley and production designer Milsted. This comedy-drama is a fitting final film for director Michell.

Film Review – THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932)

THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932, USA, 72m, PG) ****
Comedy, Horror, Thriller
dist. Universal Pictures; pr co. Universal Pictures; d. James Whale; w. Benn W. Levy (based on the novel by J.B. Priestley); pr. Carl Laemmle Jr.; ph. Arthur Edeson (uncredited) (B&W | 1.37:1); ed. Maurice Pivar (uncredited); pd. Charles D. Hall.
cast: Boris Karloff (Morgan), Melvyn Douglas (Penderel), Charles Laughton (Sir William Porterhouse), Lilian Bond (Gladys), Ernest Thesiger (Horace Femm), Eva Moore (Rebecca Femm), Raymond Massey (Philip Waverton), Gloria Stuart (Margaret Waverton), Elspeth Dudgeon (Sir Roderick Femm (as John Dudgeon)), Brember Wills (Saul Femm).
Alternately funny and chilling, this thriller sees three travellers, driving through a brutal thunderstorm in Wales, take refuge in an eerie house owned by the Femm family. Reluctantly admitted by Horace Femm (Thesiger), the three sit down to a strange dinner. Horace is neurotic; mute butler Morgan (Karloff) is an alcoholic; and Horace’s sister, Rebecca (Moore), raves about chastity. When the storm brings in an industrialist and chorus girl Gladys DuCane Perkins (Bond), Morgan’s lust and Rebecca’s ire are ignited. Whale injects the adaptation with his unmistakable brand of the camp and the macabre. Whilst some of the performances are dated in their dialogue delivery. there is plenty of atmosphere created by Edeson’s lighting of the scenes and Hall’s gothic production design of the house. Karloff commands the screen with his physical presence and it is interesting to see Laughton playing his Lancastrian aristocrat with a broad accent.

Film Review – A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA (1946)

A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA (1946, USA) ****
Comedy
dist. United Artists; pr co. Loma Vista Productions; d. Archie Mayo; w. Joseph Fields, Roland Kibbee; pr. David L. Loew; ph. James Van Trees (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Werner Janssen; ed. Gregg C. Tallas; pd. Duncan Cramer; rel. 16 May 1946 (USA), 11 July 1946 (UK); BBFC cert: U; r/t. 85m.
cast: Groucho Marx (Kornblow), Harpo Marx (Rusty), Chico Marx (Corbaccio), Charles Drake (Pierre), Lois Collier (Annette), Sig Ruman (Heinrich Stubel / Max Pfferman), Lisette Verea (Bea), Lewis L. Russell (Governor), Dan Seymour (Prefect of Police), Frederick Giermann (Kurt), Harro Meller (Emile), David Hoffman (Spy), Paul Harvey (Mr. Smythe).
Five years after their “billed” final film, THE BIG STORE (1941), the Marx Brothers return in this riff on CASABLANCA (1942). Here, Ronald Kornblow (Groucho) takes over as the manager of a luxurious hotel in Casablanca, in the aftermath of World War II. After discovering that both of his predecessors had been murdered, Kornblow begins to fear for his safety — especially when Nazi Count Pfefferman (Ruman) tries to take over Kornblow’s job in a bid to get his hands on valuable items that were stashed in the hotel by the Nazis at the tail end of the war. Whilst the film runs out of comedic steam as it attempts to wrap up its plot in the finale, much of the rest is top-draw Marx comedy. Groucho delivers his one-liners with leering grace and Harpo provides much of the physical comedy. There are opportunities for musical interludes for Chico (piano) and Harpo (harp) and the plot manages to stay out of the brothers’ way for most of the running time. The result is a return to form and a late-career flourish. The brothers would make one more film together – LOVE HAPPY (1949) before disbanding.

Film Review – HELPMATES (1932)

HELPMATES (1932, USA) *****
Comedy
dist. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); pr co. Hal Roach Studios; d. James Parrott; w. H.M. Walker; pr. Hal Roach (uncredited); ph. Art Lloyd (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Marvin Hatley, Leroy Shield (both stock music); ed. Richard C. Currier; rel. 23 January 1932 (USA); BBFC cert: U; r/t. 21m.
cast: Stan Laurel (Stan), Oliver Hardy (Ollie), Bobby Burns (Neighbour (uncredited)), Bob Callahan (Messenger (uncredited)), Blanche Payson (Mrs. Hardy (uncredited)).
One of Laurel & Hardy’s very best shorts. Oliver’s house is in a shambles after a wild party, and his wife is due home at noon. He calls Stanley to help him fix the place up, and the typical catastrophes ensue. Side-splitting sight gags are piled on top of each other as Oliver’s dignity is unravelled by Stan’s dim-witted help and his own pomposity. The final gag is wonderfully ironic.

Film Review – DUCK SOUP (1933)

DUCK SOUP (1933, USA) *****
Comedy, Musical
dist. Paramount Pictures; pr co. Paramount Pictures; d. Leo McCarey; w. Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby, Arthur Sheekman, Nat Perrin; pr. Herman J. Mankiewicz; ph. Henry Sharp (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. John Leipold; ed. LeRoy Stone; ad. Hans Dreier, Wiard Ihnen (both uncredited); rel. 15 November 1933 (USA), 29 November 1933 (UK); BBFC cert: U; r/t. 69m.
cast: Groucho Marx (Rufus T. Firefly), Harpo Marx (Pinky), Chico Marx (Chicolini), Zeppo Marx (Bob Roland), Margaret Dumont (Gloria Teasdale), Raquel Torres (Vera Marcal), Louis Calhern (Ambassador Trentino), Edmund Breese (Zander), Leonid Kinskey (Sylvanian Agitator), Charles Middleton (Prosecutor), Edgar Kennedy (Lemonade Vendor).
The most anarchic of all the Marx Brothers films also has strong hints of anti-war satire. Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) is named president/dictator of bankrupt Freedonia and declares war on neighbouring Sylvania over the love of wealthy Mrs. Teasdale (Dumont). What follows is a breathless 69-minute comedy masterclass mixing inventive sight-gags (notably the famous mirror sequence) with Groucho’s biting one-liners. Dumont is a game foil for Groucho’s insults. Harpo and Chico are also at the top of their game in their respective familiar characterisations and their battle with Lemonade vendor Kennedy is superb visual comedy. This was the last appearance of Zeppo Marx in The Marx Brothers films and the team’s last film for Paramount before moving on to MGM. In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #60 Greatest Movie of All Time.

Film Review – A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1935)

A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1935, USA) *****
Comedy, Music, Musical
dist. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); pr co. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); d. Sam Wood; w. George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind (based on a story by James Kevin McGuinness); pr. Irving Thalberg (uncredited); ph. Merritt B. Gerstad (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Herbert Stothart; ed. William LeVanway; ad. Cedric Gibbons; rel. 1 November 1935 (USA), 13 December 1935 (UK); BBFC cert: U; r/t. 96m.
cast: Groucho Marx (Otis B. Driftwood), Chico Marx (Fiorello), Harpo Marx (Tomasso), Kitty Carlisle (Rosa Castaldi), Allan Jones (Riccardo Barone), Walter Woolf King (Rudolfo Lassparri), Sig Ruman (Herman Gottlieb), Margaret Dumont (Mrs. Claypool), Edward Keane (Ship’s Captain), Robert Emmett O’Connor (Police Sergeant Henderson).
Hilarious and top-notch Marxian lunacy, their first film for MGM following their glory years with Paramount. It was also their first as a trio, with Zeppo dropping out. Here, the Marxes run amuck in the world of opera when Otis B. Driftwood (Groucho) meets aspiring singer Ricardo (Jones), who is determined to win the love of fellow performer Rosa (Carlisle). Aided by Fiorello (Chico) and Tomasso (Harpo), Otis attempts to unite the young couple but faces opposition from the preening star Lassparri (King), who also has his sights on Rosa. Travelling from Italy to New York, Otis and friends rally to try and win the day. Containing some of the brothers’ very best routines – the contract and stateroom scenes – and Groucho’s wittiest one-liners, this ranks with the team’s best films. MGM head Irving Thalberg ensured high production values, musical interludes, and a romantic sub-plot to give audiences room to breathe between the laughs. The formula works perfectly here.

TV Review – THE LARKINS (2021)

THE LARKINS (2021, UK, Colour, 6 x 46m) ***
Objective Fiction / Genial Productions / Objective Media Group Scotland / Independent Television (ITV)
Comedy, Drama
Exec pr. Sophie Clarke-Jervoise, Ben Farrell, Charlotte Lewis, Simon Nye, Toby Stevens, Bradley Walsh; pr. Serena Cullen; d. Andy De Emmony; w. Simon Nye, Abigail Wilson (based on the novel “Darling Buds of May” by H.E. Bates); ph. Darran Bragg; m. Nick Green; ed. William Webb, David Head; pd. Lucy Spink; ad. Polly Stevens; cos. June Nevin.
Cast: Bradley Walsh (Pop Larkin), Joanna Scanlan (Ma Larkin), Sabrina Bartlett (Mariette Larkin), Tok Stephen (Cedric ‘Charley’ Charlton), Davina Coleman (Zinnia Larkin), Rosie Coleman (Petunia Larkin), Liam Middleton (Montgomery Larkin), Lydia Page (Primrose Larkin), Lola Shepelev (Victoria Larkin), Amelia Bullmore (Miss Edith Pilchester), Peter Davison (Vicar), Stephen Hagan (Tom Fisher), Francesca Wilson Waterworth (Libby Fothergill), Kriss Dosanjh (The Brigadier), Tony Gardner (Alec Norman), Seeta Indrani (Miss Chand), Natalie Mitson (Pauline Jackson), Barney Walsh (PC Harness), Timmika Ramsay (Poll Saunders), Selina Griffiths (Norma Norman), Wil Johnson (Old Reg), Robert Bathurst (Johnny Delamere), Angela Bai (Aunt Fan), Victoria Grove (Lil), Georgie Glen (Lady Bluff-Gore), Nicholas Le Prevost (Sir George Bluff-Gore).
Charming, if loose, adaptation of Bates’ beloved novel, It follows the warm-hearted, wheeler-dealing adventures of the iconic Larkin family in the idyllic Kent countryside pales next to the classic 1991-3 series THE DARLING BUDS OF MAY but still delivers enough sunny charm to remain entertaining. Walsh and Scanlan are well cast as the charismatic Pop and Ma and help give the production its energy. Picture postcard locations and colourful photography also add to the heartwarming mood. Some will baulk at anachronisms, such as the diverse casting, but this helps introduce the material to a wider audience. Amongst the supporting cast, Davison has fun as the unconventional vicar and Stephen is loveable as Charley.

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.