Film REview – WHITEOUT (2009)

WHITEOUT (2009, Canada/USA/France/Turkey) **½
Action, Crime, Thriller
dist. Warner Bros. USA), Optimum Releasing  (UK); pr co. Warner Bros. / Dark Castle Entertainment / StudioCanal; d. Dominic Sena; w. Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber, Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes (based on the graphic novel by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber); exec pr. Don Carmody, Steve Richards, Greg Rucka; pr. Susan Downey, David Gambino, Joel Silver; assoc pr. Aaron Auch, Ethan Erwin; ph. Christopher Soos (Technicolor. 35mm (anamorphic) (Kodak Vision 2383), D-Cinema. Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Super 35 (source format). 2.35:1); m. John Frizzell; ed. Martin Hunter; pd. Graham ‘Grace’ Walker; ad. Gilles Aird, Martin Gendron, Jean Kazemirchuk; set d. Réjean Labrie; cos. Wendy Partridge; m/up. Jocelyne Bellemare, Corald Giroux; sd. Mark Larry (Dolby Digital | DTS | SDDS); sfx. Louis Craig; vfx. Dennis Berardi, Ian Hunter, Richard Yuricich, Jeff Goldman, Richard Martin, Tom Turnbull, Thierry Delattre; st. Steve Lucescu; rel. 9 September 2009 (USA), 11 September 2009 (UK); cert: 15; r/t. 101m.

cast: Kate Beckinsale (Carrie Stetko), Gabriel Macht (Robert Pryce), Tom Skerritt (Dr. John Fury), Columbus Short (Delfy), Alex O’Loughlin (Russell Haden), Shawn Doyle (Sam Murphy), Joel Keller (Jack), Jesse Todd (Rubin), Arthur Holden (McGuire), Erin Hicock (Rhonda), Bashar Rahal (Russian Pilot), Julian Cain (Russian Co-pilot), Dennis Keiffer (Russian Guard), Andrei Runtso (Russian Guard), Roman Varshavsky (Russian Guard), Steve Lucescu (Mooney), Paula Jean Hixson (Lab Tech), Craig A. Pinckes (Aircraft Tech), Sean Tucker (Operations Tech), Marc James Beauchamp (Weiss).

The only U.S. Marshal assigned to Antarctica, Carrie Stetko (Beckinsale) will soon leave the harsh environment behind for good; in three days, the sun will set and the Amundsen-Scott Research Station will shut down for the long winter. When a body is discovered out on the open ice, Carrie’s investigation into the continent’s first homicide plunges her deep into a mystery that may cost her own life. The Antarctic setting adds to the atmosphere of this otherwise familiar genre thriller. Beckinsale is good in the lead, although she remains perfectly presented despite the hostile environment. The film manages to generate some tension and thrills but there is a distinct lack of originality in the plot, which has a muddled narrative with gaps in logic. The CGI work is moderate at best and the presentation of the setting always feels a little false.

Film Review – LONELY ARE THE BRAVE (1962)

LONELY ARE THE BRAVE (1962, USA) ****
Drama, Western
dist. Universal Pictures (USA), Rank Film Distributors (UK); pr co. Joel Productions; d. David Miller; w. Dalton Trumbo (based on the novel “Brave Cowboy” by Edward Abbey); exec pr. Kirk Douglas (uncredited); pr. Edward Lewis; ph. Philip H. Lathrop (B&W. 35mm. Panavision (anamorphic). 2.39:1); m. Jerry Goldsmith; m sup. Joseph Gershenson; ed. Leon Barsha; ad. Alexander Golitzen, Robert Emmet Smith; set d. George Milo; cos. Stanley Kufel, Peter V. Saldutti; m/up. Dave Grayson, Bud Westmore, Larry Germain; sd. Waldon O. Watson, Frank H. Wilkinson (Mono (Westrex Recording System)); st. Bob Herron; rel. 27 April 1962 (UK), 24 May 1962 (USA); cert: PG; r/t. 107m.

cast: Kirk Douglas (John W. “Jack” Burns), Gena Rowlands (Jerry Bondi), Walter Matthau (Sheriff Morey Johnson), Michael Kane (Paul Bondi), Carroll O’Connor (Hinton), William Schallert (Harry), George Kennedy (Deputy Sheriff Gutierrez), Karl Swenson (Rev. Hoskins), William Mims (First Deputy Arraigning Burns), Martin Garralaga (Old Man), Lalo Rios (Prisoner).

Douglas gives one of his best performances as a cowboy out of his time who attempts to break a friend (Kane) out of jail and is then pursued through the mountains by the local sheriff (Matthau). The film is played out for the most part from Douglas’ perspective as it laments the passing of the old west, which has been taken over by technological progress. The mix of drama and dry humour may seem jarring to some but adds a sense of realism as the humour is never over-played. There is brutality, represented by Kennedy’s sadistic jail warden. The humour is mainly played out through Matthau’s sheriff’s wilting exasperation at the incompetence of his men. There are symbolic scenes demonstrating the core theme of a modern west with the unforgettable bookends and Trumbo’s screenplay adaptation is well observed, excepting the jailbreak scene, which feels a little too easy. Douglas is superb and gets into the soul of his character and Lathrop’s black and white photography adds to the yearning for nostalgia. The section showing Douglas’s ascent of the mountain with his horse is depicted with authenticity and generates considerable suspense. Reported to be Douglas’ favourite of all his films. This was Carroll O’Connor’s film debut. An overlooked gem.

Film Review – BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955)

52 Before 62 – # 2 Bad Day At Black Rock (1955) | The Last Blog Name On  EarthBAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955, USA) ****½
Crime, Drama, Western
dist. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); pr co. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); d. John Sturges; w. Millard Kaufman, Don McGuire (based on a story “Bad Time at Hondo” by Howard Breslin); pr. Dore Schary; assoc pr. Herman Hoffman; ph. William C. Mellor (Eastmancolor. 35mm. CinemaScope. 2.55:1); m. André Previn; ed. Newell P. Kimlin; ad. Malcolm Brown, Cedric Gibbons; set d. Fred M. MacLean, Edwin B. Willis; m/up. John Truwe; sd. Wesley C. Miller (Mono (35mm optical prints) (Western Electric Sound System) | 4-Track Stereo (35mm magnetic prints)); rel. 13 January 1955 (USA), 17 March 1955 (UK); cert: PG; r/t. 81m.

cast: Spencer Tracy (John J. Macreedy), Robert Ryan (Reno Smith), Anne Francis (Liz Wirth), Dean Jagger (Tim Horn), Walter Brennan (Doc Velie), John Ericson (Pete Wirth), Ernest Borgnine (Coley Trimble), Lee Marvin (Hector David), Russell Collins (Mr. Hastings), Walter Sande (Sam).

John J. MacReedy (Tracy), is a one-armed stranger who comes to the tiny town of Black Rock one hot summer day in 1945, the first time the train has stopped there in years. He looks for both a hotel room and a local Japanese farmer named Komoko, but his inquiries are greeted at first with open hostility, then with blunt threats and harassment, and finally with escalating violence. MacReedy soon realizes that he will not be allowed to leave Black Rock; town boss Reno Smith (Ryan), who had Komoko killed because of his hatred of the Japanese, has also marked MacReedy for death. MacReedy must battle town thugs, a treacherous local woman (Francis), and finally Smith himself to stay alive. The film has an excellent script that creates an air of mystery and intimidation, which Sturges maximises through his economic shooting. Tracy is superb as the mysterious visitor and is supported by an excellent cast that includes Ryan as the influential rancher; Borgnine and Marvin as Ryan’s muscle; Francis as the only girl in town whose brother played by Ericson proves to be their weak link; and Brennan and Jagger as the town doctor and drunken sheriff ashamed of their past. The confrontation between Tracy and the townsfolk grows as the story plays out to its inevitable and ironic conclusion. Whilst the ending may seem a little hurried and convenient, taken as a whole, the film is a textbook example of building suspense through character and dialogue.

AAN: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Spencer Tracy); Best Director (John Sturges); Best Writing, Screenplay (Millard Kaufman).

Film Review – SMALL TIME CROOKS (2000)

Small Time Crooks (2000) - Photo Gallery - IMDbSMALL TIME CROOKS (2000, USA) ***½
Comedy, Crime
dist. DreamWorks Distribution (USA), FilmFour (UK); pr co. Dreamworks Pictures / Sweetland Films / Magnolia Productions; d. Woody Allen; w. Woody Allen; exec pr. J.E. Beaucaire; pr. Jean Doumanian, Helen Robin; ph. Fei Zhao (Technicolor. 35mm. Spherical. 1.85:1); ed. Alisa Lepselter; pd. Santo Loquasto; ad. Tom Warren; set d. Jessica Lanier; cos. Suzanne McCabe; m/up. Rosemary Zurlo, Werner Sherer; sd. Robert Hein, Gary Alper (DTS (Mono) | Dolby Digital (Mono)); sfx. John Ottesen, Ron Ottesen; rel. 19 May 2000 (USA), 1 December 2000 (UK); cert: PG; r/t. 94m.

cast: Woody Allen (Ray), Tracey Ullman (Frenchy), Hugh Grant (David), Elaine May (May), Tony Darrow (Tommy), George Grizzard (George Blint), Jon Lovitz (Benny), Michael Rapaport (Denny), Elaine Stritch (Chi Chi Potter), Steve Kroft (Steve Kroft), Brian McConnachie (Paul Milton), Kristine Nielsen (Emily Bailey), Larry Pine (Charles Bailey), Julie Lund (Linda Rhinelander), Maurice Sonnenberg (Garth Steinway), Richard Mawe (Anthony Gwynne), Frank Wood (Oliver), Howard Erskine (Langston Potter), Marvin Chatinover (Dr. Henske), Dana Tyler (TV News Reporter), Carolyn Saxon (Candy Salesperson), Sam Josepher (Real Estate Agent), Lawrence Howard Levy (Dynamite Dealer), Diane Bradley (Cookie Store Customer), Crystal Field (Cookie Store Customer), Cindy Carver (Cookie Store Customer), Ray Garvey (Cookie Store Customer), Bill Gerber (Cookie Store Customer), Olivia Hayman (Cookie Store Customer), Laurine Towler (Cookie Store Customer), Fanda Nikic (Cookie Store Customer), Brian Markinson (Cop), Riccardo Bertoni (Winklers’ Butler), Isaac Mizrahi (Winklers’ Chef), Teri Black (Winkler Party Guest), John Doumanian (Winkler Party Guest), Phyllis Burdoe (Winkler Party Guest), Karla Wolfangle (Modern Dance Performer), Rob Besserer (Modern Dance Performer), Ruth Laredo (Concert Pianist), Julie Halston (Concert Party Guest), Anthony Sinopoli (Frenchy’s Chauffeur), Jesse Levy (Church Cellist), Josephine Calabrese (Churchgoer), Cindy Wilks (Churchgoer), Trevor Moran (Churchgoer), Peter McRobbie (Frenchy’s Lawyer), Douglas McGrath (Frenchy’s Lawyer), Christine Pipgras (Potter Party Guest), Nick Garfinkle (Potter Party Guest), Kenneth Edelson (Potter Party Guest), Ira Wheeler (Potter Party Guest), William Hill (Potter Party Guest), Ramsey Faragallah (Potter’s Waiter), Scotty Bloch (Edgar’s Wife).

Dishwasher and small-fry criminal Ray (Allen) hits on a plan with his partners in crime to re-open a local pizza place and dig through to the bank down the street. As his wife (Ullman) can’t cook pizza but does great cookies, that’s what they sell. While the no-hope tunnellers get lost underground, the cookie operation really takes off and the team find themselves rich business people. But the other local money isn’t quite ready to accept them.  The first half of this movie sees Allen in top form interacting with his bumbling team of bank robbers and sparring amusingly with the excellent Ullman as his cookie baking wife. Then there is a shift in gear and theme as Allen’s tale becomes more concerned in its message that class cannot be bought or stolen. Here, Grant is brought in as an art dealer seizing on the opportunity to educate Ullman and Allen in return for them funding his business plans. May is also on hand as Ullman’s dim-witted hired help and produces a very funny performance. Whilst disjointed, with some of the characters from the first two acts disappearing in the final act, there are great comedic moments, and it is nice to see Allen looking for a change of pace with a broader approach in this film. For the most part it pays off.

TV Movie Review – SHAFT: THE KIDNAPPING (1973)

Life Between Frames: Worth Mentioning - The Cat That Won't Cop OutSHAFT: THE KIDNAPPING (TV) (1973, USA) ***
Action, Crime, Drama
net. Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS); pr co. MGM Television; d. Alexander Singer; w. Allan Balter. William Read Woodfield ; exec pr. Allan Balter; pr. William Read Woodfield; ass pr. Dann Cahn; ph. Michael Hugo (Metrocolor. 35mm. Spherical. 1.33:1); m. Johnny Pate, theme m. Isaac Hayes; m sup. Harry V Lojewski; ed. George Folsey Jr.; ad. Bill Ross; set d. Richard Friedman; cos. Norman A. Burza, Sylvia Liggett; m/up. Jack Wilson, Billie Jordan; sd. Robert J. Miller, Hal Watkins (Mono); b/cast. 11 December 1973 (USA); BBFC cert: PG; r/t. 74m.

cast: Richard Roundtree (John Shaft), Eddie Barth (Lt. Al Rossi), Paul Burke (Elliot Williamson), Karen Carlson (Nancy Williamson), Nicolas Beauvy (Matthew Potter), Greg Mullavey (Beck), Timothy Scott (Hayden), Victor Brandt (Leo), Frank Marth (Sheriff Bradley), Philip Kenneally (Deputy Walter), Erik Holland (Deputy Daley), Frank Whiteman (Deputy Milton), Stephen Coit (Mr. Tolliver), Jayne Kennedy (Debbie), Richard Stahl (Potter), Joe Petrullo (Cab Driver), Robert Casper (Bank customer), Rudy Doucette (Police Officer (uncredited)).

A banker’s wife is kidnapped, and the kidnappers insist that Shaft deliver the ransom. But complications arise when, on the way to the drop point, Shaft is stopped by an overzealous deputy who won’t listen to a word he says. This was the first shot episode (broadcast fourth) of the Shaft TV Movie series and it is little more than standard TV fare. However, its individual  elements lift it above other more modest entries in the TV series and it is a pretty good introduction for TV audiences to a more family friendly John Shaft. TV at the time was not ready for the Shaft seen on the big screen, so compromises were made with the character’s abrasiveness, salty language, violent approach to detection and his wooing of the opposite sex. These elements were dialled down. To compensate the producers extracted footage from the chase finale in SHAFT’S BIG SCORE! and repurposed it here to introduce Shaft to a TV audience. This provides a dynamic opening , which a TV budget could not match for the rest of the story. Shaft’s shootout with the bad guys at the story’s conclusion is low-scale compared to the imported opening. Nevertheless, Roundtree shows glimpses of his big screen persona and has an athletic presence throughout.

TV Movie Review – McCLOUD: ENCOUNTER WITH ARIES (1971)

McCloud : Encounter with Aries (1971) - Russ Mayberry | Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related | AllMovieMcCLOUD: ENCOUNTER WITH ARIES (TV) (1971, USA) ***½
Crime, Drama, Mystery
Network: NATIONAL BROADCASTING COMPANY (NBC) (USA); production company: UNIVERSAL TELEVISION; director: RUSS MAYBERRY; writer: PETER ALLAN FIELDS; producer: DEAN HARGROVE; associate producer: PETER ALLAN FIELDS; director of photography: WILLIAM MARGULIES (Technicolor | 35mm | Spherical | 1.37:1); music: DICK DEBENEDICTIS; film editor: BYRON ‘BUZZ’ BRANDT; art director: WILLIAM H. TUNTKE; set decorator: JOSEPH J. STONE; costumes: GRADY HUNT; sound: EDWIN S. HALL (Mono); broadcast date: 22 SEPTEMBER 1971 (USA); BBFC cert: PG; running time: 76 MINS.
Cast: DENNIS WEAVER (Sam McCloud), J.D. CANNON (Peter B. Clifford), SEBASTIAN CABOT (Sidney Cantrell), PETER HASKELL (Richard Stevens), SUSAN STRASBERG (Lorraine), LOUISE LATHAM (Emily Cantrell), ALAN OPPENHEIMER (Mervin Simmons), TERRY CARTER (Det. Joe Broadhurst), ROBERT HOGAN (Detective Finnegan), JILL JARESS (Gloria), BOOTH COLMAN (Hines), WOODROW PARFREY (Elmer), ELISHA COOK JR. (Mr. Rafer), FORREST LEWIS (Old Man), FRED HOLLIDAY (Intern), ELIZABETH LANE (Nurse), ATHENA LORDE (Floor Nurse), NANCY JERIS (Marie), JAMES GAVIN (Policeman).
The kidnapping of a woman (Latham) who is married to a wealthy astrologer (Cabot) — and the appearance of her kidnapper (Haskell), who claims she is being held in a room with a ticking time bomb — spur the woman’s husband to bash in the kidnapper’s head with a vase. This leaves McCloud (Weaver) with a limited time to determine where the woman is and who is really behind the kidnapping. This was the first episode following the transition of McCloud from its one-hour slot as part of the Four-in-One wheel to a regular rotation as part of the NBC Mystery Movie series. The story is a strong one with elements of mystery and humour. By now the role of McCloud fits the charming Weaver as well as his cowboy boots and his sparring with Cannon is always a joy to watch. A good script by Fields, tight direction from Mayberry and the casting of Cabot as the astrologer also help make this an above average mystery movie.

TV Movie Review – COLUMBO: ANY OLD PORT IN A STORM (1973)

Adrian CarsiniCOLUMBO: ANY OLD PORT IN A STORM (TV) (1973, USA) ****
Crime, Drama, Mystery
dist. National Broadcasting Company (NBC); pr co. Universal Television; d. Leo Penn; w. Stanley Ralph Ross (based on a story by Larry Cohen); pr. Robert F. O’Neill; ph. Harry L. Wolf (Technicolor. 35mm. Spherical. 1.33:1); m. Dick DeBenedictis; m sup. Hal Mooney; ed. Larry Lester, Buddy Small; ad. Archie J. Bacon; set d. John M. Dwyer; cos. Grady Hunt; sd. David H. Moriarty (Mono); rel. 7 October 1973 (USA); cert: PG; r/t. 96m.

cast: Peter Falk (Columbo), Donald Pleasence (Adrian Carsini), Joyce Jillson (Joan Stacey), Gary Conway (Enrico Guiseppe Carsini), Dana Elcar (Falcon), Julie Harris (Karen Fielding), Vito Scotti (Maitre d’), Robert Donner (The Drunk), Robert Ellenstein (Stein), Robert Walden (Billy Fine), Regis Cordic (Lewis), Reid Smith (Andy Stevens), John McCann (Officer), George Gaynes (Frenchman), Monte Landis (Steward), Walker Edmiston (Auctioneer), Pamela Campbell (Cassie Marlowe).

Adrian Carsini (Pleasence) runs a California winery owned by his younger half-brother (Conway) who reveals he’s about to sell it. This enrages the older wine connoisseur who knocks the young playboy out cold and ties him up in the wine cellar. Soon Carsini has committed a murder and makes it look like a scuba diving accident. The rumpled Lt. Columbo (Falk) is on the case and is willing to harass everyone – even Carsini’s cold but devoted secretary (Harris) – until he’s discovered the truth. One of the most entertaining of the Columbo mystery movies and one of the few where the rumpled detective has a liking for the killer. The winery setting and Pleasence’s delightfully snobbish performance give this episode a playfully novel feel. Whilst the murder is hardly perfect, the way Falk unravels the case is sublime. The finale in the expensive restaurant and on the cliffs overlooking the sea are neatly staged and the final scene where the detective and the murderer share a last bottle is nicely played. The production values are standard for 1970s TV, but the light, humorous touch and the lead performances make this well worth a look.

Book Review – A SONG FOR THE DARK TIMES (2020) by Ian Rankin

A SONG FOR THE DARK TIMES (2020) ****
by Ian Rankin
First published by Orion 2020, 325pp
ISBN: 978-1-4091-7697-8
© John Rebus, Ltd., 2020
    Blurb: When his daughter Samantha calls in the dead of night, John Rebus knows it’s not good news. Her husband has been missing for two days. Rebus fears the worst – and knows from his lifetime in the police that his daughter will be the prime suspect. He wasn’t the best father – the job always came first – but now his daughter needs him more than ever. But is he going as a father or a detective? As he leaves at dawn to drive to the windswept coast – and a small town with big secrets – he wonders whether this might be the first time in his life where the truth is the one thing he doesn’t want to find…
      Comment: As has become common-place with the Rebus-in-retirement books, Rankin juggles two separate cases, in which there is hinted a connection. The first involves Rebus trying to clear his daughter’s name when her husband is found murdered, the second sees Siobhan Clark and Malcolm Fox investigating the murder of a socialite in Edinburgh. The connection is a land deal proposed for a golfing holiday site near the north west coastal village where Rebus’s daughter Samantha lives with her own young daughter. A number of other elements are woven into the story. Rebus has moved to a ground floor flat due to his respiratory condition; gangster Cafferty has a hold over the Assistant Chief Constable when he comes across photos of her husband in an affair. Cafferty is also dealing with the prospect of his empire coming to an end and the book closes with some uncertainty on this. The two central mysteries are played out in familiar fashion and offer nothing really new beyond the background of a  WWII POW camp that was being studied by Samantha’s husband. The real delight, as ever, is in the familiar characters and their interactions. Rebus is at his abrasive best as he tussles with the local police. Clark and Fox’s working relationship continues to be tainted by their mistrust of each other. Cafferty is portrayed as an increasingly lonely figure relying on his past reputation. The page count is relatively and refreshingly brief, leading to an efficiently told story. There is still more to be said in this series and I look forward greatly to see where Rankin takes his characters next.

The Rebus Series:
Knots and Crosses (1987) ***
Hide and Seek (1991) ***
Tooth and Nail (original title Wolfman) (1992) ***
Strip Jack (1992) ***½
The Black Book (1993) ***
Mortal Causes (1994) ***
Let it Bleed (1996) ****
Black and Blue (1997) ****½
The Hanging Garden (1998) ****
Dead Souls (1999) ****
Set in Darkness (2000) ****
The Falls (2001) ****
Resurrection Men (2002) ****
A Question of Blood (2003) ****
Fleshmarket Close (2004) ****
The Naming of the Dead (2006)  ****½
Exit Music (2007) ****
Standing in Another Man’s Grave (2012) ***½
Saints of the Shadow Bible (2013) ***
Even Dogs in the Wild (2015) ****
Rather Be the Devil (2016) ***½
In a House of Lies (2018) ***½
A Song for the Dark Times (2020) ****

Film Review – MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN (2019)

Motherless Brooklyn | FlixsterMOTHERLESS BROOKLYN (2019, USA) ****
Mystery, Drama, Crime
dist. Warner Bros.; pr co. Class 5 Films / MWM Studios / Warner Bros. Pictures; d. Edward Norton; w. Edward Norton (based on the novel by Jonathan Lethem); exec pr. Adrian Alperovich, Sue Kroll, Daniel Nadler, Brian Niranjan Sheth, Robert F. Smith; pr. Michael Bederman, Bill Migliore, Daniel Nadler, Edward Norton, Gigi Pritzker, Rachel Shane, Robert F. Smith; ass pr. Silvana Tropea; ph. Dick Pope (Colour. D-Cinema. ARRIRAW (3.4K) (source format), Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format). 1.85:1); m. Daniel Pemberton; m sup. Linda Cohen; ed. Joe Klotz; pd. Beth Mickle; ad. Michael Ahern; set d. Kara Zeigon; cos. Amy Roth; m/up. Louise McCarthy, Joanna McCarthy, Kerrie Smith, John Quaglia, Sincere Gilles; sd. Paul Hsu (Dolby Digital); sfx. Jimmy Hays; vfx. Matthew Fernandez, Steven Weigle, Rebecca Dunn, Artur Elson, Vance Miller, Mark Russell, Eran Dinur, David Lebensfeld, Grant Miller, Osvaldo Andreaus, John Bair, Stevie Ramone, Luke DiTommaso; st. Stephen A. Pope; rel. 30 August 2019 (USA), 6 December 2019 (UK); cert: 15; r/t. 144m.

cast: Edward Norton (Lionel Essrog), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Laura Rose), Alec Baldwin (Moses Randolph), Willem Dafoe (Paul Randolph), Bruce Willis (Frank Minna), Ethan Suplee (Gilbert Coney), Cherry Jones (Gabby Horowitz), Bobby Cannavale (Tony Vermonte), Dallas Roberts (Danny Fantl), Josh Pais (William Lieberman), Radu Spinghel (Giant Man), Fisher Stevens (Lou), Peter Gray Lewis (Mayor), Robert Wisdom (Billy Rose), Michael Kenneth Williams (Trumpet Man), Isaiah J. Thompson (King Rooster Piano Player), Russell Hall (King Rooster Bassist), Joe Farnsworth (King Rooster Drummer), Jerry Weldon (King Rooster Saxophonist), Eric Berryman (King Rooster Bartender).

Set against the backdrop of 1950s New York, the story follows Lionel Essrog (Norton), a lonely private detective afflicted with Tourette’s Syndrome, as he ventures to solve the murder of his mentor and only friend, Frank Minna (Willis). Armed only with a few clues and the powerful engine of his obsessive mind, Lionel unravels closely-guarded secrets that hold the fate of the whole city in the balance. In a mystery that carries him from gin-soaked jazz clubs in Harlem to the hard-edged slums of Brooklyn and, finally, into the gilded halls of New York’s power brokers, Lionel contends with thugs, corruption and the most dangerous man in the city to honour his friend and save the woman who might be his own salvation. Norton has delivered a movie from a bygone era with this noir-ish tale of murder and corruption. Norton himself is excellent as the afflicted detective, whilst a strong support cast includes Baldwin as the corrupt planning official and Dafoe as his embittered and estranged brother. The plot unfolds in traditional fashion and is laced with a wry sense of humour. Good creation of period setting is achieved through visual digital effects work, costume design, a brooding score and set dressing. It is a delight to see a film of this type that doesn’t feel the need to add Hollywood-style embellishments. It’s great entertainment, if a trifle overlong.

Film Review – CANNON: HE WHO DIGS A GRAVE (TV) (1973)

Cannon (1971)CANNON: HE WHO DIGS A GRAVE (TV) (1973, USA) ***
Action, Crime, Mystery
dist. Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS); pr co. Quinn Martin Productions (QM); d. Richard Donner; w. Stephen Kandel (based on the novel “He Who Digs a Grave” by David Delman); exec pr. Quinn Martin; pr. Adrian Samish; ph. Jack Swain (Colour. 35mm. Spherical. 1.33:1); th m. John Carl Parker; m sup. John Elizalde; ed. Ray Daniels, Jerry Young; ad. Bill Kenney; set d. Frank Lombardo; rel. 12 September 1973 (USA); cert: PG; r/t. 100m.

cast: William Conrad (Frank Cannon), Anne Baxter (Mayor Helen Blyth), Barry Sullivan (Sheriff Jesse Luke), David Janssen (Ian Kirk), Murray Hamilton (Arthur Gibson), Tim O’Connor (Martin Ross), Louise Troy (Louise Gibson), Lee Purcell (Marion Luke), Martine Bartlett (Hanna Freel), Royal Dano (Doctor), Robert Hogan (Deputy Coleman), R.G. Armstrong (Banner), Dabbs Greer (Windom Salter), Jerry Ayres (Deputy Reber), Lenore Kasdorf (Sherry Benson), Cathy Lee Crosby (Irene Kirk), Dennis Rucker (Wade Gibson), Virginia Gregg (Dr. Emma Savonka), Bill Quinn (Ben Salter).

Cannon  (Conrad) travels to the quiet, remote town of Mercer, California to help his friend Ian Kirk (Janssen, in a rare late career guest slot) who is suspected of murdering his rich wife (Crosby) and her paramour Wade Gibson (Rucker). As Cannon tries to prove his friend’s innocence, he gets help from the mayor (Baxter) but is stymied in his efforts by the sheriff (Sullivan)’s office. Several other viable suspects present themselves, people who had reason to hate Wade, including his stepfather (Hamilton) and the sheriff’s daughter (Purcell). This feature-length opener to season three of the popular TV series is a more complex mystery than the standard TV fare, reflecting its literary roots (it was based on a novel by David Delman). There is a great role for Baxter as the small town’s mayor who seems to be the only one in turn willing to give Conrad a fair crack of the whip. The action scenes are well-mounted, and Donner works the script well, but the camera work is largely unimaginative, lacking the hand-held realism of the pilot film. Nevertheless, the strong cast and script make this an enjoyable episode. Shot on location in Grass Valley, northern California.