Book Review – LADY, LADY, I DID IT! (1961) by Ed McBain

LADY, LADY, I DID IT! (1961) ****
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Pan, 1980, 160pp
First published in 1961
© Ed McBain, 1961
ISBN: 9780-330-26095-4
Blurb: The first thing Detectives Steve Carella and Bert Kling saw was four bodies soaked in blood. Then Kling realized that one of those crumpled on the bookshop floor was Claire Townsend, his fiancee! And that’s when the bookstore massacre stopped being just another murder case to the boys of the 87th Precinct. For Bert Kling was one of their own, and no one could get away with blasting a policeman’s girl.
Comment: The fourteenth of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels brings the act of murder close to home when Kling’s fiancee Claire Townsend, a recurring character since The Mugger (the second in the series), is killed with three others in a bookstore shooting. McBain handles the detective’s emotional state well as he juggles grief with anger. The mystery elements also work well here and keep the reader guessing through to the book’s conclusion. McBain’s style is in evidence with witty and naturalistic dialogue, punctuated with metaphoric descriptions of city life. One of the best of the early books.


Film Review – HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016)

HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016, USA, 102m, 15) ****
Crime, Drama
dist. Lionsgate (USA), Studio Canal (UK); pr co. CBS Films / Sidney Kimmel Entertainment / MWM Studios / Film 44 / LBI Productions / Oddlot Entertainment; d. David Mackenzie; w. Taylor Sheridan; pr. Peter Berg, Carla Hacken, Sidney Kimmel, Julie Yorn; ph. Giles Nuttgens (Colour | 2.35:1); m. Nick Cave, Warren Ellis; ed. Jake Roberts; pd. Tom Duffield; ad. Steve Cooper.
cast: Jeff Bridges (Marcus Hamilton), Chris Pine (Toby Howard), Ben Foster (Tanner Howard), Gil Birmingham (Alberto Parker), Marin Ireland (Debbie Howard), John-Paul Howard (Justin Howard), Katy Mixon (Jenny Ann), Kevin Rankin (Billy Rayburn), Ivan Brutsche (Buster), Heidi Sulzman (Ranger Margaret), Christopher W. Garcia (Randy Howard (as Christopher Garcia)), William Sterchi (Mr. Clauson), Dale Dickey (Elsie), Buck Taylor (Old Man), Kristin K. Berg (Olney Teller (as Kristin Berg)), Keith Meriweather (Rancher), Jackamoe Buzzell (Archer City Deputy), Amber Midthunder (Vernon Teller), Joe Berryman (Bank Manager), Taylor Sheridan (Cowboy).
Pine is a divorced father trying to make a better life for his son. His brother (Foster) is a hot-headed ex-convict with a loose trigger finger. Together, they plan a series of heists against the bank that’s about to foreclose on their family ranch. Standing in their way is Bridges, a Texas Ranger who’s only weeks away from retirement. As the siblings plot their final robbery, they must also prepare for a showdown with the crafty lawman who’s not ready to ride off into the sunset. The script adds layers of social commentary and character motivation to this otherwise familiar heist movie. Mackenzie’s sympathetic direction and willingness to develop the characters bring out the best in a strong cast. Bridges has fun essaying his long-in-the-tooth Texas Ranger who spars verbal insults at his half-breed sidekick Birmingham. Peppered with witty dialogue, this is a thoughtful and resonant tale.
AAN: Best Motion Picture of the Year (Carla Hacken, Julie Yorn); Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Jeff Bridges); Best Original Screenplay (Taylor Sheridan); Best Achievement in Film Editing (Jake Roberts)

Film Review – FARGO (1996)

FARGO (1996, USA/UK, 98m, 18) *****
Crime, Drama
dist. Gramercy Pictures (USA), PolyGram Filmed Entertainment (UK); pr co. PolyGram Filmed Entertainment / Working Title Films; d. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen; w. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen; pr. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen; ph. Roger Deakins (DuArt | 1.85:1); m. Carter Burwell; ed. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen (both as Roderick Jaynes); pd. Rick Heinrichs; ad. Thomas P. Wilkins.
cast: Frances McDormand (Marge Gunderson), William H. Macy (Jerry Lundegaard), Steve Buscemi (Carl Showalter), Harve Presnell (Wade Gustafson), Peter Stormare (Gaear Grimsrud), Steve Reevis (Shep Proudfoot), Kristin Rudrüd (Jean Lundegaard), John Carroll Lynch (Norm Gunderson), Tony Denman (Scotty Lundegaard), Gary Houston (Irate Customer), Warren Keith (Reilly Diefenbach (voice)), Larry Brandenburg (Stan Grossman), Bruce Bohne (Lou), Steve Park (Mike Yanagita), Cliff Rakerd (Officer Olson), Bain Boehlke (Mr. Mohra), James Gaulke (State Trooper), Sally Wingert (Irate Customer’s Wife), Bix Skahill (Night Parking Attendant), José Feliciano (José Feliciano).
This highly influential and blackly comic crime drama sees Minneapolis car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (Macy), desperate for money to clear his debts, hire two thugs (Buscemi and Stormare) to kidnap his own wife. Jerry will collect the ransom from her wealthy father (Presnell), paying the thugs a small portion and keeping the rest to satisfy his debts. The scheme collapses when the thugs shoot a state trooper and McDormand’s police chief leads the investigation. Full of nuanced observation and richly comic dialogue, the film sees the Coen Brothers fulfil their considerable potential. Roger Deakins’ cinematography beautifully contrasts the wide snowy landscapes, with the blood-red violence being committed within. McDormand, Macy, Stormare and Buscemi all give career-defining performances aided by a screenplay that is lean and perfectly balanced. A film that can be appreciated more and more through repeated viewings. Followed by a 60m pilot for a TV series, which didn’t sell, but a series was ultimately taken up in 2014.
AA: Best Actress in a Leading Role (Frances McDormand); Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (Ethan Coen, Joel Coen)
AAN: Best Picture (Ethan Coen); Best Actor in a Supporting Role (William H. Macy); Best Director (Joel Coen); Best Cinematography (Roger Deakins); Best Film Editing (Ethan Coen, Joel Coen (both as Roderick Jaynes))

Film Review – THE GLASS KEY (1942)

THE GLASS KEY (1942, USA, 85m, PG) ***½
Crime, Drama, Film-Noir
dist. Paramount Pictures; pr co. Paramount Pictures; d. Stuart Heisler; w. Jonathan Latimer (based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett); ph. Theodor Sparkuhl (B&W | 1.37:1); m. Victor Young; ed. Archie Marshek; ad. Haldane Douglas, Hans Dreier.
cast: Brian Donlevy (Paul Madvig), Veronica Lake (Janet Henry), Alan Ladd (Ed Beaumont), Bonita Granville (Opal Madvig), Richard Denning (Taylor Henry), Joseph Calleia (Nick Varna), William Bendix (Jeff), Frances Gifford (Nurse), Donald MacBride (Farr), Margaret Hayes (Eloise Matthews), Moroni Olsen (Ralph Henry), Eddie Marr (Rusty), Arthur Loft (Clyde Matthews), George Meader (Claude Tuttle).
This complex film noir was the second adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s 1931 novel, which had previously been filmed in 1935 as a vehicle for George Raft. Donlevy is the crooked politician who finds himself being accused of the murder of the son of a prospective Baltimore governor by a gangster (Calleia) from whom he refused help during a re-election campaign. Ladd is Donlevy’s right-hand man who is encouraged by the victim’s sister (Lake) to find the real killer whilst protecting his boss’s interests. Ladd gets to essay his tough-guy persona, whilst Lake’s alluring performance and the pair’s obvious chemistry helps elevate the film’s stature. Bendix is also memorable as Calleia’s heavy – the beating he gives Ladd is particularly brutal. The plot twists, however, are perhaps too plentiful whilst Heisler’s direction and Latimer’s dialogue is often heavy-handed. The film’s production followed hot on the heels of the previous year’s successful adaptation of Hammett’s THE MALTESE FALCON. Ladd and Lake, who had earlier appeared in THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1942), would go on to make seven movies together.

Book Review – CITY PRIMEVAL (1980) by Elmore Leonard

CITY PRIMEVAL (1980) ****
by Elmore Leonard
This paperback edition published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005, 160pp
First published in the USA in 1980
© Elmore Leonard, 1980
ISBN: 9780-753-81967-8
Blurb: Clement Mansell knows how easy it is to get away with murder. The crazed killer is back on the Detroit streets – thanks to some nifty courtroom moves by his lawyer – and this time he’s feeling invincible enough to execute a crooked Motown judge. Homicide Detective Raymond Cruz thinks the ‘Oklahoma Wildman’ crossed the line long before this latest outrage, and he’s determined to see that the psycho does not slip through the legal system’s loopholes a second time. But that means a good cop is going to have to play somewhat fast and loose with the rules – in order to manoeuvre Mansell into a showdown that he won’t be walking away from.
Comment: Elmore Leonard’s 1980 novel, subtitled High Noon in Detroit, presents a battle of wits between psychotic killer Clement Mansell and Detroit detective Raymond Cruz. References to the old west play throughout up until the inevitable showdown conclusion. Leonard’s easy styled prose and his command of character and sharp, witty dialogue are fully present here. It is easy to see now that Cruz was the prototype for Leonard’s popular Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens, introduced in his 1993 novel Pronto. This has been acknowledged by the newly commissioned continuation of Fox Network’s Justified TV series as Justified: City Primeval, which is due to commence shooting soon.  Cruz’s Texas roots and his laconic approach bestow him with a sense of cool when dealing with the Detroit low-life. Mansell is an edgy villain who manages to extract loyalty from his dope-head girlfriend, Sandy Stanton. Cruz has some sympathy for Sandy and also becomes involved with Mansell’s attorney, Carolyn Wilder. Add some Albanian gangsters into the pot and Leonard mixes the ingredients with the consummate skill of a seasoned pro at the top of his game.

Film Review – THE DRY (2020)

THE DRY (2020, Australia/USA, 117m, 15) ***
Crime, Drama
dist. IFC Films (USA), Sky Cinema (UK); pr co. Made Up Stories / Arenamedia / Cornerstone Films / Film Victoria / Media Super / Pick Up Truck Pictures / Screen Australia; d. Robert Connolly; w. Harry Cripps, Robert Connolly, Samantha Strauss (based on the novel by Jane Harper); pr. Eric Bana, Robert Connolly, Steve Hutensky, Jodi Matterson, Bruna Papandrea; ph. Stefan Duscio (Colour | 2.35:1); m. Peter Raeburn; ed. Alexandre de Franceschi, Nick Meyers; pd. Ruby Mathers; ad. Mandi Bialek-Wester.
cast: Eric Bana (Aaron Falk), Genevieve O’Reilly (Gretchen), Keir O’Donnell (Greg Raco), John Polson (Scott Whitlam), Julia Blake (Barb), Bruce Spence (Gerry Hadler), William Zappa (Mal Deacon), Matt Nable (Grant Dow), James Frecheville (Jamie Sullivan), Jeremy Lindsay Taylor (Erik Falk), Joe Klocek (Young Aaron Falk), BeBe Bettencourt (Ellie Deacon), Claude Scott-Mitchell (Young Gretchen), Sam Corlett (Young Luke), Miranda Tapsell (Rita Raco), Daniel Frederiksen (Dr. Leigh), Eddie Baroo (McMurdo), Renee Lim (Sandra Whitlam), Martin Dingle Wall (Luke Hadler), Francine McAsey (Amanda).
Slow, moody mystery based on Jane Harper’s harrowing novel in which Bana plays a police detective who returns to his drought-stricken hometown to attend a tragic funeral. His return opens a decades-old wound – the unsolved death of a teenage girl. Bana gives a sympathetic performance as the conflicted detective and he is decently supported. Connolly commendably conjures up the local atmosphere and focuses on the characters but does so at the expense of building dramatic tension until the denouement.

Book Review – SEE THEM DIE (1960) by Ed McBain

SEE THEM DIE (1960) ***
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Pan, 1987, 160pp
First published in 1960
© Ed McBain, 1960
ISBN: 9780-330-25402-2
Blurb: Kill me if you can – that was Pepe Miranda’s challenge. Murderer, two-bit hero of the street gangs, he was holed up somewhere in the 87th Precinct, making the cops look like fools and cheered on by every neighbourhood punk. It was not a challenge Lieutenant Pete Byrnes and the detectives in the squad room could leave alone. Not in the sticky, July heat of the city with the gangs just waiting to explode into violence . . .
Comment: The thirteenth of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series once more sees McBain trying out a new approach. McBain concentrates less on plot/detection and more on social comment, in this story of a Puerto Rican criminal under siege in his own community from the cops of the 87th Precinct. Alongside this McBain delves into issues of inter-gang warfare and the bravado of youth in the immigrant community alongside and the racial attitudes of the cops (juxtapositioned by the racist slob Andy Parker and the Puerto Rican Frankie Hernandez) and those who live in the community itself. As such the story unfolds in the style of a three-act play. The result is a patchy novel that only comes to life in its nail-biting final act.


Book Review – THE HECKLER (1960) by Ed McBain

THE HECKLER (1960) ****
by Ed McBain
This paperback edition published by Penguin, 1987, 176pp
First published in 1960 (USA)
© Ed McBain, 1960
ISBN: 978-0-140-02393-0
Book CoverBlurb: Spring was intoxicating the city air, but the harassing anonymous telephone calls planting seeds of fear around town were no April Fool’s joke. Crank calls and crackpot threats reported to the 87th Precinct by a respected businessman were not exactly top priority for detectives Carella and Meyer — until a brutal homicide hits the papers. Connections are getting made fast and furious, and there’s a buzz in the air about the Deaf Man, a brilliant criminal mastermind. Now, the 87th Precinct is buying time to reveal the voice on the other end of the line — as the level of danger rises from a whisper to a scream….
Comment: The twelfth of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series introduces us to the squad’s recurring nemesis, the Deaf Man. The plot is a convoluted one of distraction and heist planned out and delivered with the utmost attention to detail by the Deaf Man and his cohorts. The detectives of the 87th, are working on what they believe to be the distinct cases of a heckler threatening shop proprietors and a murder. The Deaf Man’s scheme appears to be foolproof as the police are dispatched across the precinct in the aftermath of a wave of bombings and arson distracting them from the gang’s real plans. The plot unfolds in customary McBain fashion showing our detectives to be both human and vulnerable. The dialogue sparkles as ever and the prose has the familiarity of a storyteller at the top of his game. The resolution relies on irony, happenstance and remains open-ended. Another strong entry in the series.

Film Review – BLACK GUNN (1972)

BLACK GUNN (1972, USA/UK) **½
Action, Crime, Thriller
dist. Columbia Pictures (USA), Columbia-Warner Distributors (UK); pr co. Champion Production Company; d. Robert Hartford-Davis; w. Franklin Coen (based on an original screenplay by Robert Shearer and an original story by Robert Hartford-Davis); pr. John Heyman, Norman Priggen; ph. Richard H. Kline (Eastmancolor. 35mm. Spherical. 1.85:1); m. Tony Osborne; ed. Pat Somerset; ad. Jack De Shields; rel. 20 December 1972 (USA); BBFC cert: 18; r/t. 96m.
cast: Jim Brown (Gunn), Martin Landau (Capelli), Brenda Sykes (Judith), Luciana Paluzzi (Toni), Vida Blue (Sam Green), Stephen McNally (Laurento), Keefe Brasselle (Winman), Timothy Brown (Larry), William Campbell (Rico), Bernie Casey (Seth), Gary Conway (Adams), Chuck Daniel (Mel), Tommy Davis (Webb), Rick Ferrell (Jimpy), Bruce Glover (Ray Kriley), Toni Holt Kramer (Betty), Herbert Jefferson Jr. (Scott Gunn), Jay Montgomery (Junkie), Mark Tapscott (Cassidy), Gene Washington (Elmo).
One of the many black action thrillers that followed on the coattails of SHAFT (1971) but lacked the class of that production. It is a fast-paced, but unevenly handled, action vehicle for Brown in which a black militant group robs a Mafia bookie joint and steals incriminating ledgers which, in turn, prompts retaliation from the mob. When the group’s leader, who happens to be nightclub owner Brown’s brother, is killed Brown hunts down the perpetrators. Brown is a physically effective lead but otherwise, his performance lacks charisma. Sykes brings some charm to her role as Brown’s loyal girlfriend. Landau and Paluzzi (as key mob members) are underused in a strong supporting cast. Glover, however, enjoys himself as the mob’s chief henchman. The plot is overly familiar, and the earthy dialogue is heavy on themes of the struggles of black Americans. British director Hartford-Davis’ handling of the material is occasionally unfocused with jarring camerawork hampering some otherwise bloody and lively action sequences.

Film Review – BADGE 373 (1973)

BADGE 373 (1973, USA) **½
Crime, Drama, Thriller
dist. Paramount Pictures (USA), Cinema International Corporation (CIC) (UK); pr co. Paramount Pictures; d. Howard W. Koch; w. Pete Hamill (inspired by the exploits of Eddie Egan); pr. Howard W. Koch; ph. Arthur J. Ornitz (Technicolor. 35mm. Spherical. 1.85:1); m. J.J. Jackson; ed. John Woodcock; ad. Philip Rosenberg; rel. 25 July 1973 (USA), 9 August 1973 (UK); BBFC cert: 15; r/t. 116m.
cast: Robert Duvall (Eddie Ryan), Verna Bloom (Maureen), Henry Darrow (Sweet William), Eddie Egan (Scanlon), Felipe Luciano (Ruben Garcia), Tina Cristiani (Mrs. Caputo), Marina Durell (Rita Garcia), Chico Martínez (Frankie Diaz), Jose Duvall (Ferrer (as Jose Duval)), Louis Cosentino (GiGi Caputo), Luis Avalos (Chico), Nubia Olivero (Mrs. Diaz), Sam Schacht (Assistant D.A.), Edward F. Carey (The Commissioner), ‘Big’ Lee (Junkie in Casino), Duane Morris (Gay in Casino), John Marriott (Superintendent), Joel Veiga (Manuel – Botica Proprietor), Mark Tendler (Harbour Lights Bouncer), Robert Weil (Hans).
When his partner is killed, tough Irish detective Eddie Ryan (Duvall) vows to avenge the death, whatever the cost. As he begins unravelling clues, his behaviour becomes so outrageous that he’s obliged to turn in his badge, but the experience only emboldens him. Ryan eventually learns that his partner was caught up in a Puerto Rican gun-running scheme masterminded by a crook named Sweet Willie (Darrow), who wants to foment revolutionary war. Billed as being based on the exploits of real-life NYPD cop Eddie Egan, this production follows on the coattails of the vastly superior 1971 landmark, THE FRENCH CONNECTION, which had also been based on one of Egan’s cases. This time Duvall takes on the cop role and does a creditable job. However, the film lacks the directorial style and the building of tension that made THE FRENCH CONNECTION a winner. Here we have a cop seeking revenge and, after he is suspended, going it alone. Good use is made of New York locations in Brooklyn and Manhattan adding an authenticity that is lacking elsewhere. The script lacks dramatic punch and the gun-running sub-plot feels formulaic, with the Puerto Rican villains decidedly stereotypical. Egan has a significant role as Duvall’s boss, but his lack of acting experience shows, whilst Darrow lacks the charisma required for his role as the arms dealer. The actions scenes, though, are well-staged – notably, a chase involving Duvall on board a bus with the villains in pursuit in a fleet of cars. Despite its flaws, the film remains a moderately entertaining but lesser entry in the rogue cop genre.