Film Review – THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947)

LADY FROM SHANGHAI, THE (1947, USA) ***½
Crime, Drama, Mystery

dist. Columbia Pictures; pr co. Mercury Productions; d. Orson Welles; w. Orson Welles (based on the novel “If I Die Before I Wake” by Sherwood King); exec pr. Harry Cohn (uncredited); pr. Orson Welles; assoc pr. William Castle, Richard Wilson; ph. Charles Lawton Jr. (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Heinz Roemheld; md. Morris Stoloff; ed. Viola Lawrence; ad. Sturges Carne, Stephen Goosson; set d. Wilbur Menefee, Herman N. Schoenbrun; cos. Jean Louis; m/up. Clay Campbell, Robert J. Schiffer, Helen Hunt (all uncredited); sd. Lodge Cunningham (Mono (Western Electric Recording)); sfx. Lawrence W. Butler (uncredited); rel. 24 December 1947 (France), 7 March 1948 (UK), 14 April 1948 (USA); cert: -/PG; r/t. 87m.

cast: Rita Hayworth (Elsa Bannister), Orson Welles (Michael O’Hara), Everett Sloane (Arthur Bannister), Glenn Anders (George Grisby), Ted de Corsia (Sidney Broome), Erskine Sanford (Judge), Gus Schilling (Goldie), Carl Frank (District Attorney Galloway), Louis Merrill (Jake Bjornsen), Evelyn Ellis (Bessie), Harry Shannon (Cab Driver).

Michael O’Hara (Welles), an Irish adventurer, is lured by Elsa Bannister (Hayworth), beautiful wife of a crippled but successful lawyer (Sloane), into joining the crew of her husband’s yacht bound for a cruise in the Pacific. Bannister’s partner, Grisby (Anders), joins the party and offers O’Hara five thousand dollars to help him frame a disappearance act intended to look like murder. O’Hara accepts, hoping the money will enable him to get Elsa away from her husband. As you would come to expect from Welles the director, the film is full of technical brilliance and is visually stunning. Of the memorable scenes the funhouse finale is the most iconic and has been copied numerous times since. The performances are excellent with Welles convincingly affecting an Irish accent and Hayworth at her alluring best. Sloane and Arden are both sinister and on the verge of being unhinged. The bizarre story, however, must rely on the film’s technical virtues to paper over its implausibility. The script therefore, despite its adventurous and sometimes witty approach, is the weak link that prevents the film from being an out and out classic. That does not mean there is not much to enjoy in this experimental noir, just do not expect it to hang together as a whole. Welles’ original rough cut of this picture ran 155m.

Book Review – TROUBLED BLOOD (2020) by Robert Galbraith

TROUBLED BLOOD (2018) ****
by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
Published by Sphere, 2020, 927pp
ISBN: 978-0-7515-7993-2

Blurb: Private Detective Cormoran Strike is visiting his family in Cornwall when he is approached by a woman asking for help finding her mother, Margot Bamborough – who went missing in mysterious circumstances in 1974. Strike has never tackled a cold case before, let alone one forty years old. But despite the slim chance of success, he is intrigued and takes it on; adding to the long list of cases that he and his partner in the agency, Robin Ellacott, are currently working on. And Robin herself is also juggling a messy divorce and unwanted male attention, as well as battling her own feelings about Strike. As Strike and Robin investigate Margot’s disappearance, they come up against a fiendishly complex case with leads that include tarot cards, a psychopathic serial killer and witnesses who cannot all be trusted. And they learn that even cases decades old can prove to be deadly . . .

First thing is to address the elephant in the room. This book is by some significant distance the longest crime novel I have ever read. At 927 pages it is a monster akin to all those fantasy concept books that I could never get through. Rowling seems to be taking the same route with her Strike novels that she took with the Harry Potter series, each one being longer than the last. Could the story have been told in a shorter page count? The answer is both yes and no. The fifth book in the series takes place over thirteen months and crams an awful lot in. The main focus is the cold case of the disappearance of Dr Margot Bamborough back in 1974. Was she killed by serial killer Dennis Creed, or had she run away and started a new life somewhere? Hired by Margot’s daughter, Strike and Robin work through the police case files and re-interview key witnesses and suspects. Alongside this the agency is working on other cases with their extended team including the Scot Barclay and the slimy new member Morris – the latter of whom develops a fixation on Robin. Alongside this Strike is dealing with the gradual death from cancer of his aunt Joan – his surrogate mother and his estranged father’s attempts to reconnect. Alongside this, his ex-girlfriend, Charlotte, has been committed to rehab due to her suicidal tendencies. Alongside this, Robin is in the late stages of her bitter divorce from Matthew. Get the picture? There’s an awful lot going on. To Rowling’s credit, her writing is so strong that the book remains a page-turner throughout its epic length. You definitely won’t get through it in two or three sittings. You will have to live with it for a while. Somehow that feels appropriate. There are many twists and turns along the way and the characters continue to develop – notably the relationship between Strike and Robin. There are ups and downs and plenty of dramatic tension. The mystery elements are immensely satisfying with Rowling juggling the complexities and intricacies with extreme skill. The clues are there for those clever enough to see them – I wasn’t. The book is highly enjoyable and not as heavy-going as the page count suggests, but don’t read it lying in bed at night, because if you start to doze you may accidentally knock yourself unconscious.

TV Review – CITY OF ANGELS: THE NOVEMBER PLAN (1976)

CITY OF ANGELS: THE NOVEMBER PLAN (1976, USA) ***
Crime, Mystery
dist. National Broadcasting Company (NBC) (USA), Cinema International Corporation (CIC) (UK); pr co. Roy Huggins-Public Arts Productions / Universal Television; d. Don Medford; w. Stephen J. Cannell (based on a story by Roy Huggins and Stephen J. Cannell); exec pr. Jo Swerling Jr.; pr. Roy Huggins; assoc pr. Dorothy J. Bailey; ph. Ric Waite (Technicolor. 35mm. Spherical. 1.33:1); m. Nelson Riddle; m sup. Hal Mooney; ed. Edwin F. England, Ronald LaVine, Larry Lester; ad. John W. Corso; set d. Jerry Adams; cos. Charles Waldo; sd. John K. Kean (Mono); rel. 3 February 1976 (USA – TV), April 1977 (UK); cert: -/PG; r/t. 3 x 47mm.

cast: Wayne Rogers (Jake Axminster), Elaine Joyce (Marsha), Philip Sterling (Michael Brimm), Clifton James (Lt. Murray Quint), Diane Ladd (Laura Taylor), Meredith Baxter (Mary Kingston (as Meredith Baxter Birney)), Laurence Luckinbill (Noel Crossman Jr.), Stephen Elliott (Harold Delaney), Jack Kruschen (Harry Kahn), Dorothy Malone (Dawn Archer), Lloyd Nolan (Gen. Smedley Butler), Robert Sampson (Wayne Fisher), G.D. Spradlin (Gen. Winfield), Laurence Hugo (Alex Sebastian), Steve Kanaly (Parker), Martin Kove (Stan), Pepper Martin (Reggie), Rod McCary (George Donaldson), Paul Jenkins (Terry), Ross Bickell (Murdock).

Jake Axminster (Rogers) is a hard-boiled, wise-cracking private eye in 1934 Los Angeles. Mary Kingston (Baxter) hires him to prove her innocence because she is being framed for murdering her boyfriend, and the police are seeking her whereabouts. Jake hides her in a beach house and begins his investigation. He discovers that Mary and her boyfriend witnessed a Alex Sebastian’s (Hugo) murder at a party on the previous night, and she fled but her boyfriend was captured and killed. Sebastien was a reporter who was about to publish a story of some importance, concerning the date of November thirteenth. Following in the wake of CHINATOWN (1974) this was a valiant attempt by Universal to capture the same blend of period atmosphere, themes of corruption and a Chandler-esque mystery. The result is a mixed bag with the positives being the period detail in the production design and some smart dialogue. On the minus side are the unimaginative and sometimes flat direction and a disappointing denouement. Rogers essays James Garner in his interpretation of the down-at-heel private eye but he lacks Garner’s charm. Nevertheless, his enthusiastic performance occasionally hits home. A strong support cast is on hand, notably the excellent Joyce as Rogers’ secretary who combines her work with running the phone lines for the city’s hookers. Joyce has a natural comic flair which elevates the material when she is on screen. James is the corrupt cop who beats on his prisoners and Baxter has fun as the fugitive starlet. The script, by veterans Stephen J. Cannell and Roy Huggins, could have been sharpened further, but the production was a hasty one with the series being a mid-season replacement. The promise on show here would occasionally surface over the series’ next ten episodes before it was cancelled due to low ratings just as it was building a head of steam. Whilst this three-part story served to introduce the series to its US audience, it was edited to 103 minutes and released in cinemas in the UK, Europe, Australia, Central and South America. The film was based on a notorious 1933 American conspiracy known as the Business Plot, which involved wealthy businessmen trying to bring down United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a coup.

Film Review – BREAKHEART PASS (1975)

BREAKHEART PASS (1975, USA) ***
Mystery, Western
dist. United Artists; pr co. Gershwin-Kastner Productions; d. Tom Gries; w. Alistair MacLean (based on the novel by Alistair MacLean); exec pr. Elliott Kastner; pr. Jerry Gershwin; ph. Lucien Ballard (DeLuxe. 35mm. Spherical. 1.85:1); m. Jerry Goldsmith; ed. Byron ‘Buzz’ Brandt; ad. Tambi Larsen; set d. Darrell Silvera; cos. Tom Dawson, Paula Lynn Kaatz; m/up. Phil Rhodes, Alma Johnson, Evelyn Preece, Vivienne Walker; sd. Gene S. Cantamessa, Frank E. Warner (Mono); sfx. Gerald Endler, A.D. Flowers, Logan Frazee; vfx. Bill Hansard, Don Hansard, William Suhr; st. Yakima Canutt; rel. 25 December 1975 (Finland), February 1976 (UK), 10 March 1976 (USA); cert: PG/PG; r/t. 95m.

cast: Charles Bronson (Deakin), Ben Johnson (Marshal Pearce), Richard Crenna (Gov. Richard Fairchild), Jill Ireland (Marica), Charles Durning (O’Brien), Ed Lauter (Maj. Claremont), Bill McKinney (Rev. Peabody), David Huddleston (Dr. Molyneux), Roy Jenson (Chris Banion), Rayford Barnes (Sgt. Bellew), Scott Newman (Rafferty), Robert Tessier (Levi Calhoun), Joe Kapp (Henry), Archie Moore (Carlos), Sally Kirkland (Jane-Marie), Sally Kemp (Prostitute), Eddie Little Sky (White Hand), Keith McConnell (Gabriel), John Mitchum (Red Beard), Read Morgan (Capt. Oakland).

When diphtheria breaks out at Fort Humboldt, a train is dispatched with medical supplies and relief troops. Also on board are Utah’s governor (Crenna), his mistress (Ireland), a marshal (Johnson) and his prisoner, outlaw John Deakin (Bronson). As the train passes through the mountains, soldiers go missing, telegraph lines are cut, and it is discovered that there is no epidemic. There is a conspiracy afoot, and it is up to Deakin, who is actually a federal agent, to expose it. A mix of traditional Western with Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” and Alistair MacLean’s “nothing is quite what it seems” school of fiction, this is an entertaining and well shot mystery. The confinement of the train setting adds challenges to the narrative as the narrow corridors make it difficult to buy into the skullduggery. However, a game cast is on hand to make the most of the material and the winter location photography adds a bleakness that is in sync with the material. The shootout finale does seem like a concession to Western fans, but the mystery elements work reasonably well. Although set in Nevada, the film was shot in Idaho.

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 – MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017)

The Jam Report | REVIEW – 'Murder on the Orient Express'MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017, USA/Malta) ***
Crime, Drama, Mystery
dist. 20th Century Fox; pr co. Twentieth Century Fox / Genre Films / Kinberg Genre / The Mark Gordon Company / Scott Free Productions / Latina Pictures / The Estate of Agatha Christie; d. Kenneth Branagh; w. Michael Green (based on the novel by Agatha Christie); exec pr. Matthew Jenkins, Dillon Kivo, James Prichard, Aditya Sood, Hilary Strong; pr. Kenneth Branagh, Mark Gordon, Judy Hofflund, Simon Kinberg, Michael Schaefer, Ridley Scott; ass pr. William Moseley; ph. Haris Zambarloukos (Colour. 70 mm (Kodak Vision 2383), D-Cinema. ARRIRAW (6.5K) (source format) (some scenes), Digital Intermediate (4K) (master format), Dolby Vision, Panavision Super 70 (source format). 2.39:1); m. Patrick Doyle; ed. Mick Audsley; pd. Jim Clay; ad. Dominic Masters; set d. Rebecca Alleway, Caroline Smith; cos. Alexandra Byrne; m/up. Chiara Ugolini, Luca Saccuman; sd. James Mather (Dolby Atmos | DTS 70 mm (70 mm prints)); sfx. David Watkins; vfx. Helen Judd, Veronique Messier Lauzon, Josiane Fradette, Jacinthe Côté, Mary Meng, Tim Pounds-Cornish, Peter Hume, Patrick Ledda, George Murphy, Sylvain Theroux, Vincent Poitras, Mathieu Raynault; st. James O’Donnell; rel. 3 November 2017 (UK), 10 November 2017 (USA); cert: 12; r/t. 114m.

cast: Kenneth Branagh (Hercule Poirot), Penélope Cruz (Pilar Estravados), Willem Dafoe (Gerhard Hardman), Judi Dench (Princess Dragomiroff), Johnny Depp (Edward Ratchett), Josh Gad (Hector MacQueen), Leslie Odom Jr. (Dr. Arbuthnot), Michelle Pfeiffer (Caroline Hubbard), Daisy Ridley (Miss Mary Debenham), Tom Bateman (Bouc), Derek Jacobi (Edward Henry Masterman), Lucy Boynton (Countess Elena Andrenyi), Olivia Colman (Hildegarde Schmidt), Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (Biniamino Marquez), Gerard Horan (Aynesworth), Sergei Polunin (Count Rudolph Andrenyi), Phil Dunster (Colonel John Armstrong), Miranda Raison (Sonia Armstrong), Hayat Kamille (Susanne), Marwan Kenzari (Pierre Michel).

Branagh directs and leads an all-star cast in this mystery based on the best-selling novel by Agatha Christie. Everyone’s a suspect when a murder is committed on a lavish train ride, and a brilliant detective must race against time to solve the puzzle before the killer strikes again. This is the second big screen adaptation of Christie’s celebrated, but heavily manufactured mystery. Branagh dons a bewilderingly large moustache but manages to capture the essence of the Belgian detective. However, in the director’s seat, he falls short of adding the required slow burn tension and instead focuses on the visuals, which are heavily digitised giving the scenery the look of a painting. He also embellishes the story with a couple of action sequences that do not serve the plot and merely seem designed to change the pace and fill the Hollywood quota. That said the basic story is adhered to and even though a tendency toward melodrama often creeps in, there is enough here to hold the interest, if not to match Sidney Lumet’s 1974 adaptation. Also previously filmed for TV in 2001, 2010 and 2015.

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.