The Dark Hour (1936)

Hedda Hopper-Irene Ware

Hedda Hopper-Irene Ware

Dull and talkie murder mystery with one of the dumbest endings I can remember.

Elsa Carson (Irene Ware) lives with her two rich uncles, Henry and Charles. She doesn’t like them but figures they need her so she stays on. Across the street lives retired detective Paul Bernard. His paying guest is chemist Peter Blake who has a lab set up on the top floor.

Visiting Bernard is detective Jim Landis (Ray Walker) who has just wrapped up a case. He and Elsa have a thing going despite the vehement objections of Uncle Henry. Living next door is Elsa’s Aunt Marion (Hedda Hopper).

Also in the house with Elsa and her uncles is Foot the Butler (E.E.Clive), the maid and the cook. One night Charles looks out the window and sees a man outside. He tells Henry who doesn’t seem to care. Later that night Henry is found at his desk with a dagger in his back. There’s a dead mouse on the floor.

Henry and Charles have been having trouble because tenements they own have been the target of an arsonist. The man creeping around outside lost his wife and baby in one of the fires.

Jim finds a dagger in Elsa’s drawer and a singed dress in her closet that couldn’t fit her. He thinks she’s protecting her aunt. Then Foot is found at the same desk..dead.

The solution is ridiculous and probably meant to be funny but it’s just too unbelievable to be credible.

 

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The Case Of The Ice Cold Hands-Erle Stanley Gardner (1962)

erle stanley gardner-the case of the ice cold hands

This is one of the few Perry Mason books with a jury trial instead of a preliminary hearing. His client lies to him a lot but as usual he keeps faith because she’s a client. At the trial Perry’s nemesis D.A.Hamilton Burger tries to use a new law. It’s a fun bit.

Throughout the long Mason series Gardner shows a fascination with women’s legs and thisbook is no exception. There’s a segment about how a trout farm draws in customers that keeps that tradition going.

Audrey Bicknell has five winning tickets on a horse race. The horse was a fifty to one shot. She wants Perry to pick up her winnings. The odds dropped but it was still a nice piece of change. After collecting Perry is hassled by a man named Martin Fremont, a sleazy private detective and an onlooking cop.

Fremont says the money to buy the tickets came from a man named Rodney Banks who embezzled money from him. He says that means the winnings belong to him. He calls Perry a crook and a shyster. Perry threatens him with a lawsuit and leaves with the money. Before leaving the track he and Della win on the next race.

Perry gives the money to his client and finds out her name is really Nancy Banks. Her brother is Rodney. He uses some of the winnings to bail out Rodney.

Later he finds out from P.I. Paul Drake that Nancy has been frantically trying to reach him to see her at her motel room. Perry goes there and she’s not around. In the bathtub is the body of Martin Fremont. He’s been shot dead.

Nancy finally arrives and tells a story about being robbed of the winnings. Her hands are ice cold and it takes a while for Perry to find out why. He calls Lt.Tragg. After questioning her he lets her go on her way He makes sure they see some cardboard found under the body that came from a container of dry ice. Perry finds out she’s a big fan of true crime detective stories and read how dry ice can be used to fudge the time of death.

Nancy is eventually picked up and charged with murder. She keeps lying to Perry. It is a very interesting trial segment where Perry has to actually calm Burger down after some tactics by a known sleazy lawyer. It’s fun seeing Perry coming to the rescue of his sworn adversary.

This is a fun entry in the series and fans will like it. For those who have never read a Mason book this is a good one to start with.

 

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Minder (1979-84)

minder

Another great British TV series. Dennis Waterman is Terry McCann, a former boxer hired by conman Arthur Daley (George Cole) as a minder whose job is to protect him from other crooks. Terry tries to do the best he can. When others hire him Arthur takes most of the money. Waterman was in the first seventy-three episodes.

Opening episode:October 29,1979 – “Gunfight At The OK Laundrette” – Terry is a bouncer in a strip club. Arthur lends Terry to his friend Alfie Cavallo to keep an eye on things when Alfie goes to collect the money from the machines at the laundrette.

Three men choose that time to rob the place. It all goes wrong and Alfie is shot in the shoulder. Everyone goes into a back storage room where the heat is intense. Stuck there are Terry,Alfie,a middle aged customer Mrs.Mayhew and the three robbers.

The place is eventually surrounded by cops,snipers,crowds and the media. Because of his record the cops think Terry is on it. Arthur makes a deal with a newspaper for an exclusive interview with Stretch the leader of the trio. While laying out the offer on the phone the cops disconnect them.

Two of the robbers have just about had it but Stretch insists on keeping on and demands a helicopter to the airport and then a jumbo jet to Ethiopia. His partners don’t want to go there.

This is a good mix of comedy and drama and a must see for anyone who likes good TV.

In the beginning of the episode, “Ballykissangel” fans will spot Tony Doyle who starred in the first five years of that series as the scheming Brian Quigley.

Dennis Waterman was also in another great series, “The Sweeney.” He played Detective Sgt.George Carter (1975-78).

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The Panther’s Claw (1942)

the panther's claw 1942

Based on a short story by Anthony Abbott featuring his series characters New York Police Commissioner Thatcher Colt and his assistant Tony Abbott. It’s a rare starring role for character actor Byron Foulger as a wig maker who may be a murderer.

Wig maker Everett Digberry (Byron Foulger) is caught climbing over a cemetery wall. He says he received a letter demanding he leave a thousand dollars on his Aunt Katie’s tombstone. It’s signed the Black Panther complete with a claw mark.

In Police Commissioner Colt’s (Sidney Blackmer) office are five members of the New York opera Company who received similar letters. Digberry makes wigs for them. They all think fired baritone Enrico Lombardi may have something to do with it.

Opera star Nina Politza is leaving for South America. Barging into her apartment is Enrico. He says if he can’t have her no one can. Digberry is there and Enrico roughs him up before leaving.

Digberry’s wife and five daughters are out of town and he’s staying in a small apartment in the city across the hall from Nina. The police drop by to get his bank book showing the thousand dollar withdrawal. They see footprints from a cat that look¬† just like the claw mark on the letters. His typewriter is the same one the letters were written on.

Turns out he wrote the letters to cover up the thousand dollar withdrawal because he’s afraid of his wife. He lent it to Nina and didn’t want her to know. The cops go to Digberry’s neighbor’s apartment and discover a dead body. They take a grey wig off of it. It’s Nina. She was shot in the head.

A piece of a wig found in Nina’s hand is traced to Dingberry’s business rival Wilkins. He says he made one for a man named Frank Galloway. Colt finds out Galloway is a fake name and the address he gave Wilkins is also a phony.

The D.A. wants Dingberry arrested for the murder. He says he needs a conviction in the case if he wants to stay in office. The evidence keeps mounting against Dingberry but Colt thinks he’s innocent. He makes a bet with the D.A. that he can prove it.

Dingberry is told to be in the Commissioner’s office the next day. Wilkins will be there and may be able to identify who he made the wig for. That night Wilkins is murdered

I’m a fan of the book series so I enjoyed this movie and as a fan of character actors and actresses it was interesting to see Foulger in the lead.

Byron Foulger

Byron Foulger

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The Ring Of Ritornel-Charles L.Harness (1968)

charles l harness-the ring of ritornel

Good one with a lot of surprises in the last half that will keep you reading to see where Harness is taking it. A lot going on here.

In the far future (where else?) Humanity has settled into the Twelve Galaxies. It wasn’t easy getting there as Earth started a nuclear war that wiped out several colonies and eventually everything and everybody on the home planet. It’s now called Terror instead of Terra. Because the rules say any planet that starts a nuclear war has to be blown up the still burning sphere has to go.

The new Magistar Oberon is on a hunting expedition. He’s warned by Captain Andrek that a solar quake is coming and they have to get out of there. Oberon has him shot for mutiny. The quake arrives and Oberon is just about dead.

Back on Goris-Kard eight year old James Andrek lives with his older brother Omerle. He’s the Poet Laureate to the House Of Oberon. One night he disappears and that sets James on a life long search for him. The years go by and James is now an Advocate.

He gets himself appointed to the House Of Oberon. He gets enamored with Oberon’s daughter, Amatar. Oberon isn’t going for that and sends him on a mission that’s sure to get him killed. Before he leaves, Amatar gives him a deadly spider she’s programmed not to bite him. Good thing because there are three men on board who are assigned to bump him off. He encounters a strange passenger known as The Pilgrim. He’s going to need him.

Anything further would spoil the surprises coming that involve antimatter, creation, life cycle…on and on it goes. The chapter order in the table of contents are a tipoff that this is something different.

This is well worth picking up.

Charles L.Harness

Charles L.Harness

 

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Calamity Jane And The Texan (The Texan Meets Calamity Jane) (1950)

calamity jane and the texan (1950)

Snoozefest with Evelyn Ankers as Calamity Jane. She just might lose her honest gambling saloon The Prairie Queen in Deadwood Gulch to her crooked competitor. If you’re a “Star Trek” fan you may want to check out Grace Lee Whitney in her second movie role as Cecelia. She was Yeoman Janice Rand on the “Star Trek” TV show as well as in several movies.

It’s been a year since Wild Bill Hickok was gunned down while in a poker game holding aces and eights. Calamity Jane is still mourning but marks the occasion with a bash in her saloon so no one forgets Wild Bill. The crooked Matt Baker offers to buy her out. After all her honest games are cutting into his business.

Back in time Calamity saved the life of the original owner and he left her the place in his will. Now there’s a challenge from the man’s niece, Cecelia (Grace Lee Whitney). A lawyer named Gordon Hastings is on his way to town to settle the case. Calamity isn’t selling to Baker or anyone else.

Calamity and her employee Colorado Charley put on masks and stop the stage bringing Hastings to town. That scam doesn’t last long as Hastings pretends to have trouble mounting a horse and gets the drop on them.¬† He even becomes Calamity’s lawyer. In town he does an investigation of his own and that almost gets him killed. Baker thought he had it all settled with Hastings and Cecelia. Cecelia carries a locket with a picture of her and Hastings.

Hastings tells Cecelia what Calamity told him about the will. She’s not buying it. Cecelia gets a shock when she reads a letter from her uncle. Hastings gets a shock when he sees Calamity all gussied up for a dance. Is love in the old west air? There’s an eventual confrontation between Hastings and Baker where they duke it out in a speeded up fight as Calamity looks on.

The movie winds its way to a penultimate ending with some hard ridin’ and lead flyin’ shootin.’ Everybody has those magic movie guns that don’t need reloading because they never run out of ammo.

Unless you’re curious to see Grace Lee Whitney then there’s nothing here to make it worthwhile.

The real Calamity Jane

The real Calamity Jane

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Buried Alive (1939)

Prison movie with an implausible ending but it’s still not a bad one to spend some time with. Johnny the trustee gets into hot water when he saves the state’s executioner during a barroom brawl.

Ernie Matthews (George Pembroke) wrestles with his conscious when he has to pull the switch on a murderer. He does his job and then decides to go out and get drunk. Johnny Martin (Robert Wilcox) is a trustee and drives the warden’s car. The prison doctor is going on vacation and Johnny drives him and nurse Joan (Beverly Roberts) to the station. Ernie is along for the ride. He’s dropped off at a bar.

In the bar are a group of reporters who witnessed the execution. One is loud mouth Manning (Wheeler Oakman). He’s bragging about the executions he’s seen. A drunken Ernie approaches him and Manning slugs him. Ernie hit him back and the brawl is on. Outside Johnny and Joan are in the car and Johnny runs in to see what’s going on.

He gets Ernie out of there. On the way back Johnny passes out. He was cut on the neck and is now in the hospital. His parole hearing is coming up and it looks like he’ll be getting out. Not so fast.

Manning’s paper has been after the Governor and is using the incident to call for an investigation into soft conditions at the prison. The Warden is told by the Governor and the State’s Attorney General that Johnny won’t get his parole. They want him on ice for another year.

At the hearing Johnny freaks and threatens the head of the parole board. On the way back to prison he almost turns the car towards Canada. His bad luck continues. While he was in the hospital it was instant romance between he and Joan.

When they pull up to the prison he sees the silhouettes of Joan and prison official Ira Hanes. She has her arms around him. He doesn’t know it but Joan was just showing gratitude for Ira’s promise of help for Johnny. He cops an attitude. Joan straightens him out.

Back in his cell there’s trouble. His cellmate is Big Billy (Don Rowan). He reminds Johnny of Lenny from “Of Mice And Men.” In the next cell is a prisoner who keeps calling Johnny a fink because he resents his position as trustee. Big Billy is surprised Johnny is coming back but he’s glad to see him.

When Johnny walks into the cell he tells Billy the doc wants to see him. He doesn’t want to go. He forced to by a guard who is always abusing him. Billy’s had it and strangles him and injures another guard.

Billy runs off and Johnny chases him. The guards on the wall see them running. They shoot Billy dead and wound Johnny. Johnny’s charged with the guard’s murder. Looks like Ernie’s going to have to pull the switch on his pal. The guy in the cell next to Johnny saw what really happened but he’s not talking.

Not a bad B movie and it avoids most of the prison movie cliches.

Don Rowan played Captain Torch in 1940′s serial “Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe.”

 

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