Showing posts from March, 2021

Every Little Crook and Nanny (1972)

by Evan Hunter (AKA Ed McBain) A frustrated intellectual kidnaps a boy, not realizing that he  is the son of a major crime boss who is overseas on vacation.   When the panic-stricken nanny asks a low-level hood to help her get the boy back before her boss returns, a series of comic misunderstandings and misguided attempts to profit from the situation ensues, drawing in a number of eccentric characters.   "The Whole Gang and Nanny" (Danish) When I decided to read this creased, worn paperback, which came out of a box in a friend's garage, little did I realize that I was about to begin one of the most enjoyable, fiercely funny little novels that I've read in quite a while.   Author Evan Hunter (AKA Ed McBain) is well-known as a quality writer, but he was also very prolific .  Evan Hunter No doubt many of his titles have fallen out of print.  Many treasures like this exist only on the shelves of used bookstores these days.  If you can get your hands on this book, read it.

Salesman (1969)

Directors: Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin Cast: Paul Brennan, Charles McDevitt, James Baker, Raymond Martos, Kennie Turner This ground-breaking documentary follows a group  of salesmen as they go door to door, trying to sell expensive Bibles to working-class families, most of whom cannot afford them.   The Maysles brothers shot tons of raw footage and then constructed their narrative without any attempt to interpret it for the viewer through such devices as voice-over narration.   The story that emerges is a sad portrait of a way of life that has disappeared, captured at the moment when the men who made their livelihood this way could see that it was coming to an end.  The central character is Paul Brennan, AKA The Badger, whose desperation becomes more apparent as the film progresses.   Some of the most extraordinary scenes involve their manager, a jovial man who makes it clear that a failure to make sales targets is unforgivable.  This film comes off as a raw, genuin

Sword Woman (1977)

by Robert E. Howard Agnes de Chastillon escapes a life of drudgery, abuse,  and crushing poverty when she kills the fat slob to whom she has been betrothed and flees her village into the woods, armed only with a knife provided by her sister to kill herself with.  And so this promising character embarks on a career of adventure that is sadly truncated by the fact that author Robert E. Howard wrote only two stories about her, which were published after his death.   Robert E. Howard Dark Agnes is a natural sword-wielder whose talents are honed by the tutelage of accomplished companions.   Her innate courage makes her the equal of any other Howard adventurer.   This is an interesting departure for him; he even writes these stories from the first-person perspective of this female character.   The two stories, “Sword Woman” and “Blades for France,” are pretty standard historical adventures, but standard Howard makes for entertaining reading.  A third story, “Mistress of Death,” existed only

Visible Spirits (2001)

by Steve Yarbrough Two brothers oppose each other over the black postmistress  of their Southern town in 1902.  Leighton, the mayor and newspaper publisher, wants to live and let live, acting as a force for moderation.  Tandy is a wandering ne'er-do-well who has returned after a checkered career as a gambler. "Visible Spirits" (Polish)  He invents a crisis concerning the postmistress, stirring up the fear and race hatred that has always simmered just under the surface.  Steve Yarbrough depicts a South that is terribly scarred by the specter of racism.  The whites have given up their humanity in order to keep the blacks down, and the blacks have lost some of their dignity within this oppressive society.  As Yarbrough reveals more of the brothers' past, the tangle of hypocrisy that connects the lives of blacks and whites is powerfully depicted.   Steve Yarbrough These are the most affecting parts of the novel.  However, Yarbrough does not make the mistake of presenting

The Cat and the Canary (1927)

Director: Paul Leni Writers: adaptation by Robert F. Hill & Alfred A. Cohn, scenario by Alfred A. Cohn, titles by Robert Anthony, story supervision by Edward J. Montagne, from the stage play by John Willard Stars: Laura La Plante, Creighton Hale, Forrest Stanley, Tully Marshall, Gertrude Astor, Flora Finch Dark and mysterious antics ensue when a deceased  millionaire uses his will to cause chaos and scheming among his greedy, grasping relatives.      It’s easy to see the influence this film has had on generations of horror films and thrillers.   For the viewer who can appreciate (or tolerate) tropes that became dated long ago (i.e., the hand extending unseen from a hidden panel behind a character's head), there is much to enjoy here, and much that remains fresh even today.   The use of dissolves, superimpositions, lighting, and camera movements is often startling and even exhilarating as one can sense the activity of creative minds figuring out the grammar of film.   Paul Leni

The Prestige (2006)

Director: Christopher Nolan Writers: Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, from the novel by Christopher Priest Stars: Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine, Piper Perabo, Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson   Two stage magicians (Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman) i n turn-of-the-century London become consumed by their rivalry.   There is much to enjoy in this film.   The performances are wonderful, the setting is perfectly evoked, and the story is fascinating as it builds anticipation for the revelation of the film’s secret.  However, that revelation turns out to be a big cheat that feels like it was beamed in from Star Trek.  Literally. Spoiler alert!!! End of the movie!!