Foreign (Italian, I’m thinking) poster art for Columbia’s 1953 noir Pushover with Kim Novak and Fred MacMurray, called “Criminal On Duty” here. This poster’s art always intrigued me, first because it’s such a disturbing image – a knock on the door, you open it and WHAM! Badness is about to happen.
But aside from the visceral artwork, it’s an interesting decision not to depict either of the film’s two main stars (well, other than Fred MacMurray’s hand) and show Dorothy Malone instead of Kim Novak. Mind you, I love them both, and Malone did what she could in a small but important role. All the same, the image here is dynamic and unsettling at the same time, don’t you think?
I haven’t read Thomas Walsh’s 1953 novel The Night Watch or William Ballinger’s Rafferty from the same year, but both books were adapted by screenwriter Roy Huggins for Richard Quine’s 1954 Columbia noir, Pushover. At the time, reviewers compared it (favorably or not) to 1944’s Double Indemnity, and understandably so, both films starring Fred MacMurray as a too-smart-for-his-own-good fellow who may not be dirty but is certainly a bit dusty, enough to fall in love or lust with a seductive blonde even though he knows she’ll be pure trouble. In the film adaptation of James M. Cain’s steamy novel, it was Barbara Stanwyck, of course, in one of most memorable roles. Here it’s a young Kim Novak.
The movie opens with an action-packed robbery that goes bad. Cut to stag-night MacMurray spotting unattached Kim Novak at a late-night movie. Kim’s car trouble leads them to a cocktail lounge, then to more drinks at home (and presumably whatever else goes on there that couldn’t be shown in 1950s films). The coincidental meeting looks to turn into a romance, till we learn that MacMurray’s actually a cop who’s been tailing Novak all along, she being the gal pal of the armed robber who’s now wanted for murder.
She’s no dope, figures out that MacMurray’s a detective, but love is love and lust is lust, and soon enough the two conspire to get their mitts on the heist man’s loot and make their getaway. Just why they think their hastily hatched scheme can succeed with two-man police teams doing round the clock surveillance on Novak’s apartment eludes me. Meanwhile, MacMurray’s confirmed bachelor partner falls hard for Kim Novak’s neighbor, played by Dorothy Malone, a cute nurse he’s keeping an eye on (literally) through binoculars from his perch across the street. Keep that in mind the next time you wonder if you ought to close the blinds when you’re down to your skimpies or getting up to something naughty.
No surprise, just about everything that could go wrong does, with MacMurray getting deeper in trouble by the hour and a couple of bodies left in his wake. Like all good noirs, doomed love is precisely that: Doomed.
I’d only seen this film once before, but it’s suddenly in rotation on the MOVIES! cable channel’s Sunday and Thursday night noir showcases. Double Indemnity it’s not, but it’s damn good. Dark, steamy, punctuated with sudden bursts of violence…all you could want from a mid-1950’s crime film.
It had been ten years since Fred MacMurray helped make the screen sizzle alongside Barbara Stanwyck as Walter Neff and Phyllis Deitrichson. With a 25-year age difference, it’s understandable if you consider him mismatched with sleek 21 year old Kim Novak. But then, Hollywood never fretted much about pairing middle-aged (and older) fellows with ingenues and starlets (I mean, Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn? Seriously?). That we believe that Kim Novak’s gun moll doesn’t only see MacMurray’s crooked cop as her ticket out of the life, but that he actually gets her motor humming, is just a testament to the young actress’ emerging talent. Bottom line: The duo make it work. MacMurray was an old pro, and one of Hollywood’s highest earning actors at the time, but this was Kim Novak’s first starring role. In fact, it was only her second film, the previous part just an uncredited walk-on.
On TV, online (it’s there) or on disk – if you haven’t seen Pushover, check it out. It won’t make it to the top of your film noir list, but you won’t be disappointed.
A wad of twenties might be better, but it looks like this duo will settle for the bundles of singles from their latest heist. Retro pinup models Greta Macabre and Tamara pose in perfect retro style for photographer Deyan Baric.
More work from Portuguese artist, illustrator and designer Rui Ricardo, who did the handsome cover art for Stephen Spotswood’s Fortune Favors The Dead, discussed in a prior post. To see more of the artist’s work (and there’s a lot to gaze at) go to http://www.rui-ricardo.com
My pre-Halloween reading (an illustrated edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula) wrapped up a few days before the holiday, and I was tempted to grab another horror classic as we headed closer to the 31st. But the to-be-read pile on the writing lair’s endtable still had a few books, with one right on top I was anxious to get to, the sleek Rui Ricardo cover art calling to me each time passed by.
“Fortune favors the bold” is a Latin proverb, and frequently used as a slogan by the military and on European coats of arms. Fortune favors the dead? Well…
I didn’t know much about Stephen Spotswood’s new Fortune Favors The Dead, only that it was set in post-WWII NYC and had been likened to a gender-bending version of Nero Wolfe, all of which sounded good to me. As it turned out, the only disappointment with Spotswood’s debut novel came once I reached the end. No tap dancing around things here: I loved this book, did not want it to end, and insist that Spotswood hunker down on a follow-up…like now.
Fortune Favors The Dead introduces a memorable detective duo: Lillian Pentecost, an already well-known and successful New York private investigator and all-around ‘fixer’ who’s reserved, insightful, and unfortunately, suffering from worsening MS. Finding a very special person to mentor as an assistant is essential. In a sort-of prologue set three years before the novel’s main storyline, we meet the narrator, Willowjean “Will” Parker, a teenage runaway roving the country with a small-time circus, earning some extra pocket money during its New York stay. In an exciting opening scene, Willowjean’s knife throwing skills save Lillian Pentecost, and land Will in jail.
The real story picks up right after the end of WWII, with the Pentecost agency enlisted to investigate the murder of a wealthy industrialist’s widow (the industrialist having offed himself earlier). The killing took place right after a spooky séance at a Halloween costume party and is a genuine locked room mystery with plenty of suspects.
What’s old is new again in Spotswood’s capable hands, situating his debut novel in comfortable territory and populating it with familiar types. Mind you, none of this is done in a derivative manner. Quite the contrary, Spotswood turns Golden Age mystery fiction and film tropes on their ear, reinventing everything in a way that honors genre roots but feels entirely fresh and new, most notably by replacing cerebral Nero Wolfe and streetwise Archie Goodwin with an intriguing detective duo like Lillian Pentecost and Willowjean Parker, than taking things still further with Will’s risky attraction to a possible suspect — the pretty party girl stepdaughter of the murder victim — and even further still with the ultimate resolution of the crime(s). An admission: I didn’t figure out even one tiny bit of the mystery on my own and clumsily fell for every single red herring the author inserted along the way. Credit to Stephen Spotswood.
Is Fortune Favors The Dead a standalone? I really hope not. I want to return to Lillian Pentecost’s well-appointed headquarters home and tag along with Willowjean Parker, whether she’s getting herself in trouble (which she does) or getting in too deep with a pretty face. Come to think of it, those are both the same thing.
I thought I had this scheduled for Monday the 2nd, but I messed up.
So, a happy belated birthday to “April Dancer” (what a cool character name), The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., AKA Stephanie Powers, one of retro TV’s iconic girl-with-a-gun characters, who later starred in the mystery series Hart To Hart, and earlier in her career earned her ‘Noir Cred’ as Toby Sherwood in Blake Edwards’ creepy 1962 neo-noir thriller Experiment In Terror.
Powers was born Stefania Zofya Paul Federkiewicz in Hollywood (that made for a short trip to get a career rolling) on November 2, 1942, and happily is still with us today.
Probably too much to ask, but can I have that sleek Girl From U.N.C.L.E. car, pretty please?
From Mike Vosburg’s fun Retrowood from 2013, a ‘sorta-kinda’ mid-twentieth century Hollywood (but not really) hard-boiled noir with private eye J. Parker Wrighte mixed up in mystery and murder among the decadent tinsel town’s stand-ins most devious (and pervy) denizens. The story is dark but goofy fun, and the art’s almost sedate for Vosburg, while still indulging the figurative master’s flair for lovely — albeit lethal — ladies.
Halloween 2020: If there were trick-or-treaters out and about Saturday afternoon and evening, they vanished like ghosts. Mostly out and about myself on a loooong list of errands from mid-morning through sundown or thereabouts, I saw some folks perched beside outdoor candy bowls in their driveways, one “trunk-n-treat” going on in a grammar school parking lot, but only a handful of kids in costumes making the rounds, and who knows how many houses were ready with treats vs. how many opted for a pandemic year off.
My Saturday to-do list found me driving from here to there and back again for hours, with satellite radio and a local station’s Halloween specials of old-time radio horror shows for creepy company. As noted in previous posts, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, Dragnet, Casey, Crime Photographer and a host of other mystery/crime shows are more my taste, but the 1930’s – 1950’s Golden Age of Radio had its share of spooky shows, like Lights Out, Inner Sanctum, The Hermit’s Cave, Suspense, Witches Tales and others. I heard a couple of stinkers and some darn good ones, and even the worst were better than listening to the dueling pre-election rallies on the cable news stations’ simulcasts.
Once it got dark and the grown-up ghouls could take over, I’m guessing the nightspot costume parties were few and far between ‘round here, new indoor dining and drinking Covid restrictions in place since Friday. That’s a lot of Party City and pop-up Spirit Halloween store sexy devils, sexy nurses, sexy vampires, sexy angels, sexy cops, sexy witches and sexy-whatever’s who had to stash their wigs and fishnets in storage till next year.
The most Halloween-ish thing I did was watch Universal’s 1943 Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, the first of the studio’s monster bash movies, and the first to show the monster stumbling around with outstretched arms (though it never explains that he’s supposed to be blind…along with a whole lot of other classic horror trivia that make for a story in itself) and in general, is a charming (not scary) piece of vintage camp.
I’ll look ahead to Halloween 2021, when things will hopefully be slightly closer to normal, trick-or-treaters can crowd the sidewalks and sexy-whatever’s can see if their costumes still fit. Thinking about things still remaining the way they are now is scarier than any Universal monster-fest flick.
I may not be the biggest James Bond fan in the world, only kinda-sorta into the Ian Fleming novels, but I do truly love the first four films, Dr. No through Thunderball, with Scottish actor Sean Connery in the 007 role, and for me Connery will always be James Bond (Pierce Brosnan’s stint in the part comes second, so the Roger Moore, Daniel Craig and George Lazenby fans can howl all they want now). It’s sad when anyone passes, but today’s news that Sean Connery passed away is bittersweet, the man having lived a long and full life that any one of us can only envy. We mourn another icon lost, but cherish the memories.
Rest in peace, Sir Thomas Sean Connery. Your body of work will live on for a long time to come.
With my obligatory Halloween season reading complete, and a nifty illustrated hardcover edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula returned to the writing lair’s bookcases till it’s due for another re-read, it’s back to more traditional fare for me, which right now happens to be Stephen Spotswood’s just-released Fortune Favors The Dead. I only started it Tuesday morning, am only 60 pages into the novel as I write this, and will likely be halfway through by the time you’re reading this. So more about that new mystery/crime fiction novel later, though I can tell you that Spotswood’s unique pair of 1940’s private investigators pretty much had me from page one.
The same day I started Fortune Favors The Dead, my Crime Reads e-newsletter (or whatever they call it) listed an article by Stephen Spotswood himself, and on a cherished topic: “10 Classic Radio Mysteries Every Crime Fiction Lover Should Know” (link below). ‘Round here, old time radio fans have long enjoyed a local four-hour Saturday afternoon showcase that aired its share of classic mystery and crime shows, though lately it’s been veering more and more toward big band broadcasts and comedies. But there’s always satellite radio, which I’ll admit I’m kind of off-and-on with (currently on) for a reliable round-the-clock broadcast including a healthy helping of classic mystery and crime programs.
Spotswood’s Crime Reads article highlights a number of well-known and not-so-well known shows from the 1930’s through very early 60’s, two in particular being faves of mine. Candy Matson, starring Natalie Parks, was one of the west coast’s most popular series in its time, short-lived as it was (1949 – 1951). Matson, a former fashion model turned private eye, was a “stiletto gumshoe” if ever there was one, and it’s too bad that of the show’s 90 episodes, only fourteen survived. But they’re a treat. For more about Candy Matson, follow the other link below to an August 2019 post from right here.
My hands-down favorite vintage radio mystery/crime drama is Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, a long-running series (1949 – 1962) with over 800 episodes and one of the very last radio dramas to be broadcast nationally. Johnny Dollar originally was a traditional hard-boiled P.I., but the show was re-tooled in the mid-50’s with the character reimagined as a freelance insurance investigator…”the man with the action packed expense account”. In the show’s audition pilot, Dick Powell played the lead, and then a long list of actors took over Johnny Dollar’s role, including Charles Russell, film star Edmond O’Brien (seen up above at the top if this post with his eyes glued to either the revolver or the shapely limbs), John Lund, Bob Readick and Mandel Kramer…and the actor most fans associate with Johnny Dollar: Bob Bailey. During what many consider the show’s best period, Bailey as Johnny Dollar narrated each story, which ran for one whole week in nightly fifteen-minute episodes. Production values, co-stars and music were all top notch, and the scripts were as good as any mystery/crime fiction storytelling you’d find in Manhunt magazine or on a prime TV show.
I already have several multi-disk sets of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar and will surely end up with more, though I have a bad feeling that when it’s time to trade in the current wheels, new cars won’t even have CD players any longer. And for me, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar – or any mystery/crime radio shows – go best with long drives. I don’t know why, but radio dramas just make the miles go by quicker. Now I’ll assume that most vintage radio programs have fallen into the public domain. Candy Matson, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar and so many others are all over the place and from multiple companies, with three, four or more versions of disk sets and sometimes even more for downloads. Guessing which ones are good quality is a gamble. That said, if you haven’t tried old time radio mystery/crime shows, do so, and I’d say that Candy Matson and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar are good places to start.