Throwback Thursday – More Nero Wolfe

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back.

A while back I started writing about my favorite detective, but for various reasons I never got around to posting part two of this, something I intend to correct soon. Last week for Throwback Thursday I reposted that original post, so I thought this week I’d use this space to post my original follow-up to that, dealing with one of the novels that I had just finished reading.


My Favorite Detective: A Novel Interlude – A Family Affair

nero208Back before Christmas I posted an article about Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe introducing the character and talking about the concept of the armchair detective. In that article (which focused mostly on the radio adventures of the character) I noted that while I could probably find all of the original novels and short stories online either through Amazon or Ebay or downloading them as e-books or whatever, I’m just old school enough that I enjoy having the print editions (yep, there are some things that I just enjoy having hands-on copies of) and tracking them down individually either through going to old booksellers or getting them as gifts. Well, thanks to my mom, I received a 1st edition hardback copy of Stout’s last Wolfe book, A Family Affair.

One of the things that I noted about Stout’s Wolfe stories that I really like is that though he first introduced Wolfe and his associates and various supporting characters in 1934 in a novel entitled Fer-de-Lance, and wrote them to be contemporaneous with society then. as the years passed, though the characters never actually aged and their basic relationships didn’t change, the world around them did, and that was something that Stout acknowledged in his stories. For instance, when America entered World War II, Wolfe became an occasional consultant for the War Department. During the 50s and 60s, Wolfe noted and commented upon the civil rights movement, and some of his cases sprang from that, and so on. As a matte of fact, Stout stated to his biographer John McAleer

“Those stories have ignored time for thirty-nine years. Any reader who can’t or won’t do the same should skip them. I didn’t age the characters because I didn’t want to. That would have made it cumbersome and would seem to have centered attention on the characters rather than the stories.”

That particular aspect of the stories was never more in evidence than they are in A Family Affair which was first published in 1974 and deals heavily with Wolfe’s reaction to the Watergate scandal which was engulfing the nation at the time. As a matter of fact, a central part of the mystery has to do with if, and if so how, the events that take place might be related to that ongoing scandal.

nero201Another theme of the novel, and the part that gives it its title, has to do with just who constitutes one’s “family”. Is family merely a relationship of blood, or are there other relationships that can also be considered family? This is especially called into question when a character who has been peripherally seen before in the Wolfe stories is killed in a rather gruesome manner under Wolfe’s own roof, which is the event which sets the rest of the story in motion.

I’m not going to give much more of the plot away here, as to do so would deprive the potential reader the fun of following the twists and turns which it takes, except to say that for those who have read previous stories and have come to know and love these characters over the years, the climax does come as something of a gut-punch.

fa1A Family Affair is also one of those stories in which Wolfe breaks, as happens from time to time, some of the established rules that he has set up for himself, and which define him as unique from other characters in the genre, but there is always a good reason for that when it occurs, and that is true here.

I have to say that I don’t recommend A Family Affair as an introduction to Wolfe’s world. There are many other stories and books that would serve that purpose better. On the other hand, though I wish that Stout, who passed away in 1975, not long after the publication of the novel, had been able to write many more stories, if there does have to be a last Wolfe novel it is fitting that this is it.

And fortunately for me, since I’ve made no strict rules about the order I’m reading the stories in, simply devouring each one as I find it, there are still some new adventures out there for me to find, and that is something that makes me very happy. And anxious to head out and see if I can find any more today.

(I’ll also be back soon with the “official” part two of this series, in which I’ll write more about Wolfe himself, and my favorite television adaptation of the character.)


Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

Want To See At Least Two Slew of Trailers From San Diego Comic-Con? Then Hit The DMM Facebook Page

ww1Yep, it’s that time of year again – San Diego Comic-Con, when all of the studios are fighting to get new trailers and previews to an appreciative audience in order to generate some positive buzz about all of the genre-related (and not just comic-book) films and TV shows they have coming out.

This year, instead of continuously posting the new trailers here, though, I’m putting them up on the Durnmoose Movie Musings Facebook page. So if you want to  see things like the (surprisingly better than I expected) new Wonder Woman trailer or footage from the upcoming Justice League movie, or the Lego Batman movie, or Kong: Skull Island, or the new Dr. Strange trailer, or previews for the upcoming Marvel/Netflix collaborations, or Guy Ritchie’s intriguing take on King Arthur, or… well, let’s just say “a whole bunch of other stuff”, then head over there and take a look.

Also, while you’re there, go ahead and give the page a like or a share… it really is the easiest way to keep up with everything that’s going on with the Moose, and is also where I sometimes post things that I might not feel deserve a full post here. Oh, and for that matter I may as well go ahead and mention the Durnmoose twitter feed, which you can find a link to in the sidebar, and which I also use for getting the word out when there is a new post here. You can find the link to that over in the sidebar.


Throwback Thursday – Nero Wolfe Part One

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back.

A while back I started writing about my favorite detective, but for various reasons I never got around to posting part two of this, something I intend to correct in the next few days, so I figured that rather than just referring readers of that part back to this I’d take the opportunity of Throwback Thursday to just go ahead and repost part one.


My Favorite Detective (Part One) – The New Adventures Of Nero Wolfe (1950 – 1951)

nero1Though I am, like most mystery lovers, a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes, there has always been one character in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories who has actually fascinated me more than the famed detective himself. No, I’m not talking about his famed arch-rival Moriarty, though he is also a very intriguing figure, especially when one considers his actual “screen time” in the canon stories is so short.

No, the actual character I’m talking about is Sherlock’s “smarter brother”, Mycroft.

The main reason that I find Mycroft intriguing is that he is, at least in the Conan Doyle stories, a sedentary figure who appears to be even smarter than his more famous younger sibling, but who, as Sherlock describes him in “The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter”

…has no ambition and no energy. He will not even go out of his way to verify his own solutions, and would rather be considered wrong than take the trouble to prove himself right. Again and again I have taken a problem to him, and have received an explanation which has afterwards proved to be the correct one. And yet he was absolutely incapable of working out the practical points…

Mycroft, therefore, is a perfect example of what is known as the “armchair detective”. At least he is in the Holmes canon. For those of you who mostly know Mycroft from his portrayal in either the BBC’s Sherlock or CBS’s Elementary, Mycroft, probably to disguise his identity from viewers who know the canon and add their own “twist” or “surprise reveal” is portrayed as a much more active figure.

nero2Of course, Mycroft is not the first armchair detective in mystery fiction. That distinction probably goes to C. Auguste Dupin who was the creation of the man who is responsible for innovating so much of what are now considered standard detective mystery tropes, Edgar Allan Poe.

Neither of these two men, however, is ny personal favorite character in the genre of the armchair detective. No, that distinction goes to a man who unfortunately goes largely unknown to today’s audiences, even, I would say, to many of those who consider themselves fans of mysteries stories.

His name is Nero Wolfe.

Wolfe is the creation of mystery writer Rex Stout who not only created the character, but wrote 33 novels and about 40 novellas and short stories featuring the character. (The reason for the “about” there is because there are a few stories which Stout wrote for magazines or other venues and then either revised or otherwise changed and which were then printed in the new version or even, depending on the extent of the changes, as new stories.)

Wolfe first appeared in the 1934 novel Fer-de-Lance, and the last Wolfe story written by Stout was A Family Affair, published in 1975. One of the most interesting aspects of Wolfe’s adventures is that while Stout’s stories were written over a period of more than forty years, and they quite often reflected what was going on in the world around them – for example, during the years of World War Two Wolfe was quite often consulted by the War Department for aid in tracking spies, and during the 60s Wolfe’s adventures took place amidst the civil rights movement – the characters of Nero and his assistant Archie Goodwin never aged or really changed.

nero4Ah, yes, Archie Goodwin. Some people would likely say that Archie is the true protagonist of Stout’s stories, and while I won’t go that far, I will say that it is Archie’s unique voice which truly brings Wolfe to life. Goodwin acts as the narrator of Wolfe’s adventures, acting in much the same role that Dr. Watson plays in the Sherlock Holmes stories. He is the person who acts as the reader’s stand-in in the stories, though considering the sedentary nature of Wolfe – remember, he is an armchair detective – Archie is arguably more valuable to Wolfe than Watson is to Holmes. As a matter of fact, in their preface to a reprint of Stout’s book Too Many Cooks, mystery scholars Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor describe the relationship between Nero and Archie thusly:

First, Archie is not a friend but a paid employee, who acts as secretary, chauffeur, and legman to the mountainous and sedentary Wolfe. Then they differ in all important respects—age, background, physique, and education. Finally, it is impossible to say which is the more interesting and admirable of the two. They are complementary in the unheard-of ratio of 50-50. … Archie has talents without which Wolfe would be lost: his remarkable memory, trained physical power, brash American humor, attractiveness to women, and ability to execute the most difficult errand virtually without instructions. Minus Archie, Wolfe would be a feckless recluse puttering in an old house on West 35th Street, New York.

Personally, I think that Archie’s voice is the thing that makes the Wolfe stories stand out from most other detective fiction, even Stout’s own attempts at creating other detectives and characters. I’ve tried reading some of those other stories and have inevitably found them wanting, and in analyzing my reaction to them, I’ve become convinced that the reason for that is that they are missing the unique voice that Goodwin brings to Wolfe’s adventures. Archie, in his role as narrator, seems to be one of those “lightning in a bottle” creations that sets Stout’s Wolfe stories apart from his rivals.

nero3Okay, for now I’m going to stop there, before actually getting into the character of Nero Wolfe and the things that make him a truly unique character even when compared to other armchair detectives. Instead, I want to take a moment to focus on one of my favorite adaptations of Rex Stout’s stories.

As indicated by the word “New” in the title, The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe was not the first series to bring the detective to radio. That distinction goes instead to the 1943-44 series The Adventures of Nero Wolfe which first aired on the on the regional New England Network before being picked up for national broadcast by ABC. Next came 1945’s The Amazing Nero Wolfe, which featured Francis X. Bushman as the titular character.

By far, however, in my mind the best characterization of Wolfe on the radio came from the aforementioned NBC series The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe, which aired on the network from 1950-51 and starred Sydney Greenstreet as Nero. Yes, that Sydney Greenstreet. The man who played Kasper Gutman (otherwise known as “The Fat Man”) in The Maltese Falcon and Signor Ferrari in Casablanca along with many many other roles.

As a matter of fact, Greenstreet’s portrayal of Wolfe is so strong that when I am reading Stout’s Wolfe stories it is his voice that I hear in my head as Wolfe. Who do I hear as Archie? Ah, we’ll get to the answer to that question in the second part.

nero5There are only two problems that I have with this series, and they are easily overcome by the love that I have for Greenstreet’s Wolfe. The first is that the series had no consistent actor to play the part of Archie Goodwin. Over the course of the twenty-six episodes which make up the series, the voice of Archie was played by actors such as Gerald Mohr, Herb Ellis, Lawrence Dobkin, Harry Bartell, Lamont Johnson, and Wally Maher. The other problem is that the series consisted of original stories rather than adaptations of Stout’s writings, though that’s actually understandable and forgivable considering the complexity of Stout’s plots. They would have been nearly impossible to shoehorn into an thirty minute radio time slot, so it’s for the best that the producers didn’t even try. Instead, the producers opted to emphasize characterization over plot, and while one could perhaps nitpick bits of that, the truth is they did a pretty good job. Again, I’d say as well as could be done in a 30 minute time slot.

The other bit of good news about this series is that out of those twenty-six episodes, twenty five are known to survive and are available to collectors as opposed to the two earlier series of which only one episode each is known to have made it intact to the current day.

So I think it’s time to quit talking about the series and give you a chance to give it a listen.

Next up: Part Two where we take a look at the character of Nero Wolfe himself, my favorite television adaptation of the character, and my favorite portrayal of Archie Goodwin.


Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

Throwback Thursday – So Pretty (2012) and So Dark (2013)

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back.

I love well done short films and these are two of the best that I’ve covered in the time that I’ve been writing this blog, so I thought they’d be good fodder for a Throwback Thursday.


Two Short Films Show Vampires Can Still Be Pretty Dark – So Pretty (2012) and So Dark (2013)

Short independent films can be extremely tricky things. Not only do you usually have to deal with the usual budgetary limitations of an independent movie, but you also have to have a strong enough screenplay, actors, and director to get in, establish your setting and characters, tell your story, and get out. It’s the failure of any one of those things that can make the difference between a good idea and a good movie.

sp2Of course, the same can really be said of any movie, I suppose, but with the kind of films I’m talking about, the pressure on these factors is even greater, because most of the time, you can’t rely on CGI wizardry to “fix it in post” or on drawing things out to the point that plot, characterization, motivation, etc. simply get lost in the shuffle.

So how does the independent film maker deal with these things? There are a number of ways, of course, but one of them is to use a limited number of locations.. If you’re doing all of your shooting in one or two places, then you don’t have to worry as much about finding a variety of locations, figuring out how to dress them, light them, place your camera in each of them, etc. etc. Instead, the time and money that all of that can take up can be used to better effect making the most of the space that you do have. This is also true when you have to limit the number of actors you can afford to use. When you can’t simply fill up the screen with hundreds of extras – either real or computer generated – who can walk through a scene to distract from the main performance or run screaming in terror to show the audience that there’s something to be scared of, or even just to provide “atmosphere”. then you have to be absolutely sure that the performances you are getting from them are top-notch.

sp1What’s all of that got to do with the two films we’re looking at today? That’s simple. In both of them, writer James Williams and director Al Lougher have succeeded on all counts. They’ve taken their obviously very limited budgets and used them to turn what could have been real disadvantages into true advantages.

This is especially obvious in the first film, So Pretty. Obviously conceived as a response to and commentary on the current Twilight-esque take on vampires as creatures of seduction to be loved instead of feared, So Pretty uses it’s short (8:39) running time to actually tell a story with a concrete beginning, middle, and end. It also takes advantage of its single setting (one almost-deserted subway car) to create a sense of claustrophobia and entrapment that could not have been at all helped by moving outside its confines. Yet it also gives one the sense that there is definitely more going on than at first meets the eye. Here go ahead and have a look:

Pretty intense, and as I said, a film that definitely stands on its own while giving a sense of being a part of a larger picture. Which is where the sequel, So Dark comes in. Following directly from the events of the first film, So Dark actually picks up later the same night, after Sean has been captured (or rather allowed himself to be captured) by the police. Again, So Dark is largely concentrated in a couple of different rooms in the same building, and only moves outside of them at the end, when the plot necessitates it. And, again, the characters are mostly limited to those that are necessary to telling the story at hand. Yes, it’s longer running time (So Dark clocks in at 21:15) allows it to be more expansive, but again, it is a full story rather than simply a part of one, and can very well stand on its own. Certainly having seen the earlier film helps, and there is definitely room for more follow up, but even if you only saw this one film, you would come away satisfied, and that is a large part of what makes it a success, and in a lot of ways could and perhaps should be taken as a challenge to many a much more celebrated film maker today, many of whom seem to think that if their movie doesn’t run at least two hours, it’s not worth making.

548944_496005023794768_242547859_nAs for the film itself, well, it has enough twists that I don’t want to give too much away, but it definitely also follows in tone from the first. Sean is not the kind of vampire teenage girls are going to want to cuddle up with, but in my mind, that’s a good thing. These are movies that harken back to a time when vampires were creatures of darkness and blood and remembers that there is a reason their stories should be filed in the “horror” section as opposed to “romance”. At the same time, they don’t cross over into the graphic gore territory that so many so-called “horror” films seem to want to wallow in today. As a matter of fact, despite the picture I posted above, there’s relatively little blood in either of these films, and when it is there, its there for a reason.

Ok, that’s enough from me. Just take the time and watch the film for yourself. If you’re a horror fan, especially one like me who is just kind of dissatisfied with much of what’s hitting the big screen in the guise of the genre I think you’ll definitely find that it’s time well spent.

Until next time, happy viewing.


Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

Throwback Thursday – The Parallax View (1974)

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back.

As we approach what seems like it will surely be at the least a – shall we say “interesting” – political convention season it seems like a good time to go ahead and take a look back at one of my favorite political conspiracy thrillers from the early 70s. No it may not be the best – there are plenty of contenders for that spot, but 1974’s The Parallax View still holds a special place in my own heart. Here’s what I had to say about it back in July of 2013.


Conspiracy Theorists Need To Apply – The Parallax View (1974)

pvcI’m not sure exactly why I decided last night’s movie would be 1974’s The Parallax View, or even when I put it in my Netflix queue. Still, there it was, and since I was in a kind of “what the heck” mood, I decided to give it a go.

Coming out at a time when political corruption, conspiracy theories, and political assassinations were all at the forefront of the American psyche, The Parallax View is according to Wikipedia, the middle film in director Alan J. Pakula‘s so-called “Political Paranoia Trilogy” which also includes 1971’s Klute, which I haven’t yet seen, and 1976’s All The President’s Men, which I have. (Though it has been awhile, and I probably should revisit it sometime soon.) This is not to say that the film relies on any knowledge of, or even directly relates to either of those films, as the link between them is one of theme more than plot.

The Parallax view stars Warren Beatty as Joseph Frady, a somewhat naive reporter who finds himself drawn unwillingly into a world of political intrigue and, yes. conspiratorial assassination. The guiding force behind these assassinations turns out to be the titular Parallax Corporation which actively recruits people like Frady, people who seem to be on the edge, to become assassins.

Or do they?

The movie is very much one of its time, making use of then-popular pop-culture tropes such as personality testing and visual brain washing. There is even a scene which echoes the forced retraining scene in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, with a very interesting video montage, though the scene itself is much less disturbing and intense than that of the Kubrick film.

pvbAnd perhaps that’s the problem with the entire film, and why it was less well received and remains much less well remembered than Pakula’s two other films in this “trilogy”. It simply never manages to convey any real sense of intensity or immediacy. Under Pakula’s direction, scenes such as the opening fight on the top of Seattle’s Space Needle, which could have provided great tension seem much too removed and foreshortened to truly give it any sense of what is at stake, and that is something that carries through the length of the movie, making it seem rather disjointed and – while it’s not particularly hard to follow – jumpy, as Frady moves from point to point in following the conspiracy depending far too much on what seems coincidence.

Of course, it could be argued that these coincidences are not what they seem, but that is not a point that the movie really addresses, so the viewer is left at times having to play catch up just a bit too much.

pvaAs far as the acting goes, Beatty, whose talent onscreen was unfortunately for most of his career overshadowed by his offscreen reputation turns in his usual engaging performance. He is very ably backed by a supporting cast which includes Hume Cronyn, William Daniels and Paula Prentiss, all of whom are good here, but never seem as engaged as they would be in other roles.

In the end, The Parallax View is a pretty typical 70s conspiracy thriller, complete with a relatively nihilistic ending which was the going trend at the time. It is certainly worth the time if you have nothing better to do with an evening and are a fan of this kind of film, but at the same time, I can’t consider putting it in the category of a “must see”.

(The preceding review was, by the way, paid for by the Parallax Corporation, but you should not take that as any indication that it was designed to throw you off the scent of any ongoing assassination conspiracies or other ongoing schemes. Probably.)



Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

Double Feature: Big Trouble In Little China (1986) And…

btilcIt’s hard to believe it’s been thirty years since we first got into trouble with Jack Burton, but it’s true.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love a lot of John Carpenter’s movies, from Halloween to The Thing, and even a lot of what would be considered some of his “lesser” films, but for sheer fun, I don’t think Carpenter (or many other film makers for that matter) has managed to top Big Trouble In Little China.

There’s just something about the magnetism that Kurt Russell brings to this role that makes it special.

Which makes it even more interesting that it was considered pretty much a flop when it was released in July of 1996.

Of course, it took off on video, and has since become a definite staple on the midnight movie/repertory cycle, making it pretty much the dictionary definition of a “cult film” – under appreciated and not as well known as it should be, but loved by most of those who have seen it.

It also puts me in mind of another movie that fits that bill and also involves over the top martial arts action. As a matter of fact, thanks to the cgi advances that have been made since the release of Big Trouble, the Kung Fu on display in this movie is even more incredible and beyond belief than what’s on disply there. The movie I’m talking about is of course Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle, which, especially if you’ve never seen it before, I highly recommend if you’re a fan of BTiLC. No, there’s no Jack Burton, but hey, a movie can’t have everything…

Check it out:

So there ya go… a perfect double feature line-up.

X-Men: Apocalypse (2017)

xma1I suppose a sufficient indication of my excitement and anticipation for this movie is the fact that I’m just now getting around to seeing it.

The good news? I didn’t hate it.

On the other hand, I didn’t love it either.

Let’s just be honest: X-Men: Apocalypse is another one of those movies that is perfectly entertaining while your sitting through it, but doesn’t actually bear up under even the slightest bit of scrutiny.

I could very easily sit here and go through all of the things that are wrong with this movie, but I think I’ll leave that to the Cinema Sins guys (you know, the ones responsible for the “Everything Wrong With [insert movie title] In [X number of] Minutes” videos, because they will be sharper and more amusing about it than I would, and anyway, that would simply be a case of devoting more time and writing energy to X-M:A than it really deserves.

xma2Instead I’ll simply say that I’m rather hoping that the resulting box office for this movie is such that it hastens the day that Fox decides the franchise isn’t lucrative enough for them and either lets the rights revert back to Marvel or the two studios manage to strike up some sort of deal that lets the characters revert back to their home studio, not only so that we can get better X-Men movies, but also so that they (the characters that make up the X-Men universe) can be more fully integrated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Because until then I have a feeling that every couple or three years, I’m going to be writing this same review, just with a different title attached.

Bottom line: if you’ve loved or even liked the previous X-Men movies then sure, go ahead and see this one too. Why not? There are worse ways to spend a summer afternoon or evening. But if you;re looking for something that is an improvement on what has come before, then don’t bother, because you’re not going to find it here.

Here’s a trailer:

Early Hitchcock? Yes. Minor Hitchcock? Definitely Not. – The 39 Steps (1935)

***Spoiler Warning! Yes, I’m writing about a more than 80 year old movie today, but just as this was my first viewing of the movie, therefore it was new to me and there were twists I wouldn’t have wanted to know about, I’m sure there are those of you out there who are in the same situation, and even though I’m not going to be talking about the very ending of the movie, there are some twists that are unavoidable. Therefore, if you want to go into it completely spoiler free, well… End Warning***

39s1One of the things that I’ve decided recently is that I need to spend more time catching up with early Alfred Hitchcock movies, especially those that he made before leaving England for Hollywood. Thus, The 39 Steps which he directed in 1935.

Adapted from John Buchan’s novel The Thirty-Nine Steps which was first serialized in Blackwoods Magazine in 1915, Hitchcock’s film not only stands as a great early example of spy films in general, but of what was to come from the great director as it either introduces or reinforces a number of the touches and tropes that would be seen throughout his career.

First, the movie is a great example of the Hitchcockian plot device of a seemingly innocent man caught up by circumstance in events beyond his control which could have world changing implications. In this case the man is Richard Hannay who is played by Robert Donat. Interestingly, Buchan’s novel was the first of five novels to feature Hannay as the lead as he continued to get caught up in a number of adventures beyond the conclusion of the events in this story.

39s2Second, and especially of note in this day when gender-and race- swapping are controversial issues which receive a lot of attention, We have the introduction of “Annabella Smith” (an admitted alias) as the character who brings Hannay into the plot after a show at a London music hall is disrupted by gunfire. What makes this interesting is that on the novel, the person who draws Hannay into the story is an American man named Franklin P. Scudder. By turning Scudder into a woman of unknown national origin, Hitchcock not only raises a question of sexual tension that would not be a part of Buchan’s story, but also in his casting of Lucie Mannheim as Smith, he reinforces the idea of the “Hitchcock blond” which would become a staple of the master’s movies.

39s3Also, by recasting the character as female, Hitchcock provides an early take on an idea which would have a later echo in the director’s 1960 film Psycho when she is suddenly and unexpectedly stabbed and killed very early in the film, thus leaving Hannay with only the slightest of clues as to the actual mystery that is surrounding him, and changing the focus and perspective of the film from what seems like it will be a chase of both Hannay and Smith as they try to intercept and deter the spy ring to more of a man on the run film as Hannay must not only attempt to figure out the secret that she was trying to protect, but must also stay one step ahead of Scotland Yard who believe that he is the one who murdered her.

39s5Finally, I think it should be noted that even though The 39 Steps may seem to be, as noted above an “early” Hitchcock film, he already had quite a few directing credits to his name before this (the number is kind of inexact depending on the sources you check and just how much involvement you give credit to on some of the earliest films, but it already shows the assured hand of someone who knows just what he wants from both those behind and in front of the camera and how to get what he wants. It may be early Hitchcock, but it isn’t minor Hitchcock. Also, it was considered a major film by production company Gaumont-British which was not only willing to give Hitch a very free hand with the adaptation, but was also willing to spend what was then considered a major-league budget to make it, including spending the money to bring in two stars who at the time were well known American actors in an attempt to make a splash not only in England but also in America, and that investment paid off greatly, not only at the box office, but with critics and audiences.

I said at the first that I felt a need to fill in the Early Hitchcock hole in my viewing experience, and if The 39 Steps is any example of what’s in store as I do that, I can’t wait to watch more.

Here’s, well, not exactly a trailer, but a taste of the film:

Will Simon Templar Have a Halo Or Horns? – Paramount Picks Up The Rights to The Saint

saint1According to this story from Deadline, Paramount Pictures has just picked up the rights for a feature-film adaptation of The Saint. They (Paramount) say they are looking to take the character, whose “life” began in a series of books written by noted author Leslie Charteris  from 1928 to 1963 and of course attempt to create another tentpole upon which they can build a new character brand, not unlike James Bond or Mission: Impossible.

This is far from the first time that Charteris’s character has been adapted in various media from film to radio to television.

The character known as “The Saint” is, in actuality Simon Templar, a Robin Hood like figure who goes after wealthy bad guys and after bringing them down either returns most of the money or goods that he recovers to the victims or donates it to a worthy cause. I say “most of” because in some cases there is a reference to him collecting a ten-percent “fee” so that he can continue his operations. Templar is known to leave behind a calling card which has a stick figure with a halo and his initials. S.T., from which his supposedly derives.

The first adaptation of The Saint to other media comes in the form of a series of movies which were produced by RKO. The first of these, The Saint in New York was released in 1938 and starred Louis Hayward as Templar. This proved to be a hit, and RKO continued the series through a total of eight films, though George Sanders took over the role after the first movie.

Hayward returned to the role in 1953 for the Hammer Films production The Saint Returns (also known as The Saint’s Girl Friday).

Though there were some earlier adaptations of the Saint stories for the radio, by far the best, most popular, and longest-running radio series starred Vincent Price in the lead role and ran from 1947 to 1951 on three different networks: NBC, Mutual, and CBS.

On television, the most famous incarnation of Charteris’s character starred a pre-James Bond Roger Moore in a series which ran from 1962 to 1969.

Of course there have been other incarnations of the character over the years in all three media, along with comic books and strips. The most recent attempt at a silver screen revival was released in 1997 and starred Val Kilmer as the title character. Unfortunately, as is the case in many more recent movie revivals, this movie strayed quite a bit from its original inspiration and failed to ignite any enthusiasm either from fans of the character or those coming to Templar’s adventures without any preconceived notions.

So, can Paramount make The Saint fly again, or is the upcoming film merely going to sport a tarnished halo? Well, of course, since the movie is only in the talking stages right now, and we have absolutely no information to go on, there’s no way to even make an educated guess, but since this is a character that I’ve had a long fondness for, at the moment I’m just pleased to hear that he’s being given another chance, and I’m going to remain hopefully optimistic until I’m given a reason to think otherwise.

And in the meantime, obviously, I have plenty of chances to revisit the character and invite you to do so too. I think you’ll find he really is something special.

Let’s Get Lost With The Space Family Robinson Again – Netflix’s New Lost In Space (2018)

lis1This is not exactly new news, but we do have a few more details about the upcoming series which I’ll get to in a moment.

It’s hard to explain the influence that the original Lost in Space television series had on a number of us budding sci-fi geeks as we were growing up in the 60s and 70s. For myself, though I was too young to appreciate it during its original prime time run which began in 1965, I did catch it when it ran in stripped syndication (that being the phrase for shows that run at a certain time Monday through Friday in reruns, a practice mostly relegated to more recent vintage sitcoms nowadays).

The adventures of the Space Family Robinson seemed at the time the perfect combination of camp and high adventure and introduced a number of us to the whole idea of space travel and encounters with all manner of alien beings. Interestingly, it was originally sold to the networks as a straightforward adventure show, as seen in this short presentation reel put together as a way to lure advertisers to pony up money and support the show:

Of course, even though that reel focuses on the family adventure aspects of the show and does contain many of the elements which would draw viewers in, it is missing two of the most important factors that really made Lost in Space the fondly remembered show that it became, and that’s because neither of the two most interesting and famous aspects of the show were not in the original plans.

Those, of course were the Robot and the high-camp Dr. Smith. It was not until those elements were added (after the initial and unaired at the time pilot was shot) that the show really became the fondly remembered icon that it is today.

I apologize, btw for the effect overlay in the above clip, but it appears to be there to circumvent any YouTube issues. Still it’s good enough to give you a sense of the show.

Anyway, according to this and a number of other media reports, Lost in Space will be… well, not exactly soon, since it’s not expected to drop until 2018, but eventually, returning to the small screen as a 10 episode series on Netflix. Obviously at this point we don’t know a whole lot about what the show will be like, but early reports indicate that the new show may hew more closely to the initial concept – more of a straight sci-fi adventure than what the original eventually became.

lis2Which is okay, and is possibly more suited for today’s audience, but at the same time seems the kind of move that will make it just another space adventure show and not the kind of thing that will be must see and inspiring viewing for those budding young minds looking for something which will attract them into a science fiction fandom that they may not even know exists the way the original did with my generation.

Which would be a shame, because without them, sf has no future.

Or, to put it another way, “Danger, Will Robinson! My circuits detect an unnecessary seriousness overload!”

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.