Posts Tagged ‘Barbara Allan’

Heart and Soul: Bonus Features

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

Here’s a special treat that none of you have been asking for: brief reviews of every movie I watched while I was hospitalized.

Early on, when I learned open-heart surgery was in the cards, I bought a small portable Blu-ray player. Beyond its obvious use, during the upcoming hospital stay, I knew it would be cool to have on trips where early-to-bedder Barb could go to sleep in our hotel room while I watched something on the Blu-ray player, listening through headphones and not bothering her. Getting that Blu-ray portable was smart of me.

Here’s where I was dumb. Instead of picking DVDs and Blu-rays (from my stupidly large collection) that were either old favorites or which had a lot of potential, I filled a little CD case with oddball stuff I hadn’t got around to yet, and that I was pretty sure Barb would have no interest in.

But it was Barb who soon realized I was making my hospital time even worse by torturing myself with crap movies. I guess when you almost die, you have less patience for spending time pointlessly. So here’s a rundown on a bunch of movies that you should avoid. I’m using the Leonard Maltin four-star system, just don’t look for any four-stars. I usually am loathe to write bad reviews of movies. But since I loathed these movies, I’ll make these exceptions.

SMART GIRLS DON’T TALK (1948) – * ½. Pitiful excuse for a film noir with Virginia Mayo (her character all over the good-girl/bad-girl map) supported by Bruce Bennett and Robert Hutton, two of the dullest leading men on record.

CHRISTMAS EVE (1947) – * ½. Two of my favorite (if limited) actors, Randolph Scott and George Raft, in a sort of anthology movie that is among the dreariest Christmas movies ever made. After this contemporary misfire, Scott made only westerns. Good choice!

THE SUN SHINES BRIGHT (1953) – *. Worst John Ford movie ever. A personal favorite of his, and the pits – cornball smalltown humor, sentimental slop, and incredibly racist attitudes even for its era (Stepin Fetchit co-stars). A remake of a much earlier Ford starring Will Rogers. Full disclosure: the only one of these terrible movies I didn’t make it through.

CAPTAIN CAREY U.S.A. (1950). 1 ½ *. Incredibly dull, slow-moving Alan Ladd almost-noir. Don’t believe the “U.S.A.” – it takes place in a studio-created Italy. Somebody betrayed Ladd during the war and he wants to get even. I watched the thing and I’d like to get even myself.

THE CROOKED WAY (1949) – 1 ½ *. I’m a fan of John Payne, whose MIRACLE ON 34th STREET performance is pitch-perfect. Here he’s earning a paycheck as an amnesiac in a rote would-be noir that remembers only to hit every cliche, hard. I wish I could forget it.

YOU AND ME (1938) **. Probably the most interesting of these movies, but nonetheless an oddball misfire from director Fritz Lang. It’s a musical starring George Raft! Neither Raft nor co-star Sylvia Sidney sing. A Greek chorus of lowlifes, courtesy of Kurt Weill, recalls THREEPENNY OPERA, but nothing here was worth Bobby Darin covering. Bob Cummings plays a gangster!

MAN IN THE SHADOW (1957) 1 ½ *. Brain-numbingly predictable modern-day western in which the whole town stands up against a sheriff (Jeff Chandler) who wants to stand up against the rich guy who owns the place. That the rich guy is Orson Welles in a fake nose somehow only makes it worse. Written by STAR TREK scripter Gene L. Coon, who should have known better.

ASSAULT ON A QUEEN (1966) **. Conceived as a nautical take on OCEAN’S 11, and based on a Jack Finney novel, this one has Frank Sinatra very much in TONY ROME mode. Fine, but then the plot turns out to be about using a recovered Nazi sub to rob the Queen Mary. Sinatra participates because he likes the way Virna Lisi looks. I don’t disagree with that, but I wouldn’t try to knock over the Queen Mary for her, particularly in the company of an unbearable Tony Franciosa.

No Man's Woman

NO MAN’S WOMAN – (1955) *. This by-the-numbers low-end crime melodrama (calling it noir is a stretch) holds a strange fascination by playing like an early PERRY MASON episode, right down to Marie Windsor’s femme fatale racking up an array of suspects in the early reels for after she gets murdered. Just about every actor here appeared on a MASON, but without Raymond Burr, William Hopper and Barbara Hale, the result is lacking somehow.

THE ANGRY HILLS – * (1959). Barb actually brought me this at the hospital (it had arrived in the mail) because she was concerned about the effect lousy movies were having on me. Much looked forward to by me, it’s the rejoining of KISS ME DEADLY’s director (Robert Aldrich) and writer (A.I. Bezzerides). And it stars Robert Mitchum! And it blows!
During World War Two, reporter Mitchum wanders around Europe to deliver a message to somebody. The Warner Archive DVD must be the European cut, because there’s a lengthy topless dancer scene that doesn’t mitigate the agony.

CURSE OF THE FACELESS MAN – (1958) **. Slow-moving, unexciting rip-off of THE MUMMY. Standard B schlock from notorious team of director Edward L. Cahn and producer Robert E. Kent. Another STAR TREK writer, Jerome Bixby, shares the guilt. Why do I do this to myself?

BEACHHEAD – (1954) **. Tony Curtis gets out-acted by Frank Lovejoy as they portray two soldiers during World War Two, who openly hate each other, yet are somehow selected to cross enemy territory together to deliver a message (Robert Mitchum wasn’t available). They pick up a cute love interest along the way (Mary Murphy of THE WILD ONE) but I still fell asleep in the middle of it and didn’t bother going back to see what I missed when I woke up.

SPELLBINDER – (1988) **½. Probably my favorite of these movies, which is the faintest of praise. An okay ‘80s horror flick with Timothy Daly doing a nice job as a regular guy who falls for gorgeous coven escapee, Kelly Preston. Think of it as ROSEMARY’S BABE, with a predictably downbeat ending.

A LOVELY WAY TO DIE – (1968) **. A goofy, crazily sexist private eye mystery that is almost enjoyable, thanks to the high energy of Kirk Douglas. But it goes on forever…well, an hour and forty-one minutes, which is long enough. Remember when a helicopter chasing a car was exciting? Me either.

And you thought you’d heard about the worst horrors that greeted me during my hospital stay!

* * *

Here’s a terrific MURDER NEVER KNOCKS review.

Jeff Pierce at the Rap Sheet wrote about the pending publication by Brash Books of my complete ROAD TO PERDITION novel. Scroll down for it.

Here, from Open Book Society, is a review of the recently re-published QUARRY’S CUT.

My pal Bill Crider wrote this great piece about QUARRY’S VOTE, also recently republished.

Finally, here’s a terrific ANTIQUES FATE review from the great Ed Gorman. The book is out soon!

M.A.C.

Antiques Fate

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

[Nate here — Before we get to this week’s (pre-written) update, I thought I’d copy over a short post my dad made on his facebook page on Sunday.]

I have been home for five days. Barb is great, loving and supportive but keeping me in line. I face several months of rehab, mostly because my right hand is weak and sluggish. Can’t type much or even write my name. Not great for a writer/keyboard player. Outlook is good if I put in the work. Which I will. But I can’t properly thank you wonderful people for the love and support.

Antiques Fate

Hardcover:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

On the very same day that Pinnacle is publishing the hardcover edition of THE BIG SHOWDOWN, Kensington is releasing the hardcover of the new Trash ‘n’ Treasures mystery, ANTIQUES FATE, by Barbara Allan (Barb and me). This coincidence is made at least a little odder by Pinnacle and Kensington being two imprints of the same publisher.

FATE plays off “fete,” as the setting is not Serenity, Iowa, but Old York, Iowa…a quaint fictional village somewhat based on the Amana Colonies. The difference is that the Amanas have a German history, which they maintain to some degree, while New London is Brit-oriented, maintaining that slant to an almost absurd degree.

Barb and I both are big fans of all sorts of British TV mysteries, from MORSE to LEWIS, FOYLE’S WAR to SHERLOCK, MISS MARPLE to POIROT, GEORGE GENTLY to MIDSOMER MURDERS…among others. The picturesque hamlets of MARPLE and MIDSOMER inspired the Old York setting, and we had a great time playing off a type of mystery that we both enjoy.

We also found that readers responded well to ANTIQUES CON, with its New York setting (hence Old York, this time around). As much as fans enjoy visiting Serenity, we began to realize the series had been around long enough that a little variety was in order. So we decided to do another non-Serenity novel, and will probably do so again.

By the way, it’s very funny. It really is.

Here’s a lovely MURDER NEVER KNOCKS review from the great Bill Crider.

And this nice KNOCKS review from Crime Fiction Lover.

M.A.C.

Antiques Swap — Collect it!

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015
Antiques Swap
Hardcover:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

The latest entry in the Trash ‘n’ Treasures series (usually referred to as the ANTIQUES series) hit the bookstores last week. Barb and I (the co-authors, as “Barbara Allan”) spotted ANTIQUES SWAP nicely displayed in the Davenport Barnes and Noble.

This one begins at a swap meet but actually touches upon other, more risque meanings of “swap,” in a plotline we feared might be frowned upon by our editor, though we got away it. Cozies are supposed to be…cozy. The murders are supposed to be…nice. But for all the humor we put into the books – and we put a lot in – we try not to take homicide too lightly.

We also realize that our audience may include some readers – possibly you – who don’t regularly read cozy mysteries. After all, the great reviewer Jon Breen has called us a “subversive” take on the form, which he meant as a compliment. When we created the series, and were asked to include certain elements (exotic setting, cute pet, gimmick premise), we did so in an overtly tongue-in-cheek way that we thought would get us rejected.

Obviously we weren’t.

By the way, neither of us love the term “cozy,” and I suspect a lot of mystery writers feel that way. But the term seems to be the reigning one, much as “noir” has supplanted “hardboiled.” Cozy mysteries are more properly called “traditional.”

Ours are definitely in a sub-genre of comic mysteries. We don’t, however, consider ourselves to be spoofing the form or doing satire. Just as we take the murders in the stories seriously, we take our two main characters seriously and follow them through problems and challenges in their lives. Vivian Borne, Serenity’s theatrical diva, may seem larger-than-life, but I’ve met her at various times in various forms. You probably have, too.

Of everything I work on, the ANTIQUES series is the one that maintains the most constant presence. That’s largely because Barb spends almost all of her writing time on it. Of late we’ve been doing a novel and a novella every year, and that keeps her in production all but a few months in the summer. So we’re discussing the stories pretty much year-round.

Also, the nature of the book business is that once you’ve “finished” a book, you’ve just begun – a copy-edited manuscript will roll in unannounced for you to check through (and we both have to do that), and then galley proofs (which we both have to deal with). These never arrive at a good time, and always are due yesterday.

Barb and I had barely finished next year’s ANTIQUES FATE when the upcoming novella, ANTIQUES ST. NICKED, arrived in galley proof form. She’s gone through it already. I haven’t yet.

In the meantime, I continue work on THE BIG SHOWDOWN, the sequel to the current THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK. I admit to feeling something of an imposter, as I have read precious few western novels in my time. On the other hand, I love movie westerns and have a huge collection of them on DVD and Blu-ray. I’ve said here many times that MAVERICK was my favorite show in childhood (and still ranks high) and that the episode “Shady Deal at Sunny Acres” is the greatest hour of episodic television ever…an opinion that hasn’t changed.

While working on CALEB, I have subjected Barb to a festival of western movies…but “subjected” really isn’t right, because loves western movies, too. Right now we’re in the midst of a Joel McCrea festival. I rank McCrea in the upper reaches – in the top five western stars (John Wayne, Randolph Scott, Audie Murphy and Gary Cooper being the others). Regular readers of mine know I am an Italian western fan, since Nolan was largely based on Lee Van Cleef’s screen persona in those films.

What I find really difficult in the CALEB YORK novels is balancing the myth with the real west. Despite my reputation for historical accuracy with the Nathan Heller novels, I am much more interested in the mythic west than the real thing.

THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK seems to be a little tough to find in bookstores, so I recommend you order it online. It’s already in a second printing.

Incidentally, while writing ANTIQUES FATE – which touches upon the British school of mystery writer – we spent our evenings in a festival of UK crime fare, leaning heavily on MIDSOMER MURDERS and the new Blu-rays of the great Joan Hickson as MISS MARPLE.

* * *

This terrific ANTIQUES SWAP review just came in from one of our favorite writers (and favorite people), Bill Crider.

My writer pal Ed Gorman used this review of the Dover reprint of STRIP FOR MURDER at his terrific blog.

The QUARRY series gets great play in this article about Memphis trying to lure the series back there (it’s shooting in New Orleans currently with limited Memphis footage scheduled to be shot later).

A recurring cast member has been added to the QUARRY series.

Here’s another of those articles about movies you didn’t know were based on comics, with ROAD TO PERDITION included. But either I am getting very old or the world is getting very young when such movies include ANNIE and THE ADDAMS FAMILY (!!!).

And finally, of all things, here’s a review of the audio of DEAD STREET, the first Spillane novel I completed (though I took only limited credit for my polish and concluding chapters).

M.A.C.

M.A.C.: Most Wanted

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015