Saturday, June 30, 2012
The Murder of Dr. Harrigan
Based on a story by Mignon G. Eberhart
I have to admit that the notion of a mystery flick that takes place almost exclusively in a hospital didn’t really grab me. So this one lingered on my DVR for quite some time before I finally decided to take a look and ended up being pleasantly surprised. I don't think anyone would rank The Murder of Dr. Harrigan too highly in the annals of crime and detective cinema, but it's not a bad effort and at 66 minutes it doesn't tax your attention span.
It's obviously no spoiler to reveal that Dr. Harrigan is indeed murdered not too far into the proceedings. Which comes as no surprise since nearly all of the major characters here have some sort of beef with him. What throws a twist into the mix is that a wealthy patient who developed an experimental anesthetic Harrigan was planning to use has gone missing as well. Interestingly, Harrigan claimed the anesthetic was originally his formula and was stolen by said patient.
It was no great feat to figure out who did the killing though I wasn't able to divine the killer's motivation until it was revealed. Even though it was no great shakes as a whodunit I suspect that I found this one a bit more entertaining than a New York Times reviewer from back in the day.
As for writer Eberhart, she turned out a pile of novels in a career that lasted nearly sixty years. Here's a review of one of her books that's actually closer to a brief overview of her writing career.
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
The Lone Wolf and His Lady
Based on characters created by Louis Joseph Vance
The Lone Wolf and His Lady is the seventh Lone Wolf movie I've reviewed and it's also the last one produced. This will probably not come as a surprise to anyone who's actually seen it. In terms of plot and execution it's actually pretty standard Lone Wolf stuff. Which is to say that it rolls out the boilerplate plot of having a priceless jewel stolen and suspicion focusing on a certain retired jewel thief, who then has to crack the case so that he can clear his name.
Which is all fine and dandy and it's a plot that's worked quite nicely in the other installments where I've seen it used. The problem here is Ron Randell, whose portrayal of Michael Lanyard/The Lone Wolf lacks even one speck of the sophistication that Warren William brought to the role. Even Gerald Mohr, who took over for William in three of the later installments, did a better job.
As for the wisecracking sidekick/butler/valet, Jamison, Alan Mowbray is a very poor substitute for the comic antics of Eric Blore, who took on this key role in numerous installments. I have to admit that I found Blore rather annoying at first, but he grew on me over time and I found myself wishing he'd been on board for this one.
This might have been a decent enough, if rather insubstantial piece of work, if you hadn't seen any other Lone Wolf movies. But, quite frankly, if you're going to start watching these movies you really owe it to yourself to go with one of the installments that star William and Blore.
Thursday, June 14, 2012
Traditional Mysteries is mostly about mystery fiction and film, but I've added a category to chronicle some of the Arthurian legends I explore from time to time. This is one of them.
The Last Legion
Starring Colin Firth, Ben Kingsley
I'm a sucker for a good old-fashioned historical epic and in a pinch I have been known to settle for a somewhat mediocre historical epic. Which is about where I'd rank The Last Legion, a five-year-old movie that I was not even aware of until it aired on IFC recently. Nor was I aware that it was a film that tackled certain aspects of the Arthurian legend, a fact that only became gradually apparent as I was watching.
In some ways The Last Legion resembles King Arthur, which predated it by about two years and both movies kind of resemble war movies that deal with conflicts that came along many centuries later. The resemblance is mainly in the fact that a motley band of warriors have gathered together to tackle one last big mission.
In the case of The Last Legion the motley band are the personal guard of the young Roman emperor, Romulus Augustulus. The group is led by Aurelius (Colin Firth) and not long after the emperor is sworn in (or whatever the correct term is) the Goths decide to overrun Rome and sack and pillage and do all those things that the Goths apparently did so well.
While the Goth leader is quite keen to bump off the young emperor he's persuaded that to do so would make him a martyr and would thus be a mistake. So he exiles him and his mentor Ambrosinus (Ben Kingsley) to a nearly impregnable island fortress - the key words here being "nearly impregnable." Because, of course, any motley band of warriors worth their salt can easily make mincemeat out a paltry challenge such as this.
At which point the gang find that they've essentially been sold out by the Roman Senate and they determine that their best course of action is to go to Britain and try to hook up with that last legion mentioned in the film's title. Of course, they're followed by a contingent of Goths who are not so happy that the boy emperor and Ambrosinus have been spirited away.
It's not really a spoiler to reveal that Aurelius and the boys, with the help of that last legion, combine to kick the asses of the enemy, but I won't reveal what any of this has to do with the Arthurian legend. I will say that it's probably not any more farfetched than some of other theories having to do with said legend.
I'll also say that The Last Legion probably wasn't a particularly good movie, but since I'm kind of fond of this sort of thing I might not be as objective as I could be. I can't exactly pin down what I didn't like about it although the kickass Indian warrior woman who joins up with Firth and the boys seemed particularly farfetched and gratuitous. I guess what I'd pin it down to is that the film had something of a modern-day action movie sensibility with all of the trappings of the early Dark Ages draped over it, if that makes any sense.
While I wouldn't go so far as to steer anyone away from The Last Legion I'd remind you that there are probably better choices in this subgenre, including the aforementioned King Arthur and of course the granddaddy of all Arthur movies - Excalibur.
Sunday, June 10, 2012
The Asey Mayo Trio
by Phoebe Atwood Taylor
I've concluded that Asey Mayo might not be for me. Prior to starting this site I read Out of Order, one of the earlier of the 24 books to feature the amateur detective and I found myself a bit underwhelmed. But not so much so that I wasn't willing to give Asey another shot.
My local used bookstore has a decent selection of Asey Mayo and this time around I thought I would go with The Asey Mayo Trio, a collection of three novellas. Since this is a form popularized by one of my favorite mystery authors, Rex Stout (Nero Wolfe), I decided it was worth a shot.
I flipped to the last of the novellas first, The Stars Spell Death, in which the Cape Cod-based detective tackles a murder in which a prominent astronomer is taken out with a good whack to the head. I wouldn't go so far as to say I didn't like it and I can't quite put a finger on what was lacking but I was underwhelmed enough (again) that I decided to skip the other two novellas and move onto the next item on my To Be Read pile.
About the best I can come up with by way of pinning down what I didn't like is to say that the plot just seemed to be a series of incidents strung together for no real purpose and with no real interest for the reader - or at least for this reader. I wouldn't go so far as to say I'm done with Asey for good, but I'll probably think long and hard before trying another one.