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Hard Case Crime continues to resurrect Block’s early work, often written pseudonymously, from the 1950s and early ’60s. Gleefully mixing soft-core pornography with a thriller plot, Block churned out numerous of these bound-for-the-drugstore-paperback-rack quickies as he was gaining his sea legs for the more mature work that would come later. This one makes the most of its seedy border-town setting, jumping between El Paso and Juarez, as the paths of a gambler, divorcée, hitchhiker, stripper, and psycho killer come together in an inevitable bloodbath—but not before a series of steamy, yet surprisingly stylish, couplings (“There was a beginning, bittersweet and almost painful. There was a middle, fast and furious, a scherzo movement in a symphony of fire. And there was an ending, gasping, spent, two bodies washed up on a lonely, barren beach.”) Who knew what lurked on those paperback racks, nestled beside the sundries, awaiting the hungry eyes of surreptitious readers? And, yet, along with the titillation, Block’s inimitable craftsmanship shines through, along with flashes of his signature wit.
— Bill Ott

A Movie Review by Mike Tooney: THE VANISHING OF PATÒ (2010).

A Movie Review by MIKE TOONEY:


THE VANISHING OF PATO

THE VANISHING OF PATÒ. Produced by 13 Dicembre, Emme, S.Ti.C., Rai Cinema, plus others. Premiered in Italy, 2010, as La scomparsa di Patò. Lead parts: Nino Frassica (Marshal Paolo Giummaro), Maurizio Casagrande (Delegato Ernesto Bellavia), Alessandra Mortelliti (Signora Elisabetta Mangiafico in Patò), Neri Marcorè (Antonio Patò), Alessia Cardella (Rachele Infantino). Writers: Andrea Camilleri (novel, screenplay), Rocco Mortelliti and Maurizio Nichetti (screenplay). Director: Rocco Mortelliti. In Italian with English subtitles (MHz broadcast).

   It’s Easter Week, 1890, in the small Sicilian town of Vigata, and the place is abuzz with activity. The annual Mortorio passion play is well underway when one of the principal actors portraying Judas simply vanishes without a trace during the performance. The last anyone sees of him is when he falls through a trapdoor.

   But this Judas is a pillar of the community — a mid-level bank manager named Antonio Patò, known to everyone for his devotion to work, church, and family.

THE VANISHING OF PATO

   Immediately a search is instituted headed by a big-city policeman (Delegato Ernesto Bellavia), but he’s having no luck whatsoever until a provincial policeman (Marshal Paolo Giummaro) gets involved.

   As these two cops, completely different from one another, pursue their investigation they must find answers to such questions as: Why would a man who has been suffering from a rare African sleeping sickness suddenly, almost miraculously, get well practically overnight? Why would it take a man seven hours to make a forty-five minute trip? Who stole several articles of clothing backstage at the Mortorio, and later a pair of shoes from the steps of a church? Who was the man dressed as a farmer who bought a ticket with smooth, uncalloused hands?

   Why would the corpse of a local “businessman” be found neatly laid out on a wall with his severed hands lying on his chest? Why would it become necessary for the two detectives to find themselves in a graveyard at midnight looking for just the right dead man to suit their purposes?

   And perhaps most importantly, why won’t anyone — not the missing man’s wife, not the higher ups in the bureaucracy, NO ONE — believe our detective duo’s solution to this case? After all, it ingeniously explains every anomalous detail, overlooking nothing.

   The answer to that last question is, of course, the essence of the story, the underlying satirical social commentary which the producers are aiming for.

THE VANISHING OF PATO

   While the movie isn’t really original — borrowing heavily from the buddy-cop theme seen in countless films, for instance — it’s the style more than the substance that kicks it up above the ordinary. Some reviewers fault the movie for the extended explanation sequence (over fifteen minutes) at the end, complaining that it’s too long. On the contrary, the big reveal here is perfectly logical and beautifully executed, with past and present seamlessly overlapping each other.

   Novelist and screen writer Andrea Camelleri is best known for creating Inspector Montalbano, the subject of a long-running Italian TV series.

   Viewers might recognize Nino Frassica from another series in which he also plays a marshal, Don Matteo.

A Movie Review by Walter Albert: THE RETURN OF JIMMY VALENTINE (1936).

REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:         


THE RETURN OF JIMMY VALENTINE. Republic, 1936. Re-released for TV as Prison Shadows. Roger Pryor, Charlotte Henry, Robert Warwick, James Burtis, Edgar Kennedy, J. Carroll Naish, Lois Wilson, Wade Boteler, Gayne Whitman. Director: Lewis D. Collins. Shown at Cinefest 26, Syracuse NY, March 2006.

   This was one of those fast-moving programmers that play a lot better than many of the “A” films of the time. It immediately caught my interest with the on-screen re-creation of a Jimmy Valentine radio program that quickly becomes a newspaper sponsored “Find Jimmy Valentine” contest.

   Naish is the leader of a gang looking for Valentine to help pull off a bank heist, while Burtis and Kennedy provide some comic relief. Charlotte Henry was a mature Alice in a 1933 version of Carroll’s classic; here, she’s an attractive leading lady, continuing a modestly successful ten-year film career.

   Robert Warwick, a dependable, leading actor, is the legendary cracksman. He also played Jimmy in the silent Alias Jimmy Valentine, a film released in 1915 and directed by Maurice Tourneur

Reviewed by William F. Deeck: AGATHA CHRISTIE – The Man in the Brown Suit.

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


AGATHA CHRISTIE The Man in the Brown Suit

AGATHA CHRISTIE – The Man in the Brown Suit. Dodd Mead, US, hardcover, 1924. First published by John Lane/The Bodley Head, UK, hardcover, 1924. Reprinted many times since, in both hardcover and soft. First serialised in the London Evening News under the title Anne the Adventurous, 29 November 1923 to 28 January 1924 (50 installments). TV Movie: CBS, 1988, with Stephanie Zimbalist (Anne Beddingfeld), Rue McClanahan, Tony Randall, Edward Woodward (Sir Eustace Pedler), Ken Howard (Gordon Race).

   While I am tempted to say that this is something of a departure by Christie, that would merely demonstrate my ignorance, as this is one of her earlier works.

   Here she has written a thriller featuring an intelligent, on all but a few occasions, young lady who is seeking adventure. When Anne Beddingfield observes a supposed accidental death at a tube station and suspicious behavior by an alleged doctor, she connects this with a murder the same day. Soon she is spending her meager inheritance for a berth on the Kilmorden Castle, en route to South Africa, in pursuit of the alleged murderer, the Man in the Brown Suit.

   Developments are revealed through the viewpoints of Beddingfield and Sir Eustace Pedler, M.P., both drolly and sillily, if there is such a word. Good fun and, incidentally, a forerunner to…

   But you don’t want to know that, do you? I had that knowledge when I started the novel, and it didn’t spoil the pleasure. Other people may be less complaisant.

– From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 13, No. 2, Spring 1991.

A Western Fiction Review by Dan Stumpf: DOROTHY M. JOHNSON – The Hanging Tree and Other Stories.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


DOROTHY M. JOHNSON The Hanging Tree

DOROTHY M. JOHNSON – The Hanging Tree and Other Stories. University of Nebraska Press, softcover, 1995, with ten stories. Ballantine 274K, paperback original, 1957, with seven stories. Several later Ballantine printings.

   The Hanging Tree is a collection of ten tales by Dorothy M. Johnson written from 1942-57 and some of the best western fiction I’ve ever read. Johnson could pack movement, character and setting into a very few words without sounding packed, and she knew how to develop a tale with a feel for its implications as well as its actions.

   The result is ten memorable vignettes of which “The Hanging Tree” — a great story by itself — is perhaps the least. I got a lot of pleasure from “Lost Sister,” a cryptic tale of a “rescued” captive, and “The Last Boast,” in which a condemned cowboy looks back on the best-and-worst thing he ever did, and there’s some laugh-out-loud prose in “I Woke Up Wicked.”

   In all, a book to treasure and a writer to seek out again.

Editorial Comment:   For more on the author of this collection, Dorothy M. Johnson, her Wikipedia entry is a good place to start.