Review of “The 39 Steps” (1935)

trailer from YouTube

This week’s offering for Saturday pizza and bad movie turned out to be a pretty good movie. The pizza wasn’t half bad, either.

Plot:

Mr. Hannay (Robert Donat), a Canadian visiting London, stops by a music hall. One of the acts is Mr. Memory (Wylie Watson), who claims to have an enormous number of facts committed to memory. While he’s taking questions from a raucous audience, a fight breaks out. Neither the bouncers nor the police can quell it. A shot rings out, and the crowd charges for the door.

Hannay finds himself pressed against a comely young woman. Once they’re in the street, she asks him to take her home.

How… forward.

“Well, it’s your funeral,” he tells her.

At Hannay’s apartment, the woman won’t stand by a window or allow Hannay to answer his phone when it rings. She claims that she is trying to prevent a secret of great importance to England from being sent abroad. He doesn’t believe her until, at her urging, he looks out to see two men standing by a streetlight, watching.

“Have you ever heard of the thirty-nine steps?” she asks. She never explains, only continues with more crazy talk about spies, whose chief is missing the tip of his little finger. She also mentions leaving for Scotland, as “there’s a man I must visit next if anything is to be done.”

Later, Hannay’s sleep is abruptly interrupted by his guest staggering into his room. She warns him he’s in danger, then falls across his lap. She’s isn’t drunk. There’s a knife in her back. She’s clutching a map of Scotland, with the name of a village circled.

He flees. The rest of the movie is a series of pursuits, safe places turning into traps, and friendly people revealing themselves to be foes. It all makes sense in the end.

Thoughts:

The first image that greets the viewer is the British Board of Film Censors certification, assuring one and all that the following film has been passed for public exhibition to adult audiences—so shoo the kiddies from the room. Actually, the violence and sexual innuendo are tamer than video games and evening movies those kiddies have already seen. The notification is quaint.

Hannay takes the train—the Flying Scotsman—north. In his compartment, two men (Gus McNaughton and Jerry Verno), who sell women’s lingerie, have brought samples. They open suitcases and display these to each other. A third man (an uncredited Quinton McPherson), whom they belatedly realize is a clergyman, earns an apology when he leaves their compartment. One of the two salesmen buys a newspaper, where Hannay reads that a Canadian is wanted for murdering a woman in London.

The humor, interwoven with Hannay’s dread and the viewer’s knowledge of the genuine danger he’s in, makes for delightful suspense. It only gets worse.

To get away from the police on the train, he slips into a compartment with a woman (Madeleine Carrol) sitting by herself, minding her own business, and starts kissing and manhandling her. So, the cops don’t intrude on a couple making out? He seems amazed when she tells the cops, “He’s the one you’re looking for.”

The attitude toward women, not uncommon in films of the era, is that the fairer sex needs to be fought and subdued—not necessarily abused, but won over with a little force.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable film. Nothing is quite what it seems, and the viewer is invested in Hannay’s quest. Hannay is a sympathetic character, falsely accused, pursued by those who want to kill him. Add in the idea that the welfare of England is at stake. Granted, this is before the Blitz, so no one is dropping bombs on London yet. Nevertheless, Hannay must get to the man in Scotland—

The camera work is instantly recognizable as Hitchcock’s. No plane buzzes Hannay in a cornfield, nor does Hannay hang off Mt. Rushmore, but he does find himself in dangerous and uncomfortable situations. The camera often shows what Hannay sees.

There is a cameo of Hitchcock early in the film. As Hannay and the doomed woman he meets from the music hall board a bus, two men walk between them and the camera. One screenwriter Charles Bennett. The other is Hitchcock, throwing away some trash.

Had I seen this film back in the day, I might say there’s something to look forward to from that young director.

This can be found on YouTube: The 39 Steps 1935 1080p – YouTube

Title: The 39 Steps (1935)

Directed by
Alfred Hitchcock

Writing Credits
John Buchan…(adapted from the novel by)
Charles Bennett…(adaptation)
Ian Hay…(dialogue)

Cast (in credits order) verified
Robert Donat…Hannay
Madeleine Carrol…Pamela
Lucie Mannheim…Miss Smith
Godfrey Tearle…Professor Jordan
Peggy Ashcroft… Crofter’s Wife
John Laurie…Crofter

Released: August 1, 1935
Length: 1 hour, 26 minutes

Review of “The Beast with Five Fingers” (1946)

from YouTube

This is this week’s Saturday pizza and bad movie offering. We watched it with Svengoolie.

Plot:

Around the turn of the twentieth century, renowned American pianist Francis Ingram (Victor Francen) suffered a stroke. He lives in isolation in a villa near the remote Italian village of San Stefano. Though he uses a wheelchair and remains paralyzed on the right side of his body, he has maintained virtuosity in his left hand using modified scores provided by his friend Bruce Conrad* (Robert Alda). He has fallen in love with his beautiful young nurse, Julie Holden (Andrea King). She, however, appears unaware of his affections and cares for him only as an ailing patient. His interest in the occult is fed by his resident astrologer, Hilary Cummins (Peter Lorre), who loves… his books. Nephew and presumed heir Donald Arlington (John Alvin) also lives with Ingram.

Conrad has a side hustle, specifically, peddling “authentic” antiques to gullible tourists. Commissario Ovidio Castanio wags his finger and warns him selling items in the café is illegal.

At dinner at the villa with his household and his lawyer, Duprex (David Hoffman), Ingram asks everyone whether they believe he is mentally sound. They all agree that he is. He then asks for signatures on a document. A few balk, wanting to know what they’re signing. Ingram admits it’s his will.

Later, in the garden, under the moonlight, Conrad and Julie talk. She wants to go away. He admits he loves her. Watching and listening is the astrologer, Cummins, who tells Ingram about Julie’s plans to leave. Ingram flies into a rage and grabs Cummins by the throat. His life is spared only when Julie rushes in and stops her boss from strangling him. Ingram then tells Cummins to get out.

That night, Ingram wakes and calls for Julie’s assistance. She doesn’t respond. He climbs out of bed and into his wheelchair. He pauses outside his bedroom, on a walkway that overlooks the grand room with his piano. For some unexplained reason, his eyes start swimming. He rolls closer to the top of the stairs, topples down the staircase, and dies.

One evening shortly after the master of the house is laid to rest, the servants notice a light in the mausoleum. When responsible people rush to the building, they find it dark and empty.

Raymond Arlington (Charles Dingle), Ingram’s brother-in-law and nephew Donald’s father, arrives from America. Together, they evaluate how much the books in Cummins’ library are worth, much to the Cummins’ dismay. He regards the books as his own. They were gifts from Ingram.

At the reading of the will, it’s learned that Ingram has left his entire estate to nurse Julie. Much huffing and harrumphing arises. Surely, she’ll be happy to sign it all over to nephew Donald, right?

Hmmm… No. Julie says she’ll keep the legacy.

Lawyer Duprex talks to his former client’s nephew and brother-in-law. He knows of an earlier will that names Donald as the sole heir. For a consideration—a part of the inheritance—he can find that will. As he’s wrapping up a few things the night, the door opens. A hand appears, bearing a ring that Ingram often wore. Terrified, Duprex backs into a corner. He is later found dead, strangled to death (in much the same way Ingram tried to strangle Cummins…), a look of terror on his face.

Could it be the vengeful hand of Francis Ingram, back from the dead to make sure that his beloved Julie gets the inheritance he wanted her to have? Is it Julie herself, not willing to risk losing her inheritance and not trusting Duprex any farther than she can throw him?

What of the piano music that starts playing in the middle of the night? When everyone comes rushing out, the music stops. No one is at the piano or, indeed, anywhere near it.

Commissario Ovidio Castanio investigate.

Thoughts:

This is based on a 1919 (rev. 1928) novelette of the same name by William Fryer Harvey. It is moody and atmospheric. The elderly Ingram, paralyzed and surrounded by people paid to care for him, works to keep his usable hand strong. He is demanding of himself and of those who work for him. Severely disabled, he remains determined to flourish with what abilities he has. Hilary Cummins, the bookish, determined astrologer, is convinced he’s near a breakthrough in his studies. He just needs more time. Julie cares for her charge, but the heaviness of the house is beginning to wear on her. She wants out.

Peter Lorre’s portrayal of the wrapped-too-tightly Hilary Cummins is probably the highlight of the movie. How can Ingram send him away? What will happen to all his important books? How can the Arlingtons talk about selling them? Even when they realize the books are part of Julie’s inheritance, they belittle Cummins, telling him he was only living off Ingram’s generosity.

The piano playing—with and without shots of the hand at the keyboard—is genuinely spooky. How does that happen? Is Ingram working on his form from beyond the grave?

The gothic atmosphere is relieved with some humorous scenes, such as the opening sequence where Conrad sells a “genuine” antique cameo to an American tourist couple. The couple is delighted, but the Commissario is not. There is also one scene where the villa servants depart, suitcases in hand. They’ve had enough.

The question of reality and illusion comes up. The Commissario says he does not believe in ghosts, but he begins to wonder. The viewer has seen the hand. It’s real—right?

Despite a couple bit of melodrama and a few instances of huh? that-makes-no-sense, I like this movie.


*referred to as Conrad Ryler in the credits.


Title: The Beast with Five Fingers (1946)
Directed by
Robert Florey

Writing Credits
Curt Siodmak…(screenplay)
William Fryer Harvey…(from a story by)
Harold Goldman…(additional dialogue)(uncredited)

Cast (in credits order) verified
Robert Alda…Conrad Ryler
Andrea King…Julie Holden
Peter Lorre…Hilary Cummins
Victor Francen…Francis Ingram
J.Carrol Naish…Ovidio Castanio

Released: February 7, 1946
Length: 1 hour, 28 minutes

Review of “Restless Spirits” by Tracy Neis

from goodreads

Disclaimer: The author of the book reviewed below is a personal friend. I beta read the manuscript for her and thoroughly enjoyed it. She gave me a copy of the finished book (thanks!). She did not ask for a review. You’re getting one anyway, Tracy.

Plot:

Jim McCudden, former keyboardist for the (fictional) British invasion band the Pilots, is driving through a rainstorm in northern Ohio on his way to Cleveland to an interview at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Tired, he begins nodding off on the Interstate. He decided to turn off the Interstate and look for a little caffeine.

At a place that’s closing, he gets directions to a place called the Black Bull, but at a fork in the road, he becomes uncertain which way to go. He chooses. In the dark, he sees a pair of shining yellow eyes. Not wanting to hit the animal, he slams on the brakes, sending the car into a skid that ends with a sound of metal against granite. Turning the ignition key produces only a “check engine” light.

He’s near a mailbox and a small, dark cottage. He injures his foot on his way to the cottage. No one answers, but he enters. He finds a bed but no working phone and falls asleep.

In a dream—it is a dream, right?—he hears pounding at the window. A woman asks to be let in. “It’s Cathy. I’ve come home.”

Jim tells her the front door is unlocked. She doesn’t seem to notice him. He stumbles out of bed and opens the window. There’s no one there. Jim feels someone grab his wrist, and a shock of cold goes through him.

At the same time, Jim’s ex-wife, Philippa, is writing their children’s piano teacher a post-dated check for their lessons because, as she claims, their father is off gallivanting in the United States and hasn’t paid his child support yet. Maggie Greyson swallows her pride and irritation but accepts the check

Maggie, unmarried and approaching her fortieth birthday, has a fondness for wine. She is irritated with a visitor from the nineteenth century who likes to lecture her.

Thoughts:

First and foremost, this book is fun. There are many in-jokes for Brontë fans, but one doesn’t have to be a devotee to get the humor. The whole situation of Maggie being nagged by Agnes, a mostly-invisible ghost who likes to hang out in the pantry, offering advice while really telling the story of her life, is just cute. While Agnes waxes poetic, Maggie shuts the door and walks off to get a glass of wine.

Cliff, the Heathcliff equivalent, is wound a bit tightly. He finds the injured Jim on the cottage floor after the latter’s encounter with Cathy’s ghost. A skilled traditional healer, he notes the injury to Jim’s foot but refuses to call an ambulance because he doesn’t “believe in doctors.” And what’s Jim gonna do about it? He gives Jim’s foot a look and says, “Damn, your foot looks hideous. Turning green. Want me to amputate it now and get it over with?”

The main characters are complex and show depth. Even Cliff, who can be violent, demonstrates learning and skill. Without minimizing his violence, author Neis makes him human. The same thing applies to the ghost of Cathy. She is capricious and selfish, but there are also other sides to her. Jim (along with the reader) begins to feel sympathy for them. He even sees a bit of his ex-wife in her.

The same depth is present with Maggie. At first, she comes across as a doormat, letting Philippa run roughshod over her, mourning being single and about to turn forty. She’s haunted by a ghost who doesn’t frighten her, but who—or all things—nags her. Yet she’s no wilting wallflower. She’s educated and has had a long career. Her love of music is deep and extends to many genres—maybe even the British invasion…? Eventually, she stands up for herself—like a lady. And then there’s music.

I enjoyed this fun read.


Title: Restless Spirits: An Alternate Take on Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey
Book Two in Rock-and-Roll Brontë Series

Author: Tracy Neis
First published: 2020

Review of “All is Not Lost” by Kathryn Smith

image by JDam1138 from Pixabay

Plot:

The narrator’s (presumed) husband once bought her a one-of-kind diamond ring for 10,000 credits. Every time she throws it into the river behind their house, the CopyCat tries to console her by telling her, “Don’t worry. Nothing is lost. Everything can be found.” Out pops a new ring. With so many copies—flawless as they are—the ring is now worthless.

When he first left, she tore up pictures of him only to have copies come spitting out of the CopyCat.

Thoughts:

The ending is nicely ironic. I liked that.

Having said that, I have to admit, there’s a good deal left to be said in this story. What is the purpose of the CopyCat—besides tormenting the narrator? Why would anyone buy such a contraption? Is the ring indeed worthless if all the other copies of it are in the river? How does the CopyCat know what is lost or damaged? How would it know, for example, that the narrator tossed her ring into the river? Why can’t she just turn the machine off, sell it, or trundle it off with the leaving husband?

In my seldom humble opinion, this is not a bad story, but an unfinished one.

Bio:

According to the blurb, author Kathryn Smith is a writer currently pursuing a master’s in Computational and Data Journalism at Cardiff University. This is her first piece of published flash fiction.

The story can be read here.



Title: “All is Not Lost”
Author: Kathryn Smith
First published: January 4, 2021, Daily Science Fiction

Review of “The Leech Woman” (1960)

trailer from YouTube

This is this week’s Saturday night pizza and bad movie entry. We watched it with Svengoolie and the last of the New Year’s Eve champagne.

Plot:

Endocrinologist Dr. Paul Talbot (Phillip Terry) is researching ways to reverse aging by advertising for elderly women and trying various treatments on them. He has a dream of becoming rich. He also has an alcoholic wife who is ten years old than he is.

The movie opens with a bent-over elderly woman (Estelle Hemsley) walking into Talbot’s office. The Talbots have a fight that ends with Mrs. Talbot (Coleen Gray) downing a glass of whiskey “for the road” and agreeing to a divorce. Dr. Talbot says to let her lawyer draw up whatever she wants.

After overhearing her on the phone with her lawyer, the elderly woman tells Mrs. Talbot, “You will never divorce your husband. You won’t have to. He will die… You are the one in my dreams of blood.”

Mrs. Talbot runs out the door.

Dr. Talbot examines the elderly woman and runs standard blood tests. He learns is named Malla. She says she is 152 years old. She and her mother were captured by Arab slave traders. She shows him a mark above her left breast.

Talbot doesn’t believe her story. She then shows him a power she calls naipe (pronounced like “nigh-pee”), which has so far staved off death for her. Added with another substance, which is known only to the high priest of her people, the Nandos, it will make her young again. She asks for money to return to her people to become young once more. To demonstrate the power of the naipe, she mixes some of the powder with water, drinks it, and asks him to rerun his tests.

At the same time, June Talbot is home with her lawyer, Neil Foster (Grant Williams), discussing the terms of the divorce. Dr. Talbot comes through the front door, almost dancing. What’s all this silly talk of divorce? Pack your bags for Africa, honey! We’re gonna be rich!

Thoughts:

There are no leeches.

Malla is going home to die, but she also wishes to be young and beautiful one more time before that happens. This comes with a price and an additional catch. The transformation is only temporary.

Once in Africa, Paul and June Talbot hire a guide, Bertram Garvay (John Van Dreelen). No one ever calls him “Bertram,” however. He’s Bertram only in the credits. In the movie, he’s “David.” Perhaps Bertram was the guy who told the Talbots how much the Nandos hate “Europeans.” David is the guy that looked at the check Paul Talbot wrote and said, “Okay.”

So they’re off to darkest Africa or, as Svengoolie pointed out, the land of stock footage. In their trek to the Nandos’ village, they come across elephants, lions, hippos, and crocodiles. The only critter that gives them pause is a snake in a tree. Granted, it is a large snake.

The porters (all shirtless black men) flee long before the Nandos show up. There is something in the wind. Even the usual predators avoid the area. So, Bertram/David, is that check still looking good?

Paul, David, and June are captured and taken to the village. Eventually, they meet Malla, who explains the source of the naipe. She invites them to watch her turn young again.

Seated in a high-back rattan chair, she tells our three heroes:

“For a man, old age has rewards. If he is wise, his gray hairs bring dignity, and he’s treated with honor and respect. But for the aged woman, there is nothing. At best, she’s pitied. More often, her lot is of contempt and neglect. What woman lives who has passed the prime of life that would not give her remaining years to reclaim even a few moments of joy and happiness and know the worship of men? For the end of life should be its moment of triumph. So it is for the aged women of Nandos—a last flowering of love and beauty before death.”

Clearly, this movie is about women being valued only for their appearance, and since looks fail with age (so conventional wisdom would have it), even the most beautiful woman will eventually become worthless. Things have changed since 1960. June Talbot was desperate to be loved, if not by her husband, then by someone. She was dependent on him for emotional support and dependent on alcohol. She becomes dependent on men for her very life. A woman won’t do. Well, let’s keep this clean. She might be an alcoholic and a serial killer, but at least she isn’t a lesbian.

Guide Bertram/David slavers over young, hot June, knowing full well how she got that way. He mumbles stuff about caring for her. When the youth potion fades, he can’t run fast enough.

One of the odd and unpleasant things about watching this is that there is no innocent. Even Talbot’s receptionist, Sally (Gloria Talbott), who is not having an affair with her boss and whose fiancé wanders, is ready for a little violence when it suits her.

The depiction of black Africans is pretty standard for the time. They dress in ways that would get them thrown out of public school, play drums, wave spears, and dance. The important people wear lots of bones on their heads, lots of feathers everywhere else.

While there are some silliness and a lot of melodrama, I mostly got sadness from this movie. I did like looking at the various critters, however.


Title: The Leech Woman (1960)

Directed by
Edward Dein

Writing Credits
David Duncan…(screenplay)
Ben Pivar…(story) and
Francis Rosenwald…(story)

Cast (in credits order) awaiting verification
Coleen Gray…June Talbot
Grant Williams…Neil Foster
Phillip Terry…Dr. Paul Talbot
Gloria Talbott…Sally
John Van Dreelen…Bertram Garvay

Released: May 1960
Length:  1 hour, 17 min.

Review of “My Country is a Ghost” by Eugenia Triantafyllou

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Plot:

At first, Niovi tries to smuggle her mother’s ghost into the new country in a necklace. It doesn’t work. Foreign ghosts are not needed in the new land. “The only things [the ghosts] had to offer were stories and memories,” the reader is told.

She has a choice. She can go back to Greece. She leaves the necklace with her mother’s ghost behind and walks on, “a new person in a new country, wiped clean of her past.” Without a ghost, she will eventually begin to forget details. What are all the ingredients that make her mother’s koliva unique…?

Other people have ghosts, there to advise and console them as needed. Niovi does not. Of course, a few people don’t. She is attracted to those who do, however. One person she meets at her new job in a Greek restaurant seems to have it all. His ghost is his Greek grandmother, who immigrated here and died here. Remi is a native speaker of the language that Niovi is still learning, yet he has his Greek grandmother to advise him. Niovi has no one.

Thoughts:

This is a beautiful, poignant portrait of immigration and trying to fit into a new country while maintaining one’s identity. The ghosts are memories. In this story, the memories take the form of cooking, particularly the aroma of spices, which is often very evocative of one’s home country.

Niovi also sees ghosts untethered to people. Conjured by a collective unconsciousness, they belonged to no one and everyone. Niovi likes to think they belonged to her, too. She sees the ghost of a general who died two hundred years earlier in a battle no one remembers. He stands near his statue or rides his ghost horse around the square.

As the daughter and niece of immigrants, I can understand not wanting to lose what’s gone before, yet wanting to be a part of where you are. How much to let go in the meantime? You often walk in two worlds, a full citizen in neither.

Some may see the piece’s extended metaphor as heavy-handed, but I disagree. The magical realism of the story had me from the first couple of sentences. The ghosts are not fully formed people, but they don’t need to be.  They don’t have needs or wants. What could they need? They’re dead.

The narration by Alethea Kontis was easy to listen to. I don’t know if her accents were accurate or not. I went back and forth, trying to decide whether they presented more of a distraction or added authenticity. At the very least, they marked the speaker as a foreigner as the state of ghostlessness might in the story.

I enjoyed this piece.

Bios:

According to her blurb, Eugenia Triantafyllou is a Greek author and artist with a flair for dark things. She currently lives in Athens with a boy and a dog. She is a graduate of Clarion West Writers Workshop. Her short fiction has appeared in Uncanny, Apex, Strange Horizons, and other venues. Find her on Twitter @foxesandroses or her website eugeniatriantafyllou.wordpress.com

According to her blurb, narrator Alethea Kontis is a New York Times bestselling author, a princess, a storm chaser, and a Saturday Songwriter. Author of over 20 books and 40 short stories, Alethea is the recipient of the Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Grant, the Scribe Award, the Garden State Teen Book Award, and two-time winner of the Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award. She has been twice nominated for both the Andre Norton Nebula and the Dragon Award. She was an active contributor to The Fireside Sessions, a benefit EP created by Snow Patrol and her fellow Saturday Songwriters during lockdown 2020. Alethea also narrates stories for multiple award-winning online magazines and contributes regular YA book reviews to NPR. Born in Vermont, she currently resides on the Space Coast of Florida with her teddy bear, Charlie. Find out more about Princess Alethea and her wonderful world at aletheakontis.com.


“My Country is a Ghost” can be listened to/read here.




Title: “My Country is a Ghost”
Author: Eugenia Triantafyllou
Narrator: Alethea Kontis
Host: Setsu Uzume
Audio Producer: Peter Behravesh
Length: approx. 37 min.
First published: Uncanny Magazine, Issue Thirty-Two, January/February 2020
PodCastle 659: December 29, 2020
Rated PG-13

Review of “Erasure” by Christopher McGrane

Image by imagii from Pixabay

Plot:

Journalist Alex is meeting a whistleblower named Burke in a parking lot. He has a tale to tell about government abuse, not just of people but also of history. Understandably, he is nervous. He starts babbling, telling her that before he worked in government, he worked in advertising. Alexa, understanding how anxious he is, lets him babble.

Alex asks, “What would the Government do if they knew you were talking to a journalist?” “If I were lucky, they would kill me,” Burke tells her.

Thoughts:

Maybe I’ve just gotten jaded, but this one was too predictable for me. The foreshadowing was about as subtle as a sledgehammer. I saw the tired X-Files trope of the government as some sort of brilliant master arch-villain behind the scenes, controlling everything. Unfortunately, the U.S. government functions about as efficiently as a group of quarreling grade-schoolers at recess. It’s only gotten worse in the last four years, with a dim-witted bully in charge, but that’s beside the point.

On the other hand, it is fun to speculate, as this story does, what might have happened if certain people had died sooner or lived longer than they did in history. And what did the government do to Abraham Lincoln? Author McGrance avoids the obvious here—Hitler doesn’t die in a tragic streetcar accident on his way home from grammar school one day.

While this story presented the reader with some fun things to think about, I found it disappointing overall.

Bio:

According to his blurb, Christopher McGrane is an Australian author. He has written many pieces of fiction and has received politely worded rejection letters from some of the world’s most prestigious publishers, literary competitions, and dating agencies. Chris’ short stories have appeared in several publications in Australia, the UK, and the US. When Chris isn’t dreaming of literary fame, he has a perfectly sensible office job.

“Erasure” can be read here.


Title: “Erasure”
Author: Christopher McGrane
First published: December 28, 2020, Daily Science Fiction

Review of “The Killer Shrews” (1959)

trailer from YouTube

This is this week’s Saturday night pizza and bad movie entry. We had pizza and fruit with wine the day after a Christmas dinner of tamales, homemade mac and cheese, and half a cornbread muffin, with homemade pumpkin pie for dessert. Life is good. The movie sucked.


Plot:

The opening narration warns the viewer: “Those who hunt by night will tell you that the wildest and most vicious of all animals is the tiny shrew…”

Captain Thorne Sherman (James Best) and pilot Rook Griswold (Judge Henry Dupree) discuss what looks like a storm coming and an expected hurricane. They are delivering supplies to a scientific research team on a tiny, remote island. The team is the only humans on the island. Sherman has just taken over this route.

The island looks gorgeous, but they’re greeted on shore by unhappy-looking three people, one of them carrying a rifle under his arm, pointed at the ground. (Hmmm….) They’re glad to see the supply ship come in.

The senior scientist, that is, the one with the accent, Milo (maybe Marlowe?) Cragis (Baruch Lumet), tells him that once he’s unloaded, he wants Sherman to take his daughter, Ann (Ingrid Goude) with him. Sherman locks eyes on Ann. He says they will not unload that night (… which makes no sense to me…) nor leave because of the coming storm. The man with the gun, Jerry Ferrell (Ken Curtis), flips through the manifest. Sherman tears his eyes away from Ann long enough to ask him if there are dangers on the island. Jerry replies vaguely.

Rook goes back to the boat to take of… something. Sherman tells him if he comes ashore to wear a firearm.

Oh, just slap a red shirt on him.

Ann invites Sherman for a drink, and everyone except Rook heads for the compound. Sherman takes note of the high fence around the entrances. Huh? Are they expecting an invasion? From whom? When he sees a radio antenna on the roof, he asks why they sounded surprised when he told them about the hurricane. Hadn’t they been warned? He’s answered that the radio has been out for a week.

Dr. Craigis explains that they’re self-sufficient—chickens for eggs, cows for milk, etc. Makes you wonder what’s on the supply boat until you see the consumption of booze and cigarettes that soon follows.

Amid far too much alcohol and far too many cigarettes, absent-minded research scientist Dr. Radford Baines (Gordon McLendon) appears with a baby shrew to discuss the latest litter. The shrews are part of research into overpopulation. (hmmm…)

What could go wrong?

Thoughts:

We watched this via Mystery Science Theater 3000. Trying to follow what was going on in this film was complicated not only by the poor audio quality but also by the MST3K gang’s running commentary. The dialogue seems muted against a high noise floor. The result was a lot of “Huh? What?” from the dearly beloved and me. I found a better—but hardly perfect—copy on YouTube. If the reader is interested in watching the film, I recommend going to the YouTube route rather than catching the MST3K version.

When they appear, the giant killer shrews—who only attack at night, except when they’re really hungry—are so obviously dogs (poodles?) in costume—it’s hard not to laugh—with delight, not in derision. (“Here, boy!”) They seem to be running after their prey for fun. I can’t help but wonder if their “victims” had their clothes painted with peanut butter. How many lives could have been saved if they’d only brought a Frisbee?

Later, fake shrews eat their way into the adobe-brick house. (Was adobe really the best choice of building materials for the tropics?) The scientific compound, which has only been there a matter of months, also has a basement.

Ann is not a scientist, so her role in the scientific endeavor is never made clear. She is clearly uncomfortable with whatever is going on with the research, though she loves her father. She also is (or maybe was?) engaged to the gun-toting Jerry. When Sherman appears as her ticket out, she is drawn to him, inviting him not just for the marathon cocktail session but also to dinner. In the meantime, has anybody heard from Rook? This sets up tension between Sherman and Jerry.

The power goes out. The storm hits. You’d think it would flatten the house or at least blow out a few windows, but it amounts to people’s clothes fluttering in the wind when they stand outside the front door.

What eventually saves the brave few is as silly and unworkable as the rest of the movie. And about as convincing as poodles in costumes.

The MST3K crew kept making comments about the old TV show The Dukes of Hazzard, which I never paid much attention to. James Best, who played Captain Thorne Sherman, would later play Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazzard. Another TV lawman was played by Ken Curtis: who is probably best known as Festus Haggen of Gunsmoke. Curtis also co-produced, along with Gordon McLendon, this film. There. You can say you saw them before they became famous if you watch this.

I cannot recommend this film. It didn’t make sense to me. Even setting aside the premise of the shrew-breeding program gone bad and the scientists being too distracted and/or self-absorbed to see what horror they’ve unleashed on the world, I just never understood why the people behaved the ways the did. Sure, Sherman is hoping for a little action. But why refuse to unload the boat because a storm is coming? I can understand staying. If conditions are unsafe, why not more concern about Rook? Shouldn’t everyone be busy with storm prep and less occupied getting souced and chasing tail?



Title: The Killer Shrews (1959)

Directed by
Ray Kellogg

Writing Credits
Jay Simms…(original story)
Jay Simms…   (screenplay)

Cast (in credits order)
James Best…Thorne Sherman
Ingrid Goude…Ann Craigis
Ken Curtis…Jerry Farrell
Gordon McLendon…Dr. Radford Baines
Baruch Lumet…Dr. Marlowe (or maybe Milo) Craigis
Judge Henry Dupree…’Rook’ Griswold
Alfredo de Soto…Mario (as Alfredo deSoto)

Released: 1959 (UK)
Length: 1 hour, 9 minutes

Review of “Echo Volume 1: Approaching Shatter” by Kent Wayne

from goodreads

Plot:

More than a thousand years before the action of this book, the earth was abandoned because of environmental degradation, and humanity settled on the earth-like planet of Echo. Echo has stagnated, its citizens living under the autocracy of the Regime. There is perpetual civil war with the Dissidents. The military is highly developed, with specialized, lethal weapons. Additionally, its soldiers are also specialized and are offered enhancements.

One of those soldiers is Atriya, a member of the elite Crusaders unit. He trains for fun. The reader is told about Atriya:

“He embraced the pain. In a way, he was addicted to it. Not the pain itself, but the validation it gave him.”

One day, as he is out running, he comes across a Crusader (or “Crew”) Selection class. Part of the class is punishing those who fall behind (“stragglers”) with severe physical abuse and humiliation. The instructor, Clement (hmmm… an odd name for a character in that job….), recognizes Atriya as “Crew” and asks if he’d like to join in the abuse.

The ritual is nothing new to Atriya, but he finds himself unable to take part.

Thoughts:

I have to start by saying that this is not a genre that I usually read. I follow the author’s blog because I find him interesting.  The book was offered as a freebie one day, and I thought I’d try it out, thinking f I could not give it a positive review, I would simply not review it. Happily, that was far from that case.

I do have to add that the language is, as one might expect, something other than dinner table polite. Given the genre, dinner table polite would be inappropriate.

The great strength of this book for me was the character of Atriya. The author makes him real, even in this dystopian sci-fi environment. As a reader, I easily became invested in him, although I have little in common with him. Atriya is violent and can and does kill without compunction, but something else bubbling to the surface, something he can’t grasp just yet.

He goes to seek advice from a chaplain, another Crusader, a woman named Verus. I suspect that Wayne is familiar enough with the Classical world to know that “verus” means “true” in Latin. (A purist might bellyache it’s for masculine nouns, of course.) Verus herself seems something of an enigma. Atriya understands this. She is a chaplain, but she is not overly religious. One overdone aspect of the character is she seems to be something of a prophet. She foresees Atriya leaving when he has no reason to leave.

Their relationship is platonic. As a matter of fact, unlike so much of this sort of writing, there is no sex. Atriya does not stop by to toss the sheets with a casual lover or working girl and discuss the meaning of life on Echo. I found the absence of such a hackneyed scene a relief.

However, the reader has to endure some info dumps regarding things like nifty weapons and societal hierarchy. The reader encounters a lot of specialized terminology throughout the book, including the title, which is only explained near the end. There are some gory scenes, including cannibalism.

Tension steadily builds till the end. Atriya manages to annoy the wrong people, who are willing to seek revenge with friends. As a reader, I’m fully there with him. I care. I want to see him succeed. His career is threatened, and his life is in danger. He has limited choices. He decides if this is it for him, he’s going to take as many of them as he can with him.

—Flip the page… the book ends… I mutter words that cast doubt on whether the author’s parents were married—

The first volume, which I admit I did not pay for, includes the first three chapters of the next volume, so the reader gets a good glimpse of what’s to come.

Tricky!

Will I read volume two? Probably. After I wade through some fifty other books, including the one my dearly beloved gave me for Christmas.

All in all, I enjoyed this book.







Title: Echo Volume 1: Approaching Shatter
Author: Kent Wayne
First published: August 7, 2015

Review of “Travelogue of the Perennially Lost” by Wendy Nikel

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Plot:

The story is laid out in a series of vignettes that show the lives of a happy couple (who do quarrel) on occasions failing to make it to the destinations they intend. What matters is what they do with once they reach the alternative destination. Miss a concert because the map—or maybe the map-reader—was wrong? They choose not to let the night be ruined. The stars are bright. There’s a cornfield, a blanket, and a CD player—a sorta concert.

Thoughts:

One of the markers of time passing is the change in technology. Remember using a map to drive someplace? Author Wendy Nikel also projects into the future with developing technology and technology that doesn’t exist.

Nikel uses humor, but the story is full of nostalgia and poignancy. At its root, it is a love story. She says a lot in a few words and avoids the maudlin. One mix-up seems rather unlikely, but it is cute.

I generally dislike lists or groups of vignettes, but this one told a coherent story and stuck to its theme without appearing forced. I liked it.

Bio:

According to her blurb, Wendy Nikel is a speculative fiction author with a degree in elementary education, a fondness for road trips, and a terrible habit of forgetting where she’s left her cup of tea. Her short fiction has been published by Analog, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Nature, and elsewhere. Her time travel novella series, beginning with The Continuum, is available from World Weaver Press. For more info, visit wendynikel.com.

The story can be read here.

Title: “Travelogue of the Perennially Lost”
Author: Wendy Nikel
First published: Daily Science Fiction, December 21, 2020