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Cole-Elvis

Elvis Cole (not his real name; you’ll have to read “The Forgotten Man”, to find that out) is a fictional private detective who features in a series of novels by award-winning author Robert Crais.

Nothing but a Hound Dog?

Not really. Cole drinks Evian, likes to cook, and practices yoga, tai chi and tae kwon do. He has a Mickey Mouse phone in his office, drinks his coffee from a Spider-Man mug, quotes Jiminy Cricket, and claims he wants to be Peter Pan. He also packs a Dan Wesson .38 in a shoulder rig, and has survived the Vietnam war – not to mention several years as a private eye.

This ain’t Memphis…

Nope. Hollywood, babe.

Cole has an office near the Musso and Frank Grill, where Raymond Chandler used to hang out. And he lives alone in an A-frame house cantilevered over Laurel Canyon, in the hills above Hollywood.

With Friends, like These:

* Elvis has a partner in the fight against crime: his so-called “sociopathic sidekick”, Joe Pike. Ex-Marine, part-time mercenary and gunshop owner, Pike is also an ex-LAPD cop; a self-disciplined and taciturn perfectionist. According to Joe, Clint Eastwood talks too much. Pike wears black shades no matter whether it’s night or day, and sports forward-pointing arrow tattoos, on each arm.

* Lucy Chenier is the sweet-faced New Orleans-based lawyer who gradually worms her way into Elvis’ heart, over the course of several adventures. She also develops some resentment over Cole’s loyalty to Pike, which she views as an obstacle to her relationship with Elvis.

* Lou Poitras is the gruff detective-lieutenant in charge of the Hollywood homicide bureau. Despite the age-old conflict between official law enforcement and private investigators, Poitras develops a close working relationship with Cole (or “Hound Dog”, as he prefers to call him) and Pike.

* LA Coroner John Chen is the twitchy, scrawny would-be ladies man, who has a bad case of hero worship for Pike. Chen provides comic relief in several of the books.

* And then, there’s Elvis’ semi-feral housecat, who’s hostile to everyone but Cole and Pike.

Living, in Interesting Times…

Author Robert Crais sees all his books as part of one big series. But, over the years, there have been shifts in emphasis throughout, ranging from the inclusion of different narrative points of view within the one story, to novels which center on characters other than Elvis Cole. Some notable titles include:

* “The Monkey’s Raincoat” (1987), which won the 1988 Anthony Award for “Best First Novel” introduced Cole as the private eye hired to find Ellen Lang’s husband and young son. The search involves Joe Pike (who was originally intended to die in this adventure, but whom Crais kept on), and takes them to Hollywood studio lots, affluent homes and beyond, to drugs and murder.

* “Voodoo River” ( 1995) takes Cole out of L. A. again, to Louisiana. Here, he’s hired to locate TV star Jodi Taylor’s birth parents, and to uncover her medical history. The search reveals a 30-year-old crime, which points to an ongoing smuggling operation involving illegal migrants. In this novel, Cole meets a beautiful attorney, Lucy Chenier, who becomes his potential love.

* ” L.A. Requiem” (1999), is centered on Joe Pike. Using multiple narrative viewpoints, the story deals with of a vengeful cop, Harvey Krantz, whose hatred of Pike almost undoes him and Cole. Lucy first becomes disappointed with Cole as he turns his attention away from her, to helping Pike. The novel introduces Samantha Dolan, a feisty and beautiful LAPD officer who falls for Cole, and helps him save the day for Pike.

* “The Forgotten Man” (2005) takes place in some of the seamy parts of Los Angeles and southern California. There’s a mix of unsavory characters in a complex plot uncovering past murders, vengeance killings and a vicious psychopath – all woven into a tangled web of step-by step detection aided by police computer technology.

* “The Watchman” (2007), “The First Rule” (2010) and “The Sentry” (2011) all center on Joe Pike.

Upholding a Tradition…

Elvis Cole lives up to his reputation as a tough, conscientious, and somewhat unorthodox investigator. He’s particularly concerned with abused and battered women and children. And prone to pondering the moral ambiguities and hypocrisies of our times, striving always to do the right thing.

Cole has been compared to Spenser, the wise-cracking Boston P.I. created by Robert B. Parker. Both characters share the same penchant for sardonic wit. And both have a taciturn and often morally ambiguous associate; Joe Pike can be as lethal as the underworld enforcer known as Hawk.

And, of course, Spenser is like a modern-day reworking of Raymond Chandler’s L.A. knight / private investigator Phillip Marlowe.

Going Hollywood?

Not yet.

Robert Crais began his career writing scripts for television shows like Hill Street Blues, Cagney & Lacey, Quincy, Miami Vice and L.A. Law. But the author has steadfastly refused to allow any of the studios to adapt his Elvis Cole novels for film, or television.

The closest we’ll get for now is the work of radical artist AttaTurk25, over at DeviantArt.com, whose inspired casting for a fantasy Elvis Cole movie poster is the basis for the headline graphic of this article.

But Picture This:

From 1993’s “Free Fall”.

After Cole feels he has completed his assignment for Jennifer Sheridan, he arranges a private meeting to tell her what he’s discovered about her fiancé, an undercover policeman named Mark Thurman. Jennifer insists on meeting in a restaurant, convinced that Thurman was engaged in some kind of criminal activity. Cole has different news, to impart:

“ … there is no indication that Mark has received any undue or inordinate sums of money.”

She looked confused. “What does that mean?”

“It means that he is not acting strangely because he’s involved in crime. There’s a different reason. He’s seeing another woman.”

Jennifer refuses to believe this. She wants proof, and Cole tells her of the presence of a bra (not Jennifer’s) in Mark’s apartment, and of seeing Mark and the woman at a bar.

“You mean you’re quitting?”

“The case is solved. There’s nothing left to do.”

Jennifer’s eyes welled and her mouth opened and she let out a long wail and began to cry. A woman with big hair at a nearby table gasped and looked our way and so did most of the other people in the restaurant.

I said, “Maybe we should leave.”

“I’m all right.” She made whooping sounds like she couldn’t catch her breath and tears rolled down her cheeks. The waiter stormed over to the maitre d’ and made an angry gesture. The woman with the big hair said something to a man at an adjoining table and he glared at me.

“Try and see it this way, Jennifer. Mark being involved with another woman is better than being involved in crime. Crime gets you in jail. Another woman is a problem you can work out together.”

Jennifer wailed louder. “I’m not crying because of that.”

“You’re not?”

“I’m crying because Mark’s in trouble and he needs our help and you’re quitting. What kind of crummy detective are you?”

After further conversation between the two of them (including Jennifer’s telling the waiter that Cole’s a “quitter” ), the waiter leaves. The other people in the restaurant are whispering among themselves and some have gotten to their feet to talk more about it.

…Jennifer was crying freely now and her voice was choking. “He needs us Mr. Cole. We can’t leave him like this. We can’t. You’ve got to help me.”

The woman with the big hair shouted, “Help her, for God’s sake!”

Three women at the window booth shouted, “Yeah!”

Cole finally agrees to stay with on the job. Jennifer thanks him and bubbles with satisfaction. The people in the restaurant look relieved and nod to one another, smiling. The restaurant returns to normalcy. Everybody’s happy. Well, almost everyone.

“Jesus Christ,” I said. The waiter appeared at my elbow. “Is there something wrong sir?”

I looked at him carefully. “Get away from me before I shoot you.”

Cracking stuff. I highly recommend it.

Till next time.

Peace.

Clouseau-Inspector

Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau of the Surete Nationale (a main arm of the French police forces) is a fictional character in Blake Edwards’ series of farcical “The Pink Panther…” films. In most of the movies actor Peter Sellers portrayed the character, who was to become one of Sellers’ pivotal roles.

He’s NOT The Pink Panther!

Which was actually a piece of jewelry; a diamond, targeted for stealing by the aristocratic British thief Sir Charles Lytton, a.k.a. “the Phantom”, in the 1963 comedy thriller “The Pink Panther”. The main focus of the film was on the plotting of actor David Niven, as Sir Charles, with Sellers’ Clouseau providing slapstick comic relief.

Sellers’ antics lent to the popular reception of the film, and established Clouseau’s method of operations; that of a complete buffoon who somehow manages to solve major crimes by a combination of blind luck, inept villains, and fortunate accidents. And the lingering suspicion that, somewhere in his head lurks the identity of a true detective.

The Pink Panther went on to give its name to a suave cartoon feline (who was to feature in the movie credits), and a series of sequels.

He’s had Many Faces:

* The 1964 sequel “A Shot in the Dark” was based on a stage play that didn’t originally include the Clouseau character. It was in this film that Sellers first developed the exaggerated French accent that became Clouseau’s trademark.

The movie introduced two of the series regular characters: Clouseau’s superior officer, Commissioner Dreyfus (actor Herbert Lom), who’s eventually driven mad by Clouseau’s bungling, and his long-suffering Chinese steward, Cato (Burt Kwouk), employed to improve Clouseau’s martial arts skills by attacking him at random.

* For 1968’s “Inspector Clouseau”, the detective was portrayed by American actor Alan Arkin. Blake Edwards was not involved in this production.

* “The Return of the Pink Panther” (1975) saw the return of Peter Sellers to the role of Clouseau – and a rematch with the villainous Sir Charles Lytton (now portrayed by Christopher Plummer). The opening credits were animated by Richard Williams, and feature Clouseau seeking to retrieve the Pink Panther diamond after it is stolen by the Phantom.

* “The Pink Panther Strikes Again” (1976) continued the story from the end of “The Return of the Pink Panther”.The now insane Dreyfus creates a crime syndicate and constructs a doomsday device, with the intention of using it to blackmail the world into killing Clouseau.

Here’s a scene, courtesy of YouTube, depicting Clouseau’s unique style of interrogation:

* Sellers and Edwards originally planned the events of “Revenge of the Pink Panther” (1978) as the basis for a British television series. The movie ignores Dreyfus’ apparent “death” in the previous film, and has Clouseau investigating a plot to kill him after a transvestite criminal is murdered in his place. The movie was a box office success, and led to several more films after Sellers died in 1980.

* 1982’s “Trail of The Pink Panther” was Blake Edwards’ attempt to continue telling Clouseau’s story, despite losing his lead actor. Using outtakes and alternative footage of Sellers as Clouseau, the film introduced a new storyline in which a reporter (played by Joanna Lumley) investigates Clouseau’s disappearance. Along the way, she interviews characters from past Clouseau films, and meets Clouseau’s equally inept father (played by Richard Mulligan).

Seems like a bad idea? Well…

* “Curse of the Pink Panther” (1983) continued the conceit, with the revelation that Clouseau underwent plastic surgery to change his appearance. The character appears briefly, in a joke cameo by Roger Moore, billed as “Turk Thrust II”. Neither “Curse” nor “Trail” was a box office success, and the series was retired.

* Edwards attempted to revive the series a decade later with “Son of the Pink Panther” (1993). Here, it is revealed that Clouseau had illegitimate children by Maria Gambrelli (played by Elke Sommer in A “Shot in the Dark”; recast in this film as Claudia Cardinale, who played the Princess in “The Pink Panther”).

Clouseau’s son, Jacques Jr., was portrayed by Roberto Benigni, and his twin sister, Jacqueline, played by Nicoletta Braschi. Jacques Jr. attempts to follow in his father’s police footsteps, but is soon revealed to have inherited the congenital Clouseau ineptitude.

* Steve Martin starred as Inspector Jacques Clouseau in the 2006 reboot of “The Pink Panther”. The story casts Clouseau as an inept Gendarme hired by Chief Inspector Dreyfus to serve as the figurehead investigator in a high-publicity murder, so that Dreyfus can carry out his own investigation, without risking the repercussions of failure.

Although foolish, Martin’s Clouseau is nonetheless able to locate the Pink Panther diamond and solve the case through his own knowledge, and observation of obscure data.

Martin’s Clouseau is considerably older than Sellers’ was, and although the 2006 film was placed prior to the events of the first Pink Panther film (Clouseau is still in uniform), the time frame is advanced to the present day.

Here’s a YouTube trailer, for you:

* “The Pink Panther 2″ (2009): When a series of rare and historical artifacts are stolen by the mysterious Il Tornado, Clouseau is assigned to a “dream team” of international investigators to recover the relics – and the Pink Panther. Despite appearing bumbling and clumsy as usual, Clouseau once again displays surprising cleverness through his unorthodox methods.

Mad Skills

Clouseau is promoted to Chief Inspector over the course of the film series, and is regarded by background characters as France’s greatest detective – until they encounter him directly.

The Inspector (sorry; Chief Inspector) has an exaggerated view of his own intelligence, and attempts to appear dignified, regardless of any calamity he’s just caused.

He has a passion for elaborate costumes and aliases, ranging from the mundane (a worker for the phone company) to the ridiculous (a bucktoothed hunchback with an oversized nose). All of them are usually masked by his characteristic mannerisms – and accent.

Clouseau’s immense ego, eccentricity, exaggerated French accent, and prominent mustache were derived from Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie’s fictional Belgian detective. A frequent running gag in the movies was that even French characters had difficulty understanding what he was saying!

Ironically, much of that humor was lost in dubbing the films into French, where Clouseau wound up with an odd-sounding, nasal voice.

Okay; that’s it, for this one.

See you, for the next – I hope.

Till then.

Peace.

Charlies-Angels

Charlie’s Angels are a trio of female private investigators, the stars of an American crime drama that aired on ABC Television from September 1976 to June 1981. Despite mixed reviews, and a reputation for being “Jiggle TV,” the show enjoyed immense popularity with viewers. The series spawned a film revival in the 2000s, and a short-lived attempt at TV resurrection, in 2011.

The Premise

Three talented women graduate from the police academy, only to be assigned menial jobs like handling the switchboard or directing traffic. The ladies are recruited to work for The Townsend Agency, as private investigators. Their boss, Charles Townsend a.k.a. Charlie, nicknames them “Angels.”

Charlie – whose face is never seen – assigns cases to the Angels and his liaison, John Bosley, via a speaker phone in their office. Unlike the Angels, Bosley has met Charlie, and can contact him at any time.

Initially, the Angels were:

1. Sabrina Duncan (played by Kate Jackson): a graduate of the Los Angeles police academy – the unofficial leader of the trio. Sabrina is a divorcé who remains on good terms with her ex-husband. She eventually leaves The Townsend Agency to get married and start a family.

2. Jill Munroe (actress Farrah Fawcett): a graduate of the Los Angeles police academy. Jill is unmarried, athletic, and charismatic. She leaves The Townsend Agency to pursue a career as a race car driver and is replaced by her younger sister, Kris (see later). Jill returns to the agency occasionally (Season 3), when needed for a specific case.

3. Kelly Garrett (played by Jaclyn Smith): also a graduate of the Los Angeles police academy. Kelly grew up in an orphanage; a tough cookie, but with the sensitivity to help others in need.

Here they are, in a clip from 1976 (video comes courtesy of YouTube):

In most episodes, a crime is committed, the Angels are given the case details, and then go undercover to solve the mystery. The final scene takes place back at the Townsend office, with Charlie offering congratulations for a job well done.

The show was intended as a classy undercover detective drama, and worked in that vein for some time. Until the network got caught up in the whole “three hot chicks we can dress up in skimpy outfits, to boost our ratings” thing.

Disgruntled, Farrah Fawcett, then Kate Jackson left the series, sparking the first of several high-profile searches for new stars.

And Then, There Were…

In subsequent seasons, the Angels’ line-up would include:

4. Kris Munroe (actress Cheryl Ladd): younger sister of Jill, and a graduate of the San Francisco police academy. Kris is charming and mildly clumsy, providing the show with comic relief.

5. Tiffany Welles (played by Shelley Hack): a graduate of the Boston police academy. She is recruited in after Sabrina Duncan leaves, and works for The Townsend Agency only for a brief period before moving back east.

6. Julie Rogers (actress Tanya Roberts): a fashion model from The Bronx. Moving to Los Angeles, she worked with an undercover agent to expose drug dealers within the modeling industry. After her partner is killed, she’s recruited by The Townsend Agency on a trial basis to replace Tiffany Welles.

The series ran for five seasons, with ABC canceling the show in the spring of 1981 due to declining ratings.

Back – With a Movie

Charlie’s Angels returned via the big screen, in a 2000 American action comedy directed by McG.

The film starred Cameron Diaz as Natalie Cook, Drew Barrymore as Dylan Sanders, and Lucy Liu as Alex Munday – the latest in a long line of operatives of the Charles Townsend detective agency. The premise being that new Angels are drafted in over the years, as their predecessors leave for one reason or another.

John Forsythe returned as the voice of Charlie, with Bill Murray stepping into the shoes of his go-between, Bosley.

Set in the present day, the movie adventure sees the ladies embroiled in a complex case involving enigmatic villains, voice-recognition software, and a plot to kill their boss.

The Angels of the 21st century have stepped up their game, considerably – with Matrix-level martial arts skills, and near-genius IQs.

Here’s some of both at work, in an entertaining fight scene, from the movie (courtesy of YouTube):

With a well-crafted mystery, and three stunning leads exuding glamour, mad skills, and goofy charm in equal turns, the film was a critical and box-office success.

It spawned a sequel (2003’s “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle”), which was notable for a cameo by Jaclyn Smith as Kelly Garrett, and the introduction of Demi Moore as former Angel turned crackpot ultra-villain Madison Lee. And not much else.

The sequel did however make enough money to whet the studio’s appetite for a television comeback.

The Short-Lived TV Revival

In November 2009, ABC announced it was considering a television revival of Charlie’s Angels, with Josh Friedman handling both writing and executive producing duties. The reboot movie’s Drew Barrymore shared co-production with Leonard Goldberg.

On May 13, 2011, ABC announced a 13-episode order for the series. The network canceled, after only four episodes.

Some Behind-the-Scenes Stuff You (Probably) Didn’t Know

* Kate Jackson – who had earned kudos for her portrayal of a cop’s wife, in popular police drama, “The Rookies” – was earmarked for a role during pre-production, and didn’t even have to audition. Initially cast as Kelly Garrett, Jackson opted instead for the role of Sabrina Duncan. That’s why the early part of the pilot episode focuses heavily on the Jaclyn Smith character; the casting change was made too late, for further rewrites.

* The show was initially titled “The Alley Cats”. But Kate Jackson suggested to the producers that the heroines should be called “angels”, instead. Jackson also came up with the idea that their boss should be a mystery man (both to the characters and the viewers), and that the Angels should receive their cases over a speaker phone.

* The Angels’ boss was originally going to be called Harry, but the title (“Harry’s Angels”) was dropped, so as not to conflict with “Harry O.”, another television detective series.

* I won’t say “cat-fight”, but stars Kate Jackson and Cheryl Ladd didn’t get along, during the show’s second season. Jackson believed the inclusion of relatively inexperienced actress Ladd had damaged the series considerably. Their animosity on-set reportedly placed great strain on the show’s producers, and their co-star Jaclyn Smith.

* The show became infamous as “Jiggle TV” or “T&A TV” (“Tits & Ass Television”), among critics who believed it had no substance other than its scantily-clad title characters. The skimpy outfits – roller derby girl, beauty pageant contestant, maid, female prisoner, or just plain old bikini – were justified as essential plot elements for the Angels, who often went undercover (so to speak).

* ABC attempted a spin-off for “Charlie’s Angels” in 1980 called “Toni’s Boys”. Essentially a gender reversal, it starred Barbara Stanwyck as Antonia “Toni” Blake, a wealthy widow and friend of Charlie Townsend’s who also ran a detective agency. The outfit was staffed by three good looking male detectives who took orders from Toni, and solved crimes in a manner similar to the Angels.

Never heard of it? No, neither had I; the show wasn’t picked up.

Well, that’s your lot, for now.

See you, for the next one.

Till then.

Peace.

Nick-n-Nora-Charles

Nick and Nora Charles are fictional characters – a married couple who solve murder mysteries while exchanging sharp and witty repartee – in Dashiell Hammett’s novel “The Thin Man”.

The characters later appeared in a highly successful series of movies between 1934 and 1947, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy.

Radio adaptations were heard from 1941 to 1950, and television from 1957 through 1959. They also featured in a Broadway musical in 1991, and as a stage play in 2009.

Nick and Nora have become a model for the bantering, romantically involved detective duo, as seen in other literature and broadcast media.

“The Thin Man”

“The Thin Man” (1934) is a detective novel by Dashiell Hammett, originally published in Redbook.

The story is set in Prohibition-era New York City. The main characters are a former private detective, Nick Charles, and his clever young wife, Nora.

Charles is drawn (mostly against his will) into investigating a murder. The case brings Nick and Nora into contact with the Wynants, an eccentric and rather grotesque family, and with an assortment of policemen and lowlifes.

The “Thin Man” title actually refers to Clyde Wynant, the mysterious and eccentric patriarch who is the pivotal figure of the plot.

A skeletonized body, found during the investigation, had been assumed to be that of a “fat man”, having been found in clothing from a much heavier individual. This clothing is discovered to be a diversion, and the identity of the body is finally revealed as that of a particular “thin man” instead – the missing Wynant.

The murder has been disguised as a means to frame Wynant, by people who have stolen a great deal of his money, then killed him, on the night he was last seen.

The novel is considered one of the seminal books of the “hard-boiled” sub-genre of mystery novels. Think Sam Spade (a Hammett creation), Phillip Marlowe, or Mike Hammer. But Hammett imbued this work with a touch of lightness and humor.

The story tumbles along to the sarcastic banter of the Charleses, as a reluctant and jaded Nick is dragged into solving the sensational murder, cheered on by the fascinated and thrill-seeking Nora.

The Not-so-Thin Man

Described in the novel as overweight and out of shape, Nick Charles (born Nick Charalambides, the son of a Greek immigrant) is an alcoholic former private detective and Pinkerton agent.

Nick is something of a celebrity among the criminal classes and those who associate with them (such as police, athletes, nightclub owners, etc.).

In the book, Nick retired when he married Nora, a wealthy Nob Hill heiress.

In the cinematic version, Charles is portrayed by the slim actor William Powell. This inevitably led the movie-going public to equate the Thin Man of the title with the film’s leading man. This association persisted through five sequels.

Here’s a trailer for the 1934 production, courtesy of YouTube:

The movies also rebadged Nick’s immigrant roots, making him the black sheep of a respectable WASP dynasty, from the fictional small town of Sycamore Springs in upstate New York. He turned his back on the family profession of medicine because of his passion for detective work.

The couple’s dog Asta – a female schnauzer, in the book – became a male wire fox terrier, for the movies.

Later, a child, Nick Jr., was added.

The Sparkling Lady

In the movies, Nora was portrayed by Myrna Loy. The films fleshed out her life story from the book version, considerably.

Nora is revealed to be the sole child of a deceased mining magnate from San Francisco. Now diversified into lumber, railroads, and such, Nora’s fortune is apparently vast, and is managed for the couple by her father’s former partner who lives in an estate on Long Island’s North Shore “Gold Coast”.

Nora is also seen to have a network of blue-blood relatives and friends in San Francisco society.

A lady with money to burn, and a nose for intrigue and adventure.

Good thing she married a detective.

The Chemistry

Those who knew the author maintain that the relationship between Nick and Nora closely mirrors that shared by Dashiell Hammett (himself a former Pinkerton detective, like Nick Charles) and his long-time partner, the playwright Lillian Hellman.

Sharp and witty, on the printed page, the Charleses went even further, on the screen.

The on-screen chemistry between Powell and Loy, who often improvised on the set, became a defining feature of the characters. And a key to the wild success of the series.

The films revolutionized the screen portrayal of marriage, which had previously been earnest, virtuous, and staid. They enlivened the institution with youth, irreverence, and sex appeal.

So strongly were Powell and Loy identified with the characters of Nick and Nora in the public mind, that many mistakenly assumed the actors were a couple in real life as well.

Much of that onscreen chemistry derived from fluids – alcohol, in particular.

Prohibition notwithstanding. Or Nick’s rehab, for that matter.

The Charleses would quip their way through murder investigations, swigging huge amounts of illegal hooch at home or various speakeasies.

Engaging in warm and witty banter, the whole time.

Some of that Banter…

Courtesy of YouTube. Some witty lines from the “Thin Man” series of movies:

Their Legacy

Nick and Nora set the standard, for romantically involved detective couples, to come.

Remember “Hart to Hart”?

Millionaires, Jonathan and Jennifer (Robert Wagner and Stephanie Powers)?

Detective show, back in the early ’80s. A literal attempt to recreate the magic of Nick and Nora in a contemporary (well; then) setting.
Even down to the froofy little dog.

Successful enough, in its way. But nowhere near the originals.

Following the success of the movie version of “The Thin Man” in 1934, Dashiell Hammett was commissioned to work on screenplays for “After the Thin Man” and “Another Thin Man”.

There were five sequels, in all:

After the Thin Man (1936)
Another Thin Man (1939)
Shadow of the Thin Man (1941)
The Thin Man Goes Home (1945)
Song of the Thin Man (1947)

With radio and TV adaptations, stage plays, and a musical, in later years.

Rumors have been flying for a while about a reboot of the franchise, with Johnny Depp as Nick Charles. So far, no sign of it.

If they do go ahead, let’s hope they steer clear of anyone involved in the production of “The Lone Ranger”…

Hmm.

Time for me to ride off, into the sunset.

And get a drink.

Till next time.

Peace.

Carnacki-the-Ghost-Finder

Thomas Carnacki, a.k.a. the Ghost-Finder, is the central figure in a collection of supernatural detective short stories by author William Hope Hodgson. The anthology was first published in 1913 by the UK publisher Eveleigh Nash.

Some History, First

In the years preceding World War I (1914-1918), Spiritualism in Europe was on a high. Seances and mediumship were acceptable, in polite society.

During The Great War itself, attempts by families to communicate with loved ones recently departed from the field of battle were not uncommon.

And tales of spirit contacts, ghosts, and hauntings became increasingly popular.

A Man, for Those Times

Carnacki’s first name is revealed as Thomas, in a conversational aside with his mother, from “The Searcher of the End House”.

This early adventure has Thomas and the old lady personally embroiled in a suspected haunting at the house they’ve just rented. Subsequent tales use the character’s surname, throughout.

Having solved the “Searcher” mystery, Carnacki puts himself about as a supernatural investigator – called in by third parties, to deal with supposed threats from The Other Side.

His investigations begin with techniques straight out of the Sherlock Holmes Handbook: a methodical and detailed survey of every inch of the haunted premises.

In particular, Carnacki looks for things like trap doors, mirrors, smoke generators, and suspension wires. Stuff from the bag of tricks used by fake Spiritualist mediums of the time.

The Electric Pentacle

Of course, there’s always the possibility that the supernatural threat is genuine.

Carnacki’s investigative armory therefore includes mystically protective substances like garlic and silver, along with spells and rites like the Ritual of Saaamaaa.

Most intriguing of these is the Electric Pentacle, a device of Carnacki’s own design. It’s basically a mystic pentagram, constructed out of powered glass tubes that give off a trademark eerie blue glow. Magical Protective Circle 2.0.

The Storyteller’s Ritual

Each of Carnacki’s stories begins in the same way.

An invitation to dinner is issued by card to his compatriots, Anderson, Arkright, Jessop, and Taylor.

The group gathers in Carnacki’s digs at Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, for a quality dinner – during which their host says very little, if anything. It’s left for Anderson to narrate this early part of the evening.

Only when the serious business of eating is done, and the gentlemen retire to the lounge for wine and cigars does Carnacki stoke up his tobacco pipe, and break his silence. He then takes up a first-person narrative of his latest case.

Gripping Yarns

The original collection of stories was published by Eveleigh Nash, in 1913.

A later edition by Mycroft & Moran in 1947 included 3 additional tales.

There’s a fair mix.

Some are revealed as elaborate hoaxes, cooked up for mischievous or malevolent reasons, by the living.

Others are genuine encounters with supernatural aggressors. Often, these require Carnacki to spend one or more nights in a haunted room – with just a ring of salt and the Electric Pentacle between him and certain death. The ghosts described in some of these cases are quite horrifically inventive.

Project Gutenberg has a free eBook of Carnacki’s adventures – which are now copyright-free, and available here:

Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder, at Project Gutenberg

Before you download that, here’s a video trailer for the works (available from Ghostwriter Publications), courtesy of YouTube:

Elsewhere…

A new Carnacki story, “Carnacki: Heaven and Hell” by William Meikle was published by Dark Regions Press, in 2011.

Carnacki featured as a character in Alan Moore’s graphic novel series, “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”.

That’s the one where various (mostly evil, or ambivalent) literary figures like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man, and Captain Nemo are brought together under the leadership of African adventurer Allan Quartermain, as a sort of “X-Men” of the British Empire.

Carnacki didn’t appear in the abysmal movie that was made from this franchise, in 2003. Which is probably just as well.

“Out, You Go!”

This is Carnacki’s trademark ending to each tale, as he ushers his friends out into the London night.

And it’s our cue, to end this one.

Till next time.

Peace.

Albert-Campion

Albert Campion is a fictional character in a series of some 19 detective novels and over 20 short stories by Margery Allingham. Supposedly created as a parody of Dorothy L. Sayers’ aristocratic ‘tec, Lord Peter Wimsey, Campion established his own identity, and a considerable following, as the series progressed.

After Allingham’s death her husband Philip Youngman Carter completed his wife’s last Campion book, and wrote two more before his own death.

Meet Mister Campion…

Here he is, courtesy of YouTube, as portrayed by actor Peter Davison, from the BBC Television series of 1989 and 1990:

According to the literature, Albert Campion is the pseudonym used by a man born in 1900 into a prominent British aristocratic lineage. Early novels suggest that he was part of the royal family, but this reference is dropped in later works. In “Mystery Mile”, his true first name is said to be Rudolph, while his surname begins with a K.

Educated at Rugby School and the (fictitious) St. Ignatius’ College, Cambridge, he assumed the name Campion in his 20s and began life as an adventurer and detective.

Campion is a thin, blond, bespectacled fellow, often described as affable, inoffensive and bland. His deceptively blank and unintelligent expression hides a man of authority and action. In some stories, he lives in a flat above a police station at Number 17A, Bottle Street in Piccadilly, London.

… a.k.a. Mornington Dove…

Campion uses many other names, in the course of his career.

“Mornington Dove” (or “Mornington Dodd” in the 1988 Avon edition (page 72) of “The Black Dudley Murder”) and “the Honourable Tootles Ash” are mentioned in “The Crime at Black Dudley”.

“Christopher Twelvetrees” and “Orlando” are mentioned in “Look to the Lady”.

…and His Friends

A study of the Allingham books suggests that Campion’s father was a Viscount, already dead at the start of the series.

In “Sweet Danger” it’s mentioned that his brother was “still unmarried”, and Campion is therefore likely to “come into the title some day” – although there’s no suggestion in the books that this actually occurs.

His sister Valentine Ferris plays a central part in “The Fashion in Shrouds”. In that book, it’s revealed that both are estranged from most of their family.

In the short story “The Meaning of the Act”, Campion explains that the secret of his success is to “take a drink with anyone, and pick your pals where you find ‘em”. This includes having acquaintances on both sides of the law.

From “Mystery Mile” onwards, Campion is usually aided by his manservant, Magersfontein Lugg – an uncouth street tough who used to be a burglar.

Campion is also good friends with Inspector (later Superintendent) Stanislaus Oates of Scotland Yard (who is as by-the-book as Campion is unorthodox), and later with Oates’ protégé Inspector Charles Luke.

After Campion’s intelligence work during World War II, he continues to have a connection with the secret services. He also has many friends and allies, seemingly scattered across London and the English countryside – and often including professional criminals.

After a doomed passion for a married woman in “Dancers in Mourning”, Campion eventually meets Amanda Fitton, who first appears in “Sweet Danger” as a seventeen-year old, and later becomes an aircraft engineer. In that story, her brother Hal recovers the family title of Earl of Pontisbright, and Amanda becomes Lady Amanda, as the sister of an Earl. She and Campion eventually marry, and have a son called Rupert.

The Adventures

The Campion stories are generally adventures, rather than true mysteries. They rarely feature puzzles that the reader has a chance of solving; it’s the characters and situations which move the story along.

The Adaptations

Two stories were adapted by the BBC in 1959 and 1960, with Bernard Horsfall as Campion and Wally Patch as Lugg. Each story was shown in six, 30-minute episodes.

In 1968, “The Case of the Late Pig” was adapted for television, with Brian Smith as Campion, and George Sewell as Lugg. It was part of the BBC Detective series (1964–1969), which was an anthology featuring adaptations of popular detective stories.

In 1989 and 1990, the first eight of the novels (excluding “The Crime at Black Dudley”) were adapted over two seasons, with each story shown in two hour-long episodes. Peter Davison played Campion. Professional wrestler turned actor Brian Glover was Magersfontein Lugg, and Andrew Burt played Stanislaus Oates.

In the show’s second season, actress Lysette Anthony featured as Campion’s lady love, Amanda Fitton.

Peter Davison sang the title music for the first series himself. In the second series, the song was replaced by an instrumental version.

I’d best be whistling off, myself.

Till next time, then.

Peace.

An-Unreliable-Saucebottle

My chilling little tale, “An Unreliable Sauce” is podcasting at MidnightCircle.com.

Now, this being me, the story mixes an investigation with elements of the macabre.

It’s more a psychological horror; no gratuitous gore. That said…

Well. Check it out, for yourself.

Here’s the link:

[http://traffic.libsyn.com/midnightcircle/MNC022.mp3]

And happy listening.

Peace.

Bulman-detective

Detective Sergeant George Kitchener Bulman is a fictional policeman created by novelist Kenneth Royce. The character appears in a series of books about The XYY Man (semi-reformed cat burglar Spider Scott).

Bulman was brought to life on the small screen by actor Don Henderson. With his scruffy look and eccentric demeanor, the character resembled a villain of the Victorian era, rather than a modern-day police detective, or latter-day private eye.

Origins

In the novels, the character’s name is initially given as Alfred “Alf” Bulman.

Bulman is presented as a corrupt officer – though the only example given is the method he uses to achieve promotion to sergeant. Bulman earns his stripes by persuading down-and-outs to confess to unsolved robberies, in return for a prison sentence which would put them indoors during the coldest months of winter!

First Transition to Television

The books were turned into a Granada TV series in the mid-1970s, with actor Don Henderson playing the police detective – now dubbed George Bulman.

In the series, Bulman lives for the day when he can put his nemesis Spider Scott (played by Stephen Yardley) back behind bars. Both Bulman and his sidekick Detective Constable Derek Willis (actor Dennis Blanche) are thwarted at every turn.

Over time, the officers develop some grudging sympathy and respect for Scott, as they discover how he and they have been used by the Secret Service.

Bulman was originally portrayed as mildly eccentric, wearing fingerless woolen gloves, using a nasal inhaler, and trying to ‘better’ himself by engaging in further education. The detective was prone to showing off his learning with a pretentious attitude that made him look foolish.

An Ongoing Concern: “Strangers”

The Bulman character proved popular with viewers, and, together with Willis, was given a spin-off series called “Strangers”, which saw the detectives transferred from London to the north-west of England.

During its five-year run, Bulman’s eccentricities were increased. He was given a propensity for keeping his belongings in plastic shopping bags, and a pet hamster named Flash Gordon.

It was in “Strangers” that Bulman’s middle name was revealed to be Kitchener.

Increasingly his advanced learning was used less to make him look pretentious and laughable. Instead, it underlined a Zen-like wisdom and otherworldliness.

Bulman also leapt in rank, moving from Detective Sergeant to Detective Chief Inspector in a single bound.

Here’s a YouTube promo, for the show’s first season:

Private Citizen, Private Eye

More from YouTube:

During the mid-1980s the character returned to television, in “Bulman”.

In this revamp, a disillusioned Bulman leaves the police, to work as a private investigator.

Ever the eccentric, the character used detection as a sideline, actually making his living by repairing clocks. He kept a model railway set-up in his office, and wore a T-Shirt bearing an illustration of William Shakespeare, with the inscription ‘Will Power’.

The private detective also gained a female sidekick, in the shape of feisty young Scotswoman Lucy McGinty (played by Siobhan Redmond). The actress would later achieve fame in the acclaimed BBC Television series “Between The Lines”, as detective Maureen “Mo” Connell of the Complaints Investigation Bureau (equivalent to Internal Affairs Division, in the USA) of London’s Metropolitan Police.

Ironically mirroring the post-prison career of Spider Scott, Bulman and his assistant Lucy were often coerced or tricked into doing clandestine and dangerous work for the Secret Service.

Spin-Off Literary Success

At the height of the show’s success, Kenneth Royce returned to his Bulman character by writing two more XYY Man novels (“The Crypto Man” (1984) and “The Mosley Receipt” (1985)) and a Bulman novel, “No Way Back” (a.k.a. “Hashimi’s Revenge”) in 1986.

In the 1990s, Royce followed with “The Judas Trail” (1996) and “Shadows” (1996).

Royce’s latter-day Bulman differs greatly from the television version.

Alfred George Bulman (as opposed to George Kitchener Bulman) has, by “The Crypto Man” in 1985, risen to Detective Superintendent in the Security Services section of the Metropolitan Police. His television alternative never made it above Detective Chief Inspector, before becoming a private investigator.

And That Was All…

The “Bulman” series ended in 1987. Henderson obtained the rights for TV use of the character, but got caught up with other projects. The actor died in 1997 before he was able to interest producers in a new series.

Our series is ongoing.

Hope you’ll join me, for the next installment.

Till then.

Peace.

Father-Brown-detective

Father Brown is a fictional character, a Roman Catholic cleric and gifted amateur detective created by the English novelist G. K. Chesterton. He stars in 51 detective short stories, and two framing vignettes. Most of these were later compiled in five books. Father Brown has also appeared in other media, including film and television.

His latest incarnation is in the form of actor Mark Williams, in a 2013 series for BBC Television. A second season has been commissioned for airing in 2014.

Here’s a YouTube promo, for the DVD:

An Ear, for Evil

As described by Chesterton, Father Brown is a short, stumpy Roman Catholic priest, “formerly of Cobhole in Essex, and now working in London”, with shapeless clothes and a large umbrella. He is characteristically humble, and usually rather quiet. When he does talk, the cleric almost always says something profound.

The author admitted to basing the character on Father John O’Connor (1870–1952), a parish priest in Bradford who was involved in Chesterton’s conversion to Catholicism in 1922. The relationship was recorded by O’Connor in a 1937 book, “Father Brown on Chesterton”.

Appearances aside, Brown has an uncanny insight into human evil. This is due in part to his natural sensitivity. Added to this are years spent listening to the transgressions of sinners, in the Confessional box.

Appearances

Father Brown makes his first appearance in the story “The Blue Cross” (September, 1910) and continues through five volumes of short stories up to 1936, often assisted by the reformed criminal, Hercule Flambeau.

The master thief (now dubbed Gustave Flambeau, and played by Peter Finch) appeared opposite Alec Guinness in the title role as “Father Brown” (a.k.a. “The Detective”), in a 1954 film. Video comes courtesy of YouTube:

A Flair, for The Intuitive

Unlike the more famous Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown’s methods tend to the intuitive rather than the deductive.
In “The Secret of Father Brown”, he explains:

“You see, I had murdered them all myself… I had planned out each of the crimes very carefully. I had thought out exactly how a thing like that could be done, and in what style or state of mind a man could really do it. And when I was quite sure that I felt exactly like the murderer myself, of course I knew who he was.”

Usually, the stories contain a rational explanation of who the murderer was, and how Brown worked it out. He always emphasizes rationality – some might say ironically, for a religious man.

And some of the stories, such as “The Miracle of Moon Crescent”, “The Oracle of the Dog”, “The Blast of the Book” and “The Dagger With Wings”, even poke fun at initially skeptical characters who become convinced of a supernatural explanation for some strange occurrence. Father Brown, meanwhile, easily sees the perfectly ordinary, natural cause.

Although he tends to handle crimes with a steady, realistic approach, he still believes in the supernatural as the greatest, ultimate reason of all.

That’s all, for now.

See you, for the next one – I hope.

Till then.

Peace.

Happy Holidays, People!

Happy Holidays!

Season’s Greetings. All that.

Pretty much all I wanted to say.

Except.

Don’t eat TOO much.

Don’t drink too much.

And, let’s be safe out there.

All the best for 2014, if we don’t meet before then.

Peace.

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