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Still Unreliable…

An-Unreliable-Saucebottle

Okay, so you’ve listened to the podcast (or not…). Here’s the original story, for you.

An Unreliable Sauce
By Des Nnochiri

Pedrosa was cutting it pretty fine.

18:30, he’d said. That was 6:30, in the P.M., for civilians.

Wallace twitched his lip. Approximation to a smile.

It was almost funny. The way Pedrosa had set up this rendezvous, in
military time. Laid out the terms and conditions of his “testimony”,
as if he were negotiating an armistice.

No names.

Pedrosa – if that was even his real moniker; the guy was an illegal,
like so many others at Blue Mountain – was to be credited as “an
anonymous source.”

No recording equipment.

Wallace was to get Pedrosa’s story, word for word. On paper.

Nuts, to that. Wallace’s secretarial skills were right up there, with his
great-grandmother’s – who’d been a professional seamstress.
Non-existent, in other words.

He’d called in some favors at Metro P.D., and gotten himself wired,
like an undercover Narc.

Brought a notebook and pen, for show. He’d do his own version of
shorthand.

Between that, Senor “Manuel Pedrosa’s” halting English,
Wallace’s own high-school Spanish (He’d flunked, spectacularly), and
the tape, he’d have what he wanted.

Pedrosa, spilling the beans on what was really going on with Blue
Mountain’s Everyman range.

Crouched beside the chain-link fence surrounding the canning plant,
Wallace reflected that something out of the ordinary must be going on,
here.

Something.

To justify the watch towers at every corner; machine gun emplacements
at the top. The CCTV cameras, patrolling guards, and sniffer dogs. The
crackling high voltage, coursing through the mesh of the fence.

They had to be protecting more than just a secret recipe for the
millions-selling All-Purpose Ragouts, the company was peddling.

Well, Pedrosa should be here soon, to shed some light.

Should.

But Pedrosa was…

Wallace checked his wristwatch.

He was going to be 15 minutes late. In another 5 minutes.

A sudden movement, to his right. Wallace flicked his eyes, in that
direction. Tensed, ready to run or fight.

“Ow!!”

A stinging pain, beneath his right ear. Instinctively, Wallace clapped
a hand to the spot. Slapping the tranquilizer needle even deeper, into
the skin.

He pitched forward, to the dirt. Unconscious, in seconds.

Wallace awoke to the glare of fluorescent lights, overhead. A large
space, like a warehouse or factory floor.

Flat on his back. And naked, as the day he was born.

He couldn’t make out what kind of surface he was lying on. Or
feel his legs. Arms. Anything else, for that matter.

He could hear, though. And see – even if his eyes could only stare
straight ahead.

What peripheral vision he had put him in a wide channel of some sort,
with knee-high walls of steel mesh. At a table nearby, workers in the
spotless overalls of the Blue Mountain Foods conglomerate pored over
Wallace’s clothing, with a fine-tooth comb.

That’s how he deduced that he was naked.

Peering down at him was a face he recognized from all the news reports
and business dailies.

Montague Kane. CEO, Blue Mountain Foods.

Kane held in one hand the mike and recording device which had been
taped to Wallace’s body, an expression of distaste on his patrician
features. Like everyone else, the man was wearing surgical gloves.

One of the technicians from the table approached Kane. His tone was
deeply respectful, as he confirmed that “We’ve done a sweep of the
area, sir. No surveillance vans, or back-up units. Mr. Wallace is
alone.”

Kane nodded. He handed the wire to the tech, holding it in his
thumb and forefinger, like a dead rat. His face didn’t
change, as he returned his attention to Wallace.

“Mr. Wallace is alone…”

The words seemed to echo through the room. They were all that Wallace
could focus on, even as Kane loomed above him. But the man’s lips were
moving. He was talking. Saying words that might – might – hold the key
to Wallace’s survival.

Because, make no mistake; Wallace knew that his life was in the balance, here.

He bore down, struggling to make out the words.

“Mr. Wallace is alone…”

Not quite, though.

Kane’s monologue on the merits of Everyman…

“Ranch House, Negrito. Our Everyman sauces are the favorite choice of
households across the country. Nutritious, naturally tasty, and
affordable…”

…Was interrupted, as a trio of workers passed behind him, lugging a
wrapped plastic bundle. They hoisted it over the channel wall.

The limp and naked body of Manuel Pedrosa landed with a thud, at Wallace’s feet.

If Wallace’s eyes could have widened in horror, they would have.
As it was, they could merely stare, as Kane continued speaking.

“Why, you may have used them, yourself. Very popular.
We’ve had our trials, of course. Who hasn’t? Civil suits. That unfortunate business
with the gender rights lobby. EveryWoman, EveryPerson, my ass.
And I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors, in the press. Else, you wouldn’t
be here.”

Kane chuckled. More like a death’s head grin, in that lean face.

“About our stringent work practices. Our unconventional
employment policy. Migrants, transients, runaways. We hire them, where
no one else will. I admit that. There’s no shame in it. And yes, I run
a tight ship. But, by taking these people off the streets – by giving
them a purpose – we are doing a public service.”

He leaned forward earnestly, now. Huckstering, like a cheap politician.

“You know, we ship over a million tonnes of our products every year, to
starving families in Africa and Asia? At no charge. Public service.
And, if we ask that our workers give something back, at the end of
their shift, that’s not unreasonable, is it?”

Kane paused, nodding to one of the technicians at the table.

As the tech guy flipped a switch, Kane resumed his discourse. Eyes
gleaming with fervor. A sheen of sweat, on his upper lip.

Speaking with the absolute conviction of the obscenely wealthy, and
utterly insane.

“The work force, now. They’re our life’s blood. Our strength. Our
special ingredient. The secret, to our sauce. You’ll see.”

Kane stepped back, out of Wallace’s line of sight.

At the far end of the hall, a mesh of sharpened steel blades whirred into life.

If Wallace could have thrashed and kicked, he’d be out of there, right
now. But…

“Mr. Wallace is alone…”

And the steel conveyor belt holding the bodies of Manuel Pedrosa and
Mr. Wallace chugged inexorably toward their special place in the
making of Blue Mountain Everyman.

Wallace wondered which variety he’d end up in.

END

As in, peace.

Cooper-Dale-Agt

Dale Bartholomew Cooper is a fictional character, an eccentric Special Agent of the FBI. Cooper was the central figure of the ABC television series “Twin Peaks”, and was played by actor Kyle MacLachlan.

The series was created by legendary film director David Lynch and Mark Frost, and went on to achieve a cult status of its own.

The Man, and His Methods

David Lynch named Cooper as a reference to D. B. Cooper, the unidentified man who hijacked a Boeing 727 aircraft on November 24, 1971. Cooper escaped by parachute, never to be seen, again.

Born on April 19, 1954, the fictional Dale Cooper is a graduate of Haverford College. After joining the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Cooper was based at the Bureau offices in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was partnered there with the older Special Agent Windom Earle (actor Kenneth Welsh) – a closet psychopath whose various crimes (when they came to light) would return to haunt Cooper, in later years.

Key among these was the case of Earle’s wife, Caroline, who witnessed a federal crime, some time after Cooper joined the Bureau. Earle and Cooper were assigned to protect her; it was around this time that Cooper began an affair with Caroline. One night in Pittsburgh, Cooper let his guard down – and Caroline was murdered by her husband (who had also committed the crime witnessed by Caroline, during a psychotic break). Windom Earle was subsequently sent to a mental institution, from which he would later escape, to wreak havoc in Twin Peaks.

Cooper was devastated by the loss of the woman he would later refer to as the love of his life. He swore to never again become involved with someone who was part of a case to which he was assigned.

An introspective man, Cooper is fueled by a profound interest in the mystical, especially the mythology of Tibetan and Native American cultures. Much of his work is based on intuition and the interpretation of dreams, rather than conventional logic. While working a case, Cooper also dictates regular reports to his (never seen) assistant Diane, using a hand-held tape recorder.

“A hairless mouse with a pitchfork sang a song about caves.”

Okay, this is actually a quote from the “Twin Peaks” parody sketch when Kyle Maclachlan guest hosted Saturday Night Live in 1990. But the fact that it’s not a million miles from the kind of stuff Dale Cooper puts out during his “real” adventures gives an indication of the methods of the man.

At some point in his career, Cooper was placed under the direct authority of FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole (played in the series by David Lynch, himself). Under Cole’s mandate, Cooper was occasionally assigned the mysterious ‘Blue Rose’ cases.

The Town, and Its People

On February 24, 1989, Cooper arrives in the fictional Northwestern town of Twin Peaks, to investigate the murder of local teenager Laura Palmer (actress Sheryl Lee). Here’s a YouTube clip, of Dale’s arrival, from the series’ pilot episode:

It’s a complex case, involving the town’s eccentric characters (like The Log Lady), metaphysical entities, and other-dimensional spaces like the mysterious Black Lodge. During his extended stay, Cooper winds up helping the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department to investigate other cases, as well.

Cooper gains an instant rapport with many of the townspeople – including Sheriff Harry S. Truman (yes, like the President; actor Michael Ontkean) and his junior officers, Deputy Tommy “Hawk” Hill and Deputy Andy Brennan. 18-year-old Audrey Horne (played by Sherilyn Fenn), the daughter of local businessman Benjamin Horne, develops a serious crush on the eccentric FBI man. Over time, a close and affectionate friendship develops, between the two.

And Cooper falls in love with the “damn fine coffee”, and cherry pie, for which the town would become famous. Check out the YouTube clip below, to get a flavor of the place:

The Laura Palmer mystery is eventually “resolved” on an ambiguous note, with Dale Cooper’s evil doppelganger on the loose in Twin Peaks (a fugitive from the Black Lodge; watch the show on DVD, it’s too complex to go into, now), and the dead girl’s spirit vowing that “I’ll see you again in 25 years.”

His Anticipated Return

Now, 25 years on, that promise is to be fulfilled. In 2016, Showtime will be bringing us a sequel to the cult series. The network says that nine new “Twin Peaks” episodes – set in the present day – are going into production soon. And Kyle MacLachlan is set to return, as Dale Cooper – as are several other characters from the original 1990s run.

Showtime’s president, David Nevins, has even persuaded David Lynch to direct all nine episodes.

Fans will no doubt be hoping that the sequel will answer the questions left hanging at the end of season two in 1991. Nevins is keeping quiet on this.

Only time will tell.

Keep watching this space.

Peace.

One to Watch, in 2015

Gotham TV series

In a week that saw Fox’s “Gotham” achieve its best-ever ratings on US television, here’s a link to my article at the Xtreme Entertainment Network, reviewing the show’s first season, for UK audiences.

Dark Nights, in “Gotham”

Oh, and best wishes for 2015. Hope it’s a good year, for all of us.

Peace.

Lieutenant Columbo

Lieutenant Columbo is a homicide detective with the Los Angeles Police Department, and the central figure in a mystery television film series created by William Link and Richard Levinson.

The show popularized what’s come to be known as the inverted detective story format. There’s no “whodunit”, here; the perpetrator’s identity is already known to the audience. The plot revolves mainly around how he or she will finally be caught and exposed.

The Man

Columbo is a friendly, chatty, disheveled police detective who is consistently underestimated by his suspects. They’re initially reassured and distracted by his rambling speech, then increasingly irritated by his pestering behavior. Right up to the point where he nabs them, for murder.

Though the name “Frank” can often be seen relatively clearly on his police ID (badge number 416, if you’re interested), Columbo’s first name is never explicitly mentioned, during the series. When asked, he always emphatically answers “Lieutenant”.

The character first appeared in a 1960 episode of the television-anthology series “The Chevy Mystery Show”, entitled “Enough Rope”. This was adapted by Levinson and Link from their short story “May I Come In”. This teleplay is available in the archives of the Paley Center for Media, in New York City and Los Angeles.

The first man to portray Columbo, Bert Freed, was a stocky character actor with a thatch of gray hair. Freed’s Columbo wore a rumpled suit and smoked a cigar, but otherwise had few of the other now-familiar Columbo mannerisms.

In 1968, the same play was made into a two-hour television movie on NBC. The writers suggested Lee J. Cobb and Bing Crosby for the role of Columbo. Cobb was unavailable, and Crosby turned it down. Director Richard Irving convinced Levinson and Link that Peter Falk, who wanted the role, would be ideal – even though he was much younger than what the writers had in mind.

Columbo’s wardrobe was provided by the actor himself; they were Falk’s own clothes, including the high-topped shoes and the shabby raincoat which made its first appearance in 1968’s “Prescription: Murder”.

Columbo’s unsettling, uneven-eyed stare was due to Falk’s own visual impairment; he had a glass eye in his right eye socket. It remained a mystery for 25 years whether the character had one as well, until 1997’s “Columbo: A Trace of Murder”, where he jokes: “You know, three eyes are better than one.”

Falk would often ad lib stuff like fumbling through his pockets for a piece of evidence and discovering a grocery list, asking to borrow a pencil, or becoming distracted by something irrelevant in the room at a dramatic point in a conversation. He inserted these into his performance to keep his fellow actors off-balance, and to help make their confused and impatient reactions to Columbo’s antics more genuine.

Here’s a YouTube compilation, to give you a bit of a character study:

His Method

Columbo reversed the format of the standard “whodunit”.

In almost every episode, the audience sees the crime unfold at the beginning, and knows the identity of the culprit. The murder isn’t always premeditated, but in each case the killer attempts to hide their crimes, creating a false scenario of how the death occurred, often trying to implicate a false culprit. The killer will drop numerous pieces of misleading evidence, and have a water-tight alibi for the murder.

The beauty of these tales lies in the way Columbo finds and follows the clues that lead him to the truth, and the tricks he uses to obtain information, or even a confession. The story unfolds in parallel, from the point of view of Columbo and the murderer, as they play cat and mouse.

In the first part of each episode, the soon-to-be murderer is introduced, and their professional or lifestyle setting is explored. Other characters (including the soon-to-be victim) are introduced through their relationship to the murderer.

As the premise and motivation for murder becomes apparent, the killer typically puts into motion a well-arranged plan, involving the death of the victim and the establishment of a viable cover story.

The second part begins with Columbo’s appearance after the discovery of the body, and usually opens at the scene of the crime, some time after the arrival of the police. So in some cases, Columbo doesn’t appear until halfway through an episode.

When he does, the murderer is usually keen to demonstrate a desire to assist Columbo in his investigations, and to be available for questioning. Which is the Lieutenant’s cue to pop up at all hours, with deceptively shrewd observations and follow-up questions.

Columbo generally maintains a friendly relationship with the murderer, apologizing repeatedly for taking up their time, even as his true suspicions become increasingly apparent.

As more and more evidence is revealed, Columbo shares with the killer his thoughts on the case, pointing out contradictions between the new evidence and the killer’s stated version of events in his bumbling, amiable style. Columbo’s formidable eye for detail and relentless approach, though apparent to the viewer, often become clear to the killer late – too late – in the story line.

During the final act, Columbo drops any remaining pretence of uncertainty, and shares with the killer details of his findings and his arrival at the conclusion of the killer’s guilt.

The killer’s reaction varies, with some conceding in a friendly manner the error that closed the case, and others becoming aggressive or despondent. After this, the episode generally ends, with no following or concluding scenes.

His Caseload

Originally a one-off TV-Movie-of-the-Week, 1968’s “Prescription: Murder” had Falk’s Columbo pitted against a psychiatrist (Gene Barry). Due to its success, NBC requested a pilot for a potential series be made, to see if the character could be sustained on a regular basis.

The 1971 film, “Ransom For a Dead Man” had Lee Grant playing the killer. The popularity of this second movie prompted a regular series on NBC. “Columbo” premiered in the fall of 1971 as part of the wheel series, NBC Mystery Movie rotations: McCloud, McMillan & Wife, and other whodunits.

The network arranged for the “Columbo” segments to air once a month on Wednesday nights, to allow for Peter Falk’s other commitments as a motion picture star.

“Columbo” aired regularly from 1971–78 on NBC. The series was revived on ABC between 1989 and 2003 for several new seasons, and a few made-for-TV movie “specials”.

His Legacy

Despite solving numerous murders over several decades, in Falk’s last appearance as Columbo in the 2003 cable-TV movie “Columbo Likes the Nightlife”, the detective is still a lieutenant.

To his senior brass, Columbo is the preferred investigator for high-profile crimes – a dedicated case officer who’s something of a legend, and thus has a powerful position within the police force.

Obviously doing something right.

Peter Falk died on June 23, 2011, aged 83.

That’s it, for this one.

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

Till then.

Peace.

The CW's The Flash
First: did you miss ME?

In case you’re wondering where I’ve been, the answer is: BUSY.

My world outside the blogosphere has been chock-full of writing assignments in the tech arena. In parallel to that, there’s developing my own brand of crime and suspense fiction, trying to sell my screenplays, and the whole “trying to have a life” issue.

One of the jobs I did recently was a preview / review of The CW’s “The Flash”, for the UK market. I put it out through the Xtreme Entertainment Network, a start-up based in London. Xtreme specializes in video games, movies, TV, and related media.

Could be an outfit worth watching. “The Flash” certainly is.

You can check out

My Review, Here…

Peace.

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.

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