Category Archives: Detective

#211 – Strip, The

(1974, US, 118 min) Dir Tom Gries. Cast Robert Duvall, Jennifer O’Neill, John Saxon.

California, October 1969. The paranoiac pall from the Tate-La Bianca killings hangs over the city. Private investigator Tom Beckett (Duvall) is hired by an old Korean War buddy to track down his missing daughter Sally. Fifteen years old. Last place seen: the Sunset Strip. Tom takes to the strip each night, pounding the streets, bugging each and every freak and drop out until he meets Cat (O’Neill). She knows Sally, recognises the picture. Saw her at a party in a house up in the hills. An abandoned mansion. It was too much of a dark scene for Cat – all kinds of sick sex rituals and power trips. People have been telling stories about this gang, roaming the streets in a fleet of Beetles, picking up ‘strays’. Word is that they were in on the killings up in the hills, they just didn’t get caught. She takes him to this house, the abandoned mansion. There are kids there with scared eyes. They tell stories that make no sense. About a ranch out in the desert, underground bunkers and mass graves. Tom and Cat investigate… A tense and moody film fantastically shot all at night by Lucien Ballard with a stand out performance from Duvall like a clenched, sweaty fist. Director Gries, incidentally, would go on to shoot the 1976 TV film of Helter Skelter which notoriously shot the Tate-La Bianca murders at the actual crime scene.

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#174 – Black Book, The

(1985, US/GB, 106 min) Dir James G Marshall. Cast Gabriel Byrne, Theresa Russell, Ian Holm, Billie Whitelaw, Phil Daniels, Alexi Sayle.

Alexander Kasin (Byrne) is a rising star in the KGB tasked with tracking down the author of the so-called Black Book of the title, dozens of copies of which have been disseminated across the Soviet Union via the producers of handmade publications known as samizdat. The file on said book is very thin – no copy has yet been found by the authorities though numerous references have been logged from intercepted mail, bugged telephones and the confessions of criminals. “There are not many copies in circulation,” he superior tells him, “But so far as we can tell the contents of this book are so volatile none can be tolerated.” So Kasin begins his investigation in the usual places – checking in with his informers, known black market operators and the samizdat slinging intelligentsia – but not only draws a blank but meets a kind of frightened resistance totally uncommon to him in his usual course of work. As he digs ever deeper and finds himself on a trail that leads to the obscurer ends of his homeland it occurs to him that he’s not on the trail of something new, but of a cancer as old as his country with a dark purpose at its heart. A classy, creepy detective film full of unplumbed darkness. An US/GB co-production directed by a Canadian, populated almost entirely with British actors and fantastically shot by veteran Irish DOP Brendan Bradley in snow bound Finland, The Black Book was made on the back of Gorky Park’s success but was sadly unable to replicate it. Not to be confused with Verhoeven’s Black Book nor indeed the Dylan Moran sitcom Black Books.

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#168 – Excuse Me Sir, I’ve Just Been Shot

(1973, GB, 105 min) Dir Aldous Oxbury. Cast Peter Cushing, Felicity Montague, Denholm Elliott, Christopher Lee.

Zany detective nonsense with Peter Cushing’s famed detective Albert Franklin investigating his own murder as he bleeds out from the gunshot wound he believes to be the agent of his ultimate demise. “But you should see a doctor!” exclaims his secretary, Pam. Not a bit of it – he’s too excited about the investigation to be bothered wasting his time on medical assistance. “Imagine how cold the trail will be by the time they’ve pulled out that bullet and stitched me up!” A fun romp with Denholm Elliott his nervy contact on the force and Christopher Lee as his incarcerated Moriarty-like nemesis. The best part of the film has to be the gravitas Cushing brings to the role that sells every scene regardless as to whether it requires him to crawl through a bed of eels (don’t ask) or deliver a dressing-down to a royal guard who he believes is wearing an improperly buttoned coat. Fantastic London locations add to the film’s charm including a chase through both Kew Gardens and Highgate Cemetery. This seems an obvious set-up for a series but alas, if this were the case there none but this sole entry.

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#165 – Beast In London’s Fog, The

(1971, It/GB, 90 min) Dir Sergio Patrino. Cast William Berger, Catherine Bess, Helmut Messerschmitt.

Here comes Sergio Patrino, getting his Victorian London gore on like an Italian Hammer Horror. The fog-thick streets of the city are being stalked by once more by a knife wielding killer, bringing up uncomfortable memories for Detective Alan Brindling (Berger) who was hot on the trail of the Ripper a mere five years previously. On the prowl for the murderer he sees, through the fog, no man but a green-skinned, knife fingered beast. He passes out and when revived is believed by none. So be it – he’s on his own, one man against a foul creature that lurks beneath the streets themselves, the labyrinthine sewers it’s home. Logic? Plausibility? Forget about it – The Beast in London’s Fog has atmosphere to spare, hysterical acting without equal and an ending that’ll make you soil yourself one way or the other.

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#72 – Sadist, Der (Sadist, The)

(1978, WGer, 120 min) Dir Hans Berg. Cast Jean-Louis Trintignant, Jürgen Prochnow.

Named after the non-fiction book by psychiatrist Karl Berg (no relation to the director) about the life and crimes of notorious serial killer Peter Kürten who had previously been immortalised on the screen as the inspiration for the killer played by Peter Lorre in Fritz Lang’s M. The film begins as a two-hander between Kürten (Trintignant) and Berg (Prochnow) as the former details his life to that point. Trintignant is impeccable as Kürten, betraying no emotion on the surface, his excitement at recounting his terrible deeds manifest as nothing more than a dull glint in his eye. The only distraction to his performance is the imperfect dubbing which occasionally serves to flub the odd dramatic moment. The flashbacks are the model of restraint, with Kürten’s words painting the picture and not the camera which makes it all the more absurd that the film spent six months being banned in it’s home country before an outcry saw this decision overturned. This was the first film that showed the future promise of director Berg – he was previously known for two entires in the awful Dieter film series about a dictatorish child but would go on to have a distinguished career in the decade ahead.

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#71 – Hadley Close

(1966, GB, 100 min, b/w) Dir Eric Conway Bryce. Cast Dirk Bogarde, Denholm Elliott, Billie Whitelaw.

Based on the infamous real life case of the so-called ‘Bloody Blonde’, Hadley Close comes second only to 10 Rillington Place in my mind in it’s portrayal of humdrum post-war Britain and in their depictions of squalid murder – both films seem to exist in a sooty pall. The more unsettling thing about Hadley Close however is the fact that the case remains to this day unsolved – the one 1952 murder in an abandoned house in, yes, Hadley Close yielded no convictions, no plausible motives and no likely suspects. Dirk Bogarde in convincingly haunted as Detective Samuel Gately who headed the investigations and never, it is said, let it go. Denholm Elliott and Billie Whitelaw are the victim’s parents whose grief runs through the film like the writing in a stick of rock, their undying faith in Gately battering him down more and more as the years go on. A grimly solid depiction of the times and of the terrible effect of murder on a people.

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#70 – Dans le mur (In the Walls)

(1990, Fr, 129 min) Dir Roland Sacher. Cast Daniel Auteuil, Jean Rochefort, Emmanuelle Béart.

French thriller about famed neuroscientist Paul Mauchard (Auteuil) who has the unfortunate habit in his downtime of killing women and secreting their corpses in the space between the walls of his country house, all while his wife (Beart) and two children live there unknowing. Aging detective Fandeur (Rochefort), meanwhile, is trying to track down the missing Valerie Cassin who we have seen lured to Mauchard’s house and killed in the film’s extended opening. The two storylines play out side by side, converging and separating in nail-biting fashion as Fandeur picks up clues and finds the trail to his missing person, all the while not knowing that he’s on the trail of a serial killer. The whole thing is glacially paced and shot at the expected remove by Sacher, the camera coolly watching over the players without giving away a thing. This all means that when the expertly handled tension breaks out in the film’s latter half it will be an impossible watch for viewers without nerves of steel. An American remake has been mooted since the original was released but here’s hoping that if that comes to pass it’s not the slick, shallow interpretation that fans of the original have been dreading.

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#21 – Quattro gocce di sangue in una stanza buia (Four Drops of Blood in a Darkened Room)

(1971, It, 98 min) Dir Antonio Marretti. Cast Edwige Fenech, George Hilton, Jack Taylor.

In 1971 Edwige Fenech was in the middle of a hot giallo streak with Five Dolls for an August Moon and Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key just two genre classics she shot around the same time as this. Quattro Gocce, while not achieving the lasting reputation of the others, has plenty for the aficionado. Fenech is an eager student by day and dissolute boot model by night in go-go Rome when her life is turned upside down following the horrible murders, in the same night, of one of her student friends and one of her model friends. It’s obvious to her (but not to the feckless polizia) that someone is closing in on her but who could the killer be? Among the many red herring are Hilton’s photographer friend and Taylor’s sweaty-palmed peeping tom, both caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Of course the reveal makes no sense it’s at least in keeping with the randomness of the rest of the feature and it’s flashy visuals, peppy Morricone soundtrack and some stylish kills make this a fine addition to any Friday night’s viewing.

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#20 – Skull and Jones and the Return of the Scarlet Ghost

(1942, US, 83 min, b/w) Dir Irving Pichel. Cast Preston Foster, Susan Hayward, Rita Johnson, Joe E. Brown.

Two years from the Scarlet Ghost’s first appearance and for America the war is now in full swing. Joe E. Brown is shipping magnate Forster Blueford who hires our crime fighting hero and his disembodied pal to investigate the sabotage happening in the docks, sending his secretary Hayward along for the ride. Of course the Germans are responsible and at their head is the Ghost herself, who by this time has morphed into the blonde Rita Johnson and has been rebranded as the head witch of an occult wing of the Nazi party. She kidnaps Skull and hypnotises Jones into a hallucinating stupor and reprogrammes him with anti-American sentiment to act as their stooge. Of course he can’t follow through, stopping before he can strangle Blueford as bidden and rescuing Skull but getting the slip from the Scarlet Ghost, who makes off in a U-boat to plot another day. Great fun that belies it’s propaganda purposes with Preston Foster now wearing the role as comfortably as an old jumper, chatting away to his skull in a bag as though it were the most normal thing in the world.

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#19 – Skull and Jones and the Scarlet Ghost

(1940, US, 70 min, b/w) Dir Albert S. Rogell. Cast Preston Foster, Claire Trevor, Ogdon Marshall.

The fourth film in the S&B series and the first to star their longest serving Jones, Preston Foster. Filming began about five minutes after cut was called on The Laughing Darkness and this is belied by a crossover in the cast, including a tiny role for Lugosi, uncredited, as an Oriental stereotype. Not a supernatural caper, this one – Skull and Jones here find themselves on the trail of a Nazi saboteur called (as the title would suggest) the Scarlet Ghost, who is at large in LA agitating  in some manner or another.  A twist in the tale reveals it to be none other than his socialite pal from the previous feature, the lovely Claire Tracey in a mask seemingly without eye holes and a sparkling ball gown, both of which seem odd attire for a Nazi saboteur. She tumbles from some docks into thick sea fog and is presumed dead in the final act but returns as Skull and Jones’ first recurring villain in later features. A slapdash affair, not a great start to Foster’s tenure (though he equips himself well enough) nor a great introduction such a strong a character in the series history as the Scarlet Ghost. Things pick up subsequently, leaving this one for the history books and completists only.

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