Dead Men’s Dust

Written by Matt Hilton
Published by Hodder & Stoughton 2009

The running man conspiracy continues! No, not really. I am not going to discuss the cover artwork for Matt Hilton’s Dead Men’s Dust. The running man has already had a good run (sorry about that) in the blogosphere. I thought it was time to actually delve inside, and I am pleased to report that Dead Men’s Dust is a cracking good thriller.

The opening is a ball-tearer, with the character Joe Hunter, from the outset proving that he has the skill set to help the small people of the world. Because that is what Joe Hunter does – he helps people. To put an espionage twist to it, Hunter is a bit like Robert McCall in the Equalizer, or even Michael Westen in Burn Notice. He’s a man who has been around the block – so to speak – and learnt a trick or two along the way. Now he has left that world behind and helps out people who aren’t able to protect themselves from the bullies of the world. But Hunter’s past is a bit vague. As he explains on page 59:

‘I hadn’t been a secret agent; it wasn’t for me to use guile and trickery to root out the bad guys. I was the weapon sent in when all the planning was done with and all that was left was the arse-kicking. Arse-kicking I was good at. It got results.’

Joe Hunter’s mission on this occasion, is a personal one. His estranged half-brother, John Tefler has gone missing in the U.S. of A. John has always been a bit of a try-hard schemer – only his schemes and his luck never seem to work out. Joe has to track down his brother, who has not only managed to attract the unwanted attention of the Syndicate, after he disappears with some counterfeit money printing plates, but also the attention of one of America’s most brutal serial killers, Tubal Cain.

Dead Men’s Dust is written in two styles, alternating chapter by chapter. The first style is first person and the story is viewed from Joe Hunter’s point of view. This is effective to a point, but towards the middle of the book it is a bit frustrating because of the other events happening in the book – but let me explain. The other style, every second chapter is written in third person and recounts the gruesome exploits of Tubal Cain. As we move through the story, Tubal Cain moves ahead of Joe Hunter in the story arc, and as such in the middle there is a small portion where Hunter is really playing catch up and planning his next move – while we readers are far ahead of him. Thankfully Hilton keeps these chapters relatively brief. The frustrating thing here is that Hunter is such an enjoyable character, especially when he is ‘let loose’ that we are left wanting and waiting. But we don’t have to wait for too long and the tense, atmospheric ending is well worth it.

Overall, I’d say that Dead Men’s Dust is a bloody good read. It does what it aims to do – and that is provide a rollercoaster ride riddled with bullets and broken bones, and it is packaged with a slick sense of style and pace. The publisher, Hodder & Stoughton, certainly did the right thing by Hilton down in Australia. Especially on a ‘street level’ where bright yellow and magenta Joe Hunter posters covered every wall and building site hording. In store it was backed up with a ‘publishers promise’ – enjoy the book or your money back. Well, they’re are pretty safe. I enjoyed Dead Men’s Dust from the knee splintering opening to the gruesome knife wielding last pages, and I am eagerly looking forward to the follow up Judgment and Wrath which is due out later this year.

Just a brief warning – this story does feature a serial killer – a serial killer whose prefered weapon is a scaling knife – so if you’re a little bit queasy then this may not be the book for you.

From the back:
‘Some may call me a vigilante. I think I’ve just got problems to fix.’

Right now, Joe Hunter’s big problem is a missing little brother, last seen fleeing the site of a gruesome killing. Hunter needs the help of an old army buddy, a whole lot of hardware and a trip to Little Rock, Arkansas, to fix this particular problem.

A brutal encounter with some very nasty criminals leaves Hunter fighting for his life. And that’s before he comes up against America’s most feared serial killer, ‘The Harvestman’, and his grisly souvenirs of death.

But blood is thicker than water. And a lot of blood will be spilt . . .

DEAD MEN’S DUST introduces Joe Hunter, an all action hero with a strong moral code. Like the gunslingers of the Wild West, Hunter is not afraid to use his weapons and his fists – but only to save the victims from the bad guys.

To visit Matt Hilton’s website, click here.
Or to visit his blog, click here.

Dead Men’s Dust

Sheena: Queen Of The Jungle

Film GenericSheena: Queen Of The Jungle features former Bond Girl, Tanya Roberts naked. Sometimes she is covered in a few discreetly placed animal skins, but it doesn’t really matter – this film is all about Tanya Roberts’ body. Which if you’re going to concentrate on Tanya Roberts, it’s definitely her best asset, because the poor girl can’t act to save herself.

The adventure begins in the Kingdom of Tigora, in the land of the Zambouli people. A husband and wife scientific team are traveling with their daughter. They have come to this part of the world because they have heard the legend of a ‘healing earth’. That is, that when some tribesmen have become very sick, by being buried up to their neck’s in this ‘healing earth’ has cured them of their ailments.

The scientists trace the magical earth to some caves within a mountain. They get up early leaving their daughter in the care of some natives. The young daughter is a restless spirit though and sneaks out from one of the tents and follows her parents. As they are inside the caves, the young girl calls out to her Mommy. Mum answers back, but the echo inside the cave causes a rockfall. Both parents end up dead.

Sheena, as the young girl is now called, is brought up by the Shaman of the Zambouli people (Elizabeth of Toro). The Shaman teaches her all about the land and it’s creatures great and small – even teaching her telepathic skills which allow her to communicate with the animals. After a quick montage of Sheena growing up (into Tanya Roberts) with Elephants, Hippos, Chimpanze’s and Snakes, we move forward to the present day.

In the City of Azan, the benevolent ruler, King Jabalani (Clifton Jones) is about to marry Countess Zanda (France Zobda). Arriving for the wedding is the King’s younger brother, Prince Otwani (Trevor Thomas). Otwani has been educated in the United States and has become a Pro American footballer. As a sideline he has also had the Kingdom of Tigora geologically surveyed (via satellite – if that’s possible?) and has discovered that the Zabouli tribe sit on a site of valuable potanium. Now the Prince has big plans. Firstly, he is in cahoots, with the King’s soon to be wife. They both plan to kill him and then take over the Kingdom. With absolute power, they intend to run the Zambouli people off their land and then mine the potanium for all it’s worth.

But the Prince isn’t the only guy who has flown in for the wedding. Two ‘Sports World’ reporters, Vic Casey (Ted Wass) and ‘Fletch’ Fletcher (Donovan Scott) have arrived to cover the event – focussing on the footballing Prince – naturally!

The first part of Otwani and Zanda’s plan works to perfection, as the King is assassinated at his wedding reception. Adding to the plot, the Zambouli people are blamed for the killing. But not everyone buys the setup, especially Casey and Fletcher, who have filmed some evidence that would suggest otherwise. But this is of little consequence to Otwani who has assemble an army to crush anyone who stands in his way.

One of those people is Sheena: Queen Of The Jungle and she has a few tricks up her sleeve. Well she doesn’t really have any sleeves and her outfit is pretty skimpy – let’s just say she has a few tricks but I am not quite sure where she keeps them.

If I was a film producer and had millions of dollars to invest, and you came up to me and pitched the script to Sheena to me, I tell you, I’d give you at least 50 to 75 mill off the bat. What’s not to like? The story has everything – a gorgeous heroine, a courageous hero, honour, loss, betrayal, fantastic locations, action, drama and romance. Unfortunately the story sort of gets ruined by the presentation. Roberts is gorgeous but can’t act – that kills your drama and your romance. Wass is ineffectual as the hero (obviously Doug McClure was too old for the role) – and that kills your action, drama and romance. The music by Richard Hartley is absolute crap. It is Vangelis inspired, which is fine if you’re making a sequel to Chariots Of Fire, but for an African adventure movie, it’s pretty abysmal. It may suit the one or two slow-mo shots as Sheena rides her Zebra, but for any action sequences, it simply renders the scene impotent.

But the film isn’t all crap. The cinematography is excellent, and it all looks like it was filmed on location. There is only one scene that has some jarring rear projection photography. The rest is pure National Geographic. It’s good stuff. And secondly, the person who painted the horse to look like a zebra has a true flare for retro design.

Sheena: Queen Of The Jungle

Skeleton Key

Author: Anthony Horowitz
Publisher: Walker Books
Published: 2002

I know I am doing this out of order, and one day I will go back and do reviews of Stormbreaker and Point Blanc. Skeleton Key is the third in the series of teenage spy, Alex Rider books written by Anthony Horowitz. The first thing you should know about Horowitz’s books is that they are first rate. I don’t know why, but currently I believe ‘Young Adult’ fiction is more imaginative and better written than a lot of the so-called adult fiction that is out there. If you are concerned that reading a ‘Young Adult’ book would be a diluted reading experience, let me assure you that Horowitz books have a healthy dose of bone crunching violence, death, mayhem and destruction. The only aspect that is toned down is the heroes sexual relationships. Obviously they are in tune with what you’d expect from a fourteen year old boy.

The hero of this book is Alex Rider and he has quite a back story. Before I go any further, as I mentioned at the outset, this is the third book in the Alex Rider series and although you could read this book as a stand alone piece, it is a series that is best read in order. There are numerous illusions to Alex’s past missions and characters he has dealt with.
But to bring you up to speed, Alex is a fourteen year old boy who lives in London. His parents died when he was young and he was brought up by his uncle, Ian Rider. Alex believed the his uncle worked for a bank, when in fact he was a M.I.6 operative. Little did Alex realise that all the leisure, sporting and holiday activities that his uncle exposed him to, where giving him a set of skills that could and would prepare him for a life as a secret agent. When Ian Rider is killed (in Stormbreaker), Alex is reluctantly recruited by M.I.6 to finish his uncle’s mission.

This novel starts on a small Cuban island called Cayo Esqueleto, or Skeleton Key if you prefer, and two couriers are delivering a shipment of weapons grade uranium to a rogue Russian General named Sarov. The couriers foolishly try to alter the bargain, requesting more money. Sarov deals with them with a rather harsh way – the couriers end up being a meal for some hungry crocodiles.

Meanwhile, back in London, schoolboy Alex Rider, after a chance meeting with an M.I.6 controller named Crawley, is at Wimbledon. Not watching the tennis as he would have liked, but as a ball boy. Apparently there have been mysterious goings on at the All England Tennis Club, and Crawley wanted Alex to have a snoop around. And snoop he does. Soon he has uncovered a plot by a Triad syndicate to alter the results of the matches (by secretly drugging some of the players). Alex foils the Triads plans – forcing them to lose a vast amount of money in bets.

After Wimbledon, Alex then spends some time in Cornwall surfing. One morning a Triad member attempts to kill Alex by running over him with a jet ski. Alex survives the attempt and is soon called into M.I.6 headquarters. It seems that Alex is now on a Triad hitlist. More attempts on his life will be made. The Triad will keep coming until they have killed him. But there is something that can be done about it. M.I.6 are not entirely without influence and through discreet channels, they can eventually call off the hit on Alex. But all this takes time. Over the following days Alex will still be in great danger. It is decided that he should go into hiding. And conveniently enough, M.I.6 have just brokered a deal with the C.I.A. They require a young boy for one of their operations and M.I.6 have kindly donated Alex’s services.

Alex is not happy. He does not consider himself a spy – and certainly does see himself as an asset that M.I.6 can just ‘loan’ out whenever they want. Despite this, Alex finds himself on his way to Miami to participate in a C.I.A operation.

In Miami, Alex is given his mission briefing. He is to play the part of the son to two American agents, Belinda Troy and Tom Turner. The two Americans aren’t thrilled at the prospect at having to chaperone a child as a part of their cover – but it is the only way they can get into Cuba and onto the island of Cayo Esqueleto without raising suspicion. Once the three operatives have arrived safely on Skeleton Key, it is deemed that Alex should just stay out of the way and leave the spying to the two professional adults – but of course, things don’t quite work out that way!

I love the Alex Rider books. It has to be admitted that they wouldn’t exist if there was a Bondian universe to parody. Alex goes through all the usual Bondian setpieces before heading off on his mission, including a session with the gadget master, Smithers, who equips Alex with all manner of small gadgets that come in handy over the course of the mission. But Horowitz uses the Bond framework to write great adventures for his hero Alex Rider, twisting it to suit the demographic he is writing for. For example, Bond could never really do Wimbledon – and certainly couldn’t be a ball boy! So Horowitz utilises the universe he has created for Alex to the full.

If you’ve never read an Alex Rider book because you believe they are kids stuff, then let me reassure you that Horowitz does not write down to his audience. A few months back I read the Man From UNCLE book ‘The Affair of the Gunrunners Gold’. It too is a children’s book, and when I read it, I certainly got the feeling that I was reading a kids book. The wording and phrasing was simple, and the plot was as thin as tissue paper. Horowitz doesn’t take this approach. He treats his readers as ‘adults’ and as such the stories read incredibly well whatever age you are. I am really looking forward to revisiting some more of Alex’s adventures.

Skeleton Key

Skeleton Key

By Anthony Horowitz
Published by Walker Books 2002

I know I am doing this out of order, and one day I will go back and do reviews of Stormbreaker and Point Blanc. Skeleton Key is the third in the series of teenage spy, Alex Rider books written by Anthony Horowitz. The first thing you should know about Horowitz’s books is that they are first rate. I don’t know why, but currently I believe ‘Young Adult’ fiction is more imaginative and better written than a lot of the so-called adult fiction that is out there. If you are concerned that reading a ‘Young Adult’ book would be a diluted reading experience, let me assure you that Horowitz books have a healthy dose of bone crunching violence, death, mayhem and destruction. The only aspect that is toned down is the heroes sexual relationships. Obviously they are in tune with what you’d expect from a fourteen year old boy.

The hero of this book is Alex Rider and he has quite a back story. Before I go any further, as I mentioned at the outset, this is the third book in the Alex Rider series and although you could read this book as a stand alone piece, it is a series that is best read in order. There are numerous illusions to Alex’s past missions and characters he has dealt with.
But to bring you up to speed, Alex is a fourteen year old boy who lives in London. His parents died when he was young and he was brought up by his uncle, Ian Rider. Alex believed the his uncle worked for a bank, when in fact he was a M.I.6 operative. Little did Alex realise that all the leisure, sporting and holiday activities that his uncle exposed him to, where giving him a set of skills that could and would prepare him for a life as a secret agent. When Ian Rider is killed (in Stormbreaker), Alex is reluctantly recruited by M.I.6 to finish his uncle’s mission.

This novel starts on a small Cuban island called Cayo Esqueleto, or Skeleton Key if you prefer, and two couriers are delivering a shipment of weapons grade uranium to a rogue Russian General named Sarov. The couriers foolishly try to alter the bargain, requesting more money. Sarov deals with them with a rather harsh way – the couriers end up being a meal for some hungry crocodiles.

Meanwhile, back in London, schoolboy Alex Rider, after a chance meeting with an M.I.6 controller named Crawley, is at Wimbledon. Not watching the tennis as he would have liked, but as a ball boy. Apparently there have been mysterious goings on at the All England Tennis Club, and Crawley wanted Alex to have a snoop around. And snoop he does. Soon he has uncovered a plot by a Triad syndicate to alter the results of the matches (by secretly drugging some of the players). Alex foils the Triads plans – forcing them to lose a vast amount of money in bets.

After Wimbledon, Alex then spends some time in Cornwall surfing. One morning a Triad member attempts to kill Alex by running over him with a jet ski. Alex survives the attempt and is soon called into M.I.6 headquarters. It seems that Alex is now on a Triad hitlist. More attempts on his life will be made. The Triad will keep coming until they have killed him. But there is something that can be done about it. M.I.6 are not entirely without influence and through discreet channels, they can eventually call off the hit on Alex. But all this takes time. Over the following days Alex will still be in great danger. It is decided that he should go into hiding. And conveniently enough, M.I.6 have just brokered a deal with the C.I.A. They require a young boy for one of their operations and M.I.6 have kindly donated Alex’s services.

Alex is not happy. He does not consider himself a spy – and certainly does see himself as an asset that M.I.6 can just ‘loan’ out whenever they want. Despite this, Alex finds himself on his way to Miami to participate in a C.I.A operation.

In Miami, Alex is given his mission briefing. He is to play the part of the son to two American agents, Belinda Troy and Tom Turner. The two Americans aren’t thrilled at the prospect at having to chaperone a child as a part of their cover – but it is the only way they can get into Cuba and onto the island of Cayo Esqueleto without raising suspicion. Once the three operatives have arrived safely on Skeleton Key, it is deemed that Alex should just stay out of the way and leave the spying to the two professional adults – but of course, things don’t quite work out that way!

I love the Alex Rider books. It has to be admitted that they wouldn’t exist if there was a Bondian universe to parody. Alex goes through all the usual Bondian setpieces before heading off on his mission, including a session with the gadget master, Smithers, who equips Alex with all manner of small gadgets that come in handy over the course of the mission. But Horowitz uses the Bond framework to write great adventures for his hero Alex Rider, twisting it to suit the demographic he is writing for. For example, Bond could never really do Wimbledon – and certainly couldn’t be a ball boy! So Horowitz utilises the universe he has created for Alex to the full.

If you’ve never read an Alex Rider book because you believe they are kids stuff, then let me reassure you that Horowitz does not write down to his audience. A few months back I read the Man From UNCLE book ‘The Affair of the Gunrunners Gold’. It too is a children’s book, and when I read it, I certainly got the feeling that I was reading a kids book. The wording and phrasing was simple, and the plot was as thin as tissue paper. Horowitz doesn’t take this approach. He treats his readers as ‘adults’ and as such the stories read incredibly well whatever age you are. I am really looking forward to revisiting some more of Alex’s adventures.

Skeleton Key

Karamurat Seyh Gaffara Karsi

Film GenericKaramurat Seyh Gaffara Karsi, a Turkish Italian co production, is an Arabian Nights style swashbuckler with a healthy dose of Kung-Fu thrown in for good measure. It starts with Mamaluth, a Khan in a Middle Eastern country, sending four envoys to one of his provinces.

It seems the ruler of this province, Mustapha, is a tyrant who is getting too big for his boots. He refuses to pay the Khan the provincial taxes, choosing to keep them for himself. And furthermore, despite his tyrannical ways, Mustapha’s subjects show a fanatical loyalty to him. The envoys arrive at Mustapha’s court and witness firsthand the power that Mustapha has over his subjects. His subjects are willing to commit suicide or even sacrifice their own children. After the display, Mustapha throws three of the envoys into the dungeons, leaving the other to return to Mamaluth with the bad news that Mustapha no longer considers himself under the Khan’s rule.

The king then chooses his finest warrior to go alone to Mustapha’s province and sort out he problems. This warrior’s name is Karamurat and he is played by Cuneyt (George) Arkin. His name may not be familiar to Western audiences, but in his heyday, he was a superstar in Turkey. As Karamurat, he talks tough: “How would you like me to tear out your moustache!” And he acts tough: in one scene after a brawl, a villain tries to escape on horseback. Rather than fire an arrow, he picks up a battered and bruised minion and throws him at the escaping rider.

During his quest, Kuramurat has run-ins, not only with Mustapha’s guards (which there are plenty to beat up on), but also with Ali Baba and his Forty Thieves and a trio of Kung-Fu fighting Chinese dope merchants.

However, Karamurat’s greatest challenge is to overcome is the wicked charms of Selema, Mustapha’s favourite concubine. It’s her propensity to take off her clothes that stop this from being a kids’ film, which is a shame (not that I mind seeing her dancing around topless), but the story is in the style of a ‘boys own adventure’. Unfortunately little boys can’t watch it due to her quasi – psychedelic/erotic dance routines.

Ultimately, Karamurat Seyh Gaffara Karsiis a fairly innocuous time waster. For me, the enjoyment came from seeing how the Turks handle this kind of subject matter. It’s not that different from Hollywood, but with the addition of Kung Fu, and I’d guess this addition has more to do with the success of Bruce Lee and his successors, than a movement in the Turkish film industry.

Karamurat Seyh Gaffara Karsi

The Phantom Of The Opera

Film GenericThe Phantom Of The Opera is a tale that has been told many times, but in recent years, the success of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical version, both on stage and on screen, has overshadowed some of the earlier telling of the tale. This version is the Hammer Studios version, and like many of their films, it deviates from the source material, but still provides a great little story.

The film begins on the opening night of Lord Ambrose d’Arcy’s (Michael Gough) new opera ‘Joan Of Arc’. For weeks the Opera House, in the lead-up to the production, has been plagued by small accidents. Some people even believe that the theatre is haunted. The bad luck continues during the performance when one of the stage hands, hanging from a rope around his neck, tears one of the backdrops and swings out into the middle of the stage, dead.

The leading lady in the production quits and the season of ‘Joan Of Arc’ is postponed until a replacement can be found. The production Manager, Harry Hunter (Edward de Souza) finds a girl named Christine Charles (Heather Sears) who has the voice to fit the bill. But Lord d’Arcy is a lecherous swine and tries to take advantage of the rising starlets desire to perform. She rebuffs his advances and d’Arcy fires her from the production and seeks a new starlet to sing the lead.

Hunter tries to reason with d’Arcy, but for his trouble he gets fired too. Afterwards he goes to Christine’s lodgings to tell her the bad news. At the lodgings, however, the landlady tells him of one of her previous tenants, Professor Petrie who was a composer who died in a fire many years previously.

Hunter does some investigating into the death of Professor Petrie. It seems that Petrie wrote a great deal of music, but broke, went to Lord d’Arcy to see if he could get his work published. Lord d’Arcy agreed to buy and publish the work, but instead stole it, and put his name to the music. In a fit of rage, Petrie went to the printers that were running off ‘d’Arcy’s ill gotten sheet music and threw all the printed sheets into the furnace. One sheet fell out of the furnace and onto the floor starting a small fire. Petrie picked up a bucket filled with acid, thinking that it is water. He then threw the acid on the fire, and it splashed back in his face. Blinded in one eye and in tremendous pain, Petrie ran from the printers, out into the street, and then threw him self into the river – never to be seen again.

The Phantom Of The Opera is not a true horror film. Their are a couple of violent scenes, but they aren’t too shocking. Like the best of Hammer, what this film has got going for it, is a sense of atmosphere, and a great ensemble of character actors. Lom is good, but considering he spends most of the movie hidden behind a mask it is his voice that carries his performance. Michael Gough though is brilliantly evil as Lord Ambrose d’Arcy, and he dominates every scene he is in. All in all, The Phantom Of The Opera is an entertaining tale in true Hammer style, of good versus evil, corruption and revenge.

The Phantom Of The Opera

Ten Little Indians

10littleIndiansTMGI am a simple man with simple tastes. And if you put Shirley Eaton and Daliah Lavi together in a movie then you’re pandering to those tastes. Such a pairing occurs in the pot-boiler, Ten Little Indians, based on the novel And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.

The film opens in the dead of winter, with eight guests arriving at a train station in Austria. Then they take a cable car up the snow covered mountain to castle residence of Mr. Owen, who is to be their host for the evening. Upon arrival they are greeted by the manservant and his wife, Joseph and Elsa Grohmann (Mario Adorph and Marianne Hoppe). The guests are stunned to learn that their host is not at the castle but will be arriving later in the evening for dinner.

As none of the guests know each other they introduce themselves. The guests are Hugh Lombard (Hugh O’Brian), Ann Clyde (Shirley Eaton), Mike Raven (Fabian), General Sir John Mandrake (Leo Genn), Detective William Henry Blore (Stanley Holloway), Judge Arthur Cannon (Wilfrid Hyde-White), Dr. Edward Armstrong (Dennis Price) and Ilona Bergen (Daliah Lavi). Once they have met, they also ascertain that none of them actually know their host, Mr Owen. They call in Grohmann the manservant to find out a bit more about there host, only to find that he and his wife were only employed two days previously through an employment agency. It appears that no one knows their host at all. But all should be revealed when he arrives for dinner! Not to be. Mr. Owen doesn’t turn up. The guests are slightly concerned, but Owen may have been delayed by the snow.

Later that evening as the guests relax in the parlour, a recorded message begins to play. The message in from Mr. U.N. Owen (Unknown – get it?), and it is voiced by venerated horror film icon Christopher Lee. Owen charges the house guests with the following crimes. Ann Clyde murdered his sister’s fiancé Richard Barclay – Bergen brought about the death of her husband in a cold blooded and brutal fashion – Lombard is guilty of the death of Jennifer Hays – Raven murdered William and Lisa Stern – Mandrake sent five men to their deaths – Cannon was responsible for the death of a innocent man – Armstrong killed Miss Ivy Bedson – and Blore through perjured testimony sent a man to his death. But it is not only the guests who are on trial, but the staff as well. Joseph and Elsa Grohmann are accused of the death of their previous employer.

After this rude attack upon the guests character, each of them wants to leave the castle. Grohmann tries to arrange it but the phone is dead, and the cable car is not operating at this time of the evening. They all decide to make the best of it and decide to ride it out. That is until Mike Raven drops dead from cyanide poisoning.

As this film is a ‘whodunnit’ murder mystery, I won’t outline any more of the plot, needless to say that the guests are picked off one by one, by an unseen assailant – and each murder correlates to the Ten Little Indians nursery rhyme.

Most of the enjoyment in this film comes from the cast. I’ve already mentioned the girls, but the old stagers aren’t bad either. In the end Ten Little Indians is a half decent little thriller that has much in common with the Krimi thrillers that were being made at the same time, the difference being that this is based on Agatha Christie, rather than an Edgar Wallace story. While you can’t really consider it a Krimi, if you happen to be watching The College Girl Murders or The Strangler Of Blackmoor Castle, then add this film to your list. It will slot in very nicely.

Ten Little Indians

Hannie Caulder

HannieTMGHannie Caulder is a film that is very hard to classify. Sure it’s a western, but what kind of western is it? It appears to be a Spaghetti Western, produced by the British; and made by and starring Americans. Furthermore at times, particularly during the opening scenes, it comes across as a dirty little exploitation picture. Adding to that it often veers off into black comedy. Strangely that comedy is performed by the three most repugnant characters in the film – almost as if the film-makers wanted us to like them.

Here’s a quick overview of the story. The three Clemens brothers, Emmett (Ernest Borgnine), Frank (Jack Elam), and Rufus (Strother Martin) ride into a sleepy Mexican town. It is the middle of the day, and all of the Federales are taking a siesta. The Brothers make their way to the bank and hold it up. The robbery goes wrong and it turns into a violent bloody shootout. With the Federales awoken, the would be banditos mount their horses and gallop out of town. With the Federales hard on their heels, the Clemens boys ride their horses pretty hard until they are worn out.

Here, they come upon a farm with a corral full of fresh horses. As they attempt to steal some new beasts, the owner of the property enters the picture brandishing a shotgun. Unfortunately he doesn’t notice Rufus off to his left, also carrying a shotgun. Rufus fires and the farmer is killed. Inside the small homestead, the farmer’s wife, Hannie (Raquel Welch) is preparing a meal. Frank, Emmett and Rufus stumble into the house and repeatedly rape her.

With fresh horses and their carnal desires satiated, the brothers ride off leaving Hannie to die in the burning homestead. She manages to scramble out before the building collapses, but her only possession is a Mexican poncho which barely covers her.

Desolately she waits at the house. What for? – we’ll never know. Suddenly a stranger appears with two horses. The man is Thomas Luther Price (Robert Culp), and he is one of the most feared and respected bounty hunters in the country – depending on which side of the law you stand.

Hannie offers her body to him if he will teach her to shoot. He says no and rides off. She refuses to take no for an answer and follows him on foot. Eventually Price gives in, and agrees to teach Hannie the art of gunfighting, so se can seek revenge.

Hannie Caulder is an uneven film, not only because of the differing styles, but because the actors appear to be acting in different films. The Clemens Brother are the Three Stooges – that is if the Three Stooges were violent psychopathic rapists. Everything they do is wrong – the bank heist goes wrong – a stagecoach robbery goes wrong. They are just plain incompetent. At one point Emmett explains that everything would have been okay if their father was still alive – only to learn that Rufus accidentally killed their Daddy while cleaning his gun. I don’t know if it is meant to be black comedy, but the lines are delivered as if it is.

Next we have Raquel Welch. This film was made at the peak of her popularity, and she certainly looks great, especially in the poncho. But as a rape victim her character is damaged goods. But at times this film displays a double standard – she wants revenge because she was brutally raped, but to get this revenge she is willing to offer her body to Price. Even when a sleazy sheriff spanks he on the ass, she passes it off as a joke. Now I am far from being an expert on the psychology of rape victims, but I can accept that after such an incident, that the sex act would no longer have any meaning to Hannie. But the fact that she is so doggedly determined to track down and kill the men who violated her would indicate otherwise. As I said, I am not an expert, but to me the character seems uneven.

That brings us to Robert Culp. I have seen Culp in numerous television shows, but in very few movies. Based on my limited viewing experience, I would say that this is Culp’s best performance. He is the ‘heart’ of the picture. He is noble, fair, and great with a gun. In real life, nice guys often finish last, but not so here. Of course, if you are going to watch Hannie Caulder, you are watching it foe Raquel Welch – I understand and appreciate that. But this is not a skin flick. It’s about performances, and Culp gives the best one.

And worth a quick mention, venerated horror film icon Christopher Lee makes a small appearance as a gun smith, and what’s more – he’s a good guy?

I’d like to recommend Hannie Caulder very highly. But I can’t. It’s bit too confused and the character motivations are skewed. I can even see some people being offended by this film. But it is a ‘revenge and retribution’ flick, so some unpleasantness is to be expected. Maybe this would make a great vengeful female gunfighter double feature, teamed up with The Quick And The Dead.

Hannie Caulder

Goliath and the Sins of Babylon

Film GenericGoliath and the Sins of Babylon is one of the better peplum films I have watched recently. This is due to two reasons. The first is the cast, and the second is that it seems to have had more money thrown at it than most.

The film opens in the town of Methra, which is under the control of the Babylonians. Each year, as a tribute to their rulers, the Methranites send thirty young virgins to Babylon. As the girls are being rounded up, one of them tries to escape. Three soldiers capture her and man-handle her roughly. This doesn’t go over too well with Goliath (Mark Forest). He steps in and makes short work of the soldiers.

A midget (or a little person, if you prefer) who is hiding in a barrel strapped to a pack horse warns Goliath that more soldiers are on their way. I don’t know why Sword & Sandal epics have this fascination for ‘little people’ – they just do. And now, I must admit, if I see a S&S film and it doesn’t have a comic relief midget, I don’t feel I have got my money’s worth.

But back to the story. Goliath doesn’t seem too perturbed that more soldiers will come after him. The ‘little guy’ on the other hand, is worried, and runs off to tell two burly pals that Goliath is in trouble. The two guys happen to be Xandros (Giuliano Gemma) and Alceas (Mimmo Palmara). The three men team up and plan to overthrow the Babylonians.

At the top I talked about the budget and the cast. Expanding upon that, the money was put to good use, firstly on a ocean battle, where two ship engage in a bit of pirate style warfare, and secondly on a chariot race. The race isn’t up to the standard, or provide the level of excitement as the race in Ben Hur, but then again, what would? As for the cast, the main actors are all pretty good. In other reviews I have been farely scathing in my assesment of Mark Forest’s acting ability, but have to admit that he is pretty good in this. He is ably assisted by Giuliano Gemma and Mimmo Palmara. All three get a fair amount of screen time, and each has individual battles and opponents to overcome. Gemma comes off particularly well, displaying a degree of acrobatics that was never showcased in the Spaghetti Westerns that he is so famous for. With three male leads, unfortunately the female lead, José Greci doesn’t get much screen time. Of course, she still looks great though.

One of the highlights of the film is when the villain of the piece has captured Goliath and is about to torture him. Goliath is tied to a table which sits under a roof with holes in it. Housed in each hole is a spear, which is attached to a length of rope. When the connecting rope is cut, one of the spears drops down from it’s hole above. When the villain forces Xandros and Alceas to cut the ropes, it’s a waiting game as each spear falls. Which rope will release the spear that will kill Goliath?

I am far from an expert on peplum films. With each film I see I learn new things. Some of the ones I have seen so far, have had me wondering why the genre was so successful – but then I stumble on a film like this one, which was obviously made at the peak of the genre’s popularity, and it all becomes clear. At there best, peplum movies are damn good fun. They aren’t boring. And they don’t have to have poor visual effects and rubber monsters to entertain. This is one of the good ones.

Goliath and the Sins of Babylon

Dirty Harry

clinteastwoodI don’t have to introduce police inspector Harry Callahan to many people. I am sure most people reading this review have seen one film in the series (or at least know the character I am talking about). I discovered Dirty Harry twice. The first time was when I was a young teenager, then later as an old teenager.

When I was thirteen, I went through a big Clint Eastwood phase. I hate to admit this, but this is probably because I was taken to see Every Which Way But Loose at the local drive-in. After that I tried to see every Eastwood movie I could. This is before video really took off in Australia. So, to see these films I had to rely on terrestrial television. Back in the early 1980’s television censorship in Australia was very severe. We had what they called AO MOD TV movies – standing for Adults Only Modified for Television. Well the censors worked overtime on Dirty Harry, cutting out whole scenes and great chunks on dialogue. It is a testament to the strength of the movie that despite the removal of the violence and swearing, it was still a bloody good film. The cuts obviously diluted Dirty Harry from how it was originally intended to be seen, but in others ways opened up the film to a new youthful audience.

Four or five years later and I finally got to see an uncut version of Dirty Harry, and if you’ll forgive the Harryesque wordplay, I was blown away. I couldn’t believe what a powerful and incredibly different movie viewing experience it was.

But that’s enough reminiscing. For the three people out there who haven’t seen it, Dirty Harry opens in the city of San Francisco, with a girl taking a swim in a roof top pool. On another adjacent rooftop, which overlooks the first, Scorpio (Andrew Robinson) takes aim at the girl with an assault riffle. He fires and she dies. It is not a revenge killing or the result of a relationship gone bad. Scorpio is a psychopath and has killed her, just because she was there.

As the titles run, police arrive at the crime scene. Inspector Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) scouts the vantage points from which the sniper could have fired. On one of the rooftops, attached to a television antenna is a note from Scorpio addressed to the Mayor of San Francisco.

Scorpio wants money. If he doesn’t get it, he will shoot a Catholic priest or a negro. After a meeting with the Mayor, a message is put in the newspaper agreeing to pay Scorpio, but it is merely a ploy to gain time.

But Scorpio never really appears that interested in the money. Sure he goes through the motions of trying to collect it, but for him it’s more about the killing. And he plans to kill again. And kill he does.

Soon after Scorpio kidnaps a young girl and demands a ransom. Harry agrees to take the money to Scorpio, but this only begins a cat and mouse game between the two protagonists.

Dirty Harry features an interesting bunch of characters, and actors to portray them. First is Clint Eastwood. At the time, Eastwood had some success with his trio of ‘Dollar’ Spaghetti Westerns and a few other films, but Dirty Harry really launched him into the stratosphere. Sure, there had been loner cops before, but had any of them had the impact of Dirty Harry? The character, with his droll sarcasm, and cool one-liners became a blueprint for so many action heroes that were to follow. It has been reported that the role of Harry Callahan had originally been offered to Frank Sinatra. While I have no doubt that Frank would have made a fine tough cop, I doubt the character would have gone on to become the cinematic icon that he has. It also must be mentioned, a lot of Harry’s success must be attributed to his choice of handgun, the 44 magnum. The gun is almost a character in itself. Harry’s determination to stop crime at any cost, is really symbolised by ‘the most powerful handgun in the world’.

The next character we have is Chico Gonzalez; portrayed by Reni Santoni. Films often have sacrificial victims to make the heroes journey seem more personal and perilous. Not that Chico dies, but he is the sacrificial victim in this movie. He gets shot up pretty good. As much as Clint and Harry became a template for the loner cop, Chico and Santoni set up the template for the unwanted junior partner in police films. The progeny of his character can be seen in the films of Chuck Norris, Steven Segal, and even in the sequels to Dirty Harry itself. By the time of the fourth sequel, The Dead Pool, the junior partner had almost become a joke. As an adjunct, it’s great to see Santoni went from unwanted partner in Dirty Harry, to experienced ‘wanted’ partner, Sergeant Gonzales in Cobra with Sylvester Stallone in 1986.

Andrew Robinson brings a totally new style to interpreting psychopathic characters. Compare Scorpio to James Cagney as Cody Jarret in White Heat. Both characters are unhinged, but Jarrett was only really a threat to the police and other criminals. But Scorpio’s victims were random. Robinson is absolutely unsettling and unpredictable in his characterisation. One minute he is laughing and cackling; the next he is ranting and raving. Again his portrayal was groundbreaking and many imitators followed. Since I have already mentioned Cobra, it is worth noting that Robinson changed over to the side of law and order, and plays Stallone’s superior, Detective Monte in that film.

Dirty Harry is an iconic film. The style it set dominated police films for the next twenty years. It wasn’t until the arrival of The Silence Of The Lambs that police thrillers moved off into different, more dark territory. The massive amount of imitators, including it’s own sequels, have slightly dimmed Harry’s impact. If it was a stand alone picture, I am sure it would be considered an all time classic. When they compile top 100 films of all time, Dirty Harry should always be in the top 10. But as it stands, it will have to settle for being one of the greatest cop thrillers of all time. And that’s not a bad thing. It’s a film I revisit again and again. Highly recommended.

Dirty Harry