Super7even on DVD

Over the past few months, my friend Bob Griffith has been producing a web series called The Adventures of Super7even, which is an enthusiastic homage to those masked super hero and spy films of the 1960s, and will bring a smile to the face of those who grew up watching Diabolik, Argoman, The Three Fantastic Supermen and Superargo, as well as small screen shows such as The Man From UNCLE and Get Smart.

Now all sixteen episodes of The Adventures of Super7even have been collected into a 2 disk DVD set, which also includes Blooper Reels, the Original Series Pitch Video, Cast And Crew Interviews, Behind The Scenes Video, a Photo Gallery, and a “60 Second Film School” short feature. All in all, there is four hours of material!!!

If it sounds like your cup of tea, The Adventures of Super7even can be ordered from eBay or directly from the Super7even site.

Super7even on DVD

Fighting the Demons: The Lester Ellis Story

Author: Lester Ellis / Robert Drane
Publisher: ABC Books
Published: 2007

Fighting the Demons is a pretty sad book. Like many Australians, I remember when Lester Ellis became the IBF Lightweight Champion after defeating Korean, Hwan-Kil Yuh in 1985. It was televised in rural Australia, and was a major event. For Ellis, it was a meteoric rise, and the press dubbed him the ‘Master Blaster’. And as viewers, and as fans, we loved him. Australia is sports mad – particularly in Melbourne, and a sporting champion, in any discipline is treated to levels of adulation befitting a rockstar. And that was a part of the problem. Ellis was only 19 years old, and possibly not ready for all the adulation – and the ‘hangers on’ who came with the championship belt.

This book charts Ellis’ rise and his subsequent fall from grace. Although initially his fall, wasn’t that far – it was simply after he lost a title defence against fellow Australian Barry Michael, the public lost interest – despite the fact that he still had plenty of good fights (and fighting years) in front of him. It also details his battles with alcoholism. It is told in a frank, forthright style which at times can be hard to read. By that I mean, this is not a black-slapping tail of how great it is to be a world champion – or even to convey what a ‘great’ bloke he is. This story is warts and all. And at times, Ellis comes off pretty bitter, and defensive. But balancing that, he presents evidence to show how he became that way.

This book is not for everyone, and I would suggest it would be of little interest to international readers. But if you’re Australian and grew up watching the Master Blaster on television, this is a fascinating, but ultimately sad tale – although I am sure, Ellis isn’t after pity either. He is just laying it all out – take it or leave it – and I guess there’s a certain dignity in that.

In May:

May sees the launch of King of the Outback, the sixth book in the popular Fightcard series – and my literary debut (writing as Jack Tunney).

Set in Outback Australia, in Birdsville, one of the most remote towns on the planet, two rival boxing tents set up shop in competition with each other. In the sweltering heat, tensions simmer, tempers flare, and a tent burns.

For an up-to-date direct connection with the Fightcard series check out the home page, or for you youngsters, you can follow the Facebook Fan Page.

Fighting the Demons: The Lester Ellis Story

Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

Country: United States
Director: Robert Aldrich
Starring: Ralph Meeker, Albert Dekker, Paul Stewart, Juano Hernandez, Wesley Addy, Marian Carr, Maxine Cooper, Cloris Leachman, Strother Martin, Jack Elam
Music: Frank DeVol
Song, ‘Rather Have the Blues’ performed by Nat ‘King’ Cole
Based on characters created by Mickey Spillane

Warning: this review contains adult content.

The other day I looked at The Long Goodbye, starring Elliott Gould as Raymond Chandler’s private eye, Philip Marlowe. It stirred up some interesting debate about the character, the book, and film noir itself. Following on, today, I thought I’d look at another iconic noir character, Mike Hammer – in the film, Kiss Me Deadly.

At a cursory glance, Philip Marlowe and Mike Hammer may seem like they are cut from the same cloth — but beyond the fact that they are both private investigators they are both very different and this is mainly due to the writing styles of Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane. Chandler is actually pretty classy and well-written even though it may not have seemed it in it’s day. Time has shown Chandler to be an expert craftsman, and his stories have a sweep and sense of vibrant colour about them. Philip Marlowe’s stomping ground is Los Angeles, and quite often Hollywood. During the course of one of Marlowe’s investigations the neon glow is scrutinised, and all is not quite what it appears on the surface. He is basically a good guy in a corrupt world, but he does his best to plod away and hopefully make a few things right.

Spillane’s Hammer stalks the streets of New York. Stalk is the right word, because Hammer is even more cynical than Marlowe, and rather more violent. Hammer is prepared to take the law into his own hands — exemplified by the fact that Spillane’s first Hammer story was titled I, The Jury. Hammer’s world is far more gritty, dirty and unpleasant.

Spillane too, I believe is a great writer, but he doesn’t capture atmosphere like Chandler. What he captures is pent up emotion, spilling over into rage. But he tells a rattling good yarn and you almost feel as battered and bruised as Hammer, once you finish and put down the book.

From the blurb of Vengeance is Mine (Corgi, 1973 paperback edition):

Mickey Spillane, one of the world’s top mystery story writers, is read in fourteen languages every minute of every day. Since I, The Jury was published in 1947, his books have sold more than 55,000,000 copies throughout the world. People like them.

The Mike Hammer stories aren’t spy stories – although the film version of Kiss Me Deadly and the 1982 version of I, The Jury do cross over into espionage territory. However Spillane had a shot of writing a three book series of spy novels featuring a character called Tiger Mann. Thanks to Jason at Spy Vibe, I have been able to read one of the books, Day of the Guns, and it may come as no surprise to Spillane fans that it reads incredibly similar to a Hammer novel.

From the back of the book:

Meet the NEW SUPERHERO of COUNTERESPIONAGE – sexy, deadly
TIGER MANN

He’s a lone wolf in a ruthless game. he’s a master spy and a paid killer.
He’s the tough superhero of MICKEY SPILLANE’s biggest, newest hit, DAY OF THE GUNS.

“Mickey Spillane moves from the private eye field into the realm of the international agent. His latest character, Tiger Mann, slugs, shoots and beds in true Spillane style and vies for attention with such established greats as James Bond.”

-Boston Herald

But I’ll save Tiger Mann for another day.

Kiss Me Deadly is considered a hard-boiled noir classic. Also due to the ending being altered, the film also has carried a wrap for being nihilistic and an overt statement on Cold War paranoia. I’ll let wikipedia explain the alternate ending – and how it effected the way the film was received and perceived:

The original American release of the film shows Hammer and Velda escaping from the burning house at the end, running into the ocean as the words “The End” come over them on the screen. Sometime after its first release, the ending was crudely altered on the film’s original negative, removing over a minute’s worth of shots where Hammer and Velda escape and superimposing the words “The End” over the burning house. This implied that Hammer and Velda perished in the atomic blaze, and was often interpreted to represent the End of the World. In 1997, the original conclusion was restored.

But as usual I am starting arse-about, and describing the ending first. Let’s go back to the beginning. As the film opens, a woman named Christina (Cloris Leachman) is running scared along the road, naked save for a trenchcoat. Desperately she tries to flag down passing motorists but nobody stops for her. Finally she runs out into the middle of the road and into the path of an oncoming vehicle. Luckily for her, the driver skids to a halt. Behind the wheel is Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker), who reluctantly gives the terrified woman a lift.

Further up the road a police roadblock has been setup. It appears they are searching for a woman in a trenchcoat who has escaped from a mental asylum. At the roadblock, Hammer passes Christina off as his wife and is allowed to pass.

As Hammer approaches a bus stop, where he has agreed to drop Christina off, so she can continue her journey alone, a car rushes out from the side and runs Hammer off the road. Hammer is rendered unconscious in the bingle. Both Hammer and Christina are taken to a house where Christina is tortured until she dies. Hammer, meanwhile has woken up but is drifting in and out of consciousness – only capturing snippets of images in his mind.

Now that Christine is dead, the hitherto unseen hoods now have no further use for Christine or Hammer, and they place them in Hammer’s car. Then they shunt the car off an embankment as if it had been a car accident. Somehow, Hammer survives.

Hammer wakes in hospital with his faithful secretary, Velda (Maxine Cooper) and detective Pat Murphy (Wesley Addy) by his side. (Isn’t it usually Pat Chambers?) Murphy maybe a cop, but he isn’t there to interrogate Hammer – not yet anyway! The two men are old friends. But once Hammer is released from hospital, he is dragged down to police headquarters to be interrogated by some big-shot cops out of Washington. Hammer may not be a rocket scientist, but it doesn’t take much to work out that when you get that kind of attention, something ‘big’ must be going down. And he wants his cut!

Later, Hammer goes to his mechanic to ask about the damage to his car. The mechanic says that it is a right off, and also says some tough guys had come around and were asking questions. Next Hammer goes home, and outside two men are watching his apartment from a car outside. Then Pat Murphy arrives to revoke Hammer’s PI licence and confiscate his gun. It appears that everybody thinks Hammer knows something – but he doesn’t know what? But he is determined to find out.

Of course, a movie like this twists and turns through set piece after set piece, and outlining the plot and all the characters is rather futile. But needless to say Kiss Me Deadly serves up a heady stew of violence and deception, with a tiny smattering of sex (certainly not as much as the poster art would have you believe).

Ralph Meeker’s performance as Mike Hammer is lauded as one of the great tough guy roles. However, I am of the generation that grew up watching Stacey Keach as Hammer on TV. So when I first saw this at a revival theatre in the late 1980s, Meeker seemed quite a brutish Hammer. He is certainly more self-centred (that is, out for number one) than Keach. But over the years, I have warmed to Meeker’s performance, and some of his mannerisms, such as the brutish grin, are now old friends. There’s a great scene were Hammer is being tailed by a hood, and when Hammer confronts him, the hood pulls a shiv. As Hammer whallops the punk, the grin on his face signifies just how much he enjoys dishing out punishment to those who deserve it.

Another familiar face in Kiss Me Deadly is Jack Elam. A rather young Jack Elam! Here he plays a two-bit hood, who is so scrawny that he looks like an oboe in a Hawaiian shirt – rather a long way from the crazy old men, I am used to seeing him play in films like Cannonball Run and Rio Lobo.

Then there is Albert Dekker who plays the villaim of the piece, Doctor Soberlin. It’s not a big role, but the shadow and the menace of Soberlin permeates every scene in the movie. On a different note, but strangely could come from the pages of a Mickey Spillane novel, is the strange and bizarre death of Dekker. It is still debated whether he was the victim of a robbery – allegedly some items were missing from his home – or if his death was the result of autoerotic asphyxiation. The gruesome scene, how Dekker was found, as described on the findadeath website:

Dekker was kneeling nude in the bathtub. A noose was around his neck but not tight enough to have strangled him. A scarf was tied over his eyes and a horse’s bit was in his mouth, fashioned from a rubber ball and metal wire, the bit had chain “reins” that were tightly tied beneath his head. Two leather straps were stretched between the leather belts that girded his neck and chest. A third belt, around his waist, was tied with a rope that stretched to his ankles, where it had been tied in some kind of timber hitch. The end of the rope, which continued up his side, wrapped around his wrist several times and was held in Dekker’s hand. Handcuffs clamped both wrists with a key attached. Written in red lipstick on his right buttock was the word, “whip.” Sunrays had also been drawn around his nipples. “Make me suck,” was written on his throat, and “slave,” and “cocksucker,” on his chest. On his stomach was drawn a vagina. He had apparently been dead for several days.

Well, yes, ahem …little to say on Dekker really. That kind of notoriety overshadows any contribution to cinematic art.

Kiss Me Deadly probably represents the best cinematic rendering of Mike Hammer — although I must confess there are a few Hammer films I haven’t seen – Biff Elliot’s I, The Jury, Robert Bray’s My Gun is Quick, and Rob Estes’ Come Die With Me. But Kiss Me Deadly is a film I return to, again and again! Va Va Voom!

Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

The Black Prince

Author: Peter Corris
Publisher: Bantam Books
Published: 1998
Book No: 22 – Cliff Hardy series

For those not familiar with the character of Cliff Hardy, private investigator, he is a creation of Peter Corris and first appeared in the novel The Dying Trade in 1980. Since then he has been releasing Cliff Hardy stories regularly – at least thirty of them (that’s how many I have, but I am sure there are more). The Black Prince was about the third Cliff Hardy novel that I read. The first two I read were The Dying Trade and White Meat – books one and two in the Cliff Hardy series, and published in 1980 and 1981 respectively. I can barely remember them now, but I recall that they were very good (especially The Dying Trade) and elaborately labyrinthine – in the best tradition of Raymond Chandler. But by the time of The Black Prince, Cliff Hardy (and I suspect Peter Corris) had mellowed. Not in a bad way, but a comfortable way.

The Black Prince has twists and turns, as all good P.I. thrillers should have, but it is not told in as fractured fashion as the earlier entries in the series. It is smoother, and more accessible, and as a character, Hardy seems more ‘lived in’. Put simply, the story is damn pleasurable to read. Well, at least that’s my opinion. However, if you were to suggest that maybe the series had lost some of its ferocious bite – and it was the rough edges that made the first few books so great – I would not argue with you.

As the story opens, Private Investigator, Cliff Hardy is feeling his age. He is slightly out of shape and can’t quite take the rough stuff like he used to. To combat this, he signs on as a member at a local gym in Leichardt, which is run by a West Indian, named Wes Scott. Scott has a son named Clinton (the titular ‘Black Prince’), who is a top flight athlete, and studying at University. On the odd occasion, Clinton even helps out around the Gym.

During one of Hardy’s workouts, he notices that Wes looks troubled, and enquires to the cause. Wes explains that he hasn’t seen his son in a couple of weeks and he hasn’t been able to contact him. Obviously, Clinton’s mother is anxious too. Hardy offers to help – for pay of course! So Hardy makes a few enquires, and it doesn’t take long to find out what has caused the disappearance. It seems that Clinton’s girlfriend, Angela Cousins (who is also a sporty athletic type) is in a coma at the local hospital. She had been taking illegal steroids to improve her sporting competitiveness, and she had a extremely bad reaction. When Hardy stumbles on this information, Angela is about to have her life support switched off.

In a rage, Clinton has vowed to find those behind the bad drugs and kill them. And initially that’s all Hardy can find out. Clinton, to all intents and purposes has varnished off the face of the earth, but there is no evidence to suggest that he is dead. Hardy reluctantly calls a halt to the case as all his leads have run dry.

Several months later, some new information surfaces, and Hardy is once again on the trail. This leads him to Bingara in Southern NSW, and then up to a remote aboriginal settlement in Queensland. Then finally back to Sydney, and into the shady world of illegal boxing.

When it comes to the boxing, Peter Corris knows what he is talking about. He may be well known for his Cliff Hardy and Browning stories, but he also wrote a non-fiction book about prize-fighting in Australia in the early 1980s (I think? It’s very hard to come by these days). Corris’ knowledge and enthusiasm for boxing comes through in his prose – and the sequence at the underground smoko is rich with atmosphere. American readers may be thinking ‘Smoko’ – what’s he on about? In America underground fights are called ‘Smokers’, but here in Australia, we call them ‘Smokos’.

The Black Prince is a great piece of Australian genre fiction and I recommend it highly.

For more on Cliff Hardy, and author Peter Corris, check out Shane Maloney’s article (and interview) The Man and His City.

I have not read any of Peter Corris’ Ray ‘Creepy’ Crawley series – which consists of, The Vietnam Volunteer, The Time Trap, The Azanian Action, The Japanese Job, The Cargo Club, The Kimberley Killing, The Baltic Business, and Pokerface, but I am lead to believe they veer off into espionage territory.

The Black Prince

Secret Santa: Assignment Sphinx

Today marks the fifth anniversary of Permission to Kill, and I thought it was appropriate to look at something off the beaten track, and I was given that opportunity by my Secret Santa. You see, over the last month or so (depending on the postal services of the world), the minions of The Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit have united to torment each other – in a unique, festive way. I have been given a gift by a member of MOSS to review. Their aim is to push the envelope, and make me review something that is out of my comfort zone (that, and of course, to watch me squirm).

My Secret Santa has chosen to remain anonymous, and through the protection that anonymity provides, I am sure that from the comfort of their evil lair, they are thoroughly enjoying the embarrassing situation I now find myself in. You see, the gift was an Egyptian spy film – cover image above left. Now I don’t speak or read Egyptian/Arabic, so I don’t actually know the name of the film I am reviewing. Of course, I could have sent an email around to each of the Skeleton Suit members begging the responsible party to come forward, and at least tell me the name of the movie. But I am a very proud man, and I would feel as if I had been beaten in some form of quasi spy-film combat.

So in the tradition of Roger Corman, I am going to retitle this film to suit my own purposes. From now on, to all westerners, this film is called Agent X83: Assignment Sphinx. With that sorted, and without the aid of a safety net, I will now proceed. Next hurdle; the film doesn’t have subtitles. Well I have been down that road before, and as I have demonstrated on numerous other occasions, the international language of ‘spy’ crosses all borders. But to combat the language barrier (and make this review comprehensible), I’ll have to adopt some spy shorthand, just so you can get the gist of the story.

Firstly, there is this super spy fella, named Chavez, who always appears to be wearing sunglasses – even at night. And he appears to be the local head-honcho for a international spy organisation. Chavez, who is cruising around in his spy car, (at night, in sunglasses) receives a call back to headquarters (which is a secret room at the back of the casino) . There’s some guy there attacking the girl who is holding the fort. I will refer to the girl as Egyptian Moneypenny. However this Monneypenny does a bit of entertaining as a night club performer – but more of that later. Now I don’t know if the attacker is a bad guy, or a good guy who lusts after Egyptian Moneypenny so much, that he can no longer can contain himself.

Chavez arrives just in time, and clubs the attacker, saving Egyptian Moneypenny from disrobing any further and upsetting the censors. The chief then goes to a giant TV screen and pushes a few buttons at the side. It would appear that Cairo has cameras everywhere. Chavez homes in on a magical hypnotism act taking place on stage. A man with an eyepatch is blindfolded (yeah, that makes sense), while his scantily clad female partner, er… does something. During the act, a morse code message pings from her watch. The crowd don’t seem to notice, even though she stops mid act, drags the watch to ear and listens to the message. Then without further ado, she rips of the blindfold off her partner, and they leave the stage. The crowd do not mind – it must have been a lousy act! I will now, for simplicity sake, refer to these two magical agents as Hypno-Girl and Patch.

Chavez then switches his televisual gaze to a fella eating in some dingy eatery. This fella has a hook on his right hand. I will of course refer to him as ‘Hookey’. The hook also serves as a radio, and he two is sent a morse signal. And like agents Hypno-Girl and Patch, he is called back to headquarters.

When they return they all gang up on the attacker. He pleads his case, but he is dragged off. His punishment is to hypnotised by Hypno-Girl. And what does she make him do? He takes the elevator to the roof, walks to the edge, and then hurls himself off to his death. Classy! And saves on the cost of a bullet.

Meanwhile, Chavez who also lusts after Egyptian Moneypenny assigns her to a mission. She is to make contact with a man, who I will refer to as Egghead, because he looks a little like Vincent Price’s character in Batman (you can see him on the cover image above).

Egyptian Moneypenny puts on a show and wows the crowd. And she catches the attention of Egghead, who she leaves with after the show. And there, he rips off his glasses and bald skull cap and reveals that he is not arcg villain Egghead at all, but the agency’s number one spy, Max – who I’ll dub Agent X83. X83 is a master of disguise, skilled at unarmed combat and a hit with the ladies. Back at headquarters, he puts his ladykiller charm to use and seduces Egyptian Moneypenny. Their embrace and smooching session is interrupted when Chavez returns… and as I have mentioned, he too lusts after Moneypenny, so in a jealous rage he charges at Agent X83. X83, with his superior skills, swats his chief away like a fly.

But that isn’t the end of the in-fighting. The chief doesn’t play nice. He has Patch and Hookey plant a time-bomb in Agent X83’s car. It goes off and the super-agent is hospitalised.

And here the film veers into comedy. You see there is the fella named Hafeez who is a dead ringer for Agent x83, and he happens to be at the hospital at the same time. Hafeez is a nervous sort of fella. He is jittery, clumsy and awkward around women. He is at the hospital to see a doctor about his anxiety. But of course, Cairo’s espionage community all believe he is Agent X83. Several attempts are then made on Hafeez’s life. The most important is the first, in which he was watching a singer and belly dancer perform. Gunshots that are meant for him (or rather the real Agent X83), hit the singer and she dies in his arms. This simply sets off another anxiety attack, and now whenever he hears that particular song, he flies off into a blind rage… and rest assured that becomes a plot point on several occasions later on.

Later, at the casino, this very thing happens, during a production number in the cabaret. Hafeez goes crazy and is taken to the police station with Egyptian Moneypenny. It’s there that she realises that Hafeez is not Max, Agent X83 – but just a clumsy guy.

But, as you have no doubt guessed, an assignment comes up, where they need Agent X83, or at least somebody who looks like him, and Hafeez is seconded into the service. As a part of his cover, he becomes a part of the cabaret act at the casino, partnered with Moneypenny. And of course, more jealously from the chief. Hafeez’s act is quite bizarre – to say the least. He is kitted out as a Mighty Mouse style super hero, with big round ears and a cape, and has to defeat what appears to be the Big Bad Wolf and a hag who have kidnapped his love (as played by Moneypenny). The act is played out in full, and it is a rather strange musical interlude. As an adjunct here, I can say that the music is a big part of this film, with plenty of vocal and dance routines. I wouldn’t quite call it a musical, as the numbers fit the characters and are intrinsic to the plot. But I think one more song, might have tipped the ledger.

This is all moving to the climax at the casino, where the real Agent X83 comes back, and also dons a mouse suit. And as it’s a comedy, all the good guys turn out to be really bad, and the bad guys turn out to be good. And Hypno Girl is in there too, doing what she does best – inciting people to hurl themselves from the roof to their doom.

Of course, as I said at the top, I don’t speak a word of Arabic at all, so the story may not be anything like that. But then again, the tropes found in your garden variety 1960s espionage film are fairly predictable – so I may not be too far off the mark.

I do not know who the lead actor is, but I am sure he was considered one of Egypt’s national treasures, and a would guess that this film was a monumental crowd-pleaser in its day. During the film, musical cues are lifted from Goldfinger and not that surprisingly, considering the style of the film, Edward Feldman’s Casino Royale – which would have me date this film at around 1967 or 68. Of course it could be conceivably later, but this film has a real Pink Panther vibe to it.

Anyway, that’s Agent x83: Assignment Sphinx, and as I said at the top, a film appropriate to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Permission to Kill. Over the years I have always tried to mix it up a bit, showing that there is a lot more to cinematic espionage than just Bond, Bourne, Palmer and Flint.

In closing, and in all earnestness, I’d like to thank my Secret Santa, whoever he or she may be – (although from the postmark, I am guessing that they may not be human at all, but only a brain floating in green liquid in a glass case, mounted on a pedestal) – for the thought put into this year’s gift – there were some other goodies in the parcel, but I will save them for another day. I hope your holiday season was as enjoyable, and as unpredictable as mine.

Secret Santa: Assignment Sphinx

Phantom Punch (2007)

Country: Canada
Director: Robert Townsend
Starring: Ving Rhames, Stacey Dash, Nicholas Turturro, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, Rick Roberts
Music: Stephen James Taylor

Robert Townsend’s film, Phantom Punch, attempts to put a human face on one of the most unloved boxing champions of all time, Sonny Liston. And he almost succeeds due to the performance of Ving Rhames as Liston. However, as good as Rhames is, he is also too old for the role and not in the same physical condition that Liston was as champ. Also the fight scenes are perfunctory at best. This is one film that you would not watch if you were interested in faithful and believable fight re-creations. This is not Rocky or Raging Bull. This film works best as a drama and when Rhames is front and centre.

As the film opens, it is 1950, and Liston is in the Missouri State Penitentiary. After he whacks out a fellow prisoner, named Big Lester, who was giving Liston a hard time, he is taken under the wing of the prison Chaplin, Father Stevens (Rick Roberts). The Chaplin also happens to be in charge of the prison’s athletic program, and he steers Liston into the boxing program.

Liston keeps his nose down and earns an early release. He may have been a model prisoner, but he is still a bad man. At the time of his release he explains that there is only one thing that will keep him from returning to prison, and that is ‘knocking mother f*ckers out’.

Outside Liston goes professional, and begins the long climb through the boxing ranks, with each fight moving closer to the top. His journey is interrupted when he is sent to prison again, after he beats up two police officers. In fairness, these were two racists cops who taunted Liston and insulted him and his girlfriend. They probably deserved it. But Liston’s temper got the better of him, and he goes to prison.

Upon his release he continues his climb in the boxing game, but pretty soon reaches a glass ceiling. No one will fight him. That’s when his manager, Caesar Novak (Nick Turturro), who is tied in with the mob, uses him connections to move Liston up through the ranks and fight the real contenders. The side effect of this however, is that Liston’s reputation takes a further battering, with implications that he is involved in organised crime.

The story follows Liston as he becomes World Champion and how he fell from grace after the alleged ‘Phantom Punch’ in the second fight against Muhammed Ali.

Phantom Punch is an entertaining enough biopic, but far from brilliant. But Rhames performance gives the film a little weight, and makes the human drama more interesting than it would have been in lesser hands.

In May:

May sees the launch of King of the Outback, the sixth book in the popular Fightcard series – and my literary debut (writing as Jack Tunney).

Set in Outback Australia, in Birdsville, one of the most remote towns on the planet, two rival boxing tents set up shop in competition with each other. In the sweltering heat, tensions simmer, tempers flare, and a tent burns.

For an up-to-date direct connection with the Fightcard series check out the home page, or for you youngsters, you can follow the Facebook Fan Page.

Phantom Punch (2007)

The Battling Bellhop (1937)

AKA: Kid Galahad
Country: United States
Director: Michael Curtiz
Starring: Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, Wayne Morris, Jane Bryan
Music: Max Steiner, Heinz Roemheld

The Battling Bellhop is a boxing drama from Warner Brothers Studios featuring three of their biggest names – Robinson, Bogart and Davis. And each of them play characters that you’ve seen them play before. Robinson plays a fight manager named Nick Donati, who cannot control his temper (Robinson would virtually recycle his character in Manpower (1941) with George Raft). Bogart plays his opposite number, Turkey Moran, another fight promoter, but of course, Bogart being Bogart is the corrupt lowlife gangster. This was before his breakthrough good guy role in The Maltese Falcon (1941), which started a string of good guy roles. But before then he was always the two-bit hood. And finally there’s Bette Davis, playing a character named Fluff, who is the moll with the heart of gold.

As the film opens, Nick’s number one contender is taking on Turkey Moran’s world champ, Chuck McGraw. Nick’s fighter doesn’t listen to instructions and is knocked out. Furthermore, Nick sacks him because he refused to follow these instructions.

Afterward, Nick organises a party in his hotel room to celebrate his loss. To help with the drinks, Nick calls for a hotel bellhop to come up. After some instruction from Fluff, the bellhop, Ward Guisenberry (Wayne Morris) mingles with the crowd hand out drinks. After champ McGraw gets wise with Fluff, in a chivalrous act, Ward steps up and knocks down the champ with one punch. Admittedly the champ was boozed up, but still McGraw had never been knocked down before.

Nick takes Ward on as a boxer, and rechristens him Kid Galahad. Galahad is naïve and raw, but under Nick’s tutelage quickly rises through the ranks, to the point where he is finally offered a title shot against McGraw.

Of course, this synopsis is a simple overview of the usual convoluted Warner Brothers potboiler. There are love triangles, jealousies and betrayals. The fly in the ointment, is when Galahd falls for Nick’s kid sister, Marie (Jane Bryan). And I’ve already told you about Nick’s temper! But in the end, everybody gets what’s coming to them (more or less).

The film was originally released as Kid Galahad, but these days is nearly always shown as The Battling Bellhop. It has been remade a couple of times, most famously as Kid Galahad starring Elvis – with Charles Bronson in his corner.

This a great bittersweet drama, with a stellar cast doing what they do best. If you love golden oldies, then this is one to check out – regardless if you’re a boxing fan or not.

In May:

May sees the launch of King of the Outback, the sixth book in the popular Fightcard series – and my literary debut (writing as Jack Tunney).

Set in Outback Australia, in Birdsville, one of the most remote towns on the planet, two rival boxing tents set up shop in competition with each other. In the sweltering heat, tensions simmer, tempers flare, and a tent burns.

For an up-to-date direct connection with the Fightcard series check out the home page, or for you youngsters, you can follow the Facebook Fan Page.

The Battling Bellhop (1937)

Lionel (2008)

Country: Australia
Director: Eddie Martin
Starring: Lionel Rose, Anthony Mundine, Jeff ‘Hitman’ Harding
Editor: Ken Sallows
Composer: Cezary Skubiszewski

One month after I was born, a young aboriginal boxer, named Lionel Rose, became the world bantam weight boxing champion when he defeated Fighting Harada in Japan. I am obviously too young to recall the swell of national pride after Rose’s achievement. In Melbourne alone, upon his return, 250,000 people lined the street to see him in a ticker tape parade. So watching the documentary, Lionel, was quite an eye opening experience for me, presenting a facet of Australian popular culture that missed out on, and now seems long forgotten.

Today it almost seems impossible to fathom just how ‘huge’ Lionel Rose was. His fame was such that while preparing for a title defence in Los Angeles, Elvis asked to meet him. At that time, celebrity didn’t get any bigger than that. But this documentary is not just a back-slapping look back at the halcyon days of Rose’s boxing career. It shows how he started in the fight game, his successes and his failures. And then life after boxing.

Obviously, for a documentary film, and especially a biographical one at that, outlining the synopsis is rather pointless for this review. But I will share with you, one observation that the documentary makes that I found absolutely fascinating. As I mentioned above, Rose became world champion after beating Fighting Harada in Tokyo in February 1968, and subsequently Australia went crazy. One of the reasons for this, apart from having a home grown world champion, was that Rose beat a Japanese opponent. Forgive me if this sounds racist, that is not my intention, but at that time (forty-four years ago), many Australians still considered the Japanese to be the enemy. World War II had not been forgotten, and many people harboured a grudge for the way that Australian prisoners of war had been treated. As an example, in my family, my Great Uncle Jim died a prisoner of war, working on the Burma railway. So for young Lionel Rose to go to Japan and defeat the ‘enemy’ on their home turf was not only a sporting triumph, but a defiantly national one as well. Sort of like a ‘payback’. As a lazy comparison in a fictional context which many people may relate to, it was like the movie Rocky IV, where Rocky goes to Russia to fight Ivan Drago, as payback for the death of Apollo Creed. But Rose wasn’t fighting on account of just one man – he fought for a whole country.

The story becomes even more heated after that. Rose’s first title defence was also in Tokyo, against Takao Sakurai. Rose won, infuriating one Japanese boxing fan so much, that he came at Rose with a knife at his hotel. Of course, these incidents are just one small part of Rose’s story.

The film features plenty of archival footage, intercut with modern day interviews with Rose himself, and those who were close to him. All in all, it’s an excellent documentary, and recommended not only to those interested in boxing, but those who enjoy inspiration real-life drama.

May sees the launch of King of the Outback, the sixth book in the popular Fightcard series – and my literary debut (writing as Jack Tunney).

Set in Outback Australia, in Birdsville, one of the most remote towns on the planet, two rival boxing tents set up shop in competition with each other. In the sweltering heat, tensions simmer, tempers flare, and a tent burns.

For an up-to-date direct connection with the Fightcard series check out the home page, or for you youngsters, you can follow the Facebook Fan Page.

Lionel (2008)

The Empty Beach (1985)

Country: Australia
Director: Chris Thompson
Starring: Bryan Brown, Anna Maria Monticelli, Ray Barrett, Nick Tate, Belinda Gibbin, John Wood, Peter Collingwood
Music: Martin Armiger and Red Symons
Based on the novel by Peter Corris

Bryan Brown IS Cliff Hardy. It is perfect casting. It’s a shame that this film wasn’t a hit, because I would have loved to see Brown play Hardy again and again. He could be doing it to this day, pumping out a tele-movie each year – and I would be first seated, ready and eager to watch it. But alas, not to be.

For those not familiar with the character of Cliff Hardy, private investigator, he is a creation of Peter Corris and first appeared in the novel The Dying Trade in 1980. Since then he has been releasing Cliff Hardy stories regularly – at least thirty of them – the last I am aware of, is Appeal Denied which was released in 2007. I am sure Corris has released a couple more since then. I realise I could quickly validate this with a quick Google search, but after the Christmas break I am a bit short of cash, and if I don’t know that they exist, then I won’t go hunting for them.

The story, which is set in Sydney, starts with a wealthy businessman (for that read black marketeer and poker machine king), John Singer, who is about to go for a pleasure cruise on the harbour with his mistress. But they are greeted at the docks by some shady looking characters. That is the last that is heard from Singer. It is surmised that he fell overboard that day and drowned.

Two years later…
Cliff Hardy meets Mrs. Marion Singer (Belinda Gibbon), who wishes to employ him. She has received a note from an anonymous source, claiming that her husband is still alive – but not looking too well. She realises it might be a hoax, but wishes Hardy to look into the matter.

Hardy’s investigation leads him to a newspaper reporter, Bruce Henneberry (Nick Tate), who reported on Singer’s disappearance at the time. Henneberry thinks something fishy is going on, and it is related to his latest piece of investigative journalism. He also has all the dirt on the city’s corrupt politicians, businessmen and gangsters. He keeps this dirt all on a series of tapes that he has stashed away. But things turn messy when Hardy witnesses Henneberry’s murder, in the surf, at Bondi Beach. Then it becomes a race to track down Henneberry’s tapes, with Hardy, the police, and Sydney’s underworld all set on a collision course.

The Empty Beach is an old school detective movie, but set in Sydney in the 1980s, which means some of the music, fashion and haircuts have dated. But other than that it still holds up quite well. It is played lean, hard and fast with all the requisite plot convolution that a detective story like this should have.

At the time of writing, The Empty Beach remains sadly unavailable of DVD (or Blu-Ray), which I think is criminal, because the film, for movie-watchers who love the genre, is well worth watching.


Bryan Brown, despite being in over seventy productions has never been in anything that is an out and out spy movie. Nick Tate starred as villain Jenson Fury in No 1: Licensed to Love and Kill (AKA: The Man From S.E.X.), and also recently starred in The Killer Elite with Jason Statham and Clive Owen. Tate also played Matt Parsons in numerous episodes in the Australian TV series Spyforce; and appeared in The Champions (The Dark Island 1968). Ray Barrett provided the voice for John Tracy (and The Hood and other characters) in the Thunderbirds, and voiced Commander Sam Shore (and others) in Stingray. As a nice Bondian adjunct, Commander Shore’s daughter, Atlanta, was voiced by Lois Maxwell. Barrett also appeared in the 1966 BBC TV series, The Spies, (Lash Out 1966), The Saint (The Loving Brothers 1964), The Man in Room 17 (Lady Luck’s No Gentleman 1965) and The Avengers (Man in the Mirror 1963).

Special thanks to Andrew Nette from Pulp Curry.

The Empty Beach (1985)

The Long Goodbye (1973)

Country: United States
Director: Robert Altman
Starring: Elliot Gould, Nina Van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden, Mark Rydell, Henry Gibson, Arnold Schwarzenegger
Music: John T. Williams
Based on the novel by Raymond Chandler

It has been said that Robert Altman’s film of The Long Goodbye is a send up of Raymond Chandler’s novel of the same name. I don’t buy it! I admit it is very different to all the Philip Marlowe films that have been made before. Even Marlowe, with James Garner, which was made only six years prior to this, and had a contemporary setting, still had an old school feel to it. But The Long Goodbye has a distinctly 1970’s feel to it, and the Marlowe character, as played by Elliott Gould is not as ‘hard boiled’ as previous Marlowes. Gould applies some method acting to the Chandler universe. So when Marlowe is worked over by hoods, he mumbles, staggers and slurs a defiant wisecrack, rather than ‘spitting out a wisecrack’. I guess it is a more human depiction of Marlowe, than has been seen before.

The story has two concurrent story threads, which initially appear to be unrelated – but of course, become entwined by the stories end. The first concerns a friend of Marlowe’s, Terry Lennox (Jim Bouton). Lennox turns up on Marlowe’s doorstep in a spot of trouble. He asks his old pal to drive him to Mexico, which Marlowe does. Only later, does Marlowe find that Lennox is wanted for the murder of his wife. Marlowe is arrested as an accomplice, and spends three days in jail. Finally the Marlowe is released, when Lennox commits suicide in a hotel, in a small rural village. Case closed. Marlowe is free.

The second story thread concerns Eileen Wade (Nina Van Pallandt), who hires Marlowe to find her missing husband. Her husband, Roger Wade (Sterling Hayden) is an author, with writer’s block and a drinking problem. He has disappeared on previous occasions, usually into rehab institutions, but on this occasion, Eileen has not been able to find him anywhere. Marlowe agrees to take the case.

As I have suggested, these two story threads intertwine in a rather typical Chandleresque fashion – serving up the requisite low-life characters, hoods, corrupt cops, and even a young Arnold Schwarzenegger as a two-bit henchman. All-in-all it’s not too bad – even if some of the character motivations and plot strands are a little fuzzy.

But what makes this film controversial, in some people’s eyes, is the ending. Warning; major spoilers ahead. I try not to spoil the films I review, but we are talking about a film that is thirty-five years old, and I am sure I am not the first, nor will I be the last, to talk about the ending to The Long Goodbye. Put simply, Marlowe figures out that Lennox is still alive, and tracks him down to his villa in Mexico. Then he shoots him down in cold blood. Those familiar with Chandler’s book, will know that in the original story, Lennox did indeed fake his death. But Marlowe didn’t track him down. Lennox came to him, albeit after having had plastic surgery, and trying to pass him self of as a Mexican who was working at the hotel on the day that Lennox purportedly killed himself. Marlowe sees through Lennox’s ruse. But he doesn’t kill him. Lennox walks away and into – supposedly – his new life.

The other difference between the stories, which supposedly justifies Marlowe’s actions, is that in the film, Lennox did kill his wife. In the book it is Eileen Wade who is the killer. The bit that get’s my goat, is there is no need for the change. The set up is complete in the film. It appears to have been changed for the sake of change – all at the expense of the source material. And furthermore this dramatically, and out of keeping with the rest of the film, alters Marlowe’s character. Philp Marlowe would not shoot a man down in cold blood. And certainly not one, who never intended to do him any harm. So rather than being the hard boiled, world weary Philip Marlowe, that the world has come to know, we have a petulant schoolboy with a gun, who is angry that he has been duped, and inconvenienced. The Marlowe I know has been duped, inconvenienced, beaten and bruised so many times that it is second nature. But still, he comes through all this with some sort of battered nobility. But there is no nobility in the closing of Altman’s film. It’s a temper tantrum, but with a bullet taking the place of angry words.

At the top of this review, I suggested that many people have called The Long Goodbye a send up. A send up, is something that takes the piss out of overused genre tropes. Therefore, I don’t think the film of The Long Goodbye is a send up. It serves up the genre tropes gleefully. I guess the tag ‘send up’ was applied by some marketeer as a defence against the film deviating from the source material. If you say it’s a ‘send up’ – then people cannot complain that it isn’t the same as the book. But I take offense at that. Any book lover, who has seen a film version of a book they have read knows that it will be different – whether that be Harry Potter, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, or The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. All you can hope for, is that the film makers faithfully capture the spirit of the book. Changes are necessary. And I fully realise that condensing down – well my version of The Long Goodbye is 320 pages, and small type at that – into a 120 minutes movie, means jettisoning more than half of the book. I accept that. But the thing is, the film-makers had mostly succeeded in doing that. But then they contemptuously changed the ending and the character. My problem being, if you don’t like the Marlowe character, or the ending to the story, why acquire the rights and make a film out of it in the first place? The film-makers can write an original script from scratch, presenting their own unique vision of the detective story, rather than writing over and tarnishing one of the twentieth century’s most indelible fictional characters.

The Player is a send up. The Long Goodbye is just arrogance and contempt.

Elliot Gould has appeared in a number of spy productions; such as Who?, The Lady Vanishes (1979) and S.P.Y.S, which I haven’t seen since I was a kid – and I don’t remember it too fondly – but maybe some of the humour just went over my head. I will have to check it out again one day. And Gould was the voice of Mr. Stoppable in the Kim Possible tv series. Some of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s films, such as Eraser (and others) are cusp spy films.

The Long Goodbye (1973)