Berlin Express (1948)

Berlin ExpressCountry: United States
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Starring: Robert Ryan, Merle Oberon, Charles Korvin, Paul Lukas, Robert Coote, Reinhold Schunzel, Roman Toporow
Music: Friedrich Hollaender

Berlin Express is a great little film, set primarily in post-war Germany. I have always been a sucker for those stories set on a train, with a multitude of mysterious characters, all suspects, for a crime that happens on the journey. Although in this film, the characters get off the train before it reaches its destination, and race around the bombed out streets of Frankfurt. But maybe it’s best if I go back to the beginning.

As the film starts, in Paris, a group of passengers board a train bound for Berlin. Among them is Dr. Bernhardt (Paul Lukas), a German peace campaigner – who is on his way to a conference in Berlin. You see, after the war, Germany was split in four sectors – American, Soviet, English and French – each had a sector to control. The exception being Berlin itself, which despite being in the Soviet sector, was also split into four sectors – and although these countries were allies, there was infighting amongst them. And the Germans were almost second class citizens in their own country. Bernardt is considered the guiding light in bring all these disparate factions together. Of course, there are some groups who don’t want peace.

Berlin ExpressAs the train rattles through the countryside a grenade in Bernhardt’s compartment goes off – and he is killed, or so we believe. In fact, the man in Bernhardt’s compartment is a decoy, and the real peace campaigner is still alive. But the enemy know this too, and when the train reached Frankfurt they kidnap him.

But rather than the authorities, who are encumbered with red-tape, it is the passengers of the train who mount a search and rescue operation. Leading the group is Lucienne Mirrbeau (Merle Oberon), who was Bernhardt’s secretary. The others are Robert Lindley (Robert Ryan), an American agricultural expert, Maxim Kiroshilov (Roman Toporow), a Russian soldier, James Sterling (Robert Coote), an English ex-soldier, and Henri Perrot (Charles Korvin), a business man who was a member of the French resistance. As you can see, it is a veritable United Nations.

Our team of five, search high and low through the seedy bars and nightclubs of Frankfrank (in the American sector) searching for Bernhardt, and eventually their quest leads them to a murderous gang of neo-Nazis. As you may have already guessed, and as is common in a film such as this, one of the team is actually a Nazi spy, and responsible for the grenade on the train – but which one?

Berlin Express is still, after all these years, a cracking thriller – only marred by some lengthy travelogue shots. But having said that, this travelogue footage may be of interest to those who are interested in seeing the devastation that the continual aerial bombardment by the allies had on the city of Frankfurt. Frankfurt itself, is almost a character in this film – skeletal, broken and twisted, and in the abandoned ruins, there are a myriad of places where Nazi spies can hide.

If you like old-style spy adventures, in black and white, that keep you guessing to the very end, then you could do a lot worse than Berlin Express.

Berlin Express (1948)

Dead Spy Running

Author: Jon Stock
Published: 2010
Publisher: Blue Door

Last year Tanner from the Double-O Section wrote a fantastic review of a book called Dead Spy Running, written by Jon Stock. In that review, Tanner suggested that spy novel fans could do a lot worse than seek the story out. As he is one of the knowledgeable spy reviewers out in the blogosphere, and his opinion I greatly respect, I did just that.

I enjoyed the book, and as Tanner suggested, despite the hoopla and hype written on the cover, Dead Spy Running is not the saviour of spy fiction. It is, however, a damn fine piece of airport fiction. And in a couple of areas, Stock’s novel really shines.

Firstly, there are many spy novels, that serve up heart pounding action, excitement and adventure. And I love those. But what I have found to be less common – or at least less successful – in spy novels, is the talking head, dirty back room politics, type of spy story. I think one of the reasons that this style of story is less prevalent, is that it is incredibly difficult to do well, and keep entertaining. But this is truly John Stock’s strong point. The bickering between MI-6, MI-5 and the American CIA is the highlight of the novel, and in some places I was actually distracted by the action sequences, which almost seemed shoe-horned into the story (especially in the back half). It is rare when a story makes this type of desk-bound spy work just as interesting, and exciting, as the globe trotting adventures of a master spy.

There is one passage that delighted me no end, and that was when the head of MI-6, Marcus Fielding, while in a meeting with the divisional head of the CIA, Alan Carter, chooses to lie on the floor of his office due to back pain. This, of course, alters the whole dynamic of the conversation, and throws his American counterpart slightly off balance. It can be seen as another bit of gamesmenship between the two men, reflecting the inter agency rivalry. To some people, this may have read incredibly contrived and stilted. For me however, as I have a friend who has had severe back pain for nine months and can’t sit in a chair for long periods of time, and routinely lies on the floor, this passage, along with being slightly humourous, also rang true. That’s what people do. And yes, it is very strange talking to someone lying down like that.

But it is not all talk, talk, talk. Stock doesn’t hold back on the action sequences. The opening, which takes place during the London Marathon, is action packed, gripping, and well written. It will capture most readers who take the time to read the book, instantly. It certainly hooked me. But as I have alluded to, as good as the opening is, it is not truly indicative of the best that this labyrinthine story has in store.

That story concerns covert operative, Daniel Marchant, who is the son of disgraced, and now deceased, head of MI-6. The backlash and suspicion from Marchant Snr’s dismissal and death has flowed back on to his son, who is on suspension, as the story opens. His only ally appears to be a fellow agent named Leila who was inducted into the service at the same time as Marchant.

Marchant and Leila, while not quite being fitness fanatics, are athletic, and decide to participate in the annual London Marathon. Along with thousands of others, they pound the city streets at a steady pace. As the race progresses, Marchant notices an Indian, who looks distressed and frightened, running a few steps behind the US ambassador. With thousands competing in the race, that in itself may not have been an issue, but he also has wrapped around his waist, a rather cumbersome belt, which Marchant hypothesizes may contain explosives. He decides to find out, and jogs up beside the man, and begins a conversation. He quickly ascertains he is right. The runner is a suicide bomber (who is actually not that keen to die), and indeed – if you’ll forgive the spoiler – the belt is full of explosive.

With help from Leila, Marchant manages to thwart the assassination attempt. Having just saved the life of the US ambassador, you would expect him to be feted as a hero. But instead he is treated as a conspirator in the attempted assassination, and is spirited by the Americans to Poland for questioning. For that, read torture!

After Marchant is extricated from that little situation, with a little discreet aid from Marcus Fielding, he finds himself on the run, and the only man who appears to be able to clear his name, is a fanatical terrorist named Salim Dhar, who has a vendetta against the Americans. Dhar is suspected of being Marchant’s co-conspirator in the assassination attempt. To track Dhar down, Marchant travels to India.

If you think things couldn’t get worse for Marchant, then you’d be dead wrong. From the moment he arrives in India, he is in the line of fire. And each incident Marchant finds himself involved in, inevitably ends up causing conflict between the disparate intelligence agencies, with only Fielding giving Marchant the slightest chance of proving his innocence.

Dead Spy Running is certainly a page turner, and balances the two sides of espionage, field work, and desk bound strategy and politics very well. I’d be happy to immerse myself in Daniel Marchant’s next adventure, Games Traitors Play.

Dead Spy Running

Pokerface

Author: Peter Corris
Publisher: Penguin Books
Published: 1985
Based on scripts for the ABC TV drama Pokerface by Peter Corris and Bill Garner

Recently I have looked at a few Cliff Hardy adventures; firstly the film, The Empty Beach, the book The Black Prince, and the radio drama, The Greenwich Apartments. All of these were based on books by Peter Corris. Aside from Cliff Hardy, Corris has written a couple of other series, the Browning series, of which I haven’t read any of the titles (although I have a copy of Browning Sahib in my ever growing TBR pile), and the Ray Crawley series.

From what I can ascertain, Peter Corris and Bill Garner wrote a television series for the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission) called Pokerface, which starred Bruno Lawrence as Raw ‘Creepy’ Crawley. I emailed the ABC to see if I could get hold of a copy of the series, but they informed me that they only had singular broadcasting rights, and the series was not available.

I assume, and could be very wrong, that it did not complete its intended run, or was not successful enough to go into a second series, and there were scripts and story outlines left over. These scripts and story outlines formed the basis of the Crawley series.

Pokerface appears to be the first in the series. The style of the book is quite different to the Cliff Hardy stories. It is harder, dirtier and sleazier – and it is set in Melbourne. With Corris’ stories, the cities they are set in are just as much a character as the people who populate it.

Ray Crawley is an agent for the Federal Security Agency (FSA), and as the story opens, Crawley and fellow agent Graeme Huck are on a stake out, watching a prison, as they have information that suggests that a felon is planning an escape.

As their tipoff suggested, the escape attempt takes place, but before they can react, a squad of armed police arrive, and shoot the escapee. Needless to say, Crawley and Huck’s operation is a bust. The head of the FSA, Tobias Campion is under pressure from Canberra money-men for results, and Crawley’s latest fiasco is an embarrassment to the Agency, and he is dismissed.

Being sacked, does little for Crawley’s domestic life. His marriage was already on the brink, and his dismissal, and consequent loitering around the house getting drunk, is the last straw for his wife, Mandy. Mandy leaves, and takes the children.

Crawley hits the pub, and picks up a young radical punk girl named Roxy. Despite their age differences, Crawley brings her home. Tagging along with Roxy, rather incongruously throughout the story, is Roxy’s friend Snow, who is a young stoner. He spends most of the story sitting on a couch, smoking spliffs and drinking booze.

Later, Crawley finds out that Roxy and Snow belong to a subversive group, that are anti-American, anti-Big Business, anti-Government and anti- … well just about everything else. They graffiti billboards, and in the past, have been involved bomb hoaxes, and other soft militant actions.

Crawley figures, using Roxy and Snow to get up to some mischief, orchestrated by himself, he might just be able to worm his way back into the FSA. Adding to this, Campion is still under pressure for some kind of score, which will secure his position, and secure extra funding for the FSA. When he finds out that Crawley is associating with a radical group, he sees it as an opportunity to achieve his ends.

So Crawley and Campion start working from different ends of the same problem. Both men want a big militant incident, and when Crawley, with a little help from his former partner, Huck, gets his hands on some handguns and plastic explosive, it looks like it is going to happen. But both Crawley and Campion want different outcomes.

There is a lot to like about Pokerface, as it is a bit more gritty and cynical than the Hardy stories – and admittedly I am biased, because I live in Melbourne – it is great to read fiction set in your own backyard, as it were. But ultimately, Pokerface is a disappointing story.

Firstly, the relationship between Crawley and Roxy, especially with their age differences, and Roxy’s political stance is barely believable. And furthermore, and I will not spoil the ending, their relationship at the end of the story is never really resolved. Did Roxy, and Snow for that matter, ever mean anything to Crawley? Or were they simply pawns to be used from the outset?

Next, too many of the plot machinations happen by happenstance. There is plotting and manipulation by both Crawley and Campion, but often their plans, and desired outcomes are never spelled out. It is all a secret.

And finally, in the end, everything that happens in the story, good or bad (and most of it is bad), is at the behest of Crawley and Campion who are playing there childish little games. As they play out their feud, the other characters are all innocent victims, in one way or another. Essentially the main protagonists are not likeable men in any way, shape or form. And I find it hard to ride along with (or read about) a character that I have very little empathy, or sympathy for. Crawley, ultimately is a nasty piece of work. He’s a self-centred drunk, who lucks out on this occasion.

But having said all that, I would read at least one more Crawley book. As this story ends, which once again I won’t reveal, there is a dramatic change in Crawley’s circumstances, and whether or not, this allows him to be a better person, or put his negative traits to use in a positive fashion is to be seen – or read in another Crawley story.

Pokerface

Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972)

Release Year: 1972
Director: Robert Fuest
Starring: Vincent Price, Robert Quarry, Valli Kemp, Peter Cushing, Berryl Reid, Terry-Thomas, Milton Reid, Caroline Munro
Music: John Gale

I haven’t seen The Abominable Dr. Phibes since I was a kid, so I cannot remember too much about it. Thankfully this sequel leads in with a detailed recap of the first film, in which it appears that he placed himself into hibernation with his dead wife – well she’s sort of dead, in suspended animation. Phibes (Vincent Price) is trying to bring her back to life. After many years of hibernation, Phibes rises once more to continue his quest – which is to restore life to his wife Victoria (is that Caroline Munro – she doesn’t receive a credit?). And let me say that again – Phibes quest is to restore life to his beloved wife, Victoria. If you think I am being repetitive, your darn right. But you should see this film. Man, that is all that Phibes says. In many different ways – over and over. It got to a point where I just wanted him to shut up and kill some people.

In the years since Phibes placed himself in hibernation, his house has been knocked down and the map to a secret spot in Egypt – that can restore Victoria’s life – has been stolen. Well it was found by an antique dealer who sold it to an archaeologist named Beiderbeck (Count Yorga, er, I mean Robert Quarry). Phibes naturally wants this map back. With a little help from his mute assistant, the beautiful Vulnavia (Valli Kemp), Phibes retrieves the map and then boards a steamer for Egypt.

But Biederbeck didn’t die, when Phibes retrieved the map, his manservant (Milton Reid) did. So Biederbeck wants the map back. He too has a reason for wanting it. He has been living on a young serum for the past one hundred years, and his supplies have run out. He needs the location of the sacred river of life in Egypt, just as much as Phibes does, and will go to almost any length to get it. He too, boards the steamer heading off for Egypt.

Dr. Phibes Rises Again is a great example of style over substance and this film has camp style to burn. But it is sluggishly paced and we only get about two horror (very mild horror) moments. However the film looks great and has some wonderful ‘out there’ touches. I was particularly fond of Victoria’s glass coffin which has the grilles from two Rolls Royces mounted at each end.

In some ways, this films biggest crime though, is that it lacks a resolution. This is most likely because they intended to make a third Phibes movie, so this didn’t eventuate. I would have liked to have seen Victoria revived and her reaction at what her husband had become. I know it’s kind of predictable, but it would give me a sense of closure with these characters – instead we are left hanging.

I hate to say this – it seems unsporting – but I was disappointed in Dr. Phibes Rises Again.

Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972)

Maciste in King Solomon's Mines (1964)

Country: Italy
Director: Piero Regnoli
Starring: Reg Park, Wandisa Guida, Eleonora Bianchi, Bruno Piergentili, Elio Jotta, and ‘Little’ Loris Loddi
Music: Francesco De Masi
Original Title: Maciste nelle miniere di re Salomone

Welcome to the ‘Big Muscle Tussle’. During February, the members of the Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit are celebrating musclemen – and muscle women. Fittingly, I have stepped once more into my time machine and traveled back to 1964, and to Italy where muscular men were running rampant – throwing boulders, ripping out trees, fighting monsters, fighting tyrants, and fighting whole armies. In general, they were fighting a lot.

Today’s fighting feature is Maciste in King Solomon’s Mine – which I believe is also known as Samson in King Solomon’s Mine. It just goes to show that a lot of these mythological heroes are interchangeable. This time Maciste (or Samson) is played by world champion bodybuilder Reg Park.

A the film opens the viewer is informed by a narrator who is not James Mason, but should be, that in the heart of Africa, there was a city called Zimba, which was surrounded by a high wall, and a dense jungle. At the centre of the city was a palace, from which secret underground passages lead to the fabled King Solomon’s Mines. But wise King Nammar was prohibited anybody from removing the gold from the mine – and the city has had twenty years of peace. Nammar has a young son, Vazmar (‘Little’ Loris Loddi) who is destined, in time, to take over the thrown. As he grows to manhood, he is kept in seclusion under the tutelage of a young woman named Samara (Eleonora Bianchi). The whereabouts (or fate) of Vazmar’s mother is never mentioned.

On the twentieth anniversary of Nammar’s peaceful reign, his Chief General, Riad (Ellio Jotta – billed as Leonard G. Elliot) decides he has had enough peace, and sneaks into the palatial grand hall, and beneath a giant Sphinx’s head (which conceals the entrance to the passageways to the mine), he pushes the marble lid off an alter. Inside is a wooden chest. He removes the chest and opens it revealing a ‘top secret’ map, which outlines all the secret passages underneath the palace – and most importantly to the mine. Riad presumably has a photographic memory, because he briefly scans the map, and then returns it, placing everything back exactly as he found it. He then heads off into the tunnels. But, despite what you may think, he chooses not to go immediately to the rich deposits of gold, but through a passage that leads him secretly out of the city and into the jungle.

Riad makes contact with a woman named Fazira (Wandisa Guida), who is the leader of fierce tribe of warriors. Riad offers her a third of the treasure from the mine, if she’ll help him overthrow Nammar. She agrees – but for half the treasure. Entering into an uneasy alliance, Riad agrees, then he leads her and her men back to Zimba and through the hidden passage. Once inside the city walls they do what any invading force would do – kill, rape, loot, set things on fire.

Meanwhile Riad heads off to the Royal bedchamber and kills King Nammar. While he is doing that, one of the King’s loyal subjects, Abucar (Bruno Piergentili – billed as Dan Harrison – who you may remember from Ali Baba and the Seven Saracens) rushes to the aid of Samara and Prince Vazmar (or is that King Vazmar now?) Abucar leads them to another secret passage that will lead them out of the palace and into the jungle. There they should seek the assistance of Maciste. Once they have escaped, Abucar rejoins the battle but is knocked out and captured.

In the jungle, Samara and Vazma are all alone, and anybody who has seen a Tarzan movie knows that the jungle is full of wild creatures, and no place for a woman and child. But more of that later. Firstly, Vazmar sees a lion cub and wanders off chasing it, because it looks soft, fluffy and fun. He catches up with it and befriends it. Befriend is actually a bad word – because this kid is clearly tormenting the clearly drugged, mini beast. I was half wishing it would claw him, and teach him a lesson – but that would be mean spirited.

Anyway, Samara has lost Vazma, and is wandering around trying to find him. Of course she crosses the path of the fully grown killer lion. But before the ravenous feline can attack, Maciste (Reg Park), who is clad in a loincloth, leaps from a tree and wrestles the lion into submission. Actually to death. Samara passes out.

Vazmar is now in his own little world, and falls into a pit designed to catch the rogue killer lion. He is found by natives, but luckily these natives are pretty good fellas, and they take Vazmar in and look after him.

Miles away, Maciste has his hands full, quite literally, with Samara who is still unconcious. He takes her to another village. Once in the village, delirious, she repeats Abucar’s words about finding Maciste. He realises his old friend Abucar must then be in trouble, so the big clod leaves her to the natives and plods off to Zimba to rescue his friend.

Back in Zimba, things have changed. Nammar’s subjects are now slaves and they are forced to work in the mines. Abucan is lashed and tortured by Riad, who is trying to find Vazmar. But Abucar wont speak, so Riad orders him to be put to death on the following morning. Of course, Maciste arrives in the nick of time and rescues his friend, but in the process, manages to get captured in a net.

Now Maciste is to be put to death in a ‘blood thirsty and breath taking spectacle’. This spectacle happens to be placing Maciste in a cage, which has spikes pointing in at his body. Then maciste is tied by ropes to horses on the outside. These horses are whipped and run off in different directions, pulling Maciste every which way – presumably into the sharp spikes. But Maciste, as you know, is super strong, and he holds the rope tight, waring out the horses, until they collapse.

As the story plays out, there are more plot twists and turns as the story writhes its way through the secret passages and into the Royal court. There’s betrayal, heroism, and the threat of Samara being doused in molten gold, and turned into a statue. And of course, more feats of incredible strength, from Maciste.

Reg Park was okay as Hercules in Mario Bava’s Hercules and the Haunted World is quite ineffectual here. Sure he looks the part, but beyond that he is wooden and lifeless. It doesn’t help that his character isn’t introduced until 25 minutes into the film. The real stars are the villains, Elio Jotta as Riad, and Wandisa Guida as Fazira, who have a high old time sneering and being evil. This film is most alive when they are on the screen being dastardly.

Maciste in King Solomon’s Mines is not an A-Grade peplum by any stretch of the imagination, but it isn’t a turkey either. Generally it is fast paced, and there are not too many extended talking head scenes, which seem to populate the most dreary of this kind of film. The sets are okay too, and the majority of the location footage, shot in South Africa, looks authentic – rather than using stock footage.

Wandisa Guida appeared in a few Eurospy productions such as Antonio Margheriti’s Lightning Bolt with Anthony Eisley, Killers are Challenged and Secret Agent Fireball, both with Richard Harrison. Eleonora Bianchi also made an incursion into Eurospy territory starring alongside Lang Jefferies in Agente X 1-7 operacion Oceano (X1-7 Top Secret).

That’s it for Maciste in King Solomon’s Mine, but I can tell by that look in your eye that you want more! I give you:

Fire Monsters Against the Son of Hercules is a bit different to many of the other Hercules, or Sons Of Hercules films. It doesn’t take place in ancient Greece or Italy. It takes place in the Ice Age. However, it is still pretty average. If it didn’t feature Margaret Lee, one of my favourite leading ladies from the sixties, I would have switched off half way. Reg Lewis is wooden as the hero.

dividepage

How can you go past a title like Hercules vs the Moon Men? I couldn’t. This is a film that had to be watched, but admittedly with low expectations. And for three-quarters of this films running time I was highly entertained. However, the sandstorm towards the end of the movie drags on and drags the movie down with it.

dividepage

Hercules Against the Mongols isn’t the worst peplum you’ll see, but it isn’t inspired either. However it is a step up from the dreary Hercules Against The Barbarians, and it always intrigues me to see another chapter in the strange career of Ken Clark: Cowboy, Gentleman Spy, and Mongol.

dividepage

Gladiators 7, featuring Richard Harrison, is familiar territory for those who have watched any vintage swashbucklers, but the film handles it all with a great sense of style and fun. This is enjoyable if somewhat predictable entertainment.

dividepage

Hercules Against the Barbarians is a weak entry in the Sword and Sandal series. Forest is not my favourite Hercules. He takes the role far too seriously and always looks to be in pain. On top of that this movie is fairly slowed paced and drags between action sequences.

dividepage

One of the highlights of Goliath and the Sins of Babylon 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?

dividepage

The title, Hercules and the Masked Rider is a trifle misleading. This is not much of a Hercules film. In fact, Hercules (Alan Steel) is not the star of this movie at all. He is simply a strongman from a troupe of Gypsies, who are drawn into the story at a later stage. And even then, he is very much in the background. It’s almost as if Steel walked onto the wrong set and decided to throw around a few objects in the background.

dividepage

Ali Baba and the Seven Saracens is pretty silly in parts but it is fairly fast paced, which is a big plus. My main problem with the film is the character of Alia Baba. Nothing against Dan Harrison’s performance, he looks the part, but the character is simply not very convincing. He falls into nearly every trap set for him.

Maciste in King Solomon's Mines (1964)

Cut and Run

Author: Matt Hilton
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Published: 2010
Book No: 4 (in the Joe Hunter series)

Last month I had an opportunity to do a little jetsetting. Not far mind you, just up to Canberra, to the National Gallery where there was an exhibition of Renaissance paintings (Raphael, Titian, Botticelli et al.). You see, there is more to me than martinis, girls and guns – but not much. Of course, even a trip that short had me spending plenty of time on trains, buses and aeroplanes – and that required me to find a suitable piece of airport fiction. And to my mind there are only a few authors at the moment who are writing balls to the wall, by the seat of your pants, high octane thrillers, which take the drudgery out of endless hours of sitting on your butt, waiting on connections, or even worse, being delayed. One of those authors is Matt Hilton.

Cut and Run is the fourth book in the Joe Hunter series, and a rip roaring read it is too. For a brief second, I thought Hilton may have been repeating himself, with another psychopath chasing a defenceless woman story – but he proves he has a few more tricks up his sleeve by twisting this tale into a jungle adventure, with Hunter and his team making an incursion into Columbia.

The story starts with a nice twist. I must admit it has been about eighteen months since I have read a Joe Hunter story and had I forgot the story structure that Hilton uses. Which is, one chapter written in the first person, which is Hunter’s point of view; and then the next written in the third person which is the villain’s journey through the story. Now I am not going to spoil the beginning, but I forgot Hilton’s technique and he caught me on the back foot – almost so, that I was yelling at the book (which must have raised a few eyebrows in the departure lounge!)

The villain of the piece, is a fellow by the name of Luke Rickard and he is a hired assassin, and his target is Joe Hunter. But Rickard is such a twisted piece of work, and he doesn’t just want to kill Hunter, but also kill those close to him. In this instance, it is Imogen Ballard – a character carried over from the previous book in the series, Slash and Burn – that Rickard goes after.

Once all hell breaks loose, as it inevitably does, Hunter and his friends, Jared ‘Rink’ Rington and Harvey Lucas are seconded into the service of the CIA. It seems Hunter isn’t the only one that that has been targeted by Rickard. Other operatives who were on the same mission as Hunter, in Columbia, many years previous, have also been targeted (and killed), with their families, by Rickard.

Cut and Run is a great deal of fun, in a brutal riddled with bullets kind of way. But that is exactly the way it should be. By the end of the story, Hunter is battered, bruised and bleeding. He is absolutely put through the ringer – so too is the reader.

As someone who dabbles in graphic design, I must admit I am fascinated by the marketing and the presentation of the Joe Hunter books (in Australia and England at least, where we share the same cover art). They are presented as very slick, fast paced thrillers – which the stories undoubtedly are. Hunter is always shown in silhouette running and shooting, or rappelling from a helicopter, or parachuting down over a city. It’s all action packed, but they are very modern images. Despite the modernity, in some ways, as Hunter is often described as a vigilante, and the stories are blood and thunder epics, I do not believe they are too far removed from the old men of action thrillers of the 1970s and `80s. I certainly don’t mean that in a negative way, the Hunter books are considerably more substantial than those men’s pulps. But I can see a lineage which makes me enjoy the books even more – and there’s a nostalgic part of me that would love to see them with hand painted cover art, with an artist’s depiction of Hunter and ‘Rink’ standing back to back with their guns a blazin’. Of course, there’d be a dame on the cover too – most likely kneeling at Hunter’s feet, with an arm curled around his leg. Well it’s a dream anyway, but one that probably doesn’t belong in this modern world, but you know what I mean!

Cut and Run

Secret Santa: Fire Fang Has Risen From the Grave


A couple of weeks ago I shared the Secret Santa gift that was forcibly thrust upon me by Tars Tarkas, but now, you’re probably wondering what horrific gift did I send out?

Well my unfortunate victim; oops, sorry, I mean lucky recipient was Carol from the Cultural Gutter. Carol’s specialty is comics, so I figured sending her a spy film was just plain silly. Of course, I could have sent her a spy comic – and I toyed with that idea for quite a while. But then I thought, I should send her something uniquely Australian. So the search began for a uniquely Australian comic book – and that search led me to Gerald Carr, and his creation Fire Fang!

Who is Fire Fang, I hear you say? Well, I let Carol carry the ball from here. You can read her in depth review ‘Fire Fang Has Risen From the Grave’ by clicking here.

Secret Santa: Fire Fang Has Risen From the Grave

The Greenwich Apartments

The Greenwich Apartments ABC Radio Drama is a little something I picked up in a second hand shop. The packaging was cracked and knocked about, but this almost seems appropriate for a Cliff Hardy story, based on the novel by Peter Corris.

Firstly, let me explain that this is not an audio book – and not to be confused with the various Corris titles that Bolinda Audio has released over the years – as read by Peter Hosking. This is an ABC (Aust. Broadcasting Commission) radio play, with actors playing the various characters. Unfortunately, the twin cassette pack does not have the cast listed. I must admit I’d be very curious to know who played Cliff Hardy.

The Greenwich Apartments was the 9th Cliff Hardy book, and it was released in 1986, however this adaptation – apparently done by Corris himself – was either broadcast, or released on cassette in 1992. I am not too sure of the details here, as information is hard to come by. The cassettes have 1992 on them, but of course, the radio drama could have been broadcast several years before.

In this investigation, Cliff Hardy is hired by a wealthy businessman named Leo Wise, to look into the death of his daughter, Carmel. She was shot ten days prior, outside the Greenwich Apartments in Sydney’s Kings Cross. Carmel was a film-maker, having directed an award winning feature called Bermagui. She also had an enormous collection of video-tapes (remember this story was written before the advent of DVDs and Blu-Ray disks). As far as the police are concerned, Carmel Wise was working on porn films, and probably got involved with some shady underworld characters – and that’s how she met her demise. But everybody who knew Carmel, knows that is not true.

The Greenwich Apartments are owned by Leo Wise, and when Carmel’s ever metastasizing video collection outgrew where she was living, she asked her father if she store some of her collection in one of the vacant apartments. He agrees, and allows her to use Apartment One. The thing is, Apartment One, while nobody lives there, is in fact already let – and Leo Wise receives the rental payments without fail, every month.

When Hardy investigates, he discovers two suitcases (under piles of video tapes) which belong to the tenants of the Apartment. He ascertains the identity of one of the tenants as Tania Hester Bourke, but he doesn’t know who the man is. It’s a start, and his enquiries branch out from there.

As is the nature of this style of detective story, Hardy over the course of his investigation has to deal with a shady nightclub owner, ignorant and abusive cops, and underworld thugs brandishing weapons. And of course, the story serves up more than its share of red herrings too. At the end, Hardy is battered and bruised (and almost loses an eye), but has seen the case through.

Obviously, to fit in the two hour running time, much of the story has been condensed from the novel, but it is still remarkably faithful, and keeps the integrity of the story intact. And it’s entertaining too. At the start I thought that the actor who played Hardy sounded a bit young, and his voice didn’t have a ‘lived in’ quality. But as the drama progressed, I really warmed to his portrayal of Hardy – as I said earlier, I’d really like to know who the actor was.

The Greenwich Apartments is a punchy little drama, and an interesting side project for Peter Corris, the ‘Godfather of Australian Crime Fiction’. Coupled with the film version of The Empty Beach, it shows that Cliff Hardy was (and still is) bigger than the printed page – and one of Australia’s most durable pop culture heroes.

The Greenwich Apartments

Schmeling: Fist of the Reich (2010)

Country: Germany
Director: Uwe Boll
Starring: Henry Maske, Susanne Wuest, Heino Ferch, Vladimir Weigl, Yoan Pablo Hernández
Music: Jessica de Rooij

Director Uwe Boll has a pretty poor reputation as a film director – especially amongst the gaming community, as several of his films have been disrespectful adaptations of popular games. But, I must say that Schmeling: Fist of the Reich isn’t half bad at all. It has its limitations, but generally the era is captured well, the performances are good – and most importantly, Max Schmeling is a fascinating topic for a biopic.

But in some ways, it should be no surprise that Uwe Boll should make a decent boxing film – after all, he is the man who challenged his critics to put up or shut up in an event dubbed ‘Raging Boll’! I’ll let Wikipedia explain:

Boll made headlines by challenging his critics to “put up or shut up”. In June 2006, his production company issued a press release stating that Boll would challenge his five harshest critics each to a 10-round boxing match. Invitations were also open to film directors Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary. To qualify, critics had to have written two extremely negative reviews of Boll, in print or on the Web. In 2005, footage from the fights were to be included on the DVD of his upcoming film Postal .On June 20, 2006, Rich “Lowtax” Kyanka stated on Something Awful that he had been invited by Boll to be the first contestant, after Kyanka reviewed Alone in the Dark. The online gambling site GoldenPalace.com decided to sponsor this event, dubbing it “Raging Boll”. A lot was drawn up in late August 2006, featuring Kyanka, Rue Morgue magazine writer Chris Alexander, webmaster of Cinecutre Carlos Palencia Jimenez-Arguello, Ain’t it Cool News writer Jeff Sneider and Chance Minter, amateur boxer and website critic. Boll fought and won against all five participants. The first match took place on September 5, 2006 in Estepona, Spain against Carlos Palencia. The others battled on September 23, 2006 at the Plaza of Nations in Vancouver.

After Kyanka lost his match, he would go on to make several allegations against Boll, including the fact that Boll refused to fight against Chance Minter (an amateur boxer), because he was an experienced boxer. However, Boll fought Minter as his fourth opponent. He also claimed that Boll misled them by claiming it was a PR stunt when he actually intended to fight them and that Boll claimed that the participants would get training before the match (which no one did). Boll had seriously wounded Sneider, who had also believed Boll.

But of course, that’s all incidental. Let’s have a look at the film. As the story begins, boxer Max Schmeling (Henry Maske) is an embarrassment to the German army, and when his unit is wiped out in Crete, it is believed that he has been killed. But Schmeling survives. As punishment for his survival, despite an injured leg, he is forced to march and English prisoner back towards his own troops. It is assumed (or hoped) that Schmeling will be shot. But instead on the track, he enters into a dialogue with his prisoner. As they walk, Schmeling recounts his story – which also explains how he became an embarrassment that the army.

The film flashes back in 1930, and Schmeling has a title shot against American boxer Jack Sharkey. Schmeling wins controversially, when Sharkey is disqualified after a vicious low blow. However, Schmeling doesn’t deal like a champion, and although he is embraced by the German ruling elite, the common citizens don’t believe he is a real champion either.

In between title defences, Schmeling courts Czech actress Anny Ondra (Susanne Wuest). Anny is Jewish, and in the prevailing political climate in Germany at the time, her film projects are having trouble attracting funding.

In June 1932, Schmeling fights a rematch with Jack Sharkey at Madison Square Garden. Despite Schmeling’s dominance from start to finish, Sharkey is awarded the fight and the Championship belt on points. The German public are outraged.

Later, a story in a German newspaper highlights Schmeling and Anny’s relationship, which up until this point had been kept secret. Anny fears that the story will cause the end of their relationship instead Schmeling asks her to marry him. She does.

Meanwhile in the world of boxing, nobody of any worth is willing to fight Schmeling – with the exception, of course, of an up and comer named Joe Louis. Louis has a reputation as a wrecking machine, and everybody advises Schmeling not to take the fight. But Schmeling has watched a lot of footage of Louis in action and thinks he has spotted weaknesses in the ‘Brown Bomber’s’ technique.

Before the fight, Hermann Goering sends for Schmeling. He wants the fight stopped – as he thinks Schmeling will lose, and therefore would embarrass the German people. He also asks Schmeling to leave his wife, and to ditch his American trainer, who also happens to be Jewish. Schmeling refuses. But before Goering can enforce his demands, he is undermined by the Fuhrer himself, who wants to see Schmeling beat Joe Louis. When Schmeling, who goes into the fight as an unbackable underdog, defeats Louis, he becomes the toast of Germany.

Schmeling and Louis contest a rematch in 1935, but this time Louis knocks Schmeling down in little over two minutes into the first round. Now Schmeling is a national disgrace, and as punishment is called up to its service. The story picks up again at the start of the film, where it began in Crete and follows Schmeling’s life through the rest of the war and beyond.

Ultimately, Schmeling is a man who fought for himself. He wasn’t a Nazi or a politician. He was a boxer and a pretty good one at that. The fact that many boxing commentators consider the first Schmeling v Louis fight to be one of the greatest fights of the twentieth century, proves his boxing skills but it is a shame that the politic of the day should overshadow his contribution to the sport. This film does a lot to address that issue, painting Schmeling as a decent man at an indecent time. And one whose sporting achievements were hijacked for propaganda purposes.

I must confess that beyond some archival footage of Schmeling (and Louis), I do not know much about the man and cannot comment on the veracity of this film. But it seems like an earnest and sincere portrait of a man who became larger than the sports he was associated with. The film is insightful, entertaining, and the boxing scenes aren’t too bad either – without being showy. This is probably because lead actor, Henry Maske, isn’t an actor at all, but a boxer. But he does a good job in the acting stakes – and is convincing. Schmeling: Fist of the Reich, despite the lurid and inappropriate cover art (as shown above) is a solid boxing film – and if you have an interest in the sport, then I think you’ll enjoy this production.

Click here to visit the film’s official website.

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.

Schmeling: Fist of the Reich (2010)