Book Review – DUMMY (1974) by Ernest Tidyman

dumy-wh-allenDUMMY by ERNEST TIDYMAN (1974, W.H. Allen, 210pp) ∗∗∗∗

Blurb: First there was Ernestine Williams, a prostitute found murdered in a Chicago alleyway on November 12, 1965. She had last been seen leaving a bar with a young black mute. Donald Lang, “The Dummy” was arrested. It was the beginning of one of the most bizarre murder cases in American History. From Chicago’s South Side Donald Lang was twenty years old, poor, black, totally illiterate – and deaf and dumb. He could not talk, write, read lips, or understand sign language. It was an unprecedented legal problem: How could the accused defend himself when he could not even communicate? In bewilderment the court appointed the only man who might be able to defend the boy – a tough, determined, resourceful lawyer named Lowell Myers. Myers was also deaf. Dummy is a story of the legal process as an enormous “Catch 22”, a nightmare that ends only to begin when Lang is implicated in a second murder.

Ernest Tidyman uses all his journalistic skills in the telling of the story of Donald Lang – the deaf, dumb and illiterate young black man who was subject of two murder charges during the mid-late 1960s. Tidyman deftly works his way through the court transcripts to highlight the key components on the case focusing on Lang’s predicament and treatment and the efforts of his deaf attorney – Lowell J. Myers. Tidyman offers no opinion on Lang, preferring to let the facts speak for themselves as the story unfolds. He allows opinions from some of the key people working on the case – but only once the story is complete – via interviews with the detectives and prosecutors, This means the reader has the opportunity to form their own views as the story unfolds. Tidyman’s voice comes through in some of the early passages where he sets the scene and introduces us to Lang and Myers before the courtroom battles commence.

Tidyman was in heavy demand at the time of writing this book following his Oscar win for The French Connection and his ongoing work on the Shaft books and films. Like many of his books, Dummy started out life as a screenplay as early as 1971. Tidyman would eventually complete the project as a well-received TV Movie in 1979. For the book he enlisted the research help of fellow journalist Dorothy Storek, of the Chicago Daily News, and manuscript support of regular collaborator Phillip Rock.

Dummy then is highly recommended for anyone with an interest in legal history or the rights of the handicapped to be fairly represented in court. It is also a book that doesn’t get bogged down in legal talk and is also accessible to the general reader.

Film Review – BRIDGET JONES’ BABY (2016)

The main character holding a tabletBridget Jones’ Baby (2016; UK/Ireland/France/ USA; Colour; 123m) ∗∗∗½  d. Sharon Maguire; w. Emma Thompson, Helen Fielding, Dan Mazer; ph. Andrew Dunn; m. Craig Armstrong.  Cast: Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth, Patrick Dempsey, Gemma Jones, Jim Broadbent, Neil Pearson, Emma Thompson, Shirley Henderson, Sarah Solemani, James Callis, Celia Imrie, Sally Phillips, Nick Mohammed, Joseph Harmon, Jill Buchanan, Attila G. Kerekes, Shonn Gregory, Perry Burke, Billy Totham, Mark Bowsher. The continuing adventures of British publishing executive Bridget Jones (Zellweger) as she enters her 40s, becomes pregnant and is unsure on whether Firth or Dempsey is the father. Belated third instalment continues the formula of the first two and coasts on Zellweger’s considerable charm. Some witty lines along the way make this an enjoyable; if familiar, addition. Thompson is good as a maternity doctor and also contributed to the script. [15]

Film Review – TAKEN (2008)

Image result for taken 2008Taken (2008; France/USA/UK; Colour; 93m) ∗∗∗  d. Pierre Morel; w. Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen; ph. Michel Abramowicz; m. Nathaniel Méchaly.  Cast: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace, Goran Kostic, Katie Cassidy, Leland Orser, Jon Gries, David Warshofsky, Holly Valance, Xander Berkeley, Olivier Rabourdin, Gerard Watkins, Arben Bajraktaraj, Nathan Rippy, Camille Japy. A retired CIA agent travels across Europe and relies on his old skills to save his estranged daughter, who has been kidnapped while on a trip to Paris. Slick and efficient action movie is tightly edited so it moves at a sufficient enough pace to disguise its incredulities. Neeson is excellent and gives the movie its edge. Followed by two sequels. [18]

Film Review – RUN ALL NIGHT (2015)

Image result for run all night dvdRun All Night (2015; USA; FotoKem; 114m) ∗∗∗  d. Jaume Collet-Serra; w. Brad Ingelsby; ph. Martin Ruhe; m. Alan Silvestri.  Cast: Liam Neeson, Joel Kinnaman, Ed Harris, Vincent D’Onofrio, Genesis Rodriguez, Boyd Holbrook, Common, Holt McCallany, Malcolm Goodwin, James Martinez. A hit man has one night to figure out where his loyalties lie: with his estranged son, whose life is in danger, or his long time best friend, mob boss, who wants the hit man’s son to pay for the death of his own son. Despite following genre conventions and taking yet another pass at the estranged father and son brought together through adversity theme, this thriller has its moments. Neeson is in good form as the ageing hit man and Harris brings an element of class to his gangster boss role. Watch out for Nick Nolte in a brief uncredited appearance. [15]

Film Review – SHAFT IN AFRICA (1973)

shaft-2-poster-0Shaft in Africa (1973; USA; Metrocolor; 112m) ∗∗∗½  d. John Guillermin; w. Stirling Silliphant; ph. Marcel Grignon; m. Johnny Pate.  Cast: Richard Roundtree, Frank Finlay, Vonetta McGee, Neda Arneric, Debebe Eshetu, Spiros Focás, Jacques Herlin, Jho Jhenkins, Glynn Edwards, Cy Grant, Jacques Marin. P.I. John Shaft is recruited to go undercover to break up a modern slavery ring where young Africans are lured to Paris to do chain-gang work. Whilst the producers try to turn Shaft into a black James Bond, this still remains an enjoyable action thriller. Roundtree has considerable charisma and the plot concerning people trafficking is still topical. Followed by a TV series (1973-4) and then SHAFT (2000). [18]

Book Review – ABSOLUTE ZERO (1971) by Ernest Tidyman

absolute-zeroABSOLUTE ZERO by ERNEST TIDYMAN (1971, The Dial Press, 182pp) ∗∗∗

Blurb: Adam True Blessing’s father was a financial genius; in the words of Bernard Baruch, “thirty-five inches of raw courage the day of the Crash.” Adam’s mother was even shorter. Together they gave their normal-sized son a human maximum of love, moral upbringing, and education, until one day in 1942 when they went out for a walk and a blizzard dropped forty inches of snow before they could return home. That was how Adam found them, so perhaps it was not so surprising that he should make his career in cryogenics – the preservation of human organs and body parts by deep freezing. More difficult to understand was why he should hire such an assortment of physically luckless souls to assist him in his clandestine enterprise – like Mirella Tookins, his 800-pound receptionist, who had to be levered out of a specially rigged Volkswagen bus every morning; or Omsby Drew, a wizard with numbers and a menace on sidewalks or elevators, navigating with his bludgeon of a cane; or Flo Cramby, with her unique affliction, known to medical science as Cramby’s Vertical Minute Hemorrhage, a mini-stroke every few seconds as long as she remained standing. Altogether, Mr. Blessing and his operation – HOPE, INC. (offices in five world capitals and Teterboro, New Jersey) – seem made for suspicion. As Federal authorities, and eventually Federal justice, move in, events veer to a wild and unpredictable confrontation. Along the way, the reader is treated to a marvellously deft play of satirical humour and growing awareness of the significance of the legend of Adam True Blessing and the strange shores of humanity.

Tidyman’s novel demonstrates the writer’s determination not to be tagged in one genre as he looked to find his feet as a novelist following the success of SHAFT. His first novel, FLOWER POWER, had been a trendy story of hippies and this, his third, is a satirical piece of science-fiction. Tidyman’s journalistic instinct leads him to long descriptive passages and deep character insight. The prose is witty and the story veers more toward the absurd rather than the cutting sci-fi satire that was perhaps intended. However, there were many passages that made me smile. Each chapter is opened with a quote from one of the characters involved in the story and the one used for the very first chapter sets the tone nicely:

“The scientific community of this nation owes Mr. Blessing a great debt. On the other hand, he owes the scientific community several hundred thousand dollars.” – Prof. Malcolm Iago, Transcript of Testimony, U.S. vs. Blessing. Tenth District Court of New York.

The characters are all given their own space, but the actual plot shows little development outside of the uncovering of Blessing’s work and the following trial. The book therefore works better as a darkly manic comedy about its assortment of bizarre characters. There’s even a hint of Groucho Marx in the character of attorney, Imre Toth, and the chaos of the closing court scenes.

The book was published the same month the film adaptation of Shaft became a huge success and before he received his Academy Award for the script to The French Connection. Tidyman would move into the world of film scripting and production and largely away from original novels – excepting the continuation of the SHAFT series and novelisations of his own unfilmed screenplays. He would also attempt to adapt ABSOLUTE ZERO for the big screen with Peter Sellers starring, but the project fell through. It’s a shame as Sellers’ anarchic humour would have been perfect for the material.

 

Film Review – SHAFT’S BIG SCORE! (1972)

Image result for Shaft's Big score 1972Shaft’s Big Score! (1972; USA; Metrocolor; 105m) ∗∗∗½  d. Gordon Parks; w. Ernest Tidyman; ph. Urs Furrer; m. Gordon Parks.  Cast: Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn, Drew Bundini Brown, Joseph Mascolo, Kathy Imrie, Wally Taylor, Julius W. Harris, Rosalind Miles, Joe Santos, Angelo Nazzo, Don Blakely, Melvin Green Jr., Thomas Anderson, Evelyn Davis, Richard Pittman. Shaft investigates the murder of a friend and gets mixed up in a feud between gangsters. Follow-up to SHAFT benefits from a higher budget, which is notably apparent in the protracted chase finale where Roundtree is pursued by villains by car, boat and helicopter. This set-piece is the highlight of a movie that comes close to matching the original. Most of the same crew returned and the snow-filled winter streets provide some excellent photographic scenes for Parks and his cinematographer Furrer. Roundtree is the epitome of cool as Shaft, whilst Mascolo makes the most of his role as a Mafia boss with a sense of style. Followed by SHAFT IN AFRICA (1973). [15]

Film Review – AIRPORT (1970)

Airport (1970; USA; Technicolor; 137m) ∗∗∗½  d. George Seaton; w. George Seaton; ph. Ernest Laszlo; m. Alfred Newman.  Cast: Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Jean Seberg, Jacqueline Bisset, George Kennedy, Helen Hayes, Van Heflin, Maureen Stapleton, Barry Nelson, Dana Wynter, Lloyd Nolan, Barbara Hale, Gary Collins, John Findlater, Jessie Royce Landis. Melodrama about a bomber on board an airplane, an airport almost closed by snow, and various personal problems of the people involved. Oft-copied and spoofed, this may now seem overly familiar, but there is plenty of excitement and drama propelled by an energetic cast and a buoyant score. Hayes won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Henry Hathaway directed some of the outdoor winter scenes uncredited. Based on the novel by Arthur Hailey. Final film of both Heflin and Landis. AIRPORT 1975 (1974) was the first of three sequels. [PG]

Film Review – PLAY MISTY FOR ME (1971)

Image result for play misty for me blu-rayPlay Misty for Me (1971; USA; Technicolor; 102m) ∗∗∗∗  d. Clint Eastwood; w. Jo Heims, Dean Riesner; ph. Bruce Surtees; m. Dee Barton.  Cast: Clint Eastwood, Jessica Walter, Donna Mills, John Larch, Jack Ging, Irene Hervey, James McEachin, Don Siegel, Clarice Taylor, Duke Everts, Tim Frawley, Brit Lind, George Fargo, Mervin W. Frates, Otis Kadani. A brief fling between a male disc jockey and an obsessed female fan takes a frightening, and perhaps even deadly turn when another woman enters the picture. Slick, effective psychological thriller with an unnerving performance from Walter. The taut narrative only slows in an unnecessary detour to the Monterey Jazz Festival. Sumptuously photographed by Surtees. Eastwood’s directorial debut. The first scene he shot was his former director Don Siegel’s cameo as a bartender. [15]

Film Review – THE NAKED CITY (1948)

Image result for the naked city blu-rayNaked City, The (1948; USA; B&W; 96m) ∗∗∗∗ d. Jules Dassin; w. Albert Maltz, Malvin Wald; ph. William H. Daniels; m. Miklós Rózsa, Frank Skinner.  Cast: Barry Fitzgerald, Howard Duff, Dorothy Hart, Don Taylor, Frank Conroy, Ted De Corsia, House Jameson, Anne Sargent, Adelaide Klein, Grover Burgess, Tom Pedi. New York City film noir about two detectives investigating the death of an attractive young woman. The apparent suicide turns out to be murder. Set the trend for police procedurals. Whilst the acting may be variable and often stiff, the documentary style approach is innovative. The use of New York City locations brings a level of authenticity, notably in the tense chase finale on the Williamsburg Bridge. Film debut of Walter Burke. Won Oscars for Best Cinematography and Best Editing; received an additional nomination for Best Story. Entered 2007 into the National Film Registry. Spawned a highly successful TV series that ran from 1958-63 and two TV movies in 1998. [PG]