“Shaft” the original novel is 50 today

Today marks the 50th Anniversary of the publication of Ernest Tidyman’s novel Shaft. The book introduces us to black private eye John Shaft as he is hired by Harlem crime lord, Knocks Persons, to locate and rescue his kidnapped daughter who has been grabbed by the Mafia to force Persons to relent in a turf war. Shaft was a brilliant creation – a tough and uncompromising character making his own way in life. The book was very popular and was quickly picked up by MGM for its movie rights – Tidyman having circulated galley copies to studio execs and producers. One such producer, Philip D’Antoni, hired Tidyman to adapt Robin Moore’s book for The French Connection, for which Tidyman ultimately won an Oscar.

Macmillan’s US hardback publication of “Shaft” with a cover by Mozelle Thompson.

Shaft, the movie, was directed by veteran photographer Gordon Parks with Richard Roundtree charismatic in the title role and Isaac Hayes providing a memorably funky score. The rest is history, of course. The movie became a box-office smash and helped to create many new opportunities for black people in the film industry. Two sequels followed (Shaft’s Big Score! in 1972 and Shaft in Africa in 1973) as well as a series of seven TV movies (1973-4).

Tidyman went on to write seven Shaft novels in all but killed his character off in 1975’s The Last Shaft. Despite this, he did try to revive the film series in the late 70s, but could not get the necessary interest in post-Star Wars Hollywood. Of course, two further sequels followed in 2000 and 2019, both titled simply Shaft. Samuel L Jackson played Roundtree’s nephew/son and Jessie T Usher Jackson’s son. Roundtree had cameos in both movies.

Shaft, the novel, had its latest re-publication back in 2016 through Dynamite Entertainment, who also hired David F Walker to write two comic books and a new novel, Shaft’s Revenge. However, Dynamite lost interest due to disappointing sales, despite the critical acclaim this new output garnered. Plans to republish all of Tidyman’s novels seem to have been shelved, so we may have to wait for rights to be freed up again before we see any further reprints.

In the meantime, let’s celebrate and appreciate what Ernest Tidyman brought to the world of crime fiction and cinema on 27 April 1970.

Tidyman holding Oscar at The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 44th Annual Award, No. 337. (photo: Sheedy and Ling)

Film Review – ALIAS SMITH AND JONES (1971)

alias068.jpgALIAS SMITH AND JONES (TV) (USA, 1971) ***½
      Distributor: American Broadcasting Company (ABC); Production Company: Universal Television; Release Date: 5 January 1971 (USA), 19 April 1971 (UK); Filming Dates: 8-28 October 1970; Running Time: 74m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Gene Levitt; Writer: Glen A. Larson, Douglas Heyes (based on a story by Glen A. Larson); Executive Producer: Frank Price; Producer: Glen A. Larson; Director of Photography: John M. Stephens; Music Composer: Billy Goldenberg; Film Editor: Bob Kagey; Art Director: George C. Webb; Set Decorator: Mickey S. Michaels; Costumes: Grady Hunt; Make-up: Bud Westmore, Larry Germain; Sound: Melvin M. Metcalfe Sr.
      Cast: Pete Duel (Hannibal Heyes (alias Joshua Smith)), Ben Murphy (Jed ‘Kid’ Curry (alias Thaddeus Jones)), Forrest Tucker (Deputy Harker Wilkins), Susan Saint James (Miss Porter), James Drury (Sheriff Lom Trevors), Jeanette Nolan (Miss Birdie Pickett), Earl Holliman (Wheat), Dennis Fimple (Kyle), Bill Fletcher (Kane), John Russell (Marshall), Charles Dierkop (Shields), Bill McKinney (Lobo), Sid Haig (Outlaw), Jerry Harper (Outlaw), Jon Shank (Outlaw), Peter Brocco (Pincus), Harry Hickox (Bartender), Owen Bush (Engineer), Julie Cobb (Young Girl).
      Synopsis: A pair of outlaws seeking amnesty from the Governor must stay incognito and out of trouble in a town while a friend pleads their case. The wait is complicated by a lovely bank manager and the arrival of members of their former gang.
      Comment: Light-hearted spin on BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969) coasts on the charm of Duel and Murphy who are backed by a strong guest cast. Duel and Murphy play Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, two outlaws who are seeking amnesty as technology and improved communication systems put their train and bank robbing days behind them. The rest of their gang, led by the excellent Holliman, arrive in a town where Duel and Murphy have taken on honest jobs working as security in Saint James’ bank whilst Sheriff Drury puts their case to the governor. Tucker also scores as Drury’s dim-witted deputy, whilst Larson and Howard’s script is witty and entertaining. Levitt directs with a good feel for the tone required. This was the pilot for the subsequent TV series (1971-73), which ran for three seasons and 50 episodes with Roger Davis replacing Duel midway through the second season following the actor’s tragic suicide.

“The Songs of Genesis” now available from McFarland

My new book The Songs of Genesis: A Complete Guide to the Studio Recordings was published by McFarland & Co. on 14 April and is available to order from their site. The book will be available from most online booksellers at some point in May. Kindle versions are available now from Amazon.

Film Review – BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969)

VINTAGE MOVIE / FILM POSTER SUPERB QUALITY BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE ...BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (USA, 1969) *****
      Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox; Production Company: Campanile Productions / Newman-Foreman Company; Release Date: 23 September 1969 (USA), 5 February 1970 (UK); Filming Dates: 16 September 1968 – 13 March 1969; Running Time: 110m; Colour: DeLuxe; Sound Mix: Mono (Westrex Recording System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Panavision (anamorphic); Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: George Roy Hill; Writer: William Goldman; Executive Producer: Paul Monash; Producer: John Foreman; Director of Photography: Conrad L. Hall; Music Composer: Burt Bacharach; Film Editor: John C. Howard, Richard C. Meyer; Art Director: Philip M. Jefferies, Jack Martin Smith; Set Decorator: Chester Bayhi, Walter M. Scott; Costumes: Edith Head; Make-up: Daniel C. Striepeke, Edith Lindon; Sound: David Dockendorf, Bill Edmondson; Visual Effects: L.B. Abbott, Art Cruickshank.
      Cast: Paul Newman (Butch Cassidy), Robert Redford (The Sundance Kid), Katharine Ross (Etta Place), Strother Martin (Percy Garris), Henry Jones (Bike Salesman), Jeff Corey (Sheriff Bledsoe), George Furth (Woodcock), Cloris Leachman (Agnes), Ted Cassidy (Harvey Logan), Kenneth Mars (Marshal), Donnelly Rhodes (Macon), Jody Gilbert (Large Woman), Timothy Scott (News Carver), Don Keefer (Fireman), Charles Dierkop (Flat Nose Curry), Pancho Córdova (Bank Manager), Nelson Olmsted (Photographer), Paul Bryar (Card Player #1), Sam Elliott (Card Player #2), Charles Akins (Bank Teller), Eric Sinclair (Tiffany’s Salesman).
      Synopsis: Two Western bank/train robbers flee to Bolivia when the law gets too close.
      Comment: Classic Western came after the end of the golden period for the genre but was massively popular due to the charismatic chemistry between Newman and Redford as Butch and Sundance. The stars make the most of Goldman’s witty screenplay dealing with the outlaws’ final days as they flee a dogged posse to Bolivia. The themes of the passing of the old west and its values into a more modern society is given poignancy through Hill’s direction and his use of visual dynamics emphasised by Hall’s evocative cinematography. One of the great Westerns that bears repeated viewings. Sam Elliott’s feature film debut. Won Oscars for Screenplay, Cinematography, Music and Song for “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”. Followed by a prequel BUTCH AND SUNDANCE: THE EARLY DAYS (1979). The movie also inspired the TV series Alias Smith and Jones (1970-3).

Film Review – LOVE AND DEATH (1975)

LOVE AND DEATH (USA, 1975) ****
      Distributor: United Artists; Production Company: Jack Rollins & Charles H. Joffe Productions; Release Date: 10 June 1975 (USA), October 1975 (UK); Filming Dates: 21 September 1974-late February 1975; Running Time: 85m; Colour: DeLuxe; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: PG/PG.
      Director: Woody Allen; Writer: Woody Allen; Executive Producer: Martin Poll; Producer: Charles H. Joffe; Associate Producer: Fred T. Gallo; Director of Photography: Ghislain Cloquet; Music Composer: Sergei Prokofiev; Music Supervisor: Felix Giglio; Film Editor: Ralph Rosenblum, Ron Kalish; Casting Director: Miriam Brickman, Juliet Taylor, Blanche Wiesenfeld; Art Director: Willy Holt; Costumes: Gladys de Segonzac; Make-up: Anatole Paris, Marie-Madeleine Paris, Renée Guidet; Sound: Dan Sable; Special Effects: Kit West.
      Cast: Woody Allen (Boris), Diane Keaton (Sonja), Georges Adet (Old Nehamkin), James Tolkan (Napoleon), Harold Gould (Anton), Olga Georges-Picot (Countess Alexandrovna), Beth Porter (Anna), Zvee Scooler (Father), Jessica Harper (Natasha), Féodor Atkine (Mikhail (as Feodor Atkine)), Despo Diamantidou (Mother), Yves Barsacq (Rimsky (as Yves Barsaco)), Yves Brainville (Andre), Brian Coburn (Dimitri), Tony Jay (Vladimir Maximovitch), Howard Vernon (General Leveque), Alfred Lutter III (Young Boris), Georges Adet (Old Nehamkin), Sol Frieder (Voskovec (as Sol L. Frieder)), Lloyd Battista (Don Francisco).
      Synopsis: In czarist Russia, a neurotic soldier and his distant cousin formulate a plot to assassinate Napoleon.
      Comment: Woody Allen channels Bob Hope (with nods to Chaplin and Groucho) and European cinema (notably Ingmar Bergman) in this very funny parody of Russian literature. Allen is the youngest of three brothers and is in love with the intellectual Keaton, but she is in love with Allen’s macho older brother. Allen and his brothers go off to fight in the war against Napoleon and after inadvertently becoming a hero, Allen gets to marry Keaton, who expects him to be killed in a duel with Gould. The whole thing then turns into an assassination plot against Napoleon (Tolkan). Yes, the plot is as convoluted as all that, but it is also a great vehicle for Allen to deliver his one-liners with zing and some visual slapstick. His targets include his favourite neuroses about sex and death. Keaton is again a great foil for Allen who directs with more assuredness than in any of his efforts up to this point. He was one film away from his breakthrough hit ANNIE HALL. Shot on location in Hungary and France.

Book Review – THE SLEEPWALKER (2019) by Joseph Knox

THE SLEEPWALKER (2019) ****
by Joseph Knox
This paperback edition published by Black Swan, 2020, 433pp
First published in hardcover by Doubleday, 2019
© Joesph Knox, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-7841-6218-4
      Blurb: As a series of rolling blackouts plunge the city into darkness, Detective Aidan Waits sits on an abandoned hospital ward, watching a mass murderer slowly die. Transferred from his usual night shift duties and onto protective custody, he has just one job. To extract the location of Martin Wick’s final victim before the notorious mass murderer passes away. Wick has spent over a decade in prison, in near-total silence, having confessed to an unspeakable crime that shocked the nation and earned him the nickname of The Sleepwalker. But when a daring premeditated attack leaves one police officer dead and another one fighting for his life, Wick’s whispered last words will send Waits on a journey into the heart of darkness. Manipulated by a reticent psychopath from his past, and under investigation from his new partner, Detective Constable Naomi Black, Waits realises too late that a remorseless contract killer is at work. Can Aidan Waits solve his last case before fleeing justice?
      Comment: The third book in Joesph Knox’s Aidan Waits series sees the author put his protagonist through even darker territory than in Sirens or The Smiling Man. The result is a fast-paced page-turning thriller full of twists. The main plot concerns the murder of a convicted killer, convicted for the deaths of a woman and her two children but claiming his innocence as he dies as a result of a hate attack. As Waits and his new partner, Naomi Black, delve deeper they uncover a broader web of cover-ups within the force relating to another case involving a missing female detective. Alongside this, Knox delves more into Waits’ personal past and his relationship with his sister and mother. To fully understand this latter sub-plot it is advised to read Knox’s books in order. If that wasn’t enough there is a further sub-plot involving Knox’s personal nemesis and drug crime lord, Zain Carver, who has put a contract out on the detective. Knox juggles the main plot and the various sub-plots extremely well, so the book does not feel overly cluttered until he tries to resolve (or not as the case may be) each of them in a finale which builds crescendo on crescendo.  Therein lies the problem. The book tries to cram so much exposition into its final act and whilst doing so has an ambiguous ending that will leave some readers distinctly unsatisfied. It may make for thrilling reading and certainly is exciting, but does make the reader question its contrived nature. This is where the modern novel is now mimicking the TV mini-series, which in itself mimicked the novel. The need to pile on shock revelation after shock revelation has removed an element of logic and plausibility from the narrative. That said this was still a hugely enjoyable read for those willing to forgive the contrivances and submit to Knox’s dark view of the world. It will be interesting to see what this challenging and gifted writer delivers next as I have the feeling there is a masterpiece within his gifts, just waiting to be unleashed.

Film Review – THE WOLF MAN (1941)

The Wolfman (1941) movie poster – Dangerous UniverseTHE WOLF MAN (USA, 1941) ***½
      Distributor: Universal Pictures; Production Company: Universal Pictures; Release Date: 9 December 1941 (USA), 13 March 1942 (UK); Filming Dates: 8 September 1941 – 25 November 1941; Running Time: 70m; Colour: B&W; Sound Mix: Mono (Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: George Waggner; Writer: Curt Siodmak; Executive Producer: Jack J. Gross; Producer: George Waggner; Director of Photography: Joseph A. Valentine; Music Composer: Charles Previn, Hans J. Salter, Frank Skinner (all uncredited); Music Director: Charles Previn; Film Editor: Ted J. Kent; Art Director: Jack Otterson; Set Decorator: Russell A. Gausman; Costumes: Vera West; Make-up: Jack P. Pierce; Sound: Bernard B. Brown; Special Effects: John P. Fulton (uncredited).
      Cast: Lon Chaney Jr. (Larry Talbot – The Wolf Man), Claude Rains (Sir John Talbot), Warren William (Dr. Lloyd), Ralph Bellamy (Colonel Paul Montford), Patric Knowles (Frank Andrews), Bela Lugosi (Bela), Maria Ouspenskaya (Maleva), Evelyn Ankers (Gwen Conliffe), J.M. Kerrigan (Charles Conliffe), Fay Helm (Jenny Williams), Forrester Harvey (Twiddle), Jessie Arnold (Gypsy Woman (uncredited)), Leyland Hodgson (Kendall – Butler (uncredited)), Connie Leon (Mrs. Wykes (uncredited)), Doris Lloyd (Mrs. Williams (uncredited)), Ottola Nesmith (Mrs. Bally (uncredited)).
Synopsis: A practical man returns to his homeland, is attacked by a creature of folklore, and infected with a horrific disease his disciplined mind tells him cannot possibly exist.
      Comment: Universal’s second Werewolf film after WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935). It is a fun outing with a strong sense of atmosphere, created by Valentine’s moody photography and Pierce’s impressive make-up. Chaney is Lawrence Talbot, who returns to father Rains’ estate and falls for antique shop-girl Ankers. After visiting a gypsy camp, where he meets the mysterious Lugosi he is bitten by a werewolf and his nightmares begin. Chaney is too stiff to carry off the leading man role but is better when in full make-up and snarling at his intended victims. Rains delivers the best performance, capturing subtly his character’s dilemma of not wanting to believe his son is the murderous monster, but deep down knowing he must do what is right. Waggner directs with pace and the movie proved to be a success. Chaney would appear as the Wolf Man four more times, but only as part of multi-monster offerings. Followed by FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943) and remade as THE WOLFMAN (2010).

TV Review – THE VIRGINIAN: THE MOUNTAIN OF THE SUN (1963)

THE VIRGINIAN: THE MOUNTAIN OF THE SUN  ***
1963   USA   75m   Colour
National Broadcasting Company (NBC) / Revue Studios
Western (PG)
The Virginian (Drury) acts as guide to three missionary women (Hart, Nolan and Strickland) who wish to take medicine and the word of God into the desert to a tribe of Yaqui Indians. The story has a strong script by Kleiner, which explores the wone’s motivations (they are trying to complete the work their husbands started before they were killed). Drury is commanding as ever and his gradual falling for Hart and her ultimate rejection of him is well-judged and handled by McEveety. The story only suffers in its rushed climax, which seems too pat in its exposition. Otherwise, this is another example of how strong the first season of The Virginian was. This was the last acting role for Hart, who devoted the rest of her life to religion as a nun.
exec pr. Roy Huggins; sup pr. Frank Price;  pr. Warren Duff; d. Bernard McEveety; w. Harry Kleiner (based on a story by Lou Morheim); ph. Lionel Lindon; m. Sidney Fine, Richard Shores, Morton Stevens; m sup. Stanley Wilson; theme m. Percy Faith; ed. Edward Haire; ad. George Patrick; set d. John McCarthy Jr., James M. Walters Sr.; cos. Vincent Dee; m/up. Leo Lotito Jr., Florence Bush.
James Drury (The Virginian), Dolores Hart (Cathy Maywood), Jeanette Nolan (Helen Dyer), Amzie Strickland (Ruth Arlen), Joe De Santis (Gen. Rodello), Rico Alaniz (Bandido Leader), George Wallace (Dixon), Carlos Romero (Pedro), Clancy Cooper (Murphy), King Calder (Myers), Dale Johnson (Hotel Clerk), K.L. Smith (Bartender), Alex Montoya (Rafael), Gil Barreto (Mexican Peasant), Ida Augustian (Mexican Child), Rodolfo Acosta (Yaqui Leader).

Film Review – BANDOLERO! (1968)

Bandolero! (20th Century Fox, 1968). British Quad (30" X 39.75 ...BANDOLERO! (USA, 1968) ***
      Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox; Production Company: Twentieth Century Fox; Release Date: 1 June 1968 (USA), 2 August 1968 (UK); Filming Dates: 2 October–early or mid December 1967; Running Time: 106m; Colour: DeLuxe; Sound Mix: 4-Track Stereo (Westrex Recording System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Panavision (anamorphic); Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: PG-13/15.
      Director: Andrew V. McLaglen; Writer: James Lee Barrett (based on the unpublished short story “Mace” by Stanley Hough); Producer: Robert L. Jacks; Director of Photography: William H. Clothier; Music Composer: Jerry Goldsmith; Music Supervisor: Lionel Newman (uncredited); Film Editor: Folmar Blangsted; Art Director: Jack Martin Smith, Alfred Sweeney; Set Decorator: Chester Bayhi, Walter M. Scott; Make-up: Del Acevedo, Daniel C. Striepeke, Edith Lindon; Sound: David Dockendorf, Herman Lewis; Visual Effects: L.B. Abbott, Emil Kosa Jr.
      Cast: James Stewart (Mace Bishop), Dean Martin (Dee Bishop), Raquel Welch (Maria Stoner), George Kennedy (Sheriff July Johnson), Andrew Prine (Deputy Sheriff Roscoe Bookbinder), Will Geer (Pop Chaney), Clint Ritchie (Babe Jenkins), Denver Pyle (Muncie Carter), Tom Heaton (Joe Chaney), Rudy Diaz (Angel), Sean McClory (Robbie O’Hare), Harry Carey Jr. (Cort Hayjack), Don ‘Red’ Barry (Jack Hawkins), Guy Raymond (Ossie Grimes), Perry Lopez (Frisco), Jock Mahoney (Stoner), Dub Taylor (Attendant), Big John Hamilton (Bank Customer), Robert Adler (Ross Harper), John Mitchum (Bath House Customer).
      Synopsis: An outlaw rescues his brother from a hanging and is pursued by a sheriff to Mexico, where they join forces against a group of Mexican bandits.
      Comment: Stewart poses as a hangman to rescue his brother Martin and his gang from a public execution. On their escape, they capture Welch, whose husband (Mahoney) was killed during a bank robbery led by Martin. Kennedy is the sheriff who leads a posse into Mexican bandit territory to rescue Welch and recapture Stewart and Martin. This Western is memorable for Stewart’s charm and Martin’s assured performance. The action is often violent and nasty, but the scenes are well-handled by McLaglen. The developing romance between Martin and Welch is subtly played if a little stilted, whilst Stewart has the best lines and is the most sympathetic character despite his outlaw status. Goldsmith supplies a memorable score and Clothier’s photography is crisp. A veteran support cast helps to make this an above-average genre film.

Film Review – BADMEN OF TOMBSTONE (1949)

Badmen of Tombstone (1949)BADMEN OF TOMBSTONE (USA, 1949) **½
      Distributor: Allied Artists Pictures (USA), Associated British Film Distributors (ABFD) (UK); Production Company: King Brothers Productions; Release Date: 22 January 1949 (USA), 31 October 1949 (UK); Running Time: 75m; Colour: B&W; Sound Mix: Mono (Western Electric Recording); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1; BBFC Cert: U.
      Director: Kurt Neumann; Writer: Philip Yordan, Arthur Strawn (based on the novel “Last of the Badmen” by Jay Monaghan); Producer: Frank King, Maurice King; Director of Photography: Russell Harlan; Music Composer: Roy Webb; Film Editor: Richard V. Heermance; Art Director: Theobold Holsopple; Set Decorator: George Sawley; Make-up: Tony Carnagle, Beth Langston; Sound: Harold M. McNiff, Earl Sitar; Special Effects: Jack R. Glass, Jack Shaw.
      Cast: Barry Sullivan (Tom Horn), Marjorie Reynolds (Julie), Broderick Crawford (William Morgan), Fortunio Bonanova (John Mingo), Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams (Red Fisk), John Kellogg (Curly), Mary Newton (Ma Brown), Louis Jean Heydt (John Stover), Virginia Carroll (Matilda Stover), Dick Wessel (Bartender), Claire Carleton (Nellie), Ted Hecht (Blackie), Harry Hayden (John Mattson), Lucien Littlefield (Old Man in Claims Office), William Yip (Chinese Boy), Olin Howland (Store Proprietor (as Olin Howlin)), Robert Barrat (Leadville Sheriff), Julie Gibson (Dolly Lane), Joseph Crehan (Mine Superintendent), Ted Mapes (Mine Foreman).
      Synopsis: A marshal goes up against a collection of vicious outlaws terrorizing his town.
      Comment: Sullivan plays Tom Horn, a gunman who would rather rob and pillage his way to wealth than work hard. When he falls in with Crawford and his gang a rampage across the west brings its yield. Sullivan then falls for Reynolds, who recognises him from a hold-up and reckons she will bring about her own personal wealth by sticking around with him. The gang finally arrive at Tombstone and hole up in a ghost town near a disused mine. Ultimately, the gang fall out and Sullivan looks to escape with Reynolds to San Francisco. This Western is an interesting take on the genre by focusing solely on the bad men of the west, who have no real redeeming qualities. That is also the film’s main weakness in that there is no-one to root for. Sullivan and Crawford add their acting chops but there is a distinctly B-movie feel to the production not helped by the corny bookend narration, aimed at adding an import to the story.