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    Sunday, December 21, 2008

    Book: Hey There (You with the Gun in Your Hand), by Robert J. Randisi (2008)

    In the third of Randisi’s Rat Pack novels, Eddie Gianelli is once again called on to perform a service above and beyond his duties as a pit boss at the Sands. Someone is blackmailing Sammy Davis, Jr., and only Eddie is fit to be go-between. But this caper could extend beyond show business; after all, it’s 1961, and Rat Pack crony JFK is in the White House. The book is Randisi’s usual mix of clean prose and sharp period detail. If he writes a dozen of these books I’ll read them all, because the Rat Pack are my version of superheroes. Sure, Tony Stark can build a pocket fusion reactor in a cave with a box of scraps. But could he do a number with Allan Sherman and Vic Damone like Dean Martin?

    Eddie did a favor for Dino in the first novel, then helped Frank in #2. I doubt that Peter Lawford will be next, based on how he’s treated in the books. I’ve always felt some degree of affection for Brother-in-Lawford, who had to know he was in over his head. (Lawford, well played by Angus Macfadyen, is the focus of HBO’s The Rat Pack.) He was a mere mortal who found himself amongst gods, and that’s as close as you’re going to get to tragedy in the world of ring-a-ding-ding.

    Movie: The Killer is Loose (1956)

    I owe Randisi. His book kept me up late the night I was recording this movie on TCM and the DVR stopped six minutes early. Because I was awake to notice it, I was able to grab the fraught closing scenes, which play out like ur-DePalma.

    Killer marks a foray into crime drama by Budd Boetticher, a director whose lean psychological westerns are winning deserved acclaim on DVD. While attempting to arrest mousy bank clerk Wendell Corey for robbery, detective Joseph Cotten accidentally kills Corey’s wife. Several years later, Corey escapes from prison hell-bent on responding in kind, targeting Cotten’s spouse Rhonda Fleming.

    Boetticher’s economy and stark compositions ratchet up the tension brilliantly. Corey is an actor I haven’t particularly cared for in the past but he’s phenomenal here, his face rendered a void by Clark Kent eyeglasses, his psyche scarred by his perceived failures during the war. There are terrific supporting performances by veterans of the Jack Webb Players John Larch as Corey’s former sergeant and Virginia Christine as a cop’s wife who knocks Fleming off her pedestal. A genuine B-movie gem.

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    Definitely agree re: The Killer is Loose. Corey, as usual, plays a total loser...and yet he's much more tolerable in this one.


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