Thursday, March 18, 2021

Bullet Points: March Gladness Edition

• I despise having broken links in The Rap Sheet, so I’m leery of writing about YouTube videos, as those things have a habit of disappearing suddenly and without explanation. Nonetheless, I would be remiss were I not to point out the unexpected availability there of Cutter, a 1972 pilot film for what its developers hoped would become a new NBC Mystery Movie segment. Scripted by Dean Hargrove and directed by Richard Irving, this 90-minute feature starred Peter DeAnda (1938-2016) as Frank Cutter, a black, Texas-reared Chicago private investigator in the John Shaft mode, who was hired to find a missing football quarterback. Former High Chaparral regular Cameron Mitchell guest-starred, along with Barbara Rush, Robert Webber, Janet MacLachlan, and ex-vaudevillian Stepin Fetchit. Protagonist Cutter came off as cool, sophisticated, but with ample street toughness when he needed it. He had an answering service, but no office. His seeming preference for white women added a daring-for-the-time element to the story, and an ambulance pursuit in the dénouement brought at least some novelty to the usual TV car chase scene.

I’d been looking for Cutter online for a decade, before I finally stumbled on it last week. While I enjoyed watching this picture as a cultural artifact, I can’t imagine a subsequent series succeeding alongside McCloud, McMillan & Wife, and Banacek. Apparently, NBC executives were of a like mind, for they passed on Cutter in favor of Tenafly, another show about an African-American gumshoe (played by James McEachin), but one who was rather less courageous and prosperous. Cutter’s opening title sequence is embedded above. Oliver Nelson, who also composed music for It Takes a Thief, The Name of the Game, and Ironside, gave us the Cutter theme.

• Another notable YouTube offering is Charlie Cobb: Nice Night for a Hanging (1977). Again the pilot for a prospective NBC series, it finds Clu Gulager playing Charles A. Cobb, a cheapskate, unabashedly unheroic private detective working the dusty trails of America’s Old West. This really quite enjoyable movie has Cobb being employed by a rancher to find and return his long-lost daughter, kidnapped many years before. Blair Brown puts in a fine performance as the said kidnappee, with Ralph Bellamy, Stella Stevens, and Pernell Roberts helping to further fill out the cast. The pilot was written by Peter S. Fischer, and executive produced by Columbo creators William Link and Richard Levinson, with music by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter.

• March marks a full half-century since the big-screen debut of Get Carter, the British crime film starring Michael Caine and adapted from Ted Lewis’ 1970 novel, Jack’s Return Home. In CrimeReads, author and pop-culture critic Andrew Nette examines that movie’s history and lasting impact, while in Shotsmag Confidential, Nick Triplow contemplates Lewis’ past and how his novel influences planning for England’s second Hull Noir festival.

• There’s been plenty of awards news lately, beginning with finalists for the 2021 Lambda Literary Awards. I count 24 categories of contenders this year. Those include the following five nominees under the LGBTQ Mystery heading:

Death Before Dessert, by A.E. Radley (Heartsome)
Find Me When I’m Lost, by Cheryl A. Head (Bywater)
Fortune Favors the Dead, Stephen Spotswood, Doubleday
I Hope You’re Listening, by Tom Ryan (Albert Whitman)
Vera Kelly Is Not a Mystery, by Rosalie Knecht (Tin House)

Curiously, there’s only one “Lammys” category for mystery novels this time around. Previous years have offered separate Gay Mystery and Lesbian Mystery lists. Winners are expected to be announced during a virtual ceremony on June 1.

• Walter Mosley is competing for a 2021 NAACP Image Award in the Outstanding Literary Works category. Under consideration is not one of his many crime novels, but instead his 2020 diverse short-story collection, The Awkward Black Man (Grove Atlantic). Mystery Fanfare has more here. Image Award recipients will be celebrated during a March 27 event, to be televised on BET.

• Icelandic author Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s latest standalone work, Bráðin (The Prey), has received the Icelandic Blood Drop Award (Blóðdropinn) for the best crime novel of 2020. As Shotsmag Confidential explains, “The ‘Blood Drop’ Award is a crime fiction prize, hosted by Crime Writers of Iceland. The novel that receives the prize becomes the Icelandic nomination for the Glass Key, an award given annually to a crime novel from one of the Nordic countries—Iceland, Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Norway. Usually, every Icelandic crime novel published each year is automatically nominated.”

• Last but not least, Winter Counts (Echo)—David Heska Wanbli Weiden’s debut work in the crime-fiction field—has captured the 2021 Spur Awards for both Best Contemporary Novel and Best First Novel. The annual Spur Awards are sponsored by the Western Writers of America (WWA), and are designed to “honor writers for distinguished writing about the American West,” according to Wikipedia. The full tally of this year’s Spur champs is available here. Weiden, an enrolled citizen of the Sicangu Lakota nation, will be applauded along with the other winners during the WWA’s convention in Loveland, Colorado, to held June 16-19.

• As regular Rap Sheet readers know, I wasn’t exactly thrilled by news that 64-year-old British actress Lesley Manville had been hired to portray books editor-cum-investigator Susan Ryeland in a six-part small-screen adaptation of Anthony Horowitz’s 2017 whodunit, Magpie Murders; I would have preferred somebody a bit younger (Horowitz imagined Ryeland being in her mid-40s), with greater potential to earn audience sympathy, such as Jodie Whittaker. However, I am pleased to hear that Timothy Spall (The King’s Speech, Mr. Turner) will undertake the plum role of fictitious half-Greek, half-German detective Atticus Pünd is that same Eleventh Hour Films/PBS production. I look forward next to hearing who’ll fill the shoes of prickly Alan Conway, one of Ryeland’s authors and the creator of series sleuth Pünd.

• Meanwhile, Deadline reports that actresses Natalie Portman and Lupita Nyong’o have been engaged to star in an Apple TV+ limited-run drama based on Laura Lippman’s 2019 standalone novel, Lady in the Lake. According to Deadline,
The series will be directed by Honey Boy director Alma Har’el, who co-created and will co-write with Colony and The Man in the High Castle writer Dre Ryan. Lady in the Lake is produced by Jean-Marc Vallée’s Crazyrose and Bad Wolf America, the U.S. arm of the His Dark Materials producer. Endeavor Content is the studio. Har’el is writing the pilot episode.

The limited series takes place in ’60s Baltimore, where an unsolved murder pushes housewife and mother, Maddie Schwartz, played by Portman, to reinvent her life as an investigative journalist and sets her on a collision course with Cleo Sherwood, played by Nyong’o, a hard-working woman juggling motherhood, many jobs and a passionate commitment to advancing Baltimore’s Black progressive agenda.
• From In Reference to Murder comes word that “Queen Latifah is going to hunt more bad guys following the news that CBS has renewed The Equalizer for a second season after only four episodes. The Equalizer stars Latifah as Robyn McCall, an enigmatic woman with a mysterious background who uses her extensive skills as a former CIA operative to help those with nowhere else to turn.” The show is based on Edward Woodward’s 1985-1989 series of the same name.

• The Killing Times features some early still shots from The Ipcress File, British television network ITV’s forthcoming 1960s espionage thriller based, of course, on Len Deighton’s 1962 first novel. “Starring Joe Cole in the iconic role of Harry Palmer alongside Lucy Boynton as Jean and BAFTA award-winning actor Tom Hollander as Dalby, the drama,” explains The Killing Times, “is directed by Emmy award-winner James Watkins … Joining the cast to play further significant roles are Ashley Thomas as Maddox, Joshua James as Chico, David Dencik as Colonel Stok and Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as Cathcart.” Hopes are for an Ipcress launch sometime later this year.

• The second five-part run of Lupin, Netflix’s French crime drama starring Omar Sy as a cool criminal whose escapades are inspired by the classic stories of gentleman thief and master of disguise Arsène Lupin, isn’t expected to commence streaming until this summer. A short trailer, though, can already be enjoyed here.

• After reading Chris Whitaker’s exceptional novel, We Begin at the End (Henry Holt)—newly released in the States—I can easily see it being adapted for television. So I’m not surprised to learn that Disney has snapped up the rights to do so.

In CrimeReads, Whitaker recalls how he quit his job in finance and went to work for a local library in order to write his book.

• The 25th James Bond film, No Time to Die, is currently slated to premiere on both sides of the Atlantic during the fall 2021, after multiple delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet it’s title song by Billie Eilish has already scored a Grammy Award.

• Director Theodore J. Flicker’s 1967 political satire film, The President’s Analyst, is on track to be remade by Paramount Pictures. The Hollywood Reporter says: “Pat Cunnane, who served for six years as President Barack Obama’s senior writer and deputy director of messaging at the White House, wrote the script for the project, which is being developed as a potential star vehicle for [Trevor] Noah,” of The Daily Show fame. The Reporter recalls that “the 1967 movie starred James Coburn as a psychiatrist chosen to act as the President’s top-secret therapist. As the President unloads his troubles on the psychoanalyst, the man begins to crack under the strain of all the secrets, becoming paranoid that agencies, both foreign and national, want what’s inside his head. It’s not a spoiler to say his fears turn out to be real. … Details for the new take are being kept under the couch but it is described as a re-examining the 1967 satire through the lens of the contemporary political landscape.” (A big hat tip to Double O Section.)

• Most of the headlines following American actor Yaphet Kotto’s demise, this last Monday, recalled his villainous role in the 1973 James Bond flick Live and Let Die. While his portrayal of a reprehensible Caribbean dictator as well as that man’s drug-pusher alter ego, Mr. Big, was certainly magnetic and unforgettable, Kotto’s career extended well beyond his menacing Agent 007 and the lovely psychic Solitaire. Variety notes he was born in New York City in 1939, and his acting studies began at age 16. Kotto made his professional theater debut at 19, and he chalked up early movie appearances in Nothing But a Man (1964) and The Thomas Crown Affair (1968). His Live and Let Die acclaim led to his winning parts in pictures on the order of Alien (1975), Brubaker (1980), and The Running Man (1987). Kotto’s introduction to television audiences came on The Big Valley; he soon returned to the boob tube on such programs as Bonanza, Mannix, Hawaii Five-O, The A-Team, Murder, She Wrote, and eventually Homicide: Life on the Street, where he could be seen for seven seasons playing Baltimore Police lieutenant Al Giardello. Kotto was 81 years old when he died in the Philippines.

• The Spy Command draws our attention to the death, at age 85, of another figure well known in Bond World: “Nikki van der Zyl, a German-born actress who provided the voice for various Bond women characters …” Managing editor Bill Koenig observes that “Van der Zyl was used to dub over, among others, Ursula Andress in Dr. No, Eunice Gayson in Dr. No and From Russia With Love, Shirley Eaton in Goldfinger and Claudine Auger in Thunderball. She worked on various Bond films through Moonraker.” In addition, Van der Zyl lent her voice to The Blue Max, Funeral in Berlin, Krakatoa: East of Java, and assorted other movies. She breathed her last in London.

• I must, too, acknowledge the passing, on January 12, of Judith Van Gieson. Jiro Kimura provides this obituary on The Gumshoe Site:
The former American editor of John le Carré started to write her fiction when she moved to New Mexico. She wrote eight novels, which feature Neil Hamel, an attorney and investigator in Albuquerque, starting with North of the Border (Walker, 1988) and ending with Ditch Rider (HarperCollins, 1998). The Hamel novel The Lies That Bind (1993) was nominated for the 1994 Shamus Award in the best novel category. Her other series of five novels features Claire Reynier (prounced ray-NEER), a buyer of rare books and librarian [at] the University of New Mexico, starting with The Stolen Blue (University of New Mexico Press/Signet Books, 2000) and ending with The Shadow of Venus (2004), which was nominated for the 2004 Barry Award in the best paperback category.

After she retired from writing novels, she formed ABQ Press, an online publishing company, and helped aspiring writers to edit and publish their works. She was 79.
• Even Lieutenant Columbo wasn’t perfect. That’s the bottom line of this piece in The Columbophile, which looks back at “10 times Columbo should have been reported to his superiors.” That blog’s still-anonymous Australian author opines: “[W]hile we know Columbo is pure of heart, there are times when his methods and actions could be considered questionable, if not utterly inappropriate.”

• Speaking of Columbo, The Postman on Holiday’s Lou Armagno recommends this article from Mental Floss that includes mention of star Peter Falk having been “a government worker before becoming an actor.” That piece continues: “Peter Falk wasn’t too far removed from the character he played. In real life he tended to be rumpled and disheveled and was forever misplacing things (he was famous for losing his car keys and having to be driven home from the studio by someone else). He was also intelligent, having earned a master’s degree in Public Administration from Syracuse University, which led to him working for the State of Connecticut’s Budget Bureau as an efficiency expert until the acting bug bit him. He was also used to being underestimated due to his appearance; he’d lost his right eye to cancer at age three, and many of his drama teachers in college warned him of his limited chances in film due to his cockeyed stare. Indeed, after a screen test at Columbia Pictures’ Harry Cohn dismissed him by saying, ‘For the same price I can get an actor with two eyes.’”

• Finally, here’s something to anticipate: The latest newsletter from Portland, Oregon’s Friends of Mystery promises that the winner of its 2021 Spotted Owl Award, plus the runners-up, will be announced during the group’s next meeting, on Thursday, March 25. A preliminary list of novels vying for that coveted prize is here.

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