Random Musings: A look back at Gene Tierney and “Laura”

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Gene Tierney

Gene Tierney

From time to time, some online “best of” list declares that this, that or the other woman is the most beautiful celebrity (however the “survey” in question defines that word) of all time. The answer is always wrong.

The most beautiful celebrity (however that word is defined) of all time was, is and always will be Gene Tierney.

Gene Eliza Tierney (1920-1991) appeared in more than 35 movies over the course of her career, including two of the best films of the 1940s, Laura (1944) and The Razor’s Edge (1946). I may discuss The Razor’s Edge in a subsequent entry, but for today, I’m going to discuss Laura.

Laura opening titles

The film opens a few days after the reported murder of Laura Hunt (Tierney), with acid-tongued newspaper columnist and radio commentator Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) telling us he’s the only one who really knew her.

We later learn that he’d served as a mentor of sorts, introducing Hunt to the “right people” and helping her make the connections that landed her an important job at an advertising agency.

Lydecker, who types out his columns while sitting in the bathtub, is interviewed by police Lieutenant Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews). After getting dressed, Lydecker ask to come along while McPherson interviews the lists of suspects, saying he wants to study their reactions.

“You’re on the list yourself, you know?” McPherson says.

“Good,” Lydecker replies. “To have overlooked me would have been a pointed insult.”

McPherson interviews Waldo Lydecker

Mark McPherson interviews Waldo Lydecker.

The suspects include Hunt’s aunt, Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson) and Hunt’s possible fiancé, Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), who is currently “involved” with Treadwell.

It was Treadwell who identified the body, the victim of a shotgun blast to the face.

In response to McPherson’s questions, Treadwell says she’s very fond of Carpenter, adding, “Everybody is.”

“I’m not,” Lydecker replies. “I’ll be hanged if I am.”

It turns out that Treadwell has been supporting Carpenter financially. Carpenter was also at her home when McPherson and Lydecker came to see her.

When Carpenter asks what possible motive he might have for killing Hunt, given that they were going to be married that same week, Lydecker says she hadn’t definitely made up her mind to marry him.

“She told me herself last Friday when she called to cancel our dinner engagement,” he says. “As a matter of fact, she was going to the country to think it over.”

The murder took place the previous Friday.

Lydecker and Carpenter then accompany McPherson to Hunt’s apartment, where we learn that portions of Carpenter’s alibi don’t hold up. However, McPherson apparently accepts his story of having fallen asleep at a concert reasonable, saying he’s done the same thing, himself.

On the other hand, when the three men go into Hunt’s bedroom and Carpenter finds a key to her country place in a drawer, McPherson points out that the earlier police inventory hadn’t included a key in that drawer.

“You put it there, didn’t you?” he asks.

Carpenter say he did and that he didn’t want to give McPherson the key while Lydecker was present for, “private reasons that don’t concern him.”

Carpenter finds the key

Carpenter “finds” the key.

Lydecker and McPherson then have dinner at a restaurant Lydecker and Hunt frequented on a regular basis. Via flashback, we learn how he first met her, several years earlier.

As Lydecker narrates the flashback, we learn that just as he’d introduced Hunt to the “right people”, we also learn that he’d steered her away from those he considered “wrong” for her. That list included other men interested in her. He used his column to tear down one such suitor.

He also had Carpenter investigated.

In the course of his investigation, McPherson spends a lot of time in Laura Hunt’s apartment, which features a large painting of her over the fireplace. He finds himself drawn to it.

McPherson finds himself drawn to Laura's image

McPherson finds himself drawn to Laura Hunt’s image.

“Have you sublet this apartment?” Lydecker asks at one point. “You’re here often enough to pay rent.”

He also reveals that he knows McPherson has put in a bid for the painting.

“Have you ever dreamed of Laura as your wife?” Lydecker asks. “…I see you have.”

He adds that McPherson should watch out, lest he end up in a psychiatric ward.

“I don’t think they’ve ever had a patient who fell in love with a corpse.”

Sometime after Lydecker leaves, McPherson falls asleep in a chair below the painting only to be awakened when a rain-drenched and very-much-alive Laura Hunt walks through the front door.

For Mark McPherson, Laura Hunt is no longer just an image in a painting, the sum of other people’s descriptions of her or the content of her letters; she’s a living, breathing woman standing in front of him.

Laura Hunt confronts Mark McPherson

Laura Hunt confronts Mark McPherson.

Brought quickly up to date on what’s happened, Hunt says she realizes who the victim must be based on a dress she found in her closet. But why are there inconsistencies in her statement about her activities over the weekend? Laura hunt goes from murder victim to one of the suspects.

McPherson continues his investigation, even as Hunt’s friends celebrate the news that she’s still alive. The key questions now revolve around whether the murdered woman or Hunt had been the intended victim. If the former, what role, if any, did Hunt play? If the latter, will the killer try again?

With a strong cast led by Gene Tierney in the title role, Laura is film noir classic, well worth seeing.

Copyright 2018, Patrick Keating.

 

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Random Musings: A look back at Fables

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Fables

From 2002- 2015, DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint published Fables, a 150-issue, Eisner Award-winning series written by Bill Willingham that followed the adventures of and relationships among well-known characters from fairy tales, folklore and, well, fables.

Many of these individuals, known collectively as “Fables”, have lived for centuries in a community called Fabletown, located on Bullfinch Street in New York City and protected from discovery by various magical spells. Long ago, these Fables fled from their disparate Homelands to our mundane (“Mundy”) world to escape “The Adversary”, who had conquered the Homelands and enslaved anyone remaining.

By the time the series came to an end, the identity of the Adversary had long since been revealed. I’m not going to reveal it here, however. People who’ve read Fables already know the answer, while those who plan to read it should have the opportunity to find out in the pages of the story.

And those who plan to read Fables but don’t care about such spoilers can learn the Adversary’s identity elsewhere on the Internet.

In the first storyline, Jack of the Tales (who is basically any fairy tale or fable character named Jack) bursts into the office of Fabletown Sheriff Bigby (as in Big Bad) Wolf with news that Snow White’s estranged sister, Rose Red, has been the victim of a violent crime. Bigby visits Rose Red’s apartment, along with Jack and Snow White, and finds blood splattered everywhere. With assistance from Flycatcher (AKA the Frog Prince) and Boy Blue, he investigates whether Rose Red is dead and if so, who murdered her.

Bigby and Snow

Bigby Wolf and Snow White discuss the case.

The Snow White in the fairy tale of Snow White and Rose Red is a different person than the one in the story Walt Disney adopted as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in 1937 (that latter story is titled “Snowdrop” in Sixty Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm), but Willingham conflated the two unrelated Snows into one person, just as Jack is all the “Jack” characters and Frau Totenkinder is all the unnamed witches.

In Fables Snow White’s experiences with the dwarves were much more harrowing than in the Disney version. She eventually got her revenge.

When the series opens, Snow White is deputy mayor of Fabletown (King Cole is mayor) and Boy Blue works for her. In the first storyline, we’re also introduced to Beauty (who’ll later succeed Snow White as deputy mayor) and the Beast (who’ll later succeed Bigby as sheriff); Bluebeard; Cinderella (whom we later learn is an adept espionage agent); Prince Charming; Bufkin, a flying money from Oz, and Pinocchio, among others.

Pinocchio, Flycatcher and Boy Blue, we later learn, are good friends who enjoy hanging out together and buying comics every week.

Those Fables who are not human in appearance or unable to adopt human form live on a farm in upstate New York. Not all of them like having to live there.

Bigby and Colin

Bigby and Colin the Pig.

The second storyline concerns a revolution at the farm, with Goldilocks, who’s depicted as a political extremist, playing a key role among the revolutionaries.

Other storylines deal with Boy Blue’s incursion into the Homelands to assassinate the Adversary (whose identity is subsequently revealed); meetings with a delegation of Arabian Fables to discuss an alliance against the Adversary, alliances with the Cloud Kingdoms; the toll the war against the Adversary extracted on Fabletown as a community and on individual Fables; a power struggle between Totenkinder and Ozma of Oz and Bufkin’s adventures in Oz and elsewhere after he leaves Fabletown, to mention just a few.

There are also storylines of a more personal nature. Bigby and Snow White fall in love and start a family. Their seven children factor in several storylines. In the storyline “Cubs in Toyland”, when Therese Wolf is lured to a barren land occupied by broken toys— in more ways than one — who need a queen, her brother Dare sets out to rescue her. But saving her requires a sacrifice.

Dare's sacrifice

Dare’s sacrifice.

Because Dare’s bloodline is magical, his sacrifice restores the land.

Therese's realization

Therese’s realization.

In the “Inherit the Wind” storyline, Another of the cubs succeeds Bigby’s father as the embodiment of the North Wind (from whom Bigby got his  facility with huffing and puffing and blowing houses down).

The final battle against the Adversary took place in issue #75 and while various individual storylines continued beyond that point, the “big picture” plot subsequently shifted to threats that had previously been kept at bay. Some of these threats would prove worse than the Adversary in many ways, for they’d strike at the heart of Fabletown— both the physical place itself and the community that lived there.

Throughout the series, Snow White remains one of the primary leaders of Fabletown, wielding power on many levels. When a slain Bigby is restored to life in a more monstrous incarnation, Snow makes it clear she’ll end him if he makes a move toward their cubs.

Snow confronts Bigby

Snow confronts Bigby.

And when a prince from her youth (long before she met Prince Charming) returns, claiming to be her true husband because of her childhood agreement to marry him, and that her children must die as abominations, Snow makes her displeasure abundantly clear.

Snow stabs Brandish

Snow skewers Brandish.

Brandish, the prince in question, is from the fairy tale of Snow White and Rose Red, again merging the two Snow White characters into one.

While Snow White and Bigby Wolf are important characters in Fables not every storyline concerns them or those related to them. In “The Good Prince”, for example, we learn Flycatcher’s story and how he’d come to establish a kingdom of his own called Haven, with help from the ghost of Sir Lancelot.

Lancelot knights the Frog Prince

Lancelot knights the Frog Prince.

If you’re interested in fables, fairy tales, folklore, mythology and the like, Fables is worth checking out. The whole series has been collected in 22 trade paperbacks.

 

Copyright 2018 Patrick Keating.

 

 

Random Musings: Thoughts on Bill Cosby’s downfall

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Bill Cosby

Bill Cosby in prison garb on the set of I Spy.

Bill Cosby has been found guilty of three counts of aggravated indecent assault and could face 10 years in prison on each count.

As I said back in 2015, it had become more and more apparent that the allegations against him were true. And now a jury has come to the same conclusion.

Should Cosby be imprisoned, given that he’s 80-years-old?

Yes.

His age and health issues shouldn’t allow him to forego any prison time. Even if he doesn’t end up in an actual cell with iron bars, he needs to be confined to some place that is not his home where his movements and choices are restricted.

He should also be required to make significant monetary contributions to rape crisis centers and similar organizations.

Should his work be forgotten by future generations?

No.

I grew up listening to Cosby’s comedy albums. He was my favorite comedian and I associate him more with the hilarious voice on those records than I do with Cliff Huxtable from The Cosby Show or Alexander Scott on I Spy. In fact, I didn’t even see reruns of I Spy until years after I’d discovered Cosby’s comedy records.

Many of his routines are hilariously funny and I’ve memorized several. One year when I was in high school, my family listened to and enjoyed Cosby tapes on long car drives during a vacation when our car’s antenna was broken and we couldn’t use the radio.

Future generations should be able to listen to the voice on those records, tapes, CDs, downloads and whatever new audio technologies come along (though Cosby should no longer receive any monetary benefit from any of these albums). And if those future generations only know those comedy routines for their content and have forgotten the name Bill Cosby (or conflate his positive achievements with those of some other comedian), that’s as it should be.

For myself, I haven’t listened to any of my Cosby records or tapes in years. I’m not sure when or if I will again. Not any time soon, though. While it’s important to separate a person from his or her work, it’ll be some time before I’d want to listen to those albums again, knowing what we now do about the actual man behind the voice.

As I said in 2015, while Cosby the voice on those records is hilarious, Cosby the man behind the voice — and the man who once would have been remembered for his acts of philanthropy — has proven himself to be beneath contempt. And he brought his downfall on himself.

Copyright 2018 Patrick Keating

 

Random Musings: A review of “Fourteen Hours”

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Fourteen Hours

 

Early on the morning of St. Patrick’s Day in New York City, a young man named Robert Cosick (Richard Basehart) steps out onto the ledge of his 15th floor hotel room and brings the city to standstill until well into the evening.

That’s the basic plot of the 1951 film Fourteen Hours, which was based on a 1938 incident and also starred Paul Douglas as Charlie Dunnigan, the police officer who tries to convince Cosick to come back inside.

Initially, Dunnigan passes himself off as a hotel resident, but realizes honesty is the better policy and comes clean.

“I don’t know from nothing what you think you’re doing or why, but you look like a nice kid to me,” Dunnigan says. “I’d hate to see you make a bad mistake.”

Dunnigan’s superiors send him back to his duties as a traffic cop, but Cosick says he’ll only talk to him and Dunnigan comes back. He spends the day trying to gain his confidence.

Cosick and Dunnigan

Officer Charlie Dunnigan talks with Robert Cosick.

One thing I like about the film is that the main plot with Cosick and Dunnigan is interlaced with vignettes taking place among people affected in one way or another by Cosick’s actions. You’ve got Danny and Ruth (Jeffrey Hunter and Debra Paget), who’d never have met if she hadn’t stopped and lingered because she goes to work a half hour before he does; you’ve got the couple (Grace Kelly and James Warren) meeting at a law office to finalize a divorce, only she’s rethinking it, in part because of delays getting to the office due to traffic jams because of the rubbernecking.

Daniel and Ruth

Danny and Ruth meet.

And, on that note, there’s the group of cab drivers who can’t get anywhere because of the traffic jams. They start a pool as to who’ll guess closest to the time Cosick jumps. However, as the day drags on, some of them have second thoughts about the whole idea.

Over the course of the day, Dunnigan gradually gets Cosick to open up about himself and he learns about the strained relationship between Cosick’s divorced parents (Agnes Moorehead and Robert Keith) as well as Cosick’s own doubts about his future with the girl in his life, Virginia (Barbara Bel Geddes).

For her part, Cosick’s mother tries to make the crisis about herself.

“I did have to give up my music, any thought of a career,” she tells reporters about how her son’s birth impacted her. “My teacher says I would have been a concert pianist if I’d kept on. And it’s obvious what people thought when Bobby was born, but it wasn’t true at all. I wanted him. It was a great blessing.”

“The old lady protests too much,” one reporter mumbles to another.

Dunnigan confronts her at one point.

“I don’t think you feel anything but sorry for yourself,” he tells her. “Look, I’ve been out there all day now, hanging on by the seat of my pants. I don’t know what’s wrong with your kid. I don’t know why I care, but I do. I’m going to do everything I can to get him back in.”

Dunnigan and Mrs Cosick

Dunnigan confronts Mrs. Cosick.

Cosick senior is concerned that his son wouldn’t want to see him, but Dunnigan talks the young man into having a conversation with his father.

He also convinces him to talk with Virginia.

However, Dunnigan’s patience only goes so far. When Cosick snaps at him at one point, he snaps back.

“You realize half the police force in New York is climbing around this hotel, holding their breath to see what you’re going to do?” he asks. “…I don’t know why I bother with you in the first place.”

With a screenplay by John Paxton, based on a New Yorker article by Joel Sayre, and directed by Henry Hathaway, Fourteen Hours is a taut, engaging suspense film, well worth seeking out.

Copyright 2018 Patrick Keating.

 

Random Musings: Old Time Radio double feature: Let George Do It and Yours Truly Johnny Dollar

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Let George Do It

As I’ve said before, I’m a huge fan of classic radio shows, also known as Old Time Radio. These were the dramas, comedies, mysteries, Westerns, adventures and science fiction shows (among other genres) broadcast on radio primarily between the 1930s and the early 1960s.

In the “mystery” category, two of my favorite shows are Let George Do It and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. Both starred Bob Bailey, one of radio’s best actors.

Let George Do It ran from Oct. 18, 1946- Sept. 27, 1954 on the west coast Mutual-Don Lee network and was sponsored by Standard Oil. George Valentine advertised in the papers: “Personal Notice: Danger’s my stock in trade. If the job’s too tough for you to handle, you’ve got a job for me, George Valentine. Write full details.”

In the first show, George is newly released from the Army after World War II and publishes the ad trying to drum up business. He doesn’t quite know what he’s going to do, but he finds a case almost immediately when a boy named Sonny Brooks (Eddie Firestone, Jr.) shows up with his older sister Claire (Frances Robinson) in tow, declaring they’re George’s office boy and secretary, respectively. When the phone rings, Sonny answers it, invites the caller to come up to George’s office, starting George on his first job when George still isn’t quite clear what that’s supposed to be.

Sonny eventually disappeared from the show, but Claire (“Brooksie” to George) remained. At some point, Virginia Gregg replaced Robinson in the role.

I’ve categorized Let George Do It as a mystery series, but that’s what it became. At the start, although some episodes had elements of mystery, there weren’t necessarily crimes to be solved. In one early episode, a radio cowboy star asks George to appear in his place in public because the cowboy star has developed a fear of horses.

As radio historian Elizabeth McLeod wrote in an essay about the series for Radio Spirits, the early George Valentine stories, “were as much about the people who hired him as they were about George himself, and he fit into the tales as a sort of bemused outsider called in to somehow restore order to messes he didn’t create — resulting in stories that bordered as much on light comedy as they did crime drama.”

Bailey left Let George Do It and went on to portray “the man with the action-packed expense account, that fabulous freelance insurance investigator” known as Johnny Dollar.

Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar

Bob Bailey was one of six actors to portray Johnny Dollar on CBS between 1949 and 1962 and is generally considered the best of the bunch. When he took over the role in 1955 (he’d play it until 1960), Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar went from a 30 minute episodic show to a serial. Each case during the 1955-1956 season was broadcast in 15 minute chapters over the course of five nights. In some rare instances, cases ran for more than five chapters (The series would return to the 30 minute format in the 1956 season).

Johnny was hired by various insurance companies to look into any number of actual or suspected crimes. His reports came in the form of his (sometimes padded) expense accounts. He worked alone, though would cooperate with local law enforcement.

Some of the five-part stories are expanded versions of earlier 30-minute shows, which resulted in some degree of padding. On the other hand, the multiple chapters allowed for more depth and the introduction of subplots. I tend to prefer the serialized Johnny Dollar stories.

I have a particular fondness for Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. In 1997, I introduced it to my then 11-year-old cousin, who loved the show and balked at the idea of waiting to hear the next episode. In 2003, I wrote a Johnny Dollar script with Johnny’s client named for her. It was performed live at the Cincinnati Old Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention, with one of my closest friends playing the part named after her.

If you enjoy mystery stories (or even sometimes comical mystery stories in the case of early Let George Do It episodes), both Let George Do It and Yours Truly Johnny Dollar are worth seeking out.

Copyright 2018 Patrick Keating.

 

Random Musings: Radioactive Man is an enjoyable superhero parody

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Radioactive Man

In 1952, the superhero Radioactive Man appeared on newsstands across America in Boffo Mystery Stories #15.

Well, not really. In actual fact, Radioactive Man is a character in the Simpsons universe and a favorite of Bart Simpson.

But his adventures have also been published in the “real world” by Bongo Comics, and in 2012, HarperCollins collected several adventures in a 272 page hardcover as Radioactive Man Radioactive Repository Volume One.

I first encountered Radioactive Man when I came across a six-issue miniseries published in the 1990s. I almost passed on it, in part because the character looks a bit like Homer Simpson in a superhero costume; but as I recall all six were packaged together and on sale.

I’m glad I bought those issues (and subsequent ones as well), because Radioactive Man is an often hilarious parody not only of superhero comics, but also of real-world events.

The first six issues weren’t numbered 1-6. Instead, they were, respectively, #s 1, 88, 216, 412, 679 and 1000, with fake publication months and years for each issue.

Radioactive Man is really wealthy, layabout playboy Claude Kane III, son of physicist Claude Kane II. When he gets lost and ends up at a nuclear test sight (and fails to see the big sign warning him away), he’s exposed to the energies of the “Mega Bomb.”

Good news: He gains super powers.

Bad news: A lightning bolt-shaped piece of shrapnel gets embedded in the top of his head, meaning Claude must always wear a hat of some sort to protect his secret identity.

References to other comics characters abound in these stories. Claude’s wealth and the fact that he lives at “Stately Kane Manor” recalls Batman; his exposure to a bomb at a test site recalls The Incredible Hulk; and his hidden hideaway, “The Containment Dome”, based on an architectural model of a geodesic dome stolen from architect “J. Westminster Fulbright”, recalls Superman’s Arctic Fortress of Solitude.

Containment Dome

Radioactive Man builds his Containment Dome.

Okay, in fairness, Claude didn’t steal the model so much as he assumed it was being thrown out because someone had set it at the foot of the steps outside a building.

Radioactive Man later gains a sidekick, Fallout Boy, whose back-story recall Spider-Man in more ways than one. Peter Parker has his infirm Aunt May. Rod Runtledge has his infirm Aunt June. Also, in “Radioactive Man #88” (“dated” May 1962), there are two specific references to Spider-Man. First, Fallout Boy is trapped under heavy machinery, just like Spider-Man was in Amazing Spider-Man #s 32 and 33 from 1966.

The second takes place in a flashback recounting Fallout Boy’s origin (which he remembers “as if it were just last issue”) at an experiment in radioactivity (“completely safe! Bring the kids!” the sign says) where a spider makes a cameo appearance:

Peter Parker cameo

Rod Runtledge sends a radioactive spider to its destiny.

Other comics references include parodies of both The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen in “Radioactive Man #679”, “dated” January 1986.

And “Radioactive Man #1000”, “dated” January 1995, not only shows our hero reverting back to his “long-forgotten Golden Age self”, Radio Man (with an outfit reminiscent of Fawcett Comics’ Captain Marvel), but he also finds himself battling “Radioactive Worm”, an analogue to Captain Marvel villain Mr. Mind, whose “Monster Society of Evil” bedeviled Captain Marvel in a storyline running in Captain Marvel Adventures #s 22-46 from 1942-1944.

Some real world references include a scene in “Radioactive Man #216”, “dated” August 1972, in which Claude Kane is given a note by reporter Gloria Grand’s editor while waiting for her and makes a decision regarding its importance.

Watergate note

Claude Kane deals with a note for Gloria Grand.

Nixon (whom Radioactive Man supports) makes several appearances in these comics. In Radioactive Man #1, he’s part of a congressional panel investigating whether certain comics are “anti-American” (a reference to real-world 1954 senate subcommittee on juvenile delinquency, which sought to blame comics, especially those published by William Gaines) for social ills. In Radioactive Man, “William Maimes” is accused of being part of a communist conspiracy. The “overwhelming evidence” being that Radioactive Man found a stack of “Maimes”’ comics in the lab of communist villain Dr. Crab. Radioactive Man subsequently warns Nixon that “subversives are everywhere” and that he might want to install a taping system.

And the so-called “expert”, “Dr. Hedrick Hertzmann” (an analogue of Dr. Fredric Wertham), tells Gloria Grand that, “Starting immediately, the Cartoon Conduct Code Program will examine every new comic book to make sure it is free of subversive ideas— or any other ideas for that matter.”

For his part, Radioactive Man assures Rod Runtledge that “the Constitution doesn’t protect things that are printed on such crummy paper” and Rod promises to only read “CCCP-approved” comics from then on.

The Cartoon Conduct Code Program is a reference to the Comics Magazine Association of America, an “authority” created by comics publishers to self-sensor themselves (and which has since been abandoned).

Of course “CCCP” is also the Cyrillic abbreviation for the Soviet Union. Another bit of irony.

The various Radioactive Man adventures offer fun-filled superhero stories made even more fun for those in the know about the history of comics or history in general. Well worth seeking out.

Copyright 2017 Patrick Keating

 

Random Musings: A review of The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy

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Whispering Mummy

The junior detective firm of The Three Investigators— Jupiter Jones (first investigator), Pete Crenshaw (second investigator) and Bob Andrews (records and research) receives two letters seeking their services. One is from a Mrs. Mildred Banfry, a friend of a previous client, seeking help in finding her lost Abyssinian cat.

The other is from Alfred Hitchcock, with whom the boys have formed an association, asking them to help his friend, Professor Robert Yarborough, determine how a 3,000-year-old mummy could possibly be whispering to him.

Pete is in favor of searching for the lost cat, but Jupe, who has the tendency to outvote his partners 1-2, decides that the Three Investigators’ time is better spent determining the reasons why Professor Yarborough— and only Professor Yarborough— should hear a mummy whisper.

Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators in The Whispering of the Whispering Mummy is the third book in the Three Investigators mystery series. Written in 1965 by series creator Robert Arthur, it was inspired by his wife, Joan Vaczek, who’d lived in Egypt from 1935-1940, according to a Three Investigators website run by Arthur’s daughter, Elizabeth.

Professor Yarborough has in his private museum the mummy of Ra-Orkon, which he’d discovered 25 years earlier. He wasn’t able to study it then because of other commitments, but now has the time and has arranged to have it delivered to his home so he can examine it in detail and perhaps learn who Ra-Orkon was. The last thing he expected was for the mummy to talk to him.

And it isn’t his imagination, because Jupe also heard the whispering when he disguised himself as the professor.

But there’s more to Ra-Orkon than his alleged postmortem murmuring, including a supposed curse. Professor Yarborough dismisses it out off hand, but something causes a statue of the jackal god Anubis to topple, almost striking him, a boulder rolls down a hill toward him and the boys and his butler is confronted by what appears to be Anubis in the flesh.

Anubis

Anubis confronts Professor Yarborough’s butler.

Shortly afterward, the mummy turns up missing. Was Ro-Orkon stolen or did he pull a Boris Karloff? The Three Investigators are determined to discover what’s become of him.

And Pete’s going to find out what happened to that cat.

One of the great things about the Three Investigators books is that Jupe, Pete and Bob were depicted as independent detectives, seeking out cases on their own or being actively recruited, rather than being associated with (and sometimes getting cases from) a famous adult detective.

They were also clever and inventive, especially Jupe. He lives with his aunt and uncle, who operate the Jones Salvage Yard, and he repairs and/or repurposes various items that come into the yard but can’t be sold. One of Jupe’s inventions debuts in this book and comes in handy over the course of the series. More on that in a bit.

Jupe, Pete and Bob are capable investigators, but they’re also ordinary boys who enjoy messing with each other.

Case in point: Jupe isn’t present when the two letters arrive at Headquarters, a mobile home trailer in the Jones Salvage Yard that’s cleverly hidden under piles of salvage and only accessible through a variety of secret passages. Bob and Pete conspire to show him the letter from Mrs. Banfry, get him interested in the search for the lost cat and then show him the letter from Hitchcock. They’ll then insist they can’t work on the second case until they’ve solved the first.

Which would suit Pete just fine.

They also use the See-All, a make-shift periscope Jupe devised to see outside of Headquarters, to check if Jupe has returned from his errand. Pete spots him walking his bike and he and Bob decide to impress Jupe with their “deduction” that he had a flat tire.

See-All

Pete uses the See-All.

When Jupe arrives at Headquarters, he seems suitably impressed at their “deductions.”

“Very good,” he says. “Such ability should not be wasted in looking for a lost cat.”

Which leaves Pete and Bob utterly discombobulated.

All the more so when Jupe suggests his partners’ “advanced ability in the art of deductive reasoning and ratiocination” be used to go after bigger game, “such as the mystery of a 3,000-year-old mummy that whispers cryptic languages in an unknown language to its owner.”

How does he do it?

Mind reading, he claims.

In good time, Jupe explains his “trick”, which he suspects might also answer the question of the mummy’s ability to speak.

Except it doesn’t.

When Pete spied on Jupe with the See-All, he assumed Jupe was listening to a transistor radio as he walked back to the salvage yard. He wasn’t. Jupe had built some walkie-talkies (relative rarities in 1965), one of which he’d built into the loudspeaker attached to the phone in Headquarters. He’d heard everything Pete and Bob were saying.

Those walkie-talkies would come in very handy on multiple occasions.

Jupe’s logical conclusion was that someone had hidden a small radio receiving set in the mummy’s case in order to make Ra-Orkon appear to whisper. However, there’s nothing of the sort in the mummy’s case.

Yet something is creating the illusion that the mummy is whispering.

Unless of course a 3,000 year old Egyptian citizen actually discovered a way to speak from beyond the grave and chose to talk to just one man rather than, you know, holding a press conference.

But then maybe he’s shy.

It’s been years since I last read The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy, so I didn’t remember all the details. Turns out I was right about the character I pegged as the guilty party, but was wrong in thinking there was someone behind him (I was thinking of another book in the series in that regard).

And I’d completely forgotten the clever solution to the mystery of the mummy’s mumblings.

The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy is one of the best books in the Three Investigators series and an enjoyable read.

Copyright 2017 Patrick Keating.