TV Review: The Man Behind the Badge

TV Review: The Man Behind the Badge

It’s back to the big box set of old TV shows with this anthology series that ran 1953-55, with Charles Bickford as the host.  This one is interesting because it didn’t concentrate on one law enforcement agency or type of crime, instead featuring public servants of all kinds.

The Man Behind the Badge

The stories are based on actual events, with all names except that of the civil servant himself changed to protect the innocent.  My DVD had six episodes:

  • “The Case of the Dying Past”  A district attorney for a small city in Vermont receives anonymous complaints that a harness shop owner is engaging in loan sharking.   When he investigates, the shop owner engages in a rant about how people these days don’t appreciate hard work and craftsmanship, like this here horsewhip.  They’re lazy whiners who want handouts.  Not that he’s admitting to the loan sharking.  Before the DA can find enough evidence to move ahead, the loan shark is murdered and the DA must solve the crime.  Notable for the first suspect telling what appears to be a cock and bull story, but is actually true.
  • “The Case of the Priceless Passport”  Foreign nationals have been entering the United States with really good fake American passports.  Two men from the immigration service go undercover in Mexico to track down the forgers.  Some tense scenes in an abandoned warehouse, and particularly good performances by the villains’ actors.   An interesting time capsule from when Mexicans weren’t the people we were worried about coming in from Mexico.
  • “The Case of the Capital Crime”  Security guards at a department store in Washington, D.C. are murdered during a robbery.  The police detective assigned to the case is able to determine the killer must have worked at the store within the last six months and be over six feet tall.   That narrows the list of suspects considerably, but actually catching the killer is another matter.  The case is resolved when an act of kindness by the detective has an unexpected dividend.
  • “The Case of the Hot Stock”  A man from the Bureau of Securities based in Lincoln, Nebraska, tracks down a conman who selling fake oil well ownership certificates.  This one was very painful to watch, as most of the episode was dedicated to the conman romancing a lonely spinster to take her money.  The government man is finally moved to crush her romantic dreams by the most direct demonstration of the criminal’s perfidy he can manage.
  • “The Case of the Hunted Hobo”  Young couples are being robbed on Chicago’s Lover’s Lane.  After one victim gives a important clue to where the robber hides, a police officer goes undercover as a hobo to track him down.  Aaron Spelling(!) has a bit part as a Lover’s Lane Romeo.
  • “The Case of Operation Sabotage”  A B-47 Aircraft Commander at a base near Riverside, California notices some odd behavior on the part of one of his crew’s wife.  As there’s a big training mission coming up, tensions are heightened, and he’s not sure if there’s really something going on or if she’s naturally curious.  The episode touches a bit on the strain military secrecy can cause in a marriage, and there’s a huge twist at the end.

Some nice writing and the variety of public servants profiled make this an interesting find.  Some episodes are online.

Book Review: My Soul Is a Witness

Book Review: My Soul Is a Witness by Marsha Hansen

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

My Soul Is a Witness

 

Marsha Hansen is a concert vocalist and inspirational speaker who sings and teaches about African-American sacred music.  This book is an extension of that, writing about spirituals and their messages.

Because of slavery, those kidnapped and sold from Africa and their descendants had a very different experience of Christianity than their purchasers and enslavers.  They identified strongly with Job and the Israelite slaves in Egypt.  (Indeed, some white people who preached to slaves deliberately skipped the Exodus story, or changed the ending to have the Israelites voluntarily going back into slavery.)

Since literacy among slaves was discouraged (and in some states illegal), music was one of the few ways they could express their religion, and the songs sung at camp meetings became the spirituals we know of today.

The book comes with a CD of Ms. Hansen, her friends and family performing many of the songs discussed.  Several were recorded at family gatherings, with the rest being done in a more formal studio setting.  Some of the home recordings are a bit rougher than is to my taste, with the drum drowning out bits of the lyrics.  Those of you who prefer an “authentic” sound may like those tracks better.

The writing is stirring, explaining the significance and emotional resonance of each song.   I found it moving.  This book would be best appreciated, I think, by those with a fondness for spirituals, but anyone with an interest in Christian music will probably enjoy it.  There’s also a discussion of slavery in the Bible and how verses were taken to justify cruel oppression.  We now interpret those passages differently, and so our understanding grows.

There is a balm in Gilead

To make the wounded whole

There is a balm in Gilead

To heal the sin-sick soul

 

TV Review: Man with a Camera

TV Review: Man with a Camera

Mike Kovac (Charles Bronson) is a World War Two veteran who works as a freelance photographer.  He’s a tough fellow who’s known for getting the shots other shutterbugs can’t make.  As a result, he’s often called in to help investigate incidents for newspapers and private citizens.  Mike is aided in this by a number of trick cameras, such as a miniature camera disguised as a lighter.

Man with a Camera

This 1958-1960 series was the only television show Charles Bronson played the lead in; after that his movie career took off, as well as guest roles on many TV shows.  His looks served him well here, coming across as a tough, working-class fellow who can’t be intimidated.

Most of the series took place in New York City, but the two episodes I watched on DVD take place out of town, so are absent Mike’s normal supporting cast.

“Two Strings of Pearls” takes place in Rome, where Mike has just finished covering the Italian election.  At the airport, he spots a woman he knows from an ocean trip several years before.  She, however, doesn’t appear to recognize him and has a completely different name.  Mike decides to stay in Rome long enough to see what’s going on.   Romantic scenes do not appear to be one of Mr. Bronson’s strengths in this series.

“Missing” involves the disappearance of a police officer’s wife in San Diego.   The officer doesn’t want to involve his own department as she was formerly mixed up with a criminal gang, and the scandal of their marriage has only just died down.  Investigating the slim clues available, Mike finds a lead in her recent visit to Tiajuana in Mexico.  The climax is an intense  fight in a car wash.

Both episodes feature the advantages of Mike’s close relationship with law enforcement, his photographs allowing suspects to be identified.

A similar series might do well in the current day; the technology may have changed drastically, but not the difference one dedicated person can make with it.

Book Review: USA Noir

Book Review: USA Noir edited by Johnny Temple

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.  This was an Advanced Reading Copy, and small changes may be made in the final product.

USA Noir

“Noir”, here, is short for noir fiction, a form of hard-boiled crime fiction by analogy with the cinematic film noir.  Noir fiction tends to focus on the seedier side of life, filled with petty criminals, people driven to extremes by circumstance, and bittersweet at best resolutions.  Akashic Books has been putting out anthologies of noir short stories grouped by location since 2004, and this is a “best of” collection.

The stories are grouped by themes such as “True Grit” and “Under the Influence”, and range across the continental United States.  (Yes, that includes the Twin Cities.)  Most are contemporary (one has Google Maps as a plot point) but there are a couple of period pieces set in the 1940s and Fifties.

Some standout stories include: “Animal Rescue” by Dennis Lehane (a man finds an abandoned puppy, and decides to keep it),  “Run Kiss Daddy” by Joyce Carol Oates (a man does not want to upset his new family), “Mastermind” by Reed Farrell Coleman (a dumb crook comes up with the perfect crime), “Loot” by Julie Smith (various people try to cash in on Hurricane Katrina), “Helper” by Joseph Bruchac (revenge comes looking for Indian Charlie, but he’s no pushover) and “Feeding Frenzy” by Tim Broderick (in comic book format, a Wall Street firm has lost a big contract, and the employees search for someone to blame.)

Thirty-seven stories in total, 500+ pages of entertainment.   There’s also a list of the other stories in the volumes these were reprinted from, and a list of awards the series has garnered.

If the genre is not warning enough, I should mention that sordid violence is common in these stories, and some may be triggery.

Overall, the stories are of good quality, and represent an excellent cross-section of today’s noir writers.    It’s good value for money.

Update:  “Animal Rescue” was turned into the 2014 movie “The Drop” starring Tom Hardy; here’s the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iy_ogNiryZ8

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