Monday, 8 August 2022

Fear No More - 1961 film review

Fear No More is an obscure film noir dating from 1961. The script is based on a novel of the same name by Leslie Edgley (who was born in London but spent most of his life on the other side of the Atlantic). Some reviews compare the style of storytelling to Hitchcock, but in view of the multiple - and sometimes dazzling - plot twists, I think a closer comparison is with Francis Durbridge.

This is a film with some rough edges and some pretty rough acting, but the lead character, Sharon Carlin, is well played by Mala Powers, who invests the part with the right balance of innocent charm and paranoia. She is asked by her boss to take an important message by train, but immediately finds herself in a train compartment with a dead woman's body. 

That's only the start of her misfortunes, which multiply with dizzying speed. A villain coshes her and then a cop accuses her of murder. She escapes from the cop and is almost run over by a car driven by Paul Colbert (Jacques Bergerac, a rather wooden and unconvincing performer, I'm afraid), who then offers her a lift. The plot continues to thicken impressively.

In essence, this is one of those situations where we root for a protagonist who is faced with an ingenious and implacable enemy and who finds herself unable to convince anyone that she is telling the truth. It's a good story, despite the inevitable implausibilities. The ending is clumsy and one feels that with more care this could have become a minor classic. Debatable, I accept, but for all the film's flaws, I enjoyed it.

Friday, 5 August 2022

Forgotten Book - With No Crying

Abortion, kidnapping, squatters, under-age sex. The ingredients of a cutting-edge novel of today? Well, perhaps, but they also form the core elements of a novel published way back in 1980. With No Crying is another of Celia Fremlin's remarkable novels of suspense and, as usual, almost all the main characters are women. Strong women, weak women, jealous and malicious women (she was especially good at chronicling vindictiveness between so-called female friends). It is perhaps hard for a male reader to judge some of these characterisations fairly, but for me Fremlin was one of the finest suspense novelists of her era.

In this story, Miranda Field is a dreamy fifteen year old who, along with her pal Susan, fantasises about boys she doesn't know. When a 'chance encounter' with the object of her affections is contrived, the result is a brief sexual encounter which results in her becoming pregnant. Her parents are left-wing progressives, but although, on the surface, they seem supportive, in fact their attitude is selfish. Fremlin was herself a left-wing progressive by instinct, and her portrayal of the Fields is all the more convincing because one suspects that she knew many people like them in real life.

Miranda agrees, very reluctantly, to have an abortion, but she is embittered by her parents' treatment of her. Before long, she runs off and ends up in a squat with a number of idealistic young people. But she pretends that she is still pregnant, and this deception has alarming consequences.

This is a short book, but it is unpredictable and it packs a punch. There's a good twist, which as the blurb says, is carefully foreshadowed. The story is a good one but really it's the presentation of the characters that makes it stikc in the mind .Definitely worth reading.

Wednesday, 3 August 2022

Teller of the Unexpected and Deadlier

Many years ago - sometime during the late Seventies - I went to a party at Roald Dahl's house in Buckinghamshire. Was I invited as a promising young writer, whom the great man was keen to encourage and mentor? I'm afraid not. I was basically just a hanger-on - my newish girlfriend (the future Mrs Edwards) was a schoolfriend of Tessa Dahl and when she was invited, I had the chance to accompany her. It was a memorable occasion, but I can't pretend that Roald and I had a long and intense conversation debating how to twisty tales of the unexpected. I suppose I ought to make up a better story...

I was, however, by that time a firm fan of his work, having come across 'William and Mary' in my early teens, and then 'The Way Up to Heaven'. Two terrific short stories, and in terms of adult fiction, I'd say that he was much better suited to the short form than to the novel. His children's fiction came later. He's been the subject of several biographies and the latest is Teller of the Unexpected by Matthew Dennison.

This is an unofficial biography, with the limitations that implies, and there's no discussion - for instance - of Dahl's friendship with Ian Fleming, which led to 'Lamb for the Slaughter'. But it's a brisk read and the story of an extraordinary life is recounted in workmanlike fashion. I never knew, for instance, that one of his most influential teachers at school was a former Derbyshire cricketer. Dahl's personal shortcomings have been well-documented, but he's always struck me as a slightly tragic figure. He certainly experienced more than his fair share of family tragedy.

Dennison's book is published by Head of Zeus, my own publishers, who have also been responsible for some impressively weighty anthologies. One of these - very attractively produced, by the way - is Deadlier, a collection of 100 short crime stories by women writers, edited by Sophie Hannah. It's a very wide-ranging book (from Allingham to Attwood, and that's only the As!) and I can warmly recommend it.

Monday, 1 August 2022

Simenon: The Man, The Books, The Films - by Barry Forshaw

Very few authors of books about the crime genre feature as extensively in the Bibliography of The Life of Crime as Barry Forshaw. Barry is an impressively prolific writer and he has now come up with another snappy book, published by No Exit Press about the Belgian maestro of crime. No, not Poirot, but Georges Simenon. The title is Simenon: The Man, The Books, The Films, and it represents a crisp and user-friendly introduction to the subject.

I noticed that I'm quoted in the endorsements of one of Barry's previous books, saying that Barry's constructive approach comes as a welcome breath of fresh air. I'm glad I said that, because it sums up a key merit of his writing - the positive tone. In addition, he is concise, and that too is a bonus because verbose lit.crit., however well-informed, can become tedious.

From start to finish, Barry's experience as a journalist informs his approach as well as his straightforward and readable writing style. To take just one example, the section 'Adapting Maigret' is essentially an extended quotation from an interview with Alison Joseph, who is at home with radio writing as she is with penning detective novels. Barry has also built upon a bibliography developed by the late David Carter almost twenty years ago.

One of Barry's strengths is his knowledge of films and he itemises many films based on Simenon novels that I'm unfamiliar with. Of the British TV series, it's clear that he prefers the portrayals of Maigret by Rupert Davies and Michael Gambon to Rowan Atkinson's recent interpretation. I don't know if there's ever been a Simenon encyclopaedia, but if not, this little book is an excellent, scaled-down alternative.