Thursday, November 24, 2011

Godzilla Vs. Flintstone! Team Bartilucci's Favorite Thanksgiving-Season Flicks 2011 Remix!

Happy Thanksgiving, gang!  Is this how your Turkey Day is going so far?

Yikes, you don’t want to spend your Thanksgiving blowing out matches, do you?!

Vinnie and I put on our Team Bartilucci caps for the holiday, with our youngest Team B. member Siobhan looking forward to the new Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon of her favorite cartoon character, the new and improved Sonic the Hedgehog! (Don’t fret, classic animation fans: Shugie, as we call her, also loves Looney Tunes, Tex Avery, and many more!) To celebrate, we’ve re-mixed last year’s post for new TotED readers who haven't read it. Now there’s even more fun, more pictures, more quippy captions—Click here to give it a look! Hope you enjoy it! Feel free to leave a comment or two! :-) And most of all, everyone, have a truly happy and healthy Thanksgiving and a genuinely joyful holiday season!

Godzilla Vs. Flintstone! Team Bartilucci's Favorite Thanksgiving-Season Flicks

Friday, November 18, 2011

FICTION NOIR Review: Thirteen Noir Tales in Brief

I love books as much as I love movies, so I was delighted to get the opportunity to read Fiction Noir, the latest suspense anthology from Hen House Press. The trick will be to give you all a taste of each of the 13 compelling short stories without spoiling any of the endings!

Eve Gaal’s Loser’s Ledge focuses on Viola, a woman of a certain age standing on the roof of a twenty-story building, ready to jump to her death because she can’t forgive herself for all the things that went wrong in her life, particularly one fateful day when “a simple but massive blunder…fogg(ed) up all of her good intentions and all her judgment by clouding her brain with self-pity and loathing,” all because of a lottery ticket. If there’s a moral to this poignant, tense drama, it would be: “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself!”
Joanne Dobson is renowned for her popular mystery book series about Professor Karen Pelletier, but I’ll admit I was particularly eager to read Dobson’s story Hey, Girlie because I grew up primarily in the Bronx myself, including being an alumna of Fordham University, where Dobson has taught. The emotions and the setting of the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx after World War 2 really rang true for me, having had family members who’d fought overseas as well. My heart went out to Rachel Cohen, the unfortunate poet and concentration camp survivor who has to face her tormentor from the camps regularly now that the creep is the building’s new super. Rachel’s account of wearing her white linen dress in hopes that “if I looked nice, they’d know I was a nice girl” broke my heart—which also went out to our bewildered, apprehensive young heroine, and her rude awakening about terrible truths that she’s not quite ready to comprehend. Rachel gets her well-deserved revenge, but at a terrible cost. If Stephen King/Richard Bachman’s Thinner made you think twice about eating strawberry pie, you might never think about cherry-topped coconut cake quite the same way again after reading Hey, Girlie.
Alfred Hitchcock by Rick Geary
On a more playful if darkly comedic note, there’s Everyone’s a Critic by A.R. Philips, also known for his entertaining blog Hitchcock and Me. Sure, every director wants a hit movie, but in Philips’ slyly satirical universe, film criticism can literally be murder, especially if your magnum opus is an unnecessary remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy! Here’s one of my favorite lines from our witty narrator: “…he looked like a no-foam soy latte kind of guy, but I could have been wrong…Give me the cheap coffee in those heavy cups you get in a diner and I’m happy.” Philips’ plot cleverly veers into unexpected but satisfying directions.

Fiction Noir meets Food Noir in author and radio host Amy Beth Arkawy’s elegantly cheeky murder tale Dangerous Appetites! Pity the artist who doesn’t have the opportunity to take part in his/her craft, like Stella, Arkawy’s frustrated chef/heroine/narrator, whose medium happens to be food. Stella curses the day her ruthless, high-powered attorney husband decided to lose weight, contributing to their crumbling marriage: “It’s been nine months since Leo first appeared on cable TV as the defense attorney in the high profile Dillinger murder case. The day after he saw his bloated visage float across the screen like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon, Leo started ordering those vile diet dinners.” That’s not the postman ringing twice, nor the pizza guy; it’s gourmet murder to go. As in Joanne Dobson’s Hey, Girlie, coconut cake is enticingly mentioned here. Suddenly I’m getting hungry; must be Arkawy’s great sensory details and deliciously witty dialogue!

Raymond Chandler by Rick Geary
You loved Scott Fivelson’s zany movie-oriented comedy Dial “L” for Latch-Key; now Fivelson teams up with Tim Cleavenger to bring us the daffy detective spoof Johnny Passe, in which Frank Sinatra, private eye plots, and avid music collectors are affectionately lampooned. Johnny’s the kind of outwardly tough, inwardly addlepated gumshoe manqué who smokes in the shower and generally makes Police Squad’s Frank Drebin look like Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. Here’s a taste of Johnny’s snappy patter: “Yeah, it’s my philosophy that dreams are like snowflakes. No two dreams are ever alike. In fact, no two clubs are ever alike—although once I was in a club where they served a drink called The Snowflake. There was a lot of ice in it, and if you drank enough of ‘em, you’d fall down. If you didn’t drink ‘em, they’d only evaporate, and like dreams, become air. At least that’s what happened to mine.”

Grim Reaper by JWilliams
Steven Fried’s Anvil combines noir-style storytelling with philosophy and surrealism, in a rueful meditation on death and rebirth and plenty of food for thought.

Dennis Brock’s The Vinegar of the Seven Thieves is a tale of desperate, hungry people who find themselves running afoul of spies during World War 2, including the draft-dodger narrator. No glamorous James Bond-type spies in this brooding, gritty tale. To me, it’s the most deeply steeped in the noir style, with its no-way-out fatalism.

Art by Rick Geary
Remind me not to go boating with Greenbaum, the lawyer protagonist of Isaac Grimm’s sharp, cleanly-written Wrongful Death! Furiously miserable in his imploding marriage, he gets ideas when a new client comes to him certain that her mother’s fatal boating accident was murder, giving Greenbaum ideas about how he could literally get away with murder.

We love Lucy—Lucy Gordon, that is! Lucy is a young local newspaper reporter by day and, in today’s tough economy, a janitor by night in Murder Brokers by Jennifer Leeper. One of her cleaning clients, Arrow Property Group, is quite neat—too neat, as if nobody uses their chairs and desks at all. And what connection does it all have with the recent spate of pretty cleaning ladies turning up dead? As a writer and editor, I could relate to heroine Lucy Gordon’s annoyance about “the drastic surgery performed on my county commission stories by our copy editor.” Another great line: “It’s a voice that commands, it doesn’t request.” In addition to Lucy, I also found the other characters memorable and engaging, as was the depiction of small-town life and its newspaper reporters.

In The Village Idiot by Rivka Tadjer & Roberto Gottardello, troubled, vulnerable FBI agent Mary returns to the scene of a long-ago tragedy in Woodstock, NY that she was powerless to stop due to her own failings. Now that she’s back, will she redeem herself at last, or will history repeat itself? To me, Mary comes across as somewhat of a Clarice Starling who’s fallen on hard times, both emotionally and physically. Although I empathize with Mary, I’m afraid I’d be reluctant to put my life in her hands (not a criticism, simply an observation). I feel sorry for her and frustrated with her at the same time. The emotions and the brooding, sordid atmosphere and goings-on sound authentic. Loved this line: “Did you eat a fox sandwich to become so smart?”

Bernard Schaffer’s When the Man Comes Around is another standout, a suspenseful story harkening back to a shameful chapter of medical history. In 1935, Dr. Antonio Egas Moniz devised the lobotomy, convincing other doctors and the public that it was a surefire cure for any and all mental disorders. The 1940s and 1950s were the lobotomy’s heyday until people wised up and antidepressants were invented to make all those pesky emotional problems go away. New York City Police Detective Jimmy O’Leary is horrified to discover that a certain Dr. Freid is performing lobotomies the no-frills way: with a spike and a mallet and a life of being a virtual vegetable—if the patient lives. And Jimmy’s troubled  ten-year-old nephew is next, despite his having responded well after spending time with Uncle Jimmy! The kid’s all-but-neglectful parents just seem to want the quick fix promised by Dr. Freid. But Jimmy has his own prescription for the “good doctor”…. Great dialogue, including this passage at the station house:
“Hey, what’s a nice way to say I was dealing with an ass…and he wouldn’t shut his yap?”

One of the older detectives said, “The subject was belligerent despite my repeated attempts to coerce him otherwise.”

Cornell Woolrich by Rick Geary
If you like gambling and the films of Martin Scorsese, I’m betting that Semyon White’s High Stakes Graft will be up your alley. When Las Vegas gambler Dean Curtis looks into the apparent murder of a bewitching, enticing young gambler he's attracted to, he finds there’s more than meets the eye in this fast-moving tale. There’s action and exotic atmosphere aplenty, vivid enough for me to picture it in my mind’s eye. I wouldn’t mind following Dean and Noelle on further adventures!

The anthology ends on a moody yet playful note with Ivan Jenson’s poem Love Noir, crystallizing the classic film noir tropes beautifully. Fiction Noir’s fabulous smorgasbord of noir tales are the book equivalent of a Thanksgiving feast!

Find more terrific Hen House Press books at

Fiction Noir is perfect for light reading.... give Fiction Noir a shot!

Would Dashiell Hammett steer you wrong? (Art by Rick Geary.)

Art by Eric Bowman

Step into your local bookstore and get ahold of Fiction Noir today! Available at  Barnes & Noble Nook, Amazon Kindle, and the Google eBookstore, as well as in paperback. (Holiday gift-giving season is just around the corner!)

Friday, November 11, 2011


When I was in high school back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the teen heartthrob pictures taped inside the lockers of my classmates at dear old St. Catharine Academy in the Bronx included John Travolta, Parker Stevenson, Shaun Cassidy, and other cute lads one might find on the cover of Tiger Beat and the like. But I was always drawn to the so-called offbeat types, like Dustin Hoffman and writer/director Woody Allen, as well as Danny Kaye and Bob Hope in their 1940s movie comedies on WPIX or WOR. If I recall correctly, my sister Cara graduated from Lehman High School in 1976 at a ceremony at Manhattan’s own Carnegie Hall. Afterward, our family went to The Russian Tea Room for a celebratory lunch, all of us dressed to the proverbial nines. I was stunned to see Woody Allen and Dick Cavett standing together in front of us, chatting and waiting for their table! My combination of shyness and politeness kept me from running up to them and blathering like a fangirl. Frankly, I was perfectly content to stand on line quietly with my family, peeking at Allen out of the corner of my eye while munching on jelly-filled mints. However, Mom noticed Allen, too, and although she was never one to go up to celebrities and gush, she knew I was a big Woody Allen fan. As I believe I’ve mentioned in previous TotED posts, my dear beloved Mom was kind and as lovely as the fashion model she used to be—and about as shy as a speeding Mack truck, bless her! (She claimed to have been shy as a youngster, but she obviously got over it by the time I was born!) So I was both embarrassed and excited when Mom strode up to Allen and said in her enthusiastic way, “Mr. Allen, my daughter just loves your movies, and I knew she’d be thrilled if you’d say hello to her.” Allen had a deer-in-the-headlights look (can’t blame him, really; for all he knew, we could’ve been stalkers, or at least pests), while Cavett smirked and said, “Oh, here we go.” Mom gave Cavett a sort of elegant version of The Hairy Eyeball as she said to him, “I wasn’t talking to you, sir.” Then she turned to Allen and said, “It wasn’t so long ago that you were a movie fan like my daughter. How would you feel if someone you admired was rude and dismissive to you?” Looking both chastened and somewhat bewildered, Allen shook my hand, and I thanked him, and then our respective parties went our separate ways in the restaurant for lunch. Ah, if only Mom had lived to see our much more upbeat encounter in 2010 with our favorite Oscar-winner, Adrien Brody!  (For those who didn't read this over at our friend and fellow blogger Clara Fercovic's Via Margutta 51 blog, here's the link:
Woody Allen schlepped here. (So did our family!)
That brings us to this week’s blog post, Manhattan Murder Mystery (MMM—an appropriate acronym for such a delicious movie). For my money, it’s sheer delight, one of Allen’s funniest, most unabashedly entertaining movies. Even the locations are a joy to behold; in addition to the Russian Tea Room, there’s the Cafe Des Artistes, The Chelsea Hotel, and The '21' Club, accompanied by the great music of, among others, Dave Brubeck, Benny Goodman performing Louis Prima’s “Sing, Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing),” and the opening number, the great Bobby Short’s rendition of Cole Porter’s “I Happen to Like New York.” The Oscar-winning team from Annie Hall—including Allen, frequent co-star/former inamorata Diane Keaton, and co-screenwriter Marshall Brickman—reunited for this film after Allen’s relationship with previous co-star/significant-other Mia Farrow ended (a long story in itself). That old magic and the marvelous quirky romantic chemistry Allen and Keaton had together in Annie Hall, Sleeper, Love and Death, and so many others was still there onscreen in full force, as if the two of them had never parted. As much as I liked Mia Farrow in Allen’s movies during the period when they were co-stars as well as lovers (they made 12 movies together, if I recall correctly), I feel Diane Keaton was the perfect choice to play Carol Lipton. While Allen certainly brought out Farrow’s funny side in their comedies, especially in Zelig and Broadway Danny Rose, it always seems to me that when Farrow plays funny everyday people—as opposed to over-the-top funny characters like the ones in Broadway Danny Rose or Radio Days—she often has a kind of a mewling, whiny quality that I feel just wouldn’t have worked for the brainy, bubbly Carol.

Is Ted hoping to make out on this stakeout?
When we meet Carol and Larry Lipton (Allen), their son Nick (Zach Braff, before TV’s Scrubs made him a star) is off to college. Carol is feeling a touch of Empty Nest Syndrome; how will she fill her days? Start a business, like maybe a restaurant, with their longtime friend Ted (Alan Alda at his most charmingly witty and rakish, kinda doing for MMM what David Wayne did for Adam’s Rib)? Ooh, wait, I know just the thing for those midlife blahs—solving a murder! You see, Carol and Larry have a chance encounter in their apartment building’s elevator with an elderly but bright and quick-witted couple, Paul and Lillian House, leading to a friendly chat-turned-impromptu-visit to the House hacienda. Carol and Lillian (Lynn Cohen, best known to Team Bartilucci as Golda Meir in Steven Spielberg’s 2005 thriller Munich) discuss dieting, health/fitness issues, and the Houses’ upcoming wedding anniversary. Paul, played by Broadway producer and character actor Jerry Adler (TV’s The Sopranos, Mad About You, Rescue Me, and the dark 1997 comedy film Six Ways to Sunday, with Adrien Brody in one of his earliest roles) cheerfully shows Larry his stamp collection while Larry quietly yearns to get home in time to watch the Bob Hope movie he’s been looking forward to on TV. (I wonder which one it was? If I’d written the MMM script, it would have been My Favorite Brunette! How charmingly low-tech life was before the invention of the DVR! But I digress….). Not long afterward, Carol and Larry come home from the opera to find ambulances, police, and a covered body; apparently Mrs. House died of a coronary! As time passes, Carol can’t help noticing that their “next-door widower” seems to be taking his beloved wife’s unexpected death rather well…perhaps too well? Carol’s curiosity and yearning for adventure in her own life kicks in, and she embraces her inner Nora Charles. But Carol had better watch her back; this is the kind of thing that gets Alfred Hitchcock’s characters in trouble, only (even) funnier!

At Cafe des Artistes, Marcia knows when to hold ‘em, but does Larry know when to fold ‘em?
At first, Larry is both too skeptical and too busy with his publishing job at HarperCollins to humor Carol’s amateur detective leanings. Where’s Jason Schwartzman as Bored to Death’s version of Jonathan Ames when you need him? At least Ted has both the time and, as a playwright, the imagination to help Carol solve The Case of the Merry Widower, especially since Ted is a divorcé, and not exactly shy about letting his understandable crush on Carol show. What I enjoyed most about MMM‘s amateur sleuthing was that for the most part, Carol, Ted, and eventually Larry pretty much go about searching for clues the way your average Joe or Jo would, with fairly accessible, approachable, down-to-earth DIY tactics. For instance, Carol and Ted stake out the street where Mr. House has been keeping company with a lovely young model, Helen Moss (Melanie Norris). During the stakeout, whenever a woman leaves Helen’s apartment building, Ted yells out, “Helen!” to see if she turns around. Dialing *69 comes in handy, too, when Carol surreptitiously borrows the super’s keys to investigate:

“I’ll pretend I’m a pair of comfortable old shoes until the coast is clear.”
The potential for illicit romance lurks not only with Carol and Ted’s stakeouts, but also with one of Larry’s authors, the alluring, accurately-named Marcia Fox (Anjelica Huston, another one of Team Bartilucci’s favorite Oscar-winners), who’s playfully making eyes at Larry. To Larry’s credit, he truly loves Carol and doesn’t want to lose her. To Marcia’s credit, she tells Larry point blank that if he wants to keep Carol, he’d better make more of an effort. (Fun Fact: As luck would have it, I happened to go to HarperCollins for a job interview the day Allen and Huston were filming that scene in Larry’s office! Although I didn’t get the Editorial Assistant gig I’d hoped for, it was nevertheless a thrill just to get fleeting glimpses of them. But I digress….) Larry finally joins Carol on a stakeout that leads to a rundown Gramercy Park hotel, a corpse, and a chase leading to New Jersey. It’s a zany, funny ride as the Liptons find themselves in all manner of suspenseful situations with just the kind of witty goofiness you’d expect from writers Allen and Brickman and that ingratiating cast. (I cracked up when Larry “takes care of” hotel employee Aida Turturro with one dollar!) See what happens when middle-aged people have too much time on their hands?
Will our heroes push up daisies in The Garden State?

As Nick and Nora, er, Larry and Carol dash around scenic parts of Manhattan and New Jersey trying to find clues without getting themselves murdered, the cowardly if practical Larry keeps kvetching and Carol keeps grumbling about how “Ted would know what to do…” It’s a delightful tip of the hat to Allen and Keaton’s 1973 classic Sleeper and its President’s Nose/“Emo would know what to do” gag! Just thinking about the comparison had me laughing even more than I already was! More affectionate salutes to classic movies abound, including the Vertigo ad on a crosstown bus, where Carol is sure she’s just seen the allegedly dead Mrs. House looking very much alive at the moment; and the big finale with our beleaguered couple and villain caught in a funny yet suspenseful send-up of Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai in Mr. House’s revival theater. Larry gasps, “I’ll never say life doesn’t imitate art again!”

As Larry Lipton, Allen gives himself most of the best lines as he quips and dithers his way through their adventures, and why not? After all, who can say Woody Allen’s dialogue better than the man himself? Play to your strengths, I always say! Some of his best MMM lines:

On the emotions Wagnerian opera brings out in Larry: “…I always feel like invading Poland.”

On how Carol’s been dwelling on sinister things since she decided to play amateur detective : “You should wear happy glasses.”

Stunned to discover that a key player in the mystery plot is dead, and after they’d brought her a gift and everything: “She’s dead? Try giving her the present!”

Begging Carol to get rid of her fixation on the case and her jealousy of Marcia: “There’s nothing wrong with you that couldn’t be cured with Prozac and a polo mallet.”

Looking for Maxwell House, Carol finds Mrs. House!
MMM boasts stellar work from the rest of the supporting cast, too, including smart, sexy Huston, who turns out to be a pretty slick dilettante detective in her own right, bringing out the green-eyed monster in our heroine. When Carol feels like Marcia Fox is stealing both her thunder and Ted’s crush on her, you half-expect her to shout in exasperation, “It’s always Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” Marge Redmond of Hitchcock’s Family Plot and TV’s The Flying Nun plays Mr. House’s right-hand woman Mrs. Dalton. Redmond gets an especially nice scene in the big movie theater climax; the catch in her voice as she quotes Everett Sloane in The Lady from Shanghai always touches my heart. I also liked Joy Behar and Ron Rifkin’s scenes as two of the couple’s friends, who help out with their recording studio, resulting in a shakedown ruse that goes hilariously awry. By the way, is it me, or does Paul House’s pretty young model girlfriend Helen Moss (Melanie Norris) dress rather like Annie Hall? (Tangent Alert…For the most part, I’ve liked Alan Alda best on the TV version of M*A*S*H and in other people’s movies, rather than the films he wrote and directed himself. Whenever Alda has donned the director’s hat, it’s always seemed to me that he gets preachy, self-conscious, and sensitive in a trying-too-hard way. Heck, I even liked him better in the otherwise disappointing thriller Whispers in the Dark until writer/director Christopher Crowe suddenly turned Alda’s character into an overwrought, frothing-at-the-mouth psycho. No wonder Alda won the Razzie that year!…End Tangent Alert.)

That’s not the kind of helping hand our heroes need! 

Is that pride skeptical Larry is swallowing there in the elevator?

Eye contact is crucial when you’re catching killers!

Uh-oh! This wasn't the kind of movie-date night our heroes had in mind!

Life imitates art with the Mrs. Dalton gang!

But overall, MMM is Woody Allen Light—Light-Hearted, that is! Don’t take my word for it, watch this charming last scene (or don’t, if you’d rather be surprised):

“…And the punchline is, ‘Would you believe I’m waiting for a train?’”

Special photo treat from our pal and fab fellow blogger Caftan Woman
Her sister Maureen got to meet Woody Allen in person!
Read all about it in C.W.'s true-life anecdote in TotED's Comments Section!

“…And the punchline is, ‘Would you believe I’m waiting for a train?’” 

Friday, November 4, 2011

HOUSE OF CARDS: Little Movie Lost?

George Peppard has his hands full; good thing he apparently has six of them!
I haven’t seen House of Cards (HoC) in years, mostly because I haven’t been able to find it on DVD or any other format that I can afford that would work with my good old American DVD player.  I can’t even find a trailer for it, although I've found plenty for the 1993 drama by the same name starring Kathleen Turner as a mother trying to help her apparently autistic child. However, thanks to the many times I saw HoC on TBS and other local channels in my youth, I remember it like I saw it yesterday!

Dig that far-out groovy Peter Max-style poster, man!
During the 1960s, Universal Pictures made a mini-genre out of the Lighthearted International Technicolor Romantic Suspense Thriller, with such rollicking adventures as Charade; Arabesque; Mirage; Blindfold, and A Man Could Get Killed. Before making HoC, director John Guillerman had directed leading man George Peppard in the 1966 World War 1 thriller The Blue Max and the 1968 private eye drama P.J. (Note to Vinnie, all George Peppard fans, and all fans of Disney’s animated school comedy series Recess: Yes, P.J.’s last name is in fact Detweiler! But I digress....) I’ve always felt that HoC was one of the loopiest of the lot from its opening sequence: tracking shots of Paris from a corpse's-eye-view! There it is, floating in the River Seine practically unnoticed by the populace. Having grown up in a big city (NYC, for those who came in late), I know city dwellers tend to be blasé about things no matter what city they live in, but come on!

The many faces of Barnaby Shaw & pals
Peppard plays Reno Davis, a sort of hip 1960s Hemingway type who drifts from one country to another, either writing his novel or getting into boxing matches. Indeed, when we first meet Reno, he’s getting the hell beaten out of him in a Paris boxing ring. One night, someone shoots at him—and discovers the triggerman is a frightened child, Paul de Villemont (played memorably by the haunted-eyed Barnaby Shaw). Reno drags the little sharpshooter home to his surprised widowed mom, Anne, played by the luminous Inger Stevens with a vulnerable sophistication reminiscent of Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest. To quote New York Times movie critic A.H. Weiler, “Miss Stevens is...pretty enough to turn any adventurer's head,” and Reno and Anne almost lose their own heads in more ways than one. You see, it turns out the glamorous but troubled Anne is the American widow of a French general; she and Paul are virtual prisoners of her sinister in-laws and their cohorts, including British actor Keith Michell (TV’s The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry VIII and His Six Wives, among others) as the secretive psychiatrist Dr. Morillon. Anne and Paul take a shine to Reno, and the feeling is more or less mutual. No surprise, really; at the very least, Reno’s iconoclastic loner routine is surely a welcome change of pace from the Daphne DuMaurier types slinking around the family chateau. Anne hires Reno as Paul’s tutor/companion. The DuMaurier types don’t exactly welcome Reno with open arms, which may also explain why men in Anne’s orbit don’t seem to live too long whenever they try to help her and Paul, including that poor slob we saw floating lifeless in the Seine earlier, one Sidney Scott (who doesn’t even get a credit in the film for his trouble, poor guy). 
It takes more than guns and Orson Welles as El Exigente to make Reno lose his cool!

Soon we viewers are catapulted from DuMaurier Land to Robert Ludlum Lite as the chateau’s occupants turn out to be not just any old Eurotrash stuffed shirts, but actually part of a Fascist group led by the powerful Leschenhaut, played by Orson Welles at his haughty and sinister best. Seems that Papa wanted his little man to be brought up as a Hitler youth! Before you can say “Alfred Hitchcock sent me,” Paul is kidnapped, Reno is framed for murder, and he and Anne (who’s not overjoyed about bodyguard Reno dropping the ball with her child; as a mother myself, I’m on Anne’s side!) are chasing and being chased all over Paris and Rome trying to save Paul and the world from these dastardly so-and-so’s.  House of Cards was adapted from renowned mystery author Stanley Ellin’s 1967 novel, and set in opulent locations including the Colosseum and all manner of manors all over France. True, some of the plot twists in James P. Bonner’s screenplay (actually a nom de plume for the screenwriting team of Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr., who brought us Hud, Hombre, The Cowboys, and Norma Rae, among others) stretch credibility to the breaking point (especially Dr. Morillon’s true identity). Also, some of the more attention-grabbing stuff is never explained, although I’m willing to blame some of that on TBS editing the version I saw on TV (besides, sponsors have to squeeze in commercials; they have to eat, too, I guess). Despite these quibbles, HoC still manages to be entertaining. When I first saw it on TV in my younger days, I found Francis Lai’s score to be a little syrupy for my taste, but it’s grown on me over the years. George Peppard, in his prime, was well-cast as a cynical rogue, with his all-American good looks, hard-boiled flippancy, and breezy charm. He cracked me up whenever he improvised outlandish excuses to authority figures, like in the Fountain of Trevi scene and this sexy sequence with leading lady Inger Stevens:

"Reno, thank goodness you're here! This is the stuffiest family reunion ever!"
Inger Stevens had been a favorite of mine since I first saw her on the TV series version of The Farmer’s Daughter. I always sensed something unconventional about her. Indeed, Stevens did have difficulties in life, and left us far too soon, but once you saw her, you couldn’t forget her. I thought Stevens was an excellent match for Peppard both physically and personality-wise, with screen presence aplenty. It wasn’t just Stevens’ striking blonde beauty and honeyed alto voice that made her stand out; she also had a warmth that belied her Nordic Ice Maiden looks, and a knack for being at once worldly and wholesome. This quality is reflected in Stevens’ fab Edith Head costumes, too.

This wildly complex thriller probably shouldn’t be watched by anyone with a migraine or a short attention span—but if you're in the mood for a well-cast conspiracy yarn that doesn't take itself too seriously, keep an eye out for HoC in your TV movie listings. Better yet, bug the folks at Universal and urge them to at least put out a House of Cards print-on-demand DVD!
A smorgasbord of George Peppard scenes (with and without Inger Stevens) for your viewing pleasure!

In any language, House of Cards is good fun if you can find it!