Tag Archives: Amazon Prime Video

Amazon Prime old film review: ‘The Mystery of the 13th Guest’

Tonight, just to shake things up, I’m going to review a very bad film, The Mystery of the 13th Guest (1943).

Aside from reading mysteries, I’ve also been watching several old B movies on Amazon Prime. This is my futile strategy for avoiding total despair. If the end is coming, I want it to catch me totally unprepared. Why should I perish all stressed out?

Anyway, I caught this old stinker, The Mystery of the 13th Guest. It stars an actor named Dick Purcell, who delivers probably the best performance of the film, which tells you nothing at all. He would later distinguish himself, sort of, playing Captain America.

The premise is that old Grandfather Morgan, 13 years ago, gathered his relatives and a couple close associates in his home, arranging them around the big dinner table. There were 13 places set, but only 12 people present. He tells them that he plans to leave his entire fortune to his granddaughter Marie, the only one of the lot who’s worth a plugged nickel. She’s only eight now, but he has entrusted his will to his lawyer, for Marie to open when she turns 21, 13(!} years from now.

Right on time, Marie arrives at the gloomy old mansion on her 21st birthday, and finds the electricity is still hooked up and the phone still working. She finds the table arranged just as it was 13(!) years ago. Then there’s a murder, and soon Private Eye Johnny Smith (Purcell) is on the case, dashing through hallways and secret rooms, running rings around the police.

What was awful about this film? The writing was terrible. The dialogue was awkward, and it got no help from the wooden actors.

The dumbest thing, however, was the portrayal of the police. One understands that every Sherlock Holmes needs a plodding Lestrade to show off against. But these cops belong in a home for the mentally deficient. If they’re the best brains on the force, the uniform guys must have trouble getting their pants on in the morning. The senior member of the team (played by Tim Ryan (also the main writer), a classic mugger who married Irene Ryan, best known as Granny Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies) thinks he’s smart, but he’s really in awe of the amazing Johnny Smith. His subordinate, played by Frank Faylen (later Dobie Gillis’s father on TV) is barely sentient and keeps dozing off. Fortunately, Johnny is good buddies with the District Attorney, so he just takes over the investigation. And they let him. He even orders patrol cars dispatched, and the police hop to obedience.

Terrible movie. Just the thing to transport me to a simpler, less judgmental time, and give me a short respite from the Apocalypse.

You’ll like it, if you have sarcastic friends to watch it with, and do an MSTK3000 treatment.

Amazon Prime video review: ‘The Adventures of Jim Bowie’

Sometimes, as I said when I reviewed the series, “Yancy Derringer” a while back, you can watch a beloved childhood show and be pleasantly surprised. And sometimes the show is just as dumb as you expect. Such is the case with “The Adventures of Jim Bowie,” a two-season series that ran from 1956 to 1958. I streamed it on Amazon Plus.

Simplified and sanitized for a half-hour time period and a kids’ audience, “The Adventures of Jim Bowie” is sort of Bizarro-Jim. A lot of what happens is based on actual events – but they’re usually portrayed the wrong way around.

The very first episode, for instance, explains how Jim designs his knife and gets it made by a blacksmith. His kid-friendly reason for this is given as a need to protect himself from bears. (Wilderness survival tip – this does not work.) In real life, Jim acquired his knife because he’d been in a life-and-death fight with a man and his pistol misfired. Stories vary as to who designed the knife – it may have been his smarter brother Rezin – but it probably wasn’t Jim himself.

Aside from his efforts in the Texan War of Independence, which are genuinely impressive, Jim Bowie’s main accomplishments mostly consisted of criminal activity. He and his friend, the pirate Jean Lafitte (who appears in several episodes), conspired to exploit a loophole in the laws forbidding the importation of slaves. This allowed them to effectively “launder” their human merchandise, and then sell it at a premium. (Look up the details if you’re interested; it’s complicated.) In this series, the issue of the slave trade is generally avoided, except for one episode where Jim risks his life to rescue a slave he has freed from being sold again.

Jim’s biggest scam, though, involved forging old Spanish land grants, which the US government had agreed to honor. Jim created a large number of fake grants (not very skillfully), and managed to tie up quite a lot of land titles for a long time. He eventually lost all his claims in court, but not before many innocent people lost a lot of money. In my memory, there was one episode of the show that dealt with false land grants, but in which Bowie uncovers rather than perpetrates the fraud. However, that must be the one episode that Amazon Prime skips in its rotation, because I didn’t see it here.

The knife that bore the Bowie name, his great trademark, gets flashed a lot in the show, but doesn’t actually get used much for its proper purpose. He throws it often, frequently to disarm other men. But only one opponent gets stabbed as far as I can recall, and that’s pretty much by accident.

A number of historical characters show up – John James Audubon, Andrew Jackson (whom Bowie didn’t support, contrary to the show), Sam Houston, Johnny Appleseed, Jefferson Davis. They are often portrayed in fairly authentic ways (they take particular pains to make Davy Crockett look right. The Walt Disney series was a recent memory then). You could actually learn some fair basic history by watching this show, if you discount the main character himself.

Beyond that, the writing is simple and the plots dumb. This is a garden variety TV western aimed at kids, but without revolving pistols. It’s OK for mindless entertainment, but your life won’t be impoverished much if you give it a miss.

A note on the star: Scott Forbes was an English actor who learned his southern accent from a female voice coach whom he went on to marry. He plays the party pretty broadly. According to one source, he walked off the set just before the last episode was filmed, on hearing that the show had been cancelled. They covered by hiring another actor (not a famous one) to play an outlaw who gets a pardon for going on a mission to Texas in Bowie’s place.

Amazon Prime Video review: ‘Trapped,’ Season 2

The second season of the Icelandic miniseries, Trapped, (I reviewed Season One below) was – in some ways – superior to the first (in my view). There were parts I didn’t care for, but I admit that was mostly due to my personal opinions and tastes.

Two years have passed since we last saw our bearded hero, Andri Olafsson (Olafur Darri Olafsson). He’s moved back to Reykjavik to be a cop there again, one assumes to be close to his daughters, who were living with his ex-wife. Only the older one, Thorhildur, has returned to the small town of Siglufjordur to be close to her friends – especially a particular boy. She is now a rebellious teenager, and in the tradition of teenaged girls in thrillers, is a complete idiot when it comes to her personal safety.

Andri is called back to Siglufjordur when a local farmer one day appears near Parliament in Reykjavik, sets himself on fire, and tries to ignite the Minister of Industries along with himself. She is, in fact, his twin sister, a Siglufjordur native who long ago turned her back on the place. He had been involved in protests against the expansion of an aluminum plant near his home, as well as with right-wing nationalist groups. Shortly after Andri is reunited with his old team of local cops, a manager at the plant is murdered, setting off a string of crimes and arrests that culminate in a kidnapping and a pursuit across the heaths.

There were several elements in the series that rubbed me the wrong way. One was the involvement of right-wing groups – though when I think of it, they were treated with surprising understanding. Another was the cliché of the predatory industry that thinks it can make money by killing its customers. Most uncomfortable of all was a subplot about homosexuals. Instead of the brief heterosexual sex scene we saw in the first series, this time we got two men involved in displays of affection – at one point in bed together. These are my principles – I care about whether homosexuals live or die. I care that they not be railroaded for crimes they didn’t commit. But I cannot be made to care whether the boy gets the boy. There is no microscope sensitive enough to detect my interest in that subject.

Another problem is the family relationships. Most of the suspects (and victims) are bound (in classic saga style, I’ll admit) by a bewildering tangle of marriages, divorces, and irregular liaisons. Everybody is a cousin or an in-law of all the others, and for the life of me I couldn’t keep it all straight.

On the other hand, there were some fine elements here. Because this story is set in the fall, we lose the claustrophobia of the snowed-in town that so permeated Season One. Now we’re treated to vistas of Icelandic heaths and mountains, herds of horses and flocks of sheep. Conscious tribute is paid to the sagas, especially in a plot thread where a local boy flees the police on horseback across the fells, looking for all the world like an outlaw of old.

The resolution worked out in the same spirit as Season One – the mystery is solved, the hostage rescued, but in a general environment of ancient injuries, unhealed psychological wounds, and the shock of an Episode 8 plot development that blindsided me (at least).

All in all, fascinating TV, and pretty watchable. Cautions for language and all the stuff I talked about.