Murder in Soho (1939)

4.5 out of 10
Soho, London. From the window of a car we see the bright light, the glitz, the glamour, the nightlife. But not the sleaze. You see, despite the fact that Soho has had a centuries old reputation for being associated with the seamier side of life we are here solely, on this occasion, for the dancing and the clubbing. The ladies of the night, the calling cards and the Windmill Girls will remain, for the duration, within the shadows. But, despite the film offering an ever so sanitised view of the borough, what better place than Soho, with its labyrinthine streets and alleys, could there possibly be to set a British tale of sleaze, murder and intrigue? Certainly the Germans understood this! As a result, their Edgar Wallace inspired krimi films would include a Hunchback of Soho, a Phantom of Soho and a Gorilla of Soho. However, despite the potential that a location such as Soho presents, and the title of the film, on this occasion Soho, itself, remains largely unseen. Indeed, beyond a few brief moments, the film largely eschews location work altogether. So, as a result, the action is confined to a single nightspot. This, by coincidence, happens to resemble the claustrophic environment of a studio set. Except with chairs and tables arranged about the place. It also seems that, for effect, almost every major plot development ends up being punctuated by footage of people dancing, eating or drinking. It's a club, see, and film doesn't want you to forget it! But, even if this achieves little else, it allows us to cast a beady eye over the fashions, and dance crazes, of the day. So, in its own little way, at least the film is a time capsule piece. However, aside from the dancing and the drinking, the film loses focus a bit. You see, there are a lot of subplots woven throughout the narrative. Also, the addition of the career exploits of a couple of stage entertainers and a supporting love rival role for "M out of James Bond" is no more than a combination of light comic relief and soap opera type filler noise designed to extend the running time. So there is a monkey and a skit involving chopsticks and spaghetti. There is also a running gag about feeling lucky at One Arm Bandits. Guess how this one pans out!? However, while these meandering diversions mostly come to resolution, they are largely superfluous. After all, at it's heart the film is a gangster themed murder mystery. This is all that really matters. Despite the little flurries of superficial silliness Murder in Soho is, in truth, a conventional, workmanlike, though somewhat unexceptional little crime film. The star of the show is Jack La Rue. Playing to type, he portrays Steve Marco, the boss of Soho's The Cotton Club. In his top hat and tails he appears to be the very model of an English aristocrat. However, Steve is an American. But, nevertheless he aspires, like some socialite Icarus, to become a part of the British establishment. In order to do this, he intends to manage the most spiffing club in Soho, to mix with the great and the good and to have a classy dame on his arm. The classy dame of his dreams is called Ruby. Ruby is played by Sandra Storme. She has a secret. Despite his ambitions, Steve is, deep down, little more than a thug and a hood. Marco is aided in his business by Lefty, who is played by New York character actor Arthur O'Connell and Spike, played by Edmon Ryan. These, despite their formal titles, of secretary or chauffeur respectively, are enforcers. They are mobsters. It is they that kill and dispose of Joe, a smuggler who had betrayed Marco. It is they who dump his body, in an alley, off Soho's famous Greek Street. You see, what an American screenwriter Iowa's F. McGrew Willis does here, is to overturn a common trope of American crime cinema. Because, pretty much all villains in Murder in Soho have American accents, while the heroes of the piece are English. However, this may be little more than a desire, on the part of the producers, to play to the intended audience. Nevertheless, this aside, the film is not a million miles away from the classic American gangster film. This is crime cinema transatlantic style. Except, obviously, with the story relocated to London and given a Brit-noir makeover. As often seemed to be the case with English cinema of the time, everyone, aside from the Americans, appear to sound so frightfully posh. This is regardless of whether they are making Love On The Dole or, as is the case here, simply dancing girls who aspire to return to the “nawth”. It is received pronunciation all the way. Played by Martin Walker, inspector Hammond at Vine Street Station is also a bit posh. Indeed, with the bowler hat and brolly of Steed from the The Avengers, he cuts a rather dashing figure. He is the perfect city gent. But, beneath a calm, stiff, upper lip, he possessed the hard-nosed instincts of a Columbo. It is he that follows the breadcrumb trail of clues as he edges towards solving the murder. So clever is he, that Hammond even enlists the help of Ruby. The pair even lay a cunning trap involving some pearls. It works too! However, ultimately, absolutely none of this really matters a jot. For, in the end, it proves to be Marco's hubris, overreach and his weakness for the ladies, that causes his nightclubby, mini-empire, to unravel somewhat.

Forbidden Jungle (1950)

2.0 out of 10
Robert Emmett Tansey spent almost his entire career making westerns. He even directed a few singing cowboy films. However, every now and then, he would depart from his wild west comfort zone. On one such occasion he would direct Forbidden Jungle. This time, though, he really shouldn't have bothered. Surprisingly though, the main problem with Forbidden Jungle isn't the cheapness of it all. Nevertheless, it is little more than a dollop of poverty row trash from the transatlantic Eagle-Lion pictures. Though that, in itself, doesn't necessarily make for a bad film. After all, it is just another minor B feature that is designed to cash in on the popularity of jungle films. There are lots of them out there. Indeed, there are plenty of other films that use similar combinations of jungle studio sets, gorilla suits or stock footage. But, sometimes these things work, other times they don't. This time it's a misfire. It isn't easy, though, to pinpoint the main problem with Forbidden Jungle. You see, Forbidden Jungle is, to be honest, incredibly weak on pretty much every level. Indeed, the only thing the film has going for it is the fact that it isn't longer. Thankfully, Forbidden Jungle only runs for a smidgen over an hour. This is just as well really, as even contemplating the possibility of a ninety minute version of this rubbish would probably be enough to make an onion cry. Since the material itself is pretty flimsy, it becomes clear, even after the first six minutes or so, that Forbidden Jungle is going to be mostly filler anyhow. So, large sections of the film consists of nothing more than stock footage of animals and extended shots of our cast walking through the same bit of studio based jungle, over and over. So, every time anyone in the film walks anywhere, at all, they are accompanied by the same shots of lions, pythons, a sort of bison, wildebeest or ox thing, a panther that is referred to as "The Dark One" and a bloke in a moth-eaten gorilla suit. There are also some chimps. Accompanied by zany music, they provide some attempts at comic relief. As does, predictably, a talking parrot. Anyhow, the story itself concerns a big game hunter. He is called Tom and he is portrayed by Don C. Harvey. While returning from a safari in India, Tom receives a sum of money. He has been paid to simply pop in to Africa on his way home. This is in order to capture a white boy who has been spotted living among the chimps. To do this he must go to parts of the jungle that have, apparently, never been seen by the eyes of the white man. This, in itself, is odd. Especially considering that the nearby village is run by a retired white trader. Not only this, but many of the multi-ethnic "natives" are white. Though, here, we are probably not supposed to notice. When Tom eventually tracks down Tawa, the jungle boy, he turns out to be nothing more than a skinny, slightly soft-in-the-head, weakling of a Tarzan rip-off. Tawa, who is played by Robert Cabal, strikes "Mark Gregory from Bronx Warriors" poses as he carries baby chimps around the place like purse-puppy accessories. Grinning like a starry-eyed vicar, he even addresses his animal friends, in English, by their names. All seem to understand him perfectly. Tom promises Tawa that one day he will see Broadway. Tawa smiles. He likes this idea. When Tom is not walking about, which he does a lot, he sort of stops for a while. He then grins and stares off into the distance for minutes at a time. This is supposed to be in order for his inner voice narration to explain the plot. However, it just looks strange. Nevertheless, this device allows the film to keep us all up to speed on what is happening. Unfortunately, what is “happening”, most of the time, is nothing much. Despite this, Forbidden Jungle tries really hard to inject a bit of activity into the conclusion. You see, all through the film, Tom has been transporting a tiger in a cage. This is mostly to make use of some Indian stock footage. But, it serves another purpose too. This becomes clear when chimpanzees, who until now have entertained us with their hi-jinx, accidentally release the beast. Dramatic tension is then squeezed from the fact that there is a tiger, by now referred to as "Striped One", out on the loose. As the film builds into a crecendo of banality, the editing of stock footage becomes increasingly erratic. Supposedly tense battles ensue between the tiger and the other animals of the forest. The silliest being a confrontation between the mighty beast and a stuffed gorilla suit. This tsunami of stupidity breaks upon the shores of pointlessness when a supposedly hair-raising struggle, between the big cat and a clearly long-deceased snake, "The Wise One", raises the temperature almost to the point of tepidity. There is, believe it or not, something of a message in all this. It concerns the tiger. You see, despite the fact that the creature is alien to the natives, Tawa decides to reason with the beast. However, he doesn't speak "tiger". Nevertheless, he believes he can make the tiger understand. This, of course, doesn't work. Tawa is unable to reason with "The Striped One". This is because tigers, unlike his cuddly lion and python friends, only understand violence. The moral is a clear one. You do not negotiate with tigers. Ever. Diplomacy will fail every time. With that bombastic expression of muscular ideology concluded, the film then sees Tom taking another five minutes, or so, to leave the jungle. Again he passes all the bushes we saw at the start of the film. Except, on this occasion it is different. He is travelling in the opposite direction. Then, for one final time, Tom pauses and adopts his, by now, familiar trance-like stare. The narration informs that Tom has now decided that there is more to life than money. Tawa never gets to see broadway.

My Name Is Pecos (1967)

6.5 out of 10
My Name Is Pecos opens with a shot of a lone figure as he walks through the desert. He is windswept and thirsty. His name is Pecos. So, how do we know this? Because the film is called His name is Pecos, that's how. Oh, and cos he tells us his name. Then, to further emphasise the point, a Django-like theme song tells us his name too. This is right after he shoots the man who sold him a gun for twenty dollars. Pecos states his name frequently throughout the film. You see, as the title suggests, names are important in the film. There is no "Man With No Name" here. This is because My Name Is Pecos is a film about identity. Pecos is played by the brilliant Robert Woods and here he reprises his character from the earlier Pecos Cleans Up. Pecos Martinez is a Mexican. The bandits who roam the town of Houston don't like Mexicans much. So, the small Mexican population are the subject of racist abuse at the hands of a band of rogues who, pretty much, run the show. No one is really in a position to challenge the bandits. The locals, many of whom are simply amoral, refuse to carry firearms as they do not really want any trouble. This pragmatism gives the gang leader Kline, played by Naked Violence and Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion star Pier Paolo Capponi, a free hand. That is, of course, until Pecos shows up. Then, as would be expected, lots of people die. The anti-racism theme that runs through My Name Is Pecos is emphasised by the fact that one of the villains wears Confederacy hat. Also, Pecos asserts his identity by demanding his right to enjoy Tequila instead of the whiskey on offer. Indeed, all this may just be a useful way to convey a barely concealed Civil Rights message. Yet, despite these themes running throughout the story, it is neither the bigotry nor the banditry that motivate Pecos. Nor is he greedy. Indeed, he cares little for the missing loot that has been hidden within a wine barrel. Pecos is simply after revenge. We learn why this is the case during a scene at a graveside. There we notice that there is a single grave that holds four members of his family. All were killed on the same day. It later emerges that Kline is the killer. Pecos is originally from Houston and he has returned home with a single motivation. He wants to kill Kline and his band of men. These, incidentally incudes an early career role for Mr. Anthrophagus himself, George "Big Ape" Eastman. While we are given enough backstory to empathise with Pecos, we are made aware of the fact that his behaviour is mechanistic and devoid of emotion. He is very much someone who has surrendered his whole self to his mission. He is a cold killer, a terminator. He just gets on and does what he has to do. Though his motivations are understandable, he doesn't easily fit snugly within the traditional white hat and black hat conventions. Indeed, describing what he does in the film as heroism would be stretching the point somewhat. The liberation of Houston, here, is more of an unintended consequence of the vengeance of Pecos than the intentional outcome of a carefully executed plan. Anyhow, as a film, My Name Is Pecos is a solid enough little Euro-oater. But, that said, while it is in no ways a bad film, it is also some distance away from being an exceptional or classic genre entry. Indeed, My Name Is Pecos offers very little to mark it out from so many other titles from around this time. However, this may have more to do with a poverty of ambition on the part of director Maurizio Lucidi rather than any real lack of ability. After all, Lucidi also directed the excellent, and captivating, The Designated Victim. So, no slouch he. The main problem here is that My Name Is Pecos feels as though it was simply rushed out in order to ride on the same wave as the likes of Django or A Bullet for the General. Both of which, incidentally, are far bigger and better films. However, that is not to say that His name is Pecos is totally devoid of good ideas. Because that certainly isn't the case. It is just that these, in themselves, are not enough to make the film a stand-out title in the extremely crowded Spaghetti Western field. Far too many of the the themes here would already be quite familiar. Indeed they are, more often than not, borrowed from Sergio Leone's “Dollars Trilogy”. However, despite this, My Name Is Pecos is not in the same ballpark as its more famous inspiration. Understandably! Then again, what is notable in My Name Is Pecos is an undertaker character. Early in the film Pecos approaches him and promises that he is about to get loads of work. He comes across as the personification of death itself. Indeed, during the film he is compared to a vulture. In a way Morton the undertaker, played by dependable character actor Umberto Raho, is the real scene stealer of the film. Also, his ability to accurately read the future in playing cards suggests that there is something a slightly otherworldly about him. Morton, as in mort meaning death, has a mule called Lucifer and he frequently quotes his Bible. However, within his copy of The Good Book he hides a pistol. In a way he is an approximation to Gino Pernice's Brother Jonathan in Django. Though, his whole manner has a similar feel to that of Daniel Emilfork's brilliantly creepy Satan character in the excellent Italian horror Devil's Nightmare.