Witness Mr. Burgess Meredith, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers.

“I was born a character actor. I was never really a leading man type.” –Burgess Meredith

Burgess Meredith
Oliver Burgess Meredith

WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON 2014

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It’s here again! The most fabulous blogathon honoring those unsung stars that add that certain singular glimmer to either the cinematic sphere or the small screen sky–The character actors we’ve grown to love and follow adoringly. Thanks so much to Aurora at Once Upon A Screen, Outspoken & Freckled and Paula’s Cinema Club  for hosting such a marvelous tribute once again!

This post’s title comes from the opening narrative for Rod Serling’s favorite Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough At Last.”  ‘Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers’ From Season 1 episode 8 which aired on November 20th 1959.

THE TWILIGHT ZONE “TIME ENOUGH AT LAST”

Directed by John Brahm, “Time Enough At Last” tells the story of a little bespectacled bibliophile bank teller named Henry Bemis ,a bookworm, a slave to the iron fisted hand of time and all it’s dreary inescapable obligatory scars and yearnings.

Burgess Meredith Twilight Zone still

Browbeaten by his wife, boss and even the public at large who see him as an outcast because of his ravenous appetite to read books! Henry can’t even sneak away to read a newspaper during work hours. He’s forced to resort to studying the labels on condiment bottles. She won’t even let him read the ketchup. His harpy of a wife Helen ( Jacqueline deWit) even blackens in the lines of his books at home, calling it “doggerel“– One day as fate would have it, he steals away to the basement vault of the bank to catch up on his beloved preoccupation, when –as many Twilight Zone episodes had been infused with a dose of Rod Serling’s nihilism (as much as there is his hopeful message), the feared 50’s bomb annihilates our vision of the world that was swarming just a few moments before. Suddenly poor Henry seems to be the last man on earth. But wait… perhaps not poor Henry.

Henry Bemis still

As he stumbles through the debris and carefully placed set pieces– the remnants of man’s destructive force, Henry comes upon the city’s public library filled with BOOKS!!! Glorious books…

While he must struggle against the approaching loneliness of the bleak future ahead, he begins to see the possibility of a new world where he could dream, and wander through so many scrawled worlds. Already an outsider he could finally live a life free to be as his boss rebuked him, a “reader.’

Henry starts to amass various piles of selected readings. There was time now. Time enough at last to read every word on the written page without interruption, interference or judgement.

Yet…fate once again waves her fickle finger via The Twilight Zone and leaves bewildered Henry without his much needed glasses, now they have fallen on the great stone steps, crushed by Henry’s own feet. As with every role Meredith brings to life the character of Henry Bemis with so much mirth and pathos.

He’s always just a bit peculiar, idiosyncratic, eccentric, lyrical, salty, sometimes irascible, but always captivating and distinctive, His voice, his persona, his look, his style… Burgess Meredith could always play the Henry Bemises of the world and grab our hearts because he has that rare quality of being so damn genuine.

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Let’s face it even when the prolific Burgess Meredith is playing a cackling penguin– nemesis to the caped crusader Batman or the devil himself (alias the dapper and eccentric Charles Chazen with Mortimer the canary and his black and white cat Jezebel in tow) in The Sentinel 1977 based on the novel by Jeffrey Konvitz and directed by Michael Winner–he’s lovable!

Burgess as Charles Chazin

He always manages to just light me up. Ebullient, mischievous  and intellectually charming, a little impish, a dash of irresolute cynicism wavering between lyrical sentimentalism. He’s got this way of reaching in and grabbing the thinking person’s heart by the head and spinning it around in dazzling circles with his marvelously characteristic voice. A mellifluous tone which was used often to narrate throughout his career. (I smile even at the simplest nostalgic memory like his work on television commercials , as a kid growing up in the 60s and early 70s I fondly remember his voice for Skippy Peanut Butter. Meredith has a solicitous tone and whimsical, mirthful manner. Here’s a clip from a precious vintage commercial showcasing Meredith’s delightfully fleecy voice.

And his puckish demeanor hasn’t been missed considering he’s actually played Old Nick at least three times as I have counted. In The Sentinel 1977, The Twilight Zone and Torture Garden! While in Freddie Francis’ production he is the more carnivalesque Dr. Diabolo–a facsimile of the devil given the severely theatrical make-up, goatee and surrounding flames… he is far more menacing in Michael Winner’s 70s gem as the spiffy Charles Chazin.

Torture Garden 1967
Burgess Meredith as Dr. Diabolo in Torture Garden 1967

And while I resist even the notion of redoing Ira Levin/William Castle and Roman Polanski’s masterpiece Rosemary’s Baby if, and I’m only saying if… I could envision anyone else playing along side Ruth Gordon as the quirky and roguish Roman Castevet it could only be Burgess Meredith who could pull that off!

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Also being a HUGE fan of Peter Falk’s inimitable Columbo– I ask why why WHY?! was Burgess Meredith never cast as a sympathetic murderer for that relentless and lovable detective in the rumpled rain coat to pursue! Could you imagine the chemistry between these two marvelous actors!

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Burgess Meredith all of 5′ 5″ tall was born in Cleveland Ohio in 1907. His father was a doctor, his mother a Methodist revivalist. We lost him in 1997 at the age of 89. That’s when he took his “dirt nap…” the line and that memorable scene from Grumpier Old Men 1993 that still makes me burst out laughing from the outlandish joy of it all!… because as Grandpa Gustafson (Meredith) tells John Gustafson (Jack Lemmon) about how he’s managed to live so long eating bacon, smoking and drinking his dinner–what’s the point…? “I just like that story!”

Meredith, Burgess Street of Chance 1942
Leading man material… Street of Chance 1942

Burgess Meredith said himself, that he wasn’t born to be a leading man, yet somehow he always managed to create a magnetic draw toward any performance of his. As if where ever his presence in the story was, it had the same effect as looking in a side view mirror of the car “Objects are closer than they appear”–What I mean by that is how I relate his contribution becoming larger than the part might have been, had it been a different actor. Like the illusion of the mirrored reflection , he always grew larger in significance within the story–because his charisma can’t help but consume the space.

He took over the landscape and planted himself there like a little metaphysical essence, animating the narrative to a higher level of reality.

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Meredith started out working with the wonderful Eva Le Gallienne joining her stage company in New York City in 1933. His first film role was that of Mio Romagna in playwright Maxwell Anderson’s Winterset 1936 where Meredith plays the son of an immigrant wrongfully executed for a crime he did not commit. He also joined the ranks of those in Hollywood who were named as “unfriendly witnesses’ by the House Un-American Activities Committee finding no work, being blacklisted in the 1950s.  

During the 1960s Meredith found his way back in various television roles that gave us all a chance to see and hear his incredible spectrum of performances. One of my personal favorites, dramatically potent and vigorously absorbing was his portrayal of Duncan Kleist in  Naked City television series episode directed by Walter Grauman (Lady in A Cage 1964Hold For Gloria Christmas

The groundbreaking crime and human interest series THE NAKED CITY– cast Meredith as a 60s beat poet & derelict who is literally dying to leave the legacy of his words to a kindred spirit.

A powerful performance told through flashback sequences that recollect his murder as he storms through the gritty streets and alley ways of New York City  a volatile alcoholic Greenwich Village poet trying to get back his precious manuscript of poems that were stolen as he bartered them away bit by bit for booze -he has bequeathed his work to the anonymous Gloria Christmas. The chemistry between Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart who plays his estranged wife is magnificent. Heckart is another character actor who deserves a spotlight.

 

BURNT OFFERINGS 1976Dan Curtis’ priceless treasure of creepy camp featuring Karen Black, Oliver Reed and once again uniting the incredible Eileen Heckart with our beloved Burgess Meredith as the ominous Roz and Arnold Allardyce.

Eileen Heckart and Burgess in Burnt Offerings-Dan Curtis
Roz & Arnold… charming… creepy!

Another memorable role for me, is his spirited performance as Charles Chazin alias The Devil in one of my all time favorite horror classics The Sentinel. “Friendships often blossom into bliss.” – Charles Chazin. Ooh that line still gives me chills…

Many people will probably love him for his iconic character study of a crusty cantankerous washed up boxing trainer named Mickey in the Rocky series of films. Or perhaps, for his colorful cackling or should I say quacking villain in the television series Batman -his iconic malefactor — The Penguin!

IMDb fact-His character, the Penguin, was so popular as a villain on the television series Batman (1966), the producers always had a Penguin script ready in case Meredith wanted to appear as a guest star.

Burgess Meredith will always remain one of the greatest, most versatile & prolific actors, character in fact… beloved and eternal…

BURGESS MEREDITH TELEVISION & FILMOGRAPHY ON IMBD HERE

BURGESS MEREDITH

 

“Like the seasons of the year, life changes frequently and drastically. You enjoy it or endure it as it comes and goes, as it ebbs and flows.”- Burgess Meredith

“I’ll just take amusement at being a paradox.”- Burgess Meredith

[on his childhood] “All my life, to this day, the memory of my childhood remains grim and incoherent. If I close my eyes and think back, I see little except violence and fear. In those early years, I somehow came to understand I would have to draw from within myself whatever emotional resources I needed to go wherever I was headed. As a result, for years, I became a boy who lived almost totally within himself.”- Burgess Meredith

 

Continue reading “Witness Mr. Burgess Meredith, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers.”

Concerto Sinostro- The Alfred Hitchcock Hour- Seven Exceptional Episodes

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I’ve chosen theses particular episodes for various reasons. I’m very fond of the actors portraying these very nuanced roles. The stories directed by some of the best, themselves are quite compelling, and the musical compositions by Lyn Murray just left a poignant hole in my heart afterwards. I hope you get to see at least a few of them. Very special, very fraught with edge of your seat thrills, and some outstanding performances by some of your favorites who deserve to be showcased here! Without any further adieu —Good Evening…!

Carol Lynley
Carol Lynley
ruth
Ruth Roman
anne-francis
Anne Francis
Dina Merrill
Dina Merrill
Charity Grace
Charity Grace
tim o'connor-banacek
great character actor Tim O’Connor in Banacek
Eileen Barrel
Eileen Baral
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Franchot Tone
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Gary Merrill
Gena Rowlands
Gena Rowlands
clu gulager
Clu Gulager
Glady Cooper
Gladys Cooper
Isobel Elsom Monseur Verdoux
Isobel Elsom in Monseur Verdoux
Joan Fontaine
Joan Fontaine
Joyce van Patten
Joyce van Patten
Juanita Moore Back Street with Lana Turner
Juanita Moore in Imitation of Life with Lana Turner
margaret leighton
the wonderful Margaret Leighton
Nancy Kelly from The Bad Seed
Nancy Kelly is more than just Rhoda’s mother in The Bad Seed
Roger Perry
Roger Perry
RG Armstrong
R. G. Armstrong
Jesslyn-Fax
character actress Jesslyn Fax

Peter Falk

Peter Falk
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Patricia Collinge

Final Vow  (25 Oct. 1962)

William Downey-“Have all your prayers been answered sister?”

Sister Pamela- “Prayers aren’t business deals Mr. Downey, they can’t be judged by successes or failures.”

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Sister Gem tells Sister Pamela “Oh sister… not tears again… you’ve cried a whole river these past weeks.”

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Sister Lydia says ” I want you to see what faith and prayer will do.”

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Norman Lloyd directs this Henry Slesar story starring the lovely Carol Lynley who plays Sister Pamela Wiley, a gentle soul who has come to the crossroads of her faith. It is a simplistically beautiful tale about faith and finding ones place on earth.

The Reverend Mother portrayed by the wonderful Isobel Elsom believes that Sister Pamela’s crisis will go away in time. Sister Pamela is sent on a very special mission to meet the once young hooligan named William Downey from parochial school she’d tried to change for the bette. He has invited sister Lydia to his mansion after thirty years of silence to give her a very special statue of St Francis. It’s a gesture of thank you and a very sacred piece of art. On the way back to the convent the statue is stolen at the train station.

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Sister Pamela- “some people retreat to god and not advance toward him, and that’s what i have done.”
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Isobel Elsom as the commanding Reverend Mother
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Sister Pamela tries on her new clothes, looking in the mirror she sees a pretty young lady and not a sister of the convent anymore. She is struck still.
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Pamela takes a job as a secretary where Jimmy the no good thief works on the loading docks as part of his parole. Now she’s just one of the girls….

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Pamela finds the statue of St Francis at a Pawn shop.

The bronze statue falls into the wrong hands by petty thief (Clu Gulager as schemer Jimmy Bresson) and so Sister Pamela puts herself in harms way in order to set things right!

With Sara Taft as Sister Lydia and Charity Grace as Sister Gem (Jennifer Morrison from Andy Griffith’s Alcohol & Old Lace), Clu Gulager is perfect as the ruthless Jimmy K Bresson and R.G. Armstrong as the imposing William Downey.

Bonfire  (13 Dec. 1962)

Laura- “Would you mind opening a window, this house smells of…” Robbie breaks in-“Death!” Laura-“No, the past, which is even worse!”

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The wonderful Partricia Collinge plays an old fashioned lady Naomi Freshwater, who has been befriended by a fire & brimstone preacher spouting scripture in an obsessive way. The enigmatic Peter Falk is the cab driving preacher Robbie Evans who comes from the coal mines of Pennsylvania, had a vision during  a cave in and changed his life. Did he possibly kill his first wife… well you’ll have to wait and see.

Now as a seemingly kind companion to sweet old Naomi, he spends time with her reading bible verses and hoping to gain her trust so he can build his grand temple on the money she’ll leave him in her will. The dear and sheltered Naomi has a bad heart and suffers a fatal heart attack one night when Robbie forces her to dance too rigorously. She collapses on the settee begging for her little pills as Robbie coldly watches her die. The scene is absolutely brutal in it’s heartlessness. Quite a powerful scene for just a one hour anthology show. I myself was left speechless and stunned by it’s ruthlessness. Adding to the grisly atmosphere was the non stop record spinning a bedazzling swing melody while the tortured old women clutches at her chest. I don’t know if it was the lighting or just Falk’s cold-blooded unwavering expression that left me chilled to the bone.

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Falk plays the perfect sociopath, with only one nearly over the top performance during a bible thumping sermon under the tent. When the classy worldly niece Laura (Dina Merrill) shows up, Robbie tries to woo her into marriage hoping to hang onto the old Victorian mansion that he feels is owed to him. Laura hires Robbie to clean out the attic and create a big old bonfire to burn the remnants of her life there.

At first Laura believes his ‘Man of God’ act as Naomi did, but Laura is a wild roaming sort who doesn’t wish to be tied down. This brings out the psychopath in Robbie, as he relates in detail how his first wife tried to hold him back, she was a sinner and he had the calling.

I won’t give away the ending, of course, but it’s a real tent stomper of a mystery, with psycho-sexual misogyny, delusional religious fanaticism and menacing mayhem afoot lead by an all star cast of actors. Directed by one of my favorites Joseph Pevney based on a story by V.S. Pritchett as published in The New Yorker.

The music is done by the great Pete Rugulo and of course the contribution of William Margulies cinematography all come together to create one hell of a grand mystery hour.

Continue reading “Concerto Sinostro- The Alfred Hitchcock Hour- Seven Exceptional Episodes”

Phantom Lady: Forgotten Cerebral Noir: It’s not how a man looks, it’s how his mind works that makes him a killer.

Phantom Lady (1944)

Directed by the master of suspenseful thrillers and fabulous noirs- Robert Siodmak; (Son of Dracula 1943, The Suspect 1944, Christmas Holiday 1944 The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry 1945, The Killers 1946, The Dark Mirror, The Spiral Staircase 1946, Cry of the City 1948, Criss Cross 1949, The File of Thelma Jordon 1948) is as nightmarish and psychologically aromatic as it is a penetrating crime noir.

Phantom Lady is a sadly neglected film noir based on a story by Cornell Woollrich and scripted for the screen by Bernard C. Schoenfeld. Stars the quietly enigmatic Ella Raines (Cry ‘Havoc’ 1943, The Suspect 1944, Impact 1949), as Carol “Kansas” Richman, Franchot Tone as Jack Marlow and Alan Curtis as the leading man Scott Henderson. The film also co stars Thomas Gomez (Key Largo) as perceptive Detective Burgess, the intelligent and compassionate detective who eventually comes around to believe in Scott Henderson’s innocence.

Phantom Lady utilizes noir’s innocent man theme beautifully. Siodmak’s directing creates an often nightmarish realm, the characters float in and out of. The intersectionality frames the story between crime melodrama and psychological thriller. Siodmak is a master storyteller who earned an Oscar nomination for The Killers in 1946.

Although on the surface you would assume Phantom Lady to be a man in peril film, it actually functions as a woman in danger as well because Carol “Kansas” puts herself in harms way in order to help her boss, whom she’s in love with. Fay Helm’s mysterious woman has a tragic trajectory herself as a woman who is spiraling into oblivion by mental decline after losing her beloved fiance.

Scott Henderson (Alan Curtis), spends the night with a mysterious woman whose identity is unknown to him. Only later do we learn that her name is Ann Terry (Fay Helm) The two first meet in a bar, after Scott has been shunned by his wife for the last time. The phantom lady is obviously disturbed by something causing her emotional pain, she finally agrees to take in a show with Scott who has tickets. The conditions are that they do not exchange names as it’s just a way for both of them to keep themselves occupied at a moment when both are feeling dejected.

The “Phantom Lady” is wearing a sensationally quirky hat which the film revolves around in a sense, because Scott returns home to find his apartment crawling with police after his wife has been brutally strangled, with one of Scott’s expensive ties. The anonymous lady who wore this stand out hat is the only key to providing Scott’s with an alibi.

Scott proceeds to tell Inspector Burgess (the wonderful Thomas Gomez), that he spent the night with this no name woman, after fighting with his wife and that there are several people who would have seen them together. The bar tender, the cabbie with a very memorable name, and the temperamental lead singer/dancer in the musical review could identify him accompanied by the phantom lady, because of her supposedly original hat– the performer Estela Monteiro (Aurora Miranda) was also wearing the same hat on stage, which is later used as a lead. Aurora shoots daggers at the phantom lady for having worn the same design. You could see the fury on her face as she sings her musical number. Estela Monteiro has a fit, walks off stage and decrees that no one would have the nerve to wear one of her original hats, and throws hers away. Wonderful character actor Doris Lloyd plays the designer Kettisha who is sought after for her one of a kind hat designs.

Inspector Burgess takes Scott around to each of these witnesses but no one recalls having seen him with the woman at all. They all very curiously deny seeing the lady, and it becomes obvious that something is very wrong with the testimony from all these people who were obviously covering something up. The outcome looks bleak for Scott.

Inspector Burgess: [Questioning] You’re a pretty neat dresser, Mr. Henderson.

Detective Tom: [Taunting] Yeah. Everything goes together. It’s an art.

Inspector Burgess: Nice tie you’re wearing.

Scott Henderson: [Upset] Tie?

Detective Tom: Pretty taste. Expensive. I wish I could afford it.

Scott Henderson: Hey, what are you trying to do to me? Marcella’s dead, gimme a break! What’s the difference if my tie is OK or not?

Inspector Burgess: It makes a great deal of difference, Mr. Henderson.

Scott Henderson: Why?

Inspector Burgess: Your wife was strangled with one of your ties.

Detective Chewing Gum: Yeah. Knotted so tight it had to be cut loose with a knife.

Because it appears that Scott is guilty of the crime he is sentence to death and faces the electric chair in 18 days. With no witnesses to back him up.

Even his best friend sculptor Jack Marlow played by gravel toned sophisticate Franchot Tone who doesn’t come onto the scene until midway through the film, is away on business in Brazil, so there is no one but sweet and devoted secretary Kansas who is left to stand by Scott. Scott resigns himself to his fate and doesn’t even blame the jury for their decision.

Scott Henderson is a civil engineer who was in a loveless marriage with  with a beautiful associate who works for him, which he affectionately calls Kansas. She never doubts his innocence for a moment and devoutly sets out on a mission to try and find this mysterious lady to prove she really does exist, before it’s too late. She also tracks down those whom she knows have lied about seeing this woman.

Kansas assumes the role of serious cookie as she taunts Mac the bartender who denies having ever seen the woman with the funny hat in his bar with Scott at the time his wife was murdered. She also goes undercover as a “hep kitten” to trap the lecherous and super frenetic drummer Cliff Milburn played to the sweaty frenzied nines by Elisha Cook Jr.

Along the way, Inspector Burgess, confronts Kansas in her apartment and tells her that although he did his job at the time, he also believes in Scott’s story because a child could make up a better alibi than the story he has stuck to so religiously. So now Kansas and Burgess set about to prove that someone has been tampering with these witnesses.

At this point, Jack Marlow comes back from Brazil to lend a helping hand in getting to the bottom of the case. The always present Jack begins to play an important role in helping solve the murder.

What lies ahead is a very gripping story with several taut and fiery moments amidst the looming shadows and dead ends.

Elisha Cook Jr. is too believable yet fantastic as the tweaked sleazy drummer who’s got an appetite for women in the audience, even the phantom lady whom he flirted with.

And Fay Helm plays a very palpable victim of her own sadness as the Phantom Lady who alludes the police after that one night at the musical revue with Scott.

What adds to the noirish obfuscation of the story is the witnesses who are despicable in their evasiveness, which creates an atmosphere of obstruction that is stirring and at times, maddening. But they will all meet a certain cosmic justice by films end.

Woolrich was a prolific writer who’s work came close to being as popular as Raymond Chandler, and he was responsible for many of the screenplays of the 1940’s as well as the radio drama Suspense. Ella Raines is absolutely breathtaking to look at. And sadly Alan Curtis having died in the 50’s of complications from surgery was not only great at being sympathetic, he was strikingly handsome as well.

 

Carol ‘Kansas’ Richman: [Visiting Scott in prison] Is there anything I can do for you?

Scott Henderson: Yes. You can thank the foreman. I forgot to.

Carol ‘Kansas’ Richman: I don’t know what to say.

Scott Henderson: Skip it, Kansas. I’ll be all right now that I know where I stand. Yes, I’ll be fine. Last night for the first time I didn’t have to count sheep. I slept like a guilty man.

Phantom Lady is a cerebral excursion, which uncovers a lot of psychological layers for us, as it progresses.

Without giving away any key parts of the plot , I’ll say that the film shows us a dark side of humanity.

Without going into the background of the characters, the narrative of Phantom Lady is drawn out in little scenic bursts of disclosure. While the film doesn’t describe to us why these characters are doing what they do with the use of  flashback another noir technique, we see who these people are by their actions. The film explores human nature in a slightly gritty naturalistic style.

The cinematography by Elwood Bredell (The Ghost of Frankenstein 1942, The Mystery of Marie Roget 1942, Christmas Holiday 1944, Lady on a Train 1945, The Killers 1946, The Unsuspected 1947, Female Jungle 1956)  is remarkably as Bredell paints a landscape of looming shadows, dark sinister corners and breaks of light that cut through the clouds of mystery and excursions into bad spaces.

A nightmarish journey of the wrongly accused, the tragedy of loss, greed and true madness and sometimes darkness of the soul. And ultimately the love that bears its fruits by unrelenting devotion and the pursuit of the truth at any cost.

Kansas will need to wash her mouth out with bleach after the predatory Cliff plants a raptorial kiss on her!

Inspector Burgess: The fact remains that none of you could have committed these murders.

Jack Marlow: Why not?

Inspector Burgess: You’re all too normal.

Jack Marlow: Oh, the murderer must be normal enough. Just clever, that’s all.

Inspector Burgess: Yes, all of them are. Diabolically clever.

Jack Marlow: Who?

Inspector Burgess: Paranoiacs.

Jack Marlow: That’s simply your opinion. Psychiatrists might disagree.

Inspector Burgess: Oh, I’ve seen paranoiacs before. They all have incredible egos. Abnormal cunning. A contempt for life.

Jack Marlow: You make it sound unbeatable.


 

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