Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson: A Talent to Abuse Children

While I mourn the death of any person, and I feel sympathy for his family, I can't forget or forgive Michael Jackson for the countless children he has abused.

The online journal When Falls the Coliseum ran my piece on Jackson this morning.

You can read the piece, and the comments readers left, via the below link:

More to come.

The Best (Or Worst) Movie Villains

The Times of London today offered a list of the 50 Best Movie Villains:


As my friend and former editor Frank Wilson noted on his literary blog, Books, Inq, ( there is a lot to agree with - and plenty to disagree with.

First of all, should it not be the 50 worst villains? Don’t the worst villains, portrayed by the best actors, make the best characters?

Also, I find it hard to believe that a British newspaper would not have included Harry Lime from The Third Man in this list.

Orson Welles’ Harry Lime was a post-WWII criminal who stole penicillin from military hospitals in Vienna and sold the much-needed medicine on the black market. The smug, self-centered bastard diluted the penicillin, which killed many sick people, including children.

His great speech justifying his criminal actions to his friend Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton), is classic:

You know what the fellow said—in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace—and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

The short speech was not in Graham Greene's great screenplay. It was written on the set by Welles.

The Times' list also includes Joe Pesci’s Tommy DeVito, the crazy, violent killer from what I believe is one of the greatest crime films ever made, Goodfellas.

But the list should have also included Robert Di Niro’s stone-cold killer “Jimmy the Gent” from the same film, as well as Paul Sorvino’s mob captain “Paulie.”

The Times also listed at number 23 the first film appearance of James Bond’s long-running nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, in 1963’s From Russia With Love.
In this film Blofeld’s face was not shown and viewers only saw his torso with his hand stroking the white cat.

The Times noted that the Bond film series has “villainy aplenty” and a rogue’s gallery that would have dominated the vast majority of the list, so they simply included Blofeld.

True enough, but I think some recnition should go to the other three great villains of the film.

Robert Shaw’s moon-killer psychopath Red Grant was just wonderfully cold, brutal and evil, as was Lotte Lenya's Rosa Klebb, an ugly toad lesbian Russian colonel, and Vladek Sheybal's Kronsteen, the brilliant and arrogant "Wizard of Ice" chess master and mastermind planner of Bond’s death.

I'd like to also recognize the great, unforgettable villainous trio from Goldfinger. Sean Connery's James Bond faced off against Gert Frobe’s Auric Goldfinger, Harold Sakata’s Oddjob and Honor Blackman's Pussy Galore.

And I'd like to recognize Adolfo Celi's portrayal of Ian Fleming's modern-day pirate, Emilio Largo in Thunderball.

After Gert Frobe's powerful portrayal of Goldfinger, the film makers needed a bad guy that equaled or was better than the man who loved gold so much he tried to rob Fort Knox.

With his Italian accent, broad, heavy-set body, white hair and black eye-patch (modern-day pirate, get it?), Celi came across as a worthy adversary for our Mr. Bond.

The Times named Anthony Dawson as Blofeld in From Russia With Love as the number 23 film villain, but as we never saw his face and someone else did his voice, I much prefer Telly Savalas' portrayal of Blofeld in 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Although I would have prefered a European to play Blofeld, Savalas had the aloof, arrogant looks and deep, commanding voice needed to portray the brillant, mad, mastermind criminal.

I did not care much for Donald Pleasense who played Blofeld in the film before, 1967's You Only Live Twice.

And one should recognize the very first Bond film villain, Joseph Wiseman's Dr No.
The good, evil, mad doctor in 1962's Dr. No set the cinematic standard for meglomanical villains for many years, leading right up to Mike Myers' "Dr Evil," - a parody of Dr. No/Blofeld - who was included on this list.

Taken from the pages of Ian Fleming’s great thrillers, these villains were all brilliantly portrayed in the groundbreaking 1960s films.

Unfortunately, the Bond films in the 1970s and beyond moved away from Fleming’s novels and the villains (and Bond) became cartoons, like “Jaws.”

Even with metal teeth, one would require the jaw muscles of an alligator to perform the stunts this silly character did in the films. He was about as menacing as Wile E. Coyote.

It was the truly evil bad guys, portrayed by truly fine actors, that made The Third Man, Goodfellas, the Bond films from the 1960s, and many of the films mentioned on The Times’ list, great and unforgettable films.

The bad guy offered drama and conflict with the film’s hero, who, in many cases, was not nearly as interesting as the villain.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Napoleon Exhibition in Philadelphia

The Weider History Group's web site published my piece on the Napoleon Exhibition in Philadelphia.

You can read the piece at

Monday, June 22, 2009

The CIA's Hunt for Bin Laden

The National Geographic Channel offered a good program on Sunday night about the CIA's hunt for bin Laden.

The program, CIA Confidential, interviewed Gary Berntsen, a retired CIA officer who served as the field commander of the small unit of CIA officers and Special Forces soldiers who entered Afghanistan after the horrific terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11.

I interviewed Gary Berntsen for The Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International ( He is the real deal.

The magazine piece can read via the links below:

More to come.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

My Philadelphia Inquirer Review Of 'Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America'

 The Philadelphia Inquirer published my review of Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America today.

Ian Fleming, a British naval intelligence officer during World War II and the author of the James Bond thrillers, once noted that on occasion a news story would "lift a corner of the veil" and reveal the real world of espionage.

"Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America" lifts much more than a corner of the veil. The book is based on the notebooks of Alexander Vassiliev, a Russian journalist and former KGB officer who was given unprecedented access to KGB files for three years.
You can read the rest of the review below:

Note: You can click on the above to enlarge.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

My Crime Beat Column: Michael Connelly's The Scarecrow

Many years ago when I was a young bachelor I brought home to my apartment a young girl I met in a bar.

While I was preparing a couple of drinks for us she looked over the books in my library.

“You have a lot of books on death,” she said in a questioning tone, noting the numerous titles of books on crime history, true crime and crime fiction, as well those on espionage, terrorism and military history.

Well, I tried to explain, I have books on a wide variety of subjects, as well as classic literature, but as a student of crime and a crime writer, I of course own a good number of books on crime.

She nodded and sipped her drink, but she soon made her excuses and left my apartment. I finished my drink and had a good laugh.

Michael Connelly’s fictional character Jack McEvoy would have understood. According to Connelly, McEvoy specializes in death.

McEvoy is the Rocky Mountain News crime reporter we met in Connelly’s earlier crime thriller, The Poet, in which he investigated the suicide of his twin brother, a homicide detective. Teaming up with an FBI Special Agent he later becomes romantically involved with, McEvoy hunts a serial killer that leaves poetry and phrases from Edgar Allen Poe at his victim’s crime scenes.

In what his publishers describe as a “continuation,” rather than a sequel, McEvoy is back on the hunt, investigating another serial killer in The Scarecrow (Little, Brown and Company).

Having achieved some fame and written a bestselling true crime book on the Poet serial killer, McEvoy has moved up from the Rocky Mountain News to a coveted position on The Los Angeles Times.

Unfortunately, as a highly-paid crime reporter, he is on the list of laid off staff as the newspaper downsizes. He is allowed to remain on for two weeks, providing he trains his replacement. His replacement is a young woman fresh out of journalism school, but she is much more technology-savvy than McEvoy - and she is paid far less than McEvoy.

Hoping to leave the newspaper with a big story, McEvoy investigates the case of an exotic dancer found dead in a car trunk. The police have arrested a 16-year-old gangbanger, but McEvoy connects the murder of the dancer to other murders committed elsewhere.

The killer this time is less artistic than the Poet. The “Scarecrow,” so called because he is hired to prevent intrusions to law firm and corporate computer files, is a crazed computer genius. Being an expert on system intrusions, he is able to both track McEvoy’s actions and thwart his investigation via system hacking.

McEvoy calls in FBI Special Agent Rachel Walling, his partner and girlfriend from The Poet, to assist him in what he believes will be the biggest story he’s covered since the Poet. Like the Poet story, McEvoy becomes part of the story rather than just covering it. The hunter becomes the hunted and McEvoy realizes that he has is being targeted by the Scarecrow.

The story’s backdrop features both the shrinking world of daily newspapers and the growing world of digital technology. Connelly, a former crime reporter for The Los Angeles Times, knows the world of newspapers well and he laments the current state of the business.

In The Scarecrow McEvoy notes that since most of the news has been posted on the Internet, the newspaper might as well be called The Daily Afterthought.

“At one time the newsroom was the best place in the world to work,” McEvoy explains in the novel. “A bustling place of camaraderie, competition, gossip, cynical wit and humor, it was at the crossroads of ideas and debate. It produced stories and pages that were vibrant and intelligent, that set the agenda for what was discussed and considered important in a city as diverse as Los Angeles. Now thousands of pages of editorial content were being cut each year and soon the paper would be like the newsroom, an intellectual ghost town.”

Connelly is less knowledgeable about computers and technology, but like a good reporter, he has researched this area and he presents a chilling account of the mayhem a person with extraordinary computer skills can cause.

While some fear the government’s intrusion into our lives with security cameras and electronic surveillance (all in the cause of preventing crime and acts of terrorism), I tend to be more wary of the hacker who wreaks havoc on our lives for reasons of larceny or a perverse sense of humor.

Connelly’s hacker-killer manipulates McEvoy by intercepting his e-mails, forging other e-mails from him and by canceling his cell phone service and credit cards. By hacking into various systems the killer learns all about McEvoy.

Connelly’s latest novel is fast-paced, suspenseful and interesting. If you’re interested in crime, you will enjoy this crime thriller.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

My On Crime & Security Column On Pickpockets, a national web site for small business people, published my On Crime & Security column on pickpockets today.

You can read the column via th below link:

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Give Me That Old Time Movie: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

The late, great film director John Huston once suggested that film makers remake film failures rather than successful films.

But of course most film makers want to bank on the original film's success, so that rarely happens.

Having read news accounts of the remake of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, I was curious to see the original film again. Thankfully, Comcast Cable TV is showing the classic crime thriller.

I loved the film back in 1974 and I enjoyed the film the second time around as well. The film's plot involves the hyjacking of a New York City subway train. The late, great Robert Shaw is a ruthless British mercenary between African coups, so he and his criminal crew take over the train with automatic weapons.

Shaw codenames his crew Misters Blue, Green, Gray and Brown. Shaw's crew consists of Hector Elizondo, a killer so crazy they kicked him out of the mob, Martin Balsam, a former subway motorman fired for transporting drugs, and another actor whose name I fail to remember, who appears to be a nice guy - if he were not a criminal and a killer.

The late, great Walther Matthau portrays a transit police lieutenant who communicates with Shaw via the transit authority's radio throughout most of the film.

Matthau's character is a calm and caring, yet cynical, and world-weary police officer. Matthau's character is in wonderful contrast with the cold-hearted, larcenous Shaw character.

But what truly makes this film work is the many first-class character actors playing smaller parts, like Jerry Stiller, who plays a typically jaded transit cop. There are at least half a dozen other great, smaller roles of rough, rude and blunt New Yorkers. This is a crime thriller, but it is also a very funny film.

I liked the scenes between the unpopular mayor up for re-election, his wife, and his deputy mayor. They, along with the police chief, the transit chief and the city's comptroller, come together to decide if they will pay the one million dollar ransom for the 18 hostages and the subway car the crooks separated from the train.

Tony Scott's remake, to be called The Taking of Pelham 123, comes out his month. Denzel Washington, who is playing the Matthau role, is a fine actor, and John Travolta, who can be a fine actor, but often is not, is portraying the Shaw role.

I doubt that this film will be superior to the original, but the average film-goer is under 30, so many of them have never seen the orignal film. Perhaps they will go on to see the original film and/or read John Godey's novel.

As for me, I'll see the remake when it hits cable TV in a year or so.

I can wait.

More to come.