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My Philo Vance Mystery Review, Part 1

24 Feb

February 24, 2019

I’ve been reading mystery novels from the 1930’s and 40’s lately, Most of them were popular in their day, written by best-selling authors, but time has passed most of them by. However, that does not demean the quality of the books at all.

Philo Vance, created by S.S. Van Dine, appeared in 12 novels between 1926 and 1939, and 15 films between 1929 and 1947. In between there was a radio show and, in Italy, a television miniseries in 1974.

I decided to start with one that piqued my interest, The Gracie Allen Murder Case. Normally, I’d start with the first book of a series, but these are not in a serial order so it’s OK to jump in anywhere. This book is at an intersection of two of my interests, old murder mysteries and old time radio, which Gracie Allen was a star of with her husband, George Burns.

This review will focus on only that book, with the second part looking at the series as a whole and my reactions overall.

Many reviews say that Vance is “annoying.” He certainly is. He is exactly the kind of too educated, too wealthy, too witty dilettante detective that is better off in the literary dust heap. It’s no wonder that Raymond Chandler took a cheap shot or two at the character. (He called Vance “the most asinine character in detective fiction.”) Vance appears bored at most aspects of life, only seeming to enjoy poking at the police. He’s the epitome of the bored idle rich. Yet, from a reader’s point of view, his biggest flaw is that he is unlikable. He’s boring. There is nothing to hold on to, no interesting part of his personality to make you want to follow him on the page.

Even worse are the one-note supporting characters, especially District Attorney Markham. He is too close-minded to be believable. He’s not a typical literary crusty policeman, not a dullard like Inspectors Lestrad or Cramer are typically portrayed. His flaw is only that he is unimaginative. Vance will often pick up a small point, one obvious to the reader, yet Markham will still not understand what Vance is going for. That’s part of the secret of Vance’s success. He isn’t particularity brilliant, he’s just smarter than the unimaginative people he surrounds himself with. 

However, I do need to compliment the author. Van Dine has pulled off the difficult task of getting Gracie Allen just right. I hear her voice as I read her lines and she is spot on. But she’s also a major problem in this book. When performing on the radio as half of Burns and Allen, her odd ramblings and strange connections either poke a hole in Burn’s stuffy facade, or act as goofy punchlines. She’s funny. She’s illogical. She has a skewed view of the world that works in it’s own, odd way. Her stories are met by others with some confusion. Either her stories are funny or the reaction they create in others is funny. She was a great comedienne and even George Burns called her the star of the duo. He was just her straight man.

 

But here every character finds her bizarre logic charming and endearing. Everything she says is met with a sort of envious geniality. No matter how ridiculous she is, no one calls her on it. In effect, there is no straight man. She’s only giving half of the joke and no one is completing it. So instead of coming off as funny, like she would in her radio show, she’s both unfunny and unwelcome in her parts. She’s just another annoying character in a book full of them. 

What makes this book even odder is the fact that Gracie (and George, in a small supporting role), is not playing herself. This novel was written with an eye to being adapted to a movie, so the Gracie Allen character works in a perfume factory. This is the part Gracie would play in the proposed film, rather than being written for the real Gracie. 

I’d comment on the plot but it never really gets going. It involves an implausible cigarette tossed from a moving car, over a wall, in a field. 

I understand that this is not considered a shining star in the Philo Vance series. I read it simply for Gracie Allen. It turns out that this is considered one of the worst Philo Vance novels. In general, the consensus is that the first half dozen novels are the best, with the quality generally falling as they go along. 

When I originally finished this book, I vowed to never read another Philo Vance novel again. However, I soon realized that I wasn’t giving the series a fair shot by judging it on the worst book in the canon. My next review, The Canary Murder Case, will look at the second book in the series, considered one of the best. I’ll also delve more generally into the Philo Vance character and series as a whole.

 

Fonzie Eats a Can of Ravioli Over a Hot Plate. A Christmas Tradition.

22 Dec

December 22, 2018

Christmas is a time of traditions, and nothing is more of a tradition here at Mr. Blog’s Tepid Ride than this Christmas episode of Happy Days. As for the Grinch among you, who think this is just an excuse for me to post a rerun, that’s simply not true. This marks the seventh time I’ve  posted this since 2010, (skipping only 20015 and 2016) and it is all because, year in and year out, this is one of my most searched and most viewed posts during the holiday season.  

All New 2018 Fonzie Christmas Meme!

From December 24, 2010

I can’t let the holiday go by without everyone’s favorite 30 year-old teenager, the Fonz, making an appearance. You can have your Frosty and your Rudolph, this is my TV yuletide.

This is a classic piece of Christmastime must-see television around my house. (I’m sure that says a lot about my house. We also love Godzilla at Thanksgiving. It’s a bit hard to fit in the oven but trust me, it tastes delicious.)  In this clip from the early days of Happy Days, everyone is getting ready for Christmas, except poor Fonzie, who has nowhere to go. This was before Fonzie moved in above the Cunningham’s and he was going to spend a lonely holiday in his garage. Watch as The Fonz sits on a greasy toolbox, heats up a can of ravioli on a hot plate, and sets out a pathetic little holiday card for company. Were the Aloha Pussycats out-of-town? Where was Paula Petralunga? And what about the Hooper triplets, Pinky Tuscadero, or a dozen loose cheerleaders? Ponder that as you watch with someone you love.

The 2017 Fonzie Christmas Meme

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