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Ken and Robin Consume Media: A Slacker Super, James Angleton, and Much More Campion

March 23rd, 2021 | Robin

Ken and Robin Consume Media is brought to you by the discriminating and good-looking backers of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Patreon. Each week we provide capsule reviews of the books, movies, TV seasons and more we cram into our hyper-analytical sensoriums. Join the Patreon to help pick the items we’ll talk about in greater depth on a little podcast segment we like to call Tell Me More.

Recommended

Coroner’s Pidgin (Fiction, Margery Allingham, 1945) Home on leave during WWII, Campion must deal with the corpse in his bed and the imperious Lady Carados who put it there. Allingham derives the tension in this sleight-of-hand mystery (that also suddenly involves stolen art treasures) from class tension, and from the assumptions by the Carados set that nothing must throw suspicion on the golden John Carados. Seldom do red herrings and the social novel interlock so neatly, even if the mystery itself isn’t quite fair play. –KH

Flowers for the Judge (Fiction, Margery Allingham, 1936) Publisher Paul Brande disappears, and Campion joins the search. By 1936 Allingham has a handle on her character and the skill to write a compelling mystery. She also continues to experiment with tone, meaning, and scope; this leads her to some pitfalls and some triumphs. This novel, on the other hand, remains a straightforward whodunit  raised to Recommended by Allingham’s greatest strengths: lapidary character touches and genuine portrayals of emotion. –KH

The Neighbor (Television, Spain, Netflix, Miguel Esteban & Raúl Navarro, 2020) A deceased galaxy guardian bequeaths his power pills and a ridiculous costume to a Madrid slacker (Quim Gutiérrez) who uses them to attempt to win back his reporter ex-girlfriend (Clara Lago.) Spoof of super tropes eschews CGI battles and suspense beats to stay within the confines of warm-hearted character-driven comedy.—RDL

Riot on Cell Block 11 (Film, US, Don Siegel, 1954) Convicts put their sympathetic warden between a rock and interference from the governor’s office when they seize control of the isolation block. Siegel supplies crime movie grit lends authenticity to a docudrama that lays the blame for a wave of prison rioting at the feet of politicians and the voters who support them.—RDL

Good

The Case of the Late Pig (Fiction, Margery Allingham, 1937) When Campion reads the obituary of his school bully, he attends the funeral on a whim — and then gets asked to investigate his second death. The only first-person Campion owes more than a little bit to Wodehouse; alas the debt remains unpaid. I found it a little too remote and ungenerous: possibly allowing Campion to tell the story himself also allowed Allingham to yield to her lesser instincts without giving us truly enjoyable cruelty a la Edmund Crispin. –KH

One Night in Miami… (Film, US, Regina King, 2020) After Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) defeats Sonny Liston to become world heavyweight champion, he and friends Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) gather at the motel room of Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), who hopes to engage them in a new phase of his activism. King makes an actors’ showcase out of Kemp Powers’ single-location debate play.—RDL

The Damned (Film, UK, Joseph Losey, 1963) A retired American executive (Macdonald Carey) and a restless young woman (Shirley Ann Field), chased by her pathologically possessive Teddy Boy brother (Oliver Reed) stumble into an experimental military facility housing a group of mysterious schoolchildren. Compelling oddity in the Hammer catalogue, shot in scope and high contrast black and white, shifts from existentialist/Freudian class struggle drama to nihilistic SF that follows in the wake of Village of the Damned. Also known as These Are the Damned.—RDL

Okay

The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton (Nonfiction, Jefferson Morley, 2017) Concise, prosecutorial biography covers Angleton’s notorious descent into mole-hunting paranoia, while taking a particular interest in his peculiar attitude toward the JFK assassination, as someone who both covered up the Agency’s awareness of Oswald before the killing, and believed that it was the result of a KGB conspiracy. The prose style arcs from sober to breathless. Ken’s time machine visit with Angleton appears in episode 167.—RDL

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