Critics’ plaudits and brickbats…


Blog reviews:

(SEDDI stands for ‘Steed and Emma Definitely Did It!’)


Any SEDDIs out there?  Please read the full analysis.  It’s the best I’ve read so far.  And I’ve read nearly every book going.  This guy is one of us.  He’s a true SEDDI!!

Here’s a rundown of a few points that are mentioned in the analysis:

–  He mentions and includes quite a few good SEDDI moments.  And recognises them in similar terms as we do.  That I’m pleased with.

–  He mentions having spoken to the director of “The Hour That Never Was”.  Who confirms that Patrick and Diana did in fact write and suggest most of their scenes together.  “To add depth to their characters.”  Brilliant!

–  He genuinely knows what he’s talking about.  And is a true fan.  He is very warm and considerate.  And gives an excellent critique worthy of university credit.


It is indeed an excellent article, well-founded, with a strong argument and in general a respectful approach to the series and the character.  I take issue with one or two of Murray’s pronouncements (like the “schoolgirl” quality of the early Rigg episodes, which seems to me more wishful thinking than anything), but that’s always to be expected in a well-argued article.  Really recommend anyone interested in Emma Peel and The Avengers from a slightly more academic perspective to take a look.


Vaughn Again   Robert Vaughn  A Critical Study  John B. Murray  Thessaly Press £9

Review by SHERIDAN MORLEY  in Punch (June 3 1987)

This, gentle reader, is no joke:  while quite possibly a forerunner to Mr Murray’s other long-awaited volumes, The Philosophical Thoughts of Sylvester Stallone and The Collected Literary Diaries of Harrison Ford, what we have now is a critical volume remarkable for the fact that you have to read all of its hundred and eighty pages to make sure it isn’t a parody after all.  We’re talking Man from UNCLE here: middle-range American character actor, born 1932, started out in Cecil B. De Mille’s Ten Commandments (though not doing a lot in that), then survived Teenage Caveman, made it as one of the Magnificent Seven, and turned up more recently as one of the heavies in Superman Three.

Beyond that, not much unless you count an odd way of spelling his surname and then fifty other movies of which even the fans might have a problem in naming more than about half a dozen.  Mr Murray is, however, one of the fans: proudly he quotes the director Jerry Thorpe, the man who brought us two years of Kung Fu on television, who would have us know that “Vaughn is an intellect: his eyes are the explicit reflection of a largely internalised personality.”  Alternatively, of course, they might be the internal reflections of a largely explicit intellect, or then again just the things that crop up on either side of his nose.

But let us not be uncharitable: no less an authority than Joyce Jameson (billed as “former longtime girlfriend”, though whether of subject or author is not made clear) reckons him to be “the most brilliant actor in the world” and it’s not even as though he’s just been eighty.  Then again there are his lips:  “More of a trait than a technique” says the author, “the pursing of the lips in Vaughn’s work expresses either judiciousness or anguish or perhaps judiciousness in the face of anguish.”  On the other hand, it might indicate that he has just read the next page of the script.

Mr Murray’s book also features the entire text of a speech Mr Vaughn gave to Harvard University in 1967 on the subject of his opposition to the Vietnam war, a speech of considerable influence since those who actually stayed awake through to the end of it were doubtless in no fit state to pursue foreign hostilities thereafter.  But until Mr Murray takes his rightful place as the Robert Vaughn Professor of Film Studies at the University of East Dakota, we do at least get such great chapter headings as The Actor as Moral Philosopher (a critical study of Vaughn’s performance in The Bridge at Remagen, and if you can’t remember that, fear not; there are many of us who can’t even remember the rest of the film) and Robert Vaughn’s Stylistic Techniques, this last not as short a sequence as you might expect, and broken down into such sub-heads as “The furtive glance” and “The soul in the eyes.”

What is so wonderful about this book is its solemnity: even when we reach the final listing of such movie classics as Honeymoon Hotel, Cuba Crossing and the unforgettable Virus, there is nary a titter, let alone a hostile review.  Nor does the chapter headlined Recurrent Motifs in Robert Vaughn’s Work consider his quite remarkable ability to choose appalling scripts, though it is good to see that Spinoza, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Arthur Rimbaud all get into the footnotes.  Now if they’d only managed to guest-star on Man from UNCLE we’d really have a book here:  as for Levi-Strauss, the well-known composer of musical blue jeans, he gets into the Conclusion which deals with the private mythology emergent in Vaughn’s work.  At least that chapter only runs to two and a half pages.  The half would probably have done it.

Sheridan Morley

Sheridan Morley

(Note by Thessaly Press editorial team:  Murray had watched Sheridan Morley’s film reviews on BBC TV’s Late Night Line-Up for years and felt honoured to be reviewed by him at all.  He did not take offence at the mocking tone, as Punch was a humour magazine, and in fact found Morley’s piece very funny.  A year or so later, Murray was leaving Hatchards’ Bookshop in Piccadilly, where he had an office job, when he found Sheridan Morley outside talking to a fan.  Murray waited a good five minutes for an opportunity to thank him for this review, however scathing, but could not get a word in edgeways, as Morley gassed on about his future projects…”I’ve just finished a book on James Mason and next I’m writing……” Morley studiously ignored him and eventually he had to leave, sorry that he could not have said something.  Shortly before Morley died, Londoner’s Diary in the Evening Standard said it found a little of ‘Sherry’ went a long way!….Murray sent this review to Robert Vaughn, who made no comment. Punch eventually went out of business.  Murray, however, always appreciated the fact that they sent him two complimentary copies of the magazine, something other publications that reviewed the book did not bother to do, which shows how professional the Punch team were.)



Vaughn’s performances are analysed in parts as diverse as Lee in The Magnificent Seven and Napoleon Solo in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and his talent is ascribed to the intellectual distance Vaughn gives his characters, played off against the possibility of emotional involvement. And to think we always thought it was just the way he wiggled his eyebrows.



MALCOLM IMRIE in New Statesman (19 June 1987):

‘The homo Vaughnianus is painfully aware of inhabiting a world where the relationship between cause and effect is, if not mysterious, at best rather tenuous.’  There is of course more to Robert Vaughn than Napoleon Solo – but without John B. Murray’s ROBERT VAUGHN: A CRITICAL STUDY we’d never have known just how much more, or appreciated how Vaughn ‘demands expansion not only of critical categories and methodologies but also of audience expectations and responses to what they may only think they are watching.’  The (definitive) chapter on Vaughn’s performance as Lee in The Magnificent Seven alone cites Spinoza, Sartre, Aragon, Celine, Wittgenstein and Rimbaud; yet theoretical speculation is grounded in close textual analysis – ‘At “secrets, don’t you?”, Vaughn delivers a smile of great cunning, which contrasts interestingly with the shrewdness in the eyes.’  Would the multinational conglomerates have had the courage to publish a work like this?  No, they wouldn’t.

(Editorial note:  Murray sent this review to Robert Vaughn and he responded, saying “Let the book critics do their job and che sera, sera.”)

IAN PARKER in Blitz:

Wholeheartedly weird yet seemingly serious.

 The London Evening Standard:

Vaughn has been catapulted to the dizzy regions of PhD speak.

The vaughn lounge (internet fansite):

To call John B. Murray’s book an in-depth analysis is an understatement.  Murray has written a series of essays which analyse Robert’s screen project; his persona as a loner and a hero.

The Bookseller:

This work must be unique in its single-minded dedication. 




Witchfinder Matthew Hopkins

Witchfinder Matthew Hopkins


Review by JAMES WHITTINGTON in The Dark Side No. 112 (2005)

Michael Reeves was one of horror’s most enigmatic directors.  He only made 3 movies with a total budget of less than £200,000 before he tragically died aged just 25. 

So how did this public schoolboy achieve such cult acclaim after such a short career?  The reason is simple, he oozed ideas and talent.  But as this well written and wordy account of his life tells us, he was a fragile and troubled man who had a darker side to his character. 

For the very few Dark Side readers who don’t know who he was (and if you don’t, hang your head in shame!) Reeves was the man who gave us The Sorcerers, one of Boris Karloff’s greatest films, and the bizarre but highly enjoyable Revenge Of The Blood Beast.  But his crowning glory was the classic and incomparable Witchfinder General, which personally speaking, I think has to be the greatest British Horror movie, ever. 

Author John B. Murray makes it quite clear in his opening paragraph that this book does not seek to critically analyse Reeves’ work.  Instead, its purpose is to find out who Michael Reeves was, where his love of cinema came from and try to explain his appalling death.  He does this in spectacular fashion, destroying any myths about Reeves by interviewing nearly everyone who ever came into contact with him, even down to speaking to screen legend Vincent Price.

It’s this attention to detail that makes this book a necessary purchase on its own.  Murray should be held aloft and praised for doing such an outstanding job, culling together hundreds of interviews and placing them into a readable format that is never wearing or padded out.

The book describes Reeves’ privileged upbringing, his first exposure to cinema, and personal battles with inner demons without ever becoming a salacious or sensational read.

The foreword by Ian Ogilvy, a close friend of Reeves’ for many years, sets the tone of the book well and reflects just how much of an effect he had on all those who worked with him. 

The book is an American update of a British release from 2002 and is a good size paperback, but its page count of 281 doesn’t reflect its true dimension.  The type size is tiny, filling each page to the brim with anecdotes and trivia from nearly everyone who worked with Reeves. 

The inclusion of much candid, family and behind the scenes black and white snaps adds to the book, even if they are not of the best quality. 

All in all an excellent, well researched volume that really gets into its subject and tries its hardest to explain exactly where Reeves was coming from and what he might have achieved had he lived. 






By MATT BLAKE (author of The EuroSpy Guide): 

(October 11, 2011)

Just finished reading John B. Murray’s biography of Brett Halsey, Brett Halsey:  Art or Instinct in the Movies, and thought I’d scribble down a few quick notes.  Overall, it’s a good book, full of fascinating information:  about Brett’s assorted marriages, his career in Hollywood and Europe, his long-term stints in daytime soap operas.  Most of it is made up of memories and anecdotes, so it’s very much an official biography, and perhaps its major faults are that (a) it’s light on criticism (an analysis of his films would be very much appreciated) and (b) it’s thematically rather than chronologically arranged, which sometimes makes it difficult to keep track.  As with most Midnight Marquee books (The EuroSpy Guide included) it’s also possibly a bit weak on indexing and annotations. 

But these are minor quibbles, and Murray is to be applauded for writing a very readable account of Halsey’s life and, more importantly, going out and interviewing both Halsey and a lot of other people who were involved with his career.  There’s lots of information about directors such as Riccardo Freda, Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci and Alberto Cardone, and Halsey also has a lot of insight into why the Italian film industry has declined so much (he puts forward the view that the very success of the industry was later the cause of its own downfall: in the sixties Italian genre films filled a gap in the market because they’d been made less economically viable in the US because of TV, but they declined as TV became more widespread in Italy throughout the 70s).


Molly’s Movie Mayhem: Old School Trash! (February 10, 2009)

This month I’m talking about some cool B movies when I cover Brett Halsey’s biography and movies Touch of Death, Isle of the Damned & The Unseen.

First up, I got the biography entitled Brett Halsey: Art or Instinct in the Movies from John B. Murray.  Haven’t heard of actor Brett Halsey?  Yeah, well, neither did I.  But when I read the book, I was surprised at how many of his films I was familiar with.  For instance, he was in Bruno Mattei’s Cop Game, Mario Bava’s Four Times That Night, and Lucio Fulci’s The Devil’s Honey.  Hell, Dario Argento even wrote his Today We Kill, Tomorrow We Die western!  In addition to that, Halsey’s had run-ins with James Dean, Natalie Wood, Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper, and many more.  It seems like he was always on the brink of fame, but never quite made it.  Supposedly, Halsey even turned down the role of James Bond after Sean Connery left the series upon completing Diamonds Are Forever.  Halsey also had a role in Godfather III, which was unfortunately cut out.  He was friends with Clint Eastwood during acting school and remains so to this very day.  He even had a bit part in Million Dollar Baby, which involved giving Hilary Swank an enema (!), that inevitably also wound up on the cutting room floor.  Another thing I liked about this book is hearing the delicious details of Halsey banging lots of broads and marrying several times. 

Overall, the book is an interesting piece of B-movie nostalgia.  I was never a fan of his mainly because I didn’t know much of his work, but I have since added a few of Halsey’s movies to my rental queue.  The book is recommended for lovers of these types of flicks.  Any one else may want to pass.


With Jack Nicholson in The Cry Baby Killer

By TONY WILLIAMS  (author of probably the very first book devoted to spaghetti Westerns, Italian Western: The Opera Of Violence, published by Lorrimer in 1975, a full six years before Sir Christopher Frayling’s pioneering study of spaghetti westerns, and which featured a photo of Brett Halsey on the soundtrack LP of The Wrath Of God)

An Exemplary Study  (June 2, 2010)

This book published in the Midnight Marquee Press series is an excellent companion to Michael Ripper Unmasked.  It documents the neglected career of an important actor who has been overlooked for many decades.  Informed by seeing Halsey’s films, gaining his trust, and quoting sections from his unpublished autobiography, this book shows that talents often marginalized or forgotten in the star-system publicity machine are often more worthy of attention than their most prestigious contemporaries.  This is certainly true of Brett Halsey, a professional and a real gentleman as I can personally attest.  John Murray has written a really important book that should stimulate interest in the career of an actor also mentioned positively in Tim Lucas’s magnum opus on Mario Bava.  Informative, well-written, and highly recommended.


                                     BRETT HALSEY ON SCREEN


Club Utopia


A Superb Testament to a Working Actor’s Achievements On Screen      (9 August 2015)

On initial inspection, I was first sceptical about the nature of this book since it is mostly comprised of film stills and posters.  However, after reading the author’s introduction and foreword by Halsey himself, I began looking at the main text and then understanding its nature.  Murray decided to collect a diverse amount of visual material from the sixty or so years the actor has worked to illustrate his firm technique of screen acting.  Film is mostly a visual medium and any successful actor must display an awareness both of the camera and the appropriate facial gesture necessary for any performance.  By selecting the visual material in a non-chronological manner, Murray has avoided the pitfalls of a chronological approach, which charts a misleading progression from “innocence” to “experience”, but instead documents the many key gestures of an actor’s acting that not only encompasses the different challenges of age but also those of working within different genres and various types of national cinemas.  Expressions and gestures are diverse and appropriate for the many films he has worked on.  As well as the valuable experiences Halsey has been able to draw upon in his screen acting classes (that I would have loved to audit), there are his various appearances with actors such as young Jack Nicholson, Ursula Andress, Mary Astor, Ray Milland, Dana Andrews and Broderick Crawford – to name but a few.  It is often sadly the case that good work is overlooked for those not often in the spotlight and Murray’s book rectifies this omission.  The handsome Brett is well represented but so is his older scary character actor counterpart as the strip club owner in Club Utopia (2013).  Finally, where do I find a copy of Demons 6 that Murray regards as “one of Halsey’s funniest film appearances”?

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