Saturday, April 27, 2013

IN HARM'S WAY


With a running time of 165 minutes, Otto Preminger's epic 1965 war film IN HARM'S WAY, lasts longer than some actual battles of World War II did. This black-and-white blockbuster (which I watched yesterday for the first time), is the WWII movie equivalent of IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD because when you ask the question "who's in it?", the best answer is "who isn't?"

How's this for a cast: John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Henry Fonda, Patricia Neal, Tom Tryon, Paula Prentiss, Stanley Holloway, Brandon de Wilde, Jill Haworth, Dana Andrews, Burgess Meredith, Franchot Tone, Patrick O'Neal, George Kennedy, Carroll O'Connor, Barbara Bouchet, Hugh O'Brien, Bruce Cabot, Slim Pickens, James Mitchum, Larry Hagman and Christopher George (un-credited). What? No Ward Bond?

This mammoth undertaking was the last black-and-white WWII film to be made and it was also the last black-and-white John Wayne film ever made. The film opens on the night of December 6th, 1941, where a party is taking place at the Officer's Club at Pearl Harbor. All of the women have 1960s hairstyles. The Japanese attack occurs the next morning with only John Wayne's ship out of the harbor. Tom Tryon gets his ship out of Pearl during the attack and the two vessels, along with a handful of other U.S. Navy ships are ordered to engage the enemy. Wayne does so and is victorious in sinking a Japanese ship but because he didn't follow Navy regulations in doing so, he's relieved of command and sentenced to a desk job. 

The second act of the film is routine soap opera stuff. Wayne meets and falls in love with Navy nurse Patricia Neal and finds his long-lost son, Brandon de Wilde, a junior grade ass-kisser trying to avoid combat by serving in a public relations capacity. Things simmer while the war rages and Wayne, a warrior without a command, stews. 

When a cowardly admiral (Dana Andrews) is slow to achieve results in an island battle in the South Pacific, Henry Fonda promotes Wayne to the rank of admiral and sends him off to get the job done. He does so and eventually leads a task force against a Japanese fleet that has superior size and firepower. The battle is a costly one (several of the main characters die) but the U.S. is victorious and Wayne survives, minus a leg. 

Here are some trivia questions you can use to win some bar bets.

Name a film with John Wayne and Kirk Douglas that isn't THE WAR WAGON.
Name a film with Patricia Neal and Brandon de Wilde that isn't HUD.
Name a film with Larry Hagman and Henry Fonda that isn't FAIL SAFE. 

The answer to all three is IN HARM'S WAY.

I found the film to be engrossing, despite it's extended running time. My interest never flagged even though the plot was fairly standard stuff. There's nothing here you haven't seen in other WWII films (some better, many worse) but it's fun to see this many major (and minor) stars in one film. 

And to show you how weird I am, all the time I was watching the film, I kept thinking that a couple of years after IN HARM'S WAY was made, one of the actors and the director would both find themselves playing villains on the BATMAN TV show. Burgess Meredith of course was The Penguin, while Otto Preminger was one of three actors to play Mr. Freeze (George Sanders and Eli Wallach were the other two). 

Wow. John Wayne, WWII and the BATMAN TV show all in one post. Bet that's never happened before.

Friday, April 26, 2013

BURN WITCH, BURN

"Do you believe?"

I watched BURN WITCH, BURN (1962) last night. I had recorded it off of TMC a few days ago. I seem to vaguely recall seeing this one years ago but I didn't recall the specifics of the story while watching it last night.

Based on the novel CONJURE WIFE by American science-fiction/fantasy author Fritz Leiber (the  screenplay is by Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont, two gentlemen who certainly know their way around the horror genre) this British horror film was released in the UK under the title NIGHT OF THE EAGLE. It was retitled BURN WITCH, BURN for American distribution by American-International Pictures. I also recall reading a serialization of CONJURE WIFE many years ago. I've got a copy of it on my shelf and it's due for a re-reading sometime soon.

The story centers around Norman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde) a psychology professor at a British university who steadfastly refuses to believe in the occult and the supernatural. He insists that there is a logical, scientific reason behind everything that happens and that superstitions and belief in magic is a form of neurosis.

Taylor leads a charmed life at the university because his wife, Tansy (Janet Blair), has been practicing witchcraft in order to protect him from harm. When he finds out that his own wife is a practitioner of what he believes to be rubbish, he destroys all of her talismans and charms and puts an end to her silly superstitions.

But then bad things start happening to Taylor, really bad things. It turns out that his wife really was protecting him from the black spells being cast upon him by Flora (Margaret Johnson), the university secretary, who perceives Taylor as a threat to her husband's career advancement. 

There's a terrific climax in which a stone eagle comes to life and menaces Taylor (hence the British title NIGHT OF THE EAGLE) before everything is finally resolved. Was it just a case of hypnosis and powerful suggestion that threatened Taylor and Tansy or was it really black magic? You decide.

BURN WITCH, BURN is a taut, earnest film that starts out slowly and builds to a feverish climax. The cast is solid and they all deliver good performances under the direction of Sidney Hayer. The special effects, while simple by today's standards, are convincing and not overused. BURN WITCH, BURN isn't regarded as a genre classic but this well-made, literate thriller certainly deserves to be seen by anyone who has an interest in horror films. Recommended.





Thursday, April 25, 2013

LAS VEGAS ANTIQUE STORE GOLD-THE FINAL CHAPTER


Here's the fourth and final pulp mag I bought at that Las Vegas antique store a couple of years ago. It's THE SPOOK OF GRANDPA EBEN from December 1943. 

I have never read this Doc Savage adventure but from what I've gathered from reviews posted on the internet, it's not exactly Doc's finest hour. By this point in the life of DOC SAVAGE magazine, it's clear that the title had begun circling the drain. The dimensions of the magazine were reduced to almost digest size, the page count per issue was cut and the stories featured Doc in the role of a "science detective" more than a globe-trotting adventurer. But you know what's really wrong with this pulp and the one featured in yesterday's post (THE SECRET OF THE SU)? I'll give you a second to think about the answer which should be pretty obvious to anyone paying attention.

Got it? Did you figure out that the problem with these pulps is that DOC SAVAGE IS NOT ON THE COVER OF HIS OWN MAGAZINE!? Come on, it's the middle of WWII and pulp circulation is on the decline. You want to sell as many mags as you can and what does Street and Smith do to one of their best hero pulps? They take the hero off of the cover. Who's the marketing genius that came up with that idea? 

Still, it's a genuine DOC SAVAGE  pulp magazine from 1943 and it's a keeper, even without Doc on the cover.



Here's the cover of the Bantam DOC SAVAGE Omnibus that reprinted THE SPOOK OF GRANDPA EBEN, along with three other shorter Doc adventures. Doc and the Fabulous Five make the cover here and while the artwork is nice, it's fairly generic. Not much to get excited about here. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

LAS VEGAS ANTIQUE STORE GOLD WALKS AMONG US


Since this is my third post about the pulp magazines I bought at a "Vintage Vegas" antique store the last time Judy and I visited that city, it's only fitting that this post follow the hallowed "Rule of Three" for movie series (and just about anything else you want to apply it to). 

In the 1950s, Universal Studios produced three films starring the Creature (or Gill Man, as some prefer). The films were THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, THE REVENGE OF THE CREATURE and THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US. Those titles are so much better than simply CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON II or CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON III, that my buddy Kelly Greene and I came up with the "Rule of Three" several years ago. Simply put, if there's a third entry in any film series, that film should be entitled Fill-In-The-Blank Walks Among Us, instead something prosaic and dull like Fill-In-The-Blank III.

For example, I'm planning to see IRON MAN 3 when it opens next week. But come on, IRON MAN 3?  How boring is that? Wouldn't you rather go up to the box office and ask to purchase a ticket for IRON MAN WALKS AMONG US? I know I would. 

Getting back to the subject of this post, the third pulp magazine I bought on that fateful day is pictured above. It's THE SECRET OF THE SU from November 1943. By this time in the publishing history of DOC SAVAGE magazine, things had definitely changed from the golden years of the 1930s. The size of the magazine was smaller, both in dimensions and page count. Doc had, by this time, become more of a "science detective" solving murder mysteries and other weird crimes instead of a globe-trotting super adventurer fighting evil on a worldwide basis. The stories were shorter in length and didn't always feature all five members of Doc's team. Still, a DOC SAVAGE pulp from 1943 is nothing to be ashamed of and I'm thrilled to own it. 



Pictured above is the DOC SAVAGE double volume (published by Bantam with cover art by Bob Larkin)  which reprinted THE SECRET OF THE SU. When the Bantam reprint series got around to these shorter Doc adventures, Bantam started publishing them in a two-for-one format. This format lasted for awhile before reverting to an "omnibus" format, a big, thick paperback book that reprinted as many as four Doc novels in one volume. Kudos to Bantam for hanging in there and eventually reprinting the entire run of DOC SAVAGE in whatever format was feasible. 

























Tuesday, April 23, 2013

MORE ANTIQUE STORE GOLD-VEGAS STYLE



Another treasure I scored at the "Vintage Vegas" antique store is the DOC SAVAGE pulp pictured above. From August, 1936,  comes the super-saga entitled THE MIDAS MAN. 

And here's the cover for the Bantam edition reprint from March, 1970. Cover art by the legendary James Bama. 

I now have both the original and the reprint of THE MIDAS MAN in my collection. I'm sure I read the paperback years ago but it's due for a second reading sometime soon. I'm afraid to read the actual pulp. I don't want to cause any further damage to the already brittle and fragile mag by handling it any more than is necessary. Of course, it's bagged but I'm reluctant to even remove it from the bag to page through it. I can still admire it as the passport to thrills and adventure that it is.

Regular readers of this blog know that Doc Savage is one of my all-time favorite heroes, pulp or otherwise. A longer future post will go into my history with Dr. Clark Savage Junior and his Fabulous Five, but for now, I just wanted to share a couple of my prized possessions with any other Doc fans that are out there.


Monday, April 22, 2013

ANTIQUE STORE GOLD-VEGAS STYLE

The last time Judy and I visited Las Vegas in the fall of 2011, we made a trip to the World Famous Gold and Silver Pawn Shop as seen on PAWN STARS on the History Channel. We're big fans of that show as millions of others. When we arrived at the store, we had to wait in a line for several minutes to get in. It was explained to us that the crew from the television show was shooting some close-ups and "B" roll footage and we weren't allowed to enter until after the shooting had ended. None of the stars of the show were in the shop that day but we had a ton of fun looking around. Every time I watch an episode of PAWN STARS, it's still hard to believe that I was actually in that store. 

The store is basically one long, narrow space with display cases at the front and back of the store. In between those areas (and rarely shown on television) is a store-within-a-store selling PAWN STARS merchandise of every conceivable type. I wanted to buy something while I was there but I didn't find anything that really floated my boat and I didn't want to spend money just to say "I got it at the PAWN STARS pawn shop." Judy did buy a nice ring and I finally popped for an official World Famous Gold and Silver Pawn Shop black polo shirt and matching black ball cap. 

But all was not lost for as we exited the pawn shop we spied a "vintage Vegas" antique store in the next block down the street. We walked over and went into the store and found a wealth of treasures. It was in this shop that I scored the pulp magazine pictured above (and some others that will be featured in future posts). 

This is THE SPIDER magazine for March, 1943, the last year of publication for the venerable bloody hero  pulp. I've not yet read RECRUIT FOR THE SPIDER LEGION but I love the cover and I've enjoyed all of the previous Spider pulp reprints I've read. 

If you've never encountered this character before, The Spider is the alter-ego of one Richard Wentworth, a playboy millionaire who dons a slouch hat, a cloak, a fright-wig, fangs and gruesome make-up to fight crime as The Spider. Oh, and he also has a pair of .45 automatics which regularly "spit death." Wentworth is aided in his battle by Police Commissioner Kirkpatrick, his faithful man-servant Ram Singh and the love of his life, Nita Van Sloan. The Spider is blood thirsty than Doc Savage or The Shadow but he has to be due to the apocalyptic menaces he encounters. No mere mobsters and masked villains for The Spider. Wentworth clashed with evil on a grand scale, colorful and lurid fiends who menaced entire cities, nations and the world. The titles for these fast paced, thrill-a-minute adventures are wonderfully evocative: THE SILVER DEATH RAIN, HELL ROLLS ON THE HIGHWAYS, THE SPIDER AND THE SLAVES OF HELL, ZARA-MASTER OF MURDER, REIGN OF THE DEATH FIDDLER, CITY OF WHISPERING DEATH, PRINCE OF THE RED LOOTERS and THE CITY THAT DARED NOT EAT are just some of the titles to be found in the Spider's casebook. 

If you like DOC SAVAGE and THE SHADOW, try THE SPIDER. I guarantee you won't be disappointed.



Sunday, April 21, 2013

GARAGE SALE GOLD!


Judy and I attended the City Wide Garage Sale this afternoon after our Sunday School class. There's a dealer there, Lance (sorry buddy, I can't recall your last name), whose booth I always hit first. I also always find something of interest to buy from him. In the last few visits to the City Wide, I've scored some excellent "men's sweat magazines" from him. 


Today as I was looking through his boxes, he recognized me, remembered my area of interest and came over and plopped down two vintage men's adventure magazines in front of me. 

"Three bucks each.," he said.

I only wanted one of the mags but I thanked him and kept looking through his boxes. 

"You interested in pulps?" he asked.

"You bet, " I replied.

"I've got a whole box of them here if you want to look through them."

Of course I did and I was onto the box of wonder immediately. He had a great selection of vintage science fiction pulp magazines. No issues of DOC SAVAGE, THE SHADOW, THE SPIDER or any other hero pulps, but a bunch of very nice sf material. 

"Don't let the prices scare you," he said. "I'll make you a good deal.

I didn't know where to start. Years ago I had a pretty decent little collection of pulp magazines that I had acquired at various shows and at comic shops over the years. A few I had purchased from dealers via the mail. And of course, over the years, I got rid of them, either selling them or trading them off until I no longer had any original pulps in my collection. I picked up some hero pulps a couple of years ago (and I'll post about those mags in the future) but here was an opportunity to score a vintage post war science fiction pulp in decent condition for a reasonable price.

So, what did I buy? AMAZING STORIES for January, 1947 (pictured above). I sure hope Lance hasn't sold all of these pulps by the time the next City Wide rolls around in June cause I sure want to get my hands on another one of these beauties. 

Thanks Lance!

Monday, April 15, 2013

HATARI!


It's funny what I can remember about specific films. The first time I saw Howard Hawks's HATARI! (1961) was when it was broadcast on the CBS THURSDAY NIGHT MOVIE. I was in junior high at the time and while I don't recall the exact year of the broadcast I know that I watched it with my brother and that we ate take-out chopped barbecue on a bun sandwiches while we watched the movie. It was one of the few times my brother and I sat down together to watch something that wasn't sports related. I was (and still am) the bigger film fan and he may have just been humoring his little brother but I suspect he enjoyed the movie as much as I did.

One small thing about HATARI! stayed with me for years. There's a scene where John Wayne "fixes" Hardy Kruger's dislocated shoulder by placing his foot on Kruger's shoulder, grabbing his arm and yanking it hard. I thought that must have hurt like hell but it showed just how tough the Duke was.

Of course the greatest thing about HATARI! to my pre-teen eyes were the sequences in which Wayne and his crew were capturing African wildlife for zoos and circuses around the world. The scenes were shot on location in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) and in those dim, dark and distant pre-CGI days those were real men in real vehicles trying to catch real animals in a real location. Rhinos, giraffes, zebras, wildebeests and cape buffaloes are all the objects of thrilling chase-and-catch sequences which are hands down the single best thing about this entire movie. I loved those parts of the movie when I was a kid (Steven Spielberg must have loved them too since he paid homage to them in JURASSIC PARK II: THE LOST WORLD) and when I watched the film again the other day (for the first time in many years), it's the animal chases that still stood out as dangerously thrilling stuff to watch.

It's a good thing catching wild animals is exciting because every other second of HATARI!'s bloated 157 minute running time is deadly dull. It's one of those rare movies in which absolutely nothing much happens. Outside of the animal hunts, there's nothing of interest here despite a script by Leigh Brackett and a cast that includes John Wayne, Red Buttons, Hardy Kruger, Elsa Martinelli and Bruce Cabot. There's lots of bits of "business" that are semi-humorous and Wayne and Martinelli fall in love over the course of the film, as do Buttons and Michele Girardon. But once all of the animals on the crews' want list have been captured, the movie is effectively over. 

Except that it isn't. Hawks pads out the final 15 or so minutes of the film with a chase involving three baby elephants that looks like something lifted whole from a Walt Disney film of the same vintage. It's cute and kinda funny but it's pure filler. Other than the challenge of capturing the animals, there's no other major problem to be solved, no life-or-death situation to be faced and conquered, no dramatic third-act complication that would create suspense about the final outcome of the story. 

In short, without the animal hunt sequences, there's really nothing worth seeing in HATARI! But boy, are those animal chases great. They're even better if you're eating a chopped barbecue on a bun sandwich while watching them.








Thursday, April 11, 2013

SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE BREATH OF GOD OR SCOOBY DOO AND THE ARCHITECTS OF FEAR


I finished reading SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE BREATH OF GOD by Guy Adams the other day. This is actually the first book in the new Sherlock Holmes series by the British science-fiction writer. I read the second novel, SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE ARMY OF DR. MOREAU a few weeks ago.


In BREATH OF GOD, Holmes and Watson team-up with a cast of characters drawn from both real life and popular fiction. These include Aleister Crowley, a notorious real-life practitioner of the black arts, Dr. John Silence, a creation of Algernon Blackwood, Thomas Carnacki, a supernatural detective created by William Hope Hodgson and Julian Karswell, who appears in the M.R. James story, CASTING THE RUNES (which was made into the brilliant horror film, CURSE OF THE DEMON).


A series of bizarre murders are plaguing London. The victims appear to have been killed by a supernatural force dubbed "The Breath of God". The dead men have one thing in common: their names appear on a list, along with that of Sherlock Holmes, indicating that the consulting detective is fated to be the next victim. 


Holmes and Watson, along with the four paranormal oriented characters listed above investigate and soon discover that all of London is imperiled by the unknown and deadly force. It's a race against time to stop the bad guys and reveal the truth about "The Breath of God."


Once again, author Adams breaks with the narrative tradition employed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by having other characters beside Dr. Watson tell parts of the story. Holmes drops out of the narrative for  many pages but reappears in time to reveal the truth behind the strange goings on. Holmes, ever the believer in pure logic and rational thought, refuses to believe that there is really something otherworldly taking place and of course, this being a Sherlock Holmes novel, he's correct.


SPOILER WARNING: it turns out that three of the four "supernatural" characters are actually the masterminds of the scheme. They've conspired to create a phony paranormal menace in order to swoop in at the last minute, save the day and thus, gain a modicum of power and influence as the only men who can protect the world from unseen dangers from the beyond. Yep, it's basically the same story line used in the classic OUTER LIMITS episode "The Architects of Fear". That same premise was also used as the conclusion for Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons'  graphic novel masterpiece WATCHMEN. And of course, every episode of SCOOBY-DOO revealed the "monster" to be a man in a suit. 


SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE BREATH OF GOD is good, fast paced fun. However, the rational explanation provided by Holmes does not fully explain away everything that transpires in the book. We're left to wonder just what exactly was real and what was really magic. Recommended to fans of Holmes and the other characters and to mystery lovers. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

CARMINE INFANTINO R.I.P.


One of the giants of the Silver Age of Comics passed away last week and I'm a little late in posting these comments on the life and work of Carmine Infantino. 

He was without a doubt one of the greatest comic book artists of his generation and he was certainly one of my favorites. His work at DC in the late '50s and early '60s helped usher in the Silver Age, especially his  Atomic Age re-imagining of The Flash in SHOWCASE #4. For kids of my generation, Infantino was the "good Flash artist", just as Carl Barks was the "good duck artist" and Joe Kubert the "good war artist". 

If Infantino had only drawn the adventures of the Scarlet Speedster, his place in comic book history would be assured. But Infantino drew much more than the Flash. He drew the science fiction/sports mash-up series STRANGE SPORTS STORIES, he ushered in the famous "New Look" in BATMAN and DETECTIVE COMICS, he drew the Elongated Man back-up feature in the pages of FLASH, hell, he even drew the delightfully wacky DETECTIVE CHIMP series. 

In the late '60s, Infantino became first the art/editorial director at DC before eventually assuming the role of publisher. He brought much fresh, new talent (writers and artists) to DC and started a number of new titles in an attempt to compete with the hugely popular and best-selling Marvel Comics. Many of these innovative new titles, characters and concepts were tragically short-lived as books were canceled left and right based on early (and incomplete) sales numbers. If some of these titles had been given a chance to find an audience, who knows what wonders we might have seen. Still, he was instrumental in bringing such legendary creators as Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby from Marvel to DC and giving them much creative free reign. Thanks for that Carmine.

Infantino was eventually ousted as publisher at DC and he resumed drawing comics, finding work at both Warren and Marvel. He did some great black-and-white work for Warren and a superb run on the Marvel  STAR WARS licensed comic. Over time, Infantino's style became looser and not as highly stylized as his earlier work but it was still fun to look at it and I always enjoyed reading anything drawn by him.

Of all of the many characters Infantino illustrated, my personal favorite was Adam Strange in the pages of MYSTERY IN SPACE. I was too young to know much about Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon (except for their names) so the adventures of earth archaeologist Adam Strange on the planet Rann seemed fresh and new to me. It was my first exposure to the concept of an earthling being semi-magically transported to an alien world (see Edgar Rice Burroughs's JOHN CARTER OF MARS) and I loved every page of Strange's adventures.

The Zeta beam would strike the earth every month at some remote location and Strange would arrange to be there. The beam would instantly whisk him to Rann where his true love, the gorgeous Alanna awaited him (along with her scientist father Sardath). Every time Strange arrived on Rann, there was some fearsome menace on the rampage that the Rannians, despite their super-science, were unable to overcome. It was up to Strange, using a blaster, a jet pack and his brain to defeat the threat and save the planet before the effects of the Zeta beam wore off and he was transported back to earth. Both he and Alanna would anxiously count the days until they could be re-united.

Looking back at the series, it's very formulaic but the stories are still fun to read and Infantino was at his absolute best illustrating the wonders of this far-off planet. Sleek, futuristic cityscapes, a jet-pack flying hero, a beautiful woman, a bizarre alien menace, these were all things that Carmine Infantino was born to draw and he did so in a way that thrilled me as a kid and still gives me a kick as an adult.

Rest in peace good man and thanks so very much for the memories.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

THOR: GODSTORM




What do you get when one of my favorite comic book writers (Kurt Busiek) and one of my favorite comic book artists (Steve Rude) combine their talents to tell an epic tale starring one of my favorite comic book super-heroes? THOR: GODSTORM is the answer.

I picked up a hardcover copy of this gem a few days ago and read the whole thing in one sitting. Originally published as a three-part mini-series, THOR: GODSTORM reveals an untold tale of Thor that spans the ages from ancient history to the mid-'60s Marvel Universe to (what was then) present day. The story is finely crafted by Busiek but the real attraction here is the magnificent artwork of Steve Rude.

Rude appears to be channeling the very essence of the late, great Jack "King" Kirby into his artwork. Regular readers of this blog know that Jack Kirby is hands-down, my all-time favorite comic book artist. I'm here to tell you that Steve Rude is among the handful of contemporary artists who can do full justice to the wonderful characters and concepts that Kirby created. I'd pay good money to read a monthly comic book drawn by Rude which features any Kirby character (Marvel or DC, take your pick). Hey, powers-that-be, are you listening?

Years ago, Rude and Mark Evanier (another one of my favorite comic book writers and a gentleman who knows a thing or two about Jack Kirby), teamed-up for two one-shot comic books that have a permanent place in my collection: Kirby's Fourth World escape artist MISTER MIRACLE and Hanna-Barbera's science fiction superhero, SPACE GHOST. I treasure both of those comics. 

THOR: GODSTORM is a fun book. The story has plenty of action, drama, humor and surprises along with some thoughts on the true definition of a hero. Thor tangles with a new foe (whose retro-origin would fit perfectly into the pages of a Lee & Kirby issue of THE AVENGERS) and the story takes place on both Earth and Asgard (as all great Thor tales do). If you love the Thunder God, if you love good storytelling, if you love the work of such creative geniuses as Stan Lee, Kurt Busiek, Jack Kirby and Steve Rude, buy this book. You won't regret it.

Oh, and as an added bonus, there's a two-part TALES OF ASGARD back-up story by Tom DeFalco with art by the great Mike Mignola. Can this book get any better?


Saturday, April 6, 2013

MY ROGER EBERT STORY


When I was a kid (and just how many of my blog posts start out with those words?), there were only a handful of film critics whose names were well-known. Judith Crist had a regular film column in the weekly TV GUIDE magazine. Gene Shalit delivered movie reviews on NBC's THE TODAY SHOW. Rex Reed's name was often seen accompanying pull-quotes in movie advertising. I knew these names, although I wasn't a regular reader or viewer of any of these personalities. 

In college, I discovered Pauline Kael and read several of her collections of film criticism. In the '80s, I, along with millions of other movie lovers, quickly became a fan of Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel when their syndicated television series AT THE MOVIES, became a blockbuster cultural phenomenon which popularized film criticism like never before and gave us the still popular "thumbs up, thumbs down" nomenclature.

For the longest time, I mistakenly believed that my first exposure to Roger Ebert came through the weekly viewings of his television show. But one day, I had an epiphany and recalled that I had actually read one of Ebert's earliest and most influential pieces of film criticism years ago. I just hadn't paid much attention to the author's name at the time.

The year was 1969. I was in my seventh-grade speech class at O. Henry Junior High. We were assigned to look through issues of READER'S DIGEST magazine and find suitable material for an extemporaneous speech assignment (you remember those, don't you?). Somehow, the RD issue for June, 1969 ended up in my hands. I glanced at the table of contents printed on the cover and discovered an article entitled "Just Another Horror Movie..Or Is It?" that had originally appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times. Being a hard-core horror film fan, I quickly turned to the article and read it. 

The article was about a new horror film entitled NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. I was unfamiliar with the film. Forry Ackerman had not covered it in the pages of FAMOUS MONSTERS which I unfailingly read every month. NOTLD was, according to this article, a low-budget, black-and-white horror film in which the dead come back to life and eat the living. The gut munching was apparently shown in very realistic and graphic ways. The article not only described the film in vivid detail, it described one audiences' shocked and disturbed reaction to seeing such cinematic atrocity. 



My take away from the article was that this was a movie that I must see, which I eventually did several years later. I didn't pay any attention to the writer's name but years later, I found out that it was penned by none other than Roger Ebert. His review of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD had gained a certain amount of notoriety and had helped put the young film critic on the map. I had read Roger Ebert years before seeing him on AT THE MOVIES and never made the connection.



Surprisingly enough, I didn't use "Just Another Horror Movie" as the material for my speech. I chose something from another issue of READER'S DIGEST, something equally shocking and gross.



I chose "I Am Joe's Colon."



















Friday, April 5, 2013

BANDOLERO!


I watched another Raquel Welch western this afternoon. This one was BANDOLERO! (1968). The lovely Ms. Welch is supported by James Stewart, Dean Martin and George Kennedy. And any western that has Denver Pyle and Dub Taylor in bit parts is a winner in my book.

Stewart and Martin play brothers(!) separated by the Civil War. The action takes place in Val Verde, Texas in 1867. Martin and his gang of outlaws stage a bank robbery but are quickly arrested by the town sheriff (Kennedy). During the course of the hold-up, an innocent man is gunned down. The man is Welch's husband and his death leaves his beautiful young widow a very wealthy woman.

Stewart intercepts a traveling executioner sent to hang the men and poses as the hangman in order to rescue Martin and his gang. They do so and take Welch hostage in the course of their escape. Stewart, finding the town deserted after the escape, successfully robs the bank that Martin struck earlier. 

Martin, Stewart and Welch cross the border into Mexico, pursued by Kennedy, Andrew Prine and a sizable posse. Kennedy is determined to rescue Welch, whom he is in love with, although she's fallen for Martin. The fugitives soon enter the territory of the bandoleros, rapacious bandits who strike suddenly and without mercy. 

The climax of the film takes place in a deserted Mexican village where an exciting gun battle is staged between the outlaws, Kennedy and his men and the bandoleros. In a surprisingly downbeat ending (spoiler warning), both Stewart and Martin are killed leaving Welch alone with Kennedy. He gets what he wanted after all.  

It's a stretch to believe that James Stewart and Dean Martin are even remotely related but it's always a pleasure to watch Stewart and Martin tries his best not to be Dean Martin and play a character with some depth. He's fairly successful. Since both men are outlaws, it's inevitable that they must face some kind of justice at the end but it's still a downer to see them both die. Welch is gorgeous, the direction by genre veteran Andrew V. McLaglen is assured and there's a nice score by Jerry Goldsmith.

An added attraction to the film is the fact that much of it was filmed at Alamo Village, the movie set originally constructed for the production of John Wayne's THE ALAMO (1960). The set, north of Bracketville, Texas, was a major tourist attraction and movie set for many years before finally closing in 2009. 

Also, BANDOLERO! was a major influence on Larry McMurtry's novel LONESOME DOVE. Both stories begin near the Texas/Mexico border and both involve bandoleros. Both have a sheriff named July Johnson and a deputy named Roscoe who travel a great distance in search of a wanted criminal and the woman who rejected the sheriff's love. Both stories have a charismatic outlaw named Dee (Martin), who is about to be hanged and who wins the love of the woman before he dies. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

100 RIFLES


Here's a believe-it-or-not worthy of Ripley himself. When 100 RIFLES (an average western which I watched this afternoon) was released in 1969, Jim Brown was a bigger movie star than Burt Reynolds. Brown, the all-pro hall-of-famer NFL running back for the Cleveland Browns, quit football at the peak of his career to pursue an acting career. His first film was Robert Aldrich's WWII epic THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967). 

In 100 RIFLES, Brown plays a U.S. sheriff in Mexico out to capture and bring-him-back-alive one Yaqui Joe (Reynolds), a half-Indian, half-Alabaman, who robbed an Arizona bank for $6,000. He used the money to buy 100 rifles (don't you love it when the title of the film is actually used in the dialogue?) for the oppressed Yaqui Indians. They're under the boot heel of Mexican Army General Verdugo (Fernando Lamas) who is aided by a German military adviser played by the actor who was at the time known as Hans Gudegast. Gudegast was a regular on the late '60s television series THE RAT PATROL. Shortly after 100 RIFLES, Gudegast changed his name to Eric Braeden. Oh, and Dan O'Herlihy plays Grimes, a representative of the railroad line who plays both ends against the middle in the fight between the Mexican army and the Yaquis.

But of course, the real attraction (and ticket seller) here is Raquel Welch. Welch, who was under a multi-year contract at 20th Century Fox at the time, stars as Sarita, a Yaqui freedom fighter who will stop at nothing to liberate her people from their oppression.

Brown just wants to arrest Reynolds and bring him back to the U.S. but the two keep getting captured by the Mexicans. They keep escaping from the Mexicans. They keep being chased by the Mexicans. Then they are once again captured and the whole cycle begins again.

Of course, Brown and Welch eventually take to bed in what was at the time a pretty daring depiction of interracial sex. Brown leads the final attack against Lamas in a well-staged action sequence involving a train and a heavily armed town. In the end, (spoiler warning) Welch is dead, Brown returns to the U.S. and Reynolds is left to lead the now free Yaquis.

100 RIFLES is competently directed by Tom Gries and the screenplay by Clair Huffaker (from a novel by Robert MacLeod) mixes action and humor. It's no classic but it was never intended to be. It was made to advance the careers of Jim Brown, Raquel Welch and Burt Reynolds and it did so successfully. It's worth seeing if you're a fan of any or all of these performers or if you like westerns. 

Note: the one-sheet shown above mistakenly lists Akim Tamiroff as being in the cast. Wonder how that happened?