|The cover feature for FAMOUS MONSTERS #41 is THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON. This is actually a reprint of an article about the film that appeared in an earlier issue of FM. There's also a preview of the Munsters feature film, MUNSTER, GO HOME! I saw the Munsters film at the old Austin Theater on South Congress when I was a kid. I had to wait several years to finally see THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON. I now have both films on DVD. |
Oddly enough, the furry-faced gent featured on the cover is NOT the Werewolf of London. I believe that's the werewolf character from the Columbia Pictures film RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE, which starred Bela Lugosi as a non-Dracula vampire.
Saturday, August 31, 2013
Friday, August 30, 2013
|Since I mentioned the time Stephen Hunter helped me get a writing assignment in my review of his latest novel, THE THIRD BULLET, I thought I'd go ahead and tell the story here while it's still fresh in my mind.|
As I said before, Hunter's novel DIRTY WHITE BOYS, was a book that I absolutely could not put down. It's the story of three men (two hardened cons and one young, semi-innocent kid) who bust out of the Oklahoma State Pen and go on a murderous rampage. They are pursued by a larger than life Oklahoma State Trooper (think John Wayne in his prime or Clint Eastwood). There are gun battles and car chases aplenty. It's a terrific book and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
There is a lot of information in the book about the Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation (that state's version of the Texas Department of Public Safety). It seemed to me while reading the book that Hunter had done a lot of research and perhaps might have interviewed some members of the OBI. At the time I read the book, I was freelancing for POLICE magazine, a trade journal for law enforcement officers. The magazine was published out of San Diego, California, but police officers across the country subscribed to the journal. I was always on the lookout for story ideas and I thought that maybe a piece on the OBI would be of interest to our readers.
I pitched my story idea to my editor (sorry Dennis, I can't recall your last name!) and he gave me the go ahead to do some digging around and see what I could find out. My first move was to contact Stephen Hunter himself. You need to understand that this was way back in the early 1990s and I did not have Internet access at the time. But I did know where he worked. At the time, Stephen Hunter was working as the film reviewer for The Baltimore Sun. I contacted the newspaper's office, asked to speak to Stephen Hunter, got his voice mail and left a message. I crossed my fingers and hoped he call back.
My phone rang a few days later. I picked it up, said hello and heard a voice say, "Frank, this is Stephen Hunter returning your call." That moment remains one of the highlights of my freelance writing career. But wait. It gets better.
After I gushed about how much I loved DIRTY WHITE BOYS, I asked him about the research that he had done on the OBI.
"You know, don't you," he said, "that my novel is loosely based on a true story?"
I had no idea that such was the case and I asked him to fill me in. He briefly told me about an incident that occurred a few years previously in which two vicious killers really did escape from the Oklahoma State Pen and go on a multi-state killing spree. They were chased by air and on the ground through a small town in Oklahoma by state troopers. The pair were finally cornered in a deadly shootout that left the killers dead along with several troopers. It was the bloodiest day in the history of the Oklahoma State Police. They lost more men in that one day than in any other day in the entire history of the agency.
Hunter gave me the names of some of his contacts at the OBI and wished me luck. I immediately contacted Dennis and told him what I had discovered. He thought the story sounded like a good one but we would have to tread carefully. He suggested that he submit a letter of introduction on my behalf to one of the chief officers at the Oklahoma State Police to introduce me, present my credentials, explain the story that I wished to write and to seek permission to conduct interviews with some of the surviving troopers from that bloody day.
The letter was sent and approval was granted. As soon as I was notified, I set up phone interviews and proceeded to talk to several troopers all of whom told me an incredible story of bravery and courage under fire.
I wrote the story and submitted it. Dennis accepted it and sent me a nice paycheck. When the story was published I made sure to forward a copy of the magazine to Stephen Hunter. In return, he was kind enough to send me a signed copy of his then latest novel, BLACK LIGHT.
And that's how reading DIRTY WHITE BOYS turned into a paid writing gig for me.
|FAMOUS MONSTERS #39, from the summer of 1966, cover features the Japanese giant monster movie FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD. I remember seeing this film on first release at the State Theater in downtown Austin. It played on a double bill with TARZAN AND THE VALLEY OF GOLD. I haven't seen either film since I was a kid of ten but I've got both movies on DVD. Maybe a double feature movie afternoon is on the horizon.|
Thursday, August 29, 2013
|I had never seen THE LEFT HAND OF GOD (1955) until a couple of weeks ago when it ran on TCM. I recorded it, watched and really enjoyed the film. Although I must confess, for some reason, I was expecting more of an action adventure film than a straight drama. Don't know where I got that idea.|
Bogart stars an American pilot flying supplies over The Hump (the Himalayas) during WWII. When his plane crashes, he falls in with General Yang, a Chinese warlord (Lee J. Cobb!) who makes the American his second-in-command and de facto prisoner. Bogart yearns to escape and when the warlord's men murder a priest, he sees his chance.
Bogart assumes the identity of the dead priest and leaves the warlord's camp. He makes his way to a small Chinese village where he hopes to hook up with a trade caravan and escape from the country. While waiting for the caravan to arrive, Bogart becomes a priest by default to the villagers. He's befriended by three Americans (E.G. Marshall, Agnes Moorehead and Gene Tierney) who work in a small clinic in the village.
Although not a priest, Bogart knows enough to play the part and minister to the villagers. Everyone comes to love him including Tierney who knows that falling in love with a priest will never end well. When General Yang appears and threatens the villagers, Bogart confronts his former employer and plays a game of dice to decide the fate of everyone involved.
Bogart wins (of course) and his true identity is revealed to everyone. Even though everyone knows he isn't really a priest, everyone acknowledges the good work he did in the village and the redemption that he earned. The trade caravan finally arrives and Bogart leaves the village with the traders. The village is a better place for him having been there and he is a better man for the work that he did while he was there.
THE LEFT HAND OF GOD was directed by Edward Dmytryk who had directed Bogart previously in THE CAINE MUTINY (1954). By the way, I met Edward Dmytryk when he spent as a semester at the University of Texas film school as a guest lecturer. He spoke to my film class one afternoon and he was quite an interesting man.
Gene Tierney was suffering from mental health issues during the filming of LEFT HAND and after completion of the film, she suffered a nervous breakdown and attempted suicide. She withdrew from films for a few years before making a comeback in a handful of productions.
Bogart had only 16 months to live while he was making LEFT HAND. He made two other films afterwards, THE DESPERATE HOURS (1955) and THE HARDER THEY FALL (1956) before succumbing to cancer.
THE LEFT HAND OF GOD is a handsomely mounted, CinemaScope production that features an engrossing, compelling story and good performances by a solid cast. Recommended for Bogart fans and film lovers.
|FAMOUS MONSTERS #37 sports a nifty cover painting of the Ymir, "Harryhausen's Horror from Venus" as the cover copy reads. At the time I bought this issue in 1966, I had yet to see 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH. The photographs that accompanied the article absolutely mesmerized me. Here was a way cool looking monster from outer space on a rampage in Rome! I had to see this movie!|
It took me several years to finally see the film and I wasn't disappointed. I've seen it several times over the years (I've got it on DVD) and I always enjoy watching it. Great '50s sf and terrific stop motion animation by the legendary Ray Harryhausen. Other features in this issue of FM include Lugosi's Haunted House and FIEND WITHOUT A FACE (another terrific little sf film).
By the way, I don't know if Lugosi's house was actually haunted or not as I've never visited that domicile. However, I have visited his grave site in a Los Angeles cemetery. It was a real thrill to see the final resting place of a horror icon. At least, I think Bela's buried there. You never know about those vampires.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
|I first made my acquaintance with the work of Stephen Hunter on a Christmas Day of years ago. I had recently received an advance reader copy of his novel DIRTY WHITE BOYS and after opening all of the presents and consuming a hearty Christmas dinner, I retired to my room, sat down in my easy chair and started reading. I was hooked from the first page. DIRTY WHITE BOYS is a down-and-dirty, pedal-to-the metal crime thriller that absolutely defies you to try and stop reading. I guarantee you cannot do so. Highly recommended.|
Since then, I've had the pleasure of reading many Stephen Hunter novels (remind me to tell you the story sometime of how he helped me on a story assignment for a law enforcement magazine I used to freelance for). The other Stephen Hunter novels that I've read include: THE DAY BEFORE MIDNIGHT, POINT OF IMPACT (filmed a few years ago as SHOOTER), BLACK LIGHT, TIME TO HUNT, NIGHT OF THUNDER and the magnificent Earl Swagger trilogy of HOT SPRINGS, PALE HORSE COMING and HAVANA. If you like action packed thrillers and have not read any of Stephen Hunter's books, I suggest you do so immediately. You won't be disappointed. I rank Stephen Hunter second only to the great Lee Child and his superb Jack Reacher series.
I recently read Hunter's newest novel, THE THIRD BULLET. It's what may be the last in the Bob Lee Swagger series. Bob Lee, first introduced in POINT OF IMPACT, is a Vietnam veteran, master sniper, the son of Earl Swagger (who served as a Marine in WWII and later an Arkansas state trooper) and a man crowding seventy-years of age. I don't know if Hunter can spin another Bob "The Nailer" adventure and make it believable. The character's just getting too old for this shit.
In BULLET, a thriller writer (a very loose analog for Hunter himself) is killed when he discovers new evidence regarding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas on November 22nd, 1963. The writer's widow seeks out Bob Lee and asks him to look into the matter. He travels to Dallas, enlists the aid of his F.B.I. buddy Nick Memphis and is soon up to his neck in the world of JFK conspiracy theorists. He also runs afoul of a killer who uses cars as his weapon of choice. Said killer is employed by the mysterious man behind the scenes who masterminded the greatest murder of the 20th century.
The trail of evidence leads Bob Lee to Moscow where he probes the files of the KGB with the help of a Russian mercenary. The two men quickly become the targets of a Russian mob and before you know it, they're all involved in a spectacular gun battle in a Moscow park. What does the Russian mob have to do with the death of JFK? Bob Lee is putting together the clues when the narrative comes to an abrupt and sudden halt while Hunter shifts gears and starts an entirely new story thread in a different authorial voice.
What we get for many, many pages that follow is the written confession of the man who engineered the Kennedy assassination. It's written in painstaking detail and takes us back to the world of the mid-century CIA, Lee Harvey Oswald and Dallas in 1963. It's an enthralling read as the killer recounts how he set Oswald up and just who the real killer was. Hunter keeps to all of the known facts in the case but adds just enough plausible speculation for how it might have happened to make the account of the mechanics of the assassination very believable.
The trouble is, that while we're getting the killer's memoirs handed to us, Bob Lee is not. He disappears from the novel for many pages and Hunter returns to him only sporadically throughout the novel until the final showdown at the end of the book. It's as if Hunter wanted to write two books. One, a present-day Bob Lee Swagger thriller (which takes up about half of the book) and the other, a richly researched historical novel about the assassination. They're both good stories but it's a bit jarring to start reading what you think is going to be a straight ahead Bob Lee Swagger adventure and suddenly discover you're reading something else entirely.
Plus, only the reader gets the story the killer tells. Bob Lee is not privy to all of the details that we are. He still figures things out and makes some amazingly accurate deductions based on the evidence that he's presented but frankly, the whole thing feels a little bit like a cheat to me.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. I know exactly where I was that day and I'm sure most of my readers do too. We are about to be deluged with books (fiction and non-fiction), television specials and motion pictures that look back on that tragic day. THE THIRD BULLET is an early contender in the Kennedy assassination sweepstakes and while it's not Hunter's best work, it's well worth reading.
|Now that I've exhausted my supply of sf pulps/mags to share with you, I thought I'd return to my ongoing series of FAMOUS MONSTERS issues that are in my collection. Here's #36, an issue that featured articles about HOUSE OF WAX, the great amateur make-up contest and THE MUMMY'S GHOST. I love it!|
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
|After all these years I finally watched the original THE BLOB (1958) the other day. Hard to believe that a lover of 1950s science fiction films like myself could have gone this long without ever seeing this film. It certainly wasn't worth the wait.|
This now legendary low-budget monster movie stars a young Steve McQueen (he's billed as Steven) and Aneta Corseaut (who looks far to old to be the high school student she's playing). Both McQueen and Corseaut went on to bigger and better things. McQueen, of course, had a stellar film career in the '60s and '70s while Corseaut found her measure of immortality by starring as Helen Crump on the long running THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW.
A meteor from outer space lands in a deserted area. A hermit discovers the rock, pokes at it and gets his arm covered in extraterrestrial slime for his transgression. McQueen and Corseaut almost run the man down on a country road and take him to the local doctor where the man's body is consumed by the blob which goes on to attack and devour the doctor and his nurse. From there, the blob escapes and begins ingesting citizens of the small Pennsylvania town where the film was shot.
McQueen, Corseaut and their high school hot rodder buddies rally to save the town. Like THE GIANT GILA MONSTER (1959), THE BLOB is a film in which teenagers are the heroes. They exhibit more smarts and courage in facing the unearthly menace than their parents and other adult authority figures.
The blob is eventually frozen and deposited in the Arctic (a stock footage scene) where hopefully it will remain in ice forever. But the question mark at the end of the film leaves that conclusion in doubt.
All of the action in THE BLOB takes place over the course of one night (a la AMERICAN GRAFFITI). The exterior scenes appear to have been shot on location with the interiors most likely lensed in a studio. The lighting in every scene is extremely poor, the backgrounds in some shots are non-existent and the camera compositions are ultra tight and very, very cramped making the film visually claustrophobic. With community theater level performances by the mostly unknown cast and shoddy production values (special effects shots of the blob range from not bad to horrible) THE BLOB is an ugly mess of a movie.
A sequel, BEWARE! THE BLOB was made in 1972 and the film was remade in 1988. Thanks solely to the presence of Steve McQueen, THE BLOB has achieved a sort of cult status among film fans. There are many, many far better science fiction films from the 1950s and honestly, there are just as many that are as bad as or worse than THE BLOB.
I'm glad I've seen it but it's not something I'd ever watch again.
Monday, August 26, 2013
|I watched THE NANNY (1965) the other day. This black and white British film starring Bette Davis is, believe it or not, a Hammer Film, a fact that I was unaware of. And it's a good one too.|
Davis plays the title character, a middle aged nanny in charge of a British household comprised of a man, his wife and their young son Joey. At the beginning of the film, Joey comes home after spending time in a mental institution. It seems that the young man is more than a bit disturbed and he may have had something to do with the unfortunate demise of his younger sister.
Joey is welcomed home to a dysfunctional household. His father is stern and detached and about to leave the city for several days on a business trip. His mother had never completely recovered from the death of her daughter and she seems to be afraid of what Joey is capable of doing. She's a near complete basket case.
The nanny, is of course, very kind and loving towards Joey but he will have none of that. He hates the woman and accuses her of all sorts of dreadful things, such as trying to poison and drown him (on two separate occasions). But as the plot progresses, we learn that all is not what it seems and perhaps the young man does have a very good reason to fear his nanny.
Davis does a remarkable job here. She remains cool and unflappable for most of the film only slowly revealing the cracks in her veneer and the madness that lies beneath. She manages to be both monstrous and oddly sympathetic at the same time once we discover her sad back story. THE NANNY is a good little psychological thriller and I recommend it to fans of both Bette Davis and Hammer Studios.
By the way, THE NANNY was one of several horror films that Davis starred in in the autumn of her career. Her other horror films include the classic WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962), HUSH...HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE (1964), DEAD RINGER (1964) and THE ANNIVERSARY (1968). Due to her appearances in these films, Davis earned the not-so-kind sobriquet of "horror hag", a term used to describe not only Davis but several other past-their-prime actresses who played out their careers by appearing in horror films.
Other notable "horror hags" include Joan Crawford who co-starred with Davis in BABY JANE before flying solo in STRAIT-JACKET (1964), I SAW WHAT YOU DID (1965), BERSERK! (1968) and TROG (1970). Olivia de Havilland starred in LADY IN A CAGE (1964) and co-starred with Davis in HUSH...HUSH while her sister, Joan Fontaine, closed out her career with THE WITCHES (1966).
You can't really blame these women for taking these roles. After all, at this point in their respective careers, they were never going to be cast as young ingenues or romantic leads. They still wanted to continue making films but the parts being offered were becoming few and far between. But to canny producers and studio heads, these women's names and reputations (to say nothing of their talent) still had box office draw and their appearances in these B-movies helped sell tickets and make the films profitable. In my opinion, they all delivered good, solid (in the case of BABY JANE, outstanding) work and the films provided many young horror film fans (like me) their first exposure to these actresses.
Sunday, August 25, 2013
|I first encountered THE PROFESSIONALS (1966) on a Saturday afternoon at the Paramount Theater in downtown Austin. I was ten-years-old and I absolutely loved the movie. So it was only fitting that I spent part of yesterday (Saturday) afternoon revisiting this classic western adventure movie.|
A fellow could spend the rest of his adult life playing "quien es mas macho" with the cast of this film. The four men pictured above comprise the team of "professionals" that are assembled at the beginning of the film by millionaire J.W. Grant (Ralph Bellamy). It's the standard guys-on-a-mission set-up with the mission being to journey into Mexico and rescue Grant's kidnapped wife (the oh-so-lovely Claudia Cardinale) from the clutches of the rapacious Mexican revolutionary Raza (Jack Palance, who oozes machismo and menace).
The team is comprised of Burt Lancaster, an explosives expert and former mercenary who fought in the Mexican revolution alongside both Raza and Lee Marvin, the military tactician who is the leader of the team. Rounding out the foursome are Woody Strode as an ace archer and Robert Ryan, the must-have horse wrangler.
The four set off across the Mexican desert where they encounter small bands of Raza's men a couple of times before finally reaching his hacienda stronghold. They stage a daring and imaginative raid, rescue Cardinale and set off back across the desert to return her to Bellamy and collect the sizable fee ($10,000) he's promised each man.
But things are not entirely what they seem to be. There are some neat plot twists and turns, including a standoff between Palance and Lancaster before the satisfying ending in which Lee Marvin gets in an unforgettable last line.
THE PROFESSIONALS is a rousing action adventure film that showcases some of the greatest tough guys of the mid-century cinema. You could strike a match off of the face of any one of these men, that's how tough they are. Lancaster is all swagger and smiles, Marvin is more tightly wound and always thinking, Ryan is durable and dependable and Strode is a wizard with the long-bow. Throw in Jack Palance, who excelled at playing bad guys, and you've got an unbeatable line-up. The testosterone in this movie is turned up to 11 but it never goes over the top like so many contemporary films.
Written and directed by Richard Brooks (who based the screenplay on a novel by Frank O'Rourke), THE PROFESSIONALS features a rousing score by Maurice Jarre and top notch cinematography by Conrad Hall. THE PROFESSIONALS received three Academy Award nominations including Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Cinematography.
Watching THE PROFESSIONALS again yesterday afternoon took me back to that long ago Saturday afternoon when, as a boy of ten, I first thrilled to this exciting motion picture for the first time on the big screen at the Paramount Theater. I had a blast reliving those memories. Highly recommended.
Saturday, August 24, 2013
|I read SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT by Max Allan Collins the other day. I read the entire book in one day, divided over two reading periods. I'm not a speed reader but this light, breezy and fun murder mystery novel was so good I just couldn't put it down.|
The novel features Jack Starr, an investigator who works for the Starr Syndicate, a company which syndicates comic strips to newspapers across the country. The head of the company (and Jack's boss), is Maggie Starr, a former strip tease queen who is also Jack's step-mother.
Set in New York City in 1954, the crime at the heart of SEDUCTION is the murder of one Dr. Werner Frederick, an anti-comic book crusader who has made a stir (and a lot of enemies) with the publication of his inflammatory book, Ravage the Lambs. When Dr. Frederick is found hanged in his apartment (a murder set up to look like a suicide), Jack investigates the crime and finds plenty of suspects.
Among the possible killers are Bob Price, Hal Feldman and Will Allison, all of whom work for EF (Entertaining Funnies). These are, of course, analogs for Bill Gaines, Al Feldstein and Al Williamson, all of whom were connected with the legendary EC Comics of the 1950s. Other suspects include Charles Bardwell and Pete Pine, stand-ins for Charles Biro and Bob Wood, respectively, two men who produced crime comics for publisher Lev Gleason. And of course the murder victim, Dr. Frederick, is based on the real-life Dr. Frederick Wertham, whose book, Seduction of the Innocent, claimed comic books were the root of many societal ills including juvenile delinquency.
SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT gets all of the details of mid-century Manhattan and the comic book industry of the day correctly. Jack narrates in a dry, humorous style. There are some great one-liners in the book and the more you know about comic book history, the more you'll enjoy this fast paced mystery.
Author Collins is ably abetted by artist Terry Beatty who provides illustrations in the EC style at the beginning of each chapter, as well as a two-page spread that summarizes the facts and suspects in the case before the final revelation in which all of the suspects are gathered together and the killer identified before a television audience.
SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT is the third and final book in the Jack Starr trilogy. The other books in the series are A KILLING IN COMICS (2007) and STRIP FOR MURDER (2008). I've read A KILLING IN COMICS (in fact, I have a signed copy of the book) but I've yet to read STRIP FOR MURDER.
SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT was published this year by Hard Case Crime (one of my favorite publishers) and sports a terrific cover painting by Glen Orbik. If you love the comic books of the 1950s and whodunit murder mysteries, you'll love SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT. Recommended.
Friday, August 23, 2013
|Gotta give a shout out to a terrific new website recently launched by my pal Steve Cook. Entitled "Buro" (hmm, wonder where he got that name?) the website is a celebration of all things Burnet Road. As most of you reading this know, Burnet Road is a miles long strip of commercial real estate that starts in Central Austin and runs north for block after block. Situated along those blocks are some iconic Austin shops, restaurants, bars and entertainment venues, some of which are still there while others are long gone. |
If you're a native Austinite, I'm sure you've got some Burnet Road memories to share. Head on over to www.buroaustin.com to post your stories about this fabulously funky, uniquely Austin street. If you're a newcomer, consider this a guide to the past and present of our beloved Burnet Road. I've already contributed a few pieces and have many more planned.
It's a great website that I know you'll enjoy. Check it out!
|I bought MARVEL COMICS SUPER SPECIAL #16: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK before the film was released in the summer of 1980. The full-color, full-length adaptation was written by Archie Goodwin with dazzling artwork by Al Williamson. It was a very nice package.|
I wanted to wait until after I'd seen the film to read the magazine but I figured I'd give it one quick flip through just to see what the art looked like (it was terrific). While flipping pages, my eyes came to rest on the page that illustrated the big reveal (and possibly the pivotal moment in the entire STAR WARS mythos). Yep, I saw (even though I didn't really want to) a panel featuring Darth Vader, his right arm outstretched to an off-panel Luke Skywalker. The word balloon contained those immortal words "no, Luke, I am your father" D'oh! I had inadvertently seen the one thing I really shouldn't have.
I did keep this information to myself however and it didn't spoil my enjoyment of the film. After all, there were still plenty of other surprises to be discovered in EMPIRE and seeing it all on the big screen was an entirely different experience than reading it in a comic book (no matter how well done the comic was).
Lesson learned: don't peak! Not even a little bit.
|Today I received a signed advance reader copy of the forthcoming book, UNDER FIRE: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE ATTACK IN BENGHAZI. My good friend (and co-author) Fred Burton sent me the book. Fred Burton is the author of two previous bestsellers, GHOST and CHASING SHADOWS (both of which are highly recommended).|
In GHOST, Fred recounts his career in the 1980s as a special counter terrorism agent for the U.S. Department of State. The cases he covers are gripping, compelling and thought provoking. But, as I've often told him, it's the stories he doesn't tell that would make you lose sleep at night. I don't want to know everything that Fred Burton knows.
CHASING SHADOWS recounts Fred's efforts (along with various other law enforcement officials) to solve the cold case murder of an Israeli air force officer. The murder happened in Fred's home neighborhood when Fred was a teenager and after many years, the case was finally solved and the killers brought to justice.
UNDER FIRE is a minute-by-minute account of the devastating attack on a U.S. embassy stronghold in Benghazi, Libya on September 11th, 2012 in which four Americans were killed. I'm sure Fred's narrative will be accurate and well researched and I can't wait to read it. UNDER FIRE goes on sale in early September.
If you want to know what it's really like to be on the front lines in the war on terror, do yourself a favor and read Fred's books. He's a very smart guy who has seen it all and he tells it like it is.
Thursday, August 22, 2013
|In the spring of 1977, Marvel Comics secured the rights to produce a six-issue comic book adaptation of STAR WARS. Roy Thomas was the writer and Howard Chaykin was the artist. George Lucas himself had granted his approval for Marvel to get the rights to produce the comics and the story has it that Lucas also lobbied for the team of Thomas and Chaykin.|
Given the months-in-advance production schedule, a full three issues of the comic book had been produced and published before the film opened. Which means that I, of course, had purchased and read those three issues and knew half of the story before I saw the film. I know, I know I should have waited (I did wait to read the novelization) but Roy Thomas is one of my favorite comic book writers and Howard Chaykin is one of my favorite comic book artists and I just couldn't resist the urge. The hype was just starting to build about this film and I wanted to be in on the ground floor.
Those first six Marvel STAR WARS comics have since been reprinted and repackaged several times over and published by both Marvel and Dark Horse (the current license holder for STAR WARS comics). It's a fairly faithful adaptation that was produced using a shooting script (not the final cut of the film) and publicity photos for reference. As such, there are a few little things here and there that appear in the comic which did not make it into the final cut of the film.
I don't have those original six issues any more but I do have one of those immense Treasury Edition reprints around here somewhere.
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
|Okay, gang, say it with me: "I had this!"|
I really did have this paperback novelization of STAR WARS, which was published by Ballantine Books and released before the film hit the theaters in 1977. I bought the book as soon as I saw it, recognizing that this was that cool sounding science fiction movie I had read about in the pages of CINEFANTASTIQUE.
I didn't read the book however until after I'd seen the film. I didn't want anything to spoil the experience of seeing the movie for the first time. But of course, there was something else published that I did read that gave me a least part of the film's story. More about that in a future post.
|TLC broadcast THE MAN WITH THE 132 LB. SCROTUM on Monday evening. |
What's more disturbing?
The fact that there is an actual television program with such a title about such a man?
Or the fact that I actually watched the damn thing?
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Monday, August 19, 2013
|My first exposure to STAR WARS came in the pages of the late, lamented CINEFANTASTIQUE magazine. CFQ was a quarterly publication that took a somewhat scholarly approach to the "cinema of the fantastic". The magazine contained in depth retrospectives and "the making of" articles about classic science fiction, fantasy and horror films. There were reviews, some of which were negative, of current genre films and television programs and news about upcoming theatrical and television productions.|
The magazine was published on slick, glossy paper, the photos and artwork were in both color and black and white and the whole affair had an air of sophistication about it. CFQ took genre films seriously and likewise, the editorial staff and writers, took their readers and audience seriously. CFQ was the magazine you read when you outgrew FAMOUS MONSTERS (but come on, we all know that no one ever really outgrows FM). I discovered CFQ late in my high-school years and became a regular reader while I was in college.
It was during those college years, in an issue published in 1976 (sorry, can't recall the exact one) that I first encountered a mention of a new film in production at 20th Century Fox. The movie was written and directed by George Lucas, whose AMERICAN GRAFFITI I had adored. The blurb went on to say that the film was entitled THE STAR WARS: THE ADVENTURES OF LUKE STAR KILLER. The pre-production artwork (by Ralph McQuarrie) pictured above, accompanied the column.
And that's pretty much all there was to it. I read that very short announcement, was properly intrigued and mentally filed away the information for future reference. That was the first time I ever heard of STAR WARS and for a while, it was the only thing I heard about STAR WARS.
|Okay, so maybe I'm not so crazy after all. |
It turns out I'm not entirely wrong regarding my previous post about my mis-remembering the original STAR WARS film as being advertised with the tagline "somewhere this may all be happening right now". My pal Garrett Keitel (thanks buddy!) sent me a link to the original STAR WARS trailer. It's less than two-minutes in length, there is no John Williams music, the STAR WARS logo isn't the one we all know and love, some of the effects shots don't look entirely finished and there's a dreadful voice-over narration that begins "Somewhere in space this may all be happening right now." Not "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..." Not "coming to your galaxy this summer."
So I must have seen this trailer and that phrase must have stuck in my head. Trouble is, I don't remember SEEING this trailer. My memory is of seeing the teaser one-sheet only, the one with the words "somewhere this may all be happening" (or something to that effect). I think I liked that phrase so much that I decided it would make a good title for a science fiction short story that I might write someday.
That sf short story remains unwritten and I'm still slightly confused. Is there a Jedi Master reading this blog who can provide some clarity and focus on this question? Was there a teaser one-sheet with "somewhere in space..." on it? Please fill me in on the details so I can stop worrying about my memory.
Sunday, August 18, 2013
| It's funny (not funny ha-ha, but funny odd, funny strange, funny weird) some of the things I can remember with absolute certainty and conviction from my past. Here's a for instance.|
I know for a fact that I went to see SILVER STREAK (1976), a comedy starring Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor, Jill Clayburgh and Patrick McGoohan at the old Highland Mall Twin Cinema sometime around Christmas of 1976. I remember seeing a teaser one-sheet poster in the lobby for a new movie that was to be released in the summer of 1977. The film was, of course, STAR WARS and the teaser read either "coming to your galaxy next summer" or "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..." I know now that it must have been one of those two. Had to be. They're the only possible choices as there was only copy on the poster, no artwork of any kind.
But for some unknown reason, for the longest time, I misremembered the poster as reading "somewhere this may all be happening." Where in the world did I come up with that? And how did I connect that phrase, which, to the best of my knowledge, has never been associated with STAR WARS in any way, shape or form, over the far more memorable and immortal "a long time ago...". Heck, even "coming to your galaxy next summer" (which I do know was used on the one-sheet teaser for EMPIRE STRIKES BACK because I own one), is better. But "somewhere this may all be happening"?
My only explanation is that I liked that phrase as a title for a science-fiction short story I was planning to write, back in the days when I was trying to write (not too successfully) short fiction. Somehow my brain took the title which I had come up with and linked it to the poster, which I know I did see.
So there you have it, one of my first (incorrect) STAR WARS memories. More (correct) memories to come.
Saturday, August 17, 2013
|I was up later than usual last night. I was in bed and television channel surfing when I came across THE GODFATHER on AMC. Of course, it was only the last ten (edited) minutes of the film but I watched it nonetheless. I need to sit down and watch the entire film again sometime soon. I haven't done so if a few years and it's past time for a repeat viewing.|
While watching the final few minutes of the film last night, I came up with these three trivia questions. Let's see who's good enough to make consigliere by answering these three questions correctly.
What are the first four words spoken in the film?
What are the last two words spoken in the film?
Moe Green gets shot in which eye?
One funny thing that struck me while watching those few minutes last night was how much this guy:
looks like this guy:
What do you think? Twin sons of different mothers?
PS: if you don't know who these fine gentleman are, I suggest you watch THE GODFATHER and FRANKENSTEIN (1931) immediately.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
|I watched PANDORUM (2009) the other night. I knew nothing about this German science-fiction/horror film going in and I got the DVD in a trade, so I figured I would take a chance. What did I have to lose except a couple of hours?|
In the year 2174, an immense "ark" spaceship (containing over half a million people and named, coincidentally enough, The Elysium) sets off for a distant planet named Tanis. Earth has become uninhabitable and the people on board are humanity's last hope for survival. The plan is to land on Tanis, thaw out the passengers and begin life anew on the new world.
Things go wrong.
Two members of a flight crew (Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster), come out of hibernation ahead of schedule and find themselves cut off from the rest of the ship. They have no idea where in space the ship is, nor where Tanis or Earth are. Unable to open the hatch that leads to the bridge, Quaid (the commanding officer), stays at his post while Foster climbs through the air ducts and service passageways in an attempt to both gain access to the bridge and search for any other crew members and passengers (including his wife).
He finds a couple of other crew members fighting for their lives against savage, cannibalistic mutations that prowl the deserted corridors of the immense vessel. These freaks are actually genetically-engineered humans (designed to readily adapt to the alien environment of Tanis) who have mutated into savage, flesh-eating monsters. There are numerous battles between humans and monsters while Quaid, back in his command chamber, begins to slowly go insane.
There's a race against time to restart the nuclear power core of the ship and a climactic showdown on the now finally accessible bridge in which the mystery of where The Elysium has actually been for all of this time (hint: it's not outer space) is revealed.
PANDORUM borrows liberally from Ridley Scott's far superior ALIEN (1979). Humans menaced by monsters in the cramped confines of a spaceship seemed fresh and original thirty-four years ago but it's a tired genre cliche in this day and age. Quaid is the only actor whose name I recognized and the rest of the cast is okay. As are the CGI special effects and practical sets used throughout the film. The narrative is slightly confusing in places but overall, it's not a bad little "B" movie. If you like this kind of stuff, PANDORUM is worth checking out.
Monday, August 12, 2013
|Somehow I managed to miss seeing Woody Allen's SEPTEMBER (1987) when it was originally theatrically released. That's a little odd, since at that point in my film going life I made it a point to try and see everything that had Woody Allen's name on it. I watched SEPTEMBER last week and while it's an interesting film, it's far from Allen's best work.|
SEPTEMBER is a hermetic, claustrophobic piece of film making, more like a filmed play than a movie since there are only six characters in the story and all of the action takes place inside one house over a long, end-of-summer weekend.
The performers are the usual Allen suspects: Mia Farrow, Sam Waterston, and Dianne Wiest, along with Denholm Elliott, Jack Warden and Elaine Stritch. The story is full of Allen's thematic concerns: the temptations of adultery, unrequited loves, the need to let go and move on with life, family secrets and unhappy endings. Needless to say, this isn't a comedy.
The plot is pretty basic. All six characters come together at Farrow's house for a weekend. Farrow is in love with Waterston, a blocked writer who rents a cottage from her. He can't seem to make progress on his novel and he's sorely tempted to write the biography of Farrow's blowzy mother (Stritch), a woman who has led a very interesting life.
Waterston is in love with Wiest, a married woman (and Farrow's best friend) who is spending the summer away from her husband and children in the city. She's sorely tempted by Waterston and the two do kiss, but the relationship doesn't go any further.
Poor Denholm Elliott is Farrow's older-man neighbor who is secretly in love with Farrow and has been for many years. He doesn't want her to sell the house (which she decides to do in the course of the film) and leave the country to return to New York City.
Stritch reveals a family secret that upsets the apple cart but not before she tries to contact the ghost of her dead first husband via a Ouija board. Warden, her current husband, is a scientist who doesn't believe in the spirit world or life after death or religion or spirituality of any kind. He believes in facts, logic and reason, all of which he gets the chance to espouse in one scene. After that, he doesn't have much to do for the rest of the film.
SEPTEMBER was deliberately filmed like a play with many long takes and very few camera effects. Allen actually shot the film twice. The first version starred Sam Shepard as Peter (Waterston) (Christopher Walken shot a few scenes in the part first but was eventually determined not right for the role). Maureen O'Sullivan played the part of Farrow's mother, Diane (Stritch) and Charles Durning played Farrow's neighbor Howard (Elliott). After editing the footage, Allen decided to re-write the screenplay, re-cast the film and shoot the whole thing again in its' entirety.
Was it worth all of that extra effort? I don't know but I do think it would have been a gas to see the uber-weird Christopher Walken as the writer instead of the buttoned down Waterston. SEPTEMBER is not a bad little film it's just not one that's easy to warm up to. I didn't really like any of the characters and I found it hard to care about what ultimately happened to them. The performances are good, the film is beautifully shot and edited but there's just not much there to sink your teeth into. For hardcore Allen fans only.
Sunday, August 11, 2013
|I watched COMANCHE STATION (1960), the other night. It was the fifth and final movie in a box set I have of films directed by Budd Boetticher and starring Randolph Scott. |
Scott plays Cody, a loner (as always), who trades goods and a rifle to the Comanches in return for a captured woman, Mrs. Lowe (Nancy Gates). The two make their way to Comanche Station, a stagecoach stop where Cody intends to put Mrs. Lowe on the next stage back to civilization. The station is deserted but not for long as three men ride in pursued by bloodthirsty Comanches. The men and Cody drive the Comanches off in a well-staged battle. The leader of the men, Ben Lane (Claude Akins), served in the military with Cody, a term of service which did not end well. Lane tells Cody that there's a $5,000 reward for the return of Mrs. Lowe and he intends to earn that money for himself.
The four men and one woman must now cross Comanche territory on their way to town. There is a great deal of tension between Cody and Lane and Lane and his men wonder why Mrs. Lowe's husband (who has put up the reward money), didn't search for her himself. We find out Cody's motivation for rescuing Mrs. Lowe, one man (Skip Homeier) is killed by the Comanches, Lane sets up an ambush for Cody (and kills his other partner Dobie (Richard Rust), an innocent, naive cowpoke) before the final showdown between Cody and Lane. Mrs. Lowe is returned to her husband at the end of the film and we find out why Mr. Lowe didn't go out in search for her.
COMANCHE STATION is a tight little western. It has great on-location wide screen cinematography (there are no interior shots in the entire film) and the cast is good. Scott was excellent at playing flinty, tight-lipped loners and Claude Akins (who must have appeared in hundreds of TV and movie westerns) makes a good bad buy. Boetticher's direction is assured and the screenplay, by Burt Kennedy, moves things along at a nice clip, alternating action scenes with character and plot development moments. COMANCHE STATION is a good little western that's well worth your time. Recommended.
Saturday, August 10, 2013
|True confession time. I have never read the entire ALL-STAR SUPERMAN mini-series by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely which DC Comics published a few years back. I recall reading one or two issues here and there but I know I've never read the entire work.|
Likewise, I never read the entirety of Frank Miller and Jim Lee's ALL-STAR BATMAN. Did they ever finish it? I don't know and I don't care because the two or three issues of that series that I did read were absolutely dreadful.
So, my track record with the two ALL-STAR DC comics series is spotty and incomplete. Since I've not read the Morrison scripted series I have no idea how the animated adaptation of it compares to the original. I don't know how faithful it is, what's missing, what's added, what's changed.
I do know however that based on what I saw when I watched this original film a couple of days ago is that this animated Superman feature is one of the best Superman stories ever filmed.
ALL-STAR SUPERMAN does much to help me forget how disappointing the big-budget, live action, CGI video game MAN OF STEEL was. Here is a truly heroic Superman, a character who is at once both beyond humanity and very, very much a man. When Superman discovers that he is dying due to an overdose of solar radiation, he reveals his secret to Lois Lane and gives her a serum that grants her super powers for one day. The two meet rival supermen Atlas and Samson and Superman defeats them both in an arm wrestling contest. A super-powered man and woman from Krypton come to earth with planetary subjugation on their minds and Superman, rather than destroy half of Metropolis battling them, finds a way to end their threat by banishing them to the Phantom Zone. Finally, Lex Luthor replicates the super serum that Lois used early to give himself superpowers and he engages Superman in a truly epic fight. Once again, the Man of Steel uses his brains to defeat Luthor but Kal-El's time is running out. His body, now composed of almost pure energy, is the only thing that can stop the sun from turning blue and threatening all life on earth. And so, he flies once again into the heart of the sun to save us all.
Even though Superman is gone at the end of the film, Lois never loses her faith. She knows that he's merely "fixing the sun" because it's what he has to do. She knows, deep within her heart, that he will be back because that's also what he does.
The animation style is closely modeled on the artwork of Frank Quitely and it's very good. The voice talent is all top notch (loved Ed Asner as Perry White!) and the script is first rate. As I said, I don't know how it compares to the original comic book series but ALL-STAR SUPERMAN, the animated film, is a winner.