Sunday, September 29, 2013

LOST AUSTIN RESTAURANTS

This is the first of what will hopefully be series of posts about Lost Austin Restaurants, old-time joints that I used to frequent that are sadly no longer with us.

First up is the beloved Stallion Restaurant (yes, a restaurant, despite what the sign above reads) on North Lamar. There's a MacDonald's there now. What the world doesn't need is any more MacDonald's restaurants. What we need is more classic dives like The Stallion.

The Stallion served great greasy-spoon diner rare in a rustic atmosphere. It was a semi-ramshackle building but I never went there for the decor. I went there for one thing (well, three things, actually): the chicken-fried steak, the onion rings and the one-of-a-kind yellow gravy.

If I recall correctly, you could order the chicken fried steak dinner with one, two or three pieces of meat. We're talking big pieces of meat here. I never attempted the three piece meal as two pieces was an absolute belt buster .I used to eat there for lunch on my day off at least once a month back in the 1980s. I never left hungry.

Boy, do I miss The Stallion

Saturday, September 28, 2013

PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES

The first time I saw PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (1965) was at my buddy Blake Brown's house on a Friday night when we were in high school in the early 1970s. Blake had cable television (which, in those days, meant he could get broadcast signals from San Antonio as well as Austin) and KSAT-Channel 12 out of San Antonio ran PROJECT TERROR, a late night horror movie double feature every Friday night beginning at 10:30 p.m. I'm sure our viewing experience was accompanied by the following food staples: one giant bowl of homemade queso, one giant bowl of homemade guacamole, one giant bag of Fritos, giant peanut butter and strawberry preserves sandwiches and giant glasses of ice cold milk. I've seen the film a couple of times since then and I watched it again yesterday afternoon but it wasn't nearly as much fun as that first time all those years ago.

Directed by Italian genre maestro Mario Bava, PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES is a colorful science fiction/horror hybrid. It's incorrectly titled however. There are no vampires in the film. The main villains are disembodied alien minds who cause the crew members of two spaceships to kill each other in order to possess and inhabit the dead bodies which then rise from the dead and attack the remaining living crew members. A more accurate title, given this plot device, would be PLANET OF THE ZOMBIES.

Bava didn't have a lot to work with in terms of budget but he makes the most out of plastic rocks, fog machines, colored light filters, in-camera special effects and creative camera placement to bring the surface of a hostile alien world to life. Shot entirely on sound stages at Cinecitta Studios in Rome, many of the planetscape scenes in POTV anticipate the yet-to-come STAR TREK television series.

The crew members all wear black leather spacesuits with yellow/gold piping (and very high and stiff collars) making them all look like students at Professor Charles Xavier's School for Gifted Students. The spaceship sets are cavernous and the tech and hardware on display is strictly off the shelf of a mid-60s Italian electronics surplus store.

Uber wooden Barry Sullivan is the only American actor in the cast but nobody watches PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES for the great performances (there aren't any). The chief appeal of the film is the fact that it clearly influenced Ridley Scott's ALIEN (1979) (as did IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958)).

 A distress call from a cloud covered world. Huge spaceships with tripodal landing gear. A fog enshrouded planet surface with weird rock formations. A spaceship exit port that looks like a giant condom. A derelict alien spacecraft. Skeletal remains of giant aliens. An escape from the planet only to discover that aliens are actually aboard. All of these plot elements are in both PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES and ALIEN.

PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES isn't a great film but it's a genre touchstone for many of us monster kids. It's got a great little twist ending and it's worth seeing at least once if you're a horror/science fiction film enthusiast but I can't recommend it to a wider audience.

Friday, September 27, 2013

MY AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.

September, 1966.

 That was the month I made the conscious decision to purchase every Marvel comic book on the stands each month. It wasn't too difficult. There were only about a dozen titles released each month and with the regular size comics priced at twelve cents (giant-size issues cost a quarter), it was financially feasible on my admittedly limited 5th grade budget.

Thus, STRANGE TALES #151, became the first issue of that title I purchased. I don't know why I hadn't bought any issues prior to that. I'd certainly seen the house ads in other Marvel Comics for the series and I'm sure I'd seen copies of STRANGE TALES on the spinner rack. Plus, I was a huge fan of both James Bond and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. so S.H.I.E.L.D. should have been right up my alley.

Turns out it was as I discovered once I'd purchased and read STRANGE TALES #151. The cover is terrific, a pairing of two of my all time favorite comic book artists: Jack (The King) Kirby and Jim Steranko. Kirby started out pencilling the series when it debuted and soon moved to providing breakdowns and layouts for other artists. Steranko was then the bold new kid on the artistic block and before Stan Lee was ready to turn him lose as sole writer and artist on the S.H.I.E.L.D. strip, he had Kirby pencil this issue with Steranko inking the King's work. The result was pure comic book magic.


I loved this story and instantly became a fan of Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Supreme Headquarters Intelligence Espionage Law Division was what those letters originally stood for, by the way). Nick Fury, the WWII veteran, now wearing an eye-patch (which upped the cool quotient) and promoted to the rank of colonel from sergeant, was now the director of the super-secret spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. The supporting cast included two former Howlers (from SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS, Marvel's monthly WWII war book, another comic I bought on a regular basis): Dum Dum Dugan and Gabe Jones, Jimmy Woo, Val (Fury's girlfriend) and the lovely Agent 13, Sharon Carter (who was Captain America's sweetheart). All of those connective threads helped make the Marvel Universe a fun and cohesive world of the imagination.

Once Steranko took complete control of the S.H.I.E.L.D. strip, my young mind was well and truly blown. He delivered dazzling artwork that combined pyrotechnic psychedelia with hardware fetish, cinematic action scenes, innovative layouts and page designs and incredible plots and story lines every month in ten page installments. 

In the spring of 1968, Steranko really got a chance to cut lose when STRANGE TALES was cancelled and the book's co-features, Dr. Strange and Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. were given their own respective individual full length books. With a full twenty pages to work with, Steranko went wild producing some of the greatest comics of the Silver Age.

Alas, it was not for long. Steranko left the book after a few issues and his work appeared on an irregular basis in Marvel comic books. A cover here, a short story there, maybe a run of two or three issues someplace else. Steranko's work was always a pleasure to behold (it still is) but nothing can compare to the sheer visceral thrill I experienced on that fall day, now forty-seven years gone, when I bought STRANGE TALES #151. 

MY FAMOUS MONSTERS 31

Vincent Price's fire-ravaged visage from HOUSE OF WAX (art by Basil Gogos) graces the cover of FAMOUS MONSTERS #64. This issue features a look at the first wave of 3-D films from the 1950s, an article about Boris Karloff's grandchildren (!), Bela Lugosi in MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE and the Japanese giant monster classic DESTROY ALL MONSTERS. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

THE LONE RANGER & ZORRO: THE DEATH OF ZORRO

Like 99% of all of the comic books I've read that were published by Dynamite, the cover art (by Alex Ross) of THE LONE RANGER/ZORRO: THE DEATH OF ZORRO, is absolutely the single best thing about the comic. Every comic from Dynamite I've read has seduced me by it's cover and then profoundly disappointed me with the interior story and art.

THE LONE RANGER/ZORRO: THE DEATH OF ZORRO is no exception to this rule. The script by Ande Parks is okay but certainly nothing spectacular. Do the Lone Ranger and Zorro meet in this story? Yes and no. Does Zorro die in this story? Yes and no. I'm not being coy, just telling the truth.

In addition to a somewhat lackluster story, the art, by Esteve Polis, is also slightly below average. I had trouble telling Tonto and other native Americans apart in several places. The coloring is extremely dark and somewhat muddy at times. The storytelling is good but the art is just too generic for my taste. At times I thought I could see such artistic influences as Marshall Rogers and John Severin. Both of those men are, unfortunately, no longer with us. But boy, either one of those guys, both first rate comic book artists, could have really gone to town on this one.

Recommended only to hardcore Lone Ranger and/or Zorro fans.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

THE AMERICAN WAY

I scored a copy of the trade paperback collection of THE AMERICAN WAY in a recent trade with another comic book collector. I sat down and read it yesterday afternoon and I was very impressed.

THE AMERICAN WAY is an eight-issue mini-series published by DC Comics under the Wildstorm imprint in 2006. The story is by John Ridley and the art by Georges Jeanty.

The year is 1961. Wes Catham is an ad-man for an automobile company. When he loses his job shilling cars, he's contacted by United States Attorney General Robert Kennedy to come to work for the government. Instead of selling cars, he's selling super-heroes. The Civil Defense Corps to be exact, a team of super-powered men and women who are not all that they appear to be.

Turns out the CDC is the equivalent of professional wrestling. The fights and the villains are fake and the outcome of their battles is always the pre-determined, scripted same thing. The good guys always win.

Some of the members of the CDC do have real super powers, the results of genetic manipulation by the government to induce superior abilities. A couple of them are just average joes with lots of gimmicks.

But when a member of the team dies unexpectedly during a scripted battle, Wes has to spin the death and find a suitable replacement hero. He does so in the person of the New American, a new, genetically enhanced hero who also happens to be the first black superhero in a still segregated nation.

There's more to this compelling series, much more. There's superhero thrills and action, political intrigue, a high body count, racial tension, a surprise villain and some unexpected twists and turns. The story is well told by Ridley with three-dimensional characters who all have their various motivations for doing what they do. Wes, the narrator and more-or-less hero of the book struggles mightily to provide hope and faith to a nation desperately in need of both commodities but fears he's lost his soul in the process. The art by Georges Jeanty is good and his story-telling abilities are first rate.

THE AMERICAN WAY is one of many post-modern deconstructions of the super-hero trope. It puts comic book heroes into a real world, historically accurate setting. It's dark, grim and gritty in several places but ultimately hopeful and optimistic. The world is a vastly different place at the end of this graphic novel than it was at the beginning. And that's a good thing.

THE AMERICAN WAY is recommended and well worth your time and effort to track down a copy and check it out.

MY FAMOUS MONSTERS 30

Peter Lorre from MAD LOVE is beautifully rendered by Basil Gogos for the cover of FAMOUS MONSTERS #63. This issue features coverage of the various cinematic versions of the Orlac story (by the way, MAD LOVE is one terrific film!) plus photos of Boris Karloff in his Frankenstein make-up. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

TOP TEN THINGS YOU DON'T WANT TO SEE IN A KULL FILM


1. Kevin Sorbo. This guy was wrong as Hercules and he's equally wrong as Kull. The part requires an actor of much larger physical stature who is able to play a dark and brooding character. The Rock maybe? And whatever happened to Kull's earned-in-battle facial scar?

2. Electric guitars and a rock and roll band scoring the opening fight sequence.I don't know who Joel Goldsmith is, maybe Jerry's little brother or son. But this man had no business to score this film the way he did.

3. Bloodless fight sequences. There are several fights in the film in which characters swing broadswords and battle axes at each other with never a drop of blood spilled. I don't want to come across as bloodthirsty, but I do want to see blood and gore in my sword-and-sorcery movies.

4. A PG-13 rating. In addition to more extreme violence, the s&s genre requires some nudity (male and female) and sex. An antiseptic, cleaned up KULL just doesn't make the cut.

5. A simpering, mincing, effeminate royal eunuch.

6. Harvey Fierstein. As a gay pirate captain no less.

7. Special effects that look like they belong in a made-for-television movie on SyFy. KULL THE CONQUEROR, filmed in Slovakia, has a cramped visual style and offers no big money shots, no epic battle scenes, no sweeping shots of magnificent ancient cities. The royal throne room looks under-designed and Kull's tiger banner looks like it was painted by a high-school cheer squad. A visionary director, a much bigger budget, state of the art CGI and a faithfulness to the source material could give us a KULL film on the level of LORD OF THE RINGS. Don't hold your breath.

8. One liners.

9. Royal crowns that look like hotel room wastebaskets.

10. A villain with a mullet.

KULL THE CONQUEROR (1997), which I suffered through this afternoon, displays a complete and total disregard of the Robert E. Howard source material. Howard wrote several very good Kull stories but this mess isn't based on any of them. Shame on you "technical advisor" L. Sprague De Camp, screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue and rookie director John Nicolella.
The works of Robert E. Howard have not done well on the silver screen. There have been three CONAN films (two of which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger), one RED SONJA film, a never-released-in-the-states SOLOMON KANE film and the abomination that is KULL, and none of them have, in my opinion, done justice to the imagination and storytelling powers of REH. In fact, the best cinematic depictions of Robert E. Howard style material that I can think of are the opening battle scene in Ridley Scott's GLADIATOR (2000) and the entirety of Mel Gibson's BRAVEHEART (1995). 

Robert E. Howard himself was fairly and accurately portrayed by Vincent D'Onofrio in the marvelous independent film THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD (1996), with Renee Zellweger as Novalyne Price, the only woman (outside of his mother) that Howard had any kind of a relationship with in his short and tragic life.

You want a good Kull story? Go to the original source material. It's never been beaten. Heck, there are many issues of Marvel Comics' KULL that are far better than this film.

 By Valka it stinks!


MY FAMOUS MONSTERS 29

Basil Gogos provides a portrait of Fredric March as Mr. Hyde for the cover of FAMOUS MONSTERS #62. In addition to an article about Jekyll & Hyde, this issue features the conclusion of the MARK OF THE VAMPIRE film book, the final chapter of the film book of the classic '50s sf film, THE THING, What's New In Horrorwood (again, how many of these announced films were ever actually made and released?) and the Graveyard Examiner. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA II

The other day, I stumbled across a book sale taking place at the Pflugerville Public Library. They were selling used mass market paperbacks three for a dollar. I scored the first two Travis McGee mysteries by John D. MacDonald, three 87th Precinct crime novels by Ed McBain and SWAG by Elmore Leonard. Not bad for $2.00.

Then I wandered over to the table where they had used DVDs for sale. Again, the price was three for a dollar. How could I go wrong at thirty-three cents a pop? I walked away with TOO LATE THE HERO, THE WAR LOVER, INHERIT THE WIND, PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES, KULL and GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA II.

Rainy afternoons like we've enjoyed in the Austin area today are perfect for watching a cheesy Godzilla movie so I sat down with GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA II and some popcorn today and had a blast. This film was made in 1993 and featured much improved special effects (though Godzilla is still primarily a guy in a rubber suit). The storyline is a bit more serious and less campy than some of the Godzilla films of the '60s and '70s. The fight card includes Godzilla, Rodan, Baby Godzilla and Mechagodzilla. Here, Mechagodzilla is actually a giant robot with a crew of four humans operating the immense battle machine (a plot device very similar to this summer's PACIFIC RIM). My only gripe is that the DVD features the English dubbed-version (I prefer watching these films in their original Japanese versions with English subtitles whenever possible) and judging from some of the abrupt edits, it appears that some scenes may be missing.

Is it a great movie? What do you think? It's no classic but GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA II delivered the full thirty-three cents worth of fun.

MY FAMOUS MONSTERS 28

A nice, moody, atmospheric scene from MARK OF THE VAMPIRE adorns the cover of FAMOUS MONSTERS #61. MARK OF THE VAMPIRE was the sound remake of the long-lost and legendary silent film LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT. Both films were directed by Tod Browning. MARK OF THE VAMPIRE features the great Bela Lugosi as a "vampire" (not Dracula) but the whole thing turns out to be a Scooby-Doo. The film is well worth seeing though.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

MY FAMOUS MONSTERS 27

A portrait of Dorian Gray by the legendary Basil Gogos graces the cover of FAMOUS MONSTERS #60. Features in this issue include the conclusion of the FRANKENSTEIN film book, previews of New Monster Movies (wonder how many of 'em ever actually got made and released), Incredible Man Eating Plants, the ever popular Mystery Photo and The Graveyard Examiner. Cover copy promises more photos, more stories and more features but not more pages. To the best of my knowledge, this issue of FM has the same page count as the previous one. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

RONIN

"Have you ever killed someone?"

"I hurt a guys' feelings once."

I watched RONIN (1998) for the second time yesterday afternoon. I remember seeing this film when it was first released. I enjoyed it both times.

RONIN is a taut, terrific crime thriller that features not one, but two hell-and-gone car chases. One through the countryside surrounding the French city of Nice (and the narrow streets of the city) and another through Parisian streets and underground tunnels (with two vehicles heading into oncoming traffic). But the brilliantly staged and executed car chases are only part of the appeal of this film.

RONIN is the story of a team of former special forces and intelligence agents who are hired to steal a very mysterious and heavily guarded case, the contents of which are never revealed (a great McGuffin in the Hitchcock tradition).

The members of the team include Sam (Robert DeNiro) an ex-CIA operative, Spence (Sean Bean) a British agent who is strangely short on experience, Larry (Skipp Sudduth) another American and ace getaway driver, Gregor (Stellan Skarsgard), the computer whiz of the group (and every borderline criminal group needs a computer whiz as part of the team when they're plotting a caper) and Vincent (Jean Reno), a Frenchman whose past is never fully revealed.

The men are recruited and led by IRA member Deirdre (Natascha McElhone), who is clearly taking orders from someone above. That someones' identity remains unknown for much of the film.

A plan is set in motion to steal the valued suitcase, a plan that includes a well executed (and violent) ambush on a convoy of automobiles. But Gregor double crosses his teammates, replacing the real case with an identical case that is really a bomb. The surviving members are now on the hunt for Gregor but there are a multitude of plot twists and turns to come before the final resolution.

RONIN was directed by the great John Frankenheimer. The master is in good form here and the screenplay by David Mamet and J.D. Zeik is suitably dark and ambiguous. The cast is first rate and it's always a pleasure to watch De Niro in anything. With beautiful, exotic locales throughout France, blistering action scenes and a pretzel of a plot, RONIN is a winner.

Trivia: two of the actors in the film also starred as villains in James Bond films. Michael Lonsdale was in MOONRAKER while Jonathan Pryce was in TOMORROW NEVER DIES. 

MY FAMOUS MONSTERS 26

A nice cover painting by Basil Gogos of Boris Karloff as THE MUMMY leads off FAMOUS MONSTERS #58. Features in this issue include Rowan and Martin in THE MALTESE BIPPY (one scene in which Dick Martin turns into a werewolf validates this turkey of a film being featured in FM? Forry was grasping if you ask me), THE MUMMY (Karloff, got it!) and RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

"I'M BATMAN"

My apologies for not weighing in on this topic sooner. It's kinda old news by now but I wanted to express my thoughts about the recent announcement that Ben Affleck will play Batman in the next Superman (or is it a Batman?) film.

My first thought is that I have no problems with this casting choice. None at all. There are a lot of fans out there who hated the DAREDEVIL movie in which Affleck starred as the sightless swashbuckler. I don't think DAREDEVIL was a very good film but I don't blame it's failure on Affleck. He was perfectly acceptable to me as Matt Murdock/Daredevil. The failure of the Daredevil film must fall upon the screenwriters and the director, not on Affleck's performance. After all, he could only say what was written in the script and do what the director told him. So, no, a bad Affleck starring Daredevil film doesn't automatically mean he'll be bad as Batman.

You want bad casting choices in comic book superhero films? How about Halle Berry as Catwoman? Josh Brolin as Jonah Hex?  Nicholas Cage starred in not one but two godawful Ghost Rider films (and yes, I do blame Cage for those films being so bad). Keanu Reeves was horribly miscast as John Constantine and the last two schmucks to play the Punisher have paled in comparison to the cheesy magnificence of Dolph Lundgren.

Of course, this isn't the first time there's been a fanboy kerfuffle over an actor chosen to play the Dark Knight. Remember how everyone was so very much up-in-arms back in 1989 when it was announced that Michael (MR. MOM) Keaton would play Batman in Tim Burton's film? You would have thought it was a sign of the apocalypse that an actor known for playing comedy roles could possibly be chosen as the grim and gritty Batman.

Turns out Keaton did a very respectable job as the caped crusader in the two Burton directed films he starred in. He was certainly better than what came after, Val Kilmer and George Clooney, in the cinematic trainwrecks directed by Joel Schumacher.

So, I'm on board for Affleck as Batman. However, what I really want to see in this film is an adversarial relationship between the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight. At the end of this year's MAN OF STEEL film, Superman was positioned as the most dangerously powerful man on the face of the earth. There was no Kryptonite in the film so there is effectively no way to stop him should he ever turn against us puny humans.

It will take one man with the money, the brains and the will to stop him. And I'm not talking about Lex Luthor. Batman should come up with a way to keep Superman in check should the need ever arise. The two should start out as distrusting each other and butting heads before being forced to team-up against a real threat that's bigger than either one of the men could handle alone.

And again, I'm not talking about Lex Luthor. Let's leave him on the shelf for the time being. I suggest Brainiac as the villain in the film. And once he's vanquished, Batman and Superman should have a grudging respect for each other and realize that there may be bigger threats on the horizon that will require some additional super-powered help.

A threat like Darkseid would set the stage nicely for the Justice League of America film.

Of course, I have no idea if this is how the film will be written or not but I can't wait to see it. 

MY FAMOUS MONSTERS 25

THE GREEN SLIME, a perfectly dreadful Japanese science fiction film, is the cover feature of FAMOUS MONSTERS #57. It's recycled one-sheet movie poster art and having seen this film not too long ago, I can attest that the poster is far and away the best thing about the film.

Also in this issue, the FRANKENSTEIN film book is continued from the previous issue, Monster Horrorscope makes it debut, as does the Graveyard Examiner, two features designed to give readers and fans a more interactive experience. That's interactive 1969 style. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

MY FAMOUS MONSTERS 24

In my estimation this is perhaps the single best issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS ever published. Issue number fifty-six is entirely devoted to honoring the life and career of the one and only Boris Karloff. It's just too bad that Boris had to pass away for us to get such a great issue.

From the magnificent cover by Basil Gogos, through all of the articles, including a FRANKENSTEIN filmbook, this is one terrific issue. Not long after this issue was published, Ace Books released this paperback:




Edited by Forry, this book is chock full of articles about Karloff, many of which originally appeared in the pages of FAMOUS MONSTERS. You better believe I've got this beauty in my collection!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

MY FAMOUS MONSTERS 23

I'm surprised that Forry didn't go with a line that read "Animals, Beasts & Creatures!" for an A-B-C style cover copy. Nonetheless, FAMOUS MONSTERS #55 has a great cover spotlighting the then new ABC-TV series LAND OF THE GIANTS.

This same artwork served as the box art for the Aurora LAND OF THE GIANTS plastic model kit, which I purchased and built. In addition to the big snake/little people kit, there was a kit of the Spindrift, the spaceship that brought the earth men and women to the planet of the giants. I never had that one.

I do recall having a LAND OF THE GIANTS tie-in paperback novel, published by Pyramid and a few issues of the Gold Key LAND OF THE GIANTS comic book. But for some reason, I didn't watch LAND OF THE GIANTS every week. I saw it a few times and I know that I enjoyed it but I didn't see nearly as many episodes of this show as I did the other science fiction television shows produced by Irwin Allen: LOST IN SPACE, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA and TIME TUNNEL. I've got the complete TIME TUNNEL series and Season One of VOYAGE on DVD.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

THE ROMANOFF JEWELS

I finished reading THE ROMANOFF JEWELS, a Shadow pulp novel from 1932, the other evening. As usual when reading a Shadow yarn, I read the entire book aloud to my lovely wife Judy so we could enjoy the adventure together.

And yes, that's the paperback reprint pictured above that I read. Pyramid books reprinted several Shadow pulps in the 1970s and they all featured terrific cover paintings by the great Jim Steranko. He really captured the mood, atmosphere and action of the Shadow stories.

THE ROMANOFF JEWELS involves the Shadow in his first case of international intrigue and pursuit. Two warring factions vie for possession of the famed Romanoff jewels, an incredible treasure trove that once belonged to the Russian czars. One party is loyal to the deposed monarchy and strives to prevent the jewels from being stolen. Their adversary is a ruthless Bolshevik and his gang, men who give their lives in service of the new Russian dictatorial regime. The Shadow may be in the middle of this conflict but he's always a step ahead of his adversaries.

This is a fast moving tale that starts in New York City then moves to Moscow, Paris, a transatlantic ocean liner and finally back to NYC. The body count is high, there's a nice twist ending that I didn't see coming and a very little bit of information is gleaned about the Shadow's origin.

THE ROMANOFF JEWELS may be an eighty-one-year old pulp novel but it's a corker. Thumbs up!

MY FAMOUS MONSTERS 22

FAMOUS MONSTERS #54 leads off with a terrific cover painting of a "saucer man" from the film, INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN. Features include: previews of new horror movies, THE PREHISTORIC STORY, a brief overview of films starring dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures, INVASION OF THE VAMPIRES, DRACULA 2000 and Christopher Lee! Great stuff!

Monday, September 9, 2013

MY FAMOUS MONSTERS 21

Nice portrait of the Amazing Colossal Man on the cover of FAMOUS MONSTERS #53. The image is recycled from an earlier issue of FM. See all that cover copy about a "see a flesh -crawling gang of the most famous monsters ever created come to life!"? That's code for: Forry didn't have much new material for this issue so all you monster kid readers will have to do with stuff you may have already seen before. 

CAT CHASER

Right there, on the list of books I've read on Goodreads, it shows the following titles by the late, great Elmore Leonard: ESCAPE FROM FIVE SHADOWS, THE BIG BOUNCE, MR. PARADISE, THE BOUNTY HUNTERS and BANDITS. I just added another title to the list: CAT CHASER.

Finished reading this one the other day and boy, is it a good one. Didn't start out that way though. Starts out with the usual Leonard lowlifes. Quirky characters, some good, some bad, some badder. Great dialogue as always but a meandering first hundred pages or so. I'm not quite sure where the story is going. Think I do but then he throws me a twist.

The story concerns one George Moran, an ex-Marine who owns the Coconut Palms, a small hotel just north of Miami. Business is good, not great but he has steady customers in one room: a piano player and the sister of a former general de Boya, who was a strong arrm guy for a now deposed Latin American dictator.

Moran gets an itch to take a trip to the Dominican Republic, where he served with the U.S. Marines during a brief uprising in the mid-1960s. He was shot at by a sniper who turned out to be a teenage girl. Moran wants to see if he can find the girl, now all grown up. He puts an ad in the paper and signs it "Cat Chaser", the name of his rifle squad from the old days.

Moran doesn't find the girl but he finds a sleazy guy, name of Rafi, who claims he can put Moran in touch with her. Moran also meets Mary, current wife of ex-general de Boya. Moran and Mary are hot for each other. Very hot.

Back in the states, Moran urges Mary to leave de Boya. She plans to but before she can execute her escape, some other things get in the way. Things like Rafi, who has followed Moran and Mary back to the states with blackmail on his mind. He knows Mary is de Boya's wife. Figures there's money to be made.

Other guys know there's money to be made from de Boya. Guys like Jiggs Scully, ex-cop and sometime mob muscleman and Nolen Tyner, former actor, sometime private investigator and permanent resident of the Palms.

Almost everyone wants to get money out of de Boya, legally or otherwise. Moran and Mary get caught in the middle of some schemes and scams that turn deadly. Will they take the money and run or will they have to stand their ground against some very bad guys?

CAT CHASER is vintage Elmore Leonard and if you've read any of his books, you know what that means. Leonard, the old-pro, sucked me in. Even when nothing was really happening in the book, just a lot of character development, dialogue and a kind of let's-go-here, now-let's-go-there plot, I couldn't stop reading. By the time he drops the hammer and the real messy business of cross and double cross kicks in, he had me. Boy, did he.

CAT CHASER. Elmore Leonard. Thumbs up.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

52 PICK-UP

I watched 52 PICK-UP (1986) yesterday afternoon. I've been on sort of an Elmore Leonard kick this week. In addition to watching this film (Leonard co-wrote the screenplay from his novel of the same name), I watched 3:10 TO YUMA, finished reading CAT CHASER and started reading PRONTO. I'll post a full review of CAT CHASER soon.

52 PICK-UP stars Roy Scheider as Los Angeles businessman Harry Mitchell. Ann-Margret co-stars as his wife, Barbara. Harry's business is going well and Barbara is about to run for city council woman when their world falls apart.

It seems that Harry's been having an affair with a much younger, twenty-two-year-old woman (Kelly Preston). Three uber sleazy blackmailers know all about Harry's dalliance and have plenty of photographic evidence on videotape. They show the tape to Harry and give him three days to come up with $10,000, the first payment of an eventual $105,000.

Harry pays the money in the form of shredded newspapers which angers the blackmailers and causes them to up the ante. They show Harry another videotape in which his young mistress is shot at point blank range using Harry's own gun. He's now framed for murder and the price just went up to $105,000 per year. Forever.

Harry can only raise $52,000 but he doesn't intend to pay it. He starts his own counter campaign against the three men, playing each against the other. This causes the deaths of two of the men.

The remaining sleaze (brilliantly played by John Glover), kidnaps Barbara and uses her as a bargaining chip. Harry agrees to pay the $52,000 plus his vintage Jaguar XKE in return for the release of his wife. The sleaze agrees and an exchange is made.

 But Harry has one final trick up his sleeve.

52 PICK-UP is a taut, terrific little crime thriller. John Frankenheimer's direction is assured and the cast is first rate. The screenplay relocates the action from Detroit as in the novel to Los Angeles. The milieu of the mid-80s adult film industry is perfectly captured (all three blackmailers have connections to the sex business) and the appearance of bonafide porn star Amber Lynn in one scene adds a great deal of verisimilitude.

But come on. No man, I mean NO man, who's married to Ann-Margret is going to fool around with a younger woman. Heck, if it was me, I'd never leave the house!

MY FAMOUS MONSTERS 20

FAMOUS MONSTERS makes it to issue number fifty with a recycled cover painting of Gorgo. Features in this issue include GORGO (got it!) THE DEVIL BAT (need it!), TARANTULA (got it!) and Monster Comics (inventory left over from either CREEPY or EERIE).

 A couple of other things to note. FAMOUS MONSTERS is no longer square bound as the previous issues were and there's a short-lived logo corner box on the front cover (similar to what was then appearing on the covers of Marvel Comics titles) to help identify FM on newsstands where it didn't receive a full face-out display.  

Saturday, September 7, 2013

3:10 TO YUMA




I watched 3:10 TO YUMA yesterday. I've seen the film several times over the years and I always enjoy watching it. I wrote notes for the film when it was shown this summer as part of the Paramount Theatre's Summer Classic Film Series. Here they are.

By the time 3:10 to Yuma was released in 1957, audiences had seen almost twenty years of adult western films. During the 1950s, the genre became even more sharply defined as psychological themes began to be explored in westerns (without sacrificing any of the action which was a hallmark of the genre). This type of “western noir” was best exemplified in the films made by director Anthony Mann and starring James Stewart beginning with Winchester ’73 (1950).  

3:10 to Yuma fits nicely into this cycle of films. Based on a short story by Elmore Leonard, Yuma is a tightly wound exercise in suspense, a claustrophobic nail-biter that eschews the wide-open spaces of traditional westerns for the intense drama of two men in a hotel room engaged in a cat-and-mouse game of nerves and wits. A rancher Dan Evans (Van Heflin), is assigned the task of guarding a vicious outlaw, Ben Wade (Glenn Ford) while waiting for the 3:10 train to arrive in town. It’s Dan’s job to keep Wade in safe custody and get him on the train out of town. The trouble is Dan has no experience as a lawman and Wade, fully aware of Dan’s limitations, starts playing mind games with him, trying to unsettle him into making a fatal mistake. Plus, Wade’s gang, led by Charlie Prince (Richard Jaeckel, who made a career out of playing toadies), is heading towards town with one goal: free Wade.  

Ford is terrific, playing against type as the wily outlaw and Heflin is solid as a man trying to do his best in a job he doesn’t want and isn’t trained for.  Tight, taut and exciting, 3:10 to Yuma is a gritty little western film that was both a critical and commercial success. The film was remade in 2007 with Russell Crowe as Ben Wade and Christian Bale as Dan Evans. The remake is more expansive and action filled than the original and while it’s not a bad movie at all, it’s the original that remains the better version of Leonard’s original material. Other western films based on Elmore Leonard novels include Hombre (1967), Valdez Is Coming (1971) and Ulzana’s Raid (1972). All three are highly recommended.

That's what I wrote for the Paramount. Here is my 3:10 TO YUMA story.

Several years ago, I attended a screening of 3:10 TO YUMA at the old Dobie Theatre in Dobie Mall. The screening was presented by the Austin Film Society. A member of the AFS, a young man whose name I don't recall, introduced the film. He wasn't the worst public speaker I've ever seen but he committed a cardinal sin in his introduction of the film.

He admitted to a theater full of film fans that he'd "never seen this movie but it's supposed to be pretty good." I cringed when I heard that. I had seen the film and knew a little bit about it. I was tempted to jump up, tell this guy to take a seat and speak informatively about the film we were about to see. I knew I could do a better job than this enthusiastic but unprepared young man.

I've introduced a lot of films over the years and I've seen the majority of them. On the few occasions when I've introduced a film I hadn't seen, I damn sure didn't admit that to the audience. What kind of a film expert gets up in front of a theater full of people and admits that they haven't seen the work on display? Besides that, an introduction should never be about the person doing the introduction. The audience assumes you've seen the film but they don't want to know what you think about it. They want to know something about the film, not you. 

I always keep that in mind when I'm introducing a film. It's always about the movie, never about me.