Saturday, September 26, 2015


I finished reading Alfred Bester's debut science fiction novel THE DEMOLISHED MAN (1953) the other day. I raced through this one at a wicked pace. Of the three vintage science fiction novels I've recently read, including THE NAKED SUN by Isaac Asimov and TAU ZERO by Poul Anderson, this one is far and away the best. Bester was, in my opinion, the best writer of the three and his groundbreaking first novel is both an award winner and a certifiable genre classic.

Originally published in three parts beginning in the January 1952 issue of GALAXY SCIENCE FICTION, Bester published the novel in 1953. Bester wanted to title the novel DEMOLITION! but GALAXY editor H.L. Gold talked him out of it. THE DEMOLISHED MAN was the first winner of the Hugo Award for Best Novel of the Year in 1953.

Like Asimov's NAKED SUN, THE DEMOLISHED MAN is a science fiction/detective novel. In the 24th century, Ben Reich, a wealthy businessman and owner of the immense Monarch Company fears a take-over of his interests by rival businessman Craye D'Courtney. To forestall the take over, Reich plots to murder D'Courtney. But how do you commit a murder in a world in which a percentage of the population are "Espers", that is, mind readers, or "peepers" as they're called in the language of the day. Peepers are classed according to their abilities on a scale from 1 to 3 with Class 1 being the highest.

Reich enlists a Class 1 peeper, Augustus Tate, to run interference for him and to protect him from Police Prefect Lincoln Powell, who is also a Class 1 peeper. Reich commits the audacious crime and soon finds himself on the run with Powell dogging his every move. Reich and Powell engage in an intricate and breathlessly plotted game of cat and mouse, with action occurring in both the physical world as well as the mental. Should Powell finally gather the evidence to convict Reich, Reich faces the horrifying fate of demolition, the details of which are vividly displayed in the books' final chapters.

It's an intriguing concept and Bester executes it beautifully. He plays with language and, in some sections, the way words are laid out on the page to approximate what it's like inside peepers' minds. He creates a fully realized future world populated by a variety of colorful characters, some good, some bad. But he never forgets that he's telling a thrilling, suspenseful detective story.  I won't say much more about this terrific book except to say that I loved it. If you're a science fiction fan, THE DEMOLISHED MAN is a must read. If you're a genre novice, this is an excellent place to start.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


My buddy Kelly Greene and I watched TENSION (1949) yesterday. It was the first time for both of us to experience this wire taut film noir.

Warren Quimby (Richard Basehart) is a milquetoast pharmacist with a very bad wife, Claire (Audrey Totter). She's the classic film noir femme fatale, a woman who openly and flagrantly cheats on her husband. Claire takes up with wealthy businessman Barney Deager (Lloyd Gough).  The cuckolded Quimby decides to murder Deager but in order to do so, he creates a false identity, "Paul Southern". His plan is to kill Deager as Southern and then have the non-existent Southern disappear forever.

To pull off the deceit, Quimby gets contact lenses to replace his wire rim glasses (shades of Clark Kent!). He rents an apartment under the Southern name, explaining that he's a traveling salesman and will only use the apartment on the weekends. But he meets an attractive neighbor, Mary Chanler (Cyd Charisse) and they start to fall in love.

Quimby goes to Daeger's beach house at night to kill him but finds he cannot do it. He decides that living with the rotten and corrupt Claire is punishment enough for the man. Relieved of his anger, and free of his cheating wife, Quimby is ready to start a new life with Mary.

But someone does kill Daeger and all of the evidence points towards "Paul Southern". Enter a pair of police detectives, Lt. Collier Bonnabel (Barry Sullivan) and Lt. Edgar Gonsales (William Conrad). They can't find Southern or the murder weapon but an unexpected turn of events points the finger of suspicion at Quimby. Bonnabel starts romancing Claire in order to try and get the goods on her husband. The cops aren't totally crooked but they do use some questionable tactics to solve the case.

TENSION is a first rate film noir. It's a classic exercise in suspense where a man finds himself hopelessly trapped in a spiraling series of circumstances, many of which are of his own creation. Basehart is good as the mild mannered Quimby while Totter drips venom in every scene. She's a very, very bad girl. Charisse is solid as is Sullivan but I got the biggest kick out of watching Conrad. He was always one of my favorite actors, whether playing good guys or bad.

Directed by John Berry from a screenplay by Allen Rivkin (based on a story by John D. Klorer), TENSION moves along at a good clip. The cinematography by Harry Stradling is appropriately moody and atmospheric and there are several scenes shot on location in Los Angles that really add to the realism of the film.

If you're a film noir fan, check out TENSION. I guarantee you'l enjoy it. Thumbs up.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


I finished reading Poul Anderson's science fiction novel TAU ZERO (1970), the other day. It was the first time I'd read this one and I enjoyed it. Originally published as a short story "To Outlive Eternity" in GALAXY SCIENCE FICTION in 1967, Anderson expanded his story into novel form in 1970. The book received a Hugo Award Nomination for Best Novel in 1971.

The story concerns the star ship Leonora Christine, a massive vessel designed to carry a crew of fifty people (twenty-five men and twenty-five women), to a planet in a distant star system. The plan is for the ship to steadily accelerate it's rate of speed during the first part of the voyage and then begin to gradually decelerate for the second part. But when the ship passes through a nebulina (a cloud of dust and gas)  before reaching the halfway point, the crew discovers that they cannot repair the decelerator, nor can they turn off the accelerator.

The result is that the ship becomes a "Flying Dutchman" of space and time as it journeys deeper into the universe at an ever increasing rate of speed. The ship eventually move out into a starless void where the crew discovers that the universe has reached it's limit and is now beginning to collapse back into an immense block of proto matter which is set to explode in another "big bang" event, effectively creating a new universe. Will the ship and crew survive this journey beyond space and time?

Anderson focuses the story on a few members of the crew but his main protagonist is Charles Reymont, the Ship's Constable. He's cold, distant, unemotional and runs the ship with a firm but fair hand. He eventually becomes the de-facto leader of the crew when the ship's captain, Lars Telander, proves incapable of leading. Reymont is in love with Ingrid Lindgren, the Ship's First Officer but during the voyage, she rejects Reymont and takes up Boris Federoff, the Ship's Chief Engineer. Reymont then begins a relationship with Chi-Yuen Ai-Ling, a planetologist.

All of this partner switching could easily devolve into soap opera but Anderson deftly balances the immense psychological stresses and strains the crew undergoes with the hard science of the star ship's propulsion system and the sheer wonder, awe and mystery of the universe as it lives, dies and lives again.

TAU ZERO is a good, solid novel. It's regarded by many as a quintessential example of hard science ficiton with the plot driven by technology as much as characters. I enjoyed it and look forward to reading other Poul Anderson science fiction novels. Thumbs up.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


After watching THE SPLIT (1968) a while back, I decided to read the novel the film was based on. THE SEVENTH, by Richard Stark (Donald Westlake) is, appropriately, the seventh novel in Stark's series of novels about master thief Parker. The book was originally published in 1966. The edition I read, pictured above, was published in March, 1985. I bought it when it came out and it's been sitting on my shelves, unread, ever since. Until now.

As always, the book is better than the film, although, to be fair the film was good, just vastly different from the book. The book opens with the murder of  Ellie, a girl Parker has shacked up with after the big football stadium heist. Parker finds her dead and all of the money from the robbery missing, along with several guns used in the crime. The actual heist itself is told in a one-chapter flashback. The real story concerns Parkers' efforts to find the mysterious killer who ran a sword through Ellie, stole the money and guns and has attempted to kill Parker several times.

Parker's crew numbers seven as opposed to the five men in the film. The killer isn't a landlord (he's an ex-boyfriend). Parker and police detective Dougherty share information but Dougherty isn't corrupt and doesn't end up with the money as happened in the film.

Instead, Stark tells a taut, tight, bullet swift tale of crooks falling out, with an ever increasing body count. Parker just wants his money back and nothing will stop him from recovering it. He's an implacable force of doom for any and all who stand in his way. There's a terrific climax in an under construction office building and a nice little stinger at the end.

If you've yet to experience the pure, adrenaline fueled rush of a Parker novel, you're missing something. These books are terrific. Parker is an unforgettable character and Stark never fails to come up with ingenious plots that pit Parker against multiple obstacles that must be overcome. Two big thumbs up.

Friday, September 11, 2015


I watched THE SPILT last Saturday in-between college football games (and don't get me started about that UT-Notre Dame game!) and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'd never seen this vintage caper film, based on the novel of the same name by Richard Stark (Donald Westlake). It's one of his books about master criminal Parker. I haven't read it yet but I'm about to start it today to see how it compares to the film.

Jim Brown stars as, not Parker, but McClain. He's recruited by Gladys (Julie Harris), to plan a heist at the Los Angeles Colosseum during a Rams football game. McClain puts together his crew, comprised of thug and muscle man Bert Clinger (Ernest Borgnine), getaway driver Harry Kifka (Jack Klugman), electronics expert and safe cracker Marty Gough (Warren Oates) and sharpshooter Dave Negli (Donald Sutherland).

They pull off the robbery and get away with over $500,000 in cash. But the heat is on and McClain stashes the money and guns with his ex-wife Ellie (Diahann Carroll). Ellie is attacked and murdered by her lecherous, psychopathic landlord Herb Sutro (James Whitmore). Sutro takes the money and runs.

Enter bent LAPD detective Walter Brill (Gene Hackman). He tracks down Sutro, kills him and takes the money. Everyone in McClain's gang think McClain has the money and they turn against him. Ultimately McClain and Brill join forces against the murderous thieves in a climatic gun battle.

Director Gordon Flemyng does a good job keeping the action moving. The screenplay by Robert Sabaroff is good but I don't know yet how it will compare to the novel. There's a lot of great vintage stock footage of the Los Angeles Rams football team back when they wore blue and white uniforms and Roman Gabriel was the quarterback. How about a show of hands for anyone who remembers those days?

The best thing about THE SPLIT is the cast. Jim Brown gets top billing, Diahann Carroll is lovely as ever, Gene Hackman, fresh off a Best Supporting Actor nomination for BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967), doesn't appear until the third act while Borgnine, Klugman, Oates and Sutherland all make good bad guys. Joyce Jameson and Jackie Joseph, both of whom appeared on THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW television series, make brief appearances.

What's also interesting is the connections between these actors. Consider this. Ernest Borgnine, Jim Brown and Donald Sutherland were all in THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967), Borgnine and Brown were in ICE STATION ZEBRA (1968), Borgnine and Oates were in THE WILD BUNCH (1969) and Borgnine and Hackman were in THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972). That's one helluva line up for a film festival right there.

THE SPILT is a tightly constructed caper film with a great cast. Thumbs up.

Saturday, September 5, 2015


A BIG HAND FOR THE LITTLE LADY (1966), is the second film I've watched recently dealing with a poker game. The other was THE CINCINNATI KID (1965) (which was the better film). I'm thinking I may have to schedule a viewing of COOL HAND LUKE (1967) soon. Remember, sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand.

I'd seen LITTLE LADY years ago and it was fun to revisit it, even though I knew what was coming. The story concerns an annual high stakes poker game in Laredo. The players are all high rollers and they include undertaker Tropp (Charles Bickford), cattleman Henry Drummond (Jason Robards), lawyer Otto Habershaw (Kevin McCarthy, whom I met once at a monster movie convention), Wilcox (Robert Middleton) and Buford (John Qualen).

Settlers Meredith (Henry Fonda), his wife Mary (Joanne Woodward) and their young son Jackie (Gerald Michenaud) are passing through town on their way to San Antonio when their wagon breaks. While repairs are being made, Meredith, a former gambling addict, asks to be allowed to just watch the game. Permission is granted and before you know it, he's joined the game and has lost all of the family's savings. When it's his turn to deal, it appears that everyone has been dealt a possible winning hand causing the pot to skyrocket. Before Meredith can bet, he suffers a heart attack and is forced to leave the game. Mary takes his place at the table, and with no knowledge of poker and aided by banker C.P. Ballinger (Paul Ford) who lends her money based on seeing her hand, she plays the game.

To say anything more would spoil the major third act plot twist. Suffice it to say, it's a doozy. A BIG HAND FOR THE LITTLE LADY has a great cast and it's well directed by Fielder Cook but the film has a slightly claustrophobic and stagy feel as much of the action takes place in a saloon back room where the poker game is played. That's no surprise because the material was originally written by Sidney Carroll as BIG DEAL IN LAREDO, an episode of the television series THE DUPONT SHOW OF THE WEEK in 1962. Carroll expanded his teleplay for the big screen and opened the action up a bit, added some characters and lengthened the running time. It still plays like a spruced up made-for-television movie but that really doesn't matter because the actors are all having fun and the gotcha is a very clever bit of sleight of hand.

I enjoyed A BIG HAND FOR THE LITTLE LADY. It's no classic but you could do much worse. It's a great way to kill 95 minutes on a Saturday afternoon.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


So I'm reading SIEGE: MIGHTY AVENGERS the other day. It's a Marvel Comics hardcover collection of MIGHTY AVENGERS #32-36. Published in 2010, it loosely ties into SIEGE, the cross-over event  flavor of the month at Marvel that year. It's not a bad collection of stories really. The line-up of the team is a bit wonky, but somehow, it works.

Henry Pym is now The Wasp (huh?). There's Hercules (yay!) and Amadeus Cho (boo!). Quicksilver (good). USAgent (not bad). Stature (aka Giant Girl). And the Vision (no, not that one, the other one). Oh, and Jocasta. A lot of Jocastas. The team resides in the Infinite Avengers Mansion, a place that has innumerable doorways to other places and times.

The first story arc collected herein finds the team disbanding after Pym tries to recruit, of all people, Loki as an Avenger. Thus ends issue #34. In the next issue, #35, we're told that "while there has been the odd time or two where we worked together again, and put on a brave face, for the sake of appearances, after the death of our teammate, Hercules, we finally went our separate ways."

Wait, what? Hercules died? When? How? I flipped back to make sure that this collection wasn't missing an issue. It wasn't. So the death of an Avenger, a member of this iteration of the Mighty Avengers, didn't even occur in the team's own book?

I've been a big Hercules fan ever since Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had him meet Thor way back in JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY ANNUAL #1 (1965). He's one of my favorite Marvel characters. I'd like to know when, where and how he died. Of course, I'm sure he's probably gotten better by now. After all this was five years ago.

But the "editor" of this comic book didn't bother to provide a footnote telling readers where they could find the story. That's lazy. That's wrong. That's disrespectful of the legacy of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby for not only creating the character but to the long standing tradition (begun by Stan), of providing those oh-so- helpful footnotes. I don't know, maybe it's not entirely the editor's fault. Maybe the Marvel powers that be decreed that writers and editors could not use footnotes any more.

I know I can quickly find out via Google in which issue Hercules "dies". But I shouldn't have to do that. Marvel should point readers like me to that comic and others in which something major occurs whenever possible. It makes the readers happy and it sells some more comic books. How can that be a bad thing?