Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Breakfast at Tiffany's

Is there a movie that absolutely everybody else in the world has seen, and somehow you've missed it? For me that movie was BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S. Never saw it, despite the hundreds of times it was on TV when I was growing up. But my daughter Joanna loaned me her DVD of it, and now, well, I've finally seen it, too. I won't bother talking about the plot (since all of you have already seen it, probably multiple times), but I will offer a few random observations.

This is one of those movies where New York City is so clean and safe and charming. If I ever had to live in New York, this is the version I'd want to live in.

I've never thought of Audrey Hepburn as sexy, but she almost is at times in this movie.

I can't watch George Peppard, even a young George Peppard, in anything without thinking about THE A-TEAM. But he's really good as the young writer, and it's as much his movie as it is Hepburn's.

There are a lot of good character actors in this one: John McGiver, Patricia Neal, Buddy Ebsen, Martin Balsam, Alan Reed, Stanley Adams, Elvia Allman, etc. For a fan of character actors like me, this is a good film. I would have sworn I spotted Rodney Daingerfield in a bit part as a party guest, too, but he's not listed on the film's IBDB page.

I've always liked the song "Moon River". I still do.

Boy, people sure smoked a lot in 1961.

So, after all these years, did I actually like the movie? Yeah, it's okay. I'm not really the target audience, but I enjoyed it. There are some mildly amusing lines, and the ending is nice. I'm glad I finally watched it. But now I have to find some other movie everybody else has seen that I haven't.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Double-Action Gang Magazine, December 1937

I don't know much about the gang pulps and haven't read many stories from them, but this one has a nice cover and the first three authors in the table of contents are E. Hoffmann Price (misspelled on the cover), Norman Daniels, and G.T. Fleming-Roberts. With a line-up like that, I suspect this issue was worth reading.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ace-High Magazine, March 1937

The Angry Redhead makes a return appearance on this vivid cover by Tom Lovell. This looks like a good issue, with stories by some of my favorites like Harry F. Olmsted, Walt Coburn, and Gunnison Steele. Popular Publications had not only some of the best covers on Western pulps, but some of the best titles, too. I mean, how can you not want to read "Legion of the Lost Frontier" or "The Derelict from Hell"?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Forgotten Books: Blondes Die Young - Bill Peters (William P. McGivern)

(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on August 7, 2005)

I’ve had two copies of this novel, the original paperback edition and a later edition, on my shelves for years, long enough that I don’t remember where or when I got them.

This is a good hardboiled novel about Philadelphia private eye Bill Canalli, who goes to visit a girl in Chicago and winds up in the middle of a vengeance quest to bust up the largest drug ring in the Midwest. I know it’s a cliché, but I like a private eye book where the hero gets hit on the head, and Canalli gets clouted several times in this one. There’s plenty of action, some nice observations on human nature, and a twisty plot. The surprise ending isn’t really much of a surprise, but it’s still effective. This is actually the first mystery novel by McGivern that I’ve read (I read his World War II novel SOLDIERS OF ’44 several years ago). BLONDES DIE YOUNG is good enough that I want to read more of his hardboiled stuff.

UPDATE: I no longer have the two copies of this book that I mentioned, of course, but I have a few others by McGivern. I've even read one or two of them. And I'll read more by him one of these days, if I get around to it. My plan was to slow down a little on my writing next year so I could read more and do some other stuff, but that's pretty much out the window. Now I'm shooting for 2016...)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Outlaw Ranger #2: Hangman's Knot Now Available for Pre-Order

Hell came to Santa Angelina on a beautiful morning, as the Texas settlement was practically wiped out by vicious outlaws led by the bloodthirsty lunatic Henry Pollard. Now Pollard is in jail in Alpine, waiting on his trial and an all but certain date with the hangman. The only real question is whether an outraged lynch mob will string him up first. 

Not everyone wants to see Pollard dance at the end of a rope, however. His gang of hired killers would like to set him free, and so would his older brother, a wealthy cattleman who has always protected Pollard from the consequences of his savagery. 

Riding into the middle of this three-cornered war is the Outlaw Ranger, G.W. Braddock, who may not have a right anymore to wear the bullet-holed star-in-a-circle badge pinned to his shirt, but whose devotion to the law means he'll risk his life to see that justice is done! 

HANGMAN'S KNOT is another fast-action Western novel from New York Times bestselling author James Reasoner. Brand-new and never before published, it continues the violent saga of the Outlaw Ranger.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: The Last Legion

(This post originally appeared in slightly different form on August 13, 2008)

This movie took me by surprise. It barely played in the theaters, I don’t recall reading any reviews of it, and as likable as he is, Colin Firth never struck me as an action hero. But then we watched it and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Firth plays Aurelius, the Roman soldier in charge of Caesar’s personal guard – Caesar, in this case, being the adolescent Romulus, who has the bad luck to be crowned emperor just before Rome falls to the Goths. Aurelius, with the help of some fellow legionaries and a hot female warrior from India (don’t ask, it make sense in the movie), rescues Romulus and his sage old mentor, a wizard from the far-off province of Brittania, from the Goths who have captured them. Then, with the Goths in hot pursuit, the group heads for Britannia, where the only remaining loyal Roman legion, the Ninth, is posted. Thus the title of the movie. Of course, more complications and battles ensue once they get there.

Now, there’s not a single thing in this movie that you haven’t seen numerous times before. I don’t mind that if it’s done well and the participants seem to be enjoying themselves, which is the case here. Firth makes for a surprisingly tough and gritty hero, his legion buddies are basically the same squad of good guys who show up in just about every war movie ever made, Ben Kingsley chews the scenery just fine as the old wizard, the kid emperor manages not to be too cute, and I believe I mentioned that Aishwarya Rai (one of those Bollywood actresses, I assume; I’m too lazy to look her up on IMDB) is hot. Kevin McKidd, who plays a fairly sympathetic character on HBO’s ROME (which we’re also watching on DVD, and which I’ll comment about eventually), is suitably villainous as the Goth warrior who leads the pursuit to Britannia. Best of all, though, there isn’t an abundance of special effects, and the battle scenes are staged and edited in a very old-fashioned manner – in other words, you can actually tell what the heck is going on most of the time.

This movie reminded me a lot of Jack Whyte’s excellent Camulod Chronicles novels. If you’ve read those and enjoyed them, I think there’s a good chance you’d like THE LAST LEGION as well. Predictable or not, it’s one of the most entertaining films we’ve seen recently. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Riders on the Storm - Ed Gorman

If you want to learn about small-town life in America during the turbulent era stretching from the late Fifties to the early Seventies, forget the history books. Just read Ed Gorman's Sam McCain series. It's as perfect a recreation of a time and place (Black River Falls, Iowa, the town where Sam works as a lawyer) as you're ever likely to find. The latest one, and the final book in the series, is RIDERS ON THE STORM, like all the others titled for a song that was popular when it takes place.

As usual, there's a well-plotted mystery for Sam to solve. A psychologically troubled, anti-war Vietnam vet is arrested for the murder of another veteran, a successful businessman and aspiring politician who had beaten up the accused man at a party because of his anti-war views. Sam is friends with the man and doesn't believe he's guilty of murder, so he begins his own investigation to find the real killer. It'll come as no surprise that things are a lot more complicated than they appear to be at first, and Sam puts his own life in danger by trying to sort everything out and clear his friend's name.

Over and above the mystery angle, though, the strongest appeal of the Sam McCain books is Sam himself, with his melancholy yet hopeful observations about life and the people he knows in Black River Falls. Plus all the mentions of the music, the books, the TV shows and movies, that make the novels seem so real for those of us who lived through those days. In so many ways, Ed is us, and we are him.

I've long since given up the pretense of objectivity where Ed's books are concerned. I've been reading and enjoying his books for more than 30 years, the same amount of time that we've been friends. But it's not like I'm the only one praising them, either. He's widely hailed, and rightly so, as one of the best writers of our generation. RIDERS OF THE STORM is a fine conclusion to the Sam McCain series and will leave you glad that you've been able to be a part of Sam's life for the past ten books. Highly recommended.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Detective, January 1947

The giant horseshoe on this Rudolph Belarski cover for THRILLING DETECTIVE looks like something from a 1950s Batman story with art by Dick Sprang. This pulp is notable for including both Carroll John Daly and Louis L'Amour among its contributors. Two incredibly popular authors from different eras that overlap here.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Blazing Western, February 1947

I'm not sure the cover on this issue of BLAZING WESTERN makes much sense, but it's eye-catching, anyway, especially that logo, so I guess it did its job. I don't recognize the names of any of the authors inside. Some are known house-names, others appear only in this issue, and the rest showed up only in various pulps published by Trojan, so it's possible, even likely, that there's not a real name in the bunch. Not to mention the fact that the stories may well have been reprints from other Trojan Western pulps with the titles and by-lines changed. But hey, I'll bet some of them were entertaining anyway.

UPDATE: Thanks to Phil Stephensen-Payne, and to the late Glenn Lord for the original research, here's a rundown of the contents of this issue, complete with reprint history:

Blazing Western [v1 #1, February 1947] (Trojan Publishing Corporation, 15c, pulp)
 Details supplied by John Locke from Table of Contents.
 Reprint information supplied by Glenn Lord, via the REH Foundation.
 4 * James Desmond * A Hand in the Game ["Owlhoots of Ghost Creek", as by Larry Dunn] * ss
 from Spicy Western Stories 1-39
 17 * Walter Cook * The Devil in Doctor Dave [as by Clark Nelson] * nv
 from Speed Western Stories 2-44
 28 * Joseph A. Moore * Gulchers' Glory ["Sting of a Hornet", as by Jim North] * ss
 from Spicy Western Stories 9-40
 38 * Hal T. Evans * The Guns Hang High ["Six-Gun Nurse", as by Laurence Donovan #1] * ss
 from Spicy Western Stories 1-39
 48 * Hoot Crenshaw * Ruckus at Santa Fe ["Siren of Santa Fe", as by Jackson W. Thorne] * ss
 from Spicy Western Stories 1-39
 57 * Will Nichols * Strike Me Pink! * ar
 58 * Lloyd Nelson * Taps for a Terror ["Tonic for a Terror", as by Clem Carlson] * ss
 from Spicy Western Stories 1-39
 66 * Harvey Saunders * Rider Headed West ["You Can't Fight a Woman", as by E. Hoffmann Price] * ss
 from Spicy Western Stories 1-39
 78 * Wayne Hemingway * A Man to Have Around ["The Woman Nobody Knows", as by Roy Cutler] * ss
 from Spicy Western Stories 1-39

 95 * James Bennett * Redskin Weapons * ar

So there are two stories, minimum, by Laurence Donovan in this lone issue of BLAZING WESTERN, one under his name and one under his Larry Dunn pseudonym. Some of the others may be his work as well, and that's equally true of E. Hoffmann Price. What a tangled mess those Trojan Publications house-names and pseudonyms were!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Forgotten Books: Last Stand at Saber River - Elmore Leonard

(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on January 21, 2006)

I’m on record as preferring Elmore Leonard’s early Westerns to his later crime novels, and LAST STAND AT SABER RIVER is a good reason why I feel that way. The set-up is fairly traditional: a former Confederate soldier returns home to Arizona Territory after being wounded and finds that Union sympathizers have taken over his ranch. Fightin’ and shootin’ ensues.

But what makes this such a fine book are the little touches. Instead of the usual hard-bitten loner who shows up so often in Westerns as the hero, Paul Cable is a family man with a wife (who is almost as tough as he is) and three small children. Several of the other characters aren’t really what they appear to be at first, or what the reader would expect. And the story is told in Leonard’s terse prose and wonderful dialogue. All in all, this is an excellent example of Leonard’s Westerns.