Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Hart's War

(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on August 4, 2007. Maybe I'll have something new next week.)

This is another movie we missed when it came out, which is sort of surprising considering that I like Bruce Willis movies and World War II prisoner of war movies (such as STALAG 17 and THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, both great films). In this one Colin Farrell plays a lieutenant who is a senator’s son, a paper pusher who’s stationed well behind the front lines. But through some bad luck he gets captured by the Germans anyway and sent to a prison camp where Bruce Willis is the ranking American officer. As usual in this sort of film, not everything is what it appears to be at first, and the day-to-day drama of life in the camp eventually becomes something bigger and more important. One of the prisoners is murdered, apparently by another prisoner, which leads to a trial, with Farrell’s character, who was in law school when the war began, serving as defense counsel for the accused.

Since this film is based on a novel by John Katzenbach, a good thriller writer, it’s no surprise that the script takes some nice twists and turns. The acting is fine all around. Despite that, the movie never really engaged my interest as much as I thought it should have. I still enjoyed it, though, and consider it to be worth watching.

Monday, September 26, 2016

News From Piccadilly Publishing

Piccadilly Publishing, the Home of Great Western Fiction, celebrates Christmas 2016 by issuing no less than SIX new western series to its line-up ... all available at a special low price for the first seven days of publication! 


These look great, and I've already pre-ordered all of them. I'd read the two Marshall Grover novels before, but I plan to read them again. Piccadilly Publishing has done a fine job of bringing out some classic Westerns, both old and new.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Ten Detective Aces, July 1944

There's got to be an interesting story behind that cover. Despite having a groan-inducing pun as a title, the lead story by Frederick C. Davis is probably pretty good. Davis never disappoints. The rest of the line-up in this issue of TEN DETECTIVE ACES is pretty strong, too: William Campbell Gault, Robert Turner (under his own name and as Glenn Wood), Joe Archibald, Norman A. Daniels, and David X. Manners.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Big-Book Western, November 1952

BIG-BOOK WESTERN wasn't the iconic pulp that DIME WESTERN and STAR WESTERN, its Popular Publications stablemates, were, but it was a good solid magazine for a long time. By 1952 many of the big names were gone. I've never heard of the author of this issue's lead novel, William Bender Jr. In fact, the only one of the authors I'm really familiar with is Talmage Powell, who's best known for his hardboiled mysteries. One of the other authors, Richard H. Nelson, was really William L. Hamling, who was on the verge of a successful career as a magazine and book publisher. There's also a reprint from the August 1940 issue of DIME WESTERN of a story by Stone Cody, who was really Thomas Mount.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Forgotten Books: Trails West - Eugene Cunningham

That's about as generic a title and bland a cover as you're ever likely to see. Ah, but inside are nine stories by Eugene Cunningham that originally appeared in FRONTIER STORIES in 1927 and '28. Generic they may be, in the technical sense of the word ("characteristic of or relating to a class or group of things"), but not bland by any stretch of the imagination. Instead they're colorful, action-packed, and very entertaining.

The hero of these yarns is a young Texas Ranger named Stephen Ware, often referred to rather awkwardly in the first few stories as "Ware's Kid", since his father Bill Ware was also a Texas Ranger. In the course of these tales, Ware justifies his admission into the Rangers by rescuing the kidnapped daughter of a rancher; tracks down a fugitive killer, then decides the man is innocent and sets out to find the real murderer; tames a couple of wild towns; rounds up some horse thieves; crosses the border into Mexico to capture an outlaw; solves some stagecoach robberies; and even resolves a domestic drama (with bank robbery added). Ware isn't the most nuanced character, but his adventures sure are fun.

For me, the key to Cunningham's appeal (along with his fast-moving prose and hardboiled attitude) is the authenticity of his work. Like Walt Coburn, he was writing about a time and place that was within the memory of people they knew as youngsters. The Wild West was only a generation removed from the early pulp writers, if that. Some of the plots may be exaggerated for dramatic effect; the setting and the attitudes of the characters aren't. I've become a Eugene Cunningham fan late in my pulp-reading career, but I really enjoy his work and TRAILS WEST gets a high recommendation from me.

Here are the stories and their original appearances in FRONTIER STORIES:
"Beginner's Luck", February 1927
"The Hermit of Tigerhead Butte", March 1927
"Wanted—?", May 1927
"The Hammer Thumb", June 1927
"The Trail of a Fool", July 1927
"The Ranger Way", August 1927
"Blotting the Triangle", September 1927
"Ware Calls It a Day", October 1927
"Spiderweb Trail", January 1928

There's also a fine biographical introduction by Cunningham's daughter, Murney Cunningham Call. This is a volume well worth having if you’re a pulp Western fan.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The Core

(This post originally appeared in slightly different form on July 28, 2007. For me, it was an overlooked movie even then.)

We missed this movie when it came out a few years ago, so when we came across a copy of the DVD at the library we decided to go ahead and watch it. It’s a near-future scientific thriller about how the earth’s outer core stops rotating for some reason, which causes the electro-magnetic field around the planet to start dissipating, which is going to lead to all sorts of disasters and ultimate destruction unless an intrepid team of scientist/adventurers can bore down to the earth’s core in a special vessel made of Unobtainium (to quote Dave Barry, I am not making this up) and restart the core’s rotation by setting off a series of nuclear explosions.

Now, Mr. Wizard I’m not. But if that plot description sounds pretty far-fetched to you, well, it does to me, too. This is definitely a movie that requires a large amount of suspension of disbelief. If you can shrug your shoulders, though, and say, “Okay, I’ll buy that”, it’s fairly entertaining. Lots of special effects and lots of dialogue like “We’re approaching the core/mantle interface!” Aaron Eckhart is a brilliant, ruggedly handsome scientist. (Brilliant scientists in movies are always ruggedly handsome, although it’s acceptable for them to have brilliant scientist sidekicks who are semi-nerdish. Unless of course the brilliant scientist is female, in which case she’s intelligent-looking but still hot.) Hilary Swank is the former astronaut who pilots the ship going to the earth’s core. She’s very capable and intelligent-looking -- but still hot. As for the rest of the crew . . . well, you can pretty much figure out what’s going to happen to them.

Which is another problem that THE CORE has. If you’ve ever seen any other movies in the near-future scientific thriller genre, or read any books like that, you’ll know everything that’s going to happen ’way before it does. There was one minor twist near the end that I didn’t see coming, but I should have.

Despite my sarcasm, I did enjoy this movie. It’s silly and predictable, but there are some nice lines of dialogue and I was able to accept the spirit of the whole thing. I was a little disappointed that they went all the way to the Earth’s core and back, though, and didn’t stop even once in Pellucidar.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Now Available: Blast to Oblivion - Chap O'Keefe

In Denver, a shotgun blast brutally ends a man’s life and sets in motion a deadly chain of events that threatens Joshua Dillard, drifting detective and former Pinkerton agent. Hired by a beautiful woman to untangle the mystery of her brother’s murder and bring the killer to justice, Joshua’s investigation takes him to the raw and dangerous mining town of Silverville, where he finds a web of deception, greed, lust, and violence. Aided only by an eccentric hermit, Joshua will need all his cunning and gun-skill to avoid being blasted to oblivion himself! 

Inspired by the classic Sherlock Holmes novel THE VALLEY OF FEAR, veteran Western author Chap O’Keefe spins another exciting tale filled with action and plot twists galore. Rough Edges Press is proud to welcome O’Keefe and his popular series character Joshua Dillard. This edition is newly revised by the author and includes an afterword about the origins of the novel. BLAST TO OBLIVION is sure-fire entertainment for Western and mystery readers alike!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Startling Stories, November 1948

The cover on this issue of STARTLING STORIES is by Earle Bergey--but most of you already knew that, didn't you? I know his work was controversial at the time, but I really enjoy it. And inside this issue are stories by Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Jack Vance, John D. MacDonald, A.E. van Vogt, Frank Belknap Long, and Robert Moore Williams. Edited by my old editor and mentor, Sam Merwin Jr. I like having that link with pulp history.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Famous Western, August 1955

Another gun-totin' redhead on the cover of a Western pulp. Sure must have been a lot of them around in the old days. By 1955, the Columbia Western pulps were holding down the fort almost by themselves. I think only RANCH ROMANCES remained from any of the other publishers. FAMOUS WESTERN still had some decent authors writing new stories, though, in this case Lauran Paine, Lee Floren, and A.A. Baker. A far cry from the glory days of the pulps but probably still worth reading.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Forgotten Books: The Gunsharp - William R. Cox

Will Carney didn’t set out to get a reputation as a gunman, but that’s the way things have worked out. He drifts through the Southwest, looking for a place where he won’t have to use his gun. He’s in Tombstone at the time of the famous shootout at the O.K. Corral, but although he knows most of the participants (he sits in on a poker game in the Oriental Saloon where Doc Holliday regularly plays), he manages to avoid getting involved in that violent confrontation. However, when he kills an hombre who’s trying to attack a young woman, he winds up with the dead man’s powerful family after him and decides it’s time to move on. Unfortunately, he rides north to a settlement where an old acquaintance is trying to take over and wants Carney to throw in with him. Complicating things, an Apache medicine man has convinced a number of warriors to leave the reservation with him and set off on a series of bloody raids. And then Betsy Gaye, the girl Carney rescued back in Tombstone, shows up, and so does the brutal patriarch of the family that wants him dead . . .

That’s the setup of THE GUNSHARP, a Gold Medal paperback original novel from 1967 by William R. Cox, a prolific contributor to the Western and detective pulps who went on to a long, successful career as a paperbacker, most notably by taking over the Buchanan series under the house-name Jonas Ward after series creator William Ard died and there were a couple of fill-in novels by Robert Silverberg (finishing a manuscript Ard started) and Brian Garfield. Cox wound up writing more Buchanan novels than anybody else, and he had a series of his own about a sheriff named Cemetery Jones. He also wrote a Gold Medal Western entitled BIGGER THAN TEXAS in 1963, which holds a special place in my heart because it was the first adult paperback I ever bought, plucking it off the spinner rack in a drugstore in Goldsmith, Texas, while we were there visiting relatives. I have a replacement copy of that one and plan to reread it one of these days.

But back to THE GUNSHARP . . . There’s a nice hardboiled tone to this one that becomes almost noirish as it seems that Carney has a new problem everywhere he turns. Cox also does a good job with the Arizona landscape, and a long scene in which Carney and Betsy are pursued by the Apaches through a nighttime thunderstorm and flash flood is excellent. The supporting cast, including a married couple with problems of their own who run a hotel and cafĂ©, is interesting. My only real complaint is that a little too much of the action takes place off-screen, so we get people talking about what happened instead of seeing it for ourselves. But there’s not enough of that to slow down the book too much, so for the most part things roll along quite nicely.

Cox was never in the top rank of either Western or mystery writers as far as I’m concerned, but he was always a solid second tier author, dependably entertaining. THE GUNSHARP is worth reading if you come across a copy like I did. Mine came from Recycled Books in Denton, like last week’s Forgotten Book, and is in excellent shape except for that blasted sticker the store stuck on it and a little damage to the spine, both of which you can see in the scan.