Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Zombies From the Pulps!: Jumbee - Henry S. Whitehead

The second story in ZOMBIES FROM THE PULPS!, the fine new anthology edited by Jeffrey Shanks, is Henry S. Whitehead's "Jumbee", which originally appeared in the September 1926 issue of WEIRD TALES. As Shanks points out in his introduction, it's one of the earliest zombie yarns. Following the lurid "Herbert West: Reanimator" by H.P. Lovecraft, it comes off as a little on the mild side, as the entire story consists of a conversation between an American visitor to the West Indies and a gentleman who lives there, with the host telling his guest about his encounter with an old friend who comes to see him after dying, as well as a brush with a shape-shifter.

"Jumbee" has a couple of things to recommend it, though. Whitehead's prose is very smooth and effective in creating a creepy mood, and the story does a good job of highlighting some differences in racial attitudes between the United States and the West Indies. It's a tale that lingers in the memory, and as far as I can recall, the only story by Henry S. Whitehead that I've ever read.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: The Roy Rogers Show

This series was in Saturday morning reruns when I started watching it in the early Sixties, but I was a faithful viewer. It turned me into a Roy Rogers fan before I'd ever even seen any of Roy's movies. However, even though I've seen probably all of Roy's feature films since then, I hadn't watched any of the TV series episodes in fifty years or more.

Recently I've watched a number of them on one of those public domain Western TV compilations, and I'm happy to report that they hold up pretty well. Like the later Roy Rogers movies, they're actually hardboiled crime yarns set in the mythical Republic Pictures West that mixes modern-day elements like cars and trucks, electric lights, and telephones with plenty of Old West trappings. One of the reviewers on IMDB came up with a clever explanation for this: Mineral City, the town located near Roy's Double R Bar Ranch, is really an Old West tourist attraction, and that's why everybody rides horses and carries six-guns. I don't really buy it, because those six-guns are loaded with live ammo, as is demonstrated by the shoot-outs in every episode, but it's a nice try. I'm perfectly willing to accept the setting for what it is, though, a fantasy that I'll gladly buy into.

The plots are simpler in the TV episodes and there are no musical numbers like there are in the movies, but that's fine. Roy, who's basically playing himself as a rodeo entertainer, usually gets mixed up in some villain's scheme to take over a neighboring ranch because there's oil on it, or because outlaws buried a fortune in loot on it, or something like that. His relationship with Dale Evans, who runs the diner in town, is purely platonic. His "comical sidekick" Pat Brady works for Dale at the diner but actually spends most of his time getting in trouble.

Roy was well-liked by the stuntmen during his movie days because he was an excellent rider and didn't mind doing some of his stunts himself. That carries over into the TV show as well. The frequent scenes where Roy is chasing the bad guys on his famous horse Trigger are top-notch, and he handles himself well in the brutal fistfights, too, usually two per episode. For a kids' show, this series doesn't skimp on the violence. (We were bloodthirsty tykes back in the Fifties and Sixties.)

Another enjoyable aspect of watching this series now is being on the lookout for famous faces among the supporting cast. Denver Pyle showed up as a moonshiner in one episode I watched, and in another a prizefighter was played by a young actor billed as "Chas. Buchinski". Sixth-billed, at that. But unmistakably Charles Bronson. Another episode, this one about rustlers who use trucks to steal cattle, I actually remembered from watching it all those years ago because it had some pretty clever twists in it. The closing credits revealed that it was written by Dwight V. Babcock, an old pulp author who moved over into TV scripting as the pulp markets began to dry up. Some of Roy's movies were written by pulpster John K. Butler, so this continues an honorable tradition.

The only thing that doesn't hold up very well is the comedy. "Comical sidekick" Pat Brady just isn't funny most of the time, although I'm sure I had a different opinion when I was eight years old.

All in all I found THE ROY ROGERS SHOW to be a very pleasant surprise and well worth watching if you're a fan of his films. You can find some of the episodes on those compilation DVDs, as I did, or there are a bunch of them on YouTube, as well.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday Morning Digest Magazine: The Shadow, December, 1943

Like DOC SAVAGE, THE SHADOW was a digest magazine for part of the Forties. And this digest issue of THE SHADOW was the first issue of THE SHADOW, digest or pulp, that I ever owned. I'm not sure, but I believe I came across it in an antique/junk store in Fort Worth. The Shadow story in it was written by Walter B. Gibson, and I recall it as being a good one.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Fantastic Adventures, March 1942

FANTASTIC ADVENTURES had some great covers. This one is by J. Allen St. John, illustrating the Edgar Rice Burroughs story inside. Other authors of note in this issue are Henry Kuttner and Ross Rocklynne.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Saturday Morning Bonus Pulp: Western Trails, June 1937

This issue of WESTERN TRAILS has some good authors in it, like Tom Roan, Peter Dawson, and Wilfred McCormick (best known for his juvenile sports novels). What I really like, though, besides the action-packed cover, is the title of the story by Victor Kaufman: "A Fool and His .45".

Friday, April 11, 2014

Forgotten Books: Modesty Blaise Graphic Novel - Peter O'Donnell and Dick Giordano

The Modesty Blaise series started as a British comic strip written by Peter O'Donnell and drawn by Jim Holdaway. But I didn't know that when I discovered the Modesty Blaise novels, also written by O'Donnell, in the mid-Sixties. All I knew was that they were marketed as secret agent adventures (which they really aren't) and had sexy covers, which meant that whenever I came across one of them I grabbed it immediately and had a great time reading it. It's still one of my favorite series of all time.

I've read many collections of the comic strip version, too, and enjoyed them, but I hadn't run across this one before. Twenty years ago, DC Comics did a graphic novel adaptation of the first novel, MODESTY BLAISE, with script by O'Donnell and art by Dick Giordano. It's a pretty faithful adaptation, too, with retired super-criminal Modesty and her friend Willie Garvin working for British Intelligence and trying to prevent the theft of fifty million dollars worth of diamonds. That pits them against the diabolical mastermind Gabriel and his bizarre henchmen. As usual, Modesty and Willie take a beating and wind up on the brink of death several times, only to triumph in the end. It's very entertaining and really takes me back to those days when I was first reading the novels.

There's enough sex, violence, and profanity in this version that it would probably carry a Mature Audiences tag these days. The story takes its time unfolding, but that's all right because it builds up to an exciting and moving climax. I've always preferred Giordano's work as an inker (say, over Neal Adams' pencils), but his art here is quite good, showing the influence of Jim Holdaway's original versions of the characters without being a slavish imitation. Some sources on-line also credit Dan Spiegle with doing some of the art, although his name isn't on the book. While I don't know for sure if that's correct, it could be. Some of the panels do look like Spiegle's work.

I had a fine time reading this book. Used copies are still readily available on-line, and if you're a Modesty Blaise fan and haven't read it, it's worth checking out.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: The Return of Wild Bill

THE RETURN OF WILD BILL is another adventure for "that easy-going stick of dynamite", as one of the characters refers to Wild Bill Saunders, played by Wild Bill Elliott. No matter what the name, Elliott's characters were mostly the same, affable good guys who liked to proclaim, "I'm a peaceable man," just before beating the crap out of some bad guy. In this one, he's summoned home to discover that a gang of vigilantes led by two brothers are framing local settlers for various crimes so they can hang the victims of the scheme and then seize their land. When Wild Bill's father is killed, you know he's going to settle the score and bring the villains to justice.

On the surface, a pretty typical B-Western plot, but there are some things that set THE RETURN OF WILD BILL apart. For one, it's based on a story by Walt Coburn, one of the best Western pulp authors. His novella "The Block K Rides Tonight" was published in the July 1939 issue of STAR WESTERN and served as the basis for this Wild Bill Elliott vehicle a year later. The movie dispenses with most of the psychological complexity you always find in a Walt Coburn yarn, but there are echoes of it in the romantic triangle involving Elliott's character; Iris Meredith, playing the pretty but bland and prissy daughter of a rancher; and sultry "bad girl" Luana Walters, playing the sister of the villainous brothers. There's no doubt who I was rooting for in this competition. Walters' character is a lot deeper and more interesting.

Another reason to watch THE RETURN OF WILD BILL is that it was directed by Joseph H. Lewis, better known for the classic low-budget film noir GUN CRAZY. Lewis directed quite a few Westerns as well and has a sure hand with the action scenes, making them exciting and giving them a few dark edges as well.

Elliott is as likable and effective as always, and the limited presence of Dub "Cannonball" Taylor, one of my least favorite Western sidekicks, doesn't really prove annoying this time around. If you're a fan of Elliott, Coburn, or B-Westerns in general, THE RETURN OF WILD BILL is definitely worth watching. (A tip of the Stetson to Steve Mertz for his help with this post.)

Monday, April 07, 2014

Monday Morning Digest Magazine: Shell Scott Mystery Magazine, February 1966

No doubt hoping to duplicate the success of the long-running MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE, in 1966 Leo Margulies launched another digest magazine featuring a lead novella about a famous private eye, backed up by various mystery and crime short stories. Unfortunately it didn't work as well with SHELL SCOTT MYSTERY MAGAZINE, which lasted less than a dozen issues. But they were good issues! This is the first one, and I remember reading it sitting in a motel room in Austin, Texas around 1981 or '82. In addition to "The Da Vinci Affair" by the great Richard S. Prather, other authors in this issue are Donald E. Westlake, Talmage Powell, James Holding, Paul W. Fairman, Hal Ellson, and Hal Dresner. That's a fine line-up.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Far East Adventure Stories, November 1930

It's not billed as an all-star issue, but there are some mighty big names in this issue of FAR EAST ADVENTURE STORIES:  H. Bedford-Jones, J. Allan Dunn, Theodore Roscoe, Arthur J. Burks, Frederick Nebel, and Jack D'Arcy. Just another day at the newsstand in 1930.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Exciting Western, November 1951

EXCITING WESTERN was the home of W.C. Tuttle's long-running series about range detectives Tombstone and Speedy, but the Tuttle story in this issue appears not to be part of that series. I'm sure the cover would have mentioned it if "Derelict City" was a Tombstone and Speedy yarn. Other authors in this issue are Louis L'Amour writing as Jim Mayo, Harry Whittington, C. William Harrison, Syl MacDowell, and Ben Frank. An issue well worth reading, I'm sure.