Friday, May 22, 2015

Forgotten Books: Pirates' Gold - H. Bedford-Jones

This novel by one of my favorite authors, H. Bedford-Jones, appeared complete in the December 20, 1922 issue of the iconic pulp magazine ADVENTURE, and it certainly is an adventure tale in the classic sense. Ever since TREASURE ISLAND, writers have been spinning yarns about desperate people going after buried gold, and that's what Bedford-Jones does here. The story opens in London in the early 1700s, where narrator George Roberts, a sailor from the colony of Virginia, is looking for a ship to sign on with. He winds up taking a position as first mate on the King Sagamore, under the command of an old friend, Captain Ned Low. There are some pretty shady rumors about Low's past, but Roberts doesn't put much stock in them. Turns out he probably should have.

Because the ship has barely left port before there's a murder, and a beautiful young woman shows up on board, and everybody in the crew seems to have some secret or another, usually sinister, and there's more going on than a simple search for buried treasure, including a years-long quest for bloody vengeance.

Everything clips along at a fast pace, in Bedford-Jones' terse prose (terse compared to a lot of pulp writers who got paid by the word, anyway), and there are several nifty twists along the way. PIRATES' GOLD is definitely a little old-fashioned in some respects, but that didn't stop me from enjoying it a great deal. It was reprinted a number of years ago by Wildside Press in a trade paperback edition that's still available, and there's an e-book edition as well. If you like traditional historical adventure tales, it's a mighty good one.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Club Havana

(This post originally appeared on December 16, 2009, in slightly different form.)

I heard about the movie DETOUR and its director, Edgar G. Ulmer, for years, and when I finally got around to watching it, I liked it a lot. Now I’ve watched another Ulmer film, the much more obscure CLUB HAVANA, and it’s . . . interesting.

CLUB HAVANA is basically a Grand Hotel sort of movie, introducing the viewer to a number of different characters who show up at the opulent Miami nightclub of the title. There’s the idealistic young doctor, the married couple on the verge of breaking up, the middle-aged society woman with three very creepy grown children, the gangster who’s suspected of murder, the piano player, assorted other musicians, the somewhat shady switchboard operator . . . You get the idea. Ulmer gives each of these characters a little time in the spotlight, so to speak, and then lets them interact and their storylines intertwine.

The biggest problem with this movie is that at 62 minutes, it’s just too short to do justice to all the plot that Ulmer tries to cram into it. Watching it you get the sense that if it had been thirty or forty minutes longer, it would have been a much better movie. As it is, it’s really rushed, and the fact that at least ten minutes get taken up by a couple of musical numbers doesn’t help matters. Still, there are some striking scenes and genuinely suspenseful moments. The big ending, which takes place in the club’s parking lot, is marred by photography that’s too dark and murky to tell what’s going on most of the time.

Tom Neal, one of the stars of DETOUR, plays the young doctor, and while Neal’s tragic personal life later on inevitably resonates for the modern viewer in these early roles, he’s not given much to do here. Marc Lawrence as the gangster turns in the best performance and the movie would have benefited if his role had been bigger.

Overall, CLUB HAVANA would have been better if it had been longer and had better production values . . . but if it had had those things, then it wouldn’t really be an Ulmer film, now would it? This one’s hard to find, but if you come across a copy it’s worth watching, as a curiosity if nothing else.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Now Available: Cross Examinations - John Hegenberger

A series of serious crimes: Kidnapping. Murder. Art Thief. Blackmail. Comic Books.

Private Investigator Eliot Cross faces heartache, headache, backache, and a royal pain in the neck in these rollicking noir stories from the heart of the Heartland.

Cross Examinations, Inc. established in 1988 
Crime in Columbus

Never before published, CROSS EXAMINATIONS sets the stage for an exciting new novel that will join pop-culture author John Hegenberger’s soon-to-be-published Tripleye trilogy and his upcoming Stan Wade, L.A.P.I. series.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Spicy-Adventure Stories, August 1935

Good old SPICY-ADVENTURE STORIES and Robert Leslie Bellem. He has three stories in this issue, one under his own name and one each by Jerome Severs Perry and Ellery Watson Calder. There's also a story by the great E. Hoffmann Price and stories by assorted little known authors, some of whom may be house names. And of course, that, ah, cover...

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Now Available: Brothers by the Gun and Other Tales of Samaria, Kansas (The Complete Collection) - David Hardy

All four of David Hardy's Samaria, Kansas stories are now available in a collected edition, BROTHERS BY THE GUN AND OTHER TALES OF SAMARIA, KANSAS. These are fine action stories of the Toughest Trail Town in the Old West, and now you can get all of them in one handy trade paperback edition or as an e-book collection. All the stories are still available as individual e-books, too. These are excellent tales for readers of traditional Westerns.

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Action-Packed Western, September 1954

That's a decent cover on this issue of ACTION-PACKED WESTERN, and you know any story by Gordon D. Shirreffs is going to be worth reading. Seven Anderton is supposed to be pretty good, too (he's one of the authors I have to get around to reading), and there are short stories by veteran Western writer A.A. Baker and editor Robert A.W. Lowndes under his John Lackland pseudonym.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Forgotten Books: The Golden Age - James Robinson

For years I had a trade paperback edition of this acclaimed comic book mini-series that came out in 1993, but I never got around to reading it. Recently I came across another copy of the same edition and decided it was time. I love DC's second-string heroes from the Golden Age, and they're what this series is all about.

James Robinson's script establishes an alternate version of the DC Universe from that era, as most of the heroes hang up their capes and masks and retire from crime-fighting after World War II. Some get married, some are successful in business, others battle mental problems, alcoholism, and other demons of their own. Yes, this is deconstruction, as Howard Chaykin mentions in his introduction to the collection, and by and large that's a technique I'm not fond of.

Robinson ventures even further into areas that bother me with the tired plot of using HUAC and a McCarthy-esque politician as villains. Yes, even by '93, we got it, and it would have been all right to stop beating us over the head with it. However, he throws a twist into the plot in the second half that pretty much redeems the storyline (although it involves a gimmick that was an even hoarier chestnut, even then), and overall this tale winds up having a nice elegiac feel to it.

Mostly I was just glad to see characters like Starman, Hourman, Johnny Quick, and the original Manhunter back in action again. In the mid-Sixties, Gardner Fox revived many of DC's Golden Age heroes in the anthology title SHOWCASE, scripting stories that featured Dr. Fate, Black Canary, Starman, Hourman, Wildcat, and The Spectre, among others that I'm probably forgetting. This was the first time I'd encountered those characters, and those remain some of my favorite DC stories from that era.

But getting back to THE GOLDEN AGE, while I had some problems with Robinson's script, the art by Paul Smith is spectacular. The final full-page panel, which represents a passing of the torch to DC's Silver Age heroes, almost had me a little misty-eyed.

So in the view of this comics curmudgeon, while THE GOLDEN AGE isn't the classic that many fans believe it to be, it's still a good story with some great art and a considerable amount of nostalgia value. I'm glad I finally got around to reading it. (I wonder if those SHOWCASE issues from the mid-Sixties have been reprinted. I need to go check on that...) 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Now Available: Brothers By the Gun (Samaria, Kansas #4) - David Hardy

The Denning gang has just pulled off the biggest robbery of their careers. But Josh Denning, the leader of the bunch, faces a deadly challenge from within the ranks of his own followers, and his brother Ike has a bullet in him that may cost him his life. On top of that, two tough, dogged lawmen are on the gang's trail, determined to bring the outlaws to justice. It's a perilous race to safety for these fast-gun owlhoots! 

BROTHERS BY THE GUN is another exciting tale of Samaria, Kansas from talented author David Hardy. Fast-paced and full of gritty action, this is a story that fans of traditional Westerns won't want to miss!

(This is the fourth and final--for now--story in Dave Hardy's Samaria, Kansas series. These are great stories, gritty, hardboiled Western tales, and I recommend all of them. A print collection of all four stories is in the works, for those of you who prefer that format. Check 'em out!)

Dime Crimes #34

DIME CRIMES #34 is an excellent new short noir film from director Ed Hellman and writer John Michael Wagner (who is also one of the three stars). This is the plot summary from the film's website:

Doll, a homebody with a stash of pulp fiction, is thrown into the world of her favorite stories when she sees a gun hidden in the waistband of her charming new tenant.

Unbeknownst to her apathetic fiancé, Doll debates confronting the man and joining him in a life of adventure.

As the tenant’s mystery is exposed, Doll is forced to realize that she alone has the ability to turn her fantasies into a reality.

I was impressed with the acting and the production values in this movie, and I love the fact that several covers of men's adventure magazines are featured prominently in it (like the issue of STAG in the picture above). DIME CRIMES #34 is out on the film festival circuit now (the schedule is on the Facebook page), but you can see the trailer for it on the website and if you get a chance to catch the actual film at one of the festivals, I give it a high recommendation. These folks know what they're doing.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The World's End

I'm usually a sucker for movies about old guys trying to recapture their youth. I'm the target audience, after all. For the first half, that's the sort of movie THE WORLD'S END is, with a group of middle-aged British guys including Simon Pegg (who co-wrote the script with director Edgar Wright, as usual), Nick Frost, and Martin Freeman, trying to recreate the legendary pub crawl they attempted when they graduated from school twenty years earlier but failed to complete. It's funny, poignant, and works really well.

Then the plot takes a bizarre, abrupt, science fictional turn, and that works pretty well, too, although I liked the first half better. It really does feel at times like you're watching two different movies. But if you enjoyed Pegg and Wright's earlier movies like HOT FUZZ, SHAUN OF THE DEAD, and PAUL, you'll probably like THE WORLD'S END, too. I did.