Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Saddle the Wind

SADDLE THE WIND is yet another Western movie I somehow never saw until now, possibly because I’m not a big fan of its star, Robert Taylor, who usually comes across to me as too dour and humorless. In this one he’s a former gunfighter who has settled down and become a rancher. But of course you know that his violent past will catch up to him. An oddly cast John Cassavetes is his younger brother, who has gunfighting ambitions of his own. Complicating things is the always watchable Julie London, who plays a saloon singer Cassavetes brings back to the ranch. Then some homesteaders move into the valley, bringing more trouble with them as things play out a little like SHANE in reverse.

This is a strange little movie. The dialogue is pretty good, not surprising since the screenplay is by Rod Serling based on an original story by veteran pulpster and Western novelist Thomas Thompson. The acting by the leads is okay, although London isn’t given much to do except stand around and look sultry and beautiful, which she does quite well. The supporting cast includes Western stalwarts Royal Dano and Ray Teal. The photography is great, and the action scenes, although sparse, are well done. There’s enough about the movie I liked that I’m glad we watched it, but it’s so relentlessly grim and depressing that I can only give it a mixed recommendation.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: New Detective, July 1949

Not a bad cover on this issue of NEW DETECTIVE, but look at that line-up of writers inside: John D. MacDonald, Day Keene, Fredric Brown, William Campbell Gault, J.L. Bouma, and Joel Townsley Rogers. Those are some heavyweight pulpsters who also had successful careers as hardback and paperback novelists.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Exciting Western, April 1946

Injury to a hat alert! I like this cover by Sam Cherry, as I do most of Cherry's work. I also like EXCITING WESTERN, especially the Tombstone and Speedy stories by W.C. Tuttle. They're not as good as the Hashknife and Sleepy stories, but they're pretty entertaining. There's also an Alamo Paige story by Reeve Walker (a house name; I think maybe Walker Tompkins wrote this series), and stories by Syl McDowell, Gunnison Steele (Bennie Gardner), Archie Joscelyn, and Barry Scobee (the pride of Fort Davis, Texas). Looks like a good issue.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Forgotten Books: Murder Calls the Black Bat - G. Wayman Jones (Norman A. Daniels)

Just last week I was talking about how it had been five years since I read the first novel in the Ki-Gor series. Well, it’s been more than six years since I read the first Black Bat novel, and now I’m back with the second one, MURDER CALLS THE BLACK BAT, reprinted by Altus Press from the September 1939 issue of BLACK BOOK DETECTIVE.

The Black Bat, for those of you who don’t recall, is former district attorney Tony Quinn, who, like another famous former DA, Harvey Dent, has acid thrown at him in a courtroom. Unlike Dent, who is disfigured and becomes the villainous Two-Face, one of the most prominent members of Batman’s Rogues Gallery, Tony Quinn is blinded by the attack and faces a bitter life of unending darkness. But then he meets a beautiful young woman who arranges for him to have a mysterious surgery that not only restores his sight, it allows him to see even in pitch blackness. Blessed with this unexpected ability, Quinn decides to pretend to still be blind so he can don a black hood and fight crime as the mysterious and somewhat sinister Black Bat. He recruits his lovely blond benefactor, Carol Baldwin, to help him in this quest, along with former confidence man and reformed small-time crook Silk Kirby and a big palooka named Butch. The cops, of course, think the Black Bat is just another criminal, so they’re determined to catch him, especially dogged Sergeant McGrath, who’s convinced Tony Quinn is the Bat despite his apparent blindness. Police Commissioner Warner suspects Quinn, too, but he realizes how much good the Bat is doing and is ambivalent about catching him.

In other words, this series marks just about every check box in the masked vigilante genre, so whether or not it’s any good depends almost entirely on the quality of the writing and the cleverness of the plots. In the case of the Black Bat, most of the novels were written by Norman A. Daniels, one of the most dependable pulpsters in the business before he went on to a long and also successful career as a paperbacker. I’ve always regarded Daniels as a solid member of the second tier of hero pulp authors. His work lacks the spark that makes Lester Dent, Walter B. Gibson, and Norvell Page superstars in that genre, but his stories are always well constructed and move right along without too many implausibilities.

MURDER CALLS THE BLACK BAT has to do with a gang of jewel thieves who are able to steal gems right out of jewelry stores and substitute top-notch paste replicas. Tony Quinn is drawn into the case because one of the store owners is a friend of his. There are several murders and a bunch of suspects, the Black Bat and his allies get captured and escape a number of times (the best scenes in the novel take place in an abandoned sewer tunnel during one of these sequences), and finally the Black Bat manages to get all the characters together to reveal the mastermind behind the whole scheme. It’s a little on the bland side and the resolution could have been more dramatic, but overall this is an entertaining yarn. It’s a lot better written than the Ki-Gor novel from last week—but the Ki-Gor was more fun, if that makes sense. I’ll read more of the Black Bat, which also is supposed to get better as it goes along, and I hope it won’t be six years before the next one.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Witnesses - James Patterson and Brendan DuBois

The family next door has a very dark secret.

The Sanderson family has been forced into hiding after one of them stumbled upon a criminal plot. Or so they think. No one will answer their questions. And the terrifying truth may come too late....

Man, this book is fast-paced. I didn't read it in one sitting, but I did read it in one day, which is unusual for me. Like all James Patterson novels (no matter who actually writes them), the chapters are short, there's lots of dialogue, there are innocents and truly despicable bad guys, and the plot twists are considerable. In this case, you've got an archeologist, his travel guide author wife, and their two kids (one of whom is a bit unusual) as the innocent family in trouble and being protected by a stalwart government agent, plus the people out to get them and some unlikely allies.

This is part of the Bookshots series, more novellas than novels, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I have no idea how much is Patterson and how much is DuBois, but the prose is really smooth and entertaining. I haven't read anything else by DuBois except the science fiction story "The Siege of Denver", which is very good. I think I need to read more by him, though. I might read more of Patterson's Bookshots, although I'm not a fan of most of the series they spin off from. I really like novellas, though, so I'll probably give the stand-alones a try.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The 5th Wave

A whole lot of alien invasion. A little bit of teen angst and romance. Chloe Grace Moretz kicking butt. Yep, it's another movie based on a series of post-apocalyptic YA novels, but unlike the big-name franchises, I'd never heard of this one. There's nothing in THE 5TH WAVE you haven't seen or read before, but it's fairly well made and reasonably entertaining. If they make movies out of the two sequel novels, I'll probably watch 'em.

There is one wince-inducing gun mistake, but I was never sure if it was ignorance on the part of the screenwriters (or the author of the source novel), or if it was a deliberate mistake used as a bit of characterization. I lean toward the former.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Short Stories, October 10, 1930

You don't see too many "clown with a gun" covers, or at least I haven't, but I like this one. Circus stories were pretty common in the pulps, though, and I've enjoyed the ones I've read. Thomson Burtis, who wrote this one, was best known for his aviation stories, as I recall. Elsewhere in this issue of SHORT STORIES is an installment of a serial by James B. Hendryx featuring Corporal Downey of the Mounted Police, along with stories by prolific pulpsters Foster-Harris, Bertrand V. Sinclair, and Robert E. Pinkerton, among others.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Action Novels Magazine, September 1937

Is that a giant cactus the girl is tied to on this cover? That's gotta hurt! And the cowboy is handcuffed. There's got to be an interesting story behind this one. Whether it's actually in this issue of WESTERN ACTION NOVELS MAGAZINE, I don't know, but I'm sure there's some good reading since the authors include prolific and popular Western writers Frank C. Robertson and E.B. Mann, as well as the house-name Cliff Campbell and some lesser known names.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Forgotten Books: Ki-Gor--and the Stolen Empire - John Peter Drummond

Man, if I had the attention span of a six-week-old puppy, I might be dangerous. This observation is prompted by the fact that I posted a JUNGLE STORIES cover here on the blog a couple of weeks ago, as part of the Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp series, which led to a discussion in the comments about the Ki-Gor novels featured in that pulp. I recalled reading the first one in the series a while back, liking it, and blogging about it, a post that concluded with my stated intention to read the second novel “soon”.

Well, that was more than five years ago.

But better late than never, or so they say, which brings us to “Ki-Gor—and the Stolen Empire”, from the Summer 1939 issue of JUNGLE STORIES. As you may recall, the blond giant Ki-Gor is really the son of English missionary Robert Kilgour, who grew up in the jungle after his father’s death. In the previous story, Ki-Gor met and rescued beautiful, redheaded American aviatrix Helene Vaughn, who was captured by Arab slavers after her plane crashed. The second story picks up pretty much where that one left off. Helene wants to get back to civilization, but Ki-Gor has more in mind that she’ll stay and live with him in the jungle. To help convince her that’s a good idea, he builds her a treehouse in a giant baobab tree. Before anything can get settled between them, though, they encounter a sinister American who’s trying to set up his own little empire in the middle of equatorial Africa. There’s also a lost city, a remnant of an ancient Egyptian colony, involved in the story. (Africa, as we all know, is lousy with lost cities.)

Clearly, the Ki-Gor stories are imitations of Tarzan, although they seem to me to be influenced more by the Johnny Weissmuller movies than by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels. The first one was published under the author’s real name, John Murray Reynolds, while this one appeared under the house-name John Peter Drummond. However, while there are some stylistic differences, my hunch is that this one is Reynolds’ work, too. It’s rather sloppily written in places with a number of continuity errors, and some of the action is described so sketchily that it’s really lacking in drama. The villain is woefully underdeveloped.

However, there are some interesting things in “Ki-Gor—and the Stolen Empire” as well. Helene is a great character. She’s not as much of a bad-ass as Ki-Gor, of course, but that doesn’t stop her from trying. She gets right in the middle of some of the fights, mowing down bad guys with an Enfield rifle. The relationship between her and Ki-Gor is a little odd, too. There’s no real chemistry, no passion between them. I suspect that will change as the series goes on, but at this point they’re more comrades-in-arms than anything else. The climax of this story tries to be big and dramatic and almost succeeds, and the sacrifices made by some of the characters are genuinely touching.

From what I’ve read, this series gets wilder—and better—as it goes along. While I’m tempted to skip ahead, I think I’ll continue reading them in order for now. I have the first dozen stories in reprint editions from Altus Press. I just hope it won’t take me five years to get to the next one. At that rate I’ll never even make it to the crazy stuff! (Although the next one is called “Ki-Gor—and the Giant Gorilla Men”. That sounds promising . . .)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Lost in the Fog - Martin L. Shoemaker

Burns Mountain Regional Airport is a quiet little airport in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. Nothing ever happens there... until The Fog rolls in, bringing with it traffic from other worlds. Then air traffic controller Marla Tucker and the rest of the airport staff go to work, guiding the alien visitors to land for clandestine meetings and mysterious trading. Before The Fog lifts, these strange aircraft will return to their worlds, and Burns Mountain will go back to sleep. 

The Fog Traffic remains a closely guarded secret... until one visitor goes missing, and the Mantis people want him back for an important diplomatic ceremony. Now government agents are taking over the airport, and suspicion falls on Marla and her friends. Marla must decide who she trusts and how far she will go to help a stranger in trouble... while avoiding interdimensional war!

This novella is exactly the sort of science fiction I like, filled with big ideas, interesting characters, and suspenseful action. I'll be publishing a story by Martin L. Shoemaker in an anthology from Rough Edges Press later this year, and after reading that story and this one, I'm going out and hunting up the rest of his work. Great stuff for fans of classic SF.