Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Overlooked Movies: Dr. Cyclops (1940)

I saw this 1940 film on TV when I was a kid and thought it was the greatest movie I’d ever seen. I hadn’t watched it since then, however, and when Svengoolie showed it a few weeks ago, I decided to record it and give it a try. I’m glad I did, because while it turns out not to be the greatest movie I’ve ever seen, it’s still pretty darned entertaining.

The doctor of the title is actually named Dr. Alexander Thorkel (Albert Dekker), who’s experimenting with the effects of radiation on organic matter in his South American laboratory. Since his sight is failing, he summons several other scientists to assist him, but they quickly figure out that he’s a mad scientist who has discovered a way to shrink living beings. Rather than have his nefarious plans exposed, he traps the three scientists, their guide, and a native servant in the room with his radium condenser and shrinks them down to miniature size. From that point, the rest of the movie centers around their efforts to escape from and/or kill Thorkel, all while surviving the dangers of being five inches tall in a full-sized world.

The plot maybe could have used another twist or two, but the movie’s strengths more than make up for that. With his bald head, thick glasses, and hulking frame, Dekker is great as the crazed scientist. He underplays for the most part, rather than chewing the scenery as you might expect from such a part, but that quiet menace makes him one of the most chilling movie characters I’ve come across in a while. The other characters are sort of non-entities, dwarfed (no pun intended . . . oh, what the heck, yeah, it was) by Dekker’s performance. The production values of this film are top-notch, with some of the best Technicolor photography from this era that you’ll find. The movie looks great. (That’s something I didn’t notice when watching it on a 19-inch black-and-white TV all those years ago.) The special effects, which consist mostly of building enormous sets that perfectly match the regular sets, are really good, too.

Unfortunately, some of the books, movies, etc., that I loved as a kid don’t hold up all that well. DR. CYCLOPS definitely does hold up, and if you haven’t seen it, I think it’s well worth watching. If, like me, you haven’t seen it in many years, you might want to think about watching it again.

(Side note: There’s actually a novelization of this movie, something that wasn’t all that common during that era. It was published under the name Will Garth, which was a house-name in the pulps published by Standard/Best Publications, aka the Thrilling Group. I believe the novel was actually written by Joseph Samachson, an editor there, but I could be wrong about that.)

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Black Mask, October 1934

Another classic issue of BLACK MASK, with a fairly provocative cover by Fred Craft and stories inside by Raymond Chandler, Horace McCoy, W.T. Ballard, Nels Leroy Jorgensen, and Thomas Walsh, who was still writing new stories for EQMM and AHMM as late as 1983. I remember reading them, but at the time I didn't realize his career stretched back as far as it did. Quite an accomplishment.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Thrilling Ranch Stories, July 1935

THRILLING RANCH STORIES always had action-packed covers. It was meant as a competitor to RANCH ROMANCES, but other than the presence of a woman on the covers (usually ridin' or shootin' right alongside the stalwart cowboy hero), it looks more like a regular Western pulp with the emphasis on adventure. I particularly like this cover, but I don't know who the artist is. Inside this issue are stories by some top Western pulpsters: Eugene Cunningham, Leslie Scott writing as A. Leslie, Lee Bond, Stephen Payne, George M. Johnson, and a couple of house-names, Jackson Cole and Sam Brant. There's also a story by a female author, Zaida Packard, but it seems to have been her only Western pulp yarn.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Forgotten Books: The Lost End of Nowhere - Gordon MacCreagh

First of all, isn’t that a great title? “The Lost End of Nowhere” . . . That really makes me want to read the story, which in this case is the third Kingi Bwana yarn by Gordon MacCreagh, originally published in the January 15, 1931 issue of ADVENTURE. At upwards of 37,000 words, it’s really more of a novel. As it opens, the American adventurer named King is hired by a German university to locate a scientist who disappeared in what was then German East Africa fifteen years earlier. The university has received a letter from the missing man claiming that he has made an earth-shaking scientific discovery, but there’s no way of knowing how long ago the letter was sent or whether there’s any truth to it. At least, not without sending in King to find out the truth.

King is intrigued enough to take the job, and along with his friends and sidekicks, the Masai warrior named Barounggo and the Hottentot known as Kaffa, he sets out to find the lost scientist, who had been studying gorillas and chimpanzees. King discovers clues to an eccentric white man who “married a monkey” and disappeared into the jungle. While he’s on the trail of his quarry, he and his safari clash with a couple of different tribes and hear even more mysterious stories about the missing scientist.

What King finally finds is not only earth-shaking scientifically, it’s also a grave threat to the safety of the world. There’s a lot of blood-and-thunder action, written in MacCreagh’s slightly old-fashioned but highly effective style, leading up to a great battle that approaches Robert E. Howard or Edgar Rice Burroughs level at times.

This Kingi Bwana stories are classic, old-school adventure fiction with an air of undeniable authenticity even when they get a little far-fetched in some of their elements, such as this one. I really enjoyed “The Lost End of Nowhere” and look forward to reading the rest of the stories in the series.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Overlooked Movies: Silent Men (1933)

Growing up, I was never a fan of Tim McCoy's Western movies. They didn't show up very often on the local TV stations, and anyway, I was too busy watching Roy, Gene, and Hoppy. But now that I'm older, I've come to appreciate McCoy's work. A former military officer, Wild West showman, and Indian expert, McCoy was a little on the stiff side as an actor, but with his jutting chin and enormous hat, he always projected plenty of strength and gravitas.

The 1933 movie SILENT MEN finds him playing a respected range detective and brand inspector in Montana, but the character has a secret: he's really an escaped convict who was sentenced to life in prison in Arizona for a crime he didn't commit. His old cellmate (who happens to have been a member of the gang that framed McCoy's character) shows up and tries to blackmail him into overlooking the rustling that's going on in the area. McCoy, who blames a pair of shady brothers played by Wheeler Oakman and J. Carrol Naish for the rustling, is too upright to go along with that, of course, so the gang frames him for a killing and he winds up in jail.

From there, however, he gets some help from an unexpected source and escapes to track down the real mastermind behind the cattle thefts and the murder. There's some fightin' and ridin' and shootin', naturally, but not really a lot for a B-Western.

You can really tell that this movie is based on a pulp story by Walt Coburn. (Unfortunately, I don't know which one.) It's just packed with back-story, plot twists, and characters who don't turn out like you might expect them to. The acting is generally pretty good, especially Naish and Oakman, and Glenn Strange, a welcome presence in any Western, shows up in a couple of scenes as a cowboy. One of the scripters was Gerald Geraghty, who went on to write some of those good Roy Rogers movies directed by William Witney.

If you've never seen a Tim McCoy movie, SILENT MEN wouldn't be a bad place to start. It's a good solid B-Western, and I'm glad I watched it. A tip of the enormous Stetson to Steve Mertz, who made that possible.

Monday, January 08, 2018

The Digest Enthusiast, Book Seven - Richard Krauss, ed.

THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST continues to be one of my favorite current publications, and the recently released Book Seven is no exception. Once again it provides an in-depth look at a variety of digest publications from past and present, leading off with a lengthy interview with Rick Ollerman, editor of DOWN & OUT: THE MAGAZINE, as well as the author of several well-received suspense novels and many top-notch introductions and essays from Stark House reprints of classic hardboiled, noir, and mystery fiction. The interview covers all these aspects of Ollerman’s career and is very informative and entertaining.

Other highlights for me include Peter Infantino’s continuing issue-by-issue survey of the iconic crime digest MANHUNT; a look at all the stories by Robert Edmond Alter (an author I really like) published in ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE, also by Infantino; Josh Pachter’s look back at ESPIONAGE MAGAZINE, a publiction with which he had a personal connection (and which I remember buying faithfully off the magazine rack at the local grocery store); and an article by Joe Wehrle Jr. on the Telzey Amberdon science fiction stories by James H. Schmitz, some of which I’ve read, and this article makes me want to collect and read the rest of them. All in all, THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST is well worth your time and money if you have any interest in these magazines at all, and if you don’t, it just might change your mind. Highly recommended.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Spicy-Adventure Stories, November 1937

This is a pulp I own and read recently. The cover is by H.L.V. Parkhurst. The scan at the top of the post is from the Fictionmags Index because my copy has the top few inches of the front cover removed, which means the owner of whatever newsstand it was once on cut it off and returned it for credit, but the otherwise intact magazine found its way into the wild and ultimately to me. For which I’m glad, because I nearly always enjoy the Spicy pulps.

This issue starts off with “The Pope’s Gonfalonier” by Wyreck Brent. That seems to have the author’s real name, but I’m not familiar with his work at all. This swashbuckler is set in 15th Century Rome and concerns the adventures of a young swordsman playing rival clans the Borgias and the Orsinis against each other. Brent gets in some decent swordplay and there are the requisite scenes where pretty girls lose nearly all of their clothes, but for the most part the writing is bland and the formula seems more tired than usual. This is a rare miss for a Spicy pulp, and I’m not sure why the editor ran it as the issue’s lead story.

Next up is “Storm Warning”, a yarn by one of the true stalwarts of the Spicy pulps, Robert Leslie Bellem. Newsreel cameraman Johnnie Piper goes to an isolated Florida key intending to shoot footage of an impending hurricane, only to find an abandoned mansion, a beautiful dame who may or may not be trustworthy, and a bunch of trouble. Great set-up, and Bellem tells the tale in his usual breezy, hard-charging prose, but he seems to not know much about actual hurricanes and the ending is a considerable letdown, as if Bellem realized he had enough words and just kind of stopped. This is another below-average story, especially for Bellem. What the heck is going on with this issue?

Things take a turn for the better with “Kiss of Death” by Hamlin Daly, who was really another prolific contributor to the Spicy pulps (and lots of others!), E. Hoffmann Price. This story is about about an American who owns a mine in Malaya and has to battle bandits, a Chinese tong, corrupt politicians, a ruthless American tycoon out to gobble up all the smaller mines in the country, and beautiful but treacherous women. If that sounds like a lot for a 15 page pulp story, that’s because Price never slows things down. This one is all action, all the way.

The next story is even better. “Clear All Wires” is by veteran pulpster John A. Saxon, writing as Rex Norman. Saxon’s tale concerns an American foreign correspondent getting mixed up with the dangerous politics of a Graustarkian Central European country, and he tells it in a very smooth, polished style. I enjoyed this one quite a bit.

“Phantom Throne” continues the upward trend for this issue. It’s by “Hugh Speer”, who was really Victor Rousseau, an even more veteran pulpster than John A. Saxon. This one finds a British soldier in colonial India caught up in a violent political upheaval as he tries to rescue a beautiful young American woman, while also becoming involved with a beautiful Indian courtesan. The setting is rendered well, there’s plenty of action, and I found this story thoroughly entertaining, a spicier version of the sort of yarn that Talbot Mundy wrote.

Rousseau also contributes the next story, “Lords of Folly”, under his more common pseudonym Lew Merrill. It’s a tale of the upheaval just prior to the French revolution, as the bastard son of an aristocrat returns to France from America with dangerous ideas in his head. Rousseau packs enough plot for a fat historical novel into this short story but doesn’t skimp on the action in the process. This is another very enjoyable yarn.

It’s not often that historical figures show up as the protagonists of pulp stories, but that’s the case in “Hell in Darien” by E. Hoffmann Price, writing under his own name this time. It features soldier and explorer Vasco Nuñez de Balboa in Panama, and like Victor Rousseau in the previous story, Price packs in enough political intrigue, romance, and swordplay into this novelette for a whole novel. It’s an excellent historical adventure yarn with a bit of an unexpected ending. At least I didn’t expect it.

The issue wraps up with another story by Robert Leslie Bellem, this time under his Jerome Severs Perry pseudonym. “Treasure Trail” is about an American aerial photographer in Africa who’s hired by a beautiful British girl for a mysterious job, only to have trying to stop him from taking it, by any means up to and including attempted murder. Naturally the protagonist unravels what’s going on, but not before getting into all sorts of trouble. This is an improvement on the other Bellem yarn in this issue, but it’s still nowhere near as good as most of his Dan Turner stories.

So overall, I guess this issue averages out. A couple of weak stories, a couple of very good ones, and the rest competently written and entertaining, if nothing special. I’m not sure the Spicy formula works as well with adventure stories as it does with detective yarns and Westerns. I still enjoyed this issue and am glad I read it.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Six-Gun Western Magazine, December 1950

This appears to have been the final issue of SIX-GUN WESTERN MAGAZINE, but it's notable for a couple of other reasons. The cover is by Robert Maguire, who's probably better known for his paperback covers, and it's a late variation on the cowboy/girl/geezer trio that shows up so often on Western pulp covers. The other reason someone might be interested in this issue is that it contains one of Elmer Kelton's early stories, "Bullets From the Past". I haven't read this story and don't know anything about it. I wish somebody would do a complete collection of Kelton's pulp stories, though. I'm sure there are plenty of good yarns of his that have never been reprinted.

Otherwise, this issue appears to have been fairly undistinguished. The most recognizable of the other authors is Lloyd Eric Reeve, who published quite a few stories in a variety of Western pulps from the late Twenties to the early Fifties. There's also a story by Frank E. Smith, who was really Jonathan Craig, best known for his hardboiled crime and police procedural novels published by Gold Medal and others in the Fifties and Sixties. The other authors are either house-names or guys you've never heard of. I do kind of like that cover, though.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Forgotten Books: Avalanche! - E.S. Dellinger

This week we're supposed to be writing about Forgotten Books by authors we haven't read before. E.S. Dellinger qualifies for me, but spoiler alert (not really), I'll certainly be reading more by him.

RAILROAD STORIES was one of the longest-running magazines to publish fiction. Beginning as a pulp called THE RAILROAD MAN’S MAGAZINE in 1906, it continued publishing stories about railroads and railroaders until January 1979, when it had long since become a slick magazine. True, there was a ten-year span in there when it was merged with ARGOSY, and the fiction published in the Seventies was mostly reprints from the magazine’s glory days during the Thirties, but still, that’s a pretty impressive record.

The star of RAILROAD STORIES during the pulp era was E.S. Dellinger, whose yarns were nearly always featured on the cover. Dellinger (1886-1962) was a former railroader himself who became a teacher and school superintendent as well as writing dozens of yarns for the pulps, beginning in 1926 with some sales to ADVENTURE. Bold Venture Press has started reprinting some of them, and I recently read a collection entitled AVALANCHE that includes three novellas, two starring engineer Rud Randall, the other featuring King Lawson, perhaps the most popular of Dellinger’s series characters. The title story, “Avalanche!”, the King Lawson yarn, appeared in the February 1934 issue of RAILROAD STORIES. The two Rud Randall stories are “The Lion Tamer”, from June 1935, and “Tornado!” from November 1935.

Dellinger covered several different phases of King Lawson’s life and career in that series. In “Avalanche!”, he’s the superintendant of a line that runs through the Rockies and is more of a supporting character in a yarn whose protagonist is a young engineer who was caught in a snowslide when he was a boy and has to battle a mortal fear of it happening again. Which, of course, it does, with a lot of lives at stake, including that of the girl the young hero loves.

Rud Randall, the protagonist of the other two tales, works for one of the rail lines that runs through the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas and Missouri, and there’s a definite flavor of rural Americana throughout these stories. Rud is a good character, a stubborn man devoted to railroading although he also loves his wife and children. He had a bit of a reckless streak and tends to push his locomotive as fast as it can safely go—and sometimes even faster. As a result, Rud is involved with more than one train wreck in these stories, although none of them are actually his fault. But if you need somebody to outrun a natural disaster or arrive on the scene of a wrecked circus train in time to save the day, nobody is better than Rud Randall.

There’s nothing fancy about Dellinger’s style, but he was a top-notch storyteller and can really keep the reader turning the pages. These yarns have plenty of action in them, but they’re surprisingly character-driven for pulp tales. “Tornado!” especially is a mini-epic, spanning more than a decade in Rud’s life and containing a lot of drama about the relationship between him and his son, in between train wrecks, the Stock Market Crash, and a giant killer tornado.

I really enjoyed this book. Dellinger was writing for an audience that knew a lot about railroading, so the stories are a little heavy on the slang and technical jargon, but everything is easy enough to figure out from the context. I picked up the other collections of Dellinger stories, and I also have a few issues of the actual RAILROAD STORIES pulp that I plan to dig out. Admittedly, most modern readers won’t have much interest in stuff like this, but I like visiting a simpler time now and then, when railroads really were the lifeline of the country and country kids grew up hearing a locomotive’s lonesome whistle in the night.

Monday, January 01, 2018

The Bloody Spur - Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

Famous gunfighter Caleb York is still the sheriff of Trinidad, in New Mexico Territory, and he has trouble on his hands again as several newcomers arrive in Trinidad in the opening pages of THE BLOODY SPUR, the third novel in this series by Max Allan Collins based on characters created by Mickey Spillane.

The new arrivals in town are a representative of the Santa Fe Railroad, which wants to build a spur line to Trinidad (there’s where the title comes from); an ex-convict and former partner of York’s friend, rancher George Cullen; and a notorious gun for hire known as the Preacherman, who has come to Trinidad with a couple of minions to kill someone. York just doesn’t know who.

Complications quickly ensue. The railroad wants to build its spur line through George Cullen’s ranch. Cullen is opposed to the idea, but his daughter Willa (with whom York has had an on-again, off-again romance) supports the idea. York has to find out who the Preacherman’s target is, and just what is Cullen’s old partner up to, anyway? Before any of that can be sorted out, a tragedy occurs, and it’ll come as no surprise that what appears at first to be an accidental death is actually murder . . .

As you might expect, THE BLOODY SPUR is as much mystery novel as it is Western adventure, and it doesn’t skimp on either element. There’s plenty of both gunplay and detection before Caleb York untangles everything and delivers his own brand of justice. I’ve really enjoyed this series, and I think this is the best book so far. It’s well-plotted, and Collins’ style is about as smooth as any you’ll find, making for a very fast, entertaining read. I really enjoy his characters, too, especially Jonathan Tulley, former desert rat and current deputy to Caleb York. If these books were Western B-movies from the Forties (which they resemble in some ways), Tulley would have to be played by one of my favorite sidekicks, Al “Fuzzy” St. John.

THE BLOODY SPUR will be out later this month, but it’s available for pre-order, and if you’re looking for a very good traditional Western, I give it a high recommendation.