Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Overlooked Movies: Colorado Sundown (1952)


Rex Allen may have been Republic Pictures' second-string singing cowboy behind Roy Rogers in the early Fifties, but I've always enjoyed his movies. The production values were always top-notch as well. Take COLORADO SUNDOWN, a 1952 entry that I've just watched. The director is William Witney, the special effects are by the Lydecker brothers, and there are plenty of great stunts choreographed by stunt coordinator Fred Graham, who also plays one of the bad guys. The movie gets off to a fast start, too, with a musical number, a runaway stage coach, and a murder in the first ten minutes.

The screenplay by Eric Taylor and William Lively is fairly complicated, involving a villainous brother and sister who inherit a ranch and plan to strip it of its timber, causing erosion and flooding that will ruin the other ranchers in the valley. Their scheme goes awry when a couple of unexpected other heirs show up, one of them none other than Slim Pickens, who was usually Rex Allen's sidekick. Rex has come along with his buddy Slim, of course, to make sure that no one takes advantage of him. It doesn't take Rex long to figure out that something crooked is going on, and before you know it, ridin' and shootin' abound, mixed in with at least three brutal fistfights (a Witney trademark) and a flash flood.

Slim Pickens is always fun to watch, the fine character actress Louise Beavers does what she can with a stereotypical role as a maid, and Allen is very likable, as well as an excellent rider and athlete. He was a good singer, too, although not as good as Roy. In fact, when I was a little kid I saw him perform at the Fat Stock Show rodeo in Fort Worth, and I've never forgotten it. (I saw Roy and Dale at the same rodeo a different year. No wonder I grew up to write cowboy stories.)

If you've never seen a Rex Allen movie, you should check out COLORADO SUNDOWN. It's a well-written, well-directed, well-made B-Western, not in the top rank of the genre but certainly worth watching.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Good News for Rocket's Red Glare


Three stories from ROCKET'S RED GLARE, the science fiction anthology I edited and published last year, have been selected to be reprinted in the next volume of THE YEAR'S BEST MILITARY AND ADVENTURE SF, edited by David Afsharirad and published by Baen Books. The stories are "Orphans of Aries" by Brad R. Torgersen, "A Hamal in Hollywood" by Martin L. Shoemaker, and "A Man They Didn't Know" by David Hardy. I'm really excited that these fine stories are being honored this way and can't wait to see them appear in the anthology. Makes me feel proud to be an editor.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: All Detective Magazine


ALL DETECTIVE MAGAZINE wasn't all that successful for Dell, running less than three years, but it had some good covers, like this one by Rafael DeSoto, and some fine authors, including in this issue Erle Stanley Gardner, Frederick C. Painton, Dwight V. Babcock, Edward P. Norris, and Hapsburg Liebe. I love that redheaded babe's expression.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Mammoth Western, March 1948


I can't tell if this hombre's hat got shot off or just fell off, so I can't say for sure if it's an Injury to a Hat cover. But I can tell you that the cover is by Robert Gibson Jones, this issue was edited by Ray Palmer, and the authors who have stories inside include Dwight V. Swain, "Alexander Blade", Chester S. Geier, Robert Moore Williams, Paul W. Fairman, William P. McGivern, H.B. Livingston (who was really Berkeley Livingston), and Lester Barclay (who was also Berkeley Livingston). In other words, the usual suspects for a Ziff-Davis pulp. But it's a pretty entertaining group of usual suspects.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Forgotten Books: Oh, For the Life of an Author's Wife - Elizabeth Charlier Brown


I’ve mentioned before that I like to read books about writers. Here’s one that’s a little bit different. OH, FOR THE LIFE OF AN AUTHOR’S WIFE is by Elizabeth Charlier Brown, Fredric Brown’s second wife who was married to him from 1948 until his death in 1972, during the most successful part of his career.

Elizabeth, or Bethie, as Fred called her, wrote this book in 1958, but it’s gone unpublished until now. It’s a fine memoir. Elizabeth Brown wrote and sold a few stories to the love pulps in the early Fifties, so she wasn’t exactly an amateur writer, but this book does have a charmingly unpolished air about it, more like you’re sitting with her and she’s telling you the stories in person. She writes quite a bit about the domestic side of the life she shared with Fredric Brown, the moving from state to state (Fred Brown was a very restless person and never liked to stay in one place for too long), the houses where they lived, the friends they made, the parties they attended, etc. But for those of us more interested in the writing side of things, she also goes into detail about what Fred was working on when, how some of the books came about, how his famous habit of taking long bus trips to work out his plots originated, even how much money he was paid for his books and stories. I’m often surprised by how little money was made by writers I’ve thought of as having long, successful careers. The Browns, for example, sometimes had to borrow money just to pay bills.

There are also numerous passages about other writers the Browns met and befriended, including a mention of Sam Merwin Jr., my old mentor from the MSMM days. It’s all fascinating stuff, and I had a hard time putting the book down because it seemed like there was always another nugget about the world of mystery and science fiction publishing in the 1950s just waiting to be discovered in its pages.

I’ll admit, I’m woefully under-read when it comes to Fredric Brown. I’ve read two or three novels and a handful of his short stories, but I’ve enjoyed them all and really need to read more by him. This volume may prompt me to do just that. I really enjoyed it, and if you’re a Fredric Brown fan or just someone who likes reading about authors, I give it a high recommendation.


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Overlooked Movies: Impact (2009)

(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on September 1, 2010.)

From what I can tell, this is a Canadian/German TV mini-series released as a feature film on DVD. It’s an old-fashioned disaster movie, complete with brilliant but impossibly good-looking scientist heroes, cute kids, grumpy but heroic old-timers, clueless politicians and military officers, and no real villains other than a capricious universe. In this case, the trouble starts when during a meteor shower, a chunk of a brown dwarf star slams into the Moon and imbeds itself deep beneath the lunar surface. The impact, plus the added weight of the incredibly dense dead star, throws the moon into a crazy orbit that makes gravity go crazy on Earth. Even worse, the Moon’s orbit is going to deteriorate to the point that it will eventually crash into Earth itself, shattering the planet.

I’m no scientist, but most of the scientific explanations in this movie sound pretty sketchy and the actors rush through them as if the director doesn’t want the audience thinking too much about them. To be honest, though, nobody watches stuff like this for the science. We watch for soap opera and stalwart heroics, both of which are in abundant supply in IMPACT. David James Elliott is the strong-jawed scientist hero, playing the role like something out of a Doc Smith novel, and Natasha Henstridge is the most gorgeous brainiac since Denise Richards in that James Bond movie, whichever one it was. James Cromwell is the father-in-law of Elliott’s character, Steven Culp is the President, and the rest of the cast consists of actors I’ve never heard of, although they may be well-known in Canada and Germany. Everybody is very earnest, which is understandable when the Moon is going to crash into the Earth in a month.

Despite my borderline snarkiness and the predictability of the script, IMPACT actually is pretty entertaining and manages to generate considerable suspense at times. I’m not suggesting you rush right out to pick up a copy, but watching it is an okay way to spend a couple of evenings or a long afternoon when you don’t have anything better to do.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Bill Crider

The world is an emptier place tonight for readers, writers, book collectors, and everyone who ever met the man. Rest in peace, Bill.

Outlaws of the Legion - David Hardy


I enjoyed David Hardy’s CODE OF THE LEGION so much I went ahead and read his other French Foreign Legion yarn, OUTLAWS OF THE LEGION, and I think I liked it even more. This one finds a group of Legionaires, including a Texas gunfighter (shades of El Borak!), leaving their post and raiding a sheikh’s stronghold to rescue a beautiful dancing girl and avenge a friend’s death. As always, Hardy does a fine job with the setting and the history and packs plenty of gritty action into the tale he’s telling. This is pure pulp in the best way, with echoes not only of Theodore Roscoe and Georges Surdez but also Robert E. Howard and Talbot Mundy. I hope Hardy keeps writing these, because they’re some of the best stories I’ve read recently. Highly recommended.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Transformers: The Last Knight


Have you ever been watching DOWNTON ABBEY and said to yourself, "Y'know, this is a pretty good show, but what it really needs is giant robots that can turn into other stuff fighting each other"?

Because that's kind of what you get in TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT, at least part of the time. Some of the film is set on an English country estate, complete with big, castle-like house, and Jim Carter, who played Carson the butler on DOWNTON ABBEY, plays another butler in this one, only he's a Transformer. And if you think that's kind of weird, hearing Carson's voice coming out of a robot, you'd be right. Elsewhere, Anthony Hopkins is the nobleman Carter's character works for, Mark Wahlberg and Josh Duhamel are our stalwart heroes helping the Transformers fight the evil Decepticons, and a whole crew of veteran voice actors are behind all the computer-generated robots.

The plot, you ask? Well, it fills in some of the Transformers' back-story and how they came to earth, which involves King Arthur and Merlin (no, I'm not making this up), and a secret weapon they create and give to Merlin which has been hidden for centuries, until it becomes the only thing that can prevent the Transformers' home planet of Cybertron from crashing into Earth. And Earth holds another secret that effectively sets up the next movie in the series, which I'm sure we'll watch, too, since we've seen all the others. Sure, the Transformers movies are big and loud and silly, but a few times in every one of them, they manage to create the sort of epic feeling that I enjoy. And to be honest, I'm still enough of a 12-year-old boy at heart that giant robots whaling the tar out of each other still seems like fun.

I thought about doing this post as part of the Overlooked Movies series, since I didn't know this movie had even been made, let alone was available on DVD, until I happened to come across it, but it seemed too recent and probably was too successful for that. So if I'm still doing the blog in a few years and the Overlooked Movies series is still going on, I'll do a repost of it when I'm stuck for anything else.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Bedtime Stories, February 1937


A Valentine's Day-related pulp cover by H.J. Ward. I don't know much at all about BEDTIME STORIES except that it looks pretty risque for the era and that Robert Leslie Bellem wrote for it, including a story in this issue. The names of the other authors mean absolutely nothing to me.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ranch Romances, Second November Number, 1936


With Valentine's Day coming up next week, it seemed like a good time to run a RANCH ROMANCES cover . . . because nothing says romance like a gun battle. I don't like RANCH ROMANCES from the Thirties as well as I do the issues from the Forties and Fifties, but it still had some good covers and fine authors writing for it. In this issue, there are stories by Stephen Payne, William Freeman Hough, Clee Woods, Cliff Walters, and Elsa Barker, all regulars in RANCH ROMANCES.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Forgotten Books: The Black Ice Score - Richard Stark (Donald E. Westlake)


I imagine many of you are long-time fans of Donald E. Westlake’s Parker novels, written under the Richard Stark pseudonym. I’ve only read about half the series but read one often enough that I plan to get around to all of them eventually. I just read one I’d never read before, THE BLACK ICE SCORE, published as a paperback original by Gold Medal in 1968 (the edition I read).

In this one, Parker and his girlfriend Claire are in New York on a shopping trip when three men break into their hotel room and try to warn Parker off from a job they seem to believe he’s taken. This is not the way to get on Parker’s good side, of course. Bad guys never seem to learn: don’t go after Doc Savage because you think he’s going to interfere with your plans. That holds true for Parker, too.

More guys show up later and turn out to be the ones the first group was worried about. They’re from the African nation of Dhaba (to quote Woody Allen’s WHAT UP, TIGER LILY, a fictional but real-sounding country) and they want Parker to teach them how to steal a bunch of diamonds that the country’s strongman dictator has smuggled into New York because he’s planning on abandoning the country. This bunch wants their guy to replace the soon-to-be-absconding dictator. The other bunch supports a rival strongman. Parker is just intrigued enough to take on the job of teaching how to pull off a diamond heist. But he’s not going to take part in the actual robbery.

How do you think that turns out?

Things always go wrong in these books, and THE BLACK ICE SCORE is no exception. Lots of stuff happens, and Parker deals with it in his usual badass manner.

To get a minor complaint out of the way, the fictional nation and the rival groups battling over who’s going to rule it give this plot a bit of a melodramatic feeling. It strikes me as very Sixties TV, as if Parker wandered into an episode of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE or THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. This sort of takes away from the air of hardboiled realism I’m used to in this series.

However, the writing is so good, so terse with not a word wasted, that THE BLACK ICE SCORE is a sheer joy to read anyway. Which leads me to another point: at 144 pages of average size type, plus the occasional blank page between chapters, I’d be surprised if this book is much more than 50,000 words. It might not even be quite that long. Most of today’s thrillers, if they had the exact same set-up, would be twice that long, with half a dozen plot detours and an extensive back-story on every character. It’s true that we don’t know much about some of the characters in this book . . . but we know enough.

Overall, I wouldn’t put THE BLACK ICE SCORE in the top rank of Parker (or Westlake) novels, but it’s still very good and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Enough so that I probably won’t wait as long to read another one.

(And a tip o’ the hat to Fred Blosser for this one.) 

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Spalding's Groove - Richard Prosch


I already knew that Richard Prosch is a fine Western writer. Turns out he’s pretty darned good with contemporary crime fiction, too. SPALDING’S GROOVE is a collection of two short stories and the intro to a series that continues in a later novel. The title story finds ex-cop Dan Spalding running a vintage record store that he inherited from his late brother. It’s located in Ozark Lake, a town with a big tourist industry that seems to be based on Branson, Missouri. The former child star of a popular TV show from the Eighties brings in several boxes of old records to sell, and that’s the start of a yarn that involves gangs, Russians, tragedy, and a dangerous shootout. Dan Spalding is an excellent character, just hardboiled enough, with his cop instincts still intact, to know when trouble’s about to strike. I’m looking forward to reading his next adventure.

The second story, “Cinderella Makes Good”, is a non-series tale set in Nebraska during the Eighties that’s a fine example of semi-rural noir involving street racing, a fatal crash, and vengeance. Prosch’s style is really evocative in this one. I grew up in Texas in the Sixties, rather than Nebraska in the Eighties, but some things are universal. Both of these stories are well worth reading, and if you’re a fan of top-notch crime fiction, I recommend you do so.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Code of the Legion - David Hardy


French Foreign Legion stories were a staple of the general fiction pulps such as ARGOSY, ADVENTURE, BLUE BOOK, and SHORT STORIES. But as popular as they were during that era, nobody writes them anymore.

Nobody, that is, except David Hardy. And he does a great job of it. CODE OF THE LEGION is a novella about the Legionaires assigned to Post 13, an isolated blockhouse in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, in the early 20th Century. They’re surrounded by hostile Berber tribesmen, the supply train that they’re depending on is ambushed and wiped out, and they’re facing a mysterious threat inside their own ranks. When the enemy lays siege to the outpost and begins to pick off the Legionaires one or two at a time, it begins to look as if none of them will survive.

Hardy does a fine job with the setting and the history, but mainly CODE OF THE LEGION is an adventure yarn that provides plenty of gritty action and genuine suspense, not to mention a thrilling conclusion. I really enjoyed this novella and give it a high recommendation.


Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Coming From Stark House: Flight to Darkness/77 Rue Paradis - Gil Brewer



FLIGHT TO DARKNESS

I murdered my brother with a sculptor's mallet. But it was only a dream. It was a dream I always had. I hated my brother. I was going home to see him now, get it out of my System, and then spend the rest of my life hunting Leda. She was my wife and she belonged to me. All I remember of that searing journey was the sun blazing down, and there, framed in the doorway, were my brother Frank and Leda, my lovely Judas wife. So when they found my brother with his head battered in by a sculptor's mallet, they said I had murdered him. But did I?

77 RUE PARADIS

It began here for Baron, the whole grotesque skein of terror here in this Marseilles street of despair, the street called the Rue Paradis. There was Gorssmann, fat and corrupt, who waited until Baron scraped bottom and then blackmailed him into treason. And Lili, the dark, lovely gamin, who fell in love with Baron--and worked for the man determined to destroy him. Altogether for Frank Baron it was a small hell on the street called Paradise!

This looks like another great double volume Gil Brewer reprint from Stark House, including a fine introduction by David Rachels and an eye-catching cover. I've read one of these novels, FLIGHT TO DARKNESS, and here's part of what I said about it here on the blog back in 2009:


FLIGHT TO DARKNESS is the story of Eric Garth, a sculptor from an old, fairly well-to-do Florida family who is wounded in the Korean War. The book opens with him about to be released from the psychiatric ward of a VA hospital in California. His physical wounds have healed, but he’s been troubled by a recurring dream in which he murders his brother. Eric has fallen in love with one of his nurses at the hospital and plans to marry her, but first they’re going to drive cross-country to return to his family home in Florida.

I’ll bet you can guess that doesn’t turn out to be a good idea.

Actually, they make it all the way to Alabama before trouble crops up, but when it does, it lands Eric in a sanitarium, and then his girlfriend disappears, and then he escapes, and when he does finally make it to Florida . . . well, you guessed it.

Things get worse.

And looming over the whole thing are Eric’s doubts about his own sanity, so always in the back of his mind (and the reader’s mind) is the possibility that he really is crazy, and when he’s framed for murder, well, maybe he wasn’t framed after all. Before the book is over, Eric can’t fully trust anything or anybody, including himself.

Murder, madness, swamps, gators, a savagely beautiful woman . . . it doesn’t get much better than this for noir fans, and the last fifty pages or so are about as crazed and breakneck as anything you’ll find in the genre. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.


Overlooked Movies: Me and Orson Welles (2008)


(This post originally appeared on September 22, 2010)

I’ve been a fan of Orson Welles and his movies for many years, so it’s no surprise that I’d watch ME AND ORSON WELLES, a backstage yarn from the point of view of a high school student and would-be actor who finagles his way into a part in Welles’ modern-dress Mercury Theater staging of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” in 1937. It’s a coming-of-age story, too, as the kid not only learns a lot about the theater and Welles’ eccentricities but also falls in love with the young woman who helps manage the troupe.

This is an old-fashioned movie, not flashy at all, well-written and very well-acted. Zac Efron is the kid, Claire Danes is the young woman he falls in love with, and Christian McKay, an actor I’d never heard of, turns in a spectacular performance as a young Orson Welles. McKay looks like Welles and does a good job on the voice, but mostly it’s a matter of capturing the attitude, the mixture of arrogance and brilliance that allowed Welles to accomplish the things he did. Also, knowing quite a bit about Welles’ later career, it was interesting to me to see the origins of some of the projects he tackled later on. The movie does a fine job of recreating the Thirties atmosphere, too.

Maybe it’s just because of the subject matter, but I think ME AND ORSON WELLES is one of the best films I’ve seen this year. Highly recommended.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: The Feds, December 1936


I like this cover, although that gunman's hands seem awfully large. The better to threaten the Feds and paw that babe in the red swimsuit, I guess. There are plenty of good writers in this issue of THE FEDS: Steve Fisher, Norman A. Daniels, Arthur J. Burks, Jean Francis Webb, William G. Bogart, Dale Clark, Laurence Donovan, and Edwin V. Burkholder. Not the top rank of pulp authors, maybe, but a good solid B-team.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Leading Western, January 1947

A stark, effective cover by Joseph Sokoli graces this issue of LEADING WESTERN, published by Trojan Publishing Corporation, the same outfit responsible for the Spicy pulps a few years earlier. Inside are stories by Laurence Donovan (writing as Larry Dunn) and a slew of house-names such as William Decatur, Paul Hanna, Max Neilson, and Walton Grey. So when it comes to the actual authors of those stories, your guess is as good as mine. It's entirely possible that they're reprints of earlier stories published under different titles and different house-names. Despite all that, I'll bet I would enjoy most of them.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Forgotten Books: The Odds Against Circle L - Lewis B. Patten


Over the years, Lewis B. Patten has become one of my favorite Western authors. His books always have a dark tone to them, and that’s certainly true of THE ODDS AGAINST CIRCLE L, a paperback original published by Ace in 1966 and later reprinted (the edition I read). In this one, Taggart Landry has returned to his hometown, which sits in the middle of the vast Circle L ranch owned by his father. Tag is the black sheep of the family, having run off a couple of years earlier because he’s jealous of his older brother. After leaving the ranch, he fell in with the proverbial bad company and got mixed up in a bank robbery in which a man was killed. Tag didn’t pull the trigger, but in the eyes of the law, he shares equally in the blame.

Now, after splitting from the gang and drifting for two years, he’s gotten word that his father is very ill and returns home because of that, even though his brother hates him and even threatens to kill him. Then, wouldn’t you know it, his former partners in crime show up and threaten to expose his part in the bank robbery unless he helps them loot the Circle L. What these murderous outlaws really have in mind is taking over the ranch, and Tag doesn’t see any way out of helping them without endangering his still seriously ill father.

Patten was always one to put his characters through hell, and that’s certainly true in THE ODDS AGAINST CIRCLE L. Tag Landry absorbs a considerable amount of punishment, both phyical and mental, as the situation gets worse and worse until he’s finally forced to fight back. Everything comes to a fairly satisfactory conclusion. Despite the darkness of his plots, Patten’s work seldom falls into the category of Western noir, so you can count on endings that aren’t necessarily happy but aren’t tragic, either.

THE ODDS AGAINST CIRCLE L is a little too thin, story-wise, to make it into the top rank of Patten’s novels, but it is a solid traditional Western that provides a couple of hours of good reading. I enjoyed it.