Saturday, March 17, 2018

Saturday Morning Bonus Pulp: Western Trails, January 1941

This issue of WESTERN TRAILS features novelettes by two of the most dependable Western pulpsters, L.P. Holmes and Lee Bond, along with stories by Orlando Rigoni, an author whose books I've seen around forever without reading any of them (something I plan to change in the relatively near future), Clint Douglas (a house-name), and several other authors I haven't heard of before. I'd read this issue just for Holmes and Bond, though, and any other good stories would be a bonus.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Forgotten Books: White Savage - John Peter Drummond

WHITE SAVAGE may be my favorite of the Ki-Gor novels so far. Originally published in the Fall 1941 issue of JUNGLE STORIES, this yarn finds Ki-Gor and his beautiful redheaded American wife Helene affected by the spread of World War II into Africa, as they encounter some sinister Italians before running afoul of an even more dangerous lost race. It’s difficult to explain too much about the plot of this one without venturing too far into spoiler territory, so I’ll just say that this is easily the creepiest Ki-Gor novel yet.

It’s pretty well written, too, by an unknown author with a smooth, fast-paced, evocative style. The way it’s structured is a bit of a problem, because it comes across like one novelette crammed into the middle of another novelette to make a full-length novel, but the author handles this deftly enough that it works.

Ki-Gor’s sidekick Tembu George, who has become one of my favorite pulp characters, makes a brief but important appearance, as does good old Marmo the elephant. Best of all, Helene, while not quite the badass of the early books, is much tougher and competent in this story and actually has stuff to do, instead of just standing around looking beautiful and getting kidnapped, as she does in some of the other novels.

With this novel and the previous one, KI-GOR—AND THE TEMPLE OF THE MOON GOD, I get the feeling that this series is starting to hit its stride. The next volume in the reprint series from Altus Press is on its way to me, and I’m looking forward to it. In the meantime, I’d recommend WHITE SAVAGE to anyone looking for an exciting jungle pulp yarn.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Overlooked Movies: The Yellow Rose of Texas (1944)

Although there were a few directed by other hands, Roy Rogers movies generally fall into two distinct groups: those directed by Joseph Kane and those directed by William Witney. Kane came first, as he helmed most of Roy's pictures for the first decade of his career. Generally speaking again, the Kane-directed movies are more musically oriented, with half a dozen songs in each one and even some elaborate production numbers, while the Witney-directed movies have more complex plots and concentrate on hardboiled action. As I've said many times before, I prefer Witney, but there's a lot to like about many of the Kane movies, too.

THE YELLOW ROSE OF TEXAS was directed by Kane, and at least it has a plausible plot reason for all the song-and-dance stuff: much of it takes place on a showboat where Roy (playing Roy Rogers) and Dale (playing a character named Betty Weston) work as entertainers. As the movie opens, the boat, which is named the Yellow Rose of Texas, is pulling into Prairie City, which holds some bad memories for Betty. She used to live there, until her father was accused of stealing a payroll and sent to prison. Now she finds out that he has escaped recently, and the law believes he'll try to get in touch with her, so they're keeping an eye on her. I don't think anybody reading this is going to believe that Dale Evans' father would ever steal a payroll, and you're not going to be surprised that Roy winds up trying to catch the real crooks so he can clear the old guy's name.

The script by Jack Townley actually has one nice twist to it, but it tips its hand 'way too early, as far as I'm concerned. A revelation about one character should have come much later in the film. Roy doesn't really have a sidekick in this one, either, unless you count character actor William Haade, who plays an old friend of his named Buster. Haade is okay, but he's no Gabby Hayes or Andy Devine or Smiley Burnette. Heck, Gordon Jones as Splinters McGonigle is a better sidekick. But I digress . . .

I like riverboat stuff, so I enjoyed THE YELLOW ROSE OF TEXAS even though the boat is docked for most of the movie. The plot is fairly interesting, Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers are on hand and good as usual, and although the movie could have used more action, what there is of it is handled well. This is a minor entry, probably more for Roy Rogers completists than casual fans, but I enjoyed it.

Monday, March 12, 2018

I Only Have Lies For You - Robert J. Randisi

Bob Randisi’s Rat Pack books are some of the most entertaining mystery novels currently being published. The latest one, I ONLY HAVE LIES FOR YOU, is out from Pro Se Productions, and it continues the excellence of this very strong series.

The narrator/protagonist of these books is Eddie Gianelli, better known as Eddie G., a former pit boss at the Sands casino in Las Vegas who has evolved into kind of a fixer and troubleshooter for the celebrities and high rollers who frequent the casino. In this novel, Eddie travels to Miami Beach with Frank Sinatra to meet Jackie Gleason. At first this seems like an innocent trip, little more than a vacation, but then June Taylor (of the June Taylor Dancers, featured on Gleason’s TV show) asks Eddie to look into the problem of someone who’s stalking her sister Marilyn, also a dancer on the show and maybe not so coincidentally, Jackie Gleason’s long-time mistress.

Eddie has barely gotten started on this favor when a dead body shows up, and there’ll be more murders later on, including that of a police detective, as the action bounces back and forth between Las Vegas, Miami Beach, and other locations in Florida. Eddie gets help from Jerry Epstein, a very likable character despite his connections to the Mob, and Vegas PI Danny Bardini. Randisi confronts them with plot twist after plot twist, but in the end the complicated affair all makes sense . . . but not until Eddie has risked his life to expose a killer.

As always with a Randisi book, I ONLY HAVE LIES FOR YOU is fast-paced and driven by fine dialogue. An added element in the Rat Pack series is his excellent depiction of the era, which I also remember quite well. (Bob and I are about the same age.) I recall watching and enjoying Jackie Gleason’s variety show on Saturday night. My dad always enjoyed the bits featuring Gleason as Joe the Bartender and Frank Fontaine as Crazy Guggenheim, and I did, too. In a period mystery, getting the details right is a tricky business, and so is not overdoing such details. Randisi nails both of those things in this series. I really enjoyed I ONLY HAVE LIES FOR YOU. If you’ve never read any of the Rat Pack books, it would work fine as an introduction, and if you have, you’ll definitely want to read this one, too.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Novels, February 1943

This issue of DETECTIVE NOVELS sports about as busy a pulp cover as you'll see. The lead story is a Candid Camera Kid novel by Norman A. Daniels writing as John L. Benton. I've read several of the Candid Camera Kid stories, featuring diminutive but two-fisted newspaper photographer Jerry Wade, and I found them very enjoyable. If somebody wanted to reprint that series, I wouldn't mind at all and certainly would buy such volumes. Also in this issue is a story by my old mentor, Sam Merwin Jr., and yarns by a couple of writers I'm not familiar with, Victor Hailey and Louis Owens. But for me, this issue would be worth reading just for the Daniels and Merwin stories.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Complete Western Book Magazine, October 1937

Two novellas take up most of the pages in this issue of COMPLETE WESTERN BOOK MAGAZINE, and fortunately they're by two top-notch pulpsters, Will Ermine (who was really Harry Sinclair Drago) and James P. Olsen (who was really James P. Olsen but was also very prolific under the name James A. Lawson). There are also short stories by the distinctively named Carmony Gove, who wrote a lot for various Western and detective pulps, and Bob Marsh, not a distinctive name at all and also not very prolific with only three stories in the Fictionmags Index. I've enjoyed everything I've read by Drago and Olsen, though, under their real names or whatever pseudonyms they were using, so I suspect this is a pretty good issue. I like the title of Olsen's story, "Mad Dash for Hell".

Friday, March 09, 2018

Forgotten Books: The Return of the Kid - Joseph Wayne (Wayne D. Overholser)

Wayne D. Overholser is one of those writers whose books have been around on library and used bookstore shelves as far back as I can remember. For some reason, though, I’ve never read much by him. A few novellas and short stories originally published in the Western pulps, but no novels that I can recall.

However, I recently came across a large print hardback of his 1955 novel THE RETURN OF THE KID and decided to give it a try. This novel was published in hardback by Dutton under the name Joseph Wayne, a pseudonym shared by Overholser and Lewis B. Patten. Evidently, some of the Joseph Wayne books are by Overholser, some by Patten, and some are collaborations between the two men. But since the copyright on this book was renewed by Overholser and it’s been reprinted more than once under his name, I assume it’s one he wrote without Patten.

As you might guess from the title, THE RETURN OF THE KID is a prodigal son yarn. (One minor problem is that nowhere in the book does anybody refer to the protagonist as “the Kid”. But I digress . . .) Jim Dunn returns to his hometown in Colorado after three years as a drifter. He’s the son of the biggest rancher in the area, who has died under mysterious circumstances several months earlier, after marrying a beautiful, much younger woman. It was this marriage, in fact, that caused the trouble between Jim and his father and led to his leaving home. Now his father is dead and the widow and the sinister foreman she’s hired are poised to take over and cut Jim out of his inheritance. He doesn’t intend to let that happen.

But then not everything turns out to be exactly the way Jim believes it to be, and more than one person surprises him. One thing that’s not a surprise, though, is that somebody keeps trying to kill him, and lots of bullets will fly before he sorts everything out.

As you can tell from that set-up, there’s not much in this book that you haven’t seen many times before. In that way, THE RETURN OF THE KID reminds me of the work of L.P. Holmes, who also used standard plots in his novels but wrote them extremely well. Overholser wasn’t the writer that Holmes was, though, at least not in this book, so I had a little trouble with the predictability of the plot and the deliberate pace early in the book. The story never does work its way up to much of a gallop.

However, Overholser has a deft touch with his characters, and the action scenes are good and tough. There are just enough plot twists to keep things interesting. I can see why Overholser had a long, successful career as an author of traditional Westerns, even though I didn’t think THE RETURN OF THE KID was anything special. I enjoyed it enough that I’ll read more by Overholser, but it’ll probably be a while before I get around to it.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Overlooked Movies: The Range Busters (1940)

The Range Busters were Monogram's lower-budget answer to Republic's The Three Mesquiteers, with two former Mesquiteers in Ray Corrigan and Max Terhune (John King was the third Range Buster). But THE RANGE BUSTERS is also the title of the first movie in the series. The three old friends, Crash (Corrigan), Alibi (Terhune), and Dusty (King) get together to help out a rancher friend of Crash's, but it turns out the man is murdered before they ever get there by a mysterious killer known as the Phantom. But the rancher has a beautiful daughter (Luana Walters) who inherits the ranch, so of course they hang around to give her a hand and catch the Phantom.

I've seen several of the Range Buster movies, and the scripts are usually the weakest element, often making little if any sense. This one's actually not bad, though. It hangs together fairly well, and I was even mildly surprised a couple of times by plot twists. However, there are some really dubious scenes along the way, such as the one where Crash sends Alibi into an ambush so he can circle around and get the drop on the bad guys from behind. It's a good thing those bushwhackers are such bad shots, or the Range Busters would be down a man.

Overall, though, Corrigan and Terhune are likable as always, King is less annoying than usual, Luana Walters is beautiful, the stunt work is okay, and there are dependable supporting cast players such as Frank La Rue and Kermit Maynard. THE RANGE BUSTERS is an entertaining way to spend an hour if you're a B-Western fan and probably the best one in the series I've seen so far. It's nowhere near as good as the best of the Mesquiteers movies, though, such as RIDERS OF THE WHISTLING SKULL.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: G-Men, December 1937

As far as I've been able to tell without doing a lot of research, the cover painting for this issue of G-MEN isn't a redone Western pulp cover and wasn't turned into a Western cover after being used here. But it sure looks like it could have been. Change the guns, put the guy in a yellow or blue cowboy shirt, and give him a bandanna instead of a tie, and you've got a TEXAS RANGERS or THRILLING WESTERN cover. Artist Richard Lyon provided numerous covers for both of those pulps.

Inside is a Dan Fowler story, of course, and I've always enjoyed those yarns about the stalwart FBI agent. The author behind the C.K.M. Scanlon house-name on this one may have been Whitney Ellsworth, best remembered these days as an editor for DC Comics. The back-up short story is by William T. Cowin, an author I'm not familiar with.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Adventures, February 1942

WESTERN ADVENTURES may have been Street & Smith's third-string Western pulp, behind WESTERN STORY and WILD WEST WEEKLY, but I've always thought it had some pretty strong issues. I like the cover on this one, and there's a fine line-up of authors inside including Cliff Farrell, Norman A. Fox, Gunnison Steele, Jim Kjelgaard, S. Omar Barker, and Charles N. Heckelmann.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Forgotten Books: Hazzard: The Complete Series - Frederick C. Davis

The more I read by Frederick C. Davis, the more he becomes one of my favorite pulp authors. He was the original author on the Operator 5 series (the forerunner of James Bond, the Man From U.N.C.L.E., and all the other secret agent adventurers of the Fifties and Sixties), and I first encountered his work in the Corinth paperback reprints of novels from that series close to 50 years ago. Of course, at the time I had no idea who “Curtis Steele” (the pseudonym that later became a house-name) really was, but I sure liked those stories.

In recent years I’ve read more by Davis, who went on to write a ton of pulp stories in various genres, then became a respected mystery novelist whose books appeared in hardback and paperback. His stories are always well-plotted and have plenty of action, and he writes in a clean, fast-paced style.

In 1935, Davis wrote six novellas featuring redheaded, two-fisted district attorney Mark Hazzard that ran as a back-up series in the pages of the pulp SECRET AGENT X. Hazzard has a tragic secret in his past that makes him more concerned with justice than with the niceties of the law. Most pulp characters with a similar background would don a disguise to fight lawlessness and be district attorney by day, masked avenger by night. But not Mark Hazzard. He does all his crime-busting, whether technically legal or not, as himself, with the help of his beautiful secretary (they love each other, of course, but can’t act on that love because of the dangers in which Hazzard is always putting himself) and an escaped convict who was framed for murder and is really a good guy.

The six stories are:

“Coffins for Two”, August 1935
“Juggernaut Justice”, September 1935
“Corpses’ Court”, October 1935
“The Murder Crypt”, November 1935
“Terror Tribunal”, December 1935
“The Death-Chair Challenge”, January 1936

I’m not going to summarize them, but each involves some sort of miscarriage of justice that Hazzard has to resolve as a tough-guy vigilante rather than an attorney, all while fending off the dangerous investigations of Inspector Trencher, a police detective who’s convinced that Hazzard is hiding some secret and is really a crook.

There’s not much in these stories that you haven’t seen in dozens of other pulp yarns (the police detective nemesis, for example, was a staple of the Secret Agent X series, the very magazine in which the Mark Hazzard stories appeared). One of the stories near the end has a surprising and intriguing twist that I wish Davis had made more of, but by the next story it seems to have been forgotten. Also, like most pulp series, the saga of Mark Hazzard just comes to an end and has no real conclusion.

But Davis tells the stories so well, with such skill in plotting, pacing, and action, that I had a great time reading them anyway. The entire series has been reprinted in one volume from Altus Press, and if you’re a pulp fan, I give it a high recommendation.