Thursday, April 15, 2021

The Sheriff - Robert Dwyer and Austin Wright

An aging Sheriff Donovan is coming to terms with his recent diagnosis of terminal cancer and desperate to maintain his tenuous grasp on Three Chop—the town he willed into existence. When Donovan enters into a bargain with a faction of rural Christian Prohibitionists, agreeing to shutter the local saloon and brothel, his plan to cement his legacy in the eyes of God meets resistance from the town’s business elite, whose livelihoods depend on liquor sales. With a band of notorious outlaws descending on Three Chop, the dispute ignites into a furious battle that forces residents to take sides, to choose between the town’s past and future.

THE SHERIFF is the debut novel from authors Robert Dwyer and Austin Wright, and a strong debut it is. Set in the last decade of the Nineteenth Century, in and around the Texas Panhandle town of Three Chop, it brings together a variety of characters—assorted dangerous outlaws, a fanatical evangelist, a dying sheriff determined to maintain law and order no matter what the cost—and orchestrates some epic showdowns between the various factions. There are definite echoes of the traditional Western here but a more literary sensibility to the writing and plotting. It’s a bleak but impressive yarn and well worth reading if you’re looking for a Western that’s a bit offbeat while retaining a fondness for what’s gone before.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Now Available in Large Print: West of the Big River: The Lawman - James Reasoner

William M. "Bill" Tilghman had one of the most illustrious careers of any Old West lawman, serving as sheriff, town marshal, and deputy United States marshal in some of the toughest places west of the Mississippi. But he faced perhaps his greatest and most dangerous challenge when he rode alone into the wild Oklahoma Territory settlement of Burnt Creek on the trail of a gang of rustlers and outlaws with some unexpected allies . .

Center Point recently acquired the large print rights and the first hardback of Western Fictioneers' West of the Big River: The Lawman is now available. The Avenging Angel by Michael Newton, The Artist by Jackson Lowry, and The Ranger by James J. Griffin are already up for pre-order and more will follow. This would be a great series for your local library to pick up.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Overlooked Movies: My Man Godfrey (1936)

MY MAN GODFREY is one of those movies that played on TV all the time when I was a kid, but I never watched it until now. When it started, Livia and I both commented on what an inventive main title sequence it has, especially for the time period, as the names of the actors and filmmakers appear on the sides of buildings as the scene pans across a city skyline. It works really well.

The story itself opens with a group of homeless men, including Godfrey, played by William Powell. Let’s face it, William Powell is always going to look dapper and distinguished, even unshaven and wearing raggedy old clothes. Some rich society folks show up on a scavenger hunt, including a pair of sisters: cold, arrogant Gail Patrick and sweet but goofy Carole Lombard. Lombard winds up hiring Powell as the new butler for her eccentric family. Everybody learns lessons from each other. And then “Godfrey” turns out to be not quite what he appears to be.

This is an early screwball comedy, and as such, a not quite perfected example of the genre. A few goofy things happen, and there’s a lot of fast-paced-almost-to-the-point-of-incomprehensible dialogue, but it’s not really all that funny. The more dramatic aspects of the story actually work better, as the movie has some points to make about the Depression era in which it was made. As usual, Powell’s great. I’ve liked him in everything that I’ve seen. Eugene Pallette, who has become one of my favorite character actors, is on hand as the long-suffering patriarch of the society family. I have to admit, I’m not much of a Carole Lombard fan, and she didn’t win me over in this movie. There’s nothing wrong with her, it’s just that she’s overshadowed by icy-but-beautiful Gail Patrick as the unsympathetic sister. It may be sacrilege to say this, but I almost wished Godfrey had wound up with her instead of Lombard’s character.

And where the hell was Charles Lane? Isn’t it a rule that Charles Lane has to be in every movie like this?

Anyway, I enjoyed MY MAN GODFREY and I’m glad I finally watched it. It’s well worth the time. It has a reputation as one of the best films of all time, and for me, it doesn’t reach that level, but it’s still a really nice movie from one of the various Golden Ages of Hollywood. 

Monday, April 12, 2021

The Coldest Trail - Wayne D. Dundee

Wayne D. Dundee's latest Western novel, THE COLDEST TRAIL, is a direct sequel to his previous novel, THE FOREVER MOUNTAIN, taking up not long after that one left off. Lone McGantry has finished the dangerous task of laying the remains of his murdered partner to rest, and now he takes up the trail of the men responsible for killing the man and stealing the horse herd he and McGantry had on their ranch. Cold trail or not, McGantry is determined to track down the gang led by "the man with the burned face", as McGantry's partner told him before dying.

As always with a Dundee novel, you can count on a tough, stubborn protagonist, and Lone McGantry is one of his best. He's one of my favorite characters in the Western genre these days. You can also be sure that Dundee will pile a lot of trouble on the protagonist's head, and that's certainly true in THE COLDEST TRAIL. McGantry runs into plenty of obstacles and proddy characters during his quest, which also involves a stolen army payroll and a beautiful saloon singer known as Calamity Jane Jr.

Everything leads up to an action-packed final battle with McGantry's quarry that's one of the best I've read recently. It's great stuff, and very satisfying. Wayne Dundee is one of the best Western writers in the business, and you won't go wrong with any of his books. Highly recommended.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Super Science Stories, November 1941

You know, sometimes it seems like the bugs around here are that big, too. This looks like a great issue of SUPER SCIENCE STORIES, with stories by Robert A. Heinlein (writing as Lyle Monroe), Alfred Bester, Henry Kuttner, a collaboration between Ray Bradbury and Henry Hasse, a yarn by pioneer pulpster Ray Cummings, and a reprint of a Tumithak of the Corridors story by Charles R. Tanner. I've been aware of those Tumithak stories for many years now, but I'm pretty sure I've never read one. Are they worth seeking out?

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Saturday Morning Bonus Pulp: Double Action Western, November 1944

What did I tell you about those Old West barber shops? It just wasn't safe going into those places, as the cover on this issue of DOUBLE ACTION WESTERN proves. This issue has only three stories in it, a novel by Galen C. Colin, an author I've never read, and short stories by Chuck Martin, whose work I've read and enjoyed in the past, and Basil Wells, an author I'd never even heard of. But a quick check of the Fictionmags Index reveals that Wells broke into the pulps in 1940 and as still writing stories for small press magazines as late as the Nineties! There weren't very many pulpsters still active at that point.

Friday, April 09, 2021

Forgotten Books: Meg - Loren Beauchamp (Robert Silverberg)

Sexy, redheaded, 19-year-old bombshell Meg Tandler loses her virginity to her farmboy beau, and that causes her to realize that if she doesn’t make a break, she’ll be doomed to marry such a dullard and live a bleak existence as a farm wife for the rest of her life. So she leaves the small town in Idaho where she grew up and heads for New York, determined to break into show business and make herself rich and famous.

That’s how MEG, written by Robert Silverberg and published by Midwood in 1960 under the pseudonym Loren Beauchamp, begins. And it’s a whirlwind that never really slows down after that. Almost before you know it, Meg is in New York and has a manager/agent who gives her a new name—Meg Loring. She wins a couple of beauty pageants, does some sexy but tasteful magazine covers and photo shoots, gets a screen test in Hollywood, signs a movie contract, and becomes a star. Oh, and along the way she sleeps with every powerful man who can help further her career. She’s made the proverbial journey from rags to riches, but of course, there are still a lot of pitfalls waiting for her in Hollywood . . .

The pace is so fast in this book, the plot developments so over the top, the characters so colorful, that MEG has something you don’t often find in Robert Silverberg’s soft-core novels: a really tongue-in-cheek tone and some genuinely amusing lines of dialogue, especially from Meg’s eccentric agent Max Bonaventura. Some of the Hollywood stuff is pretty funny, too, as many of the characters seem based on real-life figures in the movie business. It also provides a vivid, accurate portrait of the time period, the same way most of the novels in this genre do, at least the ones by the better writers.

MEG is certainly the most lightweight soft-core novel by Silverberg that I’ve encountered yet, and as such, it’s a nice change of pace and a very enjoyable novel. I thought the ending was a little lacking, but it’s still very much worth reading. It’s the second half of a double novel reprint volume coming soon from Stark House.

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Now Available: Battling Britons - Justin Marriott, ed.

Brits at War! War at sea, in the air and on land, as seen through the pages of classic British comics. The war comic has been an enduring part of British pop culture, from the invasion of the pocket books in the 1960s, through to the explosion of weekly strips in the 1970s. Often dismissed and derided, the time has come to reassess their importance as entertainment and education. In these pages are 215 capsule reviews of war comics from the 1960s through to the 2000s, with insights to the creators, themes and sheer readability. Strips from well-loved comics such as Action, Air Ace Picture Library, Battle Picture Library, Battle Picture Weekly, Commando, Valiant, Victor, War Picture Library and Warlord. Fully illustrated with covers and panels from the stories reviewed, many of them by top European creators. Edited and co-written by Justin Marriott, with contributions from Jim O’Brien, Steve Myall and James Reasoner. Foreword from award-winning journalist and war comics expert Paul Trimble. Afterword from Commando scripter Gary Martin Dobbs.

(I wrote some of the reviews in this excellent volume, and in reading through it, I've found a number of other stories I want to look for. If you're a fan of war comics, war fiction, or comics in general, I think you're going to want BATTLING BRITONS. Highly recommended.)

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

The Miracle Squad - John Wooley and Terry Tidwell

Back in the Eighties, I read a lot of independent comics (along with plenty of Marvel and DC titles), and one that I remember very fondly is THE MIRACLE SQUAD, written by John Wooley and drawn by Terry Tidwell. Recently I discovered that the first four issues have been reprinted in a very handsome trade paperback, so I was eager to revisit them. I’m glad I did, because THE MIRACLE SQUAD is still a lot of fun.

Not surprisingly, since Wooley is an expert on pulps, old comics, and old movies, I am definitely the target audience for a yarn like this. In 1937, beautiful Sandra Castle arrives in Hollywood to search for her twin sister. A year earlier, they both won a talent contest that got them screen tests, but only Sandra’s sister Eileen headed west to Hollywood—where she promptly disappeared. Now Sandra’s searching for her, but before you know it, she’s mixed up with a low-budget movie production company, Miracle Studios, which is targeted for a takeover by gangster Sweets O’Hanlon. Handsome young producer Mark Barron takes over the studio after his father is murdered by O’Hanlon’s gunmen. Also working for the studio are magician and daredevil Johnny Rice, character actor Hamilton Wynde, towering prop man Billy Caserta, driver and valet Tito Guzman, and studio detective Robert B. Leslie (any resemblance to pulpster Robert Leslie Bellem, creator of Dan Turner, is strictly not coincidental, since Wooley’s connections to Bellem go ’way back). Together, this group calls themselves the Miracle Squad as they battle O’Hanlon and his goons and search for Sandra’s missing sister at the same time.

I had a great time reading this collection. I mean . . . B-movies, gangsters, cowboys, night clubs, blimps, gambling ships, beautiful dames, two-fisted heroes . . . what more could a fan of that era want? Wooley’s scripts and plot twists are excellent, and Tidwell’s art does a great job of capturing the era.

Rounding out this volume from Bill Cunningham’s Pulp 2.0 Press are reminiscences by the creators, articles on B-movies that originally ran in the comic book, artwork and sketches, and the short story in which Wooley first wrote about several of these characters. It all makes a wonderful package, and I’m glad I discovered it. Wooley and Tidwell produced another series about a masked crimefighter called THE TWILIGHT AVENGER, and Pulp 2.0 has reprinted two volumes of those stories, as well. I have them and look forward to reading them. In the meantime, if you’re a fan of independent comics and/or old movies or just very good adventure fiction, THE MIRACLE SQUAD gets a high recommendation from me.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Overlooked Movies: Air Strike (2018)

AIR STRIKE, a 2018 Chinese/American production starring Bruce Willis as an American pilot training and commanding the Chinese air force in the early days of World War II, has some of the worst reviews I’ve ever seen on IMDB. It’s propaganda, they say, showing how brave and noble the Chinese were in their battles against the Japanese. Yeah, maybe so . . . but the Chinese guys who wrote it must have watched every American war movie made during the Forties, because that’s exactly how it plays, complete with soap opera, comedy relief, and a lot of stirring action as the Chinese pilots fight to protect their homeland from Japanese bombers. There’s also a plotline about how one of the pilots, grounded because of injuries, becomes an intelligence agent and is tasked with delivering a vital code-breaking machine to its destination.

As with a lot of Bruce Willis movies these days, he gets top billing but is actually playing a supporting role. He’s on-screen for fifteen or twenty minutes, total. But that’s more than his daughter Rumer, who’s third-billed but has only one scene that lasts maybe thirty seconds. Adrian Brody, the only other actor in the cast you’ll recognize, plays a doctor and fares a little better, but he’s not around much, either.

AIR STRIKE suffers from some muddled storytelling, but the action scenes, although pretty heavy with CGI, are effective. I found myself interested in the characters and their storylines. It’s certainly not a great film, but I don’t think it’s as bad as the reviewers make it out to be. An enjoyable time-waster, let’s call it, and I don’t mean that to be damning with faint praise. Sometimes that’s plenty for me.