Sunday, July 21, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, June 17, 1933

Nothing says "pulp" to me quite as much as ARGOSY. If it weren't for all those dang serials, it would be just about the perfect adventure pulp magazine! Take this issue, for example. You've got a colorful, dramatic cover by Paul Stahr, and inside are stories by Erle Stanley Gardner (a Whispering Sands yarn), Talbot Mundy, Theodore Roscoe, Donald Barr Chidsey (with his series character Nick Fisher), George F. Worts (part of a Peter the Brazen serial as by Loring Brent), Fred MacIsaac, Ralph Milne Farley, Cliff Farrell, and Armand Brigaud. To say that's an impressive line-up is quite an understatement! And ARGOSY did that week after week. Truly an iconic pulp. 

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Thrilling Ranch Stories, July 1948

One of the things I really like about Western pulp covers is that while there are plenty of "damsel in distress" type covers, there are also a lot that feature women who are just as tough and competent as the men. This cover by Sam Cherry from the July 1948 issue of THRILLING RANCH STORIES is a good example. There's not even a guy in sight, other than the hand of the one holding the gun, and that blonde is about to make him wish their trails had never crossed. Inside this issue are stories by some fine writers: L.P. Holmes, Giles A. Lutz, Stephen Payne, Samuel Mines, Joe Archibald, Cliff Walters, and Gladwell Richardson. The so-called Western romance pulps had plenty to like for traditional Western readers.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Forgotten Books: John Severin's Billy the Kid, Western Outlaw, Volume 1 - Joe Gill and John Severin

I never read too many comics published by Charlton when I was a kid. I started reading mostly Dell comics, discovered DC and then Marvel, so the smaller publishers didn’t get much of my allowance money, plus they weren’t distributed very well around here. However, I do remember reading some issues of BILLY THE KID, WESTERN OUTLAW when I was very young. Too young to know anything about artists, for sure.

But in later years, John Severin became one of my favorite comic book artists during his long run on SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS, a title I read faithfully and always enjoyed. Severin’s art was a big part of that, and when I came across his work in other places, I continued to enjoy it. He did quite a bit for Charlton in the early Sixties, including the Billy the Kid stories in this volume, which reprints ten stories from BILLY THE KID, WESTERN OUTLAW #20-23.

These are very short stories, running six or seven pages each, and journeyman writer Joe Gill’s scripts are pretty simplistic, as you’d expect at that length. There’s no attempt to make the Billy the Kid anything like his actual historical counterpart. He’s only vaguely regarded as an outlaw. Mostly he’s just a drifting do-gooder seemingly loved by common people and lawmen alike, whose only real goal in life is to fight rustlers, bank robbers, and bullies. The writing is serviceable, but no more than that.

Severin’s art makes these stories worth reading, though. It’s not overly detailed but always has a gritty air of Old West authenticity about it. He does a good job with guns, horses, Western landscape, etc., and his action scenes are dynamic. He’s just a good comic book artist in the classic style, with a strong storytelling sense. I thoroughly enjoyed this collection.

You can read these stories for free on-line, but I thought this inexpensive collection, which also includes some photos and biographical material on Severin, was worthwhile. I plan to seek out more of his Billy the Kid stories.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Overlooked Movies: Stan & Ollie (2018)

I’ve been a Laurel & Hardy fan about as far back as I can remember. I didn’t like them as much as the Three Stooges or Abbott & Costello, but I watched many of their movies on TV and always enjoyed them. So I was a pretty good target audience for STAN & OLLIE, a biopic from last year that focuses on the final year of their performing career.

This movie actually combines a couple of different European tours made by Laurel & Hardy into one storyline, but it works and is fairly accurate in other respects, as far as I know. (I’m a fan but not an expert on the duo, by any means.) Steve Coogan plays Stan Laurel and John C. Reilly is Oliver “Babe” Hardy. Reilly is an odd bit of casting, but again it works well. It’s kind of a sad film, as both men are aging, nowhere near the stars they once were, and Hardy is plagued by health problems. All of that is portrayed well, and the production values are high.

Ah, but when they start doing classic Laurel & Hardy bits, the comedy kicks in and I start to grin. No, they’re not as good at it as the real thing, but the bits are still funny. I also appreciated the fact that the script makes it clear how much of the writing and directing of their films was done by Stan Laurel, whether he received any credit for it or not. They were both really talented guys, and STAN & OLLIE does a good job of showing that.

By the way, I also really like Oliver Hardy as John Wayne’s sidekick in THE FIGHTING KENTUCKIAN and wish he had done more roles along those lines.

Anyway, I didn’t even know STAN & OLLIE existed until we watched it recently, but I’m glad we did. If you’re a fan of classic movie comedies and watched them all the time on TV while you were growing up, as I did, you might like it, too.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Reign of Terror - Paul Bedford

Frontiersman Jared Tucker has brought his family to a ranch on the Brazos River for a new start in Texas, unaware that roving bands of Comanche, frustrated by their defeat at the Battle of Adobe Walls, are looking for just such isolated ranches where they can vent their anger against the white settlers. An attack on his home leaves a grieving Tucker searching for his 13-year-old daughter, the only survivor of the massacre, who has been carried off by the renegades.

Tucker falls in with buffalo hunter Woodrow Clayton, who has faced the Comanches before at Adobe Walls. Together, the two men join forces with a cavalry column led by Colonel Ranald Mackenzie, bound for a showdown with Chief Quanah Parker’s forces at a place called Palo Duro Canyon. Tucker, along with Clayton, hopes to find and rescue his daughter before it’s too late . . .

I read another historically based Western novel by Paul Bedford not long ago and enjoyed it, and REIGN OF TERROR is even better. He does a fine job of mixing history and fiction and presents an accurate portrayal of the Battles of Adobe Walls and Palo Duro Canyon and the leaders on both sides, Quanah Parker and Ranald Mackenzie, all the while spinning a compelling fictional yarn as well. The search among the Indians for a white captive is a very traditional Western plot, so the execution becomes even more important. Bedford pulls it off, even more impressive considering that he’s an English author and REIGN OF TERROR is part of the Black Horse Western line, soon to be published in England but available for pre-order in the U.S. as well. I plan to read more by Paul Bedford, and if you’re a fan of traditional Westerns, I recommend his books.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Ten Detective Aces, February 1935

I don't know much about Emery Clarke, who did the cover on this issue of TEN DETECTIVE ACES, except that he was pretty active as a pulp cover artist from the mid-Thirties to the mid-Forties, including doing the covers for a number of issues of DOC SAVAGE. The guy on this one looks kind of dumb with his hand spread out like that as he reaches for his gun, but that's a fine-looking blonde beside him. Inside is the usual strong line-up for this pulp, including a Moon Man story by Frederick C. Davis and other yarns by G.T. Fleming-Roberts, Emile C. Tepperman, Philip Ketchum writing as Carl McK. Saunders, Joe Archibald, and J. Lane Linklater.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: 10 Story Western Magazine, April 1947

And thus another Old West poker game comes to a violent end. Not only that, but look at the bullet hole in the guy's hat brim. Injury to a Hat Alert! I love this cover, which I'm pretty sure is by Robert Stanley. It's the little details that really make it work, like the two matches tucked in the cowboy's hat band and the royal flush laid out on the table. A lesser artist might not have even thought of those things. 10 STORY WESTERN MAGAZINE always had a good group of authors, and this issue is no exception: Tom W. Blackburn, Joseph Chadwick, Gunnison Steele (Bennie Gardner), Carl McK. Saunders (Philip Ketchum; "Saunders" is a pseudonym he used mostly for mystery and detective yarns), John Jo Carpenter (John Reese), Rod Patterson, Richard Brister, and Harrison Colt, a name I've always thought must be a pseudonym, but I don't know if it really was. Plus the familiar, instantly recognizable yellow-and-red color scheme. I'm a big fan of 10 STORY WESTERN and this looks like an excellent issue.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Forgotten Novelettes: Wreckers of the Star Patrol - Malcolm Jameson

A down-on-his-luck ship’s captain winds up taking a job as first mate on a tramp steamer carrying a valuable cargo, only to find himself involved in a scheme to wreck the ship for the insurance money . . .

Wait a minute. That’s the sort of nautical adventure yarn H. Bedford-Jones would have written for ARGOSY or SHORT STORIES. “Wreckers of the Star Patrol” by Malcolm Jameson, a novelette that appeared originally in the August 1942 issue of SUPER SCIENCE STORIES, is completely different. It’s about a down-on-his-luck spaceship captain who winds up taking a job as first mate on a tramp spaceship carrying a valuable cargo, only to find himself involved in a scheme to wreck the spaceship for the insurance money.

I’m sorry. I’m being too snarky here, and “Wreckers of the Star Patrol” doesn’t deserve it because I actually did enjoy this pulp science fiction yarn. The Bedford-Jones-like plot only takes up about the first half of it. Then it becomes a Space Western for a while, as the hero becomes a cowboy of sorts herding native fauna on another planet, riding a sort of small, winged dinosaur instead of a horse. And then, suddenly (here comes the kitchen sink), evil aliens invade! This gives the hero the chance to meet up again with the villains responsible for his previous dilemma and get his revenge on them.

Honestly, “Wreckers of the Star Patrol” isn’t very good. For one thing, there’s no Star Patrol in it, not even a mention. It’s a collection of standard pulp adventure elements dressed up with science fiction trappings. Characterization is almost non-existent. But, as I said above, I did enjoy it, mostly for the head-long pace and some good action scenes and dialogue. This is the first thing I’ve read by Malcolm Jameson. He sold quite a few stories to John W. Campbell for ASTOUNDING and UNKNOWN and I’m inclined to try some of them because he clearly wasn’t without talent. I think this one is just a reject sold to a salvage market, and even at that, I would have loved it when I was ten years old. I have no trouble putting myself in that mindset, and if you can do the same, you might like it, too.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Last Stage to Hell Junction - Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

First of all, is that a great title or what? LAST STAGE TO HELL JUNCTION. I can see it on the cover of a Popular Publications Western pulp or a Gold Medal paperback. In fact . . .

But more on that later. What you need to know is that this is the fourth Caleb York novel by Max Allan Collins based on the character created by Mickey Spillane. Former Wells Fargo detective/gunfighter Caleb York is still the sheriff of the small town of Trinidad, New Mexico Territory, and as usual, trouble’s not long in cropping up. York is also still juggling on-again, off-again romantic relationships with two women, beautiful blond ranch owner Willa Cullen and beautiful brunette saloon owner Rita Filley. The two women find themselves on the same stage bound for the neighboring town of Las Vegas, where there’s a railroad spur that will take them to Denver for shopping trips. Also on the stage is the most successful businessman in Trinidad, who owns banks and other enterprises throughout the Southwest.

The stagecoach hasn’t gone very far before it’s jumped by an outlaw gang led by a charismatic former actor gone bad. Their target is the businessman, who they kidnap to hold for ransom. They take the two women along with them as well, and everybody holes up in the ghost town of Hale Junction, which some wag has renamed Hell Junction on the sign at the edge of town. When Caleb York finds out about this, he sets out to rescue the hostages and deal with the outlaws, of course, but doing that without getting his friends killed proves to be a tricky job.

As always, Collins’ prose is just as smooth and fast-flowing as can be, and his characters are interesting, including the villains. I’m particularly fond of York’s deputy, reformed drunk and desert rat Jonathan Tulley. He’s a fine sidekick. I don’t know how the author sees him, but in my head he’s always Al “Fuzzy” St. John. Collins does an excellent job of making things worse and worse for his protagonist, until you really do start to wonder how York will be able to sort things out.

Now, as for that Gold Medal connection . . . I realized as I was reading this book that the series reminds me of the Amos Flagg novels written by Clifton Adams under the name Clay Randall in the Sixties. Flagg and York are very different characters, of course, but the books are the same sort of tough, fast-moving Western yarns with colorful casts and plenty of action. The York books could have almost been written and published then. If you’re looking for good, solid traditional Westerns with a hardboiled edge, I highly recommend LAST STAGE TO HELL JUNCTION and the other Caleb York novels.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Overlooked Movies: The Catcher Was a Spy (2018)

THE CATCHER WAS A SPY is about 90% a very good movie. The other 10% is just annoying.

Some of you probably know just from the title that this movie is about Moe Berg, a journeyman major league baseball catcher during the 1920s and ’30s. He was an interesting character, having attended Princeton, learned numerous languages, and deliberately cultivated a mysterious air about himself. Not surprisingly, his nickname was “Professor”. He even became a minor celebrity for appearing on a radio quiz show.

And at some point—we’re not sure when, possibly even before World War II—he went to work for Wild Bill Donovan at the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the C.I.A. His primary mission, on which he worked with several other agents, was finding out how close Germany was to developing a working atomic bomb, and eventually he was assigned to assassinate Werner Heisenberg, the scientist in charge of the German effort, if he deemed it necessary.

All this is a matter of history, and the movie does an excellent job of playing out that part of the story. The pace is leisurely but never boring, and the cast, led by the always likable Paul Rudd as Moe Berg, is top-notch. Production values are high. All that is the 90% that works.

The 10% that doesn’t occurs when the director and screenwriter, out of the blue, decide that Moe Berg must have been gay, something that none of his biographers or the director of a documentary about him, give any credence to whatsoever. It’s like they sat down and said, “Oh, he never got married and he was kind of secretive about his life . . . so he must have been gay! Yeah, let’s go with that!” And so we get a few scenes clumsily shoehorned into the movie that almost feel like they came from a diffferent film. Rudd doesn’t even come across like he believes those scenes. In those moments his performance seems like he’s saying to the audience, “Yeah, I’m only doing this because these guys told me to. I don’t buy it, either.”

I realize this is more of a rant than I normally post. Despite the reservations, I enjoyed THE CATCHER IS A SPY. Sometimes it’s nice to watch a movie that’s not all CGI and explosions (although there are some of those in the World War II sequences, which are very well done).