Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Commando: Braddock: Demons - Ferg Handley

The RAF's finest bomber pilot finds himself with a new crew and new challenges as the Nazis press forward and losses begin to mount. Can Braddock overcome his demons and ensure the survival of his Blenheim crew? Or will Suddaby finally push him over the edge...

(Matt Braddock, the working class, non-com bomber pilot, is a fine character and author Ferg Handley delves deeper into his psyche in this story, but he also neglects to provide a very satisfying climax to the story, resulting in probably the weakest issue of COMMANDO that I've read so far. However, it was still enjoyable, and I look forward to reading more of the series.

After my post about the first of the current Braddock stories, my friend Keith Chapman alerted me to these websites which give a lot more information about the character's history, and about the history of British war comics in general. Fascinating stuff.

British Comics: I Flew With Braddock

"Braddock of the Bombers" Revived for New Commando Stories

Bear Alley: I Flew With Braddock)

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Overlooked Movies: Soldier of Fortune (1955)

Always on the hunt for older movies that we haven’t seen, we watched SOLDIER OF FORTUNE, a 1955 film starring Clark Gable and Susan Hayward. Gable has never been one of my top favorites, but I’ve enjoyed just about every one of his movies I’ve seen. This one is no exception. With a screenplay by Ernest K. Gann, based on one of his novels, it’s a story of international intrigue set in Hong Kong. Hayward plays a woman whose photojournalist husband (Gene Barry) has disappeared in mainland China. She goes to Hong Kong to find someone who can locate her husband and rescue him. Who better for that job than shady smuggler Hank Lee (Gable, of course)? And, to the surprise of absolutely no one, Gable and Hayward fall in love even though he’s the one trying to free her husband.

This movie is pretty predictable, and it sure could have used a little more action (although the last half-hour is pretty darned good), but the fun lies in watching Gable play the more-noble-than-he-wants-to-be rogue (nobody ever played that part better), along with Hayward looking beautiful, a great supporting cast including Michael Rennie as a British police inspector, Tom Tully as a shady nightclub owner, Leo Gordon as one of his minions, and Richard Loo as a former general brought low because he was on the wrong side when the Communists took over in China. The movie looks good, and the musical score is pretty good, too. Overall, SOLDIER OF FORTUNE isn’t in the top rank of Gable’s films, by any means, but it’s a likable enough movie and I’m glad we watched it.

Monday, April 06, 2020

A Trawl Among the Shelves: Lawrence Block Bibliography 1958-2020

I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say that A TRAWL AMONG THE SHELVES: LAWRENCE BLOCK BIBLIOGRAPHY, 1958-2020 is a monumental work. Author and compiler Terry Zobeck has done a fantastic job of documenting and listing the hundreds of novels, anthologies, short stories, and non-fiction produced by Lawrence Block, one of the major authors not only of the Twentieth Century but beyond, still producing excellent work after more than 60 years in the business, including a fine afterword in this volume.

Working with Block himself and other collectors and bibliographers, Zobeck has turned up previously unknown novels and stories, along with the best and most complete list of books Block wrote under the pseudonym Andrew Shaw. Actually, this book is going to cost me money, because Zobeck also provides a list of all of Block’s work that’s currently available as e-books, among them many of those early novels, and I know I don’t have all of them. I’ll be going through that list figuring out what I need to buy!

And if you’re a Lawrence Block fan, you need to buy A TRAWL AMONG THE SHELVES. It’s entertaining, it’s informative, and it gets a very high recommendation from me.

Sunday, April 05, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Future Combined with Science Fiction Stories, July/August 1950

That's an Earle K. Bergey cover, of course. His work is instantly recognizable. FUTURE COMBINED WITH SCIENCE FICTION STORIES (a long title!) was a Columbia pulp edited by Robert W. Lowndes, and as usual, Lowndes managed to get better writers than you would expect on his minuscule budgets. Granted, maybe he was getting stories from them that had been rejected elsewhere, but still . . . In this issue are stories by Murray Leinster, Fritz Leiber, Lester del Rey, Judith Merril, Bryce Walton, and George O. Smith. That's a pretty talented group, and I'll bet this is an entertaining issue.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Two Western Romances, Summer 1950

I kind of like these split-cover pulps, especially when one side has a good-looking blonde on it and the other side features a good-looking redhead. TWO WESTERN ROMANCES was a Fiction House pulp (although the official publisher was Fight Stories, Inc.) and was edited by Jerome Bixby. The two novellas in this issue are by Wayne D. Overholser and Allan K. Echols. I know Overholser is top-notch. I don't recall if I've ever read anything by Echols, but I know he wrote a lot of Westerns so someone must have liked his work.

Friday, April 03, 2020

Forgotten Books: Death Lies Deep - William Guinn

Sam Mitchell is a mining engineer in Gilson City, Colorado. He’s hired to do an appraisal on the supposedly worthless Belle Creole Mine, but he soon clashes with shady mining promoter Felix Rambeau and realizes that not all is as it seems. The owner of the Belle Creole, a stranger who inherited the mine from his late brother, arrives in town and complicates things by trying to steal the girl who Sam likes and intends to marry. Then there’s an attempted bushwhacking, more intrigue and double-crosses, and finally a showdown deep underground.

DEATH LIES DEEP, published in 1955 by Gold Medal and never reprinted, seems to be the only piece of fiction that William Guinn ever published. I can’t find anything else by him. Maybe it was a pseudonym, maybe that was his real name. But whoever he was, I suspect he might have been a mining engineer, because this book is just packed full of technical details and mining jargon, sometimes to its detriment. I got confused enough at times that I started skipping some of that stuff because I knew I wasn’t going to understand it.

There’s confusion in the time period as well. When I started reading the book, I thought it was set in the Fifties, when it was published. But then everybody was driving buckboards and wagons and riding horses. Was it a Western? It really didn’t read like one. Later, a mention of President McKinley’s assassination pins down the time as the early Twentieth Century. But the author certainly could have done a better job of making that clear.

My other concern is that there’s no femme fatale in this book, like you find so often in Gold Medals. In fact, Sam Mitchell’s girlfriend is the only woman who plays any part in the plot, and it’s a small part, at that, basically just something for Sam and his new rival to clash over. Mostly, this is a book about manly men doing manly things, like mining for gold and fighting over gold.

Now, with all those flaws acknowledged, I still have to say that I enjoyed DEATH LIES DEEP quite a bit. Guinn does a good job of moving things along at a brisk pace, and Sam Mitchell is a very likable narrator/protagonist. There are some gritty, well-done action scenes, and I admit, I learned a few things about mining despite myself. The book has a nice cover by Lu Kimmel, too. This is a very minor example of a Gold Medal, but a Gold Medal that’s not in the top rank is still better than a lot of books from other publishers. Don’t rush out to find a copy, but if you ever run across one, I think DEATH LIES DEEP is worth reading. (That’s my beat-up copy in the scan, by the way.)

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Commando: Ramsey's Raiders: Italian Ambush - Ferg Handley

His superiors described Captain James Ramsey as unconventional. His enemies described him as a menace. His men described him as The Boss.

No matter how he was characterised, though, the man was a fighting fury that no-one in their right mind would cross. Then a bunch of Italian guerrilla fighters did just that. Despite the snow, sparks would fly!

(No Rat Patrol-type action in this one, as Ramsey's Raiders find themselves in Italy carrying out a secret mission that reminded me of an episode of GARRISON'S GORILLAS, another TV reference for those of you with very long memories. I found it to be an enjoyable story anyway, although I think I prefer the ones in this series set in North Africa.)

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Overlooked Movies: The Lady Eve (1941)

I slowly continue catching up on the Preston Sturges films I haven’t seen until now. THE LADY EVE is the first really big-budget movie he wrote and directed and the first with a couple of top stars, Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck. Fonda plays a professor who specializes in snakes, but he’s also the heir to a fortune as the son of a brewery tycoon. Stanwyck is a beautiful con artist who works with her father, the great character actor Charles Coburn. Fonda and Stanwyck meet on a ship headed from South America to the United States, and Stanwyck sets her sights on Fonda as a potential mark. She gets him to fall in love with her, but things get complicated when she actually falls in love with him.

The plot takes a twist part of the way through that leads to an entirely different con game once the action moves back to the States and the luxurious estate of Fonda’s family. As always in a Sturges film, there’s a lot of fast, overlapping banter, absurd situations, and a hardboiled but still sentimental tone at the heart of things. This isn’t a hilarious movie, but it’s consistently amusing and the love story works really well, thanks to fine performances by Fonda and Stanwyck, who are both very likable. The supporting cast is outstanding, featuring not only Coburn but also William Demarest and Eugene Pallette, who’s great as Fonda’s father. I thought I caught a brief glimpse of Charles Lane as a lawyer, but this movie isn’t among his credits on IBDB, so I guess I was wrong about that. But it’s the kind of movie he could have been in!

Overall, I liked THE LADY EVE quite a bit. For some reason, I’ve always gotten it mixed up in my head with BALL OF FIRE, a Howard Hawks film from the same year that also stars Barbara Stanwyck, so I wasn’t sure if I’d seen it or not. I hadn’t, but I’m glad I’ve watched it now. It’s well worth the time.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Super Science Stories, November 1949

This issue of SUPER SCIENCE STORIES has a good cover by Lawrence Sterne Stevens. Not one of my absolute best, maybe (in my opinion), but still eye-catching enough that I would have picked up this issue at the newsstand. And once it was in my hands, the lineup of authors inside would have been enough to get me to plunk down my hard-earned pazoors: Fredric Brown, Ray Bradbury, John D. MacDonald (twice, once as himself and once as John Wade Farrell), Murray Leinster, Frank Belknap Long, Margaret St. Clair, and Neil R. Jones with a Professor Jameson story. That's a lot of heavyweight talent. 

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Dime Western, May 1950

That's another Old West poker game interrupted. On this issue of DIME WESTERN, the words "Combined With WESTERN RANGERS" were added to the title, although I'm not sure why since the pulp WESTERN RANGERS hadn't been published for many years at that point. A couple of years after this, that title was spun off for a short run of its own. Maybe Popular Publications was just testing with the waters with this move. At any rate, there are some fine authors in this issue, including Frank Bonham, Wayne D. Overholser, George C. Appell, John M. Cunningham, and Dee Linford, as well as a Tensleep Maxon story by house-name Bart Cassidy. I like this cover but have no idea who painted it.