Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Sleepers West

I've never understood why Hollywood bought the rights to the Mike Shayne novels by Davis Dresser, then, with the exception of the first film in the series, based all the Shayne movies on novels by other writers. SLEEPERS WEST, for example, is based on the novel SLEEPERS EAST by Frederick Nebel, with Shayne shoehorned into the plot in a role that could have been filled by any private eye or cop. Haven't read the book, so I don't know what other changes they might have made other than the direction in the title—something that's equally baffling.

At any rate, Shayne's job in this one is get a beautiful blond witness from Denver to San Francisco in time to testify in a high-profile murder case. Her testimony will blow the case sky-high. This assignment is complicated by the presence on the train of a beautiful brunette reporter who's an old flame of Shayne's; her stuffy fiancée; a railroad detective; a mysterious stranger with a briefcase full of cash; and another stranger who has a habit of going around and pointing a gun at people. Will Shayne sort it all out and get the witness to San Francisco in time? What do you think?

This is one of those movies where something is happening all the time, and you'd better pay attention to the rat-a-tat-tat dialogue because it's going to be important later on. It has that in common with the actual Shayne novels, at least.

Lloyd Nolan never played Mike Shayne like the one from the books. He's much more whimsical. I enjoy his performances anyway and don't expect them to be an accurate adaptation of the character. Even so, there are moments when he's suitably tough and gives the impression that he's two steps ahead of everybody else, like the book Shayne. The rest of the supporting cast is good, the production values are high for a B-movie, and watching this one made me want to go somewhere on a train, even though I realize that train travel today is nothing like it was back in the Forties. SLEEPERS WEST is a lot of fun, and I'm glad I watched it.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Joe Frankenstein - Graham Nolan and Chuck Dixon

Joe Pratt is a pretty hapless case: 17 years old, living in a foster home because his parents were killed in an airplane crash, delivering pizza at night and struggling through school in the day. That all changes one snowy night in Buffalo when he makes a delivery to a house full of beautiful women who turn out to be vampires wanting to feed on him. Before that can happen, a giant but somehow urbane monster crashes in, dispatches the vampires, and tells a stunned Joe that his real name is Joe Frankenstein. The monster, of course, is the legendary Frankenstein's monster, who has spend centuries protecting the descendants of Victor Frankenstein.

This all happens quickly in the beginning of a very fast-paced tale originally published as a four-part mini-series. This collection adds a new ten-page prologue that establishes the history behind the on-going conflict in which Joe finds himself. The back cover calls it "an action-horror-adventure tale", and it's all of that and more, as there's plenty of dark humor (including a Sesame Street joke that you'll miss if you blink) and a sort of globe-trotting, international intrigue vibe. The monster, you see, is a tycoon (easy to make money when you have all the time in the world, he explains) who has all sort of high-tech weaponry and gadgets. He needs that because he's engaged in a long, bitter war with his renegade "bride", who now commands a vast supernatural criminal empire.

JOE FRANKENSTEIN was created by Graham Nolan, who provides the art and co-wrote the script, and Chuck Dixon, the other scripter on the project. It's great, over-the-top fun from start to finish, never taking itself too seriously as it races along at a breakneck pace. It's clearly only the first chapter in a much bigger story, and I hope the sequel(s) come along soon. If you're a comics and/or horror fan, I give it a high recommendation.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Adventure, October 1, 1930

I didn't know you could still buy pith helmets, but I checked on Amazon and they have a bunch of 'em. I'll have to give that some thought. In the meantime, here's another great issue of ADVENTURE with stories by H. Bedford-Jones. Arthur O. Friel, Hugh Pendexter, L. Patrick Greene, and an article by W.C. Tuttle. No wonder ADVENTURE is regarded as one of the best pulp magazines ever published.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Real Western Stories, December 1954

The Columbia Western pulps, including REAL WESTERN, are regarded as bottom-rung publications, but hey, this issue has a pretty nice cover and there's a Gordon D. Shirreffs novella in it, as well as a Lee Winters story by Lon Williams. Admittedly, I don't recognize the names of any of the other authors except Mat Rand, which was a house-name and could have been anybody. But this still looks like an issue worth reading.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Now Available: Six-Guns: Six Classic Western Novels

(This is a great deal, if I do say so myself.)

Six classic Western novels. The good old shoot-'em-up westerns are still around, and this collection has six by the masters of the genre. 

William M. "Bill" Tilghman had one of the most illustrious careers of any Old West lawman, 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 . . . THE LAWMAN, by New York Times bestselling author James Reasoner, is the first novel in the West of the Big River series. 

In Frank Roderus’ HOME TO TEXAS, Charlie McMurty brought a herd north, got a great price, and had enough left over once he repaid his neighbors to buy a ranch so he could ask for the hand of his sweetheart. Unfortunately, on the way back to Texas he was robbed and left for dead. To make matters worse one of his attackers was his friend he'd hired to help him with the herd. All he had left was a big debt back home and a big hole in his chest. His new quest became the need to be able to return his neighbor's money. First he had to heal and learn some fancy shooting. 

Violence stole young Ben Brand's family from him, but blessed with uncanny speed and skill with a gun and befriended by an old mountain man, Ben sets out on a bloody quest for vengeance. As he tracks his enemies over the years and the miles, Ben battles men and the elements—and risks his own soul—to become the avenging nemesis known as Iron Heart! Long out of print and originally published under the pseudonym Walt Denver, IRON HEART is a classic Western from Jory Sherman. 

Veteran author Clay More spins a fast-paced Western adventure in STAMPEDE AT RATTLESNAKE PASS. With her father murdered and her brother crippled by bushwhackers, half her herd stolen and her crew massacred by vicious rustlers, beautiful blond Elly Horrocks is going to have her hands full keeping the family ranch going. Luckily for Elly, drifting cowpoke Jake Scudder has a nose for trouble. It'll take all of Scudder's skill with guns and fists to save himself and keep Elly from being wiped out. Diamondbacks aren't the deadliest varmints in Rattlesnake Pass anymore! 

Some men deserved to die like rabid animals. In FAST HAND the Thornberrys and their worthless cousin counted among those the world would be better off without. Judge Sebastian Hand sentences the Thornberry gang to the gallows for rape and murder. But when they escape, the judge trades in his gavel for a gun, and suddenly he's judge, jury, and executioner all in one. Karl Lassiter is the pen name of a prolific author who also writes under the pen name Jackson Lowry. 

James J. Griffin's famous character Texas Ranger Jim Blawcyzk isn’t really working for the Rangers this time. In fact, he winds up on the wrong side of the law with the Rangers after him, because he takes off his badge and goes after the gang that attacked and possibly murdered his wife and son. As a result, RANGER’S REVENGE is a little grittier than Griffin’s earlier books, but it has the same fine action scenes, interesting settings, and welcome touches of humor.

Forgotten Books: Superman in the Seventies - Elliot S! Maggin, Cary Bates, et al.

When I was reading comics as a kid, Superman was never one of my favorite characters, although I have fond memories of watching the Superman TV show with George Reeves every day after school. But there were other DC characters, such as Batman and Green Lantern, I liked better. Oh, I saw Superman in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA and occasionally picked up an issue of SUPERMAN or ACTION COMICS, but my history with the character is spotty at best.

So out of the 13 stories in the trade paperback collection SUPERMAN IN THE SEVENTIES (published back in 2000), I had read only one, a story from Jack Kirby's great run on SUPERMAN'S PAL JIMMY OLSEN. The others were all new to me, and while they didn't quite make me feel like I had gone back to that era, I enjoyed them.

Many of the stories in this volume were written by Elliot S! Maggin (yes, that's the way he was credited), who was the most prominent Superman writer during the Seventies. Maggin's first script was for a Green Arrow back-up yarn in GREEN LANTERN/GREEN ARROW that turned out to be a classic, and quite possibly the best thing he ever wrote. But his Superman stories were very good and added some depth to the character. At the time I thought the idea of making Clark Kent a TV reporter and adding "workplace humor" to the stories was a terrible idea, but looking back now I find the stuff somewhat charming, if a little clunky.

Other stories are by Cary Bates, also a very prolific scripter for DC during the Seventies, usually on Superman or The Flash, Len Wein, Paul Levitz, and Denny O'Neil, who contributed an important "turning point" story in which all the kryptonite on earth is destroyed, leaving Superman more invulnerable than ever...or is he? These are all good yarns, with a beginning, a middle, and an end, all in 17 to 22 pages, unlike today's endless story arcs and crossovers. Admittedly, sometimes the shorter lengths work against the stories, leading to deus ex machina endings or some that are just too rushed, but for the most part they're very enjoyable.

Not surprisingly, most of the art is by Curt Swan, who penciled hundreds of Superman stories during a career that lasted more than four decades, usually being inked by another legend, Murphy Anderson. Superman fan or not, I always liked Swan's art. The guys in those days were storytellers, something that's often lacking in today's comics.

Overall I found this to be a good, solid collection and really enjoyed reading it. There's a lot of DC stuff from the Sixties and Seventies I never got around to reading back then, since I was mostly a Marvel fan and had only so much money to spend on comics, so I'm trying to catch up on some of it now that I've given up reading most modern comics. For curmudgeons like me, collections like these are a nice trip into the past.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Chino

This is another Western movie I missed somehow when it was new, surprising because it stars one of my favorite actors, Charles Bronson. Although it's a Spaghetti Western of sorts, filmed in Spain with a largely Italian and Spanish cast and crew, in addition to Bronson the cast includes Jill Ireland and Vincent Van Patten, the screenplay is by Clair Huffaker (based on Lee Hoffman's Spur-winning novel THE VALDEZ HORSES), and the movie was directed, at least in part, by John Sturges.

Bronson, who is fine as usual, plays horse rancher and bronc buster Chino Valdez, who's content with his lonely life until a young drifter named Jamie (Van Patten) shows up looking for work and a place to stay. The two gradually develop a sort of father-son relationship. Complicating Chino's life even more is the beautiful half-sister (Ireland) of the local cattle baron who'd like to push Chino off his land. The romance that springs up between them seems to be doomed from the start.

With that set-up and the pedigree of the people involved, CHINO really should have been a better movie. It suffers from a very slow pace and a lack of action, although the few fights between Chino and the rancher's men are well done. The ending is unsatisfying, too. Throw in a musical score that doesn't seem to fit, and you've got an oddball film that's not very good.

But I'm glad I watched it anyway, even if it's just for Bronson's screen presence. He always dominates the screen, whether he's fighting for his life against four men or carrying around a newborn foal. His off-screen chemistry with Jill Ireland makes his scenes with her work pretty well, too. So if you haven't seen this one, it's worth watching if you're a Bronson fan, just don't expect too much.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Girl With the Deep Blue Eyes - Lawrence Block

You don't get much more noir than this set-up: a Florida private eye who's a retired New York cop is recruited by the local sheriff to pose as a hitman and gather evidence against a beautiful young woman who wants to have her older, very wealthy husband murdered. You've read these books. What do you think the guy's going to do?

You're right, of course. He's going to fall hard for the woman and start plotting with her to murder her husband for real, all the while scheming to cover up the crime with the authorities. You've read these books, and Lawrence Block has written them. Heck, he was writing them more than fifty years ago.

Not quite like THE GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES, however. It quickly becomes obvious that despite its Gold Medal-like plot, Block's not going to handle it like a Gold Medal. Those books had a lot of sexual tension in them, but the sex itself was mostly the fade-to-black kind. In this brand-new novel from Hard Case Crime (officially published and on-sale tomorrow), there's a lot of sex and nearly all of it is graphic. In the hands of a writer less skilled then Block, it would border on pornography. In this novel, though, it just seems realistic, a necessary updating of the classic material to go along with all the talk about computers and flash drives and burner cell phones.

In fact, it may be that's what Block is trying to point out, that our society, for all its technological advances, is a lot coarser today than it was fifty or sixty years ago. Sure, the lovers in those books from Gold Medal and Dell slept with each other and knocked off spouses and ran from the law, but there was still a certain innocence about it. (Well, maybe not in the books by Gil Brewer!) Or maybe Block's just trying to tell a good story, which he does. With his smooth, unobtrusive prose and his knack for creating interesting characters, he keeps the reader flipping the pages with an undeniable urge to find out what's going to happen.

Probably the last thing Lawrence Block wants to do at this stage of his career is create a new series, but I really liked the sheriff in this novel and wouldn't mind seeing him again. Got to be more crime in Florida, right? In the meantime, if you're a fan of Block's work, you probably have THE GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES on order already. If you don't...well, like I said, it'll be out tomorrow.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Famous Fantastic Mysteries, August 1942

FAMOUS FANTASTIC MYSTERIES may have abridged some of the stories it reprinted, but you can't beat those Virgil Finlay covers, like this one on the August 1942 issue. In addition to the A. Merritt novel, there's a short story by E.F. Benson in this issue. I need to get around to reading more by A. Merritt. I've enjoyed what little I've read.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Story, November 4, 1939

An unusual but striking cover by Wesley Neff on this issue of WESTERN STORY, illustrating Tom Roan's novella "Hangtown". Other authors in this issue include Norman A. Fox, Frank Richardson Pierce, and Glenn H. Wichman. I've read and enjoyed all those authors except Wichman, and I'm sure I'll get around to him, as often as he appeared in the Western pulps.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Forgotten Books: The Iron Men of Venus - Don Wilcox

While I was looking for pulp cover scans to use in my Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp series, I came across the February 1952 issue of AMAZING STORIES, featuring the short novel "The Iron Men of Venus" by Don Wilcox. As I looked at that cover, I thought, "I have to read this!" And sure enough, it's actually available as part of Armchair Fiction's double novel series, so I soon had a copy and eagerly dived in.

What was it I landed in? Well, that's debatable. The story is set in a future in which Venus was turned into a penal colony for Earth criminals. However, the descendants of those prisoners have formed their own government and become a sovereign, if somewhat shady, trading partner with Earth. They still harbor a lot of resentment over the past, though, and when they get the chance they launch an audacious scheme to get their revenge and take over the planet that banished their ancestors.

That's a pretty decent back-story, and the method the Venusians use to attack Earth is fairly ingenious, too. It seems that Venus is rich in iron, and some of the iron beams, plates, etc., they ship to Earth are equipped with mechanisms allowing them to move around and assemble themselves into giant killer robots guided by mechanical brains. That's right. They're Transformers.

Wilcox also creates an Earth where nightclubs, restaurants, etc., are located on floating anti-grav platforms thousands of feet above the surface, much like on THE JETSONS. Once again, AMAZING STORIES was there first.

Our heroes are Joe Kane, a working class guy who discovers the Venusians' plot before anyone else, and his comedy relief sidekick Dan "Dynamite" Dinkins. With Earth under attack, they're the ones who figure out everything and come up with a way to save the day.

I have a hunch that a lot of modern SF readers would find this novel terrible. It's not particularly well-written. Coincidence plays a huge part in the plot, and Wilcox's style is strictly meat-and-potatoes for the most part, although there's a surprisingly elegant line here and there. But the main ideas of the story aren't bad, and man, it sure races along. And that cover is great! If you remember this sort of pulp adventure SF with as much fondness as I do, you might enjoy THE IRON MEN OF VENUS. I had a fine time reading it and will read more by Wilcox.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Our Army at War - Darwyn Cooke, Billy Tucci, et al.

Don't let that Joe Kubert cover fool you. The stories in this trade paperback collection aren't reprints of classic yarns from the heyday of DC war comics. No, back in 2011, somebody came up with the idea of publishing single issues of the iconic titles OUR ARMY AT WAR, OUR FIGHTING FORCES, G.I. COMBAT, STAR-SPANGLED WAR STORIES, and WEIRD WAR TALES, featuring new stories by today's comics creators about the characters who starred in those comics 'way back when.

The results are, shall we say, a mixed bag. While it's always good to see Sgt. Rock and the other combat-happy joes of Easy Company, telling a story that cuts back and forth between World War II and post-9/11 Afghanistan just didn't work very well for me. I only liked one of the three stories from WEIRD WAR TALES, which was about a malfunctioning submarine trapped on the bottom after the attack on Pearl Harbor. I thought that was an intriguing idea, and it ended well. The story from the new version of OUR FIGHTING FORCES features The Losers, a team-up series from late in the original title's run that includes Marine riflemen Gunner and Sarge (the long-time stars of that book), one-legged P.T. boat commander Captain Storm, and Navajo flying ace Johnny Cloud. (Both of those latter two had their own series at times, as well.) I don't dislike any of these characters, but I never thought they worked well together and that their original incarnation was a little too forced.

But the Mademoiselle Marie series from STAR-SPANGLED WAR STORIES, about a beautiful French resistance fighter, was usually pretty good, and the new story featuring her in this collection is okay. The real high point of this volume, though, is the Haunted Tank story from G.I. COMBAT. I always enjoyed the original series, with stories by Robert Kanigher and great art by Russ Heath and Irv Novick. I've read reprints of some of those and they hold up very well. If you're not familiar with the concept, Sgt. Jeb Stuart (named after the legendary Civil War cavalry commander General J.E.B. Stuart) is a tank commander in North Africa assigned to an M3 Stuart tank (also named after the general). And it just so happens that the World War II sergeant is haunted by the ghost of the Civil War general, who often appears to him during battle to offer advice and philosophy. Now, you never really know for sure if Jeb is actually seeing the general's ghost or if he's just nuts, but that's part of the appeal of the series and that element appears in Matthew Sturges's new story, too. It's an excellent yarn with art by Phil Winslade, and it wouldn't have been out of place in the old G.I. COMBAT book.

Even though I was more of a superhero fan back in those days, I read a lot of those war comics, too, and surprisingly, they've stayed with me more than some of the superhero stuff has, and they hold up better on rereading, too. (The Essentials collection of SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS makes you realize just how really, really good that comic was in its early issues. Jack Kirby's art is fantastic, and Stan Lee's scripts are some of his best writing from that era. But I was talking about DC...) It's good to see new stories from that genre, and while I can't give this version of OUR ARMY AT WAR an unqualified recommendation, I think it's worth picking up if you're a long time fan like I am. 
(It appears to be out of print, but Amazon has used copies.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Yuma

(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on June 3, 2009.)

I don’t know how I missed this made-for-TV movie back when it originally aired in 1971, because I watched just about every Western that was on, plus I was a big Clint Walker fan when I was a kid because of his TV series CHEYENNE. But I’d never seen it before, I’m pretty sure of that.

Walker plays U.S. Marshal Dave Harmon, who’s sent to Arizona Territory to clean up the lawless town of Yuma. Right away he runs afoul of a couple of cowboys from the crew that’s bringing a herd of cattle to Yuma so the army can turn it over to the Indians on the nearby reservation. Only it seems that the cattle haven’t been making it to the reservation like they’re supposed to. Something has been happening to some of them along the way. Something crooked, no doubt, and the new marshal has barely arrived before there’s a murder connected to the scheme. He has to solve the killing, deal with the vengeful brother of a cowboy he was forced to shoot in self-defense, keep the Indians from leaving the reservation, and uncover the identity of the criminal mastermind behind the whole thing.

For the most part, it’s pretty standard stuff, and it doesn’t help matters that there’s a gaping hole in the plot, too. But Walker always makes an impressive Western hero, and he’s supported here by a number of fine character actors like Morgan Woodward, Edgar Buchanan, and Barry Sullivan. There’s a good-looking hotel owner, too, played by Kathryn Hays, but she’s given almost nothing to do.

What makes YUMA worth watching, though, is a plot twist in the final few minutes that I didn’t see coming at all. Looking back, it’s set up fairly (the hole in the plot has nothing to do with the surprise), and while some of you might be able to predict it, I sure didn’t. And I always like it when that happens.

YUMA is short, only 75 minutes (it probably ran in a 90-minute time slot) and plays a lot like the old B-Westerns. I enjoyed it quite a bit and think it’s well worth a look if you’re a Western fan.

(UPDATE: I no longer have any memory of what that plot twist was that I mention in the next to the last paragraph. Maybe that's a good enough excuse for me to watch YUMA again sometime.)

Monday, September 14, 2015

Misfit Lil Rides In - Chap O'Keefe

The appropriately titled MISFIT LIL RIDES IN introduces one of Chap O'Keepe's most appealing characters: Miss Lilian Goodnight, daughter of Arizona rancher Ben Goodnight. Dubbed Misfit Lil because of her habit of causing mischief and getting into trouble, she dresses in buckskins, can ride and shoot as well as any man and better than most, and can out-cuss a muleskinner when she puts her mind to it. She bears a certain resemblance to Calamity Jane in attitude and actions, although not in appearance. Misfit Lil is much better looking.

She's also a fine person to have on your side if you're framed for murder and have to go on the run from a posse, which is what happens to veteran army scout Jackson Farraday in this excellent, fast-paced novel. There's also a band of bloodthirsty Apache renegades on the loose, as well as the members of a gunrunning ring who are willing to kill to cover up their crimes and a stiff-necked cavalry lieutenant who's quick to believe the worst of our heroine. It all adds up to quite a mess for Lil and Farraday to straighten out before they can set things right.

Chap O'Keefe, actually our old friend Keith Chapman, is a great yarn-spinner who's at the top of his game in MISFIT LIL RIDES IN. All his books that I've read have been very entertaining and well-written, and this may well be my favorite so far. I'm glad there are several more books in the series waiting for me to read them. Highly recommended.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Short Stories, July 1938

There's always plenty going on in a Norman Saunders pulp cover. He could pack more action into a cover without making it seem crowded than any other artist I've come across. There's a fine line-up of writers in this issue of DETECTIVE SHORT STORIES, too: Philip Ketchum, Roger Torrey, Wyatt Blassingame, Frederick C. Painton, and more.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Mammoth Western, June 1947

I think of Robert Gibson Jones as more of a cover artist for science fiction pulps, but he did Westerns, too, as evidenced by this issue of MAMMOTH WESTERN featuring a pistol-packin' blonde. Inside are many of the usual Ziff-Davis names: Robert Moore Williams, Frances Yerxa, Berkeley Livingstone, and H.B. Hickey, with some little-known writers mixed in.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Forgotten Books: The Erotics - Gil Brewer

THE EROTICS is another previously unpublished Gil Brewer novel that Stark House will be bringing out later this month in a triple volume with GUN THE DAME DOWN, which I wrote about a few weeks ago, and ANGRY ARNOLD, which I haven't gotten to yet. This one was written in the mid-Seventies, but the plot is vintage Fifties Gold Medal Gil Brewer: a bitter, disillusioned young man falls in lust with a beautiful young woman married to a rich older man she despises. For a change the femme fatale doesn't try to manipulate the protagonist into killing her husband. She just wants him to steal a couple of hundred grand from the guy so the two of them can run away together.

The protagonist in this case is once-promising artist Chris Pope, who's been reduced by a scandal in the art world to making knick-knacks out of driftwood for a living. The femme fatale is Bernice Monahan, whose husband is involved in something shady that results in large amounts of cash being stashed in their house. The plot they hatch is pretty haphazard, but it works well enough for Pope to find himself in the Monahan house. Unfortunately, Bernice's husband is there, too, and after a fight that leaves the older man unconscious, Pope can't bring himself to become a thief and take the money. So he leaves...

Yeah, you know how that's going to play out. Monahan winds up dead, the loot disappears, along with a valuable painting, and the cops figure Pope for both crimes. So the only way to save himself is to go on the run and find the real killer.

The plot of THE EROTICS strikes me as a little too predictable, but man, Brewer's writing is a sheer joy to read. Even at this stage of his career, he did the "desperate loser on the run" story as well or better than just about anybody. This novel races by as Pope digs himself into a deeper and deeper hole. The action scenes are great, and the Florida setting is rendered vividly. I'm not sure why it didn't sell, unless it was just too much of a throwback to those Gold Medal classics. But that gives us a new Gil Brewer novel to read now, so I'm not going to complain about that. Great stuff, and if you're a Brewer fan you can't afford to miss it.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Bloody Canaan - Peter Brandvold

Peter Brandvold's great character Gideon Hawk, the Rogue Lawman, returns in BLOODY CANAAN, the most recent entry in the series. In this novel Hawk, who has dedicated himself to ridding the West of evil-doers, just wants to hide out in the mountains of Idaho and rest up from a previous adventure, but one of his neighbors is gunned down, the man's cabin is burned, and his daughter is kidnapped by gunmen working for Quentin Burnett, who rules the nearby town of New Canaan with the proverbial iron fist. Burnett intends to make the young woman his wife, by force if necessary, but when Hawk finds out what's going on, he sets out to put a stop to it.

Unfortunately for Hawk, his mission is complicated by hallucinations caused by his own tragedy-haunted past and also the arrival of Saradee Jones, a beautiful blond outlaw whose trail has crossed his before. To say that Hawk has a love/hate relationship with Saradee would be putting it mildly, and sparks always fly between them in more ways than one.

As usual with Brandvold's books, BLOODY CANAAN is full of gritty, hardboiled action, with plenty of both gunplay and sex. Nobody writes this sort of hard-edged Western better than old Mean Pete his ownself. Gideon Hawk is one of my favorite characters, and this novel is a fine addition to the Rogue Lawman series.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked TV Movie: Powderkeg

I recently watched this movie again for the first time in more than 40 years, and I'm happy to report that it holds up pretty well. I remember really liking it when I saw it back in 1971. It's one of those sort-of Westerns set in the early 20th Century. Fernando Lamas and Michael Ansara play brothers who start out as revolutionaries in Mexico but wind up as bandits, and when Ansara's character is captured and sentenced to hang, Lamas and his gang take over a whole train full of passengers and hold them hostage, demanding Ansara's release as they run the train back and forth on the same 40 mile stretch of track. They're over the border in Mexico, so U.S. troops can't go in and probably couldn't rescue the hostages without getting them all killed anyway.

So the railroad calls in troubleshooters Hank Brackett (Rod Taylor) and Johnny Reach (Dennis Cole) to do the impossible and save the train. Brackett and Reach are soldiers of fortune who travel around the Southwest in a Stutz Bearcat, having adventures, making wisecracks, and romancing beautiful women. Will they rescue the passengers and bring the bandits to justice? What do you think?

I tell you, when I watched this in 1971, I thought it was one of the coolest movies I'd ever seen. It's still pretty darned entertaining, if a little slow in spots. I don't know if writer/director Douglas Heyes ever read any of Ben Haas's Fargo novels, but this whole set-up would have worked perfectly for one of them. Rod Taylor even wears one of those Smokey the Bear hats like Fargo did on the covers of all those old paperbacks. POWDERKEG spawned a short-lived TV series called BEARCATS!, which I watched faithfully for all 13 episodes. The movie is available on DVD, as is the entire series. I may have to watch it pretty soon, because I really enjoyed revisiting POWDERKEG.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Two New Releases From Rough Edges Press: Mutiny on Outstation Zori - John Hegenberger/Blaze! #7 Hatchet Men - Michael Newton


Who stole the space station?

At the far reaches of the Imperium, something’s gone terribly wrong on Outstation Zori.  The station has cut itself off from all communication, and the corporation that owns it sends a team of specialists to get to the bottom of this mystery.  But a young con-man, a rebel leader, and a greedy space pirate are in for a mind-bending shock as they face off against alien races, bizarre religions, and an ultimate betrayal by one of their own.

MUTINY ON OUTSTATION ZORI: A space adventure caper with philosophical overtones from John Hegenberger, critically acclaimed author of CROSS EXAMINATION, TRIPL3 CROSS, and the upcoming THE LAST MARTIAN CHRONICLES.

BLAZE! #7: HATCHET MEN - Michael Newton

War erupts in San Francisco, and Kate and J.D. Blaze are caught in the middle! With the hatchet men of the Chinese tongs on one side and the gamblers and outlaws of the Barbary Coast on the other, the streets of the city by the bay will run red with blood if Kate and J.D. can't uncover the sinister truth behind a wave of kidnapping and killing. It'll take all their cunning—and their deadly skill with their six-guns—to put a stop to an unholy scheme!

Award-winning author Michael Newton returns to the Blaze! series with another action-packed, fast-paced adventure featuring the Old West's only husband-and-wife team of gunfighters.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Now Available: To Avenge a Ranger - James J. Griffin

A legendary lawman lies dead, cut down by a bushwhacker's bullet, and it's up to Texas Ranger Sean Kennedy to track down the killer and bring him to justice. But at every step in his search, Kennedy finds that the trail to the truth leads farther and farther into the past... 

TO AVENGE A RANGER is bestselling author James J. Griffin's most dramatic and shocking novel to date. Filled with action and the gritty historical authenticity for which he is known, TO AVENGE A RANGER is compelling reading, sure to please Griffin's legion of fans!

(And if I might add, without giving away too much, if you've ever read one of Jim Griffin's Texas Ranger novels, you really need to read this one!)

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Double Detective, November 1937

I'm often amazed at the table of contents in some of these pulps. Like this one: stories by Leslie Charteris (a Saint yarn), Max Brand, Cornell Woolrich, Richard Sale, Cleve F. Adams, Roger Torrey, Dale Clark, and Walter Ripperger. That's all. Just a normal issue in those days.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Star Western, May 1936

STAR WESTERN is one of my favorite Western pulps, and why wouldn't it be with covers by Walter Baumhofer and stories by Walt Coburn, Harry F. Olmsted, James P. Olsen, John G. Pearsol, Cliff Farrell, Robert E. Mahaffey, George Armin Shaftel, and William F. Bragg?

Friday, September 04, 2015

Forgotten Books: Trail of the Macaw - Eugene Cunningham

Despite the good Sam Cherry cover that I'm convinced first appeared on the cover of some Western pulp from the Thrilling Group (although I haven't been able to find out which one), the cover copy, and the fact that Eugene Cunningham was one of the top Western writers of the pulp era, TRAIL OF THE MACAW is not a Western.

Actually, it's a war/adventure novel set in the fictional but real-sounding Central American country Nicamala in the 1920s, roughly contemporary to when it was first published by Houghton Mifflin in 1935. There is a Texas cowboy in it, however, soldier of fortune Morg Conner, who has fought in several Central American and South American revolutions and who is looking for action again after spending some time in the States and getting bored. On his way to visit an old comrade-in-arms in Nicamala, Morg encounters a revolutionary whose colorful outfits have led him to be dubbed The Macaw. Morg quickly befriends The Macaw, who is half-bandit, half-statesmen, and becomes involved with a revolution against the country's corrupt government. He also meets a beautiful young aristocrat who supports the revolutionaries and falls in love with her, although any sort of romance between them seems doomed.

From there, TRAIL OF THE MACAW becomes a series of military engagements broken up by the occasional romantic moment, culminating in an all-out battle in the country's capital for the future of Nicamala. Cunningham's books have a reputation for violence and this one certainly lives up to that, with frequent wholesale slaughter on both sides of the conflict. The action scenes are gritty and very well-done, the best parts of the book as far as I'm concerned.

Cunningham has a bit of an odd, clipped style that takes some getting used to, but it's very effective. Morg Conner is a likable protagonist and The Macaw makes a good sidekick. The rest of the characters are interesting as well, although some of them aren't developed as well as they might have been. Cunningham's emphasis is on the headlong pace of the story, though, and there's nothing wrong with that. He actually spent time as a mercenary in Central America after serving in World War I, so the book has a ring of authenticity about it.

TRAIL OF THE MACAW would have made an excellent 1930s adventure movie with, say, Randolph Scott as Morg Conner. While I think I prefer Cunningham's more traditional Western work, this is definitely a well-written, entertaining novel and has put me in the mood to read more of Eugene Cunningham's books. (The scan of the paperback cover is from the copy I read, purchased from Recycled Books in Denton, Texas. I couldn't find a scan of the original hardcover edition.)

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Moonrise Kingdom

Okay, I'll admit up front that for the most part, "quirky" usually does not work for me. Most of the TV comedies of the past, say, decade and a half that were critics' darlings and multiple award winners I've found to be unfunny and downright annoying. The same goes for movies. From what I understand, writer/director Wes Anderson is known for films that are quirky. I can understand that after watching MOONRISE KINGDOM.

Which is not to say I hated it or even disliked it. I wouldn't be writing about it if I did. ("If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.") The plot's not bad: a couple of 12-year-olds fall in love and run off together, prompting a search that involves a rather wacky troop of Boy Scouts (they're called "Khaki Scouts" in the movie). Some of the characters are likable and interesting, there was an occasional funny line, and the movie generates enough suspense that I watched the whole thing because I wanted to know what was going to happen.

But almost everybody in the movie delivers their lines in the same deadpan monotone, which quickly got so irritating I wanted to yell at the screen, "Just talk like normal human beings, already!" The things they were doing and saying were oddball enough to start with.

So MOONRISE KINGDOM left me scratching my head and wondering how I felt about it. I still haven't figured it out. I think I kind of liked it...but I'm not sure yet.