Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Boot Hill Bandits

My B-Western binge continues with BOOT HILL BANDITS, a 1942 entry in the Range Busters series. The Range Busters were a poor man's Three Mesquiteers that two out of the three most well-known stars from that other series did for Monogram. Ray "Crash" Corrigan and Max Terhune (playing a character named Alibi instead of Lullaby) are on hand, but John Wayne/Robert Livingston have been replaced by John "Dusty" King, quite possibly the frailest-looking screen cowboy ever, and yes, I am including Don Knotts in that.

The plot of this one is a hard-to-follow mess. Veteran B-Western heavy John Merton is the head of an outlaw gang pretending to be an honest businessman. Corrigan rides into town, deals harshly with some bad guys, and has the marshal's job pressed on him. He uncovers the fact that Merton is behind all the villainy in the area. Or he knew it all along and was after Merton to start with, I'm not sure. Terhune and King show up to help him because, well, they're fellow Range Busters.

Despite a mostly poor script, BOOT HILL BANDITS is worth watching for a couple of reasons. There's some unexpected dark humor here and there, especially a bit involving some gravestones, and Glenn Strange, also a veteran heavy before he became Sam the Bartender on GUNSMOKE, turns in a bizarre, genuinely creepy performance as a brain-damaged gunman. A couple of years later, Strange began playing Frankenstein's Monster in the Universal series, and his part in this movie reminded me of that. I can't help but wonder if his portrayal of that iconic creature was influenced in any way by his role as The Maverick (the character's only name) in BOOT HILL BANDITS. That right there is enough to make me glad I watched this one.

Monday, August 29, 2016

A Most Auspicious Star - Martin L. Shoemaker

Martin L. Shoemaker is quickly becoming one of my favorite new science fiction writers. His e-book novella A MOST AUSPICIOUS STAR is the tale of a merchant clipper ship carrying tea in the Indian Ocean in the late Nineteenth Century that has a strange encounter with a being from another world. Spotting what at first looks like a falling star, the narrator, First Mate Geoffrey Mann, convinces his captain to investigate. The craft they find is like nothing the sailors have ever seen, and so is its occupant, an alien female that Mann winds up naming Ariel.

Naturally, complications arise from this, and the ship has more mundane but no less dangerous problems like being pursued by pirates. Shoemaker keeps things moving along nicely, and Geoffrey Mann is a very likable protagonist. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and will be on the lookout for more work by Martin L. Shoemaker. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll be publishing one of his stories as part of an anthology that I hope will be out sometime this fall, and I liked that one a lot, too.)

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Adventure, May 1952

What says "adventure" more than a skull wearing a pith helmet? This late issue of ADVENTURE the pulp features a dandy cover by Monroe Eisenberg and stories by F.R. Buckley, William Chamberlain, W.L. Heath, Gordon McCreagh, Albert Richard Wetjen, and John Prescott. This is long past ADVENTURE's glory days but still looks like a pretty darned good magazine to me.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Popular Western, August 1949

A nice jailbreak cover on this issue of POPULAR WESTERN. I don't know who the artist is. Inside is a nice line-up of stories featuring L.P. Holmes, Bruce Douglas, Norman Daniels (writing as Charles Alan Gregory), William O'Sullivan, Syl McDowell (a Painted Post story as by Tom Gunn), and the house-name Scott Carleton (a Buffalo Bill Bates story; I don't recall who wrote these).

Friday, August 26, 2016

Forgotten Books: Miami Purity - Vicki Hendricks

(This post originally appeared in slightly different form on June 11, 2007.)

MIAMI PURITY is Vicki Hendricks’ first novel, originally published in 1995. It’s about as noir as they come, as narrator/former stripper Sherri Parlay tries to end her boozing, sex-addicted ways by getting a more respectable job. She winds up working at Miami-Purity Cleaners, managed by Payne Mahoney, the son of the owner. As is her habit when she runs into a good-looking man, Sherri falls for Payne right away and starts to think that her life might actually be starting to work out.

Well, we all know better than that, don’t we?

In this book, Hendricks accomplishes something really special for a debut novel. She establishes an utterly distinctive voice right off the bat, allowing Sherri to tell her story in a way that nobody else ever would. She also manages to capture that old Gold Medal feeling while turning on its head the Gold Medal paradigm of the sympathetic loser making all the wrong choices because of a beautiful young woman. Sex and murder and despair permeate this book, told in such headlong prose that I read almost all of it in one sitting, something very rare for me these days. This is the first novel I’ve read by Vicki Hendricks but won’t be the last. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Coming From Stark House: Three Harry Whittington Westerns

Bryant Shafter is the trouble marshal. Town leaders call him in when they need a gun to quiet things down. Which is why Bry settled in Pony Wells. But now the town is under control. They don't need him anymore more particularly, they don't need to be paying his salary. Even his young deputy, Zach Adams, thinks it's time he moved on. So when three businessmen from Gravehead make him an offer to leave Pony Wells to clean up their town, he's sorely tempted. Holding down the law is what Bry does best. Until a young prostitute named Glory is found murdered. Until the town bosses hire their own guns. Until a young buck named Rio, out to prove himself, comes gunning for him. Now Bry's got a townful of trouble.

Jim Gilmore is on the run from the rumors that plague him. When he is mistaken for a bank robber in Kiowa, Wyoming, he decides to take a stand. He knows he's innocent, so he turns himself in and is acquitted. But he remains guilty in the eyes of the town folk. Still, Gilmore is looking for a place to settle down, and decides that Kiowa is no worse than anywhere else. People will talk wherever you go. But trouble seems to follow Gilmore, and he is soon accused of another robbery. This time he figures it's personal, and if he doesn't find out who's trying to frame him, he might find himself at the end of a noose instead.

There is an epidemic at San Carlos, and Blade Merrick is riding the medicine wagon across Apache territory. That's when he meets up with Hardhead Charley Clinton, his son Billy, and Perch Fisher... and Valerie, headed out West with her husband. They had all just met when they were attacked by Apaches. Merrick leads them to a water hole he knows about. Merrick has been here before--this is where he found the bullet-riddled body of his brother. Now, he has a new problem, because the Clinton gang wants to go to Fort Ambush, in the opposite direction. And they've got the guns to back up their request. Merrick finds himself torn between the returning Apaches, the desperation of three hardened men, and the most desirable woman he has ever met in his life.

I've read all three of these novels in their original editions, and they're excellent. This is another great collection from Stark House, and with a fine introduction by David Laurence Wilson covering Harry Whittington's career as a Western writer, it's a must for Whittington fans or anybody who just wants to read some good Westerns. Highly recommended, and you can pre-order it now.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Guns in the Dark

I remember my dad watching Johnny Mack Brown movies on TV when I was a kid, but I hadn't seen one in more than 50 years. GUNS IN THE DARK is a fairly average B-Western, but it's based on a story by veteran Western pulpster E.B. Mann, so it has a few nice touches. Brown is a drifting cowpoke on his way back across the border from Mexico to Texas, but he and a friend stop in a cantina, get mixed up in a crooked poker game, and wind up in the middle of a shootout. Brown's pard winds up dead. Brown blames himself and takes off his guns, vowing never to use them again. But no sooner does he get back across the border than he meets a pretty girl who's got a range war on her hands, and of course Brown has to help her . . .

The way that moral dilemma plays out is actually sort of interesting. Brown makes a good lead and turns in a decent performance. Of course, mostly he just has to be charming, handsome, and athletic, all of which probably came natural to him since he was a star college football player at Alabama. Syd Saylor is the comedy relief sidekick, although most of the "comedy" he's involved in has to do with the fact that his character stutters.

Like FUGITIVE OF THE PLAINS, which I wrote about last week, GUNS IN THE DARK was directed by Sam Newfield, and he can fill more screen time with the characters galloping around aimlessly on horseback than any director I've ever seen. Occasionally there's a point to the lengthy chase scenes. In this case, it seems to be that Johnny Mack Brown can ride real good.

Overall I enjoyed this one despite a few weaknesses, and I wouldn't mind watching more of Johnny Mack Brown's movies. I don't think he'll ever be one of my favorite movie cowboys, though.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Year's Best Military & Adventure SF 2015 - David Afsharirad, ed.

I had pretty much given up contemporary science fiction as a lost cause, but over the past few years I’ve discovered there’s still plenty of stuff out there I like to read. I just didn’t know where to look for it. If you’re in the same boat, a good starting place is THE YEAR’S BEST MILITARY & ADVENTURE SF 2015, a fine collection edited by David Afsharirad and published by Baen. The authors are a mixture of veteran writers such as David Drake, David Brin, David Weber (honest, there are people involved in this book who aren’t named David), Hank Davis (well, that’s still close), and Brad R. Torgersen (completely David-free), as well as newer writers like Eric Leif Davin, Claudine Griggs, and Seth Dickinson. Then there’s Brendan DuBois, hardly a new writer but fairly new to SF, and Joe R. Lansdale, who, of course, is a genre unto his own self.

Those two contribute my favorite two stories in the book. DuBois’s “The Siege of Denver” is an absolute knockout, a fine piece of MilSF that ties in with his novel DARK VICTORY (which I have and hope to be reading soon). Lansdale’s “The Wizard of the Trees” is pure fun, an Edgar Rice Burroughs-inspired adventure on Venus the way long-time readers like me wish it was.

Not all the stories quite worked for me, which is not surprising. I never expect to like all the stories in an anthology, but you might enjoy some of the ones that weren’t to my taste. The others from this volume I particularly liked are “Save What You Can”, the first Hammer’s Slammers story by David Drake in quite a while; Brad R. Torgersen’s “Gyre”, part of a multi-author series called The Sargasso Containment that’s been running in the magazine Galaxy’s Edge; “Helping Hand” by Claudine Griggs and “Twilight on Olympus”, two problem stories in the classic SF tradition that end very differently; and David Brin’s “The Tumbledowns of Cleopatra Abyss”, a hard SF tale set on a far future Venus, or rather, at the bottom of one of Venus’s oceans.

David Afsharirad has assembled a very good collection here, and I hope he continues putting together these annual volumes for a while. I’ll certainly be a regular reader if he does. Recommended.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Love Story, July 22, 1939

This cover, of course, is exactly how Livia and I have spent the past 40 years of our marriage. I'd talk about the authors in this issue, but I never heard of any of 'em. The cover is by John Newton Howitt, who did a bunch of covers for THE SPIDER, OPERATOR #5, and other hero and adventure pulps. I didn't know he did love pulp covers, too, but this one is pretty good.

Forty Years Ago Today . . .

I've said many times this was the best thing I've ever done. (Marrying Livia, I mean, not the sideburns. And the suit really wasn't purple, it just sort of looks like it in this picture.) Forty years is a long time, but it doesn't seem like it. Just yesterday, in a lot of ways.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Romances, November 1931

WESTERN ROMANCES was Dell's attempt to compete with RANCH ROMANCES, I supppose, and judging by this issue, they did a pretty good job of it, at least where the quality of the cover and fiction is concerned. That's a nice Oklahoma Land Rush cover by Sidney Riesenberg. Inside are stories by top-notch pulpsters Murray Leinster, F.V.W. Mason, J.E. Grinstead, Anthony M. Rud, and Kenneth Perkins. The editor was Archibald Bittner, who also wrote pulp fiction as Wayne Rogers.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Forgotten Books: The Case of the Hesitant Hostess - Erle Stanley Gardner

(This post originally appeared in slightly different form on December 31, 2007. I'll probably be in rerun mode for the next few weeks, as most of my time is going to be taken up with research reading for a couple of projects, but I'll make them posts from the early days of the blog in the hope that they'll be new to some of you.)

This novel from 1953 is different in several respects from the usual Perry Mason yarn. For one thing, the trial in which Mason is involved is already underway when the book begins. For another, he’s defending a client on an armed robbery charge, rather than trying to save him from a murder rap. And finally, he’s working on this case pro bono, having had it assigned to him by the judge.

If you’ve read very much by Erle Stanley Gardner, though, you know that things won’t stay that simple. Mason’s client is charged with yanking open the door of a car stopped at a red light and robbing the couple in the car at gunpoint. But before you know it, the case involves a chain of successful nightclubs, beautiful hostesses who are little better than prostitutes, a model who winds up with a garrotte around her neck, a shady gambling ring, possibly crooked cops, a cutthroat assistant district attorney and a flying trip to Las Vegas, where, the gossip mavens report, the noted lawyer Perry Mason has eloped with his beautiful secretary Della Street.

This book barely pauses to take a breath. As usual, Gardner packs a lot of story into a fairly short amount of time. There are two long, very effective courtroom scenes, and Mason races around and even throws a punch or two in some hardboiled action reminscent of the early novels in the series. In the end, the plot is relatively easy to figure out, but Gardner is having so much fun it doesn’t matter. THE CASE OF THE HESITANT HOSTESS is one of the best Perry Mason novels I’ve read.

A Middle of the Nght Music Post: Smoke From a Distant Fire - Sanford Townsend Band

Yeah, I'm stuck in the Seventies again. I went to high school with the bass player in this band, Jerry Rightmer, who passed away a while back.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Middle of the Night Music Post: Route 101 - Herb Alpert

I don't think I've ever heard a bad Herb Alpert song. I've even learned to tolerate "This Guy's In Love With You". But this is a good one.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Fugitive of the Plains

This 1943 entry from PRC's long-running Billy the Kid series features Buster Crabbe as Billy and Al "Fuzzy" St. John as his sidekick Fuzzy Q. Jones. As usual, it's directed by the highly prolific B-Western director Sam Newfield. The plot has more whiskers than Fuzzy does: somebody impersonating Billy the Kid is leading a band of outlaws that's wreaking havoc along the border (as the movie establishes at the beginning with several minutes of stock footage that seem even longer). Billy sets out to infiltrate the gang and bring the real criminals to justice.

Also as usual with this series, the chief appeal of FUGITIVE OF THE PLAINS lies in Fuzzy's acrobatic antics and the slambang fights and stunts featuring Buster Crabbe. Fuzzy is a little subdued in this one, but Buster seems more engaged than usual and looks like he's having fun. Maxine Leslie has an interesting turn as a hardboiled lady outlaw. The henchmen include rawboned Kermit Maynard and ubiquitous George Chesebro. I looked for Bud Osborne and Charles King (the Pudgiest Gun in the West), but I guess they were making some other B-Western the week this one was shot.

Nobody would mistake these PRC Westerns, made very quickly on very low budgets, for quality films, but doggone it, I enjoy them anyway. The scripts are nearly always terrible and the acting and the production values seldom rise above mediocre, but they have a workmanlike earnestness about them that I like. Everybody involved went out there, did their jobs, collected their paychecks, and went home. And every so often, as with the ending of this one, which took me a little by surprise, they achieved a moment or two that's really not bad. I have a bunch of these movies on DVD, and I expect to be watching another one before too much longer.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Dare-Devil Aces, April 1937

Hmm, I don't remember ever reading anything in the history books about an aerial dogfight like this over Manhattan, but that sure looks like the Empire State Building. There's a lot going on in this cover by Frederick Blakeslee, and I like it! Inside are stories by air-war pulp stalwarts Robert J. Hogan, Robert Sidney Bowen, William O'Sullivan, and others, plus a letters column known as the Hot Air Club, conducted by Nosedive Ginsberg (no doubt some assistant editor hiding behind that colorful moniker). I have to be in the right mood for aviation and air-war pulps, but when I am, I really like 'em.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Top Western Fiction Annual, 1954

You have to look close to see it, but there's a bullet going through this cowboy's hat, so this qualifies as an Injury to a Hat cover. Who's the artist? I don't know. The art reminds me a little of both H.W. Scott and A. Leslie Ross and might easily be neither of them. TOP WESTERN FICTION ANNUAL was a reprint pulp, as you might guess, and the 1954 edition has some fine authors in it: Allan R. Bosworth, William Hopson, J. Edward Leithead, Leslie Ernenwein, Larry A. Harris, W.F. Bragg, and the ubiquitous house-name Sam Brant. The stories come from a variety of Thrilling Group Western pulps published in the Thirties and Forties. Maybe not the very top Western fiction . . . but PRETTY DARNED GOOD WESTERN FICTION ANNUAL probably wouldn't have sold as well.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Forgotten Books: Snatch! - C.K.M. Scanlon (George Fielding Eliot)

Over the years I've read quite a few of the Dan Fowler novels from the pulp G-MEN, but I'd never read the first novel in the series, from October 1935, until now. Fowler, stalwart agent of the Division of Investigation (later the F.B.I.), starred in more than a hundred of these pulp novels written by various authors. SNATCH!, by George Fielding Eliot writing under the house-name C.K.M. Scanlon, is the story of Fowler's first big case, as he's assigned to break up a gang of vicious bank robbers that has been plaguing the Midwest. As the novel opens, however, the robbers have gone in for kidnapping instead, snatching the young daughter of a bank president. Fowler, with the help of his friend and fellow agent Larry Kendal and beautiful Sally Vane, the daughter of a local police detective, sets out to crack the case.

The Dan Fowler yarns are early examples of procedurals, as a lot is made about the various methods used to track down criminals. The kidnapping plot is only about the first third of this novel, despite its title. In the middle third, Fowler goes undercover in a prison to try to find the mastermind behind the gang, and the final third is spent rounding him up. There's plenty of action, mostly chase scenes, tommy gun battles, and explosions. Tragedy strikes some of the characters, but Fowler presses on doggedly until he finally brings his quarry to justice.

Some of the Dan Fowler stories are more over the top than others. This one is fairly realistic with no real supercriminal or wild schemes. Eliot's meat-and-potatoes writing style adds to that realism. Despite the fact that Fowler gets in a lot more shootouts than most federal agents really did, it's easy to image that investigations in the Thirties really were this way. SNATCH! is an enjoyable hardboiled tale. Some of the later novels in this series are better, but this is a pretty good start. It's been reprinted several times. I don't know if any of those editions are still in print, but copies shouldn't be too hard to find if you're interested.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Captains of the Clouds

I remember CAPTAINS OF THE CLOUDS being on TV fairly often when I was growing up, but I didn’t really become fond of James Cagney until later, so I never saw it until now. As some of the reviewers on IMBD have noted, it’s really two movies in one. The first half, which features Cagney, Dennis Morgan, Alan Hale, and George Tobias as two-fisted Canadian bush pilots, is very much like an ARGOSY serial from the Thirties as written by somebody like Frank Richardson Pierce. It’s a lot of fun as Cagney and Morgan vie over the affections of the beautiful Brenda Marshall, who plays the daughter of a trading post owner. Then, wouldn’t you know it, World War II breaks out and the guys go off to join the Royal Canadian Air Force.

They’re deemed too old to go into combat, though, so they become training pilots, a job that doesn’t sit well with Cagney’s brash, fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants character. There’s drama and tragedy, characters rise and fall and rise again, and finally everybody who’s left alive sets off on a hazardous mission ferrying bombers across the North Atlantic to England.

If you’ve never seen this movie, you’ll probably know everything that’s going to happen, but does that matter? Not as far as I’m concerned. I had a fine time watching a great cast in the kind of movie they don’t make anymore. The photography is great, and the Technicolor is just beautiful, richer colors than you’ll see most of the time these days, that’s for sure. There’s one shot of the sultry Brenda Marshall, wearing a man’s shirt and blue jeans as she sprawls languidly across the seats of a rowboat on a lake, that looks like the cover of a Harry Whittington or Charles Williams backwoods novel come to life.

Marshall’s character is kind of interesting, too, because instead of the good girl you might expect, she’s really kind of a backwoods tramp and stays that way through the whole movie. Cagney is his usual self, cocky and charismatic and kind of a heel. The two of them work very well together.

Actually, I probably enjoyed CAPTAINS OF THE CLOUDS more now than if I had watched it as a kid. The morally ambivalent characters wouldn’t have appealed to me as much then. I liked more clear-cut good guys and bad guys in those days, and there are no real bad guys in this one other than the Nazis. It’s part of a boxed set of Cagney movies, none of which I’d seen until now, and I’m looking forward to watching the others.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Shrinkage - Chuck Dixon

Jeff is a shoplifter working the department stores of downtown Philadelphia in the 1970s. Slick. Professional. Smart. He believes he’s all of the above. He thinks he’s found the perfect angle when he gets an inside job at the city's premiere retail palace over the Christmas season. He's the fox in the hen house until he draws the wrong kind of attention to himself. Suddenly Jeff's world is out of control and everything, and everyone, he cares about is drawn into a web of deceit and danger that even he doesn't have the street smarts to escape from.

I've really enjoyed all of Chuck Dixon's action/adventure novels that I've read. SHRINKAGE is a bit of a departure for him, a noirish crime novel that races along and does the difficult job of making us root for an unsympathetic protagonist. It captures the 1970s setting very well, too. I was really impressed by this one. It's the best Chuck Dixon novel I've read so far and one of the best books I've read this year. Highly recommended.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Top-Notch, April 1934

That's an intriguing cover by Tom Lovell. If I'd seen this issue of TOP-NOTCH on the newsstand in 1934, I would have wanted to read it, that's for sure. There are some great authors inside, too: T.T. Flynn, Philip Ketchum, Arthur J. Burks, Nat Schachner, R.V. Gery, and more.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Lariat Story Magazine, September 1940

The September 1940 issue of LARIAT STORY MAGAZINE sports a typically great, action-packed cover by Norman Saunders, and the contents are pretty impressive, too: stories by Walt Coburn, Eugene Cunningham, James P. Olsen, Rollin Brown, Foster-Harris, and house-names Bart Cassidy and John Starr. An issue well worth reading, no doubt.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Forgotten Books: It's Like This, Cat - Emily Neville

Earlier this summer, my daughter who teaches third grade was putting together a collection of Newbery Award books for her classroom, and that put me in mind of this novel by Emily Neville from 1964, which won the award that year for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. 1964 or '65 is when I read it, too, and I recalled liking it a great deal. So I decided to reread it and see how it holds up more than fifty years later.

IT'S LIKE THIS, CAT is narrated by Dave Mitchell, a 14-year-old boy who lives in Manhattan with his parents. This is the New York City you often see in sitcoms: a little colorful in certain areas, maybe, but overall clean, charming, and safe. Dave thinks nothing of going all over on his bike or taking subways, buses, and ferries to all the boroughs. In a way, IT'S LIKE THIS, CAT is a bit of travelogue, detailing the places Dave goes, the people he meets there, and the things they do. He adopts Cat, a tomcat who comes to him from an eccentric family friend. He meets a burglar who's not really a burglar. He has a falling out with his best friend. He makes other friends and catches lizards in a park with one of them. He meets a girl and begins a tentative romance with her. It's all very episodic, and Cat, even though he's in the title of the book, seems to disappear for long stretches of it.

Neville writes very well, especially about the city. This particular version of New York may be a fantasy, but she makes it an appealing, gently humorous one. Dave is a likable, realistic protagonist, and his relationship with the girl he meets at Coney Island is handled in a believable fashion. The plot is realistic, too, in that it just sort of meanders along, never really comes to any sort of point, and then stops abruptly, which is just like life, I guess. I have to admit, this may be one of those books where I was better off remembering it fondly rather than revisiting it. However, I think IT'S LIKE THIS, CAT is worth reading if you haven't read it before, because it does a good job of evoking a particular time. It's a nice book. Sometimes that's what you want to read.

A Middle of the Night Music Post: New World in the Morning - Roger Whittaker

New world in the morning? I kinda doubt it. But it's a pretty song.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Punished: Navajo Witches - Jackson Lowry

Vincent Bayonne has gone from wealthy Louisiana plantation owner to penniless drunk in a very short time. But that’s not all. William Sherman, the ex-slave who put the torch to Bayonne’s beloved plantation, Dark Oaks, has done the unspeakable. Sherman, a voodoo priest, has placed a curse on Bayonne and made him one of the undead—living, but not truly alive. 

The elusive Dr. Glencannon is the only man who can stave off the sense-dulling effects of the curse with his elixir—but Bayonne is always one step behind him. A young Navajo boy tells Bayonne his uncle, Begay, can help—but for a price—killing the skinwalker that has been terrorizing the Navajo people. 

Though Bayonne resents having to hunt the supernatural shapeshifter, there is no choice for him. For Begay, true to his word, concocts a potion that holds the zombie traits at bay and allows Bayonne to do what he must do—including hunting the skinwalker.

As Bayonne stalks the skinwalker, he makes a surprising discovery. Will he be able to kill the beast? And can he make it back to New Orleans in time to meet the Queen of the Cape when William Sherman comes ashore?

I'm really enjoying this series. It's fast-paced, appropriately creepy, and Vincent Bayonne continues to be a compelling protagonist even though for the most part he's a very unsympathetic character. Jackson Lowry is doing some very skillful characterization in these books. I'm not a big fan of modern-day zombie stories, but I love the classic style tales and PUNISHED is a good one. Highly recommended.

A Middle of the Night Music Post: Ringo - Lorne Greene

Maybe you had to be there, but I love this song.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: The Talk of the Town

George Stevens directed two of my favorite films, GUNGA DIN and SHANE. He also directed THE TALK OF THE TOWN, from 1942, and while it doesn’t approach the level of those two classics, it’s still a very well-made and enjoyable movie.

Cary Grant is cast a little against type as a political activist who’s accused of burning down a mill he’d been protesting because of allegedly unsafe working conditions. Before he can be tried and convicted, he escapes from jail and injures his ankle in the process. He winds up hiding out in a house belonging to a young woman, played by Jean Arthur, he had a crush on when they were both in school. She’s just about to rent the house out to a new tenant, a visiting law professor (Ronald Colman). When Grant is discovered, Arthur covers for him and claims he’s the gardener. She winds up working for Colman as his secretary while he tries to write a book on the law, and not surprisingly, we get a long stretch of the movie where a romantic triangle develops between the three of them, as well as some witty dialogue and a number of philosophical discussions about the nature of the legal system. Eventually things get a lot more complicated and the true story of the mill fire is uncovered. It’s pretty easy to figure out, but this movie was never intended to be a mystery.

Instead it’s a romantic comedy/drama, and it works just fine at that. Irwin Shaw, one of my favorite novelists and short story writers, co-wrote the screenplay, based on a play that was adapted for the screen by Dale Van Every, who I knew only as a well-regarded historical novelist. Because of that, THE TALK OF THE TOWN is a well-constructed tale with good dialogue, and Stevens keeps things moving along briskly. Grant is charming as always, even when he’s trying to be earnest and political, Colman is good (nothing is said about the fact that two Englishmen are playing distinctly American characters), and Arthur looks great in a pair of men’s pajamas and displays her usual deft touch with both comedy and drama. The supporting cast includes such stalwarts as Edgar Buchanan, Leonid Kinsky, and a very young and uncredited Lloyd Bridges as a newspaper reporter. I looked for Charles Lane, since he’s nearly always in movies like this, but didn’t see him.

THE TALK OF THE TOWN is a little too predictable to be a great film, but it is a good, solid, intelligent movie that’s well worth watching. I’d never seen it until now, and I’m glad we did.

A Middle of the Night Music Post: Who Needs Sleep? - Barenaked Ladies

Seems appropriate. The other day a friend of mine asked if I post these songs beause I'm a night owl. Not at all. If I'm awake at this time of night, it's not intentional. I'd rather be asleep.