Saturday, April 29, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: All Western, June 1942

This is a pulp I own and read recently. I've read only a few issues of ALL WESTERN, Dell's main entry into the Western field, but they's all been good. The July 1942 issue is no exception.

It gets underway with a novella by Ed Earl Repp, "Too Tough to Kill". Repp was notorious for farming out his work to other writers (find a copy of the essay "Tarzana Nights" by Frank Bonham if you don't believe me), so there's no telling who wrote at least the first draft of this one. Repp supposedly revised those ghosted tales to varying degrees, and this story sounds to me like what I think of as a typical Ed Earl Repp yarn. The plot is an old one: a youngster raised by a gang of outlaws, all the while unaware that the boss owlhoot is responsible for the murder of the rest of his family. There's a slightly unusual aspect to the plot in that one character winds up with amnesia. And there's a character unfortunately named Lobo Maverick, which is too over-the-top and corny even for an Ed Earl Repp story. The prose is really purple in the action scenes and the resolution borders on maudlin. But here's the thing (and you knew I was getting around to this), I still had a great time reading this story. For some reason, Repp can always make me buy into all that gun-blazing melodrama. The late Jon Tuska speculated that Repp never actually wrote anything, that all his stories were ghosted. I can't bring myself to believe that. I think he had a hand in most, if not all, of them, because they demonstrate a consistent sincerity that I don't think would be there if they were solely the work of ghost writers. Repp's stories, if you stop and think about them, are mostly ridiculous, but he believed in them, by God, and that feeling makes me believe in—and enjoy—them, too.

Fredric Sinclair is an author who's unfamiliar to me. A check of the Fictionmags Index reveals that he published a couple of dozen stories in the Western and detective pulps from the late Thirties to the late Forties. His short story "Night Boat" in this issue is a riverboat yarn, about a gambler who encounters the son of an old friend who is out for vengeance and has to choose whether to help him or mind his own business. This is a good story with some emotional complexity to it. No real action, but that's okay now and then. I'd read more stories by Sinclair if I came across them.

Frank Carl Young is as unknown to me as Fredric Sinclair, but he appears to have published dozens of Westerns stories in many different pulps during the Thirties, Forties, and early Fifties. "No Man Escapes" is also a vengeance yarn, of sorts, as a gunsmith who was fast on the draw in his early days goes looking for a marshal to clean up a lawless town and encounters something he didn't expect. Although there's a bit of action at the end, for the most part this is a character-driven story. It's well written but decidedly low-key.

"Silver Dust Assay" is a rather bland title for what is a pretty good story. The protagonist is an assayer, an offbeat job for a Western pulp hero. When there's a silver strike near the town where he does business, it looks good for him, but there's more to the strike than meets the eye, and discovering the truth may put the assayer in deadly danger. This is a well written yarn with some nice action, and I also enjoyed it because it's by one of the few pulp authors I've met, David Lavender, who was at the Western Writers of America convention in Oklahoma City in 1991. Unfortunately, at that time I knew him only as an award-winning historian and had no idea he had written for the pulps, or else I might have been bending his ear about those days for the entire convention.

Next up is a novella by a very familiar author, Philip Ketchum, who was a prolific pulpster, turning out Westerns, mysteries, and historical yarns, and then followed that up with a long career writing paperback original Westerns. "Stampede on Spanish Valley" suffers a little from having a very stereotypical plot—bad guy trying to take over all the land in a valley for some mysterious reason (that turns out not to be mysterious at all to anybody who's read many Westerns)—but Ketchum's excellent prose lifts it above average, as do his well-rounded and emotionally complex characters: a gunman out for revenge on his former partner, a gambler and his unfaithful wife, a woman married to her brother's murderer, and others who make this tale seem fresher than it had any right to be. Not in the top rank of Ketchum's work but still very entertaining.

I haven't read much by George Cory Franklin, but he seems to be a pretty good writer. "Smoky Goes to War" has an animal as the protagonist, a type of story I usually don't like much, but this yarn won me over. It's also a contemporary Western, set in the early days of World War II. Smoky is a mule owned by a cowboy on a ranch in the Southwest which is near an army training camp. The cowboy, unable to enlist because of his physical condition, offers Smoky in his place to help the war effort. The mule is used for practice in packing supplies at the training camp, but along the way he sniffs out a Fifth Columnist bent on murder and sabotage. This is a really entertaining and well-written story.

Quite a few pulp authors wrote fictionalizations of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, usually by adding fictional characters who go along with Custer and the Seventh Cavalry. Wes Fargo does that in the novella "The Glory Trail", but while Custer does play a part early on, the massacre itself takes place off-screen while the action follows Dave Howell, a former riverboat pilot/trapper/army scout who is framed for running guns to the Indians. He winds up with Reno and Benteen and then on the steamer Far West, the first riverboat to reach the scene of the battle. Wes Fargo was really E.B. Mann, a prolific and well-regarded pulpster, and it's easy to see why he was popular. His writing is very smooth and effective, and he seems to get his historical details right in this one. This is only the second story I've read by Mann, but I liked both of them quite a bit and need to read some of his novels.

C. William Harrison wrote more than a hundred stories for the Western pulps (and some detective pulps as well) from the mid-Thirties to the mid-Fifties, then went on to a career as a paperback Western author under the names Will Hickok and Coe Williams. Oddly enough, he wrote one novel each in the Jim Hatfield, Rio Kid, Masked Rider, and Range Riders series. I've read quite a bit of his work and usually liked it. His prose has a nice hardboiled tone. That's true in "When Wolves Fall Out", which finds two outlaws vying for the leadership of a gang following a raid on a town and the kidnapping of a young woman. There's also a third mysterious owlhoot horning in on things. This reminded me of a Walt Coburn yarn because it has a lot of back-story and secrets to be revealed. I found it very entertaining.

John C. Colohan was a stalwart of the Western pulps from the late Twenties through the mid-Fifties. He was especially prolific for the Popular Publications pulps but his work appeared in many magazines from other publishers. His story "The Man on the Yellow Horse" wraps up this issue of ALL WESTERN. The rancher protagonist, who is in town picking up supplies, catches an outlaw fleeing from a botched robbery and a shooting, but when he takes off the fugitive's mask, he gets a surprise that causes him to turn detective and risk his life catching a killer. It's not much of a mystery, but Colohan tries and his writing is nice and smooth. There's a good supporting character, too, a hired gun who would probably be played by Jack Elam if this was a movie.

Overall, there's not a bad story in the bunch. No real stand-outs, but they're all good to very good, just solid pulp stories that make for some fine reading. As usual when I can manage it, the scan is from the actual issue I read, complete with some writing on it by a previous owner.


Walker Martin said...

ALL WESTERN lasted almost a hundred issues in the thirties and forties and I've always considered it one of the better western magazines. But you don't hear too much about it and not many collectors have extensive runs.

Edwin McBride said...

Thanks for the informative reviews.