Sunday, November 18, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: G-Men Detective, September 1941

There's a lot happening on this cover of G-MEN DETECTIVE, and it definitely makes me want to read the issue. I don't know who did the art. I'm a little less enthusiastic about what's inside, since the Dan Fowler lead novel is by Charles S. Strong. I haven't read much by Strong, only a couple of his Western novels under his Chuck Stanley pseudonym, but I found them to be pretty bland. However, he might be a lot better with a Dan Fowler yarn. Maybe I'll find out someday. Meanwhile, there are some dependably good authors on hand, too, including the great John K. Butler, Norman A. Daniels, and Robert Sidney Bowen.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: All Western Magazine, May 1933

Well, that's got to be kind of a shock, when you're just riding along and this big ol' bird swoops down and attacks you. I don't really care much for this cover, but it's bizarre and eye-catching, I'll give it that. And as usual with ALL WESTERN, the authors inside are good ones, including Murray Leinster, T.W. Ford, W. Wirt, J.E. Grinstead, Anthony Rud, and William E. Barrett.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Forgotten Books: Brand Fires on the Ridge - Ernest Haycox

Being in the mood to read something by Ernest Haycox, I looked around to see if I have any more of the collections that reprint his pulp novellas. I’ve read several of those in the past and really enjoyed them. Sure enough, there on my shelf was BRAND FIRES ON THE RIDGE, a Pinnacle Books edition from 1990 that contains two novellas: “Brand Fires on the Ridge”, originally published in the August 21, 1929 issue of the pulp WEST, and “The Killers”, from the July 10, 1930 issue of SHORT STORIES.

The protagonist of “Brand Fires on the Ridge” is King Merrick, a young cowboy who’s gone off adventuring for the winter but now comes back in the spring to the ranch where he worked before as the foreman. He finds that job still available, but he’s lost the young woman he planned to propose to. Worse still, he’s lost her to his best friend.

But King doesn’t have time to mope about that very much, because the ranchers in the valley band together and hire him to put a stop to a plague of rustling that threatens to wipe them out. At one end of the valley, see, lives an outlaw family called the Brierlys. Their crimes have been tolerated because they never stole much from any one ranch, spreading out their larceny over all the outfits in the area. But now they’ve gone in for rustling in a big way, and they have an inside man working for them, too. It’s part of King’s job to find this traitor.

So King has plenty on his plate, including a beautiful redheaded cafĂ© owner, a couple of overlapping romantic triangles, and a mysterious old-timer. Even so, as with much of Haycox’s work, there’s not a lot of action in this yarn, although when it finally starts, it’s well done. Instead, you get emotionally complex characters, a lot of suspense, and some really fine, vivid writing.

This story was reprinted by Tower and Belmont/Tower under the title WIPE OUT THE BRIERLYS, and it must have been successful for them since it went through three separate editions with different covers.

“The Killers” is another entry in Haycox’s series featuring drifting cowpokes Joe Breedlove and Indigo Bowers. Joe is big and dumb-looking, but he actually has a keen brain. Indigo is a scrawny little galoot who’s really a very dangerous gunman. In this one, they’re getting ready to spend the winter in an isolated cabin when a stranger shows up and gets himself shot down on their doorstep by a bushwhacker. The killer gets away, but Joe and Indigo aren’t going to stand for that and set out on his trail. Their quest leads them to a hidden valley, two feuding clans, and a lot of trouble.

This one proves that while Haycox often preferred introspection over action, when he wanted to burn powder he could do so with the best of ’em. “The Killers” is more action-packed than any Haycox story I’ve ever read, with gun battle after gun battle. The pace is great, but there are still nice moments of characterization here and there, especially the ones that focus on the slightly world-weary Joe Breedlove. I don’t know how many of these Breedlove and Bowers stories there are, but I still have at least three of them on hand and look forward to reading them.

One other note about “The Killers”: it was reprinted in the 1960s Ace Books edition of SIXGUN DUO, a collection of two Haycox novellas. When Pinnacle released their edition of SIXGUN DUO in 1990, “The Killers” was replaced by another Breedlove and Bowers yarn, “Night Raid”. Why Pinnacle juggled things around in their editions, I have no idea, but now I’ve gotten to read “The Killers”, so I’m satisfied.

Like some other Western authors from that era—T.T. Flynn and L.P. Holmes come to mind—Ernest Haycox used very standard Western plots in his stories. There’s nothing in “Brand Fires on the Ridge” and “The Killers” that you haven’t seen in scores of other pulp Western yarns. What elevates his work, as with Flynn and Holmes, is the pure writing talent that shines through. These two stories are well worth reading and get a high recommendation from me.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Overlooked Movies: Fort Osage (1952)

I recall my dad liking Rod Cameron Westerns. Rod was no John Wayne, Randolph Scott, or Audie Murphy, mind you, but if one of his movies was on TV, my dad would usually find the time to watch it. I hadn't seen one in quite a few years, but the other day I watched a 1952 release called FORT OSAGE, a movie that to the best of my memory I'd never seen before.

Cameron plays a wagonmaster in this one, but it's not a wagon train movie. Almost all the action is set in Fort Osage, a Missouri town used as a jumping-off point for groups of immigrants heading west. Cameron has to deal with a couple of crooks (Morris Ankrum and Douglas Kennedy), a government agent (John Ridgley, playing a good guy for once), a beautiful girl (Jane Nigh, an actress I never heard of), and some hostile Indians including the great Iron Eyes Cody.

It's all a little talky, but the occasional action scenes are good, as you'd expect from an old pro director like Lesley Selander. Dan Ullman's script leaves few cliches unturned, but there is a really nice twist toward the end that turns one of the B-Western tropes on its head.

So how was ol' Rod? Not bad, as it turns out. He wasn't a great actor, by any means, but he looks great in this movie and definitely has an impressive screen presence. Watching it makes me want to watch some other Rod Cameron movies where he has better directors and scripts. Even with its shortcomings, though, FORT OSAGE is a fairly pleasant way to spend an hour and a half if you're a fan of old Western movies, like me.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Monday Memories: Livestock

I wrote about dogs and cats in a previous installment of this series, but those weren’t the only animals we had when I was a kid. Both of my parents came from a rural background, growing up in the country or in very small farming communities during the Depression, so having livestock around just came natural to them. Our large backyard was divided into three sections: the half right behind the house, which was the actual backyard part and had a wire fence running all the way across it; and the back part, divided into unequal sections by another fence running at right angles to the first one, all the way back to the creek. There was also a barbed wire fence all across the back of the property, along the creek. The larger back section on the left (looking at it from the house) was the cow pen; the smaller area to the right was the chicken pen.

Now, honestly, I don’t know if the property was divided that way when my parents bought it, or if my dad put up those fences to create those two pens. But it was that way as far back as I can remember. We didn’t always have a cow (more about that later), but we always had chickens.

This was the mid-Fifties, and the street where we lived wasn’t actually in the city limits at this time, so there were no restrictions or ordinances to worry about. If you wanted to have a flock of chickens, nobody was going to stop you. We had a pair of roosters and probably eight or ten hens. I named the roosters: Pete and Joe. (I had not yet entered my “oddly named pets” phase.) If any of the hens had names, I’ve forgotten them.

In the back corner of the chicken pen was the chicken house, where the hens had nests where they slept and laid their eggs. It was my job, at least part of the time, to gather those eggs. I didn’t mind all that much, although I was a little squeamish about all the droppings. But I don’t recall ever having any real trouble gathering eggs.

It did bother me, however, when my parents decided they didn’t actually need two roosters. I’ll never forget following my dad down to the pen where he grabbed either Pete or Joe, whichever one of the poor creatures he was able to catch, and promptly wrung his neck. Head popped right off. I was horrified. And then I had to help pluck the carcass. Maybe that’s why, for a long time, I didn’t care much for fried chicken. (Spoiler alert: I got over it.)

I also fed the chickens some and enjoyed scattering the chicken feed. In those days it didn’t take much to entertain us.

My other memory involving the chickens has to do with the chicken house. One time when we were down in Blanket visiting relatives, a huge windstorm came through Azle, knocked a big tree branch down on top of the little room on the other side of our garage my father used for his TV repair shop, and turned the chicken house over. It sat on a concrete slab but didn’t have a floor and wasn’t fastened down in any way. It was just four walls and a roof. But the storm didn’t damage it, just tipped it over, so my dad, my older brother, and some of my brother’s friends got behind it and just pushed it back upright. I’d never seen an actual building you could do that to.

Speaking of my brother, he was in high school at the time, took ag classes, and was a member of the Future Farmers of America. As one of his FFA projects, he raised a cow in our cow pen, which had a shed in it as well as an enclosed, attached room where we stored feed. The cow eventually had a calf, and we had fresh milk as well as a cute little calf to raise, which we did, until the time when (yes, you saw this coming, didn’t you?) they slaughtered and ate it! At least they took it somewhere else to have all that done, so I didn’t have to watch it. But again, not one of my favorite childhood memories.

Later on, we had a young bull we kept in that pen. I don’t recall why. This was late enough my brother would have been out of high school, so it wasn’t an FFA project. Since he was in college, or maybe even married by then, it became my job to feed the bull. I hated that bull. I hardly ever went in that pen without him chasing me. He never knocked me down and trampled me, but he butted me numerous times. He’d been dehorned so I didn’t get gored, but I still didn’t like it. Eventually, he wound up in the freezer, too. That bothered me a little (I’m soft-hearted, I guess), but not as much as the other livestock we ate.

In addition to all this, our next door neighbor was the ag teacher at the high school and the FFA sponsor, and his son raised hogs and sheep in the rear part of their backyard, which was fenced off like ours. For some reason, I loved those hogs and would go over there every chance I got to help slop them. I know, that doesn’t sound like me, but I really enjoyed working with them. Some of the huge boars were a little scary, but overall I never had any trouble with the hogs. The sheep, on the other hand, did not like me and I didn’t like them. One of the rams really had it in for me and came up behind me and butted me many times. I don’t think anybody else around the circle cared for having a hog and sheep farm in the neighborhood, but I liked it.

By the time I was in high school, all the chickens had died and we had no cattle. My dad decided to take down all the fences and make the whole thing a huge backyard. He tore down the cow shed and had a metal storage barn built. I think he sold or gave the chicken house to somebody who hauled it off to use it for the same purpose. I could still show you where the fences ran and where the shed and the chicken house were (I think the metal storage barn is still there), but as I’ve said before, somebody else lives there now. I doubt if anybody on the street has chickens now, since the city probably frowns on such things. When my dad was still alive, he did have a garden for a while in what had been the cow pen, but that was the extent of his agricultural activities. I was never really a country kid, but I got a taste of that life, anyway, both the good and the bad, and I’m grateful for that.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Tales, February 1939

There's really a lot happening on the cover of this issue of DETECTIVE TALES. Action galore, which I like. And I'll bet there's plenty of action in the stories by Wyatt Blassingame (one under his own name and one as by William B. Rainey), Bruno Fischer (writing as Russell Gray), G.T. Fleming-Roberts, D.L. Champion, Robert Sidney Bowen, and John G. Pearsol (better known for his Westerns).

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Lariat Story Magazine, March 1943

You could always count on LARIAT STORY covers for an eye-catching mix of powder-burning action, stalwart heroes, and beautiful gals. This issue is no exception. I don't know who did the art, but I like it. Inside this issue are stories by some fine writers, as well: Walt Coburn, Norbert Davis, W.F. Bragg, Eli Colter, J.E. Grinstead, and house-name Bart Cassiday, who was sometimes Harry F. Olmsted and might be here, I don't know. But I know LARIAT STORY covers usually make me want to write a story to fit the scenes on them. I'll bet I could work this into a book somewhere . . .

Friday, November 09, 2018

Forgotten Books: The Complete Mike Shayne, Private Eye - Ken Fitch and Ed Ashe

A number of years ago, I posted about the Mike Shayne comic book series published by Dell in 1961 and ’62. Dell was publishing the Mike Shayne novels in paperback, very successfully, and I suppose someone there decided a comic book version of the character might work, too. That didn’t really pan out, since there were only three issues. I’d heard about them for years but never came across any copies. However, they’ve recently been reprinted in a nice trade paperback edition by some outfit called Gwandanaland Comics, so I picked up a copy and finally read them after all these years.

Each issue is based on one of the novels by Davis Dresser writing as Brett Halliday: THE PRIVATE PRACTICE OF MICHAEL SHAYNE, BODIES ARE WHERE YOU FIND THEM, and HEADS—YOU LOSE (originally published as BLOOD ON THE BLACK MARKET). By the way, nowhere in this reprint or the original comics is there any mention of Dresser or Halliday, and the copyright is by Dell Publishing Company. Any kid coming across these back in the Sixties who wasn’t familiar with the books would have thought Shayne had been created for the comics.

Each of the source novels has a pretty complicated plot, as was common in the Shayne series, and the comic book versions actually do a pretty solid, faithful job of adapting them. They’re toned down a little, but not much. You’ve still got murder, blackmail, adultery, and more murder. I can imagine a kid reading these and getting lost in all the twists and turns of the plots. Nor does the third issue pull any punches about Shayne’s wife Phyllis dying in childbirth, along with the baby, and leaving Shayne pretty much a broken man until a murder case pulls him out of that despair. Twelve-year-olds just aren’t the target audience for these yarns. (Well, unless you’re a weird twelve-year-old like I was, since I started reading the Shayne novels about that age . . .)

From what I’ve been able to find on-line, the first two issues were written by Ken Fitch, and the third one probably was, as well. The art in all three issues is by Ed Ashe. Both of those guys were journeyman comics pros with less than a hundred credits each, hardly top talent, but they did pretty good jobs, anyway. Fitch condenses the action down well, and there’s even a newspaper headline in the second issue that includes his name as an in-joke. Ashe’s Mike Shayne resembles the one on the Dell paperback covers, which also appears on the first two comic book covers. The worst glitch is the coloring in the first issue, which finds Mike Shayne with bright blond hair instead of red, while his reporter buddy Tim Rourke is the one with red hair. That’s switched around in the other two issues and looks a lot better. Each issue also includes a one-page text story and a four-page backup comics story, all of them minor stand-alone crime yarns.

There’s a reason these comic books are obscure. They probably sold poorly and not a lot of copies are still out there to be found. And while I certainly enjoyed them, there aren’t enough people interested in them to make them really collectable. Throw in the fact that Fitch and Ashe were no Lee and Kirby, and you can see why they haven’t been reprinted until now. (And now I’m visualizing a Kirby version of Mike Shayne. You know, that could have worked. Just think about how he drew Reed Richards and Johnny Storm in suits and hats in early issues of FANTASTIC FOUR . . .)

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Overlooked Movies: Rope (1948)

Livia and I were talking about the Leopold and Loeb case the other day, because there was a reference to it on a TV show we were watching, and when I mentioned this movie to her, she said she thought she’d never seen it. So I said we ought to remedy that. But when we started watching it, I realized that I had described a completely different movie to her! I had gotten ROPE mixed up with COMPULSION, a 1959 movie about the same case that focuses on the trial of the two infamous killers. COMPULSION is somewhat fictionalized, but ROPE is even more so, taking just the basic concept of the Leopold and Loeb case and using it for a nearly real-time tale of how two young intellectuals murder a friend of theirs simply because they want to prove they’re smart enough to get away with it.

As directed by Alfred Hitchcock, ROPE is deliberately stage-bound and gimmicky. The whole thing takes place in the apartment where the two young killers, played by John Dall and Farley Granger, live, and Hitchcock filmed the movie in a series of eight ten-minute takes, playing tricks with the camera so that there’s only one obvious cut in the entire film. Other than that it plays like one continuous shot. Well, not really, because it’s pretty obvious where most of the actual cuts are, but give Hitchcock credit for trying something different, enough though it doesn’t succeed all the time.

It’s a pretty suspenseful movie, with stuff going on in the background that you have to watch closely, and there’s some good dialogue, but ROPE really only comes alive for me when James Stewart enters the story as the former teacher of Dall and Granger, whose philosophical discussions with them gave them the idea of committing murder in the first place. Stewart is one of my absolute, all-time favorite actors, and I enjoyed his work in this one. ROPE isn’t in the top rank for either him or Hitchcock, but it’s an interesting oddity and I enjoyed watching it again for the first time in almost fifty years.

And for the record, Livia hadn’t seen it, so that turned out okay. Maybe we’ll watch COMPULSION someday. But not too soon. A little of Leopold and Loeb goes a long way.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Popular Detective, June 1944

Cigars . . . cigarettes . . . bullets! (You know, that wouldn't be a bad title for a pulp detective yarn, and it would fit this cover.) I don't know who did this cover, but I like it quite a bit. Inside this issue of POPULAR DETECTIVE are stories by J. Lane Linklater, Joe Archibald, and three house-names, John L. Benton, Frank Johnson, and Michael O'Brian. Norman Daniels wrote under all three of those names, so he could have authored one or more of these stories, but there's really no way to know at this point. It looks like an entertaining issue no matter who wrote the stories.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Story, January 2, 1943

Another good cover on this issue of the iconic WESTERN STORY, and two of the best Western writers ever, T.T. Flynn and Peter Dawson (Jonathan Glidden) have stories inside. The Dawson is an installment of his serial "Trail Boss", the novel version of which was reprinted by Bantam, an edition I remember reading in junior high. Also on hand are several other enjoyable authors such as Archie Joscelyn, Victor H. White (writing as Ralph Berard), and M. Howard Lane. 

Friday, November 02, 2018

Forgotten Books: Colt Crusade - E.B. Mann

In 1966, Belmont Books brought out a paperback reprint of two of E.B. Mann’s short novels that first appeared in the Western pulps, THE AVENGER ( originally published in ADVENTURE NOVELS AND SHORT STORIES, April 1939) and COLT CRUSADE. The origin of that second novel is a bit of a mystery. As you can see from the cover copy on the paperback (that’s my copy, by the way, complete with price sticker, clipped corner, and bookstore stamp from the Used Book Warehouse in Rockport, Texas), the protagonist of COLT CRUSADE is known as the Smilin’ Kid. A little investigation turns up the fact that a story entitled “The Smilin’ Kid” was published in the Second August Number, 1929 issue of RANCH ROMANCES under the name J.A. Adams, who, at least according to the Fictionmags Index, never published anything else. E.B. Mann’s first stories were published in RANCH ROMANCES in 1928, which leads me to believe that he was actually “J.A. Adams” and “The Smilin’ Kid” is the story reprinted in paperback as COLT CRUSADE. Why Mann would have used a pseudonym like that, I have no idea, but that’s my hunch.

Bibliographic speculation aside, I recently read COLT CRUSADE and thoroughly enjoyed it. The Smilin’ Kid, whose real name is Kenneth Lamb, shows up in the town of Pinto and asks the local ranchers and businessmen to give him the job of sheriff, because he wants to clean up the area and put a stop to the rustling ring led by Pete Martin, a crooked rancher, and Manuel Sanchez, a Mexican bandit with a headquarters below the border. What motivates the Kid to take on this challenge? We never find out, which is the novel’s only real flaw. The Smilin’ Kid is a very entertaining character, but ultimately he’s a cipher. Maybe it’s just a love of adventure, in which case adventure has some competition from the beautiful daughter of one of the ranchers, since the Kid soon falls in love with her, too.

It’s a very standard plot, but Mann livens it up with a few minor plot twists and a lot of well-written action scenes leading up to an epic final battle that’s just great and reminded me very much of the Homeric final battle in Clarence E. Mulford’s HOPALONG CASSIDY. I haven’t read much by Mann, but this is easily the best of his yarns I’ve encountered so far. It might be too old-fashioned for modern Western readers, but I loved it.

By the way, there’s no scene in the novel that matches the scene on that RANCH ROMANCES cover. So maybe I’m wrong, or maybe the artist on the pulp just took a little dramatic license.

I didn’t read the other novel in the Belmont paperback, THE AVENGER, although I started it. But I realized right away that it was the source novel for the Johnny Mack Brown B-Western GUNS IN THE DARK, which I watched recently enough that the plot is still clear in my mind. From what I read, the movie is a very faithful adaptation of the story, too. So maybe I’ll let that memory fade and read the novel sometime later on, or maybe I’ll never get to it, but either way, I thoroughly enjoyed COLT CRUSADE and recommend it to anybody who enjoys a good old-fashioned Western.