Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Overlooked Movies: The Lady Eve (1941)

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

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

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

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Super Science Stories, November 1949

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

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Dime Western, May 1950

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

Friday, March 27, 2020

Forgotten Books: The Count of 9 - A.A. Fair (Erle Stanley Gardner)

I don’t actually remember the first Donald Lam/Bertha Cool book I read—I think maybe it was SHILLS CAN’T CASH CHIPS—but I know I checked it out from the bookmobile that came out to our little town from the library in Fort Worth, so it was at least 55 years ago. I checked out several of the series from the bookmobile, and the guy who drove it out there told me that the author, A.A. Fair, was actually Erle Stanley Gardner, who wrote the Perry Mason books I was also reading. You can tell that from the plots and pacing of the books, although the Cool and Lam books always had more humor in them than the Masons.

Anyway, I’ve continued to read the series over the years, but it’s reached the point where I don’t know, based on the titles, which ones I’ve read and which ones I haven’t. And I’m not sure it matters, because I don’t remember the ones I read 50 years ago. However, I can say with some degree of certainty that I’d never read THE COUNT OF 9 until now.

Originally published by William Morrow in 1958, reprinted several times by Pocket Books and also by Hard Case Crime, THE COUNT OF 9 follows a well-established pattern. The Cool and Lam private detective agency is hired to protect some valuable African artifacts at a party given by wealthy explorer and adventurer Dean Crockett. Bertha Cool is actually in charge of that job, but her associate, pint-size, wise guy narrator (and actual crime solver) Donald Lam gets drawn in when a couple of items get stolen from Crockett’s penthouse despite Bertha’s presence. One of the missing artifacts is an African blowgun, and wouldn’t you know it, somebody turns up murdered with a dart from said blowgun. That sends Donald galloping off on a lightning-paced investigation involving nude models, jade Buddhas, and brawny hoodlums who hand him a beating that they have cause to regret, since Donald is not only smart, he also has a bit of a mean streak in him and knows how to get his revenge.

As always, Gardner’s plot is complex, although maybe not quite as labyrinthine as in some of his other novels. It was plenty twisty enough that I didn’t figure it out before I got to the end and Donald explained everything. I don’t think THE COUNT OF 9 goes in the absolute top rank of A.A. Fair novels, but it’s still very good and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Commando: Catalina Sunrise - Brent Towns

Bill Mitchell has always been a stubborn soul, so when he leaves the farm to join the RAAF, his father knows better than to stand in his way. But when a sinister Luftwaffe pilot shoots down his friend, Bill's desire for vengeance makes him unpredictable and a danger to his crew.

(This is another excellent COMMANDO yarn from Brent Towns, whose work got me started reading this series again in the first place. And I'm glad it did, because I've really enjoyed them.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Overlooked Movies: The Awful Truth (1937)

There are still some Cary Grant movies out there I’ve never seen, and until recently this was one of them. THE AWFUL TRUTH came out in 1937, when the country was starting to recover from some hard times but staring others right in the face, and I think people were anxious to be distracted from real life by the foibles and misadventures of rich, beautiful, and witty people. Who better to play those parts than Cary Grant and Irene Dunne? (Well, to be honest, I might have substituted Katherine Hepburn for Irene Dunne, but BRINGING UP BABY and THE PHILADELPHIA STORY were still in the future.)

Anyway, Grant and Dunne play a young, independently wealthy married couple with no children but an adorable dog. A series of misunderstandings convinces both of them that the other has been unfaithful, so they decide to get divorced. The divorce is granted, but it doesn’t become effective for 90 days. During that time, each moves on to a new romantic partner, but they also try to sabotage those new relationships. Dunne’s character falls for Oklahoma oilman Ralph Bellamy (playing basically the same role that Bellamy always plays), while Grant gets mixed up with a young heiress played by Molly Lamont. Mildly amusing hijinks ensue before the inevitable happy ending.

I dunno . . . I read the reviews for this movie on IMDB and people rave about how hysterically funny it is. Really? I think I laughed out loud once. There are quite a few absurd moments that made me smile a little, but THE AWFUL TRUTH is certainly no laugh riot as far as I’m concerned. And it’s so lightweight it almost floats away.

However, I always enjoy watching Cary Grant in anything, the rest of the cast is okay, and director Leo McCarey keeps things moving along fairly briskly. For a Grant fan, this one is worth watching, but I don’t think it’s anywhere close to the top rank of his movies.

Monday, March 23, 2020

The Wrecker - Clive Cussler and Justin Scott

Several years ago, I started the first book in this series, THE CHASE, written by Clive Cussler, didn’t care for it, and didn’t finish it. However, several of my friends have recommended the later books co-authored by Justin Scott, so I decided to give one of them a try. THE WRECKER is the second book in the series and I liked it considerably more than the first one.

As in the first book, the protagonist is Isaac Bell, a detective who works for the Van Dorn Agency (clearly inspired by the Pinkertons). Bell is a pretty good protagonist, smart, dogged, tough but not a superman, and since he’s the son of one of the country’s leading bankers who didn’t want to follow in his father’s financial footsteps, he knows his way around the upper echelons of the business, society, and political worlds. In this book, he’s on the trail of a mysterious mastermind known as the Wrecker, who’s trying to take over the country’s railroads in a campaign of sabotage and terror. This book is set in 1907, and the threat to the nation faced by Bell and his cohorts from the Van Dorn Agency is very similar to the menaces tackled by Jimmy Christopher and Richard Wentworth thirty years later.

That’s not the only pulpish influence in this book. Justin Scott (who I suspect did the bulk of the writing and plotting, if not all of it) is the son of A. Leslie Scott, the great Western pulpster who created a couple of iconic Texas Ranger characters in Jim Hatfield (TEXAS RANGERS) and Walt Slade (THRILLING WESTERN, plus more than a hundred paperback original novels). One of Bell’s fellow agents is a former Ranger known as Texas Walt Hatfield, and every time he made an appearance in this book, I couldn’t help but get a big grin on my face at Scott’s tribute to his dad’s work. There’s one chapter where Walt Hatfield takes on a couple of saboteurs on his own, and it’s a great homage to a couple of characters whose adventures have entertained me for more than five decades now. (I read my first Walt Slade novel in 1965 or ’66, my first Jim Hatfield in 1967.)

There are a few things in this book I can quibble about. Like most thrillers written these days, it’s too blasted long, and because of that the pace lags at times. And for a crack detective, Bell seems awfully dumb in places, especially when it comes to figuring out the Wrecker’s true identity. Scott doesn’t keep that a secret from the reader for very long, but Bell takes forever to figure it out despite being practically hit over the head with clues. However, I’m willing to forgive that because of the great action scenes—and there are a lot of ’em—and the sheer sense of fun that runs throughout this novel. I’ll definitely read more of Justin Scott’s entries in this series. I enjoyed this one enough that I’ll probably pick up some of his solo novels, as well.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Ten Detective Aces, January 1938

TEN DETECTIVE ACES had some excellent covers, in my opinion. This eye-catching effort is by Rafael DeSoto. Inside, the lead novella is by Tom Roan, better known for his Westerns but also the author of numerous detective and adventure yarns. Other prolific pulpsters on hand include Joe Archibald, Arthur J. Burks, J. Lane Linklater, Orlando Rigoni, and Paul W. Fairman.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Double Action Western Magazine, February 1935

I don't know who did this cover, but I like it. It's a variation of that iconic trio we've seen so often on Western pulp covers, only instead of an Old Geezer, we have two Stalwart Heroes to go with the Gun-Toting Redhead. And a good-looking gun-toter she is, too. Most of the inside of this pulp is taken up with a novel by William MacLeod Raine, "Guns of the Pecos". Backing it up are short stories by veteran pulpsters Forbes Parkhill, Claude Rister, and Cliff Walters.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Forgotten Books: When Tigers are Hunting: The Complete Adventures of Cordie, Soldier of Fortune, Volume 1 - W. Wirt

About 15 or 20 years ago, when I first started collecting issues of the pulp ARGOSY, I noticed that many of them featured stories in a series about a soldier of fortune named Jimmie Cordie, written by someone bylined as W. Wirt. I’d never heard of the author or character before, but I was intrigued by the series. I just never (and stop me if you’ve heard this before) got around to reading any of them.

Well, since then I’ve learned that the author’s name was really William Wirt and that he was active in the pulps for only about ten years, from the late Twenties to the late Thirties. Jimmie Cordie was indeed a soldier of fortune, one of a small group of adventurers who ranged all over the globe in search of excitement and fortune. I’ve also discovered that there’s been some controversy about the series—but I’ll get to that later.

A while back, Altus Press began reprinting the complete Jimmie Cordie series. I decided it was time for me to read the stories, and when I picked up the first reprint volume, WHEN TIGERS ARE HUNTING, I found out that the series didn’t actually start in ARGOSY but rather in another pulp, FRONTIER STORIES. This volume includes the first eight stories in the series, which appeared in FRONTIER STORIES except for a couple of stray yarns from SHORT STORIES.

The series begins with “He’s a Good Little Guy at That” (FRONTIER STORIES, May 1928). Jimmie Cordie is in Malaysia with his friends and fellow adventurers Red Dolan, George Grigsby, and Archibald Putney. They met in the French Foreign Legion and fought together there and during the Great War and have been wandering the world in the ten years since then. They’re in Malaysia after a bunch of diamonds rumored to be hidden in the base of an idol to the snake god worshipped by the local natives, but they also wind up rescuing a young British girl who’s been kidnapped and is being held for ransom.

The action shifts back to the United States for “The Major Wanted Him Alive” (FRONTIER STORIES, June 1928). As a favor to a former officer they served under during the war, the four friends agree to break up a gang of smugglers operating along the border between Arizona and Mexico. A pair of pretty girls get mixed up in the action in this one and need to be rescued.

The boys are back overseas, in China to be precise, in “According to My Size and Disposition” (FRONTIER STORIES, October 1928). They find themselves smack-dab in the middle of a fracas between two warlords. No girls at all in this one, but the story does introduce a pair of recurring characters: the Boston Bean, a wealthy young man named John Cabot Winthrop who accompanies Jimmie and the rest of the gang on some of their exploits out of a love of adventure; and fellow soldier of fortune Abraham Cohen, sometimes known as the Fighting Yid (there’s some of that controversy I mentioned above). Cohen actually starts out on the opposite side in this story but has become allies with Jimmie, Red, George, and Putt by the time it’s over. 

“Private Property” is the first of the series to appear in SHORT STORIES, in the October 10, 1928 issue. The four main protagonists are still in China, and this time they’re after a priceless Ming vase in a temple. The way is barred by the army of a local warlord, who happens to have gone to college in America. And he has a beautiful daughter, no surprise there, although there are a few plot twists. Mostly, though, this is a loose rewrite of the first story in the series, “He’s a Good Little Guy At That”.

“The Jewel in the Lotus” (SHORT STORIES, November 10, 1928) is another story set in China, and once again our four adventurers are after treasure, in this case a fabulous jewel set into an idol. Their attempt to get it lands them in the middle of a deadly clash between a local warlord and the high priest of the temple where the idol is located. This one has a nice little twist in the end.

“When Tigers Are Hunting”, from the November 1928 issue of FRONTIER STORIES, is a sequel to the first story in the series, “He’s a Good Little Guy at That”. The same British girl from that yarn—considerably grown up by now, I might add—is in trouble again, or rather her father is, and she appeals to the gang for help, leading them to call in the Boston Bean and the Fighting Yid once again.

“That Fish Thing” (FRONTIER STORIES, January 1929) is a sequel to “According to My Size and Disposition”. Jimmie and Red encounter the son of one of the warlords involved in the earlier story and become involved in rescuing a prisoner from the headquarters of a tong. Naturally Grigsby and Putney get roped in on the action, too.

“Right Smack at You!”, from FRONTIER STORIES, April 1929, is the last and longest story in the book. This novella finds the whole gang in Central Asia, searching for the tomb of Jagatai Khan, one of Genghis Khan’s sons, where a fabulous treasure is supposed to be buried along with the body of the young warrior. Naturally, they run into a lot of trouble, but, perhaps a little surprisingly, there’s no beautiful girl to rescue this time.

I can see why this series was popular. The stories are pure pulp action yarns, boiled down to their essence. They suffer a little from a certain sameness in the plots, meaning it’s best to space them out, but the pace is almost non-stop and Wirt’s hardboiled style is a lot of fun to read. The characters are a bit heavy-handedly stereotypical at times, but I couldn’t help but like and root for them. As for the series’ controversial reputation, I think it’s mostly undeserved. Sure, the language is insensitive in places by modern standards, but one of the main themes in the stories, which Wirt states with brisk eloquence more than once, is that all fighting men are the same, regardless of the proverbial race, creed, or color. In fact, sometimes enemies become allies, simply because of the respect they feel for each other as fighting men. Readers who condemn this series pay ’way too much attention to what the characters say and not enough to what they do, in my opinion.

But hey, people are still free to like or dislike whatever they want. As for me, I really enjoyed WHEN TIGERS ARE HUNTING and look forward to reading the next volume in this series.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Commando: Fog of War - James Swallow

The last place Private Bill Tasker expected to find himself on his new deployment was at sea -- surely that was for the Navy boys? Yet there he was on the top secret Blackland Sands sea fort, defending the Thames Estuary from V1 bombs and E-boats. But now it's thick with fog, he's lost his pals and a sinister German commando team is hunting him down -- would it be the end of his military career?

(I've read fantasy novels by James Swallow and really enjoyed them. I didn't know he had written for COMMANDO, too. This is a fine story in an unusual setting, making good use of some obscure history. Swallow has written a couple more issues of COMMANDO, and I've already picked them up to read.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Overlooked Movies: Pocket Money (1972)

You’d think I would have seen any movie from the Seventies starring Paul Newman and Lee Marvin, directed by Stuart Rosenberg (COOL HAND LUKE) and written by Terrence Malik (BADLANDS). But I’d never seen POCKET MONEY, based on the novel JIM KANE by J.P.S. Brown. It’s a modern-day Western about down-on-his-luck cowboy Jim Kane (Newman) and a shady friend of his (Marvin) who are hired to go down to Mexico and buy some cattle for a couple of shady rodeo promoters played by Strother Martin and Wayne Rogers. Things do not go well.

With all those people involved in front of and behind the camera, as well as having Hector Elizondo and Gregory Sierra in the supporting cast, photography by Laszlo Kovacs, music by Alex North, and a theme song by Carole King, POCKET MONEY should have been an excellent movie. Instead, to be a bit more blunt than I normally am, it’s terrible. The plot, such as it is, wanders around aimlessly, the movie looks drab, and everybody seems to be phoning in their performances, especially Newman. Marvin’s character is a little interesting at times. I did kind of enjoy the music, too. But that’s not enough to make up for the lifelessness of the rest of the movie.

From what I’ve read, POCKET MONEY has a cult following. More power to them. I like some movies that nobody else seems to. But as far as I’m concerned, this one should have remained overlooked.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Fantastic Adventures, September 1952

That's a good cover by Walter Popp on this issue of FANTASTIC ADVENTURES. Popp also did some excellent paperback covers during the Fifties, most notably for Beacon Books. John Fletcher, the author of the lead novella in this issue, appears to have been a real person, not a Ziff-Davis house-name, although he wasn't prolific at all. Other authors with stories in this issue are Noel Loomis, Rog Phillips, Don Wilcox, and John Jakes (Mr. Kent Family Chronicles his own self, or as I call him, "the guy whose books taught me how to write historical sagas"). I've always found FANTASTIC ADVENTURES to be an inconsistent but usually entertaining pulp. This issue looks to be solidly in that tradition.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Big-Book Western Magazine, September 1948

Look out behind you, Stalwart Red-Shirted Hero! Is that a Robert Stanley cover? I'm not sure, but I think it might be. I am sure that there are some fine Western pulpsters in this issue of BIG-BOOK WESTERN, including Walt Coburn, Tom Roan, Tom W. Blackburn, C. William Harrison, Max Kesler, and John Jo Carpenter (John Reese). I can't think of a better compliment for a Western writer than to be considered a Top-Hand Author. And "When the Gun-Wolves Howl!" may be one of the best Western pulp story titles ever.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Forgotten Books: Return of the Rio Kid - Don Davis (Davis Dresser)

Art by A. Leslie Ross?

Starting out, there are two things to consider about the Rio Kid novels by Don Davis. First of all, this is not the same character as the Rio Kid who headlined his own Western pulp for more than a decade. That Rio Kid was actually Captain Bob Pryor, former cavalryman, who roamed the West after the Civil War and had adventures with his sidekick Celestino Morales that often involved actual historical characters and events. That Rio Kid was created by Tom Curry, and his exploits were chronicled by a variety of top-notch Western pulpsters.

The Rio Kid in four novels by Don Davis is really a young, good-guy outlaw named Hugh Aiken, although his real name is hardly ever used. He’s just the Rio Kid, or the Kid. These novels were published in hardback by William Morrow in 1940 and ’41, reprinted in various Columbia Western pulps, and then appeared in paperback editions from Pocket Books in the late Forties and middle Sixties. I read at least one of those Pocket Books reprints in the Sixties, because I remember sitting in my eighth grade homeroom in school reading it. I don’t believe it was this first one in the series, though.

The other thing that makes this series interesting, to me, anyway, is that “Don Davis” was actually Davis Dresser, better-known under the pseudonym Brett Halliday, which he used on the long-running series starring Miami private detective Michael Shayne. When I read that Rio Kid book back in eighth grade, I had no idea that “Don Davis” was also the author of the Mike Shayne books I’d been reading and enjoying for several years. And it would have been even more far-fetched if someone had told me that someday I’d be writing Mike Shayne yarns of my own . . . but that’s exactly what happened, of course. Strange, all the connections that our lives weave in and out.

But to get on to the actual book at hand . . . RETURN OF THE RIO KID begins with the Kid on his way back to the United States after a three-year self-exile in Mexico, where he had fled after killing a crooked sheriff in a gunfight in Arizona. Because of that shootout, he’s been branded a killer and a fugitive, even though he was actually in the right. After a run-in with a gang of bandidos in a village near the Rio Grande, the Kid crosses the border river into Texas, hoping that’s far enough away from Arizona that he can live peacefully without the law catching up to him.

Unfortunately, there’s not much chance of that, because he lands smack-dab in the middle of a range war and a murder mystery. The ruthless cattle baron leader of one faction mistakes the Kid for a hired gunslinger he’s sent for; the beautiful young woman on the other side believes the Kid is actually a Texas Ranger who’s come to clean up the mess. This is a pretty good plot twist by Dresser, and he has the Kid playing it to full advantage for a while, before things take another turn and the rest of the book is basically a long sequence of capture/escape/running gunfight.

Art by H.W. Scott
I really enjoyed this yarn. It lacks the complicated plot of a Mike Shayne novel, but it’s the proverbial whirlwind of action, all of it taking place in the span of 24 hours. I love fast-paced books like that. Dresser’s writing is smooth as it can be, with a few scenes that border on poetic among all the hard riding and powder burning. The Kid is a very likable protagonist, too. The book’s only real drawback is an abundance of thick “Western” dialect of the “yuh mangy polecat” variety, but I even got used to that, to a certain extent. It’s early in the year, but this may well be a contender for my top ten list at the end of the year.

Some bibliographic notes: As mentioned above, RETURN OF THE RIO KID was first published by William Morrow in 1940, then reprinted in the June 1941 issue of BLUE RIBBON WESTERN. Following that came a 1949 paperback reprint from Pocket Books and a 1964 paperback also from Pocket Books. Through a discussion on the WesternPulps email group, I recently discovered that it was also reprinted in paperback as GUN HELL AT BIG BEND under the pseudonym Matt Rand by Belmont Books in 1962, with no indication that it’s part of the Rio Kid series by Don Davis.
Joseph Silberkleit, owner of Belmont, also published BLUE RIBBON WESTERN, so I suppose he figured that gave him the right to reprint the book. Matt Rand (spelled Mat Rand in the pulps) was a house-name used throughout the Columbia Publications pulps and also on several reprint Westerns from Belmont. And to bring this up to the present, an e-book edition of RETURN OF THE RIO KID is actually still available from Open Road Media. If you’re a fan of traditional action Westerns, I think it’s well worth reading.

Oh, one more thing. There’s a signed copy of the William Morrow edition available from an on-line bookseller, if you have an extra $250 to spare. I thought about buying it, but not for very long before reason prevailed.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Commando: Braddock! - Ferg Handley

"Better you just forget about being a pilot," said Squadron Leader Roy Suddaby when Matt Braddock first tried to enlist in the auxiliaries. But he wasn't a quitter, and the blue-eyed man with uncanny talent would fight his way to the best bombing squad in Britain before he could bring the fight to Nazi Germany. The war is on, and the RAF's best known bomber ace is back in this all-new adventure!

(I assume from the sales copy that the protagonist of this yarn has appeared previously in COMMANDO, but this is the first story I've read about him and chronologically the first Braddock tale as well, since it begins before World War II and concerns his early days in the RAF. Braddock is a working class guy who becomes a pilot over the opposition of the upper-crust officers and fellow pilots, but he's still only a sergeant when he takes command of a bomber. Braddock's ambition is to fly fighters, so he tries to make the larger, slower, and clumsier bomber do things that a fighter plane would, and manages to succeed most of the time. This is another excellent story from long-time COMMANDO scripter Ferg Handley. I've already bought the next issue in the Braddock series.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Overlooked Movies: The Deadly Companions (1961)

Sam Peckinpah’s first feature film, THE DEADLY COMPANIONS, is another Western movie I somehow managed to miss seeing on TV when I was a kid. Based on a novel by A.S. Fleischman, who also wrote the screenplay, it opens with three outlaws (Brian Keith, Steve Cochran, and Chill Wills) planning to rob a bank. Keith’s character, known as Yellowleg because he’s a former Union Army officer and still wears his uniform trousers, has a secret and an agenda of his own, however, beyond mere robbery. But things go awry and a boy winds up dead. The youngster is the son of a beautiful redhead who owns the local dance hall (a miscast but still lovely Maureen O’Hara). She wants to bury the boy next to his late father, in an abandoned cemetery located in a ghost town that happens to be smack-dab in the middle of Apache territory. The three outlaws, who didn’t rob the bank after all, wind up accompanying her.

Although there are a few action scenes, for the most part this is a slow-moving, psychological Western that bears little resemblance to Peckinpah’s earlier TV work or his later movies. It’s also humorless and pretty grueling to watch. The fact that it has one of the worst and most obtrusive musical scores I’ve ever heard certainly doesn’t help matters any. It was also filmed pretty cheaply and looks it.

However, Maureen O’Hara is, well, Maureen O’Hara, one of the most beautiful women ever in the movies and a good actress, to boot. I’ve always liked Brian Keith, too, and despite playing a more flawed character than usual, he’s solid in this film. Chills Wills hams it up in his usual entertaining fashion. Another great character actor, Strother Martin, puts in a brief appearance as a frontier preacher. Fleischman’s screenplay has some nice lines in it, too.

Watching THE DEADLY COMPANIONS, it’s hard to believe that only a year later, Peckinpah made RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY, one of the best Western movies ever. THE DEADLY COMPANIONS isn’t terrible, by any means, and I’m glad we watched it, but considering the talent involved with it, it’s disappointing and also frustrating because it could have been a lot better with a little more effort.

Sunday, March 08, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Adventures, July 1943

When I was a kid, I would have loved to have a flying helmet, a pair of jodhpurs, and a .45. The good-looking girl, I wouldn't have cared about so much. It's safe to say that my priorities have changed since then . . . but the outfit the guy on this cover of THRILLING ADVENTURES is wearing is still pretty cool. Inside are stories by Louis L'Amour ("Night Over the Solomons", the title story of one of his collections many, many years later), Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, house-name Charles Stoddard, and several little known authors. THRILLING ADVENTURES published some pretty good stories. There's been one big collection of yarns from it already, and there could easily be more.

Saturday, March 07, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Trails, July 1947

A nice cover by A. Leslie Ross on this issue of WESTERN TRAILS, and a pretty strong lineup of authors inside, too, including two of my favorites, L.P. Holmes and J. Edward Leithead (twice, once as himself and once as Wilson L. Covert). Others contributing stories are Joe Archibald, Nat McKelvey, Mel Holt, Art Kercheval, and Charles Irwin, not big name pulpsters (with the possible exception of Archibald) but solid writers.

Friday, March 06, 2020

Forgotten Books: The Second Longest Night - Stephen Marlowe

’Way back when I was in high school, I read one of the later books in the Chester Drum series by Stephen Marlowe, and I also read DOUBLE IN TROUBLE, the famous crossover novel that features both Chester Drum and Shell Scott, co-authored by Marlowe and Richard S. Prather. I thought both of them were okay, but I never felt compelled to read any more of the Chester Drum novels.

It’s a well-regarded series, though, so I finally decided after all this time to try another one. I started with the first novel in the series, THE SECOND LONGEST NIGHT, published by Gold Medal in 1955.

Chester Drum is a private eye, or confidential investigator, as he calls himself, in Washington D.C. In this novel, he’s hired by a senator (who happens to be his former father-in-law) to find out if the senator’s daughter (Drum’s ex-wife) actually committed suicide, as the official verdict has it, or if something more sinister happened. This leads him into a case involving murder, family drama, and international intrigue, and takes him to Venezuala for part of the book. (From what I understand, most of the novels take Drum to foreign countries.)

THE SECOND LONGEST NIGHT is very well-written, with vivid settings and some gritty action scenes. The characters are interesting, although Drum is a rather dour protagonist. He makes with a wisecrack every now and then, but mostly he’s as wooden as a stick. The fatal flaw in this novel is that the plot is so easy to figure out. The murderer might as well be wearing a blinking neon sign.

Because of that, I can give this book only a qualified recommendation. I liked enough about it that I’ll probably read another one in the series (I own most of them), but I won’t be in any hurry to do so.

Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Commando: Ramsey's Raiders: The Desert Duel - Ferg Handley

Captain Jimmy Ramsey and his maverick Special Raiding Force were used to doing their own thing - dangerous hit‑and-run raids deep behind enemy lines.

So, during the battle of El Alamein in autumn 1942, when the Raiders were teamed with a Long Range Desert Group unit to capture an isolated German airfield, tensions mounted between the tough, hard-headed factions. Both the SRF and LRDG felt they could do the job better on their own. They would have to stop clashing long enough to fight the real enemy!

(This is another excellent, Rat Patrol-like adventure yarn about the war in North Africa. Scripter Ferg Handley concentrates on different characters among his ensemble cast, and all of them are developing nicely. These COMMANDO issues are proving to be very nice breaks between longer books for me. And let's face it, with my attention span these days, anything that can be read fairly quickly is much appreciated.)

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Overlooked Movies: Guns of Hate (1948)

I really like the series of B-Westerns that Tim Holt and Richard Martin made for RKO in the late Forties and early Fifties. In GUNS OF HATE, which I watched recently, Holt and Martin play drifting cowpokes Bob Banning and Chito Rafferty. I'm not sure why the filmmakers didn't just let Holt play Tim Holt, just as Roy Rogers' character name was nearly always Roy Rogers and Gene Autry was always Gene Autry. I mean, Holt has a different name in every picture, but his sidekick Chito is always the same. Makes no sense.

But I digress. In this one, they befriend an old prospector (played by Jason Robards Sr.), who has found the legendary Lost Dutchman Mine. It will come as no surprise that the old-timer has a beautiful granddaughter, played by Nan Leslie. The old codger winds up dead, Tim and Chito are framed for his murder, and we're off on an action-packed chase to round up the bad guys (led by crooked saloon owner Steve Brodie, who often played the villain in these Tim Holt movies), protect the granddaughter, find the lost mine, and clear our heroes' names.

GUNS OF HATE doesn't belong in the top rank of this series, because when you get right down to it, the plot (based on a story by and co-scripted by Western pulpster Ed Earl Repp) is pretty darned thin and lacks the epic scope of some of the other entries. But it's still an awful lot of fun. The action scenes are good, and these movies always had great outdoor photography. Myrna Dell, as a saloon girl with a heart of gold who pursues Chito and helps out with the plot, is very good, and Richard Martin, as always, is entertaining as Chito. Politically correct reviewers on IMDB seem to hate Martin, but I think they're missing the forest for the proverbial trees. Chito Rafferty is a great sidekick. Yes, he's the comedy relief, but along with his eccentricities, his character is also as smart and tough and competent as Tim Holt's.

Holt himself is a very likable hero, not tall, a little on the stocky side, and not the least bit flashy, just a mature, down to earth cowboy with a strong sense of right and wrong. In his early movies, he always seemed a little too much like a kid to me. By the time he was making these B-Westerns for RKO, he was perfect for the role. GUNS OF HATE is well worth watching.

Monday, March 02, 2020

Hot Lead, Cold Justice - Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

The Caleb York series of Western novels, based on characters created by Mickey Spillane and written by Max Allan Collins, is a series that started off very good and has gotten better with each book. The fifth book, HOT LEAD, COLD JUSTICE, will be out later this year, and I’m fortunate enough to have read an early copy of it.

I hate snow and ice in real life, but for some reason I’ve always enjoyed books that use winter weather as part of the setting, especially Westerns. That’s the case in this book, which finds a blizzard bearing down on Trinidad, the small town in New Mexico Territory where Caleb York, gunfighter and former Wells Fargo detective, is now the town marshal. The weather isn’t the only trouble in store for York and Trinidad: a group of bank robbers—including one who had a deadly personal grudge against York—plans to hit the bank in a nearby town and then hide out in Trinidad while the hunt for them dies down. They manage to do this, but York figures out what’s happening and a dangerous game of cat and mouse develops in the blizzard-battered settlement.

Collins’ prose is as smooth and effective as ever in this story that races along in a very satisfying manner. York is a likable, stalwart hero, and his uneasy romantic triangle with ranch owner Willa and saloon owner Rita continues to be interesting. His deputy Tulley is a great sidekick, and the rest of the supporting cast works well. The villains are properly despicable, especially their leader, the ruthless outlaw “Burn ‘em” Burnham.

One thing I especially like about this series is that the books range from 60,000 to 65,000 words, just about the perfect length for a Western. There’s no fat on the bones. Collins provides the reader with plenty of characterization to make the players in his tale interesting, while at the same time keeping the pace moving along briskly. This series reminds me of the Amos Flagg series by Clifton Adams writing as Clay Randall. Readers who enjoy good, solid traditional Westerns definitely should make the acquaintance of Caleb York, and if you already have, you’ll want to grab HOT LEAD, COLD JUSTICE. It’s great stuff.

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Short Stories, November 1937

The cover by J.W. Scott for this issue of DETECTIVE SHORT STORIES looks more like it was done for a Weird Menace pulp, but hey, that's all right with me. The fumes rising from that beaker certainly are strategically placed, aren't they? Inside are stories by a couple of my favorite pulp authors, E. Hoffmann Price and Donald Barr Chidsey, along with the prolific Anatole Feldman (writing as Anthony Field), Oscar Schisgall, and assorted house-names and little known authors.