Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Commando: Codename Warlord - Iain McLaughlin

The Coward. The Lord. The British Agent. In comic pages for the first time since 1991, Flint is back... and someone needs his help. Professor Von Bessner has defected, but he has been imprisoned by the Nazis he refuses to serve. It's Flint's job to get him out!

(Lord Peter Flint is another long-running character from British war comics who's making a comeback in recent issues of COMMANDO. This is the first story about him that I've read, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. It's almost non-stop action, something that doesn't always work, but author Iain McLaughlin has a nice touch with it and I plan to read more of his work, including his second Codename Warlord story. Below is what Wikipedia has to say about Lord Peter Flint.)

Codename: Warlord: He was a British secret agent and can be considered a World War II James Bond. His real name/cover was Lord Peter Flint, a despised conscientious objector who refused to participate in the war. His usual opponents were the Gestapo, Abwehr and Japanese intelligence, who (despite his cover) seemed to know his true identity and referred to him as "Flint".

His boss in London was the Churchillian (in character and physique) and probably purposefully so, secret service head 'Kingpin' who was to Warlord as 'M' is to James Bond. Warlord's mannerisms and idiom were Edwardian English upper class with such phrases as 'old chap', 'then I'm a Dutchman' and the casual (having just thwarted the Germans single-handedly again) 'toodle pip' (meaning 'goodbye') as he made his usual breathtaking escape to retake the mantle of his alter ego, the stay at home English gentleman, Lord Peter Flint.

Recurring enemies were Karl Schaft, an honourable German Abwehr agent. He was the mirror image of Flint in that both were patriotic and top agents. Adolf Gruber was very much the stereotyped evil Gestapo agent and had met Flint before the war when he had been a servant for one of Flint's German friends. A stable accident left Gruber with a limp and he blamed Flint for the accident.

The storyline borrowed from The Scarlet Pimpernel the idea of a seemingly upper-class fop actually being a daring wartime agent. Flint's ability to live in the real world as a flawed human being but hold secret his knowledge of his other 'superhuman' traits (the British 'stiff upper lip') is analogous to the modern era's 'Superman'.

The character 'Fireball' in Warlord's sister comic Bullet (who ended up being incorporated into Warlord after Bullet was cancelled) was later revealed to be the nephew of Lord Peter Flint, and an older Flint made occasional guest appearances in the Fireball strip.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Overlooked Movies: Blackmail (1947)

A couple of days ago after I posted the cover of the first issue of DAN TURNER, PRIVATE DETECTIVE, a friend of mine asked if I’d ever seen BLACKMAIL, the 1947 movie that’s based on one of Robert Leslie Bellem’s Dan Turner stories. I thought that I had, a long time ago, but since the movie is available to watch on YouTube, I figured I’d check it out again. As it turns out, I don’t believe I’d ever seen this until now. At least, I have no memory of it if I did.

Willliam Marshall, an actor who had a relatively short and undistinguished career, plays Dan Turner and does a pretty good job. He looks kind of like I’ve always imagined Dan looking, and he holds his own quite well in the frequent and lengthy fistfights. Ricardo Cortez, probably the biggest name in the cast, plays a rich radio executive who’s being blackmailed and hires Dan to take care of it. In short order (everything in a movie that’s only a few minutes more than an hour long happens pretty quickly), there’s a dead guy in Cortez’s pool and Dan is running around trying to find out who bumped off the stiff. The plot’s complicated and never really amounts to much more than a framework to hang wisecracks and fights on, but director Lesley Selander (who I know from Westerns he directed) keeps things moving along nicely, and the cast also includes old pros Grant Withers as Dan’s police detective pal and perennial bad guy Roy Barcroft (also better remembered for Westerns).

BLACKMAIL isn’t a great movie. It tones down Bellem’s wonderful patter a little too much, and there are changes that serve no purpose that I can see, like making Dan be from New York and centering the plot around radio drama rather than the film industry. It just doesn’t seem like a Dan Turner story without the galloping snapshots. But for a low-budget, hardboiled mystery yarn, I enjoyed it quite a bit, enough that I think it’s a shame it wasn’t the first of a series. If there had been more Dan Turner movies, I certainly would have watched them. Ka-chow!

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Dan Turner, Hollywood Detective, January 1942

This is the first issue of the reprint pulp DAN TURNER, HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE, which features, as you might guess, reprints of Dan Turner stories by Robert Leslie Bellem. This particular issue has seven stories originally published in SPICY DETECTIVE STORIES and PRIVATE DETECTIVE STORIES in 1935, '36, and '37, plus an eye-catching cover with a half-dressed redhead. I'm a long-time fan of Bellem and Turner (and sexy redheads), so that sounds great to me.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Short Stories, December 1938

We have an Angry, Gun-Totin' Blonde on the cover of this issue of WESTERN SHORT STORIES, but the Stalwart, Red-Shirted Cowboy and the Wounded Old Geezer are right there with her. Inside is a very solid line-up of Western pulpsters including Harry Sinclair Drago, W.T. Ballard, Ed Earl Repp, Nels Leroy Jorgensen, and Rolland Lynch. This isn't really a well-known Western pulp, but it looks pretty good to me.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Forgotten Books: Rails West - Logan Stewart (Les Savage Jr.)

Les Savage Jr. was one of the stars of the Western pulp field for more than a decade, from the time he broke in in the early Forties to his early death in 1958 at the age of 35, from complications of diabetes. He was one of the stalwarts of the Fiction House line, with many of his stories appearing in LARIAT STORY, FRONTIER STORIES, and ACTION STORIES, but he also sold to WESTERN STORY and various Popular Publications Western pulps. His work has maintained a solid reputation over the decades, and much of it is still available.

During the Fifties, when the pulp markets were drying up, Savage sold several novels to Gold Medal that were published under the pseudonym Logan Stewart. RAILS WEST is the first one of those I’ve read (that’s my copy in the scan) and it’s a good one. The protagonist is Scott Walker, who comes back from the Civil War to find that his father and two brothers in Kansas have been burned out by Conferate guerrillas and moved on west somewhere. With them is a young woman they’ve taken in who Scott intends to marry, if he can just find out where they’ve settled.

He catches up to his family in Laramie, where he’s reunited with them just in time for trouble to break out because of a land swindle scheme in which they’re ensnared. Violence ensues and all the Walker family is forced to go on the run. Scott is separated from the others yet again, falls in with a Union Pacific construction crew working on the transcontinental railroad, and winds up doing something he never would have expected, pinning on a star as the town marshal in a hell-on-wheels settlement at end of track. Then old enemies show up, and all the trouble that engulfed Scott before threatens to erupt again.

This novel is a combination of the railroad and town tamer plots, and while there’s nothing really new in it, Savage makes these traditional elements seem fresh by peopling his yarn with complex, realistic characters, fine hardboiled writing, and gritty action scenes. Much like the work of L.P. Holmes, the appeal isn’t so much in what he’s doing but rather in the way he does it. RAILS WEST is a very solid, entertaining Western novel.

On a bibliographic note, this novel is an expansion of a novella entitled “Six-Gun Sinner”, published in the May 1950 issue of the pulp WESTERN NOVELS AND SHORT STORIES. It was reprinted by Leisure under the title WEST OF LARAMIE, under Savage’s real name, and an e-book version is still available on Amazon. It’s well worth reading, although I’ll admit, I’m glad I was able to read the original Gold Medal paperback.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Commando: Dingo's Mates - Brent Towns

In 1914, Aussie Dingo Smith and his cobbers -- Blue, Pete, Harry, Tugga and Puddin' signed up with no hesitation. Dingo would do anything to protect his mates, but on the beaches of Gallipoli, among the mass devastation, something changed in Dingo. As he faced the barrel of a Turkish soldier's rifle, his blood froze. Had the bravest of them all become a coward?

(This is the best COMMANDO issue I've read so far. It's a tale of cowardice and courage under fire in the classic war fiction tradition. An excellent yarn and it gets a high recommendation from me.)

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Speed Adventure Stories, September 1943

Circus themes show up now and then on pulp covers. Here's one on an issue of SPEED ADVENTURE STORIES. This issue has a story by E. Hoffmann Price and three by Victor Rousseau: one under his most common pseudonym Lew Merrill, one as by Hugh Speer, and one as by R.T. Maynard (a reprint of a story previously published under the Lew Merrill name). The other story is by Robert Ahern, a little-known pulpster who published only a couple of dozen stories between the late Twenties and the mid-Forties.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ranch Romances, Second April Number, 1949

That's a pretty, um, sultry cover for a late Forties issue of RANCH ROMANCES. But not surprisingly, I like it. I don't know who the artist was. Inside this issue are stories by some excellent authors, including L.P. Holmes, Wayne D. Overholser, Ray Townsend, Wilbur S. Peacock, and Walt Sheldon. Clearly RANCH ROMANCES was starting to take on some of the hardboiled tone that was common in it during the Fifties.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Forgotten Books: Mantrap - Duane Yarnell

Mark Fletcher is a two-fisted construction engineer who’s been on a tough job for the past couple of years, so he figures he’s earned a vacation in Florida. But when he finds himself snagged in a speed trap run by a corrupt, small town cop, his hot temper gets him in trouble and a beautiful but morally questionable redhead gives him a hand getting out of it. Unfortunately for Fletcher, the redhead winds up dead almost right away, and he’s in line to take the fall for her murder. Then, before the night’s even over, there’s another killing.

But they can only send Fletcher to the gas chamber once, right? And that’s exactly what’s going to happen unless he can untangle all the strands of a very complex plot and find the real killer. Luckily, he has the help of two more beautiful women, a rich, lonely blonde and the lovely brunette who runs the seedy motor court where Fletcher takes refuge. With seemingly everybody else on both sides of the law wanting him dead, Fletcher has his work cut out for him just staying alive.

Although published by sister imprint Crest in 1957, MANTRAP is firmly in the classic Gold Medal mold. There’s really nothing in it that regular readers of mid-century hardboiled crime novels haven’t seen many times before. The key is what the author does with those familiar elements, and in his debut novel for adults, Duane Yarnell puts together a very entertaining yarn. The characters are good, the plot is complicated enough that it’s a challenge to figure out (although all the clues are there), and the action is suitably gritty and tough. The first third of the novel is great. The pace lags a little in the middle third, maybe because Yarnell, a veteran pulp author, wasn’t used to working at this length. The final third picks up steam, though, and roars home impressively.

Yarnell was a prolific contributor to the sports pulps in the Thirties, Forties, and early Fifties, along with a few stories in the Western and detective pulps. He also wrote a few sports and outdoors novels for the juvenile market before turning out MANTRAP and one other crime novel, MURDER BAIT, for Crest. After that he published only a handful of stories in mystery digests and men’s magazines before vanishing from the fiction business, even though he lived until 1994. I’d never heard of him or his pulp stories or his crime novels until recently, but based on MANTRAP, I’d say he’s worth reading, even though the comparisons to Dashiell Hammett and Mickey Spillane in the back cover copy of this book are a stretch. I already have a copy of MURDER BAIT, though, and plan to get to it soon. In the meantime, if you run across a copy of MANTRAP, it’s well worth reading.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Commando: Convict Commandos - Alan Hebden

There you are -- stuck in a military prison in Singapore when the Japanese smash into town. You know that if being a prisoner of the British is bad being a prisoner of the Japanese will be ten times worse. So if a man in British officer's uniform was to offer to get you out if you'd work for him, you'd agree to do anything he ordered, wouldn't you?

The Convict Commandos did... and probably wished they hadn't!

(Alan Hebden is the son of long-time COMMANDO scripter Eric Hebden. He's a prolific author of war comics himself and has done a really fine job in this one of crafting a variation on the classic Dirty Dozen plot. He has a distinctive writing style that I enjoy, as well. There are several more in this series, and I'll definitely be reading them.)

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Dlme Detective, September 15, 1933

We all know that I like lurid pulp covers, and they don't get much more lurid than this one by William Reusswig. This is a pretty heavyweight issue of DIME DETECTIVE with a Cardigan yarn by Frederick Nebel, a Paul Pry story by Erle Stanley Gardner, a stand-alone tale by Frederick C. Davis, and an "Honest" Glen Kelsey (whoever he was) story by Ralph Oppenheim, which based on the title, "Brand of the Beast", appears to be the inspiration for the cover. This was the second and final story in what was a very short-lived series.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Story, September 20, 1941

We have a good cover by H.W. Scott on this issue of WESTERN STORY, as usual during this era of the magazine's run. The lead novella is by Walt Coburn and has a long but interesting title, "Bullet Holes in the Plug Hat Range". Coburn was still at a stage in his career when he was doing excellent work, and the novellas he did for WESTERN STORY are some of his best. Also on hand in what looks like a top-notch issue are Seth Ranger (Frank Richardson Pierce), Philip Ketchum, Tom Roan, Bennett Foster, and Kenneth Gilbert.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Forgotten Books: Ride For Texas - William Heuman

Despite the excellent Frank McCarthy painting and the cover copy, William Heuman’s 1954 Gold Medal novel RIDE FOR TEXAS is not a Western. Rather, it’s a historical novel, set in 1835 and opening on the Mississippi River, as Joel Barnett, a fledgling lawyer from Kentucky, and two of his friends are on their way to New Orleans on a flatboat. Joel intends to set up a legal practice there.

Then a sternwheeler riverboat roars past them, almost swamping them, but as the boat heads on downriver, Joel notices someone floundering around in the water and figures one of the riverboat’s passengers has fallen off. He jumps in to rescue the person, of course, and in what probably won’t be a surprise to many readers, that passenger turns out to be a beautiful young woman. Joel quickly figures out, as well, that she didn’t fall off accidentally but jumped instead, hoping to reach the flatboat, because she’s in danger.

Before you know it, Joel and his sidekicks are helping the girl fend off a kidnapping attempt in New Orleans, after which they promise to help her get back to her home in Texas, which is still part of Mexico at this time, although revolution is brewing there because of the dictator Santa Anna’s mistreatment of the American colonists who have settled Texas. There’ll be a lot of danger and double-crosses and battles before they can reunite the girl with her father, though.

If you don’t go into RIDE FOR TEXAS expecting a high degree of historical and geographical accuracy, you can appreciate this book for what it is: a rousing, fast-paced adventure novel. Heuman’s knowledge of Texas seems to be about on the same level as that of a B-Western movie, but he can sure spin an entertaining yarn, a talent honed during a couple of decades as one of the top contributors to the Western pulps. I really enjoyed this book. Joel Barnett is a very likable protagonist, as are his friends and allies. The battle scenes set in San Antonio, as the Texans try to drive General Cos’s army out of the city, are excellent and probably the most historically accurate part of the novel. The ending is a bit downbeat because we all know what’s going to happen next, but on the other hand, we don’t know what the fate of these particular characters will be, so there’s that bit of optimism.

The best pulp novels centered around the Texas Revolution that I’ve read are BOWIE KNIFE and TEXAS SHALL BE FREE!, both by H. Bedford-Jones, originally serialized in ARGOSY and reprinted in recent years by Altus Press. However, RIDE FOR TEXAS is well worth reading if you ever come across a copy of the original Gold Medal edition, which is likely the only one there’ll ever be.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Commando: Braddock: Demons - Ferg Handley

The RAF's finest bomber pilot finds himself with a new crew and new challenges as the Nazis press forward and losses begin to mount. Can Braddock overcome his demons and ensure the survival of his Blenheim crew? Or will Suddaby finally push him over the edge...

(Matt Braddock, the working class, non-com bomber pilot, is a fine character and author Ferg Handley delves deeper into his psyche in this story, but he also neglects to provide a very satisfying climax to the story, resulting in probably the weakest issue of COMMANDO that I've read so far. However, it was still enjoyable, and I look forward to reading more of the series.

After my post about the first of the current Braddock stories, my friend Keith Chapman alerted me to these websites which give a lot more information about the character's history, and about the history of British war comics in general. Fascinating stuff.

British Comics: I Flew With Braddock

"Braddock of the Bombers" Revived for New Commando Stories

Bear Alley: I Flew With Braddock)

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Overlooked Movies: Soldier of Fortune (1955)

Always on the hunt for older movies that we haven’t seen, we watched SOLDIER OF FORTUNE, a 1955 film starring Clark Gable and Susan Hayward. Gable has never been one of my top favorites, but I’ve enjoyed just about every one of his movies I’ve seen. This one is no exception. With a screenplay by Ernest K. Gann, based on one of his novels, it’s a story of international intrigue set in Hong Kong. Hayward plays a woman whose photojournalist husband (Gene Barry) has disappeared in mainland China. She goes to Hong Kong to find someone who can locate her husband and rescue him. Who better for that job than shady smuggler Hank Lee (Gable, of course)? And, to the surprise of absolutely no one, Gable and Hayward fall in love even though he’s the one trying to free her husband.

This movie is pretty predictable, and it sure could have used a little more action (although the last half-hour is pretty darned good), but the fun lies in watching Gable play the more-noble-than-he-wants-to-be rogue (nobody ever played that part better), along with Hayward looking beautiful, a great supporting cast including Michael Rennie as a British police inspector, Tom Tully as a shady nightclub owner, Leo Gordon as one of his minions, and Richard Loo as a former general brought low because he was on the wrong side when the Communists took over in China. The movie looks good, and the musical score is pretty good, too. Overall, SOLDIER OF FORTUNE isn’t in the top rank of Gable’s films, by any means, but it’s a likable enough movie and I’m glad we watched it.

Monday, April 06, 2020

A Trawl Among the Shelves: Lawrence Block Bibliography 1958-2020

I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say that A TRAWL AMONG THE SHELVES: LAWRENCE BLOCK BIBLIOGRAPHY, 1958-2020 is a monumental work. Author and compiler Terry Zobeck has done a fantastic job of documenting and listing the hundreds of novels, anthologies, short stories, and non-fiction produced by Lawrence Block, one of the major authors not only of the Twentieth Century but beyond, still producing excellent work after more than 60 years in the business, including a fine afterword in this volume.

Working with Block himself and other collectors and bibliographers, Zobeck has turned up previously unknown novels and stories, along with the best and most complete list of books Block wrote under the pseudonym Andrew Shaw. Actually, this book is going to cost me money, because Zobeck also provides a list of all of Block’s work that’s currently available as e-books, among them many of those early novels, and I know I don’t have all of them. I’ll be going through that list figuring out what I need to buy!

And if you’re a Lawrence Block fan, you need to buy A TRAWL AMONG THE SHELVES. It’s entertaining, it’s informative, and it gets a very high recommendation from me.

Sunday, April 05, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Future Combined with Science Fiction Stories, July/August 1950

That's an Earle K. Bergey cover, of course. His work is instantly recognizable. FUTURE COMBINED WITH SCIENCE FICTION STORIES (a long title!) was a Columbia pulp edited by Robert W. Lowndes, and as usual, Lowndes managed to get better writers than you would expect on his minuscule budgets. Granted, maybe he was getting stories from them that had been rejected elsewhere, but still . . . In this issue are stories by Murray Leinster, Fritz Leiber, Lester del Rey, Judith Merril, Bryce Walton, and George O. Smith. That's a pretty talented group, and I'll bet this is an entertaining issue.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Two Western Romances, Summer 1950

I kind of like these split-cover pulps, especially when one side has a good-looking blonde on it and the other side features a good-looking redhead. TWO WESTERN ROMANCES was a Fiction House pulp (although the official publisher was Fight Stories, Inc.) and was edited by Jerome Bixby. The two novellas in this issue are by Wayne D. Overholser and Allan K. Echols. I know Overholser is top-notch. I don't recall if I've ever read anything by Echols, but I know he wrote a lot of Westerns so someone must have liked his work.

Friday, April 03, 2020

Forgotten Books: Death Lies Deep - William Guinn

Sam Mitchell is a mining engineer in Gilson City, Colorado. He’s hired to do an appraisal on the supposedly worthless Belle Creole Mine, but he soon clashes with shady mining promoter Felix Rambeau and realizes that not all is as it seems. The owner of the Belle Creole, a stranger who inherited the mine from his late brother, arrives in town and complicates things by trying to steal the girl who Sam likes and intends to marry. Then there’s an attempted bushwhacking, more intrigue and double-crosses, and finally a showdown deep underground.

DEATH LIES DEEP, published in 1955 by Gold Medal and never reprinted, seems to be the only piece of fiction that William Guinn ever published. I can’t find anything else by him. Maybe it was a pseudonym, maybe that was his real name. But whoever he was, I suspect he might have been a mining engineer, because this book is just packed full of technical details and mining jargon, sometimes to its detriment. I got confused enough at times that I started skipping some of that stuff because I knew I wasn’t going to understand it.

There’s confusion in the time period as well. When I started reading the book, I thought it was set in the Fifties, when it was published. But then everybody was driving buckboards and wagons and riding horses. Was it a Western? It really didn’t read like one. Later, a mention of President McKinley’s assassination pins down the time as the early Twentieth Century. But the author certainly could have done a better job of making that clear.

My other concern is that there’s no femme fatale in this book, like you find so often in Gold Medals. In fact, Sam Mitchell’s girlfriend is the only woman who plays any part in the plot, and it’s a small part, at that, basically just something for Sam and his new rival to clash over. Mostly, this is a book about manly men doing manly things, like mining for gold and fighting over gold.

Now, with all those flaws acknowledged, I still have to say that I enjoyed DEATH LIES DEEP quite a bit. Guinn does a good job of moving things along at a brisk pace, and Sam Mitchell is a very likable narrator/protagonist. There are some gritty, well-done action scenes, and I admit, I learned a few things about mining despite myself. The book has a nice cover by Lu Kimmel, too. This is a very minor example of a Gold Medal, but a Gold Medal that’s not in the top rank is still better than a lot of books from other publishers. Don’t rush out to find a copy, but if you ever run across one, I think DEATH LIES DEEP is worth reading. (That’s my beat-up copy in the scan, by the way.)

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Commando: Ramsey's Raiders: Italian Ambush - Ferg Handley

His superiors described Captain James Ramsey as unconventional. His enemies described him as a menace. His men described him as The Boss.

No matter how he was characterised, though, the man was a fighting fury that no-one in their right mind would cross. Then a bunch of Italian guerrilla fighters did just that. Despite the snow, sparks would fly!

(No Rat Patrol-type action in this one, as Ramsey's Raiders find themselves in Italy carrying out a secret mission that reminded me of an episode of GARRISON'S GORILLAS, another TV reference for those of you with very long memories. I found it to be an enjoyable story anyway, although I think I prefer the ones in this series set in North Africa.)