Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Overlooked Movies: Absolutely Anything (2015)

I never even heard of this Simon Pegg movie, missed it completely when it came out, so when I ran across it on Netflix I figured I ought to watch it. I’ve liked just about everything else I’ve seen with Pegg in it. His movies are usually an oddball mix of comedy and science fiction, and ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING certainly fits into that category.

In this one, Pegg plays a school teacher and would-be novelist who’s been pining away for his downstairs neighbor, played by Kate Beckinsale. He has problems with his headmaster, his unruly class, and his obnoxious landlady. Pretty typical nebbishy comedy so far.

Then a group of supremely powerful alien beings (computer generated, but voiced by some of the Monty Python guys) grant Pegg’s character the power to do anything with a wave of the hand, as a way of testing humanity to determine whether they wipe out Earth or leave it alone.

There’s not much in this movie that’s going to come as a surprise, from the romantic entanglements to the hijinks that ensue when Pegg grants his dog the power to talk. (The dog is voiced by an unusually low-key Robin Williams in his last role, which gives this movie kind of a bittersweet edge.) But ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING is still funny and good-hearted and worth watching, I thought.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Wonder Stories, October 1941

It's hard to go wrong with a cover featuring gorillas and ray-guns. This one is by Rudolph Belarski, and it certainly would have made me want to plunk down a dime and a nickel back in 1941. Inside are stories by some top-notch writers, including Manly Wade Wellman, Victor Rousseau, Ross Rocklynne, and Frank Belknap Long.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Lariat Story Magazine, March 1948

Every time I post a cover from LARIAT STORY, the cover and story titles make me think, "Dang, I wish I could have written for that magazine!" I mean, I think I could have written a pretty good yarn called "Siren of the Bushwhack Guns". In fact, I have written a story inspired by a previous LARIAT STORY cover I posted, and I'll get around to publishing it one of these days. I'd like to write a sequel to go with it first.

But I digress. This issue features stories by Laurence Donovan, Will C. Brown, Lee Floren, Al Storm, and Ben Frank, probably the best known names in the bunch. There are a couple of other authors I'm not familiar with. But if they wrote the kind of yarn that could make it into LARIAT STORY, I'll bet I'd like it.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Forgotten Books: The Dead Stand-in - Frank Kane

I’ve been reading Frank Kane’s novels and stories about private eye Johnny Liddell for close to 50 years now, and I still enjoy them. Kane’s short novel THE DEAD STAND-IN, which originally appeared in the January 1956 issue of the iconic hardboiled crime digest magazine MANHUNT, was reprinted in the double volume from Armchair Fiction that also contains Richard Deming’s top-notch noir yarn KISS AND KILL. It’s never been reprinted elsewhere, as far as I know.

Liddell is in fine form in this one, hired by a mystery client to investigate a shooting in which the police cornered and killed a fugitive who had previously murdered a man in a mugging. Liddell’s client, who is only a female voice on the phone to him, as well as a $200 retainer sent in the mail, believes there’s more to the case than that. In fact, she claims that the fugitive was actually murdered and wants Liddell to prove it.

Well, of course in a private eye story, no case that appears cut-and-dried really is, and in no time at all, Liddell is up to his neck in trouble involving gangsters, a sultry torch singer, a hired killer imported from Detroit, and a second killing, this time an obvious murder which somebody fashions into a neat frame for Liddell, so that he has to find the real killer to save himself from the electric chair. Helping him out is beautiful redheaded reporter Muggsy Kiely, my all-time favorite sidekick/girlfriend for a fictional private eye. (Yes, I like her even better than Lucy Hamilton.)

This is the pure quill, full of snappy patter, beautiful babes, and gimlet-eyed bad guys. Everybody smokes and drinks constantly, Liddell gets hit on the head not once but twice, and I grinned from first page to last. The plot’s nothing special, but reading it made me feel like that kid again, you know, the one sitting in a lawn chair on his parents’ front porch on a summer day with a transistor radio playing rock and roll while he flips the pages of a paperback as fast as he can.

I’ll take that feeling any day of the week.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Overlooked Movies: Dr. Cyclops (1940)

I saw this 1940 film on TV when I was a kid and thought it was the greatest movie I’d ever seen. I hadn’t watched it since then, however, and when Svengoolie showed it a few weeks ago, I decided to record it and give it a try. I’m glad I did, because while it turns out not to be the greatest movie I’ve ever seen, it’s still pretty darned entertaining.

The doctor of the title is actually named Dr. Alexander Thorkel (Albert Dekker), who’s experimenting with the effects of radiation on organic matter in his South American laboratory. Since his sight is failing, he summons several other scientists to assist him, but they quickly figure out that he’s a mad scientist who has discovered a way to shrink living beings. Rather than have his nefarious plans exposed, he traps the three scientists, their guide, and a native servant in the room with his radium condenser and shrinks them down to miniature size. From that point, the rest of the movie centers around their efforts to escape from and/or kill Thorkel, all while surviving the dangers of being five inches tall in a full-sized world.

The plot maybe could have used another twist or two, but the movie’s strengths more than make up for that. With his bald head, thick glasses, and hulking frame, Dekker is great as the crazed scientist. He underplays for the most part, rather than chewing the scenery as you might expect from such a part, but that quiet menace makes him one of the most chilling movie characters I’ve come across in a while. The other characters are sort of non-entities, dwarfed (no pun intended . . . oh, what the heck, yeah, it was) by Dekker’s performance. The production values of this film are top-notch, with some of the best Technicolor photography from this era that you’ll find. The movie looks great. (That’s something I didn’t notice when watching it on a 19-inch black-and-white TV all those years ago.) The special effects, which consist mostly of building enormous sets that perfectly match the regular sets, are really good, too.

Unfortunately, some of the books, movies, etc., that I loved as a kid don’t hold up all that well. DR. CYCLOPS definitely does hold up, and if you haven’t seen it, I think it’s well worth watching. If, like me, you haven’t seen it in many years, you might want to think about watching it again.

(Side note: There’s actually a novelization of this movie, something that wasn’t all that common during that era. It was published under the name Will Garth, which was a house-name in the pulps published by Standard/Best Publications, aka the Thrilling Group. I believe the novel was actually written by Joseph Samachson, an editor there, but I could be wrong about that.)

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Black Mask, October 1934

Another classic issue of BLACK MASK, with a fairly provocative cover by Fred Craft and stories inside by Raymond Chandler, Horace McCoy, W.T. Ballard, Nels Leroy Jorgensen, and Thomas Walsh, who was still writing new stories for EQMM and AHMM as late as 1983. I remember reading them, but at the time I didn't realize his career stretched back as far as it did. Quite an accomplishment.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Thrilling Ranch Stories, July 1935

THRILLING RANCH STORIES always had action-packed covers. It was meant as a competitor to RANCH ROMANCES, but other than the presence of a woman on the covers (usually ridin' or shootin' right alongside the stalwart cowboy hero), it looks more like a regular Western pulp with the emphasis on adventure. I particularly like this cover, but I don't know who the artist is. Inside this issue are stories by some top Western pulpsters: Eugene Cunningham, Leslie Scott writing as A. Leslie, Lee Bond, Stephen Payne, George M. Johnson, and a couple of house-names, Jackson Cole and Sam Brant. There's also a story by a female author, Zaida Packard, but it seems to have been her only Western pulp yarn.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Forgotten Books: The Lost End of Nowhere - Gordon MacCreagh

First of all, isn’t that a great title? “The Lost End of Nowhere” . . . That really makes me want to read the story, which in this case is the third Kingi Bwana yarn by Gordon MacCreagh, originally published in the January 15, 1931 issue of ADVENTURE. At upwards of 37,000 words, it’s really more of a novel. As it opens, the American adventurer named King is hired by a German university to locate a scientist who disappeared in what was then German East Africa fifteen years earlier. The university has received a letter from the missing man claiming that he has made an earth-shaking scientific discovery, but there’s no way of knowing how long ago the letter was sent or whether there’s any truth to it. At least, not without sending in King to find out the truth.

King is intrigued enough to take the job, and along with his friends and sidekicks, the Masai warrior named Barounggo and the Hottentot known as Kaffa, he sets out to find the lost scientist, who had been studying gorillas and chimpanzees. King discovers clues to an eccentric white man who “married a monkey” and disappeared into the jungle. While he’s on the trail of his quarry, he and his safari clash with a couple of different tribes and hear even more mysterious stories about the missing scientist.

What King finally finds is not only earth-shaking scientifically, it’s also a grave threat to the safety of the world. There’s a lot of blood-and-thunder action, written in MacCreagh’s slightly old-fashioned but highly effective style, leading up to a great battle that approaches Robert E. Howard or Edgar Rice Burroughs level at times.

This Kingi Bwana stories are classic, old-school adventure fiction with an air of undeniable authenticity even when they get a little far-fetched in some of their elements, such as this one. I really enjoyed “The Lost End of Nowhere” and look forward to reading the rest of the stories in the series.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Overlooked Movies: Silent Men (1933)

Growing up, I was never a fan of Tim McCoy's Western movies. They didn't show up very often on the local TV stations, and anyway, I was too busy watching Roy, Gene, and Hoppy. But now that I'm older, I've come to appreciate McCoy's work. A former military officer, Wild West showman, and Indian expert, McCoy was a little on the stiff side as an actor, but with his jutting chin and enormous hat, he always projected plenty of strength and gravitas.

The 1933 movie SILENT MEN finds him playing a respected range detective and brand inspector in Montana, but the character has a secret: he's really an escaped convict who was sentenced to life in prison in Arizona for a crime he didn't commit. His old cellmate (who happens to have been a member of the gang that framed McCoy's character) shows up and tries to blackmail him into overlooking the rustling that's going on in the area. McCoy, who blames a pair of shady brothers played by Wheeler Oakman and J. Carrol Naish for the rustling, is too upright to go along with that, of course, so the gang frames him for a killing and he winds up in jail.

From there, however, he gets some help from an unexpected source and escapes to track down the real mastermind behind the cattle thefts and the murder. There's some fightin' and ridin' and shootin', naturally, but not really a lot for a B-Western.

You can really tell that this movie is based on a pulp story by Walt Coburn. (Unfortunately, I don't know which one.) It's just packed with back-story, plot twists, and characters who don't turn out like you might expect them to. The acting is generally pretty good, especially Naish and Oakman, and Glenn Strange, a welcome presence in any Western, shows up in a couple of scenes as a cowboy. One of the scripters was Gerald Geraghty, who went on to write some of those good Roy Rogers movies directed by William Witney.

If you've never seen a Tim McCoy movie, SILENT MEN wouldn't be a bad place to start. It's a good solid B-Western, and I'm glad I watched it. A tip of the enormous Stetson to Steve Mertz, who made that possible.

Monday, January 08, 2018

The Digest Enthusiast, Book Seven - Richard Krauss, ed.

THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST continues to be one of my favorite current publications, and the recently released Book Seven is no exception. Once again it provides an in-depth look at a variety of digest publications from past and present, leading off with a lengthy interview with Rick Ollerman, editor of DOWN & OUT: THE MAGAZINE, as well as the author of several well-received suspense novels and many top-notch introductions and essays from Stark House reprints of classic hardboiled, noir, and mystery fiction. The interview covers all these aspects of Ollerman’s career and is very informative and entertaining.

Other highlights for me include Peter Infantino’s continuing issue-by-issue survey of the iconic crime digest MANHUNT; a look at all the stories by Robert Edmond Alter (an author I really like) published in ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE, also by Infantino; Josh Pachter’s look back at ESPIONAGE MAGAZINE, a publiction with which he had a personal connection (and which I remember buying faithfully off the magazine rack at the local grocery store); and an article by Joe Wehrle Jr. on the Telzey Amberdon science fiction stories by James H. Schmitz, some of which I’ve read, and this article makes me want to collect and read the rest of them. All in all, THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST is well worth your time and money if you have any interest in these magazines at all, and if you don’t, it just might change your mind. Highly recommended.