Friday, September 30, 2011

Forgotten Books: K'ing Kung-Fu covers by Barry Smith

This series was published in 1973 and 74. I picked these up mainly for the Smith covers, but I was buying a lot of weird series books back then. I think there were at least seven titles, with covers by other guys.

I never got around to reading one, but the back of #1 says this:

HERE'S THE DYNAMITE FUNG-FU ACTION STORIES YOU'VE BEEN WAITING FOR! The greatest Kung-Fu experts of all time in a thousand bloody battles to the death! From the wastes of the Gobi desert to the sin alleys of Hong Kong and Shanghai, the young fighter K'ing hunts the mad killer of his master - the infamous Kak Nan Tang - on a vengeance trail ripping with action. First in a series of adventures - watch for them each month!

I have no clue who Marshall Macao was or is. Anyone else know?

More Forgotten Books (including discussions of what's inside them) at pattinase!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Overlooked Films: Jonathan Latimer's "The Lady in the Morgue" (1938)

Here's one I'd like the see. This was the second of three films based on Latimer's great Bill Crane series, and the only one to retain the original title. Could be bad, but can't be any worse than the movie poster. I had this ugly purple and green sucker on my wall for a while and soon got tired of looking at it. HERE'S SOMEONE selling the film on DVD for fifteen bucks. Wish I had fifteen bucks to blow.

More Overlooked Films at SWEET FREEDOM!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Forgotten Books: "The Road to the Rim" and "To Prime the Pump" by A. Bertram Chandler

George Kelley featured the first Baen omnibus of John Grimes adventures a few months back, and I was intrigued by the notion of Hornblower in space. But, as is the way of such things, I promptly forgot about until recently, when Providence dropped it into my lap.

(OK, it wasn’t exactly Providence, I guess, it was Richard Robinson. And actually he just sort of handed it to me, but the effect was the same.) (And while I’m digressing, I might as well go the whole hog: I was touring the Robinson library with esteemed mystery author Robert S. Napier and Portland rock icon Brian Trainer when Richard took me aside and explained he’d been unlucky enough to accidentally order a duplicate copy of the book. Well, naturally, the gracious thing to do was to take it off his hands . . . ) (Anyway, thanks much, Mr. R.)

To the Galactic Rim collects the first three John Grimes novels (chronologically, anyway) and a collection of short stories. I’ve now read the first two novels, The Road to the Rim (1967) and To Prime the Pump (1971) and I’m well and truly hooked. Chandler’s writing has a charm that keeps things moving right along.

So far, the Hornblower connection is not as pronounced as I expected. When Horatio Hornblower got into a fix (which he did on a regular basis), he relied on wits and courage to get himself out. John Grimes, at this early stage of his career, just sort of goes with the flow, relying on luck to pull his fat out of the fire. I’m expecting this to change as the series progresses and he takes command of his first ship.

The Road to the Rim presents Ensign Grimes’ first venture into deep space, where he discovers that life on the rim of the galaxy is not as black and white as it was portrayed back in the Federation academy. And To Prime the Pump throws Lt. Grimes into a decadent society where he finds himself in way over his head.

Interestingly, the most Hornbloweresque behavior I’ve seen so far was in a story not told, but merely alluded to. At the end of To Prime the Pump, we get a brief summary of three adventures Grimes had after the main story concluded.

Here, complete in one paragraph, is a story that deserved a novel of its own:
There was the insurrection on Merganta, a bloody affair, in the suppression of which Aries did all that was demanded of her, but no more. Many of her officers and most of her crew felt more than a little sympathy for the rebels. It was Grimes, in command of one of the cruiser’s armed pinnaces, who intervened to stop the mass executions of three hundred women, wives and leading insurgents, turning his weapons on the government machine gunners. For this he was reprimanded, officially, by Captain Daintree, who, later, in a stormy interview with the planetary president, used such phrases as “an overly zealous officer” and “mistaken identity,” adding coldly that Lieutenant Grimes naturally assumed that it was not the forces of law and order who were about to commit cold-blooded murder.

More Forgotten Books at pattinase!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Overlooked Cartoons: Injun Trouble (1938)

Porky Pig scouts for a wagon Train - and even wears a coonskin cap! (Or is that skunkskin?)

Overlook Overlooked Films (at SWEET FREEDOM) at your peril.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Forgotten Books: Blood Money by Dashiell Hammett

My wife and I are planning another trip to San Francisco. Last time, a few years back, we saw and did most of the famous stuff, so this time we plan to get a little more up close and personal. And for me, that means walking in the footsteps of Dashiell Hammett.

So I picked up the latest edition of Don Herron’s Hammett Tour guidebook (and a very fine one it is) and started re-reading The Complete Works. I began with the Continental Op stories, because they’re my favorites, and have been reading them in order of publication.

The first few Op tales are well-written, and groundbreaking in that they present a realistic look at the work of a big agency detective, just the sort of work (minus the strikebreaking) that Hammett did for the Pinkertons.

Given his druthers, I suspect Hammett would have continued in that vein, turning out stories that would have been more appropriate in True Detective than in Black Mask. Thankfully, Black Mask’s readers wouldn’t let him. Being fans of such wildly unrealistic private dicks as Carroll John Daly’s Race Williams, they were a bloodthirsty bunch, demanding ever more action.

To keep the readers (and editor Cap Shaw) happy, Hammett was forced to take his Op beyond reality to the edge of Hardboiled Fantasyland. Whether that was a good or bad thing depends on your perspective. My take is - it was perfect.

The Op remained a real detective, and a real man, but he was thrust into ever more violent - and entertaining - situations, until reaching his absolute peak in my favorite Hammett novel, Red Harvest. I’ll be re-reading that book soon, and chances are it will still be my fave, but last week I got reacquainted with the book that could have been Hammett’s first novel, and it’s a damn strong contender. For the poetry of its violence, it has never been excelled.

Blood Money began life as two 1927 Black Mask novelettes, “The Big Knockover” and “$106,000 Blood Money.” At one point, Afred A. Knopf wanted to published them as a novel. Hammett refused, but in 1943, Lawrence E. Spivak, the company that had been churning out his pulp stories in digest format, did the deed under the title $106,000 Blood Money. In short order, Tower Books did a hardcover edition as Blood Money and Dell followed suit with a mapback. Spivak did another digest version, this time called The Big Knockover, and Dell reissued the Blood Money mapback, so the “novel” was actually published five times. Though I have all five, I chose to read the Tower hardcover for the ultimate experience.

Part 1, originally “The Big Knocker” is a trip to Fantasyland, with a hundred or more mobsters coming from across the country to converge on San Francisco and rob two banks at once. When the mastermind and his core supporters escape, the Op stays on their trail, and delivers their just deserts in Part 2, originally“$106,000 Blood Money.”  Part 2 is more grounded in reality, but is every bit as entertaining. Hammett’s prose had been steadily improving, and by this point it was flat-out amazing. Even though I just finished the book, I already want to read it again.

Since 1966, when Random House issued their version of The Big Knockover, a 13-story hardcover collection edited by Lillian Hellman, the two tales have appeared as separate novelettes. Too bad. Together, they're every bit as novelesque as the two official Op novels, Red Harvest and The Dain Curse. Currently, the Blood Money saga appears as a small part of the 2001 collection Crime Stories and Other Writings. It deserves better.

This week’s amazing selection of Forgotten Books is linked for your convenience at SPINETINGLER.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Overlooked Films: Ken Maynard (twice) in Honor of the Range (1934)

With such a great movie poster, I expected this one to be a little better than it was (is).

Actually, the poster is more accurate than most. As seen in the upper left (and behind Ken’s huge head), there really is a big explosion, and rocks come tumbling down on riders. Lower left, Ken really does scoop up the babe onto the back of his horse Tarzan. Upper right, yep, Ken attacks a burning building with an ax. Lower left, Ken punches out a bad guy, and the baddest guy puts some unwanted moves on the babe. And yes, Ken does deliver that glowering stare from under his twenty gallon hat.

But otherwise, it’s a pretty weird movie. Ken plays a dual role, so we don’t really see much of him as the hero. He gets more screen time (I think) as his greedy, inept, cowardly and dimwitted brother Clem, who eventually (SPOILER ALERT) redeems himself by blowing up himself and the outlaw gang. And as if hero Ken’s screen time wasn’t limited enough, some of it is spent in disguise as a dance hall singer - and he actually sings a bad song, badly.

In one of the film's most amazing moments, Ken stuffs his king-size hat down into the crotch of his pants, where it stays for several minutes. You'd think this would give him a giant "glad to see ya" bulge, but nope, it doesn't show at all. And when he finally pulls it out, there's nary a dent or crease that doesn't belong there. That's the magic of Hollywood. 

The real star of the film is Tarzan the Wonder Horse. Tarzan shows his stuff by ringing a fire bell when the building is ablaze, by unlatching a secret door in the side of a mountain, and by carrying a message that allows Ken to ride to the rescue. Sadly, despite Tarzan’s best efforts, the ending was sort of sappy.

A while back I reviewed the earlier Ken Maynard flick, Between Fighting Men (1932), and liked it much better. It has two major elements this one lacked: humor and music. So if you plan to watch only one Maynard movie in this lifetime, I’d recommend Between Fighting Men.

DO NOT OVERLOOK the rest of this week’s Overlooked Films, linked for you at Sweet Freedom.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Encore Forgotten Book: Lady Afraid by Lester Dent

(Yep, it's a rerun. Sorry. My excuse is that I've been going crazy putting the finishing touches on the first Skyler Hobbs novel, and that sucker is finally done. A "new" Forgotten Book next week. Promise.)

Lady Afraid is not Lester Dent’s best novel, but it may the one with the most Lester Dent in it.

The protagonist of this one is woman. No Dent there. But as a yacht designer, Sarah Lineyack comes in contact with the most Dent-like character I’ve yet to meet: A man called Captain Most.

Reading the book, I came to feel that Most was an idealized version of Dent himself. Not Dent the writer, but Dent the seaman, with salt water running through his veins. Most lives on a bugeye schooner, as did Dent when he wintered in Miami, away from his LaPlata, Missouri home. The schooner, here named the Albatross, is remarkably similar to the ship owned by detective Oscar Sail in Dent’s two Black Mask stories published a dozen years earlier. The Albatross is all black, from the sails on down to the hull. Dent describes her like this:

A genuine five-log bugeye, about thirty-six feet on the water line, schooner-rigged with the typical raked-back masts. A one-man ship, this bugeye was rigged for single-handling. All sheet lines, even the halliards and anchor lines, were brought back to the cockpit so that one man could sail her.

Captain Most himself is… an enigmatic man. He did not rush forward with emotions, reactions, plans that were half-baked. He was no voluble extrovert. Probably in him there was little need freely to communicate his feelings and ideas or the effect of events upon him.

Most smokes a pipe and drives a station wagon. I don’t know about the station wagon, but in some of Dent’s photos he’s seen with a pipe. His face had a homely angularity, not unpleasant. It, like his hair, had been out in the sun a lot. Dent again.

Lady Afraid was Dent’s third hardcover novel, published in 1948 by Crime Club. I can only assume it sold poorly. Unlike the first two books, Dead at the Take-Off and Lady to Kill, this one is extremely difficult to come by. I couldn’t find a Crime Club edition offered anywhere for less than $75.

As that’s too rich for me, I borrowed a copy through InterLibrary Loan. Only later did I discover I own a copy of the abridged Besteller Mystery version. While I normally can't abide abridgements, this is one I'd recommend. Unlike Dent’s other books, this one might benefit from a little tightening.

This is not the stuff of world-beating adventure. Sarah Lineyack’s baby son was semi-legally stolen away by the wealthy parents of her late husband, and she wants the kid back. In trying, she’s thrown into a web of intrigue and secret agendas, and turns for help to the most reliable man she knows, Captain Most.

Dent seems to handle the female point of view pretty well, but for my book-buying dollar, there’s more than enough worrying about the kid’s health, and yearning for the sound of his voice and smell of his hair, and other such motherly stuff. Sarah at one point reflects that only another mother could possibly understand how strongly she feels. Can't argue with that, but it begs the question… how did Dent know?

As a mystery, this is still a good read. My attention never flagged. Had Captain Most been absent, I still would have enjoyed it. But with Most on stage for roughly half the action, it's a must-read for any true Dent enthusiast. This is the closest we’re likely to get to reading about him.

Forgotten Books is a presentation of the always-amazing pattinase.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Overlooked Cartoons: Cab Calloway and Betty Boop in "Minnie the Moocher"

Not long ago, I presented the Betty Boop/Cab Calloway classic, "The Old Man and the Mountain." That's HERE. Now here's another romp with Cab and Betty. In this one, from 1932, Cab and his ghostly cartoon counterpart demonstrate his version of the Moonwalk, which he obviously stole from Michael Jackson (NOT!).

Tune into SWEET FREEDOM for more Overlooked Stuff.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Forgotten Books: KING - OF THE KHYBER RIFLES by Talbot Mundy

I’m on my way to becoming a BIG Talbot Mundy fan.

My first close encounter came in In a Righteous Cause, the first of several volumes in Black Dog Books’ Talbot Mundy Library. (That’s reviewed HERE, and available HERE.) That book prompted me to read Tros and Helene, the first two volumes in the Tros of Samothrace saga (Tros reviewed HERE).

And now I’m moving into the Mundy motherload, his series of adventure novels set in India and Afghanistan. King - Of the Khyber Rifles (1916) was Mundy’s second novel, and still his most famous, probably due in part to the 1953 movie version starring Tyrone Power.

If you’re a Robert E. Howard fan, this is familiar territory. These novels provided much of the inspiration for the adventures of Francis Xavier Gordon and his lookalikes, as well as Conan stories like “People of the Black Circle,” that find him among the tribes of the Hills. To me, it’s also familiar thanks to later Mundy-influenced works, like George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman and the first three (chronologically) Sharpe books by Bernard Cornwell.

The amazing thing about Mundy is that his first-person prose is fresh enough to have been written last week, instead of 95 years ago. This book introduces us to British Captain Athelstan King, sent into the Hills of Afghanistan to prevent a jihad that would boot the English out of India. His mission is to find the near-mythical she-devil/goddess named Yasmini and convince her that her best interests lie in cooperating with the British raj.

The first half of the book showcases King’s wit and personality as he moves ever deeper into the Hills in search of Yasmini, and I enjoyed every word. At roughly the mid-point we finally meet Yasmini and she takes center stage, shifting the story into a mode that reads more like fantasy than historical fiction. That would be okay, except that King has now gone undercover as an Indian doctor, and is so submerged in his role that his personality disappears.

Still, this is great adventure, and I’m eager to read more of Mundy’s interconnected India novels, that will soon introduce another King-like character, Jimgrim.

The 1978 Donald Grant edition features all the original artwork from the Everybody’s Magazine serial and the first hardcover edition by John Clement Coll. The result is a beautiful book, with many full page and two-page illustrations and at least one spot illo on every two-page spread. If you’ve seen the spectacular Grant edition of Howard’s Sowers of the Thunder, illustrated by Roy Krenkel, you have a good idea of what this looks like.

Read! Look! Enjoy!

More Forgotten Books at pattinase!