Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Overlooked Films: Westworld

I had low expectations for this one. I mean, hey, it was released in 1973, and it's science fiction, so I expected heaping helpings of cheese. It was quite a shock, then, to find it almost cheese-free.

The music, the cinematography, the costumes, the special effects and the script (by Michael Crichton, no less) all hold up well. The only time the film looks somewhat dated is when we're taken to the control room, where vast banks of Time Tunnel-style computers line the walls.

The only thing I found slightly cheesy was the first-half performance by Richard Benjamin, who, despite getting second billing behind Yul Brynner, snagged most of the screen time. He's the giddy first-time visitor, guided by the steady hand of his pal Josh Brolin, who's been to Western World before. All that giddiness is a bit hard to take (especially if you don't like Richard Benjamin much to begin with), but it's almost worth it later, as we see him grow a pair and finish the film with a strong character arc.

And there are two interesting guest appearances. One by Majel Barrett (Mrs. Gene Roddenberry) as the madame at the saloon/whorehouse, and the other by Yul Brynner's cowboy outfit, which is supposedly the same one he wore in The Magnificent Seven.

So. I ain't saying Westworld is a great film, but it's still fun, and almost as entertaining as it was 39 years ago.

More Overlooked Films and stuff, as usual, at SWEET FREEDOM.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Forgotten Books: The Honest Dealer by Frank Gruber (Illustrated)


Mr. Ed Gorman featured this Johnny Fletcher adventure as his Forgotten Book of the week (that's HERE), and as there are several editions of this classic here in the Lewis library, it seems a good time to trot them out for your viewing pleasure. 




MORE Forgotten Books at pattinase!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Overlooked Films: Robin Hood of the Pecos

It’s always sort of surreal to see a Roy Rogers western actually set in the Old West. I keep expecting him to hop off Trigger and dart into a night club, radio station or county fair, or just into the general store to use the telephone.

Doesn’t happen here. This one is set in mythical Purvis County, Texas just after the end of the Civil War. In another unusual move, Roy’s name isn’t Roy. He’s Vance Corbin, son of a local judge who’s been off fighting the Yankees, and just released from Fort Delaware Prison. And if that’s not strange enough, he sings only one song - and it’s not even to a girl. In fact, the romantic subplot is so low key that I didn’t even notice it until the end, when Roy delivers the best line of the show (stay tuned).

Another shocker: The title character, the “Robin Hood of the Pecos,” is not Roy, but Gabby Hayes. Gabby is known as the Night Rider, and annoys the local greedy carpetbagger by encouraging his fellow Purvisites to form a committee of vigilantes to fight Northern oppression. When in Gabby mode, he wears his trademark sat-on hat and thatch of gray beard, so the Night Rider disguise is easy - he dies his beard black and puts on a suit. After all, who would ever recognize Gabby Hayes in a suit?

Also on hand are characters named Sam and Belle Starr, who bear no resemblance to their historical counterparts. Sam is a paunchy rancher, and Belle is a grown-up tomboy who dresses like Annie Oakley and talks like one of the Little Rascals. The U.S. Army plays a part, too, and is consistently noble and purehearted - a threat only when misled by the aforementioned lowdown dirty skunk of a carpetbagger.

Roy, of course, accounts for most of the heroics, and triumphs in the end. And that’s where the romance rears it’s head. As Roy strolls along with Gabby’s good-lookin’ niece, we join a discussion already in progress:

ROY:  . . . But suppose you’d have gotten yourself killed?
GIRL: Would you miss me?
ROY: Well, I couldn’t very well get along with you.
GIRL: Would you mind telling me why?
ROY: Well, uh, because you cook like a Chinaman.


Visit Todd Mason, the Robin Hood of Overlooked Films, at SWEET FREEDOM

Friday, February 17, 2012

Forgotten Westlake Books: The Parker Trilogy by Richard Stark

It’s been a long time since I read a Parker book. Too long. So this week’s Forgotten Books Westlake Tribute (more HERE), seemed the perfect excuse. And I’m mighty glad I took advantage of it.

What I didn’t remember was that the first three books in the series form a sort of trilogy. While book 1, The Hunter, works fine as a stand-alone novel, the next two volumes are pretty much dependent on the first book, and upon each other. Read in order, they tell a fine and rich tale, but a reader picking up just The Man with the Getaway Face or The Outfit might have a less than satisfying experience.

Read as a trilogy, the three books nicely compliment each other. The Hunter sees Parker released from jail and on the hunt to square himself with the man who betrayed him. In the process, he incurs the wrath of the mob, here known as The Outfit. In The Man with the Getaway Face, Parker gets plastic surgery in an effort to return to his criminal career without interference from the organization. When that plan fails, he’s forced, in The Outfit, to take drastic action to get them off his back.

Having read these before, I knew they were good. And of course the whole series is pretty much universally revered by aficionados of noir. But I did find a couple of surprises.

First, it wasn’t until I was well into the third book that I was reminded (by Westlake admirer Doug Levin) that these novels were written almost 50 years ago. The prose and dialogue is so fresh - and dare I say timeless? - that they seem brand new. It was only on reflection that I noticed there were no computers or cell phones.

Where the stories may show their age is in  the story structure. Westlake employed some techniques that might not pass muster today - at least for an aspiring novelist.

In at least two instances, the story follows the point of view of a supporting character to a scene where Parker makes a surprise appearance. We know this is bad (and probably fatal) news for the supporting character and want to see how it plays out. Instead, Westlake backtracks several days and spends several chapters showing us what Parker was doing to lead him to that confrontation.

In both cases, Westlake’s saving grace is that Parker’s point of view is so compelling that we don’t mind the lack of suspense. In the hands of a lesser writer, though, or with a character lacking Parker’s intensity, I’m not sure it would work.

The Man with the Getaway Face has a particularly strange structure. The main plot, following Parker and friends as they plan and carry out a heist, ends with the book only two-thirds over. For the final third, we’re left the remains of a much less interesting subplot, and sent backtracking in the point of view of a less interesting character. Parker eventually returns, of course, and saves the story, but the end of the book is anticlimactic, and satisfying only in that it sets up the action to come in the next book, The Outfit.

Despite those lapses in suspense, I found all three books hard to put down. I’ve just started book four, The Mourner, and have three more in the To-Be-Read pile. So whatever Westlake was doing here, it sure worked on me.

Cover trivia: Check out Parker's hands on the covers of the first two books!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Overlooked Films: Walt Disney's ZORRO

Presenting the premier episode, from 1957, as Colorized in 1992. One of the best TV series ever!

More Overlooked Stuff at Sweet Freedom!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Forgotten Books: Lazarus #7 by Richard Sale

After reading Richard Sale's sole uncollected novel, "The Rogue," (see last week's FFB, HERE) I was still in a Sale mood, and moved right along for a second look at his most famous mystery, Lazarus #7.

This one, from 1942, takes place in Hollywood, centering around a hotshot movie producer and the various bit players who consider him their meal ticket.

Our hero is an outsider, the distinguished Dr. Steven Mason, who finds the whole scene distasteful and is eager to get back to his job at the Rockefeller Institute. Trouble is, he falls for the producer's secretary, and gets embroiled in a murder cover-up.

Lurking around the edges of the plot is another doctor,  a creepy little gink who thinks he can raise the dead. His experiments have thus far been restricted to dogs, referred to as Lazarus #1 through #6. Little does the creepy gink know that he himself is slated to become Lazarus #7.

The writing here is consistently entertaining. While our narrator, Dr. Steve Mason, is a serious dude, the many denizens of Hollywood are not, and most employ some of the breezy lingo of Sale's most famous pulp character, Daffy Dill. (If you've yet to experience a Daffy Dill story, you can do so right HERE.)

Though Lazarus #7 was Sale's first mystery novel, I'm pretty sure he originally conceived it as a sequel to his 1940 mainstream novel, Cardinal Rock (see that review HERE). The hero of Cardinal Rock is a globetrotting expert on tropical diseases who stumbles upon a leper colony in the South Seas and meets a man who has made remarkable progress toward a cure. In the end, that hero, Dr. Nicholas Adams, agrees to present these findings to researchers back in the states.

Well. Lazarus #7 begins with globetrotting tropical disease expert Steven Mason arriving in Los Angeles after presenting researchers with the findings of a leprosy specialist he encountered in his travels. My guess is that either Sale or the Inner Sanctum editors thought it best to present readers with a seemingly new character rather than one recycled from an earlier - and quite obscure - book. It's also possible that someone thought the use of the name Nicholas Adams was stepping on the toes of a guy named Hemingway.

While leprosy was the main theme in Cardinal Rock, it plays a smaller role here, but becomes increasingly important as the story unfolds. (Never fear, though. No fingers, toes or noses fall off in this book.)

This is Steve Mason's one an only hurrah, but the book does introduce a minor series character, a shrewd, incorruptible homicide dick with the unlikely name of Daniel Webster. Webster returns later the same year in Sale's next Inner Sanctum mystery, Passing Strange, playing second fiddle to yet another medico narrator, Dr. Peter Merritt.

Regarding the cover art:

The hardcover dust jacket makes it appear the story is bursting right out of the pages of the Bible. Not so. The original Lazarus is mentioned, along with the guy said to have revitalized him, but the religious angle is pretty low key (especially compared to Sale's first novel, Not Too Narrow . . . Not Too Deep, reviewed HERE).

The Harlequin paperback makes it look like Cigarette Man is gazing down at The Incredible Shrinking Woman. Don't know what they were thinking on that one.

The glitzy blonde on the pulp cover seems frightened of a creepy green hand in the upper right corner. There is a glitzy blonde in the story, but it is devoid of green hands.

The digest is the only one that comes close to the mark. There is indeed a birthday party in the book, where a bald guy does get killed. Best of all, if the dope on the copyright page is correct, the text was not abridged for the digest appearance.

Now I'm psyched to reread Passing Strange.

For the lowdown on all of this week's Forgotten Books, visit Patti Abbott's pattinase.

Next week: Richard Stark's Parker.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Friday, February 3, 2012

Forgotten Novels: The Rogue by Richard Sale

Richard Sale has been called “the Dumas of the pulps,” because he’s said to have written over 400 stories, in addition to the eleven novels published in book form.

I don’t know who coined that Dumas phrase, and don’t know if that person was aware of “The Rogue,” but this is where Sale really gets his Dumas on. The homage to The Three Musketeers is obvious - and extensive - resulting in a great historical adventure novel.

Publishers take note: As far as I know, this is the only Sale novel never collected in book form, and it’s high time it happened. The story ran as a 5-part serial in Argosy, from June 11 to July 9, 1938, making it a tough get for Sale fans today.

The Rogue of the story is John Hamilton, second son of a wealthy Virginia family, who’s built a reputation as a quick blade and an ardent lover. It’s 1781, and the War of the Revolution has gone along pretty much without him. But now Cornwallis is holed up at Yorktown, and George Washington and his French allies are gearing up for a siege that could end the war. And John Hamilton, the Rogue, finds himself in possession of the battle plans that win - or lose - the whole shebang.

Early on, Hamilton teams up with a long-nosed French agent named Du Maurier, who fills the role of the three musketeers. Du Maurier, like d’Artagnan is a proud Gascon, and Hamilton - lo and behold - learned his swordsmanship from a Gascon master, so the two hit it off famously. The role of the evil but lovely Milady de Winter is played by a female viper and British agent called Milady Desmond.

Then come the plot parallels. Early in The Three Musketeers, d’Artagnan has a tussle with one the Cardinal’s agents, and spends the rest the rest of the book itching for a showdown. Same thing here, with Hamilton repeatedly crossing swords with a cunning British spy. One long sequence in Musketeers finds the four friends (and their servants) riding across France take a message to Lord Buckingham in London. Each time they’re attacked by the Cardinal’s guards, someone is wounded or purposely stays behind as a rearguard. In “The Rogue,” our two friends (and their servants), in the company of a coonskin-capped frontiersman, race across Virginia to deliver the battle plans to Lafayette, with British agents picking them off one at a time.

Well, guess what? The plans get through and the American/French forces prevail. But you knew that already. The fun of the “The Rogue” is seeing how Hamilton & friends - and pulpmeister Richard Sale - contrive to pull it off.

For reviews of Sale’s earlier novels, two complete pulp stories, and other cool Sale stuff, click HERE.

And for this week’s fine lineup of other Forgotten Books, visit pattinase.