Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Overlooked Films: The Phantom (1943)

These days, comic book superheroes in tights are a dime a dozen. But the guy who started the trend was a comic strip hero, who first wore his underwear in public back in 1936.

This is him - The Phantom - who finally got around to making his motion picture debut in 1943. And surprisingly, they got the costume right. My only quibble is that in some scenes, his tights looked more black than gray.

This 15-chapter serial starred cowboy hero Tom Tyler, who’d demonstrated his superhero chops in the 1941 serial Captain Marvel. I have to give Tyler a slightly lower score than his costume, but overall he made an acceptable Ghost Who Walks.

First off, when Tyler runs through the jungle, he looks like Tiny Tim tiptoeing through the tulips. But his worst offence comes at the end of Chapter 1, when the Phantom falls into quicksand and is menaced by a hungry crocodile. Anyone who’s read the comic strip knows how the real Phantom responds to the prospect of certain death: He makes a wisecrack. Not so, our Tom. Instead, he cringes, grimaces, wiggles and is afflicted with an extreme case of jazz hands.

So how does he escape at the beginning of Chapter 2? He keeps on cringing, grimacing, wiggling and jazz-handing until Devil saves his butt. In fact, Devil saves his butt in about one of every three chapters. The only problem with Devil is - he’s supposed to be a wolf. Here, though, he’s just a dog, proudly portrayed by Ace the Wonder Dog. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Except, of course, that he’s supposed to be a wolf.

Then there are the natives. This is darkest Africa, right? And since we’ve all seen plenty of Tarzan movies, we know what African natives are supposed to look like. Here, they look like a cross between Wild West Indians and South Pacific Islanders.

STILL, once you get past the jazz hands, Ace the Wonder Dog and the homogenized natives, it’s a pretty decent serial. Most of the cliffhangers are okay, the dialogue is a couple of steps above dumb, and there are more fistfights than you could shake a fist at. And heck, this is the Phantom (sort of), so despite its flaws, this serial is required viewing.

More Overlooked Filmy stuff at SWEET FREEDOM.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Forgotten Books: SHAKEDOWN by Roney Scott (William Campbell Gault)

Shakedown (1953) was William Campbell Gault's first private eye novel, and the first of eight books featuring the rough-around-the-edges womanizer, Joe Puma. But I'm pretty confident in saying that when Gault wrote it, he had no intention of turning Puma into a series character.

Joe Puma bears all the earmarks of a use-once-and-dispose detective. Like the dark heroes of novels by James M. Cain, Harry Whittington and Charles Willeford, Puma is far more interested in sex and money than he is justice - or the welfare of anyone but himself. The story, too, bears little resemblance to the average private detective plot. Though it begins with a murder, the lead-off killing has its roots in Puma's earlier illegal activities, and he's quickly sucked into a complex con game with three other unsavory characters, each of whom hopes to cheat the other three. And just for kicks, there are prostitutes and lesbians thrown into the mix.

Then there's the pen name, Roney Scott. Gault used this a couple of times in the pulps, when he had two stories in the same issue of a magazine. In this case, I'm guessing it was more of a stylistic decision. He'd already written two stand-alone mystery novels under his own name, and would follow this one with three more. All of those were more traditional - or at least more sedate - mysteries. And those first two novels were published in respectable hardcover, while this one seemed more of a throwaway as an Ace Double original.

Shakedown gets off to a daring start simply by revealing the details of Puma's previous case. Here's a Hollywood story that would have made Spicy Detective's Dan Turner blush:

     Rickett had a yen for sweet young stars, and Bea Condor had been one of those. Rickett, it seemed, was overendowed and Bea had suffered. He'd taken her to a quack, and she'd died. 
     Enter Target, who had a string of call girls for the money trade. Target had sworn on the witness stand that Bea was one of his girls and that she was famous for a trick involving the disappearance of a beer bottle. That took care of the dead girl's reputation, though there wasn't a shred of truth in any of it.

An unusual murder weapon, don't you think?

One more thing. Though it's not a big deal in the story, we learn that Puma played three years for the L.A. Rams. Gault would re-use that resume in 1955, when he introduced his best known character, straight-arrow detective Brock Callahan in the novel Ring Around Rosa (aka Murder in the Raw).

Joe Puma, meanwhile, did not resurface until 1956, in a series of stories published mostly in Manhunt, and finally resumed his novel career in 1958 with End of a Call Girl.

Forgotten Books? Me too. Lots of 'em. Refresh your memory at pattinase.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

King Corrigan's Treasure - Another great ADVENTURE collection from Black Dog Books

King Corrigan’s Treasure is one more in a long line of lost treasures from Black Dog Books. Publisher Tom Roberts has a real knack for rediscovering forgotten pulp writers and giving them the recognition they deserve - and H. D. Couzens is a great example.

Couzens was a real-life seaman who wrote great sea stories for the mag some folks consider the greatest pulp of them all - Adventure.

King Corrigan’s Treasure features six stories and one novel starring Couzen’s greatest creation, an honorable modern-day pirate named Billy Englehart. Englehart roams the South Seas in search of profit and adventure, usually in the company of his salty pal Jim Carncross. He’s as tough - and as clever - as they come, and doesn’t let little things like laws get in his way, but more often than not he finds himself pitted against a ruthless and dishonorable villain, making him shine by comparison.

Couzens uses several narrative techniques to keep the stories fresh. Some stories are narrated first-person by people who meet or know Billy Englehart. Sometimes he’s one of the point-of-view characters. And sometimes, as in the novel “King Corrigan’s Treasure,” we see him only through the eyes of several other characters. But in every case, Billy is the driving force behind the story. He’s the man with the vision, and the goal, and he never gives up until he gets what he wants.

Though these tales are now a full century old, Couzen’s prose is sharp enough to have been penned yesterday. So thank you, Mr. Black Dog, for another great book! Check out the entire Black Dog Books line HERE.

For this one, I also owe a big thank-you to Mr. Richard Robinson, the man with The Broken Bullhorn. Mr. R was a little quick on the trigger when placing his Black Dog order, and accidentally purchased a second copy of this book. And being a generous guy, he insisted on donating it to the Lewis Library. I love it when that happens. Thanks again, Mr. R!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Overlooked Films: ZORRO is "The Bold Caballero" (1936)

Thanks to the new Classic Heroes project that will collect all five Zorro novels and 59 shorter adventures for the first time ever (details HERE), I have Zorro on the brain.

This 1936 Republic film is surely the most overlooked of all American Zorro movies, because it does not have Zorro in the title.

The Bold Caballero pales in comparison to The Mark of Zorro (1920 or 1940), I’ll admit, but those are truly great films. This one is merely pretty good, but the fact that it’s a Zorro film makes up for much of what it lacks.

And it notches up a few firsts. The first Zorro with sound, the first in color (albeit a defunct two-strip process) and the first from Republic. And in still another first, our hero - in his Don Diego duds - sings. It may also be the only film in which Zorro wears a full-face mask.

In this one, our man Zorro is framed for the murder of the governor and is in danger of being hanged. Robert Livingston (best known as Stoney Brooke of the Three Mesquiteers) is supported by a bunch of no-names, but if you look quick you might see such notable bit players as Yakima Canutt, Iron Eyes Cody and Slim Whitaker.

And to my great surprise, the whole film is available - in one piece - on YouTube, and the quality is pretty dang good. Take a look!

More Overlooked Films at SWEET FREEDOM.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Saddle-Up with Johnny Cash and sing Bonanza

If the Man in Black were still with us, you can bet he'd be tuning into INSP's Saddle-Up Saturday today and singing along with the Bonanza theme at 1pm, 8pm and 9pm Eastern (that's a 10am start time for you owlhoots in the actual Old West). And inbetween-time he'd be looking at three episodes each of The Big Valley and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

P.S. Rumor has it that two more classic shows will soon be joining the Saddle-Up Line-Up. So stay tuned!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Forgotten Books: A Task for Zorro by Johnston McCulley

Did you know that Georges Simenon was actually one of the many pen names of Zorro author Johnston McCulley? Well, neither did anyone else, because it's a lie. But it's my tip of the fedora to the Forgotten Books Simenon Spectacular. That's HERE.

"A Task for Zorro" first appeared in the June 1947 issue of West, and was reprinted only twice, first in a squinty-eyed little Hanos edition, and then in this third volume of the ill-fated Pulp Adventures series, ZORRO - THE MASTERS EDITION, published in 2002. I'm guessing the series had successively shorter print runs, because decent copies of Volume 1 can still be found in the fifty-dollar range, Volume 2 commands at least twice that amount, and A Task for Zorro is unavailable anywhere - at any price.

That's the bad news. The good news is that this novel, along with the McCulley's other four Zorro novels and all 59 shorter adventures, will soon be all soon be available - in limited hardcover editions - from German publisher Classic Heroes. You'll find more details about that HERE, and the official Classic Heroes site HERE.

In A Task for Zorro, Diego is asked by his friend Fray Felipe, one of the few folks who knows about his alter ego, to help stop a well-organized gang that's stealing cattle belonging to the Franciscan mission. At the same time, an Americano arrives in Los Angeles, a buckskin-clad cowboy who says he wants to study the Spanish methods of cattle ranching. And if that weren't enough to make Diego keep an eye on him, the cowboy also plans to capture the outlaw Zorro and claim the fabulous reward offered by the governor.

Is the cowboy really a crook? Will he succeed in catching Zorro? I'm not telling. But I'm mighty glad that you, and a lot of other folks, will have the opportunity to find out - thanks to Classic Heroes.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Still time to enter the Saddle-Up and Getaway Sweepstakes

Win an action-packed, all-expenses-paid trip for two to a dude ranch, or one of several other western-themed prizes. Last day to enter is Sunday, July 22, so don't dawdle. To enter, click HERE
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Round up your folks and help celebrate the Expanded Saddle-Up Saturday Lineup with your favorites like BonanzaThe Big Valley and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman on INSP! Register for a chance to win one of three great prizes!

Grand Prize: (One Winner)
4-Day All expenses paid Dude Ranch Getaway for two worth $5,000. You choose between the Mountain Sky Guest Ranch in Montana or the Goosewing Ranch in Wyoming! (Details in the Official Rules)

2nd Prize: (One Winner – $1,325 Value)
• Weber BBQ Grill (in the form of a Gift Card)
• Omaha Steak Gift Certificate
• Grocery Store Gift Certificate

3rd Prize: (12 Winners – $300 value)
• Bonanza & Big Valley DVD’s
• Fisher Gold Mining Kit
• Levi’s gift card – for a new pair of jeans.

TUNE IN to Saddle-Up Saturday from 1p – 2a ET each Saturday. For details go to http://bit.ly/INSPSaddle. By entering this sweepstakes, you are officially requesting that INSP to be added to your TV channel lineup. An email will be sent to your service provider on your behalf. 

Only persons residing in United States who are at least 18 years of age can enter.
Sweepstakes ends July 22, 1012 at 11:59 pm (EDT)
Need more Details?

Monday, July 16, 2012

The COMPLETE Adventures of Zorro by Johnston McCulley !!

OK, this is REALLY BIG news!

ZORRO - THE MASTERS EDITION is back - from a new publisher - in a new format - and this time it looks like the dream of seeing the complete Zorro canon published in matching volumes will become a reality.

As you may know, Johnston McCulley's first Zorro novel, "The Curse of Capistrano" (aka The Mark of Zorro) has been in print almost without interruption since it's first appearance in 1919. What many people don't know is that over the next forty years, McCulley wrote four more Zorro novels and 59 shorter adventures. The reason folks don't know is that many of these stories have never been reprinted, and those that have are mighty hard to come by.

So here's the good news: Classic Heroes of Hohenfurch, Germany, has been granted permission by Zorro Productions Inc to publish the entire series in both English and German editions. The books will be limited edition hardcovers (5.8 x 8.3 inches) featuring all of the original pulp art, plus new covers by Joel F. Naprstek.

Leading off the series will be The Further Adventures of Zorro, the action-packed sequel to The Mark of Zorro that first appeared in Argosy All-Story Weekly in 1922. The novel finds Don Diego Vega ready to get married and give up adventuring for good, until his betrothed is kidnapped by pirates. So Zorro returns, and believe me  -- he's pissed. It's Zorro vs. Pirates. What could be better?

The book will sell for $24.95 plus $8 postage, and be available ONLY through the Classic Heroes website. You can place an order now, and even subscribe to the whole series, by clicking right HERE.

P.S. Classic Heroes is also planning a series of Zorro comic book and comic strip reprints, but I'll save the details for another post.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

It's Saddle-Up Saturday. Ride!


                    1pm ET, 10am PT:     BONANZA   "The Spanish Grant"
                    2pm ET, 11am PT:     THE BIG VALLEY   "Heritage"
                    3pm ET, Noon PT:     THE BIG VALLEY   "Winner Lose All"
                    4pm ET, 1pm PT:       THE BIG VALLEY   "My Son, My Son"
                    5pm ET, 2pm PT:       DR. QUINN, MEDICINE WOMAN   "The Healing"
                    6pm ET, 3pm PT:       DR. QUINN, MEDICINE WOMAN   "Father's Day"
                    7pm ET, 4pm PT:       DR. QUINN, MEDICINE WOMAN   "Bad Water"
                    8pm ET, 5pm PT:       BONANZA   "The Spanish Grant"
                    9pm ET, 6pm PT:       BONANZA   "Blood on the Land"
                    10pm ET, 7pm PT:     THE BIG VALLEY   "The Iron Box"
                    11pm ET, 8pm PT:     THE BIG VALLEY   "Last Stage to Salt Flats"

Click HERE (not there) to enter!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Forgotten (and FREE) Stories: Race Williams in "Death for Two" by Carroll John Daly

This month's free Race Williams adventure begins on a different note. For most of the story's first scene, we seem to be in the point-of-view of Race's friend (and just maybe the only honest cop in New York) Sergeant  O'Rourke. But we soon come to realize it's Race telling the story - as he heard it from O'Rourke himself.

The good sergeant, you see, gets gunned down by a quick-fingered miscreant called Killer Mertes. And while O'Rourke survives, he's wounded severely enough to keep him out of action for a while. So he asks Race to bring Killer to justice, knowing full well that Race's idea of justice is a bullet smack between the eyes.

"Death for Two" appeared in the Sept. 1931 issue of Black Mask, and has appeared nowhere since. It's the fifth in our continuing series of The Lost Adventures of Race Williams. If you're among the growing legion of fans who requested scans of "Alias Buttercup," "The Super-Devil," "Blind Alleys," or "Murder by Mail" (details HERE), rest easy. "Death for Two" will soon be blasting its way into your email box. If not, write me at delewis1@hotmail.com and I'll shoot this story - along with the others - back to you.

By a strange coincidence, I read "Death for Two" on the same day I read Frederick Nebel's "Pearls are Tears," which appeared, back-to-back with the Daly story, in the very same issue of Black Mask. Sadly, I don't own that issue, but I read "Pearls are Tears" in the highly recommended new Altus Press collection, Tough as Nails, which collects the complete adventures of Donny Donahue. Nebel, of course, was a far more accomplished writer than Daly, and it shows, but Daly is still a kick to read. I like them both!

And if you've not yet heard the news, Black Dog Books will be releasing a new collection of Daly stories in October. Race Williams' Double Date features four Race stories from the late '40s and early '50s. I think you'll find it interesting to compare them to the early Race adventures I've been featuring here. Race Williams' Double Date will also include tales of two other Daly heroes, Satan Hall (my personal favorite) and Doc Fay, an intro and an article by Steve Mertz, and even a few words from me. Is it October yet? I wish.

Do not fail to beat feet over to pattinase for more Forgotten Books!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Bonanza Lifestyle: Hats

What could be better than watching Bonanza on INSP's Saddle-Up Saturday? Watching it while wearing an authentic Bonanza hat, of course.

If you still have a kid-sized head, you might want to seek out a vintage model (above) on eBay. Otherwise, if you have a spare 150 to 200 bucks laying around, the replicas below are available HERE.

Any one of them would come in mighty handy if you win that trip to the dude ranch, right HERE.

The Hoss

The Ben

The Adam

The Little Joe

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Bonanza Lifestyle: Lunch Boxes

In honor of the new expanded SADDLE-UP SATURDAY lineup on INSP, we'll be taking a look at some of the other fine ways you can bring a little more Bonanza into your life. Today: How to tote your lunch like a Cartwright . . .

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Overlooked Films: Hopalong Cassidy Returns (1936)

Hop-a-long Cassidy (aka Hopalong Cassidy Enters), the first Hoppy film (reviewed HERE) was released in 1935. So when I came across Hopalong Cassidy Returns, released in 1936, I figured it was number two in the series. Wouldn't you?

Boy, was I wrong. Hopalong Cassidy Returns was the 7th film in the series, and one of five released in 1936 alone. Our man Hoppy was a very busy cowboy.

The opening credits say the film is "based on the story by Clarence Mulford," so I guess that explains the title. A novel of that title was serialized in Argosy beginning in 1923, and published in hardcover in 1924. But whether the movie story bears any resemblance to the book, I don't know.

As stories go, it ain't bad. An old friend of Hoppy's (a crusading newspaper publisher in a wheelchair) asks him to come clean up the town, and he arrives just in time to see the guy become victim number two of the town's designated killer.

There are plenty of bad guys on hand, but the big boss in this one is slinky saloon owner Lilli Marsh. Prior to Hoppy's arrival, she appears bad to the bone, and has no qualms about ordering murder most foul. But Hopalong, stud that he is, turns her head. In the words of one her dancehall girls, "she can't decide whether to kill him or kiss him." To which another dancehall girl replies, "I wish I had that choice."

In the end (SPOILER ALERT), Lilli redeems herself, but takes a bullet in the brisket for her troubles, and dies with Hoppy's kiss on her lips.

After dying in the first film, Gabby Hayes on hand with a different name, but the same cantankerous character. In fact, Gabby appeared in at least two dozen Hoppy flicks before defecting to Roy Rogers in 1939.

More Overlooked Films at SWEET FREEDOM.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Hats Off to Saddle-Up Saturday!

Some folks (like me) just can't get enough Western TV action. Well, INSP is doing its part to help, with an expanded line-up for Saddle-Up Saturday, every Saturday beginning at 1pm ET. In addition to classic episodes of Bonanza and The Big Valley, they'll be some surprises coming your way. For more info on Saddle-Up Saturday, click HERE.

But first, YOU have a chance to win an all-expenses-paid, one-week trip to a dude ranch (a $5000 value). Yee-hah, right? Click the banner above to throw your hat into the ring.

And click the PLAY button below to hear Lorne Greene sing the Bonanza Theme Song. Even if you've heard him DO this before, you'll likely hear some new lyrics, because this is the rare extended version of the song, from the 1962 LP, "Ponderosa Party Time."

Friday, July 6, 2012

Forgotten Books: Murder '97 by Frank Gruber

This is the third and last book in my favorite Gruber series - the adventures of Simon Lash. Why is it my favorite? Because Lash is not only a hardboiled detective - he's a book collector. (Simon Lash, Private Detective is reviewed HERE, and The Buffalo Box is HERE)

The first book, you may recall, had an Old West theme, and the second revolved around the history of the Donnor Party. This time, the focus is on Horatio Alger. Lash is hired to track down the original owner of an Alger book, and follows the trail from book dealer to book scout to junk store, uncovering evil doings dating back to 1897.

It's noted several times that at the time of this story, 1948, no one reads Alger anymore. The characters who read him as kids are now in their 60s. But the books have become collectible, and a first edition of Ralph Raymond's Heir, the book at the center of this case, is so rare that a book dealer apologizes for charging $20 for it. Jeez, wouldn't it be great if rare books today sold for twenty bucks, and dealers would apologize for charging that much?

Curious what that book would sell for now, I tried to find a copy. There were none offered on ABE or Bookfinder, but a dealer on eBay is asking $200 for what he claims is a first. BUT, the binding is orange, and no date is mentioned, while the binding of an 1892 first shown on an authoritative Alger site is blue. So I'm suspicious.

Like most folks, I've never read an Alger book. Closest I came was Frank Merriwell's Schooldays by Burt L. Standish, published in 1901. I wanted to see the origin of George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman character. I found the book relatively painless, but have no desire to read more.

Anyway, Murder '97 is typical Gruber mystery. It's short and breezy with just enough comic relief. I wish he'd written a few more Lash books, and few less Johnny Fletchers.

The ugly green cover above is the hardcover first. Both the good-looking Reader's Choice Library edition (at top) and the even uglier green and yellow Jonathan Press digest claim to be complete and unabridged. Why the Jonathan Press edition was retitled The Long Arm of Murder is a mystery that would baffle even Simon Lash.