Friday, November 30, 2012

Forgotten Books: The Return of the Continental Op (1945) by Dashiell Hammett

I've been rereading ALL of the Continental Op (short for Continental operative) stories, and as I mentioned earlier this month in a review of the first paperback collection, The Continental Op (that's HERE), that amounts to 28 stories (some of which are long novelettes) and two novels.

That's a LOT of writing, accounting for a good two-thirds of Hammett's total output.

This collection, published as a Jonathan Press digest in 1945 and Dell Mapback in 1947, contains two novelettes and three stories, all of which originally appeared in Black Mask.

The earliest story, "The Tenth Clew," (respelled here as "The Tenth Clue"), was first published in January 1924. It belongs to what I call the Op's "invisible" stage. The prose is straightforward and spare. It's not lacking in style, but it displays none of the distinct personality that emerges in later stories. Hammett's goal here was to lay out a puzzle for the Op to solve using the sort of investigative methods and agency resources Hammett himself used while working for the Pinkertons.

I have to believe that "Death and Company," which did not appear in Black Mask until 1930, was written around the same time. Like "The Tenth Clew," it's an enjoyable tale with a clever finish, but the Op is pretty much a ghost.

But in "One Hour," a short piece published only three months after "The Tenth Clew," the Op starts feeling his oats. Not only does he get more playful with his language, but he's plunged into a situation where he has to rely on his fists - and his gun - along with his brain.

The main attractions of this collection are the two novelettes, "The Whosis Kid" (from March 1925) and "The Gutting of Couffignal" (December 1925), where both the language and the action gets more wild and woolly. Black Mask readers asked for more action, and Hammett delivered.

In "The Whosis Kid," the Op gets tied up with a gang of backstabbing thieves whose antics anticipate those of Caspar Gutman, Joel Cairo and their cohorts in The Maltese Falcon. And in "The Gutting of Couffignal," the scene of the crime is entire town, where a criminal gang goes looting on a grand scale.

These days, you won't find these stories in any one collection. Crime Stories and Other Writings your best source for "The Whosis Kid," "The Gutting of Couffignal" and "The Tenth Clew," because that book restores the original Black Mask text. "One Hour" appears in the 1999 collection Nightmare Town.

Meanwhile, near as I can tell, "Death and Company" has not been reprinted anywhere since the Dell Mapback appeared in 1947. That's not only a damn shame, it's a disgrace. If any of you hardcore Op fans would like to read it, write me and email you scans.

More Forgotten Books at pattinase!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Films I've Overlooked: Kid Galahad (1937)

I was always thought Kid Galahad was just an Elvis movie (albeit an above-average Elvis movie, because it had fighting built into the storyline and supporting cast members who could actually act). Boy, was I wrong.

The real Kid Galahad is this 1937 classic, while the Elvis vehicle is only a pale imposter.

This one has rock-solid performances from Robinson, Davis and Bogart, some fine directing from Michael Curtiz, and a screenplay I can’t kick about. And there are some pretty cool fight scenes. It’s an all-around entertaining film, and I’m ashamed to admit I discovered it only recently.

Robinson is definitely the star here. The story is his more than anyone else’s. But Bette Davis runs a close second, and while Bogie got third billing, he’s really only incidental. Wayne Morris, as the innocent farm boy/bellhop Kid Galahad, gets more screen and story time.

Bogart is great, of course, in what little role he has. He’s the bad-guy fight manager handling the current heavyweight champ, and the guy who stands in the way of Robinson taking the title for a fighter of his own. Bette Davis plays Fluff, Robinson’s long-time girl, who knows she’ll never be as important to him as the fight game.

Enter Wayne Morris, the bellhop who smacks down the Champ to defend Fluff’s honor, and Kid Galahad is born. Robinson finally has high hopes of taking the title away from Bogart.

Naturally, something gets in the way of that goal, and that something is love. Before long they’re caught in a triangle with an extra angle, as Robinson is in love with Davis, Davis with Galahad, and Galahad with Robinson’s sister. Thankfully, the writers stopped there, or we might have had Robinson’s sister in love with Bogart and Bogart in love with Robinson.

Also thankfully, the love stuff stops short of being sappy, and the film ends on a down beat, with violence and death. Elvis could have used more of that in his version.

Find films other folks have overlooked each week at this time at Sweet Freedom

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Fistful of LESTER DENT!

Here's a package of great reading from Black Dog Books - at 30% off cover price. Lester Dent rocks! Click HERE to order.

Check out the rest of the amazing Black Dog line-up, including other SALE PACKAGES, HERE.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Art Gallery: The REAL James Bond

Okay, I like Daniel Craig as an actor, and his latest films have delivered some amazing action, but I just ain't never going to accept him as James Bond. The guy below is IT, and I'd rank Pierce Brosnan number 2. Heck, I prefer even George Lazenby to Craig.




Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A New Western Saga Begins: BRANHAM'S DUE by Richard Prosch

Richard Prosch has a new Western series going, and it looks like a winner.

"Branham's Due" takes us to wild and wooly Holt County, Nebraska, where Deputy Sheriff Whit Branham is hunting Johann Kramer, a notorious back-shooter freshly arrived from Dakota Territory. What Whit doesn’t know is that Kramer has hooked up with Whit’s old Sunday School teacher, a mountainous, pumpkin-faced woman who’s strayed from her righteous ways. Luckily, Whit flunked Sunday School and is not above a little unrighteous behavior of his own.

Richard Prosch’s writing is clever and sharp, like Whit himself, and his quirky supporting characters are finely drawn.

Also included: a preview of the soon-to-be-released novella, “Holt County Law,” in which we meet Whit’s boss, Sheriff Barney Keane, and other salty residents of O’Neill City, Nebraska. “Branham’s Due” is the beginning of what promises to be a great series, and I’m already looking forward to “Holt County Law.”

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Films I've Overlooked: DICK TRACY (1937)

This 1937 cliffhanger serial (not to be confused with the 1945 feature film of the same name) was the first of four serial featuring our man Dick, and was followed by four feature films. And dang, I've yet to see a one of them. I'd better get cracking. This would be a rare opportunity to see Smiley Burnette clowning around in a fedora instead of a cowboy hat. In this one, for reasons unknown to me, Dick is a G-Man instead of a police detective.

More Overlooked Films (most of which I have ALSO personally overlooked) at Sweet Freedom.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Forgotten Books: 42 Days For Murder by Roger Torrey

It’s a damn shame Roger Torrey didn’t write more novels. But he didn’t. He wrote only one. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that that ONE, 42 Days for Murder, is available for free electronic download (that’s HERE), and a fine collection of shorter works, Bodyguard and Other Crime Dramas, is available from Black Dog Books (that’s HERE).

My first impression of Roger Torrey, based on some of his many stories for the Trojan magazine line (Spicy, Speed, Hollywood, Private and Super-Detective) was that he was one of the more successful emulators of Dashiell Hammett.

But I read 42 Days for Murder sandwiched in between a fistful of Continental Op stories and discovered that’s not the case. Torrey was his own man, with his own style, and it comes through strong in this novel.

Our hero is Shean Connell, a nightclub piano player turned private dick - and yeah, he does play piano, in a nightclub, in this book. The friend of a friend is having wife trouble (she’s leaving him and won’t say why), drawing Connell into a mess that pits him against mobsters, dope runners, white slavers and the bought-and-paid-for police force of Reno, Nevada. The 42 days of the title represents the six weeks it will take the friend-of-a-friend’s wife to get a divorce, so Connell has only that long to solve the case.

Torrey populates the book with vivid characters - a rich kid determined to learn the gumshoe business, a lousy sax-player, an unruly client and a line-up of dames ranging from dizzy to dangerous. It’s a smooth read, with just the right blend of violence and humor.

The novel was first published in 1938, and reprinted in this paperback edition sometime in the '40s.

The Black Dog book Bodyguard, meanwhile, features eleven stories, plus a great bibliography. The bibliography showed me that Torrey was a far more prolific pulp writer than I realized. He made over fifty appearances in Black Mask alone, another twenty in Detective Fiction Weekly and many more in various other mags, in addition to the hundred and thirty or so stories he wrote for the Trojan line.

I recommend you give this guy a try. In addition to these two books, you’ll find sample stories in The Hard-boiled Omnibus and The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps.

And you’ll find more Forgotten Books at pattinase.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Films I've Overlooked: The Public Enemy (1931)

Yeah, I know this is a classic, and how I've lived this long without seeing it is both a wonder and a shame. But that offense to popular culture has now been remedied.

I can't call The Public Enemy a great film, but it was actually pretty darn good for 1931, and Jimmy Cagney delivered an outstanding performance. It's easy to see why this movie made him a star.

Cagney with Edward Woods

I read somewhere that Warner Brothers had originally cast Edward Woods in the lead role, with Cagney as his pal. Thankfully somebody wised up and reversed their roles before filming began. If the name Edward Woods is unfamiliar it's because he never again appeared in a movie approaching this caliber, and retired from the biz in 1938.

What prevents this from being a great film is the spotty story. It gives us scenes at various stages in the criminal life of Tom Powers (Cagney), but never lights long enough in one place. It does, of course, deliver the famous grapefruit-in-the-face scene, but even that failed to reach its potential because it had no set-up. Cagney is mildly henpecked by girlfriend Mae Clark and pastes her with the fruit. Big deal. It just made him look mean.

Jean Harlow, as you'll see from the posters, got second billing, but didn't deserve it. Her role is small and all-but-meaningless, and she had zero chemistry with Cagney. In fact, I found her mildly repellent. It's hard to imagine her having romantic chemistry with anyone.

And for a gangster film, it's surprising how much of the shooting is done off camera. This includes Cagney's murder of a doublecrossing rat, the execution of a racehorse, the climactic battle between Cagney and a rival mob, and the demise of Cagney himself. It all worked, I must admit, but I'm just sayin'.

More Overlooked (and probably less famous) Films at SWEET FREEDOM.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Forgotten Books: TV Tie-Ins - A Bibliography of American TV Tie-In Paperbacks

If your name is Randy Johnson, you probably have this book and know all this stuff.
But for the rest of us - including me - it’s packed with surprises.

TV Tie-Ins (1997, 1999) by Kurt Peer leads off with an A-Z listing of shows and all associated publications. And though the title says paperbacks, the lists include many hardcovers too.

Just looking at the A section . . .
     Did you know there were six A-Team books, five featuring novelizations of TV episodes, and one an original story? And that’s not counting two plot-it-yourself books and one by and about Mr. T.
     I was surprised by this: Black Mask writer W.T. Ballard (as Brian Fox) wrote two novels based on Alias Smith and Jones.
     There were nine novels based on The Avengers (no, not the Marvel gang), including three by Keith Laumer and two by Norman A. Daniels.
     There were fourteen books novelizing episodes of As the World Turns. Yikes.
    And do you have these?: The Wit and Wisdom of Archie Bunker, Edith Bunker’s All in the Family Cookbook and Archie Bunker’s Family Album.

Most interesting to me is the Index by Author, where I gleaned such amazing facts as:
     Edward S. Aarons wrote a novel based on The Defenders.
     Michael Avallone’s tie-ins included The Doctors, Felony Squad, The Girl (and the Man) from U.N.C.L.E., Hawaii Five-O, Mannix and The Partridge Family.
     Lawrence Block wrote a Markham book.
     Pulp writer Robert Sidney Bower wrote a Hawaii Five-O novel.
     Gil Brewer wrote three novels based on It Takes a Thief.
     Along with the previously mentioned Avengers books, Norman A. Daniels did (among others) Arrest and Trial, Ben Casey, Dr. Kildare and Rat Patrol.
     Richard Deming’s list includes Dragnet, The Mod Squad, Charlie’s Angels, and Starsky and Hutch.
     George Alec Effinger wrote four Planet of the Apes novels.
     Harlan Ellison (along with Edward Bryant) is credited with a Starlost novel. (Dang, I even have that one.)
     Nora Ephron wrote The Tonight Show: and now . . . Here’s Johnny!
     Richard Wormser did one each for The Wild Wild West, The Green Hornet and The High Chaparral.
     Ron Goulart’s list includes Battlestar Galactica, Kung Fu, and Laverne and Shirley.
     Frank Gruber did one called Tales of Wells Fargo. (Got that too.)
     Bayard Kendrick wrote five Longstreet books.
     Richard S. Prather wrote a Dragnet book.
     Along with The Avengers, Keith Laumer did two Invaders novels.
     Murray Leinster’s list includes Land of the Giants and The Time Tunnel.
     Peter Rabe wrote four Mannix books.
     Barry Malzburg wrote a Kung Fu novel.
     Western writer Dean Owen did two Bonanzas, a Hec Ramsey and one Men from Shiloh (The Virginian).
     Talmage Powell wrote two Mission: Impossible novels.
     Richard Lupoff did two Buck Rogers books.
     Theodore Sturgeon wrote a Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea novel.
     Jim Thompson wrote an Ironside book.
     Harry Whittington did a Bonanza and a Man from U.N.C.L.E.
     Collin Wilcox wrote two McCloud novels.

This section also clues you in to such treasures as Phyllis Diller’s Housekeeping Hints and Phyllis Diller’s Marriage Manual. And it’s followed by an Index by Publisher, a list of actors pictured on covers, and a list of novelized episodes. Admit it. You want it.

More Forgotten Books at pattinase (I think).

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Overlooked Films: The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938)

Here's a film I've obviously overlooked more than most, because until a few days ago I had never heard of it. But with this cast, how bad could it be? It's now high on my list of wanna sees.

IMDb describes it thusly: Dr. Clitterhouse is fascinated with the working of the criminal mind. His interest is so deep that he finds the best way to observe criminals in action is to become one himself! Whilst robbing a safe at an exclusive party he stumbles across an organized gang trying to do the same thing. He teams up with the gang to observe them action but one of the members, Rocks Valentine (Humphrey Bogart) would like nothing better than to see Clitterhouse out of the way.

More Overlooked Films at SWEET FREEDOM.