Friday, March 29, 2013

Forgotten Books: YELLOWLEG by A.S. Fleischman

I admit it. I'd never heard of A.S. Fleischman, so when I started reading Yellowleg I had no idea what to expect.

But right away, I knew I was in the hands of a hell of a writer. Fleischman's dialogue is sharp, inventive and revealing, and his prose is unrelentingly tough. Yellowleg (so-called because of the stripe on the trousers he's worn since the War Between the States) is as hardboiled a cowboy as I've seen anywhere, and he's put to the test when he locks horns with an equally hardheaded woman.

Yellowleg's sole reason to live is to track down the rebel soldier who scalped him during the war, leaving scars so deep he's kept his hat on, day and night, for the past eight years. Now at last he has the guy in his sites, and just when he's about to make his move, fate puts that hardheaded woman in his path. Along with a blood-simple young killer and the twisted, conniving weasel who scalped him, Yellowleg accompanies the woman on a mad quest into Apache territory.

This one held me from the first word to the last, and sent me on a search for more Fleischman. Sadly, this novel, first published by Gold Medal in 1960, appears to be his only adult western. But he did write exotic adventures, mysteries and a spy novel or two, and I look forward to them all. At some point in the '60s he began writing children's fiction, and never looked back. Though juvenile stuff has little appeal for me, there are two titles I might have to look at: Jim Bridger's Alarm Clock and Other Tall Tales, and Bandit's Moon, a tale of Joaquin Murieta.

In an interview with Gary Lovisi, Fleischman revealed that Yellowleg began life as a screenplay, and was optioned by Marlon Brando. When Brando made One-Eyed Jacks instead, Fleischman teamed up with Maureen O'Hara, and they got Sam Peckinpah to direct the film (retitled The Deadly Companions) starring O'Hara and Brian Keith.

I have not seen The Deadly Companions, but it's hard to imagine Brian Keith (one of the worst ever Davy Crocketts) as Yellowleg. Brando, on the other hand, would have been ideal.

As for the novel, the good news is that it's back in print, thanks to the fine folks at Stark House. Appearing in the same volume is the never-before-published  novel The Sun Worshippers, described as a Chandleresque tale set in the California desert in the 1950s.

Yelllowleg started me on a Stark House binge. I immediately read Peter Rabe's Kill the Boss Good-by, which was equally good, and I'm now into Come Easy - Go Easy by James Hadley Chase. Next up - maybe The Sun Worshippers. We'll see. Stark House has also released at least two other Fleischman doubles: Look Behind You, Lady/The Venetian Blonde and Danger in Paradise/Malay Woman.

More Forgotten Books at Sweet Freedom.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

UNSEEN FRAZETTA: After the Fox (1966)

Between 1965 and 1983, Frank Frazetta provided artwork for no fewer than fourteen movie posters. You've probably seen some of them - maybe even all of them - but I doubt you've ever seen them like this.

Why's that? Because Frazetta packed most of them with so much action and detail, it's dang near impossible to take it all in at once.

Today we'll take a close-up gander at a couple of posters from the 1966 movie After the Fox.

Not bad, I admit. But let's take a closer look . . .

Pretty cool, eh? More UNSEEN FRAZETTA coming soon.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Overlooked Films: Hopalong Cassidy, George Reeves and Robert Mitchum in BAR 20 (1943)

Bar 20, as any Hopalong Cassidy fan knows, is the name of the ranch where Hoppy and his pals work when they’re not out righting wrongs and punishing evildoers (which seems to be just about never).

Bar 20 is also the name of the 1906 novel by Clarence E. Mulford that introduced a young redheaded cowboy with a limp, nicknamed "Hopalong" Cassidy, to the world.

Bar 20 the movie (from 1943) has nothing to do with the ranch, and the Hopalong it portrays has almost nothing in common with the Mulford character. And it should not be confused with the earlier Hoppy films Bar 20 Rides Again (1935), Cassidy of the Bar 20 (1938), Bar 20 Justice (1938), or the Mulford novels Bar 20 Days (1911), The Bar 20 Three (1921), or others bearing the same titles as earlier movies. Are you confused yet?

Don’t be. All you have to know is that this is one of five Hoppy films featuring both George Reeves and Robert Mitchum in supporting roles, and that makes it mighty dang interesting. It's especially interesting because it’s the only one in which Reeves fills the role of Hoppy’s easily-smitten young sidekick, and the only one (I think) in which both Reeves and Mitchum play good guys.

The Bar 20 boys meet Mitchum (in the dude suit).

The fun begins when Hoppy, Andy Clyde and Reeves chase off a gang of stage robbers - but not before the outlaws get away with ten thousand dollars worth of jewels and a wedding dress. The dress and jewels belong to the Sweet Young Thing of the picture, a girl who intends to marry rancher Robert Mitchum.

Hoppy and the gang just happen to be there because they’ve come to buy a bunch of prized purebred cattle from Sweet Young Thing’s ma. But that plan is bollixed up when Hoppy’s cattle money is stolen.

Quite naturally, Hoppy and his pards suspect Mitchum of being in cahoots with the outlaws, and Mitchum suspects the same of them. It’s obvious to the viewer that the real bad guy is someone else entirely, but our heroes keep on giving each other the stink eye until the exciting climax.

Hoppy hog-ties Victor Jory. Could he be the villain?

Meanwhile, the money and jewels change hands in a fast and furious manner, Reeves is easily smitten by Sweet Young Thing, and Mitchum proves himself easily duped.

SPOILER ALERT: Mitchum marries Sweet Young Thing.

Having just seen the ultra-tough, ultra-cool version of Mitchum in Thunder Road, I found this guy pretty bland, but it was still fun to see him interacting with Hoppy and Reeves. Reeves, meantime, reminded me - both in looks and in delivery - of a young Bruce Campbell, which ain’t a bad thing.

Reeves does his Bruce Campbell impression.

For the record, the other Hoppy films featuring these two guys were Hoppy Serves a Writ, Border Patrol, Leather Burners and Colt Comrades, all of which were released in 1943.

What the well-dressed Bar 20 Ranch hand wears.

Authentic Bar 20 Ranch furniture.

Find the full slate of Overlooked Films at SWEET FREEDOM.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Art Gallery: DOC SAVAGE Pulps 1, 2 & 3 (1933)

Reading and reviewing Will Murray's new Doc masterpiece Skull Island (thats's HERE) put me in a Savage mood. Since that story takes place before the series proper, it just naturally leads into these next three adventures. Maybe it's time to read them again.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Doc at his most Savage! SKULL ISLAND by Will Murray - where Doc meets King Kong!

Wow. This is Doc Savage as you've never seen him.

Even without King Kong, this would be one of my favorite Doc novels ever - and that's saying something, seeing that almost two hundred of them have gone before.

The story starts with Kong lying dead at the foot of the Empire State Building. Doc and the gang were not involved in the events that led to the King's demise, but the city asks them to supervise the removal of the oversized remains. For Doc, this is a sad affair, because if he and Kong were - if not friends - at least old acquaintances. And once the body is on its way back to Skull Island, he tells the guys how that first meeting came about.

In flashback, we're with twenty-year-old Doc as he returns from the war in Europe, where he and his future associates became fast friends. He's summoned by his father, the close-mouthed and mysterious Clark Savage Sr., who desires his presence on a voyage to the South Seas. The trip is well underway before Clark Sr. reveals the true purpose of their mission: They're seeking Doc's grandfather, the near-legendary seafarer Stormalong Savage - who's been missing for years. (In a nice touch, Clark Sr.'s vessel is a black-hulled schooner, much like that piloted by Lester Dent's Black Mask hero, Oscar Sail.)

This first portion of the voyage, in which Doc and his father get reacquainted - or more properly get truly acquainted for the first time in their lives - is the closest to literary fiction a Doc novel is ever likely to come. This is some fine writing from Will Murray, proving he's capable of far more than simply channeling Lester Dent (which he does, of course, very well). It's no wonder this is the first Doc novel bearing his own name rather than the traditional "Kenneth Robeson."

But Skull Island is first and foremost an adventure story, and the adventure aspects build gracefully until Doc, his pop, and yep - old Stormalong Savage himself - find themselves battling prehistoric monsters and bloodthirsty Dyak headhunters while trying to evade the king-sized grasp of Kong, the undisputed lord and master of the island.

Kong, as you might expect, is awesome, and a real badass when riled, but we also see a softer side to his character, and get some insight into what motivates him. This makes his movie fate all the more poignant.

And then there's Doc, more savage than we've ever seen him. As we know, he's a product of his intensive training, and this novel takes place just after WWI, where he's been trained to kill. And man, did he learn! This is Doc Unleashed, as he snaps  necks, bashes brains, slices off body parts, and mows down the headhunters with his newly invented annihiliator machine pistol (which fires real bullets). The battle scenes are a real kick, and it seems unlikely we'll ever again see the like.

Along the way, we get tantalizing hints of the wild lives led by Clark Savage Sr. and his pop Stormalong, and even the pre-war life of Clark Savage Jr. The result is a unique and thoroughly satisfying Doc novel. This would seem open up new vistas for Mr. Murray to explore. I can't wait to see what he does next.

The trade paperback is available NOW, and coming next month is a limited edition hardcover with the wraparound cover shown above. Order info is HERE!

Tarzan of the Comics (by Burne Hogarth!)




Friday, March 22, 2013

Forgotten Books: PASSING STRANGE by Richard Sale

You know I like a book when I have five different editions of it. That’s the case with Passing Strange. And this time, I’m pretty sure I liked it even more than my first reading, twenty-some years ago.

Why? Because I know more about writing than I did then, and have an even greater appreciation for Richard Sale’s talent. This is the kind of book that puts me in the mood to write.

About his pulp stories, of which there were many hundreds, Sale said the first draft was the last draft. Whether that’s also true of his novels I don’t know, but it wouldn't surprise me much. His pulp dialogue is consistently smooth and entertaining, and this novel - told in first person, so it’s essentially all dialogue - ranks right up with the best of his pulp work. And by that I mean it ranks right up with his Daffy Dill series.

The narrator here is Peter Merritt, a New York obstetrician who’s summoned to Hollywood by his pregnant sister-in-law. Though he considers himself stuffy compared to movie folk, he shows flashes of Daffy’s wit and classical education, and is far less stuffy than the physician hero of Sale’s first Hollywood novel, Lazarus #7.

In Hollywood, Merritt meets two of the supporting players from Lazarus #7, the quiet but effective homicide detective Daniel Webster, and slimy but almost likable movie producer Al Roche. A third of the way into the book, the setting moves east, and all the Hollywood players move along with it, bringing their wacky personalities with them. ‘

As depicted on three of these covers, the trouble starts when someone in surgical garb slips into the operating room and murders the slimeball Hollywood doctor Merritt is assisting. Then a dead baby in a black-trimmed bassinet turns up, and before you know it more bodies start dropping. It’s all passing strange, but all very nicely told.

I've been slowly reworking my way through all of Sale's novels, of which this is the sixth. Previously reviewed here were Not Too Narrow . . . Not Too Deep (1936), Is A Ship Burning? (1937), The Rogue (pulp serial, 1938), Cardinal Rock (1940) and Lazarus #7 (1942). Still to come are Sailor Take Warning (aka Home is the Hangman) (1942), Destination Unknown (aka Death at Sea) (1943), Benefit Performance (1946), The Oscar (1963), For the President's Eyes Only (1971) and The White Buffalo (1975). Stay tuned.

Click HERE for earlier Sale reviews, pulp covers, two complete Daffy Dill stories, the first Candid Jones story, an early story from Nickel Detective and other cool Sale stuff.

Click HERE to visit pattinase, where you'll find links to more Forgotten Books.