Tuesday, July 30, 2013

St. George and the Dragonet (from the record by Stan Freberg)

Stan Freberg's record "St. George and the Dragonet" was a number one hit in 1953, and he followed later that year with "Christmas Dragnet" (aka "Yulenet").

Friday, July 26, 2013

Forgotten Books: DURANDAL - A Crusader in the Horde by Harold Lamb (1931)

A crusading knight. An evil Byszantine Emperor. The horde of Genghis Khan. And the near-legendary sword of Roland. Toss them all together and you have a great adventure story. And if that tale happens to be told by Harold Lamb - you have an excellent adventure story.

The saga of Frankish knight Sir Hugh of Toranto originally appeared in three long novelettes in Adventure in 1926 and 1927. In 1931 they were assembled and published together for the first and only time by Doubleday Doran, as Durandal: A Crusader in the Horde.

Part 1, originally published as “Durandal,” finds Hugh out crusading with the army of the Emperor Theodore Lascaris. Hugh is chosen to wear the Emperor’s armor into battle, supposedly to protect the ruler’s life and inspire his troops. But it’s really a trick, part of Theodore’s plan to dispose of 700 troublesome Franks, and it nearly succeeds. The problem is that Hugh survives, and gets his hands on the Sword of Roland to boot. Durandal is an awesome blade, so heavy that few men can lift it. Sir Hugh can swing it with one hand, and the effect is devastating.

Part 2, originally “The Sea of the Ravens” sends Hugh into the desert in search of a way home, and - ultimately - his revenge upon Theodore. Here he incurs the enmity of a Shah fleeing from the Mongol horde, and earns the respect of Genghis Khan’s greatest general, Subotai. Together, Hugh and Subotai chase the Shah to the Sea of Ravens (the Caspian Sea) where the Shah gets his just deserts.

In Part 3, originally titled “Rusadan,” Subotai seeks a route to Constantinople, aiming to bring the rest of the known world under the yoke of Genghis. Barring his path is a city manned by Russian Christians, and Hugh is sent as an envoy, in hopes of avoiding war. This suits Hugh, for what he desires most is to reach Constantinople, confront Theodore and expose him as a scoundrel. Though war proves unavoidable, Hugh meets the Georgian princess Rusudan, who leads him - both body and soul - a merry chase for the rest of the book. How Hugh eventually finds peace, and Subotai does or does not conquer the rest of the known world, makes for great reading.

Lamb’s prose, as always, has such power, rhythm and charm that it gets into your blood and sweeps you magically along. I have never read a bad story - or even a bad sentence - by Harold Lamb.

In the 1980s Donald M. Grant issued lavish volumes containing the first two parts of Sir Hugh’s saga, but the third - and longest - portion, involving Rusudan and the conflict between the Mongols and the Georgians has been out of print since 1931. And that’s a dang shame. This is a Forgotten Book that cries out to be remembered.

More Forgotten Books at pattinase!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Overlooked Films: ALIAS BOSTON BLACKIE (1942)

When I posted a trio of Boston Blackie posters a couple of weeks back (HERE), Shay tipped me off that some of the films were on YouTube. That was good news to me, so I watched one. This one. 

Alias Boston Blackie was the third in this series with Chester Morris. I suppose I should have started with the first, Meet Boston Blackie, but I thought this was a pretty cool poster, and I'm a sucker for the power of advertising. 

Blackie was born, I have since learned, in a series of short stories by Jack Boyle, jumped to silent movies in 1918 and eventually had his own radio and television series. But this 1942 film was my introduction to the character, and it sucked me right in.

Blackie is a former thief who served his time in the big house and is now a sort of freelance do-gooder, aided by his former prison pal, The Runt. In this movie he takes a troupe of performers to his old alma mater to entertain the prisoners, and promptly gets into a mess.

I can't call this a great film, but it's seems to be everything it should be. It has mystery, humor and intrigue in the proper amounts. The dialogue is fine. Chester Morris seems just right as Blackie, and Richard Lane is good as the laconic cop Blackie must outwit to solve the story problems. But hey, you don't have to take my word for it. Watch it yourself.

More Overlooked Films at Sweet Freedom.

Blackie does whatever it takes, including impersonating an officer.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Forgotten Books: WEEKEND TO KILL by Frederick Nebel

Frederick Nebel was one of the most important contributors to the two most important hardboiled detective pulps - Black Mask and Dime Detective. His work stood head and shoulders above that of most other writers in the field. But sadly, he did not write mystery novels.

Of Nebel’s three hardcover novels, Sleepers East (1933), But Not the End (1934), and Fifty Roads to Town (1936), only the first has mystery elements. So in 1945, when paperback publishers (and their readers) wanted mystery novels, he didn’t have much to offer. Avon, possibly at the urging of ex-Mask editor Joe Shaw, had issued collections of hardboiled novelettes by Raymond Chandler and George Harmon Coxe, and Shaw wanted Nebel to submit a collection of his own. But Nebel wasn’t interested.

On Sept. 18 he wrote his agent: I’ve looked over some of those novelettes. They were written a dozen and more years ago and I think we ought to forget about them. However, I ran across a book length of about 50,000 words that was published in McCall’s in 1937 and of which you probably have a copy in your files. My title was DEATH FOR A HOLIDAY but it was published under the title of WEEKEND TO KILL. It was not, so far as I know, offered anywhere for book publication. This might interest one of the pocketbook outfits.

The agent responded on Dec. 4: You remember a long time ago when I asked you for material for a collection for direct publication in cheap editions you suggested WEEKEND TO KILL. Since Avon, the house which inquired for the Black Mask short, was not interested in novelette length, I sent WEEKEND TO KILL after Century Publications, another 25 cent house. They want it for publication sometime next year and are offering an advance of $500.00, payable half on signature and half on publication, against a royalty of ½ cents a copy to 150,000 copies, and a ¾ cents royalty on all copies sold over 150,000 copies. This is because they generally put two novelettes by different authors in one 25 cent book.

That bit about Century “generally” putting two novelettes together was not exactly true, because when the book was published a list of fifteen previous Century Mysteries shows only one containing two stories.

Weekend to Kill does qualify as a mystery, because one of the main characters is an ex-cop working to solve a murder. But it’s really more a play of manners and romantic foibles, and the murder is mainly an excuse to create conflict among the characters. There are faint echoes of Nebel's MacBride and Kennedy series from Black Mask. The narrator is a reporter, his pal an ex-cop, and there’s talk about a crusading editor striving to expose a corrupt political regime. But the characters are creampuffs compared to Kennedy and MacBride, and the corrupt politicians remain offstage. The murder is eventually solved, but takes a back seat to the resolution of the romantic subplot.

This book, complete with the shorter Hugh Pentacost story, is now available as a POD trade paperback from Wildside Press. Is it worth the $13.46 Amazon price? Not really. Weekend to Kill is good example of Nebel’s slick fiction, but lacks the crackle of snap of his pulp work. You’d do far better putting your money toward Black Dog Books’ adventure collection Empire of the Devil, or one of the five volumes so far available from Altus Press: Tough as Nails, the Complete Adventures of Donahue (from Black Mask) or The Complete Casebook of Cardigan (a four-volume set of stories from Dime Detective).

More Forgotten Books at pattinase.