Friday, January 31, 2014

Forgotten Books: BENEFIT PERFORMANCE by Richard Sale (1946)

Richard Sale was at his best when he was dishing out slangy dialogue. That’s what made the Daffy Dill series so great, because with Daffy telling the stories, they’re pretty much all slangy dialogue. (I posted a complete Daffy story recently, HERE.)

There was a little of that in his first two mystery novels, Lazarus #7 (HERE) and Passing Strange (HERE), but since both were narrated by somewhat stuffy medical men, the wacky dialogue was limited to the supporting cast - members of the movie colony.

Benefit Performance (1946) switches things up. This one is told in third person, but the hero is a mid-level movie star who is well-steeped in Hollywood lingo. Slang-wise, Benefit Performance starts like a house afire, but - due to the nature of the plot - soon slacks off.

Kerry Garth, our star, has just finished a picture and craves solitude, so he hires his stand-in, a guy named Joshua Barnes, to impersonate him at the premiere. But when Barnes (as Garth) walks down the red carpet at Grauman’s Chinese, he’s shot dead by someone in the crowd.

Convinced that he himself was the intended target, Garth allows the world to think him dead, while assumes the role of Joshua Barnes. Barnes, it develops, was a man of many secrets, and many enemies, and Garth finds that being Barnes is not a bit safer than being himself.

While this is a good tight plot and the story is consistently well told, Garth as Barnes can’t display his habitual breezy personality, so the slang takes a back seat. A pity, but this was a great read anyway. And as soon as I finished I overdosed on witty dialogue by reading another adventure of Daffy Dill. I'll be sharing it with you PDQ.

Links to a whole lot more Forgotten Books at pattinase.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Overblown Films: MAN OF STEEL

Having failed to catch Man of Steel when it played our local second-run pizza and beer theaters, I got the DVD from the library. And even though it was free, I wanted my money back.

This is the most schizophrenic movie I’ve seen since From Dust 'Til Dawn. The important difference is, I liked From Dust 'Til Dawn.

The first three hours of Man of Steel (OK, it was only an hour, but seemed like three) stumbled and sputtered and snoozed until I almost yanked the disc and rushed it back to the library. The last thing this world needs is another retelling of the Superman origin story, especially one with contrived and annoying details. After suffering through thirty minutes of that stuff, there were hints the story might actually be starting. Each time, though, was a false alarm.

Instead, that entire first half was a jumble of disconnected and unnecessary scenes. Someone was trying to be artsy-fartsy in their storytelling, and failing miserably. But right at the halfway point, as my thumb was caressing the stop button, the fighting started, and the mayhem didn’t stop for another hour.

I have to admit the second hour held my attention. It was the most violent and wantonly destructive sequence I’ve yet to see in a superhero film. It was almost like an apology from the producers: Having bored us silly in the first half, they felt compelled to deliver non-stop shock and awe in the second. But while I enjoy a bit of gratuitous violence, it needs a little story to go with it.

As Supes, Henry Cavill showed promise but never got a chance to act. And Amy Adams would have acceptable as Lois Lane if she'd been given a story. But Michael Shannon was abominable as General Zod. He was consistently wooden and boring, and seemed to think he was still on the set of Boardwalk Empire.

Having paid no advance attention to this film, I didn’t know until the end credits that it was a Christopher Nolan production. That explained a lot. I didn’t like his ultra-dark Batman, and liked it less in each sequel. Man of Steel was a new low, and if I can help it, I’ll avoid Nolan's films in the future.

The folks at D.C. have good stable of characters, but they need to put them in the hands of people who can give them the J.J. Abrams/Joss Whedon treatment. These movies should be fun.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Flying Freebooters: A new Adventure collection by FREDERICK NEBEL

I’ve been waiting thirty years to read some of Frederick Nebel‘s air adventure fiction. And guess what? It was worth the wait.

In the first five years of his pulp writing career, Nebel sold dozens of air adventure tales, most to Air Stories and Wings. Several of those tales were full length novels, novels that were lost to the ages - until now.

Tom Roberts of Black Dog Books has collected two of those full length novels and one novella-length story in this first-ever collection of Nebel’s air fiction. This book focuses on Ben Cowan and Luke Lance, flying investigators for the Straights Agency, an outfit famous for shooting trouble all over the far East.

Here are a few words from the introduction by Evan Lewis (hey, that’s me!):

     At the time the stories in Flying Freebooters originally appeared, between March 1930 and January 1931, Nebel’s pulp career was on the upswing. His best markets were Air Stories, Action Stories, North-West Stories and the magazine where he would leave his greatest mark, Black Mask
     After a dozen warm-up appearances in Mask, Nebel brought out the big guns in September 1928, with the introduction of MacBride and Kennedy. 
     “The Isle of Lost Men,” “Flying Freebooters” and “Fighting Wings” came flying out of Nebel’s typewriter concurrently with several of those MacBride and Kennedy stories, and deliver the same brand of slam-bang action and crackling dialogue. 

The rest of that introduction, titled “Nebel on Writing,” collects almost everything I could find pertaining to the author’s thoughts on the craft and business of writing. There’s some insightful (and funny!) stuff here, a rare look behind the mask of this master pulp writer. And most of it is in Nebel's own words, so you know it's good.

Flying Freebooters is available right now, and you’ll find it HERE.

Two more volumes of Nebel’s air adventures, Sky Blazers and Wolves of the Wind, will be coming soon, but in the meantime I suggest you pick up Black Dog’s collection of earth-bound adventures, Empire of the Devil, available HERE.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Toy Soldier Saturday: Tim-Mee Pirates

These pirates, made by Tim-Mee Toys in the '50s and '60s, were sold in bags in dime stores. Who remembers them?

More Toy Soldier pics HERE.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Forgotten Books: SAINT JOHNSON by W.R. Burnett (1930)

Here’s a mighty peculiar book. This novel bears the following information prior to the title page:

Why Burnett went to such lengths to change all the names - and then tell the reader what he'd changed them from - is unclear. At the time of the book’s publication, Wyatt Earp had been dead for over a year. I can only guess Burnett may have feared trouble from Wyatt’s feisty widow, Josephine.

In many places the novel inches close to history, while in others it wanders into Western fantasyland. Come to think of it, though, as books about Tombstone go, that could be said about danged near all of them.

Saint Johnson was published in 1930, on the heels of the first two books that introduced Wyatt Earp to the mass public. Those books were Helldorado, written by Billy Breckenridge (a minor member of the anti-Earp faction) and Tombstone: An Iliad of the Southwest by Walter Noble Burns. The book purporting to be Wyatt’s own account, Stuart Lake’s Frontier Marshall, would not appear until 1931.

All three of those books were part lies and part truth, and the tradition continues down to this day, when historians and Earpophiles are still trying to figure out which is which.

The advantage Saint Johnson has is that it doesn’t really pretend to be true. A more-or-less accurate Virgil Earp is called “Luther Johnson,” and a slightly subdued Doc Holliday is played by “Brant White.”  Morgan Earp has two stand-ins: “Jimmy Johnson,” whose only resemblance is blond hair and being the youngest brother on the scene, and “Deadwood,” a gunman who fills Morgan’s shoes at the Gunfight at the “North End” Corral.

In real life, Wyatt Earp’s behavior leading up to the famous gunfight appears to have been driven by personal ambition. He wanted to be elected sheriff, a position that would allow him to collect taxes and keep a healthy percentage for himself.

The motives of “Wayt Johnson,” however, are both more and less complicated. As the book opens, Wayt is so pro-law that his nickname is “Law and Order” Johnson. His Achilles heel is his youngest brother Jimmy, the weak link of the family. Jimmy’s an unskilled an unlucky gambler, has poor taste in women and friends, and resents his older brothers’ interference, making him susceptible to the machinations of their enemies.

When Jimmy gets involved in a conspiracy to rob a stage - and the robbery results in murder (based on the real life hold-up of the Benson stage) - Wayt breaks the law to keep Jimmy out of it. He goes downhill quickly after that, deciding law is overrated and itching to kill his enemies. After the gunfight, Wayt’s bloodlust is temporarily sated, and he returns to his Law and Order ways. But only until brother Jimmy is shot in the back by his enemies . . .

In real life, James (or Jim) Earp was the oldest brother in town. He’d been injured in the Civil War and was a saloon keeper rather than a lawman. I could never figure why two of the early Earp movies, My Darling Clementine and Gunfight at the OK Corral, portrayed Jim as the younger brother and used his troubles to motivate Wyatt. Now I just might know. It’s quite possible that both those screen stories were influenced by this novel.

Saint Johnson was the basis of the 1932 movie Law and Order, starring Walter Huston as “Frame” (not Wayt) Johnson. Harry Carey played the Doc Holliday stand-in and Raymond Hatton was Deadwood. The film was remade in 1953 with Ronald Reagan in the lead. I haven’t seen either version, but the action apparently takes place in Tombstone rather than the fictional Alkali.

I’ll be talking more about those two Overlooked Films on an upcoming Tuesday.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Country I Lived In: A great new novel by Boston Teran

I went into this book cold. I was only vaguely familiar with the name Boston Teran and had read none of his works. Bottom line: I’m now a big fan, and already enjoying my third Teran novel.

The Country I Lived In is a rarity - a book so good I immediately wanted to read it again. The hero is John Rawbone Lourdes, a young Texan who grew up hard. He was orphaned at nine, lied about his age and went to war at sixteen - working for Army Intelligence in France - and went on to distinguish himself in Korea. Now it’s 1955, he’s back in Texas, and the CIA is hot to recruit him. But he’s ready for a break. All he wants to do is jump in his Packard convertible and hit the road.

But when one of his Korean War buddies calls for help - and is found dead under mysterious and disgusting circumstances - John is pulled into a web of death and deceit that takes him deep into Mexico, where he’s forced to face a number of chilling truths about the country he calls home.

A prefatory note says: This work is based on an actual conspiracy, along with certain facts, crimes and murders. If that’s true, I, too, have learned some ugly things about the good old U.S.A.

The Country I Lived In has all the elements of a great thriller, but what impressed me most was the depth and lyrical quality of the prose. Underlying all the intrigue, the romance and the gun-blasting violence is an examination of the human character, with many passages so poetic I’m eager to read them again.

Best of all, there’s MORE to read. I've since discovered this is the third book in a cycle. The Creed of Violence (2009) takes place in 1910, following John’s outlaw grandfather and federal agent father on a journey of self discovery during the Mexican Revolution. And Gardens of Grief (2010) finds John’s father on a mission to Turkey, where Islamic fundamentalists are doing their best to exterminate the Armenians.

Boston Teran (whoever he, she, or they may be) is the author of six more novels, with another - involving the birth of the Ku Klux Klan - coming soon. I have a lot to look forward to.

You'll find it on Amazon HERE

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Overlooked Films: DICK TRACY (1945)

From the look of these lobby cards (and half sheet) from the first Dick Tracy feature, you'd think the star of the film was Mike Mazurki. Maybe he was. I invite you to see for yourself. Technically, though, top billing went to Morgan Conway in the title role. Conway played Tracy once more, in Dick Tracy vs. Cueball, before surrendering to Ralph Byrd, who had portrayed him in four earlier serials. (I posted some posters from the first serial - also titled Dick Tracy - HERE.)

Your Overlooked Film round-up is now playing at SWEET FREEDOM

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Marx WWII German Soldiers

More toy soldier artistry from Louis Marx & Co. Damn, those guys were good.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Forgotten Stories: "One Man Died" - a complete novelette by NORBERT DAVIS

Norbert Davis is best known these days for his quiet but deadly detective Doan and Doan's imperturbable partner, Carstairs the Great Dane. Four Doan & Carstairs adventures, "Holocaust House," The Mouse in the Mountain, Sally's in the Alley and Oh, Murderer Mine are available free in eformat HERE from A final story, "Cry Murder!" appeared in Flynn's in July 1944. I DO NOT have a copy of that one, but I'd sure like to. Can anyone help?

Davis' best know pulp detective, Max Latin, appeared in Dime Detective and has been collected by Altus Press, HERE. And Black Dog Books offers Dead Man's Brand, a collection of eight Norbert Davis westerns, HERE.

But Davis wrote a lot more than that. From Detective Fiction Weekly, I have two adventures of Simeon Saxon, an ex-con (innocent, of course) who now tries to help other folks walk the straight and narrow as a "public relations counsel." This tale is from January 18, 1936. The other story (coming soon), is "Diamond Slippers," from March 14 of that year.

I posted one of Davis' westerns, "Their Guardian from Hell," HERE.