Friday, May 26, 2017

Friday's Favorite OTR

Nick Carter: "Monkey Sees Murder" 1/7/45

An old friend of Nick's is murdered and the solution to the case may involved a stuffed monkey.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Horse-Drawn Book Store.

Read/Watch 'em in Order #81

Christopher Morley was a successful novelist, journalist, editor and poet. Probably the coolest thing about him was that he was a founding member of the Baker Street Irregulars. The picture below is Morley flanked by fellow Irregulars Fletcher Pratt and Rex Stout.

The second coolest thing about Morley is that he wrote the novel Parnassus on Wheels in 1917. This is one of the most pleasant and delightful books ever written.

The novel is narrated by Helen McGill, a fat unmarried woman in her late '30s. Helen lives on a farm with her brother Andrew, who has written several successful and critically acclaimed books. This annoys Helen to no end, since it distracts Andrew from the work that needs to be done on the farm.

So when a short, red-bearded man named Roger Mifflin rides up in a unique horse-drawn wagon, Helen immediately realizes that Mifflin is bringing potential trouble with him.

Mifflin's wagon is named Parnassus--after the mountain on which the Oracle of Delphi lived and thus is s source of wisdom. Mifflin's wisdom is contained in the books he sells--his wagon is pretty much a second-hand bookshop, serving farm areas which don't have easy access to many books.

It's how he makes his living, but we soon discover it's also his passion:

"Lord!" he said, "when you sell a man a book you don't sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue—you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night—there's all heaven and earth in a book, a real book I mean. Jiminy! If I were the baker or the butcher or the broom huckster, people would run to the gate when I came by—just waiting for my stuff. And here I go loaded with everlasting salvation—yes, ma'am, salvation for their little, stunted minds—and it's hard to make 'em see it. That's what makes it worth while—I'm doing something that nobody else from Nazareth, Maine, to Walla Walla, Washington, has ever thought of. It's a new field, but by the bones of Whitman it's worth while. That's what this country needs—more books!"

He's been doing this for a number of years, but now he wants to sell out, return to Brooklyn and write a book of his own. He figures Andrew McGill might want to buy it.

Helen is afraid that's true, so--on an impulse--she buys it herself and decides its time she had a vacation (and perhaps an adventure) of her own.

Mifflin travels with her on her first day as the new owner of Parnassus, intending to show her the ropes and then move on. But it's soon apparent that he's reluctant to leave his wagon of books--and perhaps unwilling to leave Helen as the two get to know each other.

They do have adventures--recovering the wagon when its stolen by hobos and dealing with Mifflin being unjustly imprisoned. But the story never depends on suspense or any serious danger to keep us reading--it settles for telling a very pleasant and engrossing story written in straightforward prose, while also taking time to extol the importance of simply reading good book.

If you are a lover of books, this novel is required reading.

Morley wrote a sequel a few years later, so I've decided to make these two part of the "In Order" series. We still have at least one Solar Queen novel to cover and two more Nick Carter movies, so I am mixing things up quite a bit. Hopefully civilization can stand the strain.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Who Needs a Human When You Have a Cool Horse?

Cover art by Sam Savitt

"Silver Gets Through," written by Paul S. Newman and illustrated by Tom Gill, was first published in Dell's Lone Ranger #117 (March 1958) and reprinted in Gold Key's Lone Ranger #7 (March 1967). According to a blurb on the first page of the reprint, it was brought back by popular demand. 

I don't know if that's true or if the blurb was just an editorial decision, but the story really is an excellent one. The Ranger and Tonto spot some Apaches on the warpath. With the Indians in pursuit, the two friends gallop towards the newly built and undermanned Fort Mills.

They're not far from the fort when Silver throws a shoe. This, plus the Ranger's concern that his mask will cause confusion, convinces him to hide out in the trees near the fort. Leading Silver, Tonto rides Scout into the fort.

His warning arrives just in time. The Apaches attack and the small detachment of soldiers soon realize they are in big trouble if help doesn't arrive soon. A larger fort is close enough to send reinforcements in time, but getting word to them seems impossible. No rider could get out of the fort without being cut down almost immediately.

That gives Tonto an idea. A rider might get killed. But a riderless house wouldn't be an automatic target--the Indians would rather catch it than kill it. And Silver, with his missing shoe replaced, would make a beeline for the Ranger as soon as he was out the gate. There's no question in Tonto's mind that Silver can outrun any other horse.

So they give it a try. The Ranger, hiding beyond the Apache force, sees Silver coming and jumps aboard as the horse passes him. He sees the note that was attached to the saddle and makes straight for the other fort.

So far, so good. But some of the Apaches stay stubbornly on Silver's trail. Once again, the remarkable horse will have to go it on his own as the Ranger drops off to hold the Apaches at bay. Most of the Indians attack the Ranger, but one continues after Silver. 

Silver has never been easy to catch, though. He jumps a ravine to make his getaway and reaches the fort with the message still attached to his saddle. Soon, a troop of cavalry first rescues the Ranger and then drives the Indians away from Fort Mills.

As is usual with any story written by Paul S. Newman, the plot construction is excellent, with the situation that requires Silver to twice work without a rider flowing logically out of the situation. The 10 page story moves at a furious pace, generating a real sense of excitement. And though it is a fairly short tale, it gives the Ranger, Tonto and Silver all a chance to shine. Poor Scout doesn't get to do a lot. I wonder if stories like this made him feel inadequate. 

There have been a lot of Cool Horses among the Western heroes of fiction--Trigger, Champion, Topper, Black Fury and others. But I really think that Silver might be the coolest of them all. 

Next week, we'll leave the Wild West and head off into Deep Space to participate in a Space Opera starring really, really tiny people. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Lone Ranger: "Blood on the Land" 6/13/45

The standard plot of Big Rancher vs. Homesteaders is made fresh with several nifty plot twists and a murder mystery.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Never Double-Cross a Man with a Mongoose

"The Adventure of the Crooked Man" (Strand Magazine, June 1893) is a wonderful example of just how good a storyteller was Arthur Conan Doyle.

As a detective story, it's a very good one. A man has apparently been murdered while locked in a room with his wife, though a third person could have gotten in through a window. The key to the door was missing and the wife is catatonic and can't say what happened. The prints of a strange but unidentified animal were found at the scene.

By the time we enter the story, Holmes has actually made a lot of progress in the case. He stops by Watson's house (this is when the good doctor was married and not living a Baker Street) and recruits his help to continue the investigation. Watson readily agrees--there's a great line that shows insight into both men:

In spite of his capacity for concealing his emotions, I could easily see that Holmes was in a state of suppressed excitement, while I was myself tingling with that half-sporting, half-intellectual pleasure which I invariably experienced when I associated myself with him in his investigations.

Along the way, we learn the name (Simpson) of a Baker Street Irregular whom Holmes left on stake-out duty. I'm reasonably certain that this is the only Irregular other than Wiggins that's ever named. Of course, the whole point of the crew was that they could hang around places without being noticed.

The case is wrapped up without complications--Holmes uses intelligent but straightforward detective work rather than making brilliant deductive leaps. It makes you wonder why he needed Watson--did the Great Detective simply miss his friend?

The conclusion of the case involves finding and interviewing the titular "crooked man," a veteran of the 1857 Indian Rebellion who has been crippled by years of slavery and torture, He now makes a living doing conjuring tricks and showing off his trained mongoose.

This is really the best part of the tale--the man's tale is a great little story in of itself. There is betrayal, captures, escapes, torture and adventure all effectively encapsulated in just a few pages. It is effective edge-of-your-seat stuff.

We know that by 1893, Doyle was getting a little tired of Holmes and, wanting to concentrate on writing historical novels, would make his unsuccessful attempt to kill off the detective just a few stories later. Here, he puts together a good, solid detective story, but concentrates his best prose on the Crooked Man's tale of woe and adventure. It makes me wonder if perhaps Doyle had that story primarily in mind when he wrote "The Crooked Man." But since the Strand Magazine kept throwing money at him to write more about Holmes, he used Holmes as a framework to highlight the story he actually wanted to tell. That's all just a guess, of course, but it seems reasonable.

But what am I talking about? Everyone knows that Doyle was just Watson's literary agent and that the Holmes stories are all factual history. If this wasn't true, it would mean Holmes never really existed and no sane person wants to live in a world where that is true.

So, when you think about it, it's amazing that so many people encountered by Holmes and Watson were able to tell their stories in such an effectively dramatic fashion.

"The Adventures of the Crooked Man" is available online HERE.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Lois and Lex Sitting in a Tree--K.I.S.S.I.N.G.

"Lois Lane, Gun Moll" deserves to be read simply because a story with a title like that should be considered required reading simply because it has that title.

Written by the always-imaginative Bill Finger and illustrated by Kurt Schaffenberger, the story first appeared in Lois Lane #28 (October 1961), though I own it as a reprint in Lois Lane #68 (Sept-Oct 1966). It begins with an eccentric inventor trying to convince Perry White he has invented a ray that can turn a person from good to evil. Perry dismisses him as a crank--which is always a potential mistake in a Comic Book Universe. 

The inventor, in a fit of pique, turns the ray on Lois, who immediately mashes Perry's cigar into his face, forms a criminal gang while taking on the identity of The Leopard Lady, kidnaps her own sister, uses a chunk of kryptonite to ward off Superman and takes up smoking.

It's a wonderfully silly premise. Schaffenberger's art is really what makes it work. The instant Lois turns evil, she gets this sort of contemptuous sneer on her face that completely sells us on on the concept.

Anyway, she's not satisfied with robbery and kidnapping. She soon decides to take a step up in criminal society by marrying arch-criminal Lex Luthor. The ceremony is performed by a kidnapped preacher behind a kryptonite-based force field, so one might question its legality. But then, Lex and Lois aren't really that concerned with legalities.

It's really a wise move on Lois' part when you think about it. She does move up in her chosen profession and she doesn't have to change any monogrammed clothing she might have.

Well, it all turns out to be a trick--Luthor had kidnapped the real Lois and replaced her with an evil robot. Lex himself in disguise played the eccentric professor. So Perry was right--the "turn someone evil" ray was a fake. It's the robot so well-made that it at least initially fools a man with super-senses and x-ray vision that's real.

The story doesn't explain why the robot fools Superman for a short time. The implication is that it must have been human-looking down to a molecular level and even exuded normal body odor. But Lex is one of the foremost scientists and inventors in the DC universe and he had a lot of experience building robots, so we'll give this to him.

Anyway, Superman tumbled to the scheme when he saw Lex light a cigarette for Lois and saw she didn't react in pain when Lex accidentally burned her cheek with his lighter. He finds and rescues the real Lois and melts down the robot with his heat vision. That's another wonderful moment, as we get an hilarious two-shot of Lex's thugs (who apparently weren't in on the plan) reacting in horror when Superman apparently executes Lois in a brutal fashion.

So why did Lex do all this? For no other reason than he wants to see Superman suffer. When Lex Luthor gets mad at someone, he stays mad at someone.

That's it for now. Next week, we'll get a remind of just how much the Lone Ranger depends on his horse to get things done.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Friday, May 12, 2017

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Adventures of Philip Marlowe: “Friend from Detroit” 3/5/49

Gerald Mohr was a busy actor during radio’s Golden Age. He was often heard playing a variety of roles on anthology programs such as Escape and Suspense. He played a killer on The Adventures of Nero Wolfe a week before taking over the role of Archie Goodwin (Wolfe’s assistant and the show’s narrator) for three or four episodes. He popped up in a number of other shows as well, always doing a bang-up job. He was one of those dependable character actors that helped make radio drama as good as it was.

Mohr’s most famous role is Philip Marlowe, in which he (helped by strong scripts) easily did justice to one of the detective genre’s classic characters. In this particular story, he’s awakened late at night by the owner of a hamburger joint he frequents. The guy’s wife has disappeared and he’s found a bullet hole in one of his windows.

Marlowe looks into things and before he has any chance at all to figure out what’s going on, a big thug shoves a pistol in his throat and warns him to leave well enough alone. Well, Marlowe never leaves anything alone. Soon, the body of a dead mobster turns up. It begins to seem that the missing wife had a shady past and may now be a party to murder.

As is usually for this excellent show, the story moves fast, covering a lot of ground. A listener is forced to pay close attention to the dialogue and Marlowe’s rapid-fire narration, but the pay-off for doing so is a well-constructed story with great characters and a satisfying conclusion.

Listen or download HERE

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Gee Whiz, Flying is DANGEROUS!

Read/Watch 'em In Order #80

Nick Carter pre-dates Sherlock Holmes by 2 years, first appearing in the dime novel The New York Weekly in 1886. His career as a private eye was incredibly successful, with over 1000 dime novel appearances, followed by pulp magazine stories, an 11-year run on radio and over 100 appearances in comic books. In the 1960s, he was reinvented as a James Bond-esque clone in a men's adventure paperback series.

So it's a little surprising that Nick's foray into B-movies lasted only three films made in 1939 and 1940.

Walter Pidgeon plays a laid-back but capable Nick in all three films. The first was Nick Carter, Master Detective, In this one, spies are somehow making off with blueprints out of a high-security airplane factory. Every worker in the factor is required to change clothes when they go in, they walk through a shower-bath before getting their original clothes back at the end of their shift. So how anyone gets blueprints out is baffling.

Nick makes no claims to have a talent for deductive reasoning. His methodology is pretty much suspect everyone, then apologize afterwards to whomever he was wrong about. But he is a keen observer and soon spots the probably method the enemy spies are using to sneak information out of the factory.

Along the way, Nick meets a strange little beekeeper named Bartholomew (Donald Meek), who fancies himself a great detective, jumping wildly between being in the way and being useful. Meek obviously have fun in this role and would end up fulfilling the role of comedic sidekick throughout the series.

The fun of the movie is highlighted by action set-pieces involving airplanes. There's an attempt to
steal plans from an airplane when the pilot fakes engine trouble as an excuse to land near a car-full of armed confederates. But Nick is on board and, with the help of the aforementioned nurse (who flies well enough to take over for the traitorous pilot), manages to fight off the bad guys long enough to make a getaway with the plans.

The climax is even more fun. Director Jacques Tourneur makes effective use of aerial photography and miniatures to give us an exciting sequence in which Nick, in a small plane and armed with a tommy gun, makes strafing runs on the cargo ship in which the enemy spies are escaping with stolen plans and a hostage.

Nick wraps up the case involving planes, but it won't be long before he's on a case involving sunken ships. We'll take a look at those soon.

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