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Friday, July 31, 2015

Friday's Favorite OTR

Suspense: "Security Agent" 9/5/56

This excellent episode--about two nervous middle-aged men attempting to defect across the Iron Curtain--has a classic OTR cast. Radio stalwarts Parley Baer, Howard McNear, Herb Butterfield, Harry Bartell and John Dehner are all on hand.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Two Toughest Cops Ever


Side Street (1950), is one of two Film Noirs staring Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell. The other is They Live by Night, made two years earlier.

They are both excellent noirs, making great use of atmospheric black-and-white photography and making excellent use of the many talented character actors working in film at the time. If I had to pick a favorite of the two, though, I'd probably go with Side Street, which had a slightly more interesting and emotionally engaging story. That's very much a subjective opinion, though. Both movies are really good.

Side Street has Granger playing a part-time postal worker with a pregnant wife and pretty much no money. So when he has a chance to swipe a few hundred dollars out of a lawyer's office, he visibly suppresses his conscience and goes through with it.

So, ironically, it's not good news at all that the file he takes contains not $200.00, but $30,000.00. And it's money tied up in a blackmail and murder case. When he later tries to give it back, all he accomplishes is to make himself a target for murder as well.

Soon there's another murder and he finds himself on the run from both cops and gangsters, trying to figure out what's going on so he can clear himself of that particular crime. The plot is particularly well-constructed here--involving Granger's characters, the crooks and the cops all pursuing their own lines of investigation until everyone piles up together at the climax, resulting in an exciting car chase.

Side Street was directed by Anthony Mann and makes outstanding use of location photography in New York City. New York City should always be photographed in black-and-white. It always looks better that way.

I mentioned the effective use of character actors in meaty roles. Every part--even those that only have a few lines--are perfectly cast and every actor is a natural in the role he/she has. I really wish modern movies would return to the idea of taking that extra effort--that few seconds of additional screen time needed--to give more personality to character parts. It's one of the many reasons my preferences are for older films and classic TV. We just don't see that much anymore.

I particularly appreciate seeing Paul Kelly and Charles McGraw playing police officers. These two actors both excelled at playing tough guys. Watching them together is pure pleasure.







Wednesday, July 29, 2015

How to Kill a T-Rex

Danger and Adventure was an anthology comic published by Charlton in the 1950s. I've read a few online at comicbookplus.com and have discovered that the book is--well, it's not the pinnacle of comic book art. But even so, there's a few stories worth reading.


 The 23rd issue (April 1955) is definitely worth taking note of, though, if only because it teaches us an important lesson. If you are ever unexpectedly thrown back in time and forced to confront a hungry tyrannosaur, you will now know how to deal with him.

This is what happens to two-fisted sailor Lance O'Casey and his sidekick Mike. They are hanging out with a scientist and his bratty daughter when the daughter abruptly discovers a supposedly magic lamp really does grant wishes. Zapped back to prehistoric times, she panics and wishes that the men-folk join her. They do so, but can't figure out how to get the lamp to work again so that they can get home.

Once everyone is together, Lance Ju-Jitsu's an attacking cave man. But the cave man comes back with reinforcements.


Fortunately, Lance and Mike are pretty good in a fight.


Next up to the plate is a T-Rex, which would be pretty much immune to a punch in the jaw. It's here that Lance shows us how to handle just such a situation.


So, remember to always bring a pistol with you when you time travel. Because this really is a good method for taking out a hungry dinosaur.

Soon after this, Lance and the others figure out how to use the lamp to return to the present.

It's really not a bad story. It was a reprint, first appearing in Fawcett's Wiz Comics #103 in 1948. I have no idea how a Fawcett story got reprinted in a Charlton comic. Fawcett was gone by then, so I imagine the story was inexpensive to buy or perhaps even had dropped into the public domain.
The writer and artist are both uncredited.

I like to occasionally visit sites like comicbookplus and give something "new" a try. Danger and Adventure is far from the best the 1950s had to offer us in the comic book world, but it did give us some fun stuff. I particularly like the panel in which the protagonists see cave men riding a brontosaurus coming towards them. Even weaker comic book stories can still have moments in which they fire your imagination.

You can read the story HERE.


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Friday, July 24, 2015

Friday's Favorite OTR

Johnny Madero, Pier 23: "Fatal Auction" 6/26/47

Johnny is hired to buy a locked suitcase at a blind auction. But he soon learns that the mysterious contents of that suitcase are apparently worth killing for.

Click HERE to listen or download.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Westerns, World Wars and Man-Eating Lions


One of the good things about the proliferation of ebooks is the number of stories from the Golden Age of pulps that are now being reprinted. Often, these are made available individually or in anthologies dedicated to specific authors or genres.

But there is a series out titled The Black Mask Pulp Story Reader, with each volume reprinting stories that originally appeared together in the same magazine. Of course, this often translates into them all being the same genre--but it's still pretty cool to see these tales brought back together this way.

But Adventure magazine--one of the finest pulps ever printed--was a bit more wide-ranging in its selection. Each story was adventure-themed, of course, but this still left room for a lot of variety.

One volume of the Pulp Story Reader brings us the October 15, 1935 issue of Adventure. The only story missing is the first part of a 6-part serial titled Huroc the Avenger. This is understandable. There's no sense in giving us just part of a tale. But the half-dozen complete-in-themselves short stories from that issue are all there.

Gee whiz, I enjoyed reading through this. Adventure always had high standards for the stories it printed--in earlier years, they featured writers such as Rafael Sabatini and Harold Lamb. Each of the tales reprinted in this volume has readable, smooth prose, interesting characters and some truly exciting action sequences.

We start with a Western. "Crossfire," by Robert E. Pinkerton, stars a wandering cowboy named Just Jones. When Jones encounters a courageous boy being pursued by outlaws, he pitches in to help the kid. Soon, he's involved in helping the kid's dad as well, racing to foil a gang of rustlers and prevent an innocent man from being lynched.

Then we jump to World War I. (Though, of course, it would have been called the Great War at the time of the original printing.) "Flight Leader," by Bourke Lee, is about a new bomber pilot who really wishes he were flying fighters--something he sees has more glorious. The final action sequence is downright thrilling and involves an examination of where a combat pilot's loyalties should lie--with the mission or with his squadron mates.

The next story zig-zags back to the Old West with "Nobody's Horses," by S. Omar Barker, where the government has put a bounty on wild horses. This seems cruel, but the horses have been eating too much of the grass needed for cattle. Despite this, one cowboy refuses to allow any horses to be shot, even if it means losing his own ranch by placing himself outside the law. It's an interesting story not just in terms of good story construction, but also in that there is no real villain. We root for the protagonist, but we realize the cowboys hunting down the horses are protecting their own livelihood.

We bounce back again to the Great War for a bizarre story titled "The Spider." Written by George Fielding Eliot (creator of Dan Fowler), the protagonist is an American serving in the French Foreign Legion on the Western front. He's an engineer, commanding a unit of Colonial troops from Southeast Asia. They're digging a tunnel underneath a German fortress, intending to plant explosives and blow the place up just before a big attack. But something is crawling around the tunnel and soon there's a murder.

At first it seems as if "The Spider" is a horror story. Then it begins to turn into a murder mystery before reverting to a war story and giving us a violent and tense climax. It's an odd tale, but odd in a good way.

"Brother of Lions," by Wynant Davis Hubbard, is Adventure's "fact story" for this issue. Written in an almost breezy, conversational style, it's a very effective tale of a cattle ranch in Rhodesia that was overrun by lions. The place is abandoned for a time, but eventually new owners move in and somehow seem to form a bizarre truce with the lions. I'm afraid I have no idea how strict Adventure was in making sure their true stories were actually true. But if "Brother of Lions" isn't true, it ought to be.

The last story is arguably the best. "Surprise Attack," by Perry Adams, takes us to the Khyber Pass, where a British soldier and a Sikh soldier come to blows and seem to now be life-long enemies. It might be a cliche that the two become friends when forced to team up during an enemy attack, but it works here. The final battle involves the two protagonists and a couple of other characters defending a hilltop while trying to signal for help with a heliograph. It is perhaps the most intense action set piece among all these stories. And that's saying a lot.

I was curious about the missing serial. Judging from the cover painting, Huroc the Avenger was a pirate story, but I wasn't able to dig up any definite information on it. It was reprinted as a novel in 1936 and is a little too expensive for me to buy through online used book dealers.  A search of library catalogs show only two in the entire U.S. have a copy. I'm hoping this one will one day be reprinted electronically. Based on how much I enjoyed the other stories from that particular issue of Adventure, I'm pretty sure I'd enjoy this one.



Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Thunder in the Desert

Initially, DC Comics various war comics were anthologies without featuring any regular characters.The eventual introduction of Sgt. Rock, the Haunted Tank and other mainstays of the Second World War has without question made the world a better place in which to live.

But many of the stories featured in the early issues of books such as Our Army at War were very good.  Issue #44 (March 1956) had a number of good ones, including the cover story written by Bob Kanigher and illustrated by Jerry Grandenetti.


It's a simple 8-page story. As I mentioned when I reviewed a Charlton 8-pager a few weeks ago, this is sometimes all that is needed to tell a story effectively.

We join an unnamed soldier sitting in a foxhole in the Sahara desert. It's night, the sky is overcast, and the darkness is absolute. The soldier is supposed to be watching for the enemy, but he can't see anything.


But he certainly hears the machine gun that opens fire on  him. (Actually, a small criticism of the story comes from wondering how the Germans found him in the dark.) He fires back at the muzzle flash until the machine gun stops. But then he strafed by an enemy plane.

This time, he's forced to track the target entirely by sound, but he scores a hit and sees a fireball crashing into the desert.

Keep in mind that so far, we haven't seen anything the soldier doesn't see. All we see is the muzzle flash of the German machine gun--not the machine gun itself. All we see of the plane is the fireball after its hit.

This, plus the immediacy of the second-person narration, make this a very tense and edge-of-your-seat tale.

The climax comes when he's blinded by a searchlight and then hears a tank approaching. Without anti-tank weapons to use on a target he can't even see, he instead pushes a box of ammo forward, then fires into this in a desperate attempt to destroy the tank.

The last panel is epic. The sun finally rises and the soldier is finally able to see that he's won the fight.



It's a clever idea for a story, well executed in both script and art.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

New Article by me

An article I've written on the OTR show "The Six Shooter" has just been posted on the excellent site otrcat.com. It's based on the review and episode guide of the show I published a few years ago.

HERE IT IS




Monday, July 20, 2015

Cover Cavalcade


A Jerome Rozen cover. He and his brother George did so many magnificent Shadow covers, that I don't believe I could pick a favorite.

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