Friday, July 22, 2016

Friday's Favorite OTR

21st Precinct: "The Collar" 4/7/1954

21st Precinct was obviously inspired by Dragnet in its goal to realistically portray police work, but it had its own personality and was a solid show in its own right. In this episode, one cop gives his partner credit for an arrest. This seems harmless enough, but the situation evolves into something where this small deception might mean a criminal gets set free.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Hauling Freight Down a Narrow Mountain Trail

I reviewed the novel Ambush, by Luke Short, a few months ago. Short has a great reputation as a writer of Westerns. That’s a genre I enjoy,  but  I just never happened to get around to reading his stuff. But I enjoyed Ambush so much that it wasn’t long before I dug up a copy of another of Short's novels.

Dead Freight for Piute was serialized in Western Story Magazine in November & December of 1939. It has a nifty premise. Rather than dealing with cattle drives, outlaws or Indians, it deals with freighting companies.

Hauling freight was, of course, an important part of building the West, but it doesn’t quite have the romantic flair of driving cattle over the Chisum trail, forming a posse to chase outlaws, or a last stand against Apache warriors. But Short demonstrates in this novel that the freight business is a rich source of drama and adventure when placed in the hands of a good writer.

Cole Armin shows up in the mining boom town of Piute, looking for a job with his Uncle Craig’s freight business. His trip to Piute was not without incident, though. The stage he rode in on was robbed and a pretty lady passenger named Celia Wallace is robbed of the $10,000 in cash she was carrying. She was bringing this money to her brother Ted, who is running his own freight company in competition with the Monarch—Craig Armin’s company.

Celia knows who Cole is and assumes he’s in on the robbery, which was engineered by Craig to wipe
out the competition. But Cole finds out his uncle is a crook, wins a fight against a teamster he recognized as the stage robber, then blackmails Craig into returning the cash. Soon, Cole is working for Ted and Celia with the Western Freight company.

Craig is determined to be the one-and-only freight company, though. What follows is a convoluted but well-told story in which Craig, his top thug Wade Billings and dishonest sheriff Ed Linton plot to destroy the Western company while also plotting and counter-plotting to double-cross each other

Cole is a great protagonist. He’s unfamiliar with the freighting business (something that’s used as an effective plot point several times), but he’s smart and intensely loyal to anyone he befriends. He has a temper, though, which is directed at the bad guys but can sometimes rise to a frightening level. That’s also an effective plot point on a few occasions.

So Short writes a Western that—like many Westerns—mirrors the hard-boiled fiction that the Western genre helped spawn.  And he keeps the action moving with some superbly written action set pieces. Cole’s fist fight with Wade Billings, involving a bull whip (which is why one edition of the book was titled Bull-Whip) is truly exciting. A sequence in which the Cole, still inexperienced as a teamster as he navigates a large wagon full of ore down a mountain trail, turns equally exciting when he discovers someone sawed through the brake lever.

The final gunfight, with Cole carrying an injured Ted Wallace over his shoulders while Ted shoots at the bad guys and fumbles in Cole’s belt for more bullets, is one of the best I’ve ever read.

Dead Freight for Piute was made into a movie in 1948 and re-titled Albuquerque.  Starring Randolph Scott as Cole, it’s a pretty good Western, though the plot was streamlined and more straightforward, making it less interesting that Short’s more complex novel. Still, it’s got Lon Chaney , Jr. as one of the bad guys and Gabby Hayes as Scott’s sidekick, so it’s still fun to watch.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

"Ya kin not hit a ghosk, 'cause they is jus' air!"

There have been a number of skilled writers and artists who have given us great Popeye stories over the years, but the one person who comes closest to matching E.C. Segar (Popeye's creator) in giving us Segar's unique synthesis of slapstick and grand adventure is Bud Sagendorf, who wrote and drew Popeye comics for Dell.

Popeye #3 (August-October 1948) is a prime example of this. The cover story is a 32-pager titled "Ghost Island," which actually starts out with Popeye refusing to go on an adventure.

That's because this particular adventure involves delivering ghost traps to the appropriately-named Ghost Island, where the island's sole inhabitant is simply tired of being haunted.

Popeye doesn't want to tangle with ghosts. You can't fight something intangible and throwing a punch is pretty much Popeye's sole tactic for dealing with dangerous situations. But though Popeye wants to leave the ghosts alone, the ghosts don't want to leave him alone.

But when Swee'Pea is snatched by a ghost, Popeye pretty much has to get involved.      
I love how Sagendorf draws the ghosts--everything about them exudes a casual matter-of-factness that just makes the situation that much more hilarious.

What follows is both exciting and funny. Popeye sails with the cargo of ghost traps for ghost island. Olive Oil stows away on board disguised as one of the ghost--only to walk into one of the traps. The ghosts sabotage the compass, sending the boat wildly off course. When they finally arrive on the island, their client is livid when he sees a dozen ghosts (along with their luggage) disembarking.

In the end, it turns out the ghosts are just guys wearing sheets, hired by the ghost trap salesman to drum up business. And Swee'Pea? He turns out to be working for the "ghosts" as well--the little brat took a bribe to help out.

The salesman, by the way, turns out to be someone who is always in need of money--otherwise, he would have to pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today. When Popeye finally finds out what's going on--he indulges himself by beating up a lot of "ghosts" and then having words with Wimpy.

The trouble with reviewing a story like this is that it brings to mind the old saying about analyzing humor: It's like dissecting a frog--you can do it, but the frog dies in the process. A brief summary of the story simply does not do it justice and the humor has a delightful sort of bizarre-ness to it that makes it difficult to describe at all. Like E.C. Segar's original comic strip, Bud Sagendorf's Popeye stories have to be read to be truly appreciated. 

Next week, we return to giant robots fighting giant monsters--the obvious fallback position when you don't have Popeye available to simply punch out the monsters.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Cover Cavalcade

The cover story in this issue has never been reprinted. I'm irresponsibly thinking of dropping 20 to 30 bucks on Ebay to get a copy so I can read it. These covers really were effective marketing tools.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Friday's Favorite OTR

Our Miss Brooks: "Free TV from Sherry's" 4/2/1950

Walter Denton plays a practical joke on Principle Conklin. The consequences of this snowballs into a situation in which several of the regular characters inadvertently steal television sets from the local department store.

Click HERE to listen or download. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Take a 500 Year Nap, Then Save the World

Last week, I wrote about what I felt to be the single best story from the Summer 1945 issue of Planet Stories (available to read online HERE). 

Declaring that one the best was a close call, though. The issue also contains a novella--"Spider Men of Gharr," by Wilbur S. Peacock--which is also a lot of fun.

The basic premise is similar to the classic 1929 tale  Armageddon 2419, in which Anthony Rogers (later known at Buck Rogers) is in suspended animation for 500 years, waking up to discover Earth has been conquered by aliens.

In "Spider Men," a guy named Kimbrell Trent is frozen when a pipe containing super-cold fluid burst. He was located inside a secret base--something recently built to defend against the invading Gharr. 

The Gharr are great villains--big four-armed bipedal cyclopian aliens who never make a sound, but  are implacable and apparently unstoppable. No weapons can hurt them and humanity is steadily being enslaved.

When Trent wakes up after his 500-year nap, he discovers the Gharr are still in charge, with many surviving humans kept in camps where they are forced to breed and produce slaves for work off-planet.

The first person Buck Rogers met after waking up was the beautiful Wilma Deering, who was a member of a band of freedom fighters. Trent doesn't buck tradition here--the first person he meets is the beautiful Lura, who is a member of a band of freedom fighters.

Actually, the comparisons I'm making are a bit unfair. "Spider Men" does initially parallel the first Buck Rogers story in several ways, but it has its own feel to it. I have no idea if Wilbur Peacock was familiar with the original story and consciously modeled aspects of his story after it. But if he did, we can forgive him. He manages to come up with something good. 
Trent has a rifle that fires explosive bullets and a pistol that is essentially a powerful flame-thrower. The Gharr threatening Lura is impervious to both these weapons, of course, but Trent uses a clever tactic that allows he and the girl to escape. 

He hooks up with her group, using his knowledge to repair some old equipment--another parallel to the earlier story in which Buck used his knowledge of World War 1 military tactics to beat the aliens

 Later, he accompanies Lura and a few others on a raid to free some human slaves. His weaponry comes in handy here--the Gharr might be immune to them, but the robot guards and the big six-legged carnivores they use has "guard dogs" can be destroyed.

Things go awry when Trent and Lura are captured. But this actually provides them with a chance to learn the real nature of the Gharr and just maybe give them a chance to destroy the invaders.

The Gharr really are a great creation. Their invulnerability; their bizarre appearance; their apparent inability to communicate directly with humans; and the creepy twist regarding their true nature--all of this adds up to move them to the top of the list of scary alien races. It is the Gharr as well as the differences in detail that help give this story a different ambiance than Armageddon 2419, with several intense action sequences spicing things up considerably. 

So though "Raiders of the Second Moon" is the best in this issue, "Spider Men of Gharr" is indeed a close second. Though I am a little confused about one aspect of the story. If the Gharrians never speak, how the heck did mankind find out they are called "Gharrians?"

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Starve a Gorilla and Save the World

Orrgo is a pretty cool looking monster. Of course, pretty much every monster Jack Kirby ever drew is cool looking. That's part of what makes the monster stories Marvel produced in the 1950s and early 1960s so much fun. Kirby or Steve Ditko drew monsters that were simply fun.

Orrgo appeared in Strange Tales #90 (November 1961), with Kirby art enhancing a story written by Stan Lee (or possibly plotted by Lee with the script by Larry Lieber). As was typical of the monster stories, this one ends with a bizarre plot twist. This one happens to be a particularly clever one.

Orrgo is from a race with omnipotent mental powers--if they think it, it happens. So when they decide we puny humans have a nice planet, Orrgo volunteers to travel to Earth alone. His mental powers will be sufficient to conquer the planet.

He appears on Earth in the middle of a circus and his confidence in his powers are immediately justified. He scans the audience to learn the language, announces he is taking over, then proceeds to defeat the army, encase Washington DC in a block of ice, levitate New York City and then hypnotize every single human being in the world. Actually, I wonder why he bothered with the other stuff and didn't instantly jump to the hypnotize everyone part. But I guess even Unconquerable Aliens need to have their fun.

Apparently, all that fun is also very tiring, because Orrgo then takes a nap. Remember that he's still hanging out at the circus. Remember also that hypnotized animal trainers are notoriously forgetful about feeding their animals. A cranky gorilla--not under control of Orrgo because the alien was tuned into human brain waves--starts looking for someone to blame after he misses dinner.

So the gorilla saves humanity because he wasn't feed properly. Take that, PETA!

It's a fun twist to a fun story. In less than a year, the Marvel Universe would have superheroes around to protect us from threats like this. But we really don't need superheroes, do we? We just need a cranky primate who knows how to throw a punch.

Next week, we join Popeye the Sailor in wondering how you fight a ghost when you can't actually punch them. It's a problem that even a cranky gorilla might not be able to solve.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Cover Cavalcade

I think ammunition expenditure by government agents in the pulps accounts for at least 75% of the national deficit.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Lone Ranger: "Mountain Trap" 1/1/43

Outlaws are trading guns to both the Crows and the Blackfeet, which would incite a war between the two tribes. The Ranger & Tonto race to put a stop to this.

Click HERE to listen or download.

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