Monday, December 9, 2019

Cover Cavalcade

From 1948. Anyone about to get married should read read stories like this, so they know what to do when they inevitably get into these sorts of situations.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Friday's Favorite OTR

Gunsmoke: "Doc Judge" 9/25/60

While Matt is out of town, someone is plotting to kill Doc. But Chester is still in town and, as we discovered in the episode featured a few weeks ago, if you threaten one of Chester's friends, you had better just run away.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

When Teddy Roosevelt Wants Horses--By Golly, He GETS Horses!

Like most B-movie heroes, Hopalong Cassidy jumps back and forth in time. His movies are always set in the Wild West, but the exact years in which they take place can jump around a bit. In Texas Trail (1937), for instance, the year is 1898, with the U.S. having just declared war on Spain.

It's supposedly based on one of the original Hopalong novels written by Clarence E. Mulford--Tex (1922). I haven't read this one, but I will soon and review it here. The plot description is completely different from the plot of the movie, so I'm curious to see if I can spot whatever similarities might exist between the two versions of the story. I suspect Jack O'Donnell--the screenwriter--simply took the title, expanded it to Texas Trail,  and wrote an original story around it, but I'll find out for sure soon.

Anyway, Hoppy and companions are eager to sign up and serve with the Rough Riders. But the Army has another job for him first. Every attempt to round up enough horses for the Riders has been foiled by rustlers. So Hoppy is asked to bring in 500 wild horses quickly. He's disappointed that he's not immediately being sent out to fight the Spanish, but Hoppy accepts this responsibility anyways.

The mastermind behind the rustlers is a local rancher named Black Jack Carson (Alexander Cross). Why no one suspects the guy named "Black Jack" to be the villain is beyond me. His scheme is actually a pretty clever one. Let others do the work in rounding up horses, then steal them and quietly sell them to a buyer who isn't too particular about where they came from.

What follows is a very straightforward film with a simple plot. This, though, is part of what makes it such a fun film. William Boyd's typically boisterous portrayal of Hoppy continues to make him one of the most purely likable movie heroes ever and director David Selman makes magnificent use of scenery for the location filming.

Carson has some of his men staked out watching Hoppy round up the horses. They move in the night before the animals would have been taken to the army base, capturing Hoppy's crew and gaining control of the herd. Carson had a few horses with his brand mixed in with the herd, so he proceeds to accuse Hoppy of being a horse thief and plans to hang all the good guys from the nearest tree.

Fortunately, Hoppy is currently being hero-worshiped by "Boots," the young son of an army major. Boots has been concerned when Hoppy doesn't show up at the fort as scheduled, so the little scamp skips school and rides out to find out what's going on. This allows him to show up in time to free Hoppy and the other good guys.

The good guys, though, only have a few guns between them. So Hoppy proceeds to weaponize the herd of wild horses, then uses what little ammo he has to hold off the outlaws until the cavalry can put in their obligatory last-minute arrival.

It's all good fun, with Gabby Hayes providing the comic relief this time as a would-be bugler who is less than adept at playing the bugle and putting everyone to sleep with endless stories about riding with Teddy Roosevelt.

I was a little disappointed that the movie didn't come up with a way to give Roosevelt a cameo. Any movie, no matter how entertaining it might be, can only benefit from an appearance by the most awesome president we ever had.

Anyway, the movie ends with Hoppy and his crew now in uniform, riding off to war. Of course, the real-life irony here is that the Rough Riders' horses were never shipped to Cuba. When they went up San Juan Hill, Roosevelt was the only one on horseback. T.R. always was a bit reckless in his bravery. The other Rough Riders crawled up. They took the hill, though, and this movie implies that Hopalong Cassidy was there with them. I always suspected that. But I wonder if, while Spanish machine gun bullets whizzed overhead, if he wondered why he went through all that effort to get those darn horses.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Good Robots, Evil Robots and Swamp Thing

Swamp Thing #6 (Sept-Oct. 1973) begins with the titular character falling out of the back of a truck while traveling through Vermont (after, in previous issues, making an unplanned and rather adventurous tour of Europe and Scotland). And, because Swamp Thing's life is what it is, he tumbles directly into yet another adventure.

He's found by Alec and Linda Holland. Which is a bit weird, because Swamp Thing is Alec Holland--or rather he was before that pesky lab explosion turned him into a monster. And Linda was dead.

(Yes, I know that Alan Moore later retconned this into Swamp Thing being a seperate entity who had absorbed Alec's memories when the human died and thus just thought he was Alec for a time. I've never read Moore's run and do not have an opinion on that--though its a perfectly sound idea. But for me, "real" DC Universe history all took place before 1986, so I'm just sticking with Swampy literally being Alec.)

Anyway, it's understandable that Swamp Thing is a bit confused when he meets both himself and his dead wife, but the human pair continue to treat him with kindness and eventually take him into town. Here, he meets the mayor, Hans Klochmann.

Klochmann, it turns out, is a genius in robotics. He came to what was once an abandoned mining town and populated it with robots, all designed to look like people he'd seen in the obituaries. He's happy running a town full of "people" who are incapable of feeling jealousy, hatred or greed. It's not a bad place to live, though Swamp Thing is having some understandable trouble in adjusting to the "resurrection" of his wife as a robot.

Len Wein's script and Bernie Wrightson's superb art set all this up perfectly. The plot unfolds smoothly, with those of us reading finding out what's going on along with Swamp Thing, allowing us to emphasize with the confusing emotions this is generating in him. The story thus captures the proper atmosphere for the story perfectly, giving a lot of emotional punch to the violent conclusion.

To reach that conclusion, I'm afraid the town will have to stop being a nice place to live. Government investigator Matt Cable has been pulled off the Swamp Thing case to investigate the town, where no one has ever registered with the governement or paid taxes.

That by itself wouldn't be so bad. But a criminal organization called the Conclave (the same guys who killed Linda and supposedly killed Alex) also find out about the town. Soon, a gang of machine gun-toting henchmen led by a killer robot arrive. Matt and his assistant Abigail Arcane are captured and flown in a helicopter to be questioned about his organization.

The Conclave plans on taking Klochmann as well to force him to use his robotics skills for their nefarious purposes. When Klochmann objects to this, a few of his robots are shot down. This includes the Linda Holland Robot.

Well, that doesn't sit well with Swamp Thing. And you don't want to be on the wrong side of an angry Swamp Thing. He destroys the robot in a brief but brutal fight. The henchmen then get ready to open first on him.

By this point in the series, Swamp Thing had been shown to be immune to most physical damage and had even had a severed arm grow back. So there's a brutal irony involved when Klochmann jumps in front of Swamp Thing and sacrifices his life to take the bullets instead. Was Swamp Thing actually in danger? Perhaps concentrated machine gun fire would have shredded him. But its also possible the fire power might have been insufficient to kill him.

But Klochmann does die for him. The robots--supposedly unable to feel vengeance--rush the henchman. The robots are destroyed, but they take the henchmen with them.

So Klochmann's dream of a town untouched by violence and hatred comes to a violent and hate-filled end.

This is one of my favorite stories from the Wein/Wrightson run. As I mentioned above, it does an excellent job of setting up the story and generating just the right emotions to give the climax a sense of real tragedy and loss. Wrightson was an artist who could infuse comic book panels with an extraordinary level of emotion. That talent is definetly on hand here.

Well, there is a dangling plot thread left at the end of this issue, with Matt and Abigail still prisoners of the Conclave. So next week, we'll continue to travel to with Swamp Thing into the next issue as he tracks the Conclave to....Gotham City?

Gee whiz, off all the places in the world to set up the headquarters of your international crime syndicate, Batman's home town seems like a very poor choice.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Friday, November 29, 2019

Friday's Favorite OTR

Destination Freedom: "Shakespeare of Harlem" 9/26/48

An excellent dramatization of the life of Langston Hughes which effectively incorporates a number of his poems into the story.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Charlie Chan at the Circus

Recently, I read a newly-published book reprinting the first year of a Charlie Chan comic strip originally published in 1938 & 39. The next day, Angela and I visited the Circus Museum located at the Ringling Museum of Art. So, the next step was obvious--we needed to watch the 1936 film Charlie Chan at the Circus. I believe this might actually have been required by law.

It's a Warner Oland/Keye Luke entry, which always gains a Chan movie a few extra points. The films starring Sidney Toler and Roland Winters are all tons of fun, but the Oland/Luke chemistry was never equaled.

In fact, Luke as "Number One Son" Lee Chan gave us the best of the Chan sons on several levels. His "look before you leap" enthusiasm (and, this time, his awkward romantic pursuit of a female contortionist) could generate sincerely funny moments, but Lee was smart and able to spot clues and make reasonable deductions. His dad might nearly always turn out to be one step ahead of him anyways, but Charlie is one step ahead of everyone.

And, though any of Charlie's kids would put their lives at risk to save their dad, it's Lee who never fails to jump without hesitation to put himself between Charlie and danger. This time around, though clearly terrified, grabs a pistol and pegs a cobra to save his father. Seriously, don't ever threaten Charlie Chan when Lee is around. It won't end well for you.

The movie itself starts strong, with a tracking shot of circus sideshow posters, that does a superb job of establishing both setting and atmosphere. Then we get to see Charlie's entire family--all twelve kids and his wife--for the first time (and one of the few times) in the series, as they visit the circus. Charlie was given free passes by one of the circus co-owners (played by Paul Stanton), who wants Charlie's advice about some threatening letters he's received.

And it's no wonder he's getting poison-pen letters. The guy is a jerk and we soon learn that at least a half-dozen circus workers and performers have reason to hate him. So it's really no surprise when he's found murdered, strangled while inside his locked-from-the-inside business wagon.

The body is found, by the way, when a sideshow midget climbs in through a ventilator. This part is played by George Brasno, who (with his sister Olive) had a popular music act and occasionally took roles in films. Brasno and Keye Luke later have an hilarious scene together when they are tailing a suspect, with Lee dressed as a mother and Brasno's character dressed as a baby (while smoking a cigar) while Lee pushed him around in a baby carriage.

Charlie agrees to help the local police, so he and Lee travel with the circus. Clues are uncovered, there's an attempt on Charlie's life, an attempt to murder someone else, and eventually a clever trap set to catch the killer.

The plot is solid and (within the confines of a B-movie universe) unfolds logically--yet another example that the B-movies of this era consistently provided us with straightforward, entertaining storytelling.

Also, Angela told me she was going to take a nap while I watched the movie, but ended up watching the whole thing with me. She's awesome.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Giant, Undead Brains and Three-Headed Dinosaurs

Auro, Lord of Jupiter, is a rather bizarre character. He first appeared in Planet Comics #41 (March 1946), ruling Jupiter with his consort Dorna. He's murdered by a rival.

About the same time, an American scientist named Chet Edson builds a prototype rocket ship, but a saboteur knocks him out, shoves him into the rocket and launches him into space. He crashes on Jupiter, but he can't survive in the atmosphere there.

So Dorna transfers Chet's mind into Auro's body. After a few adventures, Auro's personality reasserts itself and Chet is able to only subconsciously influence the big dope into taking intelligent action when in danger.

And there's a lot of danger on Jupiter. In Planet Comics #47 (March 1947), scientists are experimenting with the brain of a master criminal named Zago, King of the Underworlders. But Zago's brain is "struggling for freedom"and soon forces one of the scientists to drop him.

Soon, the brain has grown to gigantic proportions and is mind-controlling nearby people and animals. When Auro/Chet and Dorna fly in to investigate, they run into a gauntlet of various dangers.

It looks as if they are going to be overwhelmed, but Chet influences Auro to run from the fight and get to the nearby lab, even though this mean temporarily abandoning Dorna.

Zago rewards his underling for capturing Dorna by killing them, because he's decided that everyone ought to be dead just like he technically is. He doesn't kill Dorna right away, but rather begins tormenting her with the illusion of three-headed dinosaurs. Zago might be evil, but he comes up with some pretty cool illusions.

Fortunately, Chet has influenced Auro into inventing a device that destroys Zago, ending the threat and saving Dorna in the nick of time.

This is the first Auro, Lord of Jupiter story I've read and it is delightfully goofy, jumping wildly from one plot point to another with gleeful abandon. It might arguably have benefited from some more coherent world-building, but--then again--not every work of fiction needs to have strong internal logic. Sometimes, it's nice to just go with the flow and have fun.

You can read this story online HERE.

Next week, I think we'll return to Earth and visit with Swamp Thing.
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