Friday, December 15, 2017
Thursday, December 14, 2017
Doomed Caravan (1941) starts with a bang. Literally. In fact, it starts with a whole bunch of bangs as the opening credits fade directly into a gun battle. Jane Travers (Minnie Gombell) and her men are defending her freighting company against outlaws who were trying to burn her out.
It's a great start to another fun Hopalong Cassidy film, with the battle staged against the light of a burning building. The director was Leslie Selander, a B-movie vet who oversaw over 100 Westerns during his career and made just about all of them look cool. Like so many B-movie directors, he was a skilled visual storyteller.
The screenplay for this one, by the way, was co-written by Johnston McCulley, creator of Zorro.
Anyway, Hoppy shows up the day after the fight, escorting in a shipment of gold he wants Jane's freighters to transport for him. Being Hoppy, he agrees to stick around and help her against the mysterious enemy who is trying to destroy her company.
But when a dozen soldiers show up to escort the next wagon train Jane is organizing, Hoppy seems to chicken out, taking his crew with him as he rides away.
This is because Hoppy had picked up on several clues that told him the soldiers are impostors. Actually, some of the outlaws had ambushed the real soldiers and taken their uniforms. The idea is to wait until the freight wagons are out in the middle of nowhere, then take over.
Hoppy puts a stop to that, but when the freight wagons get to Mexico, the bad guys come up with a clever plan to get the drop on Hoppy, Jane and their crew of drivers. Soon, Hoppy finds himself on the run, without allies. Well, almost without allies. A spunky young lady and a goofy sidekick are also loose and willing to help.
William Boyd made 66 films as Hopalong Cassidy and I don't think there's a single one of them that isn't fun. This one has a strong plot, several excellent action set pieces and a great supporting cast. One member of that cast is Georgia Ellis (billed as Georgia Hawkins), who plays the spunky young lady who helps Hoppy in the Mexican village. Georgia would, of course, be playing Kitty on the radio version of Gunsmoke about a decade later.
This one is on YouTube, so you can watch it at your leisure:
Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Joe Jibbs captains a ship that harvests oysters and he really, really wants his son to one day carry on the family business. Unfortunately, his son turns out to be a daughter.
This is the story we find in Detective Comics #113 (July 1946). It's a fun story, with several unique points to it that help it stand out from other stories of that era.
First, there's Blackhand. This is his only appearance, but I think he could have made an effective if minor member of Batman's regular Rogue's Gallery. He's smart and ruthless--and has a unique physical appearance because his right hand is permanently burned black. He once stuck it in a fire along with the hand of the cop to whom he was handcuffed. When the cop fainted first, Blackhand got the cuff keys and escaped. Ouch.
After some initial shenanigans, Batman and Robin become members of Jo's crew while they wait for the crooks to attack. What I find interesting is that Bill Finger's script supplies us with what I assume is accurate information about the oyster industy. I actually know nothing about oyster fishing in 1946, but the story has that ambiance of accuracy we run into in fiction from time to time. Of course, it's possible that I'm just being fooled, but I think Finger knew something about oyster fishing or he did a little research.
Also, when the bad guys do attack, one of them grabs the wheel of Jo's boat and deliberately performs a manuever that will knock Batman off the boat with the swinging boom. Artist Dick Sprang uses a panel to give us a diagram detailing exactly what happened.
Somebody was doing some research. Or faking it really good. I'm not enough of a sailor to pick out any inaccuracies.
Anyway, Jo is captured and held for ransom. But she out-Batmans Batman by first fooling Blackhand into thinking a pearl that had been mounted on a ring was found in one of the oysters. Then she pokes a series of holes in the ransom note that her dad can read a Braille. These two tricks together allow the Dynamic Duo to track her down and rescue her.
It's really too bad Jo Jibbs never made a return appearance either. She looks like she would have fit in as a regular member of the Bat Family.
Monday, December 11, 2017
Friday, December 8, 2017
Thursday, December 7, 2017
I'm really loving the fact that Archive.org is putting so many pulp magazines online. Apparently, they just throw them on their site and don't pull them unless a copyright holder complains, which (to be fair) is probably the only way a site like that can operate and make any significant number of items available. I imagine in a lot of cases the copyright holder of specific stories is perfectly happy to get them out there. And if Archive.org is honest about pulling something down if they get a complaint, then I suppose it's all fair enough. Besides, scanning errors and formating errors if you download from their site are prevelant enough that a properly published e-version would still be commercially viable.
Anyway, despite some of those errors, for those of us non-legal experts who simply want to read some of the wonderful but otherwise out-of-print stories from that Golden Age, the site is a treasure trove. For instance, the January 15, 1934 issue of Dime Detective Magazine contains an Erle Stanley Gardner story I had never read before.
Gardner created something like 18 quintillion characters for the pulps, almost all of whom other than Perry Mason have been unjustly forgotton. (Nothing against Perry--he's one of the best mystery characters ever created, but its too bad Gardner's other detectives, lawyers and crooks have faded into obscurity.)
"Time for Murder" features bored rich guy George Brokay, whom I'm pretty sure is a one-shot character. George inherited a small fortune and used his keen judge of character to invest wisely and gather up a larger fortune. But he's bored with this life and when he catches a skilled burgler about to blow his wall safe, he makes a deal with the guy rather than turn him into the cops.
Brokay will become a burglar as well--doing it simply for the adventure. He'll be an honest thief, returning what he steals afterwards, but he'll at first have the fun of stealing it.
But when his new partner takes him to a mansion to show him the ropes, the first thing they find inside is a dead woman. Also, there is--inexplicably--a terrified monkey in the room.
Well, Brokay and the thief know they'll be accused of the crime if they stick around and admit that they are thieves, so it is clearly time to go on the Lam. But, both to protect himself and out of a sense of responsibility, Brokay wants to find the killer. And the primary clue just might be that darn monkey!
It's a fun story, though it does depend a bit too much on Brokay coincidentally meeting another person involved in the case by almost pure chance. Brokay's interplay with the thief he partnered with (a relationship that rapidly breaks down as they go on the run) and the detective work he must do show Gardner's typical strengths as a storyteller.
The copy on Archive.org is missing a page, which is a little annoying. But it involves Brokay running from the cops and the next page gives you a convenient recap when he listens in on a police radio, so you can still follow the story. If you want to read it, you'll find it HERE.
Wednesday, December 6, 2017
When I reviewed the first issue of Tragg and the Sky Gods, I made a point of mentioning how well constructed the story is. That continues with the second issue (September 1975). Writer Don Glut provides us with a concise but effective summary of the situation in case we missed the first issue, then continues to effectively mix together action with exposition in a way that keeps the story fast-paced while still passing on a lot of information to us. Glut often jumps back and forth between different characters, but we never lose track of where everyone is and what they are doing.
This issue begins with Tragg and Lorn trying to convince their tribe that the Sky Gods have returned, but are now evil. Gorth, Tragg's arch-enemy in the tribe, is still accusing Tragg of lying and egging on the tribe to simply kill him and Lorn. Tragg's older brother Jarn, though, manages to mediate a compromise. Tragg and Groth will check out the area where the Sky Gods landed and find out if Tragg is telling the truth.
Gorth actually doesn't care if Tragg is telling the truth. Consumed with jealousy, he simply wants Tragg dead. So he pushes Tragg into a animal pit and continues on to the Sky Gods' damaged ship on his own, where he's quickly captured.
All this action is mixed in with scenes involving the aliens. Their ship is damaged beyond repair, though they are trying to fix their radio and contract the main invasion fleet. They want to wipe out the "apes," but have limited energy for their ray guns. They have a gas that can brain wash the humans, but only a limited supply of that as well.
It's all very clever plot construction. The decision to have the alien ship damaged by rampaging dinosaurs in the previous issue rationally establishes a reason why the high-tech aliens can't simply wipe out the humans with a few bursts of a death ray.
All sorts of shenanigans follow. Tragg proves his genetic superiority by pretty much bashing animals to death--a sabertooth in the animal pit and a T-Rex that is about to chow down on the alien woman Keera.
That's actually an unfair way to phrase it. Tragg is clearly shown using brains as well as brown to fight the beasts in a tactically effective manner.
Anyway, everything leads up to a brainwashed Gorth leading the tribe into a trap, with Zorak planning on using a couple of well-placed ray gun shots to drive a stampede of monsters into them. Tragg and Keera end up nearby. Keera, by now, clearly has the hots for Tragg, who uses her jetpack as a flamethrower to drive off the stampede and save the tribe.
But, though Keera is having some second thoughts about what her people are doing, is still largely loyal to them. She backs Gorth (who is still brainwashed) in his claim that the Sky Gods are friendly, so Tragg and Lorn end the issue still in exile from the tribe.
Like the first issue, this one is a more-or-less self-contained story that also builds effectively on the overall story arc. Jesse Santos's art fits the story perfectly. Tragg and the Sky Gods continues to be a highlight of the 1970s comic book industry and really does deserve to be better remembered than it is. We'll return for a look at the next issue soon.
Next week, Golden Age Batman goes oyster-fishing.
Monday, December 4, 2017
Friday, December 1, 2017
Escape: "Ring of Thoth" 8/11/47
Click HERE to listen or download.
Click HERE to listen or download.
Thursday, November 30, 2017
Read/Watch 'em in Order #87
The second tale in the August 1939 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories is the dryly humerous "The Time Twin," written by Lyle D. Gunn.
I like to think I'm fairly knowledgable about the history of science fiction, but I can't find a reference anywhere to the first time someone used the idea of parallel universes that are only slightly different than our own. It's a well-used cliche in the genre now. Everyone knows know, for instance, that if your twin from another universe has a goatee, then he's an evil twin. This is handy information to have.
But I'm not sure how common this was in 1939. "The Time Twin," though, explains the idea concisely and proceeds to have fun with it.
A physicist named Harry Steffens goes home one night to find his extra-dimensional twin in his house. After some initial confusion, the two Harrys figure out what's going on. One Harry is from another universe that is one day farther in the future than our Harry's universe. It's Saturday, May 8 here, but Sunday, May 9 over there. The other Harry was hit by lightning near a power plant and zapped into this reality. They realize that their respective timelines are nearly identical, though there are some differences.
How to handle this situation on the long-term is set aside when the two realize that the other Harry knows who won the Kentucky Derby. The two pool their money, bet on the long-shot who won in the other timeline and win a nice nest egg that our Harry can use to finally marry the girl he loves.
Except the other Harry also loves that girl--or at least he loves the girl from his universe, which he figures is close enough. So how does our Harry stop his identical twin from stealing his gal?
The story works on a "smile and occasionally chuckle" level rather than a "laugh out loud" level, but it tells the story well and has a lot of charm. After the somewhat flawed story we looked at last time, "The Time Twin" puts this issue back on an enjoyable track.
You can read this issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories HERE.