Friday, March 16, 2018

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Lone Ranger: "Rats, Lice and Chinatown" 12/1/43

San Francisco is invaded by an army of plague-carrying rats. The Lone Ranger has a plan for saving the city from an epidemic--but the cure may be as destructive as the plague.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

From Thief to Soldier

They Met in Bombay (1941) starts out as a light-hearted heist film, with two thieves (Clark Gable & Rosalind Russell)--each of whom is initially unaware that the other is also a thief--plot to steal a valuable jewel from a duchess staying at a swanky hotel in Bombay.

Gerald Meldrick, who we find out was once a soldier and is a bit of a danger junkie, plans to swap the jewel with an expertly made fake. He's posing as a Lloyd's of London detective in order to manufacture the opportunity. Anya Von Duren plans to make friends with the Duchess and then quietly slip away with the jewel when she gets the chance. She's posing as a baroness and has meticulously researched the duchess' family in order to impress her.

Both Gable and Russell seem to be having a lot of fun with their roles and both make the best of the witty dialogue they are given.

After a number of shenanigans, the two thieves have the jewel, argue about who should get to keep it, then have to make a run for it together when a local police detective gives chase.

The two take refuge on a seedy merchant ship sailing for Hong Kong. Here the movie smoothly morphs into something that has a look that would later be equated with Film Noir. The ship's captain is wonderfully portrayed by Peter Lorre, who looks as seedy as the ship he commands. When he figures out who is passengers are, he makes plans to turn them over the the cops for reward money as soon as they reach Hong Kong. This forces Anya and Gerald to steal a life boat and row ashore during a foggy night.

What I like about this second act of the movie is the characterization. The  two thieves spend a month or so on this ship and--possibly for the first time in years--they have no reason to lie or maintain a facade. When they begin to fall in love, the performances, dialogue and situation help make it seem real and not simply something that is supposed to happen because movie conventions demand it.

The third act of the film morphs it into a war story. They hide out in Hong Kong, unable to sell the jewel and running out of cash. So Gerald comes up with an idea for a con that requires him to pretend to be a soldier again. But this leads to him getting picked up by a staff car and taken to the British army base when the Japanese land nearby. Gerald abruptly finds himself in command of British troops with the job of evacuating a Chinese village.

The Japanese show up at the village as well. Gerald can't just play soldier now. If he and the soldiers and civilians he's reluctantly responsible for are going to live, he's going to have to actually become a soldier again.

It's a fun movie that manages to switch from one genre to another several times, but to do so smoothly and in a way that makes story sense. They Met in Bombay doesn't seem to be particularly well-remembered, but it should be. It is a fun blend of humor and adventure that eventually deals with themes of honor and responsibility in a very genuine manner. It's definitely a movie worth watching.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A Microscopic Femme Fatale

Marvel Two-in-One #87 (May 1982) is a real blast from the past, since it features a character who hadn't been heard of since Fantastic Four #16. That's a 19-year gap.

Writer Tom DeFalco and artist Ron Wilson reach back a couple of decades to pull Pearla, Queen of Sub-Atomica, out of comic book obscurity to use her in yet another issue of Two-in-One that drips with fun. The issue starts with some shenanigans in the Baxter Building as Ben helps Reed with an experiment and ends up crashing through a floor. This scene might exist in part because the main story ran a little short, but it's funny and Ben (when he has a good writer backing him up) is always fun to hang around with.

Anyway, Ben soon inexplicably shrinks down and disappears. Reed immediately deduces that he's been taken to a sub-atomic universe. But the FF's vehicle for minuature travel was recently wrecked in an adventure with the Micronauts.  Gee, if only Ant Man were around!

I like this story enough to be reluctant to point out even a tiny flaw, but what happens next is a tad contrived even in a Comic Book Universe. An ant is nearby when Reed and Johnny mention Ant Man. So the ant gets a message to Scott Lang that he's needed in the Baxter Building. The Random Ant Messenger Service just doesn't quite work for me. Of course, I'm perfectly okay with shrink rays, sub-atomic universes and a guy made out of rocks. so... Actually, I've forgotten what my point was.

Anyway, Scott comes to the Baxter Building and has to have Reed explain to him the concept of shrinking to sub-atomic levels that Hank Pym used back in FF #16--just keep zapping yourself with the shrink gas over and over and over again. "The science sounds right," muses Scott uncertainly. That line of dialogue defines Comic Book Science perfectly--come up with dialogue that makes something impossible sound possible and then just go with it.

Scott arrives in Sub-Atomica and gets into a tussle with some guards, but then discovers that Ben apparently doesn't need rescuing. He's been brought there by Pearla to fight in the arena against the king of the Lizard Men and thus save her kingdom.

But Scott soon tumbles onto the truth. Ben's duel with the Lizard Man king is just a distraction while she launches an invasion fleet. Ben is drugged so that he's pliant and agreeable to the idea of the duel, but this also means he'll be in no condition to win the fight.

Ben is in fact losing the fight when Scott shows up with some of the local insects. The bugs zap Ben, snapping him out of his stuper, after which he finishes the fight and quite handily stops the invasion fleet.

Before using an enlarging ray to head home, Ben and Scott sit everyone down for truce talks. I really like the ending with Ben expressing a realistic but not cynical opinion. He knows the talks won't make for a permanent peace, but "I ain't gonna lose any sleep over it. We did the best we could."

Next week, we'll finish up our look at the Superman/Batman team-up we began last week.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Wheel of Geekiness

This was a failed experiment, but since I went to the trouble of creating it, I'm going to subject everyone else to it anyways. (insert evil laugh here)

I tried a podcast in which I spun the above "Wheel of Geekiness" and then made off-the-cuff remarks on whatever subject came up. It turned out to be a fairly uninteresting podcast, but I think if I can get a few friends of mine to participate, I'll try it again. With the interaction of several people, I think it might still turn out to be a  fun idea.

So here is the initial effort:

Monday, March 12, 2018

Cover Cavalcade

A double feature today, featuring two kinetic and atmospheric Western covers. The first cover (from 1949) is by Everett Raymond Kinstler. The second (from 1967) is by Luis Dominguez.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Friday's Favorite OTR

Whistler: "Christmas Bonus" 12/25/44

An ex-con working at a department store is fired when he's suspected of embezzling money. He had turned over a new leaf, but now he has second thoughts about going straight.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Best Episode in My Not-Quite-Favorite Western

If you asked me to list my top-five favorite TV Westerns, then Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel and The Rifleman would always be on the list. The other two spots might actually rotate between a few others such as Wild, Wild West, early seasons of Bonanza, Wagon Train, Maverick, and a few others.

The Big Valley, which ran for four seasons from 1965 to 1969, would not quite crack that Top Five in my mind. It was often an excellent show, with Barbara Stanwyck doing her usual superb job as an actress as Victoria Barkley, the matriarch of a wealthy family in California. And the rest of the cast was good, with the personalities of Victoria's adult children playing well off of each other.

I think it drops a couple of points in my mind because it worked so hard to maintain the status quo. Nothing could every change, so if one of the Barkleys fell in love--well, you might as well paint a target on their loved one's back. That person is going down. The Barkleys suffered heavily from the Cartwright Curse. None of them could ever move on as adults, form healthy relationships with a potential spouse, and get married. Oldest brother Jarrod actually did get married in one episode. She was dead before the first act ended.

Now in some shows maintaining the status quo is appropriate. Despite its long run, Gunsmoke was correct in never having Matt Dillon and Kitty officially get together; and in keeping Dodge City stuck in the Old West even after decades had passed. That show was a rarity in striking gold with just the right dynamic between characters and setting.

But Big Valley, like Bonanza eventually did, suffered from never having any real character growth. In both shows, introducing a new character in the form of a wife (or a husband for Audra Barkley) would have given a freshness to the show. And, since they lived in a huge mansion, the married sibling could have still lived there and been easily available get involved in any episode. Of course, all this would have been dependent on introducing a new character that would have meshed with the rest of the cast, but if the new cast member didn't work out, he or she could always get shot later.

I'm also a little annoyed that the youngest brother, Eugene, simply ceased to exist after the first season. If I remember correctly, the actor who played him went into the military, but there was no need for the character to vanish. Eugene was usually back east at college and an occasional mention of him would have been nice.

But individual episodes were indeed often excellent, so perhaps my criticism isn't a fair one. In fact, "Court Martial," which aired during the show's second season on March 6, 1967, is outstanding.

Nick and Heath (two of the Barkley brothers) are away on a cattle drive when a retired Union general (played by veteran character actor Henry Jones) visits the ranch to buy beef for the army. Soon after, five Confederate veterans break in, taking General Alderson hostage along with Jarrod, Victoria and Audra.

Their motive is revenge, though they call it justice. They accuse Alderson of ordering a Southern town to be wiped out during the war and slaughtering 16 civilians. Alderson doesn't deny the massacre happened, but claims it was the work of drunken, green troops acting without orders.

Nick and Heath get back early and are also captured. Nick had been Alderson's aide at the time of the massacre, so when the Confederates decide to hold an impromptu trial, Nick is facing the hangman's noose along with Alderson.

It's a well-written and tautly directed episode, steadily building tension as the story progresses. The script does a great job of giving all the characters definable personalities and the acting is exceptional. Henry Jones and Peter Breck (as Nick) are particularly on their game here. Even Lee Majors, who was sometimes a little stiff as Heath, puts strong emotion into his lines when he believes Nick and the general are going to be hanged.

There's a wonderful twist at the end--one I can't hint at without spoiling it if you haven't seen the episode. But it is one of my favorite twist ending ever.

So The Big Valley doesn't quite break into my Top Five. But my criticisms of it are with the unchanging nature of the overall premise, not with the individual episodes. So I think we can safely ensconce it in my Top Ten.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

World's Finest vs. Super-Robots

World's Finest Comics was an odd duck of sorts. When it began its run in 1941, it featured Superman and Batman in seperate stories--it was an outlet to showcase two enormously popular characters in addition to their solo books. Stories featuring other DC characters rotated through the book, but comic book readers at the time could not get enough of the Man of Steel or the Dark Knight.

In 1954, the two began teaming up in every issue. This was a tricky proposition. Batman is a great character in his own right, but he's still a mere human. Finding a way to make him useful while working alongside one of the most powerful superheroes in the universe occasionally led to some pretty contrived stories.

But good writers managed to come up with clever plots over the years that made the team seem viable and World's Finest had a successful 45-year run.

World's Finest #272 (October 1981), written by Cary Burkett and drawn by Rich Buckler, is a particularly entertaining example of how good writing can make Supes/Bats a viable team.

It begins with Superman worried that his friend is overworked and in need of a break. He invites Batman to the Fortress of Solitude to see his new hologram projector (a neat way to get in a Chekov's Gun). Batman tries to beg off, but Supes flies him there at superspeed before he can really object.

But they don't get much of a break. Superman is called away to rescue some scientists from the effects of an earthquake. The quake turns out to have been caused by an as-yet unidentified super-villain, who then teleports robots into the Fortress to steal the super-weapons that the Man of Steel keeps stored in his armory.

Batman, though, is an unexpected factor. Though the robots are much more powerful than he is, he uses clever tactics to at least delay them. Superman returns only to get zapped with kryptonite, but a clever use of the new hologram projector allows Batman to save his friend.

This is the way a Batman/Superman team up should be written. Batman is presented as a non-powered hero, but uses his skill and his brains to realistically hold his own during the fight with the robots and eventually save Superman. The fact that he could not completely stop the robots until Superman was able to help is also a strength of the story--adding to the realism (well, realism for a Comic Book Universe) and allowing the bad guy a chance to get away with the weapons even after the robots are destroyed.

This also sets up the events of the next issue--and since it seems rude to review only one issue of what will be a 3-part story, we'll return to World's Finest in two week. Next week, though, we'll visit a microscopic world with the Thing and Ant Man.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Cover Cavalcade

John Romita art from 1975. One of the occasional issues of Team-Up that did not feature Spider Man.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Friday's Favorite OTR

Escape: "Conqueror's Isle" 3/5/49

The crew of a Navy bomber crash lands on a remote island in the Pacific near the end of World War II. Four years later, the pilot turns up on a raft with a wild story about the inhabitants of that island.

Click HERE to listen or download.
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