Friday, May 18, 2018

Friday's Favorite OTR

Escape: "Three Good Witnesses" 1/28.48

During World War II, a civilian is travelling back to the U.S. from a job in Turkey.  He feels he's not really doing his part in fighting the war. But when an American officer aboard the same train is knocked out and secret papers are stolen, the civilian suddenly finds that a chance to serve has been thrust upon him.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Yet Another Mysterious Island

To quote an article from a 1970 issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland: "Mention Mysterious Island and all but a few of our readers will automatically think of the exciting Harryhausen version of 1961."

I wrote about the 1961 version just a few weeks ago. But 32 years before that movie was made, right at the cusp between the Silent Film Era and the Sound Film Era, MGM released a wonderfully bizarre and entertaining version of the story.

Actually, it's not so much a version of Verne's novel as it is a "Let's use the title and a few details, the wrap an entirely new story around it" film. Lionel Barrymore is Count Dakkar, the benevolent ruler of a small island nation. Dakkar, of course, is Captain Nemo's real name. The Dakkar in the film, like Nemo, has also designed and built his own submarine. But the similarities pretty much end there.

Barrymore's Dakkar has eliminated class distinction on his island, making everyone equal as he prepares to use his submarines (he's actually built two) to explore the ocean depths and maybe discover an undersea humanoid race of sentient creatures. He's found skeletal remains of these guys, which makes him anxious to meet a living specimen.

We learn a lot of this backstory while Dakkar is giving a tour to Falon, the ruler of a mainland nation who has a more dictatorial approach to running a country. Despite this, Falon and Dakkar maintain a friendship. But, tragically, this is because Dakkar doesn't fully appreciate just how much of a poopie-head Falon is.

The dictator lands troops on the island and soon takes over, planning on using these new-fangled subs to increase his own power. But one of the subs is off on a test-dive, piloted by Nikolai, Dakkar's chief engineer. When Nikolai realizes that something is wrong, he sneaks ashore in a diving suit, rescuing Dakkar from Falon's clutches.

Nikolai, by the way, is in love with Dakkar's sister Sonia. Sonia is played by Jacqueline Gadsden, who exhibits that unique quality of attractiveness that only women in the 1920s had.

Anyway, shenanigans ensued involving traps, escapes and battles, in which both subs end up damaged. Sub #1 contains Dakkar, Nikolai and a number of crewmen and ends up on the bottom of the ocean, half-flooded with most of the crew dead and very little air left.

Sub #2 is also sinking. On board is Falon, some of his troops, Sonia and a few crew being held at gunpoint. Sonia, who has been showing more than her share of spunk since Falon attacked the island, blows up the sub's air compressor. This means that water can't be blown out of the ballast tanks and the sub can never surface.

It's at this point that the film takes its most bizarre turn. Those little humanoid guys Dakkar wanted to find do indeed exist. In fact, they have their own little civilization going at the bottom of the ocean. At first, they seem hostile, trying to batter open the few intact compartments of Sub #1. But when Dakkar saves them from a sea monster with a well-placed torpedo, it looks like the humanoids might be willing to give peace a chance.

This doesn't last long. Sub #2 arrives and factions from both crews (wearing bulky metal diving suits to protect themselves from the enormous pressure) are soon confronting one another on the sea bottom. Blood is spilled and the humanoids discover they like the taste of blood. They are driven into a frenzy. The humans have to fight their way through hoards of humanoids and a giant octopus, while trying to salvage the air compressor from Sub #1 so they can use Sub #2 to get back to the surface.

So much for giving peace a chance.

The Mysterious Island is a part-talkie, which means its mostly a silent film using title cards for dialogue, but also has sound effects and music. There are two or three scenes with spoken dialogue as well.

It looks wonderful from start to finish, with views of the undersea civilization being the highlight of the film. Particularly noteworthy is a short scene in which Dakkar and Nikolai see an ancient Roman galley, sunken centuries earlier and with the skeletons of the slaves still manning the oars.

The 1929 version of The Mysterious Island is an example of an early science fiction film done right--good story, striking visuals and good acting. Other early Sci-Fi films, like Metropolis and The Lost World,  are remembered and appreciated for their influence on later works. But this one seems to have dropped off the radar of film buffs. That's too bad. It also deserves to be remembered.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Valley of Monsters

Cover art by George Wilson

The writers of the Tarzan and Korak books for Dell and Gold Key loved Pal-ul-don. This nearly inaccessible land hidden in the jungles of Africa, which first appeared the 1921 novel Tarzan the Terrible, was a convenient go-to location whenever the comics wanted their protagonists to encounter dinosaurs. And putting a dinosaur on the cover was always a boost to sales.

So Tarzan and his son Korak made multiple visits to Pal-ul-don during the run of their Dell/Gold Key books. One of these visits came in Korak, Son of Tarzan #17 (June 1967). After Tarzan rescues an on-the-run politician named Muhammed Isolo from a hostile tribe, the two escape through a tunnel that leads them into Pal-ul-don.

They soon capture a dyal--a prehistoric bird that a local tribe uses for mounts. Well, Isolo may have been a politican (forced to flee when the government he served was overthrown), but he soon proves to be a kick-butt adventure guy as well. He soon learns how to ride the dyal, then rescues a pretty girl from a tyrannosaurus.

The girl is Kleah, daughter of local chief Jakon. While her dad was away fighting another tribe, a brute named Umakok had tried to have his way with her.  Now escorted by Korak and Isolo, she is returning home when they meet her dad.

Everyone returns to the village. Jakon fights a duel with Umakok (which he wins after Korak prevents Umakok from cheating by using a weapon) and Isolo decides to stay in Pal-ul-don. He and Kleah have fallen in love.

Which is amazing when you think about it. One of the things I like about Galord Du Bois' script is that the differences in language is not forgotten. Isolo doesn't speak Pal-ul-don's tongue and needs Korak to translate. So he's marrying a girl he just met and with whom he can't actually have a conversion. Though, come to think of it, perhaps that second point is a guarantee of a peaceful marriage.

Any Tarzan/Korak story with dinosaurs in it is fun almost by default, though this one has its flaws. The artist, Nat Edson, is very good, but the script is a bit top heavy in protagonists.

For a short tale, there are an awful lot of guys doing the heroic stuff--first Korak; then Isolo, then Jakon. And, as I implied above, the romance part happens too quickly and feels very forced.

But it's a fun story despite its faults. And there's an insightful bit of dialogue at the end. Isolo says that he's done with politics and, "besides, there are no poltics here." Korak reminds him there was just a power struggle for leadership, so politics do exist and Isolo might soon need his old skills in this area. You can run away to a hidden valley full of dinosaurs, but as long as there are people, there's no escaping politics.

Next week, it's back to the Old West to visit the Rawhide Kid.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Friday's Favorite OTR

Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar: "The Caylin Matter" 1/2/56

Johnny is asked to look into the death of a man who was in a fiery car crash. Or rather--the death of a man who supposedly died in a fiery car crash.

Click HERE for the first part of this story arc.  All five parts can be found HERE.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Perry Mason before He was Perry Mason meets Jessica Fletcher before She was Jessica Fletcher.

In 1956, a year before he began his nine-year run playing Perry Mason, Raymond Burr had an early opportunity to defend someone accused of murder.

In Please Murder Me, Burr plays Craig Carlson, a lawyer whose best friend is an old war buddy who once saved his life. This makes things awkward when Carlson falls in love with his buddy's wife.

The wife is played by Angela Lansbury. This is something that makes the movie fun to watch on a meta level. Two of TV's classic crime-solvers--Perry Mason and Jessica Fletcher--appear together in a murder mystery before either of them would become known for their most iconic roles.

Please Murder Me is rife with melodramatic dialogue, but skilled actors (including John Dehner and Denver Pyle) play the melodrama straight and make the film worth watching for its own sake. 

Craig's love life gets complicated when his buddy is shot to death by Myra (Lansbury). She claims self-defense, but both the cops and the D.A. think its murder. So Craig has to defend the woman he loves in court. He himself never doubts her innocence.

He gets her acquitted, but then finds evidence that she's probably guilty AND that she's actually in love with someone else entirely. Craig has been conned by a femme fatale, who was using him to get a divorce from her husband, but then had to murder her husband when he stumbled upon her scheme.

Craig is wracked with guilt about this. He's helped someone get away with murder and he's a tad bit bitter about being used by her so ruthlessly. 

But maybe--just maybe--he can set up a situation that will see that justice is served. Even if it means setting himself up to be murdered.

As I said, the dialogue is melodramatic--I think overly so. But Burr, Lansbury and the rest of the cast do a fine job and the plot is a good one with some nifty twists to it. Please Murder Me is in the public domain, which means its easy to find (I'll embed a YouTube version below), though this also means the sound track fades out a little from time to time.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

A Quick Trip to the Future

Cover Art by John Buscema

It's interesting to compare 1977's Thor Annual with last week's look at the first three issues of DC's All-Star Squadron. In the DC story, the villain had a convoluted plan. But the story built around that complex plan was a good one and the complexity was a strength of the story.

In the Thor annual, the villain (Korvac the Living Computer) has a pretty straightforward plan as far as Comic Book Logic goes--use a power beam to blow up our sun, then collect the power from that. He'll then have enough power to conquer the galaxy.

But in this case, the simplicity of the plan is a strength of the story, allowing co-plotters Len Wein and Roger Stern (with Stern writing the script) to set up some nifty action set pieces and bring the tale to a satisfying conclusion.

So villain plans can be complex or simple--a good writer can work with either and give his readers a fun yarn.

This one begins with Thor beating up some terrorists who had captured a nuclear reactor. The Thunder God deals with these bad guys fairly easily, but then he and the reactor vanish.

It turns out that a 31st Century bad guy (it's Korvac, but that reveal comes a little later in the story) was using a time probe to get some equipment he needs for his evil "blow up the sun" plan. He brought Thor forward in time by accident, so he deals with that by teleporting the big guy out into deep space.

But deep space in a comic book universe is a pretty crowded place. The Guardians of the Galaxy (a different team in the comics than in the recent movies--though I expect most of you reading this know that) are nearby, investigating Korvac's power beam. They find Thor, bring him aboard their ship and thaw him out.

Sal Buscema's art is great in this one--I can't put my finger on why, but this issue has always struck me as one of his best efforts. The action is expertly laid out, the sci-fi design of the settings are cool-looking and visuals flow along as smoothly as Stern's writing.

Anyway, the Guardians and Thor end up teaming up against Korvac and his various alien minions. While most of the Guardians fight those minions...

...Thor and Starhawk bust in on Korvac. At first, things do not go well for the heroes. The Guardians are soon on the ropes against the minions, while Korvac uses a neural beam to force the two most powerful good guys to fight each other.

Two things go wrong for Korvac, though. First, the Guardians improvise some effective tactics to beat the minions. Second, Thor and Starhawk are so powerful that their forced duel soon brings the house down around Korvac, forcing him to teleport away. The power beam about to blow up the sun is destroyed and Thor is sent home to present-day New York.

This is simply a fun issue--using Comic Book Logic to toss a superhero into the far future, team him up with characters from that era and get him into an entertaining battle with the bad guys. Well, entertaining for those of us reading the story. I suppose Thor didn't enjoy being zapped through time, frozen and mind-controlled. But, to paraphrase an old Mel Brooks quote about comedy: "Tragedy is when something bad happens to me. Adventure is when something bad happens to someone else."

Next week, we'll join Tarzan's son Korak for an adventure in the dinosaur-infested land of Pal-ul-don.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Friday's Favorite OTR

Superman: "The Disappearance of Clark Kent" 11/6/46

Clark Kent goes missing after leaving a note at the Daily Planet explaining his going off on a dangerous mission. Lois, Perry and Jimmy might normally go to Superman for help, but the Man of Steel is missing as well!

Click HERE to listen or download. This is the first part of a 13-part story. All the episodes are available HERE.
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