Monday, September 24, 2018

Cover Cavalcade

From 1978: A phenomenal Gil Kane cover from Marvel's excellent John Carter of Mars series.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

A new article by me

Babysitting, as portrayed in old-time radio shows, always results in zany schemes that go awry or chaotic shenanigans.

Read about it HERE.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Friday's Favorite OTR

Cavalcade of America: "The Great McGraw" 4/15/46

Pat O'Brien stars in a highly fictionalized but still enormously entertaining biography of John McGraw, the ill-tempered but brilliant manager of the New York Giants (1902-1932).

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Why do Horror and Comedy Mix?

You wouldn't think the two genres would mix together smoothly, would you?

Horror exists to scare us. Yes, there can be deeper thematic meaning in a good horror story, but if it doesn't make us jump out of our skin a few times, then it has failed in its appointed task.

Comedy exists to make us laugh. Once again, deeper meaning can be there beneath the laughs. But we need the laughs to be there or its simply not a comedy.

But anyone reading a blog about old-timey stuff already knows quite how effective horror and comedy mix together if both elements are treated with appropriate respect by the storytellers. How many of you saw Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) on TV as a kid? How many loved it? How many were scared and made to laugh aloud at the same time?

That's pretty much all of you, isn't it?

This may be my favorite Bud and Lou movie, if only because it is so brilliant in how it mixes in the classic monsters. I first saw it when I was quite young, so I don't remember now how many of the Universal Monster films I had seen prior to that. But then, I literally don't remember a time I didn't know who all the monsters were and their back stories. As far as my childhood memories are concerned, I always knew about them. Much like I always knew about Superman, Kirk & Spock, or Spider Man. The existence of these things are simply built into my DNA.

Though I usually enjoy rambling on with my own opinions about stuff like this (as I secretly believe that mankind's only hope is to embrace my opinions and cultural tastes on a global basis), I believe I will pause here to share an informative and insightful documentary on Abbott and Costello's monster films. This comes from the Blu-Ray release of A & C Meet Frankenstein and it is well-worth a half-hour of your time.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

"How can you carry knowledge like meat or weapons?" (The Hutec trilogy, part 2)

cover art by George Wilson
A couple of weeks ago, we looked at Turok Son of Stone #84, in ends with Turok and Andar team up with Hutec, the only survivor of an Aztec-like tribe that had also once wandered into Lost Valley.

Turok #85 (July 1973) continues this story arc, with Angelo R. Todaro continuing to do the artwork. The unknown writer actually manages to generate tension in an interesting way. There are the usual encounters with dinosaurs, which are always highlights of pretty much any Turok story. But the bulk of the tension comes from the fact that Turok and Andar are completely unfamiliar with the concept of a written language.

So when Hutec insists on weighing himself down with a satchel of scrolls and several times risks his life to keep those scrolls safe, Turok and Andar begin to wonder if he's just nuts.

But Hutec's scrolls do seem to somehow tell him things--most importantly, it leads the trio on a route that will eventually show a way out of the valley. Hutec finds one landmark after another and even manages to save them all from an unfriendly tribe of cavemen as well.

Eventually, Andar begins to trust Hutec. Turok is a bit harder to convince, though Turok is wise enough to follow Hutec's lead and acknowledge that pride or jealously might be affecting his feelings. And, eventually, it is Turok who interprets a clue from the scrolls properly to keep them on the right path.

But then they come to a dead end when they find a rock marker has broken loose from the edge of a stream. This means Hutec can't measure the proper angle to figure out what direction to go in from there. The three have finally come to trust each other, but they scrolls have taken them as far as possible without leading them out of the valley.

I really like this one. Hutec is a great character. He'll only be around for one more issue and I think it was wise not to make him a permanent addition to the book. But he is serving his purpose here, challenging Turok and Andar with new knowledge and new ideas. This is the second issue in a row in which Turok is stymied by the idea of a written language, but the script continues to hit the right balance. Turok never comes across as dumber than Hutec because writing is a new thing for him. We get that this is a result of growing up in a non-literate culture and has no bearing on his sharp intelligence and ability to think & improvise under pressure. In the end, Turok demonstrates his intelligence by showing that he's eventually capable of understanding something that was totally outside his experience.

We'll finish up the Hutec trilogy in two weeks. Next week, we'll zip off into space and visit the Space Canine Patrol.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Cover Cavalcade

Even for someone living in a Comic Book Universe, Jimmy Olsen lives an odd life.  From 1959, with art by Curt Swan.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Friday's Favorite OTR

Destination Freedom: "Railway to Freedom" 7/4/48

The Civil War on Old-Time Radio (Part 1 of 17)

The story of Harriet Tubman, the former slave who helped countless other slaves escape the South via the Underground Railway.

Click HERE to listen or download.

This is the first of 17 episodes from various series that will take us through the Civil War and its immediate post-war legacy. I'll be posting another Civil War episode every three or four weeks.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Don't Mess with the Butler!

I don't think a lot of the Disney live-action films from the '50s & '60s are as well-remembered as they should be. The studio was stuffed full of skilled storytellers and few of the films produced there were clunkers.

For instance, The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin (1967) is an enormously fun movie. It is essentially the story of the world's most awesome butler, played with skill and humor by Roddy McDowell.

It's based on a children's novel titled By the Great Horn Spoon! I haven't read the book, though it is my understanding that the movie pretty much leaves the book behind and goes off in its own direction.

I have no idea whether making the movie was a fun experience for the cast and crew, but, by golly, I hope they did. Bullwhip Griffin is one of movies in which you have the distinct impression that the actors in it are really enjoying the roles they are playing. Of course, for all I know, making the movie was a miserable experience for all involved and it just seems like fun because they were all ACTING! But if I had to bet money on it, I'd go with them all having fun.

The story starts in Boston. Young Jack Flagg is reading dime novels about the California gold rush--most notably about a character called Bullwhip Brannigan--and gets it into his head that it would be fun to seek his fortune out West.

Since Jack and his sister Arabella (Suzanne Pleshette) live in a large mansion, it seems he already has his fortune. But when they find out their grandfather has died broke, Jack decides it is indeed time to stowaway on a ship heading to San Francisco, find a fortune in gold, then come back to take care of his older sister.

Griffin pursues Jack aboard the ship, but both end up stuck aboard when she sails. They team up with a down-and-out Shakespearean actor (Richard Haydn) who claims to have a map to the "mother lode." A thief and con artists known as Judge Higgins (Karl Malden) also enters the picture. He's after the map at first and later after stealing everyone else's money in any way he can.

Once in California, Jack and Griffin undertake a series of adventures in search of their fortune. The comedic elements of the story are sincerely funny as it gently satirizes Westerns, but what makes the film work on a storytelling level is that it's not the expected "Fish Out of Water" tale you would expect after thrusting a cultured butler into a rough-and-tumble world. Griffin (who is soon nicknamed Bullwhip after Jack's dime novel hero) keeps his head in dangerous situations and thinks quickly on his feet. There is both a sense of real danger and a sense that Griffin can really win out in the end if he just keeps plugging along.

There's also a real chemistry between Griffin and Arabella. It's obvious from the start that the two are in love with each other, but Griffin won't pursue a woman he considers above his own station. But when Arabella also shows up in San Francisco, she proves to be quite intelligent and capable in her own right. And, by golly, she sure looks purty at the same time.

The movie's climatic scene is an often hilarious bare-knuckled boxing match between Griffin and a big guy appropriately named Mountain Ox (played by Mike Mazurki), in which we learn that brains--and a good deal of dumb luck--can always win out over brawn.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Ruff and Reddy

Ruff and Reddy, which ran on Saturday mornings from 1957 to 1960, is a cartoon of some historical importance. Produced by Hanna-Barbara, it was the cartoon that demonstrated that the limited animation technique (less cels per second of animation) was practical and proved that made-for-TV animation would be a regular thing.

Ruff was the cat and the brains of the pair. Unlike real life cats, he wasn't evil, but a steadfast friend to Reddy, the dog. Reddy, by the way, was equally loyal, but somewhat lacking in the brains department.

Their half-hour show featured three Ruff and Ready segments per episode, with each 13 episodes making up a single storyline. So, though primarily a comedy, the show depended a lot on generating a mild sense of real danger, along with cliffhanger endings to make sure the kids kept tuning in each week.

Dell Comics' adaptation of the show started with three appearances in the Four Color anthology before the two buddies spun off into their own book for a nine issue run. (That book was numbered 4 through 12 because--as was common with Dell--the Four Color appearances were retroactively counted as part of the series.)

Four Color #981 (April-June 1959) contained Ruff and Reddy's second set of comic book adventures. The writer is uncredited, but the book was fortunate in getting Harvey Eisenberg (once described as the "Carl Barks of Hanna Barbara comics") to draw the stories.

The issue starts out with an absolutely delightful 11-pager titled "Ruff and Ready and the Teeny Genie." The two friends are out in the desert, following a map that should take them to the lost city of Bagdaddy-O, which is said to be full of treasure.

What I like about Eisenberg's art is how he maintains the comedic ambiance in a story, but also mixes in that sense of real danger that is an equally important element to the story. When Ruff and Reddy are caught in a sandstorm, the danger they are now in does indeed seem real.

Fortunately, they survive the storm, which also uncovers the ruins of Bagdaddy-O. No treasure is to be found, but a small lantern, when rubbed, produces a tiny genie!

Unfortunately, the genie is barely more than a toddler--he's a mere 2.5 million years old and doesn't quite have the hang of magic yet. When the two friends ask for water, he inadvertantly transports them to the middle of  a shark-infested ocean. Each successive try to get them someplace safe only lands them in another dangerous spot.

In the end, he manages to get them back to Bagdaddy-O and conjure up a fortune in treasure. But, after the little genie goes back into the lamp to take a nap, Ruff and Reddy realize that they never wished for a way to get their treasure back to civilization. Reddy, though, now has the genie's magic manual and is pretty sure that he can conjure up a way home himself.

What could possibly go wrong?

It's a great little story, structuring a series of sincerely funny gags around a plot that put the protagonists in real danger. Eisenberg's art catches the personalities of the characters and the ambiance of the universe in which they live, and enlivened the gags. Ruff and Reddy are not the best remembered of Hanna Barbara's many Saturday morning TV characters, but they have earned their important spot in the history of animation.

The story is available to read online HERE.

Next week, we'll return to Lost Valley again to see how Hutec is working out as Turok and Andar's new partner.

Monday, September 10, 2018

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