Friday, October 2, 2015

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Lone Ranger: "Guns is Fer Fightin' Men" 2/4/44

A man needs the Lone Ranger's help in battling rustlers. But if he asks for that help, he might reveal a dark secret from his past to his daughter.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

If You Love Dogs...


If you love dogs (and who doesn't love dogs--because they're awesome and not cats), then a particular Our Gang short is required viewing for you. 

For many of us, we more readily think of these shorts as The Little Rascals, because that's the name used when they were syndicated on TV and that's how we grew up knowing them. 

The series began in 1922 and was produced at Hal Roach's studio and originally distributed by Pathe', an independent film distributor that was around during the 1920s. It lasted for two decades, with regular cast changes as child actors kept annoyingly growing up. Those of us who were introduced to them on television are most familiar with the Spanky & Alfalfa shorts made in the 1930s, because those were the ones most often shown. 

By the way, Roach sold the series to MGM in 1938, but later bought back many of them and repackaged them for TV. The legalities involved in this is why they became The Little Rascals when they appeared in the new medium. 

Anyway, 1927's two-reeler Love My Dog is one I never saw as a kid and only recently saw as a grown-up. Gee whiz, it's wonderful.

The Gang at the time included Farina (Allen Hoskins) and Joe (Joe Cobb), who pretty much take the lead in this one. Farina befriends a homeless and hungry mutt, only to find out that the local dog catchers are on a jihad to catch and put to sleep any unvaccinated canines.
One of the strengths of the Our Gang series throughout its run is that the kids acted like kids. Yes, it was in an exaggerated, comedic manner--but you never had any problem accepting them as real children. This was something that added both to the comedy and the heart of the series.

So when the kids in Love My Dog come up with desperate plans to protect their dogs that involve disguising them as other animals, we have no problems running with this. In our minds, these are real kids, so that means the dogs are real dogs in real danger. The balance between silliness and a sense of real danger is perfect.

Farina's poor dog has quite a day. He helps rescue other dogs out of the dog catcher's wagon (the dog catchers, by the way, are cartoonishly evil) and pauses to rescue a toddler from the ledge of a tall building. But he is himself caught and taken to the pound to be gassed to death, the Gang has to very quickly raise the $5.00 needed to save his life. Will they make it? 

This is a funny, thrilling, and ultimately touching comedy short. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Most Dangerous Dinosaur Game

The cliche of the good guys being hunted as prey by the villains has been used in many different stories. I wonder if Paul S. Newman was consciously harking back to Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game"--the origin of this idea--or if it was so common by 1970 that you didn't need to reference or even know about that story anymore to do your own take on it.

"The Hunted" is from Turok, Son of Stone #68 (January 1970). Turok and Andar encounter a tribe that uses clever and bold tactics to lure dinosaurs into pits and kill them for meat. But Andar puts his foot in his mouth when he brags he and Turok are the better hunters.

This is unwise. The pair soon end up in a trap and their bows and arrows are taken from them. The tribe plans to hunt them down. If they are caught, they'll be killed. If they survive until sunrise the next day, they get their weapons back and will be allowed to leave the area.

I love a moment that follows when Andar begins to wish they hadn't come into this area. Turok simply replies "We did and we are here!" It is what it is, Andar. Deal with it. It is moments like this that help make Turok one of my favorite comic book characters.

The story becomes a cat-and-mouse game with the hunters and the hunted both using clever tactics to try to outwit one another. At one point, Turok and Andar take to the trees so they won't leave a trail, but an encounter with a tree-climbing dinosaur ruins this idea.

The story construction here is excellent. The hunters may be from a more primitive society than Turok, but they are indeed great hunters. The various moves and counter-moves attempted by both sides is exciting and tense.

And--as always--Alberto Giolitti's art makes it all look magnificent.

The heroes manage to lose the hunting party for a time, but end up falling into one of the dinosaur pits. Here, luck turns in their favor. A stegasaurus falls in soon after and is speared by a couple of tribesmen who don't know the Indians are also down there. This allows Turok and Andar to get a couple of spears. Not as good as their bows, but better than nothing.

But the hunting party is closing in on them again. Turok has one last plan: Kill a pair of baby triceratops and use their skins to hide in plain sight.

It works, though its impossible not to feel sorry for the poor baby dinosaurs. If only Giolitti hadn't drawn them to look so darn cute!

The sun rises with Turok and Andar still free. The tribe keeps their end of the bargain, but Turok is gracious in victory and does acknowledge they are the best hunters he's ever seen.

"The Hunted" is a great story, taking a well-used premise and executing it superbly in terms of good storytelling--while never forgetting that the best stories involve clever heroes trying to defeat equally clever enemies.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Cover Cavalcade

I don't know why more heroes don't bring dogs along with them while fighting evil. They certainly come in handy.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Friday's Favorite OTR

Escape: "Ambassador of Poker" 4/7/50

A Virginian who "can't lose at poker" takes a job recovering a valuable treasure from a Chinese bandit. Fortunately, it's an adventure in which his skill at poker might mean the difference between life and death.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Dying Centaur Civilization

Read/Watch 'em In Order #59

When the first Jongor novella ended, the titular hero was accompanying Ann and Alex Hunter out of the dinosaur-infested Lost Land back to civilization.

But life is never that straightforward for pulp heroes. "The Return of Jongor" (first published in the April 1944 issue of Fantastic Adventures) quickly sees Ann and Alex captured by Aborigines at the outskirts of Lost Land. Two more men--Schiller and Morton--are also prisoners.

With a little help from a dinosaur, Jongor rescues them all. But further trouble arises when some Murtos attempt to lure Jongor into a trap. The Murtos, remember, are the monkey-people from the previous story--the degenerate remnants of a dying civilization that Jongor destroyed while rescuing Ann. So they are rather upset with our hero and determined to finish him off.

After a kidnapping, an escape and a run-in with a whopping big lion, Ann ends up in the city of the Arklans, a race of centaurs who are also the remnants of a dying civilization. The Lost Land is turning out to be a sort-of dumping ground for moribund pre-human races.

Jongor and his allies act to rescue Ann, but are soon helping Nesca, the queen of the Arklans, escape from assassins. This task is made more difficult by the fact that Nesca doesn't necessarily want to be rescued. Also, Schiller and Morton might not be as trustworthy as their allies would wish them to be.

The same weaknesses inherent in the first Jongor story are still here. Robert Moore Williams is still annoyingly vague in his descriptions of everything. For instance, I still don't know what species of dinosaur Jongor is supposed to be riding. The Arklan city is described in a few short paragraphs, giving us enough information to follow the action but without details that lead us to accept the centaur civilization as something real.

On the other hand, Williams' basic ideas are still pretty cool and the story's brevity continues to hide some of the more egregious faults.

Also, there are several parts that are downright awesome. Ann's single-handed escape from Murtos about halfway through the story is edge-of-your-seat tense, while Nesca's decisions late in the story regarding her personal fate and the fate of her entire race are dripping with surprisingly real emotion.

"The Return of Jongor" has enough good ideas for a solid novel-length story, I think Williams' mistake was writing a novella instead of fleshing out both the plot and the descriptive passages. The story sometimes has the feel of an outline for a more in-depth tale.

All the same, "The Return of Jongor" is entertaining. We'll see if Jongor continues to entertain us when we take a look at Jongor's final adventure.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Gladiator Sergeant.

 Our Army at War #272 (October 1974) features Sgt. Rock in a story titled "The Arena." It's a very simple story in terms of plot, but is thematically interesting. Mostly, though, it gives Russ Heath an unusual setting to really show off just how awesome an artist he is.

The plot really is very simple. Rock is captured by the Germans outside of Rome. He escapes when he's brought into the city, hides out in the Colosseum and plays cat-and-mouse with the Germans. Parallel to this are flashbacks to the adventures of Rufus the Gladiator (I really wish Bob Kanigher had named him Spartacus), who is tossed into the Colosseum to fight after leading an unsuccessful revolt.

So we have two men--2000 years apart--fighting against oppressive conquerors in the same spot. Things end badly for Rufus, but Rock gets literally pulled out of the fire by Easy Company in the nick of time.

So the theme behind the story is indeed interesting and well-executed, with parallels between Rock and Rufus being emphasized in several ways. This includes images such as Rufus being crushed by an octopus matched with Rock being crushed by a burly German.

But the strength of the story here is the artwork. Using the Colosseum as a setting and allowing flashbacks to the days of the Empire allows Russ Heath to shine. Nearly every panel is riveting and a pleasure to simply look at--great figure work highlighted by perfect compositions.

Also, you don't get to see giant octopi in World War 2 stories very often.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Cover Cavalcade

Great illustration. Notice how the image takes your eye around in a circle before bringing you to the center.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Friday's Favorite OTR

Dragnet: "Big Shot" 9/21/52

A business is robbed and the manager is killed. Circumstances indicate it might have been an inside job, so Friday and Smith begin tracking down former employees.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Parallel Mesquiteer Universes

I wrote about a Three Mesquiteers film only a month or so ago, but we're going to visit another of them today. This is in part because a B-movie group I run on Facebook has generating a number of posts and comments, inspiring me to watch them. But also because I'd like to talk about the inherent weirdness of when the heck theses movies are set.

In the universe of B-movies and serials, the Wild West remained wild right up until what was then "modern day." There are still cowboys, cattle drives, Indians and six-shooters. But there's also automobiles, telephones and radios. Heck, Mesquiteer films made in the 1940s had them fighting Nazis. So a 1937 entry like The Riders of the Whistling Skull was obviously set in 1937, despite the Old West trappings.

I'm fine with this. It's a universe in which the West remained the way it should be, even while some elements of modern society slowly snuck in.

But other entries in the series, such 1938's The Night Riders (the movie I reviewed last month) are clearly set in the 19th Century. The Night Riders' plot revolved in part around the 1881 assassination of President Garfield.

The movie we are looking at today--1937's The Trigger Trio--is another one set in then-modern day. The plot involves an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease among the local cattle. The Mesquiteers are deputized to enforce a quarantine at the state border and are stopping 1930s model cars and trucks. The movie is still a Western--both heroes and villains more commonly ride horses and nobody pulls out a Tommy gun during the final shoot-out--but it's definitely set in the '30s.

The movie is an excellent entry in the series. It's the first one not to feature the usual three main characters. Robert Livingston, who was playing Stony Brooke at the time, went swimming with co-star Ray Corrigan and bumped his head on a rock. That laid him up for a month.

So Ralph "Dick Tracy" Byrd was brought in. The script mentions that Stony is down in Mexico and introduces Byrd as Larry Smith, the brother of Corrigan's character Tuscon.

It's fun to see Byrd, whom I'm most used to playing straight-laced authority figures like Tracy, take on the role of a hot-headed younger brother. And having a hothead in the cast is a strength for this particular story. The villain is a rancher whose cattle first contract the disease. He changes the brand of the sick cattle and sneaks them into someone else's herd. He also murders an agricultural inspector to keep his secret.

Larry, meanwhile, is annoyed that his older brother is so strict about upholding the law and enforcing the quarantine. He ends up unwittingly helping the murderer when he agrees to help with an illegal cattle drive to get the beef to market across the state line.

But when the villain's identity is revealed, Larry rejoins the other Mesquiteers and acquits himself well.

Like many of the early Mesquiteer films, this one is in the public domain. You can watch it here:

But it's time to get back to the main point. Why are some films set in the 1930s and others in the 19th Century. The Night Riders is clearly set in 1881, The Trigger Trio is clearly set in the 1930s, while later films in the series (involving Nazi spies) are clearly set in the 1940s.

Just to complicate matters further, 1941's Prairie Pioneers is set just after the Mexican War ended, nearly a full generation before 1881.

Were the Three Mesquiteers immortal, destined to fight evil through all eternity? Do the films set in then-modern day involve the identical sons of the original 19th Century Mesquiteers? Or (and this is my preferred interpretation) are there two (or possibly three) parallel universes involving multiple sets of Mesquiteers who were born in different generations?

Let's go with this last one, which means we have at least two universes. One is the traditional mythic Old West. The other is the B-movie universe's modern West, in which time stood partially still for the last generation or two. Either universe is a good setting for entertaining Westerns, so I'm happy that both have a version of the Three Mesquiteers riding around.

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