Monday, September 29, 2008
The story inside is equally cool. Published in 1971, it featured the first important appearance of the villain Two-Face in a number of years. Typical of many of the issues written by Denny O'Neil during this time, it was a well-constructed mystery in which Batman gets to show off his detective skills, his fighting skills, his escape artist abilities and his understanding of the psychology of his opponents. O'Neil was particularly good at jamming a lot of plot elements into a single issue and still create a smoothly flowing narrative.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Monday, September 22, 2008
The protagonist is a burly mountain man named Amos Malone, who learned something about magic and monsters during his lifetime and now puts that knowledge to good use while wandering around the Old West. Riding on his mount--a disguised unicorn named Worthless--Amos inevitably stumbles into one odd adventure after another.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Here's the deal with it: Roundabout 1939, special effects master Willis O'Brien (the stop-motion pioneer responsible for the original versions of The Lost World & King Kong) was planning on making another "lost world" type film. This one would involve an aviator who crashes in an isolated valley. In addition to the requisite dinosaurs, there would be a tribe of Vikings who ride giant eagles.
It would have almost undoubtably been a fun movie and a visual delight. But real life in the form of World War II got in the way and production on the film was shelved. Somewhere along the way, whatever pre-production drawings and sketches "O'Bie" had were lost.
Ray Harryhausen later had had hopes of bringing War Eagles to life. In fact, according to Mr. Harryhausen's web site, there is apparently still some hope of this happening. But whether we ever get to see the movie, at least we now have a novelization of the story.
The author, Carl Macek, has worked mostly in animation as a writer, editor and producer. According to the Amazon.com customer reviews, he seems to have done a pretty good job in prose as well, penning an old-fashioned pulp-style adventure.
I've sent away for the book, so I can judge for myself soon. None of the reviews specifically mention dinosaurs, though--so I'm a little worried they've been left out of this version. On the other hand, the story has been extended to include the protagonist using the War Eagles to battle a Nazi secret weapon, which is a cool idea. I really hope, though, that the dinosaurs are still there. No lost valley should ever be without dinosaurs.
Gee whiz, why don't people TELL me about these things? A book about Vikings on giant eagles fighting Nazis (and dinosaurs?) and I almost missed it.
Monday, September 15, 2008
Thursday, September 11, 2008
But you know how in most cases, the original book turns out to be better than even a well-made movie adaptation? This is the case with The Searchers. Le May's novel has great characters, a tense and fascinating plot, and some of the most vivid descriptions of the terrain and weather of the American Southwest ever put on paper.
The description of a snow storm that traps the main characters, for instance, will have you shivering in sympathy even if you're reading it on the beach in 90 degree weather. The description of riding through the heat of a Texas desert will, on the other hand, have you dripping in sweat even if you're sitting in an igloo while reading it. Le May's prose perfectly brings across just how hot or cold or exhausted his characters are at any one time. (And, by golly, they pretty much always seem to be hot or cold or exhausted.)
As for the plot--well, it should be unnecessary to recount it, since anyone who hasn't at least seen the movie really should be taken outside and shot. It involves the kidnapping of a young girl by Comanches. Two men, Amos Edwards and Marty Pawley, begin a search to find her. Five years later, both men are still looking--determined to never give up.
But their motivations are very, very different. Amos intends to kill the girl (his niece), because he knows by this time she will be more Indian than white. Marty, though, still wants to save her.
The novel plays off this tension, coming up with a bit of biting irony at the climax (that is very different--in one key way--than the ending of the movie) that brings everything to an emotionally satisfying conclusion.
Just as the movie is a great film (and not "just" a great Western), the novel is a truly great piece of real literature. I love genre fiction mostly because it gives us so many well-told stories without pretention to do more than that. But The Searchers does do more. Yes, the story is well-told, but it is also filled with real insight into human nature. What is particularly good is that the novel is just as unpretentious as are most other Westerns. All the elements that make it work--plot, descriptive passages and characterizations--flow naturally through Le May's vivid prose.
Monday, September 8, 2008
When this story was made into a movie in 1951, pretty much all that was retained was the idea of an alien loose in a remote scientific outpost (now in the Artic rather than Antartic). The shape-changing stuff was dropped--instead, the alien becomes a virtually unkillable (but intelligent) monster that feeds on blood.
Superficially, it may sound as if the movie makers had made a bad decision--dropping Campbell's nifty paranoia-inducing plot for a more standard monster-on-a-rampage story.
But The Thing from Another World turned out to be a classic, using the narrow corridors and crowded rooms of the research station to generate a remarkable level of suspense. Solid acting by Kenneth Tobey (as an Air Force pilot forced to take charge of the situation) and Robert Cornthwaite (as a scientist who believes individual human life is less important that scientific advancement) also adds to the tension and gives the film a little bit of philosophical depth as well. A brief scene near the movie's climax, when Cornthwaite's character encounters the monster and begs it to share its knowledge, is key to the movie. Even those who have dismissed Cornthwaite's views as nuts for the entire film pause and wait for a few moments in the vain hope that he will succeed.
But there's really nothing that can be done about the creature other than destroy it and, despite the sympathy doled out to Cornthwaite at the end, the movie supports this view whole-heartedly. Tobey and his men make plans then modify these plans as the situation changes, desperately trying to save not only themselves, but perhaps all of mankind. Despite the departures in plot from the original story, Campbell's theme of men using their intelligence to solve dangerous problems remains.
The credited director is Christian Nyby, but most histories of the film claim that producer Howard Hawks actually did most of the directing. The rapid-fire and overlapping dialogue used throughout the film is certainly a Hawks trademark.
That dialogue is another strength of the movie, helping to make all the human characters seem real to us and allowing the interjection of a fair amount of humor without distracting from the scary stuff.
The Thing from Another World is a classic of the 1950s. It's scary without being gross. It's fun without losing its capacity to scare.
Friday, September 5, 2008
This episode can be downloaded HERE
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Monday, September 1, 2008
The script and acting in this movie mesh perfectly. There's not a lot of action (though the fight with the bandits is exciting), but there's a lot of suspense inherent in wondering which of the three main characters--prospectors who have struck a rich vein of gold in a remote mountainous region--will give way to greed and--perhaps--murder.
Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt and Walter Houston--dirty and unshaven through most of the movie--make a wonderfully realistic trio. Bogie is particularly good, giving hints to the shallowness of his character throughout the early part of the film before finally giving way to all his worst instincts.
The movie balances out both the brutishness and the occasional flashes of nobility that are both a part of human nature. And it tells a really cool adventure story at the same time.
Directed by John Houston and photographed in beautiful black-and-white, Treasure can be considered a film noir. Most noirish films have an urban setting, with dark alleys and dingy hotel rooms often being used to generate a claustrophobic feeling--a sense that the characters are trapped in whatever dangerous situation besets them.
Treasure is set in the wilderness, but still has that same trapped, closed-in feeling. We get a few wide shots of the surrounding mountain region when the characters are searching for gold in order to establish the setting. But once they begin mining, the movie is staged in such a way to remind us that the prospectors are pretty much stuck together in a fairly small area. It's yet another example of how perfectly balanced all the various aspects of the movie are.
Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a superb film--well-worth watching if you've never seen it and well-worth re-watching even if you have seen it. There's so much to appreciate about it that it easily stands up to repeat viewings without losing any of its impact as either a great story or an exploration of human nature.