Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday's Favorite OTR

Philo Vance: "The Green Girls Murder Case" 4/12/49

The police are baffled when two sisters are murdered at different times but by exactly the same method. But for some reason, the District Attorney refuses to call in Philo Vance to help.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Battleships and Dinosaurs

In recent posts, I've mentioned that one of the nifty side effects of ereaders is the increasing availability of fiction from the Golden Age of Pulps. In fact, you don't necessarily have to go to Amazon or Barnes & Noble to buy classic fiction. A lot of it is available for free from sites such as Project Gutenberg or

For instance, the pulp story "The Lost Warship," by Robin Moore Williams, was published in the January 1943 issue of Amazing Stories, but has since fallen into the public domain. So you can find it at Project Gutenberg.

The warship that gets lost is the battleship Idaho. And, boy, does it ever get lost! During an air attack on the ship by some Japanese planes, a freak accident sends it and its crew a million years into the past.

Fortunately, when the main character (ex-Navy man Winston Craig) was earlier rescued from a drifting life boat, one of his fellow castaways was a world-renowned physicist. This scientist--who apparently has a PhD in Plot Exposition-- figures out what has happened to the ship.

Unfortunately, he soon figures out that there's no way to return to 1943. The Idaho and its crew are stuck in the distant past.

The ship is menaced by pterodactyls, but the anti-aircraft guns take care of that. Not long after that, though, the Idaho is being followed by high-altitude jet aircraft.

Well, dinosaurs and futuristic aircraft (futuristic from a 1943 perspective) don't normally go together. Not even the scientist can explain this. Nor can he explain the acid that is coated over the sea by the airplane guys, eating away at the Idaho's hull.

The Idaho has to be beached, never to sail again. While Winston Craig, the scientist and a landing party are scouting a jungle, the aircraft attack and zap the bulk of the crew with sleep gas. The villains then haul their prisoners off to an unknown location.

The landing party gets some new information from a cave man they save from a dinosaur--his language is so simple the scientist learns it almost instantly. The bad guys are a not-quite-human race called the Orgums, who capture humans and sacrifice them to the "monster who is always hungry." The Orgums are largely primitive, but inexplicably have some elements of advanced technology.

Now Craig has to quickly plan a way to rescue the crew. This basically means overthrowing an entire civilization with a few men, some tommy guns and a supply of hand grenades. But it just might be possible to turn some of the local dinosaurs into weapons of mass destruction, thus making the odds a bit more even.

"The Lost Warship" is a fun, fast-moving story with a lot of great action. Also, its got dinosaurs in it--something that automatically kicks it up two full points on the Bogart/Karloff Coolness Scale.

It's not without its flaws, of course. There's a few contrived moments that exist merely to move the plot along. The scientist being able to learn the cave man language in something under a minute is the most notable. And the eventual explanation for why the Ogrums have such a bizarre mixture of primitive culture and advanced technology doesn't quite hold up under its own logic.

But the story does have dinosaurs and the action scenes are exciting, so we can afford to be forgiving. Also, one of the biggest "problems" with the story is something I don't consider a problem at all.

Remember that the Idaho has been sent one million years into the past. There they find dinosaurs co-existing with humans. No matter what one's views of how the Earth got started (evolution, creationism or a mixture of the two), this makes no sense at all.

It's something that probably violates the suspension of disbelief for many readers, thus spoiling the story. But it doesn't bother me at all.

Because a few decades later, the great Ray Harryhausen would give us a movie set in one million BC and also populate the world of that time with both dinosaurs and humans.

So I maintain that "The Lost Warship" is simply set in the same universe as 1966's One Million Years BC. While the Ogrums were terrorizing mankind in one part of the world, humans were developing a stronger tribal culture in another part of the world. (Also, judging by Raquel Welch, humans untouched by the Ogrums were developing advanced hair styling techniques.)

For me, that solves any suspension of disbelief problems I might otherwise have had. A connection with a Ray Harryhausen movie, no matter how tenuous (and no matter that I just made that connection up out of mist and moon beams), makes "The Lost Warship" all the more cool.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

How Many Haunted Tanks Does it Take to Win a War?

When writer Bob Kanigher first created the Haunted Tank in G.I. Combat #87 (1961), he came up with a pretty nifty idea. A guy named Jeb Stuart, the namesake of the famous Civil War cavalry general, is placed in command of a Stuart tank during World War II. Soon, he discovers that his tank is actually haunted by Gen. Stuart. Only Jeb can see and hear the general, who provides him with cryptic advice that Jeb usually interprets in the nick of time to pull himself and his tank out of the fire.

For a dozen years, this formula worked well. The art was nearly always provided by either Joe Kubert or Russ Heath, giving the stories the strong visual backbone they needed. Kanigher didn’t worry a lot about character development or historical continuity. He just told good stories, giving Kubert and Heath the opportunity to provide wonderful imagery.

But in 1973, things changed for Jeb and his crew. I’ve already reviewed  G.I. Combat#150, in which the Stuart is destroyed and  the crew goes to a tank graveyard and builds a bigger, better tank out of a mish-mash of parts from destroyed tanks.

For three years, the series played on the irony of the Haunted Tank being built Frankenstein-like from the wrecks of dead tanks. But in G.I. Combat #185 (December 1975), that tank was destroyed when a
German fighter plane, shot out of the sky by the Jeb’s crew, smashed into it.

Jeb and his men find their way to a nearby village. There they see that a small Stuart Tank—the twin of the original Haunted Tank—has been captured by the Germans. Taking over the Stuart, they engage in a dogfight against a huge Tiger Tank through the streets of the village. Jeb wins by taking advantage of his tank’s smaller size, using the narrow alleys to get behind the Tiger and blast it to pieces. It’s another fine issue, with Sam Glanzman doing a particularly good job of depicting the tank vs. tank fight. We always understand the situation as we follow the action—Glanzman is able to ensure that we can always see where the two opposing tanks are in relation to each other.

So they were back to using a Stuart. But that lasted less than a year. In G.I. Combat #194 (September 1976), the Stuart takes out two enemy tanks, but is itself fatally damaged. The crew bails out only to be captured and sent to a nearby concentration camp.

Meanwhile, the commander of one of the German tanks, himself badly wounded, is taken to a base holiday. The commander is a particularly brilliant tactician. Rather than lose his skill, the German doctors rebuild his body, turning him into a robot.

When the Americans escape (in a grisly scene in which they hid in the truck taking bodies to a mass grave, then knife the truck drivers once out of the camp), they run across a Sherman tank whose crew was killed. They take this for their own. General Stuart is enraged—how dare they use a tank named after “that Union firebrand who set fire to my beloved South!”

When the Sherman goes up against a Tiger tank commanded by the robotic commander, they end up in a fight for their lives that they only barely win. The issue ends with Gen. Stuart returning to them, having realized he is the guardian of men, not a “hunk of steel.”

The story here strays perhaps a little bit too far into science-fiction territory to really work as effectively as it could, but Glanzman’s art is still strong and, in the end, a robot Nazi tank commander is no more unlikely than a ghostly Confederate cavalryman who gets into a snit over the name of a tank.

Anyways, Jeb and his crew stayed in a Sherman until the series eventually ended. (Though not the same Sherman the whole time—they lost a few along the way.) Regardless of which tank they were using—each of which had its own little bit of irony behind it—the stories were always fun to read. General Stuart was right—it was the fighting hearts of Jeb Stuart, Arch, Slim, Rick and Gus that were really important.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Cover Cavalcade

I like this cover a lot--very atmospheric. But I'm not sure who the artist is. If anyone has a guess, please post a comment.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Hunters: "You Take Ballistics" 11/29/48

This is an audition episode for the show that would eventually be titled Pursuit.

A Scotland Yard inspector is convinced he knows who committed a murder, even though the ballistic report indicates that the suspect's gun could not have been the murder weapon.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

"He loved the Moon, but it had tried to kill him."

When I wrote about one of Robert Heinlein's early novels a few months back, I mentioned that one of his strengths was that Heinlein never forgot just how wondrous outer space is.

Arthur C. Clarke kept that in mind as well in many of his hard science fiction novels. A good example is one of A Fall of Moondust, first published in 1961. This takes place almost entirely on the moon (though there are a few scenes set in a space station at one of the Earth-Moon Lagrange points). The moon's been colonized and one of the tourist attractions is the Sea of Thirst, a shallow "ocean" of extremely fine and dry dust that flows almost like water. 

There's a "boat" called the Selene that skims across the lake carrying a score of tourists each trip. But when a freak accident cripples the boat, it sinks down into the dust to a depth of about 10 meters.

The Selene still has power and enough food and water to last awhile. They should also have about a week's worth of air, but several problems soon arise. The temperature begins to rise because the dust acts as in insulator and prevents excess heat from radiating away. The rising heat then causes the air purifiers to malfunction, so carbon dioxide begins to slowly build up to lethal levels.

While those trapped on the boat deal with that, the rescue crew has several challenges to overcome. First, they have to find the Selene. Then they have to figure out how to retrieve those aboard while working in an airless and otherwise completely hostile environment. There's no standard rescue equipment in existence for this bizarre situation, so everyone involved has to improvise constantly.

Basically, the novel is presented as a series of problems in engineering. But phrasing it that way makes the
story sound dry. Clarke brings a very high level of excitement to the tale, as he first explains the problems encountered in clear language so all us lay-people can grasp it, then progress the action in such a way as to keep the suspense high. Problems are solved, but new problems arise, causing potentially fatal delays in the rescue operations. And there's one particular danger that no one realizes even exists until it suddenly rears its head and bites everyone in the proverbial butt.

Adding to the story's verisimilitude is Clarke (like Heinlein) periodically reminding us just how hostile and alien to human life the rest of the universe can be. Once we leave Earth, we take our life in our hands no matter how good our technology may be. But (also like Heinlein), Clarke remembers that outer space is also a wonderfully awesome place, full of majestic beauty and an infinity of new things to learn. It may be dangerous, but it's worth going there.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Who's Faster?

We’ve got one more post coming to end our methodical look at Weisinger-era Superman stories. But before we get to that, let’s jump ahead a few years to examine a particularly entertaining story from Julius Schwartz’ tenure as editor.

I once read an interview with 1970s/80s-era Superman writer Elliot S! Maggin in which he says that Denny O'Neil used to "whine" about how powerful Superman was and how much he hated writing about the cosmic-level characters.

I can believe that. Before O'Neil finally established himself as one of the perfect writers for Batman, he messed around with Superman and Wonder Woman in some bizarre ways. He de-powered Wonder Woman, turning her into a martial arts expert who (if memory serves) ran a flower shop. He tried to tone Superman down by cutting his power in half, which didn't really do any good since infinity divided by two is still infinity.

But all the same, he did do some very worthwhile stuff with Superman and other truly powerful Justice Leaguers. In World's Finest 198 & 199 (November & December 1970), strange creatures called Anarchronids are zipping across the universe at several times light speed, which is causing the universe to unravel.

The Guardians of the Universe recruit Superman and Flash, the two fastest beings in existence, to run just as fast in the opposite direction to cancel out this effect. They give Flash a medallion that will provide life support and form a roadway in front of him as he runs.

Aside from the apparently minor issue of saving all of Creation, Superman and Flash also look at this as an opportunity to finally find out which of them is faster. They had raced twice before, once for charity and once when forced to do so by alien gamblers. Neither of those events produced a clear winner. Now they would know for sure.

So they take off, running head-to-head across light years. They are attacked by the Anarchronids, run into
trouble with an exploding star and briefly get stuck in a pocket dimension, but they overcome all this and keep going.

In the meantime, the whole universe-unraveling thing has thrown a pajama-clad Jimmy Olsen back through time, giving him some adventurous moments both in ancient Rome and at the Salem witch trials.

Eventually, Superman and Flash discover the Anarchronids were created by General Zod and some other Phantom Zone criminals, who will use the destruction of the Universe to create a portal that will allow them to escape from the Zone. In the end, Superman and Flash, both paralyzed from the hips down, crawl together towards the switch that will destroy the Anarchronids before the Universe falls apart. Which of them will reach the switch first?

It's a really fun story, casually throwing out one cosmic-level idea after another. It never gives in to its basic silliness or otherwise places tongue-in-cheek. Instead, it takes itself seriously--as most comic book stories of this sort should. It doesn't try to come up with faux scientific explanations for all the wild events taking place--it simply creates a world where such events are possible; a world where "run really fast in the opposite direction of the Anarchronids" is a reasonable thing to do. Because of this (and because of Dick Dillon's solid art), it produces a nice amount of honest drama. It was a good balance of characterization and fantasy storytelling that fit just fine into a superhero universe.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Back in Print!

I'm posting this in part for very selfish reasons. The first of the Timewars novels--a series of 12 novels first published in the 1980s/90s--has come back into print both in paperback and electronically. I've wanted these books for my Kindle, so I'm happy to see it.

The author has written that if this one sells well enough to pay for the expense of publishing it, he'll make others available, so I'm going to plug it here in hopes of generating a sale. (Or an ebook loan if you are an Amazon Prime member.)

The Ivanhoe Gambit is an excellent book--clever plot, intelligent characterizations, great action. If you want some good SF, it's worth trying.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Cover Cavalcade

Michael Whelan is another of my favorite paperback cover artists. When paperbacks were less expensive (even factoring in inflation) and more of an impulse buy than they are now, I think publishers paid more attention to including eye-catching covers than they do nowadays.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Friday's Favorite OTR

Philip Marlowe: "Torch Carriers" 1/7/50

Several cases of unrequited love intertwine in a case that eventually leads to Marlowe being held at gunpoint by a ruthless thug.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Poem and Two Films

Edgar Allan Poe's stories and poems are so vivid that it's natural for filmmakers to turn to him quite often with the intent of adapting his stuff to celluloid. But most of his poems and short stories are pretty.. well.. short.  So if you're going to make a movie out of Poe (even if it's a B-movie that only runs an hour), you've got to add a lot of extra stuff.

That's what happened both times Poe's poem "The Raven" was turned into a movie. In both cases, the finished product really doesn't have a lot to do with the poem, but there is a slight connection in each case that does kinda sorta make sense.

In the mid-1930s, Universal Studios was teaming up their two horror stars--Karloff and Lugosi--in a series of films to play off their respective successes in Frankenstein and Dracula. Several of these films were loosely based on works of Poe.

The poem "The Raven" was about obsession with a lost love (and perhaps taking a perverse pleasure in dwelling on that loss). The 1935 film version gave us Lugosi as neurosurgeon Dr. Richard Vollin, a man at first obsessed with Poe and then obsessed with a woman he couldn't have. So he invites the girl, her boyfriend and her dad to his mansion for a party. His plan: kidnap and torture them all to death with methods that had been used in Poe's stories.

So the theme of obsession with someone you can't have runs through both works. Other than that, though, the movie is pretty much an original story.

And that's just fine, since it's a fun story. Karloff plays a killer on the run from the law who asks Vollin to perform plastic surgery on him. Vollin instead scars half of Karloff's face (Jack Pierce's makeup job here is perfect) and promises to fix him only after he helps carry out Vollin's nefarious scheme. Vollin's mansion, equipped with secret doors, rooms rigged to act like elevators and a hidden torture chamber, is the perfect setting for a horror movie

Karloff, as usual, is great in his role. He plays a brutal killer, but he still generates an aura of sympathy. And in the end, when he struggles over whether to keep helping Vollin or help a girl who acted kindly towards him, he demonstrates a deep emotional conflict with just his expression and a few terse words of dialogue. The Raven would have been a fine B-movie regardless, but Karloff's performance helps make it even better.

Nearly three decades later, Karloff returned to "The Raven" one more time. This time around, it was the 5th of 8 films based on Poe's work that were directed by Roger Corman. 1963's The Raven was written by Richard Matheson, who dealt with expanding the short poem into a full-length film by using the idea of a raven flying into a room and speaking to a man, then going off in a pretty much completely original direction from there. He also decided to make it a comedy, something that hadn't yet been done in the Corman-Poe cycle.

You may notice, though, that neither the poster nor the trailer (posted below) tell you that the film is a comedy. A plot summery doesn't really hint at this either. But it is all played for laughs and it is a really, really funny movie

The man visited by a raven is mild-mannered magician Erasmus Craven (Vincent Price), who is still mourning his two-years dead wife Lenore. The raven isn't actually a raven, but a magically transformed man named Adolphus Bedlo (Peter Lorre). Craven turns Bedlo back into Bedlo, then learns that Bedlo had been turned into a raven by Dr. Scarabus (Boris Karloff), a powerful magician and old rival of Craven's father.

Craven's supposedly dead wife Lenore has been seen at Scarabus' castle. So Craven, Bedlo, Craven's daughter Estelle and Bedlo's cloying son Rexford all pay Scarabus a visit.

This all turns out to be a plot by Scarabus to steal Craven's magical secrets and this in turn leads to a truly epic duel between the two wizards.

As I said, none of that tells you its a comedy. But it's often hilariously funny.  Price, Lorre and Karloff were all great comedic actors when they needed to by and they play off each other seamlessly, with Price most notably bringing real charm to his role as a mild-mannered but ultimately powerful magician.

And the whole movie looks magnificent. In a DVD extra, Roger Corman explains that the sets from previous Poe films were each kept intact and added to by the budget of the next successive film in the cycle. By the time they got to The Raven, the sets that made up Scarabus' castle were elaborate and elegant.

So there you have it. Two films both supposedly based on "The Raven," though both maintain a very tenuous connection to the poem. But both great films in their own way.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Supervillains and Dirty Diapers.

Baby Magneto looks just plain cute sitting on the floor of the U.N. Building in his oversize helmet.

Baby Magneto? Yes, and chubby little baby Blob and baby Unus the Untouchable and baby Mastermind and pretty little baby Lorelie.

How, you might ask, did the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants end up quite literally living out a second childhood? It all begins in Defenders #15 (September 1974), when Doctor Strange receives a psychic message from Professor X. Magneto is planning something horrific and the X-Men are off on a mission. Can the Defenders help?

They can, so Dr. Strange, Nighthawk, Valkerie and Hulk, with Professor X in tow, head off to a remote area of the Southwest, where they confront Magneto and the Brotherhood in the process of using advanced alien technology to create the ultimate mutant.

A battle ensues, but the good guys are not able to stop the experiment. Defenders #16 shows us the
creation of Alpha, a 20-foot-tall mutant of obviously limited intelligence. He is indeed the ultimate mutant, with powers that evolve to do whatever he needs to do. For instance, after enduring one mystic blast from Dr. Strange, he is able to erect a force field to protect him from further attacks. He becomes stronger and tougher than the Hulk after getting punched once.

But, unfortunately for Magneto, Alpha is evolving in intelligence and moral fortitude as well as in raw power. Magneto uses Alpha to teleport to New York and kidnap the entire United Nations, levitating the U.N.
Building into the air. But Alpha begins to question the morality of these actions.

It all ends with Alpha basically switching sides, zapping the evil mutants back to infancy before zipping off into space to explore the universe.

The concept of the all-powerful being dealing with moral questions is a fairly common science fiction concept, but it's always a good one if done well. (Though these stories often imply that increased intelligence naturally brings increased morality--something that history and human nature have sadly disproved time and again.) Writer Len Wein constructs a good plot and keeps his entire cast in character. The art by Sal Buscema is good and the action flows along nicely.

It's also always nice to see a story that crosses over characters from other books without requiring you to buy those books just to get the entire story. Professor X's presence in the story and his motive for asking the Defenders for help are perfectly reasonably--it's another example of using a cohesive fictional universe to tell an entertaining story.

And the ending is really pretty cool. At the beginning of the review, I was making a little fun of it, but in the context of the story it works really well. Alpha doesn't just destroy the mutants he has come to realize are evil--instead, he gives them a second chance at life. A chance at redemption. It's a great ending.

But I can't help it. Baby Magneto is just so cute. I have to wonder, though. How do you change diapers on Unus the Untouchable?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Cover Cavalcade

Tom Corbett started out on television, but was popular enough to jump to a number of other media, including comic books.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Lone Ranger: "Left Shoulder Arms" 1/12/45

A sharpshooter agrees to compete in a shooting contest in order to win enough money to pay for a lame child's operation. But a revenge-crazed gunman wants to put a bullet in the sharpshooter's back as soon as possible.

This episode has enough melodramatic plot twists to fill a month of soap operas and a Dickens novel, but good acting and the typically great production values make it all work.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Tiger 200, Humans 0

I've wrote just a couple of weeks ago about one of the many extraordinarily entertaining pulp era stories reprinted in the ebook anthology The Adventure Megapack. A while back, I did a video for my YouTube channel on another story included in the Megapack..

Well, I'm still reading through it (I'm rationing it out to one or two stories between full-length books I've read) and, by golly, I want to talk about another one.

"The Mindoon Maneater," by C.M. Cross, was published in All-Story Weekly's March 10, 1917 issue. In it,  we learn of a killer tiger that's been terrorizing the Burmese jungle for years. It avoids traps, dodges hunters, sneaks into villages and camps unhindered and is credited with killing many people. Particularly horrifying is its tendency to carry away small children. He's called the Mindoon maneater because he forced the entire population of the village of Mindoon to abandon their homes.

What makes the story so engrossing is the author's matter-of-fact prose. There's no overly dramatic description of the situation nor an over-use of purple prose. C.M. Cross tells the story with simple but intelligent economy. This works very well, allowing the suspense to build up naturally before reaching the violent climax.

His POV character is Moung Nay, a young member of the Karen people group who has built himself a reputation as a tiger hunter
even though he's only 18 years old. Moung Nay is summoned by the local British authority figure to join the hunt for Mindoon. Moung Nay thinks this is unwise--the rainy season is about to commence and trailing the tiger through the rains would be "like trying to chase an eel in the Papoon swamp."

But orders are orders and Moung Nay hopes to earn permission to own a rifle if he's successful. So he and his young nephew Sharoo set out from their remote home to the town of Donebu. Sharoo comes along because he'll be attending school there.

But Moung Nay, experienced and skilled as he is, doesn't count on running into the Mindoon maneater on the journey to Donebu. Armed only with his dah (his knife), Moung Nay finds himself battling desperately for the life of his nephew.

It's a great story--simple without being simplistic, while effectively setting up the story and giving us a sense of the main characters in just a few words. I keep raving about how the best fiction of the Golden Age of the Pulps represents some of the finest storytelling ever. I would cite "The Mindoon Maneater" as yet another reason to back up this claim.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Dying One by One

When people remember the EC comics of the 1950s, their thoughts seem to most often jump to Tales from the Crypt and the other horror books. This is really too bad, since looking back over a half-century, the horror books are somewhat overrated, while EC's other comics were always good and often excellent. From science fiction to adventure to suspense to aviation stories--EC offered some of the best non-superhero stories ever produced. Their stable of artists included Wally Wood, John Severin, Reed Crandall and other greats of the era.

Two-Fisted Tales concentrated on adventure stories. It featured four 8-page stories each issue, compactly and effectively telling stories with settings that ran the gamut from ancient Rome to pirates to spies to the Old West. These stories were short, but they had a coherent beginning, middle and ending, and usually included some really nice bits of characterizations.

For much of its 24-issue run, TFT (along with another EC book, Frontline Combat) concentrated on war stories, usually set in the then-contemporary Korean conflict. "Ambush" (In issue #21; May-June 1951) is one of these stories, following a squad of American soldiers as they are ambushed and pinned down by North Korean troops.

If you examine just the plot, you find a well-constructed but fairly basic last-stand story. The Americans are gradually whittled down as they defend themselves against a superior force. One of them tries to go for help, but doesn't make it. Several others fall one-by-one. Finally, the last two men must take a desperate gamble in order to survive. There's an ironic twist in the last panel involving one of the soldier's good luck charm. (Editors Harvey Kurtzman and William Gaines were hopelessly in love with ironic twists.)

What lifts this story above the merely good is Jack Davis’ art work. Davis is now best remembered for his many years on Mad Magazine, but he had a good eye for adventure stories as well. He begins the story with a panel taking up two-thirds of the page--an establishing shot that show the American jeeps driving towards enemy troops occupying the high-ground along the side of the road. Immediately, we understand the tactical situation, which creates a sense of real danger.

After a couple of panels to allow one soldier to explain his good luck charm (thus setting up the twist at the end), the ambush begins. Pages 2 and 3 are non-stop, with both jeeps damaged and three of the eight men killed. This sequence includes another long shot, updating the overall tactical situation for the reader. We understand that these men are in it deep, pinned down with no practical way of fighting back.

Pages 4, 5 and 6 each end with the death of one more soldier; each page is essentially a mini-story within the larger one. It's a neat little trick that gives the story an effective sense of pacing. It keeps the suspense high as everything builds to the conclusion.

The last two pages cover the action-packed finale and includes the twist about the good luck charm. Once
again, Davis expertly choreographs the fight scenes, giving us a sense of desperation while still providing us with the information we need to follow the action logically. It's fast-moving without seeming as if it's suffering from ADD--everything we need to know is there. The EC comics of the 1950s were models of the short-story format for comic books, with "Ambush" being one of many good examples of this.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Cover Cavalcade

 A truly fantastic cover. Thanks to Gary Shapiro of From the Bookshelf for introducing me to it.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Friday's Favorite OTR

Sam Spade: "The Champion Caper" 8/7/49

The Adventures of Sam Spade was a show that kept its tongue firmly in its cheek much of the time, but this superbly written and acted episode is an out-and-out tragedy that generates a lot of honest emotion. It is perhaps my favorite of the series.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

"Funny how I meet you at all my homicides."

Read/Watch 'Em in Order #37

Shadow of the Thin Man (1941) finds Nick and Nora back in California, where Nick hopes to spend a relaxing day at the race track.

But this is, after all, a Thin Man movie, so there's no hope of that happening. Nick and Nora arrive to discover a jockey who was being investigated for throwing a race has been killed.

Soon after, the Charles' attend a wrestling match, only to stumble across yet another murder. This time, a friend of Nick's is accused of the crime. So Nick begins to look for the real killer.

 The murder plot is a good one, involving several nice twists. I also enjoyed the return of Sam Levene (one of my favorite character actors) as Lt. Abrams, who first appeared in After the Thin Man.  The rest of the supporting cast is good as well, including a very young Donna Reed as the loyal girlfriend to Nick's falsely
accused friend.

Interspersed with this is a sub-plot involving Nick, Jr.--who is now about five years old. William Powell gets some good laughs out of this, reading little Nick the racing form as if it were a fairy tale; forcing himself to drink milk instead a martini at dinner; and taking Nick for a ride on a merry-go-round otherwise inhabited by the brattiest group of kids ever gathered together in one place.

It's a fun film that I've watched before and will undoubtedly watch again, but I actually think its the weakest of the series. The Nick Jr. subplot takes up a little too much of the plot and it's so completely disconnected from the murder mystery that it sometimes feels like it belongs in a different movie.

Also, as much as I admire Levene as a great actor, I think there are a few moments when he played Lt. Abrams with a little too much broad humor--though I suspect the screenplay and perhaps the director might have required this. Abrams seemed like a competent cop in After the Thin Man. This time, he comes across as dull-witted. The idea, I think, was to make sure we knew Nick was the better detective and the only one who could solve the case. That's fine by itself, but the movie needed to trust itself enough to let Nick be smart on his own merits and not artificially highlight it by dumbing down the people around him.

But I'm complaining too much. We have William Powell and Myrna Loy playing off each other with their typical perfection. We have Myrna Loy wearing an absurd hat and still looking drop-dead gorgeous. We have a good mystery populated by interesting characters. And we get a Crowning Moment of Awesome for Nora at the climax when a killer threatens Nick. If the movie is a little off, it's still "on" often enough to make it entertaining.

It would be four years before MGM gave us another Thin Man movie. This was in large part because after Pearl Harbor Myrna Loy temporarily left acting and spent her time volunteering with the Red Cross to help the war effort. It seems that Myrna wasn't just a goddess in terms of her beauty, but was pretty darn awesome in other areas as well.

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