Monday, June 18, 2018

Cover Cavalcade

A really dynamic cover by Larry Lieber from 1968.  Like many great covers, it makes effective use of perspective.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Friday's Favorite OTR

Tarzan: "Tarzan's Mistake" 8/23/51

Tarzan is fooled into attacking the camp of men building a railroad, having been convinced they were planning on razing the jungle and killing the natives. When he finds out the railroad will actually be an economic benefit to the natives, he has to help undo the damage he caused and play detective to uncover the identity of the real villain.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Treasure Island: The Stockade Fight (1934 vs. 1990)

Let's compare two different versions of a scene from two different adaptations of Treasure Island.

This is the Stockade fight from Chapter 21 of the novel. The two versions were made 54 years apart. There have been countless other adaptations of various quality made over the years, but these two are my personal favorites.

Though I normally prefer older, back-and-white movies, I have to give the 1990 version the win here. Adding a cannon to the fight increases the tension dramatically (though this is a departure from the book in an otherwise very faithful adaptation.)

Also, the background music helps a lot. The 1934 movie was made early in the Sound Era and having a musical score for an entire movie was not yet common. King Kong, made a year earlier, was an important innovator in adding music to a movie, but the practice hadn't caught on completely. The lack of music in the 1934 scene is a notable deficiency when compared to the 1990 scene, which features excellent music by the Chieftains at key moments.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Calm Down and Listen BEFORE Riding Off Into the Sunset!

Cover Art by Jack Kirby
Kid Colt's back story involved him killing the man who had murdered his dad. It was a fair fight, but the murderer had been a professional gunman, so no one believed the Kid had outdrawn him. Thus, he was marked as an outlaw and always on the run.

Kid Colt Outlaw #97 (March 1961--written by Stan Lee and drawn by Jack Keller) plays on this premise in an interesting way. Someone takes a shot at him while he's riding through a lonely patch of wilderness. The three gunmen trying to pot him are atop a nearby cliff. By climbing up the side of the cliff, out of the gunmen's field of vision, he's able to get the drop on them.

Kid recognizes on of the gunmen as Drago Dalton, a notorious outlaw. Kid would normally turn Drago into the law, but the outlaw has a pardon. He explains that he and his men turned themselves in, thus getting off easy.

This is actually one of two plot holes in the story. Kid sees the pardon and gets the idea that it might be a good idea to turn himself in and hope for leniency. That's all well and good, but he seems to have forgotten that Drago had tried to shoot him from ambush just a few minutes earlier. He doesn't demand an explanation nor does Drago offer any sort of justification. It makes sense that Drago would try to simply shoot Kid Colt before going to his more complicated plan of tricking him, but shouldn't he have had a good lie in place to explain his sniper fire? "I thought you were a deer" or something like that?

I wonder if Stan Lee managed to forget this plot point as well. Or perhaps he simply chose to gloss over it to keep the story moving. Since he was churning out many scripts per month in a number of genres at that time and must have been on autopilot to a degree, either explanation is possible.

Drago is, of course, lying through his teeth. The pardon is a forgery. His plan is to plant the idea in Kid Colt's head that turning himself in might be the best thing to do. With Colt out of action, Drago (who can outgun any of the local lawmen) can now pretty much run rampant around the territory.

The Kid does turn himself in, but the "leniency" part doesn't work out and he's sentenced to 5 to 10 years in the slammer. Once he's in prison, he also discovers that he's a target for violence from various outlaws he caught over the years. Then his life goes from bad to worse when he learns from a new prisoner that Drago had tricked him.

He had been planning to stick it out in jail no matter what, but this last bit of information changes his mind. He makes a break over the all and--because his horse Steel has been loyally waiting for him--manages to get away.

Steel is one heck of a horse, isn't he? The time line of the story is uncertain, but even if Kid was tried immediately after turning himself in, it must cover a few weeks at least. So Steel has been waiting while still saddled all this time!

Kid catches Drago and his gang, bringing them into the local sheriff. He then immediately rides off before the sheriff can tell him that a pardon might now be possible. This was, in fact, a common theme in the early Kid Colt stories--he always impulsively rides off before someone can tell him he might get a pardon.

Let that be a lesson to all of us. When we heroically catch the villains/rescue the girl/save the town, hang out a few moments and listen to people before riding off into the sunset. You just might miss something important otherwise!

I do like this story, by the way. The idea of Kid Colt turning himself in and letting the law take its course is a good one and its handled well on a thematic and emotional level. The story is hurt by some weak plotting (Colt seeming to forget that he was just shot at and Steel being saddled while waiting outside the prison), but its still a good tale.

Next week, we'll finally finish up our look at Tragg and the Sky Gods.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Edgar Rice Burroughs Podcast: Episode 3

ERB Podcast: Episode 3

Jess Terrell, Scott Stewart and I discuss ERB's dinosaur-filled trilogy of stories "The Land That Time Forgot," "The People That Time Forgot," and "Out of Time's Abyss." Click on the link above to listen or download.

There's also a video version: 

The Next Episode COMING ATTRACTIONS poster:

Monday, June 11, 2018

Cover Cavalcade

From 1963. Frankly, I don't know why anyone living in a Comic Book Universe would express the least bit of surprise over this sort of thing.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Friday's Favorite OTR

Broadway is My Beat: "Roberto Segura Case" 1/31/50

Danny Glover is tasked with discovering who stuck a knife in a young man named Roberto Segura. He finds a couple of suspects with motives, but they all have good alibis.

Or do they?

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Lieutenant Hornblower

I first read the Horatio Hornblower novels as a teenager because I knew that this was a character that had influenced the creation of James T. Kirk. And anyone who can be an influence on Kirk is by definition awesome. It's a known fact. Just like the fact that Kirk is better than Picard--AND NO ONE SHOULD EVER SAY DIFFERENTLY IN MY PRESENCE!

But I digress. I read the Hornblower novels in internal chronological order (which is different from their original publication order) and was hooked by the time I was one chapter into Mr. Midshipman Hornblower. I've re-read the series multiple times since then.

It was easy to see the aspects of Hornblower that influenced Kirk: his sense of duty and responsibility; his ability to think quickly under pressure and improvise clever plans; his courage and his need to lead from the front even when he gained command of a ship and could have legitimately delegated front-line duties to someone else. He's often unable to communicate with his superiors and his ship is thus often on its own. Perhaps the most notable similarity with Kirk is Hornblower's willingness (however reluctant that willingness) to break a rule in order to do what he thinks is right.

But Hornblower is quite different from Kirk in a lot of ways. He's more melancholy and given to deeper self-doubts that Kirk ever was. He's perpetually unable to fully accept that others admire and respect him. When he does have to confront this startling fact, he assumes that this is only because they don't really know him. He stinks at personal relationships.

That last point is important--perhaps the most notable difference is that Hornblower, unlike Kirk, could never establish the sort of close friendship that Kirk had with Spock and McCoy. The closest he ever came to this was with William Bush.

Bush would serve Hornblower for years as First Lieutenant and, when Hornblower became a commodore, command the flagship of Hornblower's squadron.

Bush was already an established character in the series when the book recounting his first meeting with Hornblower was written. But since I read them in chronological order, I met Bush along with Hornblower in the pages of Lieutenant Hornblower (1952).

Both men are lieutenants on the Renown, a 74-gun ship-of-the-line assigned to carry out a mission in the Caribbean. Bush is our point-of-view character--in fact, this is the only book in the series not told from Hornblower's point-of-view. Though Bush himself is unimaginative and perhaps a bit thick about some things, he comes to understand Hornblower better than anyone else and can often be very perceptive in regards to the man who would eventually become his commanding officer.

At this time, though, Bush is senior to Hornblower. The Renown, it turns out, is tasked with capturing a Spanish port that was being used as a haven for privateers. This would be a fairly straightforward if dangerous mission, but its complicated by the fact that the captain is nuts.

And not just a little nuts. Captain Sawyer is full-on paranoid, convinced his officers are plotting against them and constantly giving them harsh punishments. He simultaneously sucks up to the crew, which is extremely damaging to the stern military discipline that is necessary to keep a ship operating efficiently.

The officers meet secretly in a dark hold one night, trying to figure out what to do. Are they justified in relieving Sawyer of command? If they did, who would the crew support? And if they succeeded, was there any hope of convincing the inevitable court-martial they were justified? Mutiny in the early 19th Century was a hanging offense and even if they saved their necks, they would certainly be flushing their careers away.

Well, the problem is solved when Captain Sawyer takes a tumble down the hatch, breaking a number of bones and setting off a wave of paranoid delusions that make it obvious he has to be confined to a sick bed.

The beautiful part about the novel is that there are indications that perhaps Hornblower gave Sawyer a shove down the hatch. Lt. Buckland, who takes command of the Renown, and Bush both think Hornblower at least knows more than he admits. But these are only suspicions.

And, by golly, we as the readers don't know either. Did Hornblower push Sawyer? Was it someone else that Hornblower is covering for? Was it just an accident. Author C.S. Forester sets up the situation perfectly, leaving us with our suspicions along with our doubts.

The bulk of the remaining story is about Renown accomplishing its mission. Buckland is in command during this time, but he's uncertain and hesitant. It's up to Hornblower to come up with one plan after another, respectfully urging Buckland in the right direction to accomplish their goals. He never steps outside the bounds of military propriety, but he makes sure stuff gets done. Gradually, Bush comes to feel the respect and fondness for Hornblower that will allow the two men to work together so well for years to come.

The action, as is typical in Forester's novels, is exciting and vividly described. Forester's characterizations are equally vivid, with both action and characters used to move the novel along at an appropriately brisk pace.

I've just re-read Lieutenant Hornblower for perhaps the 15th time. It's just as exciting and engaging as the first time I read it. And I still have no idea whether Hornblower pushed Captain Sawyer down that hatch.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Death with Dignity

Superman #318 (December 1977): "The Wreck of the Cosmic Hound," written by Martin Pasko and drawn by Curt Swan, is a bizarre story. It's bizarre in a good way--an enjoyable tale that stretches Comic Book Logic in several directions without breaking it, then suddenly delivers an effective emotional punch at the end.

The trouble with the overall weirdness of the story, though, is that it's difficult to summarize the story without making it sound kind of dumb. But I know a lot of my readers are comic book fans. Most of you will be familiar with stories that sound dumb when summarized but do make sense in context.

Anyway, Superman finds a wrecked space ship on a remote moon in another galaxy. The ship's pilot is named Portia, who dresses as a pirate, complete with peg leg and eye patch.

She's a bit loony after years of isolation, but Superman soon learns that she had lost her leg and eye while on a what she thought was an uninhabited planet. But that world turned out to be the home of intelligent dogs with psionic powers. The pack that saves Portia's life, though, apparently broke local laws by doing so and they have to leave the planet with her. Later, they crashed on the moon.

You would think this would be a simple rescue mission for Kal-El, but there's a few problems. First, he senses Portia is lying (or at least not telling the whole truth about her situation). Second, the dogs try to kill him.

More shenanigans ensue, with Superman learning that generations of the dogs have kept Portia alive for centuries without allowing her to return home. The current generation doesn't even remember why--it's long since become a cultural habit.

Superman puts Portia into a space suit and flies her home. The dogs, though, got a boost in their intelligence and telekinetic powers from psionic feedback during their brief fight with Superman. They can now fly Portia's ship on their own and give pursuit.

But now their motivation is different. They understand Portia's situation better than Superman does. Portia left her home world because she had a contagious and incurable disease. In the meantime, solar flares had wiped out the rest of the people on her world, leaving her the only survivor. Tired, sick and (once away from the dogs) aging rapidly, she now just wants to die with some dignity. When the dogs arrive, they want to help her die.

Superman, though, considers the sanctity of life to be his most important moral principle. There seems to be no way to save her, but shouldn't he try?

Or should he recall some wise advice he once got from Pa Kent and accept that Portia's fate is now in the hands of God?

This is a great example of how to properly write a Superman story. Don't be afraid to introduce bizarre plot elements because Superman lives in a universe in which the bizarre is common place. And don't worry if the "villains" in a specific story aren't powerful enough to be a physical threat. Instead, use the story to introduce strong emotional notes and moral quandaries. Superman should have a rigid moral code, but a story in which he might have to bend that code a bit can be engrossing.

Next week, it's back to the Wild West for a visit with Kid Colt.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Friday, June 1, 2018

Friday's Favorite OTR

Dragnet: "The Big Cast" 2/8/51

A missing man has likely been murdered. Friday and Romero arrest their prime subject. The bulk of this fascinating and intense episode is the two cops interviewing the suspect and gradually getting a confession out of him.

Click HERE to listen or download.

About a year later, the same episode was remade for the TV version. By that time, Barton Yarborough (who played Romero) had died, so Friday's partner in this version is Ed Jacobs (played by Barney Phillips).  The script, with very minor differences, is pretty much the same. What makes the already excellent episode stand out is Lee Marvin playing the suspect.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Lady Molly of Scotland Yard

Well, you know, some say she is the daughter of a duke, others that she was born in the gutter, and that the handle has been soldered on to her name in order to give her style and influence.

That's the first sentence in the short story "The Ninescore Mystery," which is the first of a dozen short stories written by the Baroness Orczy--author of The Scarlet Pimpernel. These stories were first published in 1910.

It's a wonderful first sentence, fun to read and immediately giving us something to latch on to about Lady Molly that easily makes us believe it completely when we are told that she immediately commands the respect of those she meets from the force of her personality and her intelligence.

Who is Lady Molly? She's the head of Scotland Yard's Female Department and she's also the chief's go-to person when the male detectives are stumped on a case.

I didn't know about Lady Molly until recently. This annoys me, because I'm supposed to be a scholar about pre-digital genre fiction. I'm supposed to know everything, darn it!

I found out about her when I was discussing the line-up of books I had selected for an "Adventure Classics of Western Literature" reading group I administer on Facebook. I mentioned that I hadn't initially thought to put The Scarlet Pimpernel on the reading list and was going to do so. She then told me about the Lady Molly stories, which I immediately downloaded onto my Kindle. 

Never go anywhere without your Kindle, children. You never know when there's something you need to read that you want to acquire RIGHT NOW!

Anyway, the Lady Molly stories are very much influenced by Sherlock Holmes in their structure, with the narration provided by Molly's assistant Mary Granard. Molly, though, depends less on deduction based on clues and more on deduction based on a sharp understanding of human nature. 

"The Ninescore Mystery" is a great example of this. A young lady is found dead in the small town of Ninescore. She's been dead for a couple of weeks and is badly decomposed by the time she's found. But her body is identified and an investigation is launched.

It's an investigation that goes nowhere. There's lots of clues--a missing sister; a presumed nobleman who was having an affair with the victim; a presumably illegitimate baby; and a few other items. There's a vague indication of blackmail amidst all this, but the nobleman denies any hanky panky and has a good alibi for the night of the murder.

Molly, though, believes she knows the answer and has a plan for identifying the killer with certainty. Her plan is, in fact, a double-edged sword--designed to both smoke out someone in hiding and force that person to talk.

Lady Molly is a great character--another wonderful addition to the the small but exclusive Canon of Great Detectives. But, by golly, I should have already have known about her! 

The Lady Molly stories are available online HERE.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Pitched Battles, Avalanches & Styracosaurs: Tragg and the Sky Gods #7

cover art by Jesse Santos
Tragg and the Sky Gods #7 (November 1976)  is the next to last issue (not counting a delayed 9th issue that reprinted Tragg #1), but it can be counted as a satisfying Grand Finale, as it wraps up the main story arc after a multi-front battle between the alien invaders and cavemen riding styracosaurs. Writer Donald Glut and artist Dan Spiegle continue to tell an excellent story as they bring it to a violent conclusion.

Remember that Tragg and Lorn had befriended a tribe of men who have tamed the above mentioned styracosaurs. This essentially gives Tragg armored support as he and the dino-riders return to Fire Mountain to have it out with Zorek and the aliens.

Zorek, in the meantime, is enraged by Keera's escape in the last issue. Knowing that she turned against him because she likes Tragg, Zorek goes over the deep end and orders a final attack on the cavemen they aren't already enslaving. The aliens haven't done this yet because of their concerns about their power supply, but Zorek is now pretty obviously living in Crazy Town and no longer cares.

Ferenk, who secretly helped Keera escape, tries to reason with his boss. But this just eventually gets Ferenk shot and dropped into a bottomless abyss. Zorek is not a very nice boss.

What follows is a battle that shifts its action between several fronts. The aliens attack Tragg's people and trap them in a cave by using their ray guns to start an avalanche. But there's a small opening in the back of the cave that lets the tribe getaway.

When the dino-riders approach, Tragg and Lorn break off to sneak into the alien base to free the enslaved tribes-people there. But they get caught in a sonic booby-trap and are captured.

I like this part, by the way. Tragg and Lorn are smart and now have some experience going up against advanced technology, but there's no way they can know enough to be aware of all the possibilities. That they are quickly captured because of a hidden electronic booby-trap is completely believable.

Anyway, the aliens attack the dino-riders, but the thick bone structure of the styracosaurs make this an even fight. Eventually, the action moves into the aliens' base. Tragg and Lorn are able to fight free when their tribesmen arrive and Tragg eventually uses a styracosaurus to start shoving alien equipment into the lava.

This disagrees with the equipment in a very violent matter. The battle ends when everyone runs for it before the volcano blows up.

It's an exciting and expertly choreographed battle that reaches pretty epic proportions. There are twists and turns to the action and deaths of both Red Shirts and named characters on both sides.

Zorek and some other surviving aliens fly away, but are now nearly out of power and greatly reduced in number. This brings the main story arc to an end, but leaves things open-ended enough to greatly increase the storytelling potential of the world Donald Glut so expertly created. In addition to Zorek's escape, we have Keera still exiled from her people, the ape men that Tragg encountered in issue #5 and the vague possibility that Ferenk is still alive (in adventure fiction--no body means no guarantee of death), as well as the rest of the world around the valley as yet unexplored. All of this was high-quality fodder for future adventure tales. Sadly, we'll only have one more Tragg story, so that potential will never be fulfilled.

We will take a look at the last Tragg story in a few weeks. Next week, though, we'll watch Superman enounter Peg-Leg Portia and her Cosmic Hounds.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Friday's Favorite OTR

Dangerous Assignment: "Recover Underwater Demolitions Secrets" 4/10/50

In a mission to recover the secret of a new underwater explosive, Steve Mitchell encounters a slight problem. What do you do when you are deep underwater in a diving suit and the guy controlling your air supply wants to kill you?

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Never Trust Those Darn Dazzalox

"The Slave Raiders from Mercury," by Don Wilcox (from the June 1940 issue of Amazing Stories), is a bizarre story. This, though, is one its strengths. It's fun-bizarre, not annoying-bizarre.

It begins with a carnival sideshow exhibiting an alien rocket that was found abandoned in a field. But when a young mule driver named Lester Allison and a score or so of other people pay their fifty cents to go aboard, the doors slide shut and the rocket takes off.

It's not a trick by the poor carnival barker who talked them into boarding--he's trapped on the rocket as well. So at first, Allison and the others have no idea where they are going and who is responsible.

Allison soon shows some natural leadership ability and becomes the defacto head of the kidnapped group. And they'll need a good leader. The rocket is heading for Mercury, where it lands and delivers the group into slavery.

The twilight zone of Mercury is inhabited by the Dazzalox, a humanoid race that is dying out, but still need healthy male slaves to work for them. An evil Earth scientist named Kilhide had arrived on Mercury some years ago in a rocket of his own design. He now operates robot-controlled rockets to bring fresh slaves to the Dazzalox, making quite a profitable business out of it. Male slaves able to work are sold. Anyone else, including the women, are thrown into a room full of poison gas.

But a spanner is about to be thrown into the works. The group includes the lovely June O'Neil (with whom, of course, Allison has fallen in love). Kilhide gets the hots for her, saves her from the poison chamber and decides to make her his wife. But a thousand-year-old Dazzalox named Jo-jo-kak sees her and lays claim on her instead. Jo-jo-kak even delays his scheduled ritual suicide to show off this new prize.

This causes a social upheaval. Many male Dazzalox now want female slaves of their own and Kilhide happily starts arranging some women to be kidnapped on Earth and brought to Mercury. The lady Dazzalox are rather upset by this. It both flies in the face of tradition and arouses some pretty violent feelings of jealousy. Soon, a male/female civil war is brewing.

All this just might present the opportunity for Allison to escape with the rest of the slaves. But he's in prison by this point after killing Jo-jo-kak to protect June. So he must first survive a bizarre form of execution called the Rite of the Floating Chop, then make his way through a city in the gripes of battle and mass murder, and then find Kilhide to keep him alive until he shows the slaves how to operate the rockets.

From start to finish, the story has a bizarre feel to it. And not because it's set in a Space Opera world where Mercury is inhabitable. I'm well used to stories like that.

I think it's because the prose is so casual in introducing the various science fiction elements and the weird Dazzalox culture. This isn't to say that story fails to generate suspense or excitement when it needs to. The description of the Rite of the Floating Chop is itself an edge-of-your-seat set piece. "The Slave Raiders of Mercury" is completely comfortable with its Space Opera elements as the bizarre tale takes us from a carnival on Earth to an alien city on Mercury without missing a beat.

You can read this one online HERE

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Bank Robbers and Mountain Lions

The cover story for Rawhide Kid #25 (December 1961) is "The Bat Strikes," which provides us with evidence that there were masked villains using secret identities even back in the Old West. But then, in any Comic Book Universe worth its salt, there was probably cavemen villains who were using secret identities while employing trained sabertooth tigers to rob the local cave village bank of its deposits of shiny rocks.

In this particular story, the villain is "The Bat," who keeps robbing the local banks. So when Rawhide Kid shows up, wanting to deposit some money in a bank, everyone assumes he must be the Bat. His reputation as an outlaw and tough guy has proceeded him, even though he's not wanted in this county.

Everyone either treats him with contempt or is in object terror of him. He reacts to this with a mixture of anger and bitterness, but what can he do? Fear and false accusations follow him whereever he goes.

Well, when the Bat robs another bank, the Kid figures he can catch him and clear his name of at least one false accusation.

I like this short but well-constructed tale (written by Stan Lee) for telling a good story and providing us with some real emotional impact, but I have to say that the page just below--showing the Kid's pursuit of the Bat and then the Bat's unfortunate encounter with a mountain lion--is what sells the story for me. Jack Kirby's artwork provides a real sense of kinetic energy while unfolding the action in a clear, logical fashion. It's a model of effective visual storytelling:

Anyway, the Bat turns out to be the owner of a local bank, robbing the place to cover financial losses.

A local who had given the Kid a particularly hard time shows up in time to hear the banker's dying confession and has the grace to apologize to the Kid. Then, despite the bitterness he'd shown earlier, the Kid tells him to he'll take the blame for being the Bat rather than have to tell the banker's wife and daughter the truth. The banker can be portrayed as having died a hero while chasing a crook.

The story had done a very good job in highlighting the Kid's bitterness earlier in the story, so this act of nobility really does have some emotional bit to it. One can argue that before Lee and Kirby started added maturity to the portrayal of comic book characters with Fantastic Four #1, that such characters were usually one-dimensional. And this is often a fair point--probably even usually a fair point. But we can see there that there are stories out there that did give comic book characters some real depth.

We're due for another visit with Tragg and the Sky Gods, so we'll do that next week.

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.
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