Friday, June 22, 2018

Friday's Favorite OTR


Mr. and Mrs. North: "Honey Jones" aka "Dime-a-Dance" 3/7/50

A taxi dancer is murdered. Over the steady objections of Jerry, Pam also goes to work as a taxi dancer to try to figure out whodunit.

Click HERE to listen or download.


Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Shores of Tripoli



In 1805, during the war with the Barbary pirates, a tiny unit of U.S. Marines arrived in Alexandra, Egypt and recruited a mercenary army of about 400 Arabs, Turks and Greeks, then proceeded to march across 600 miles of desert to attack the port of Derna as part of a campaign to eventually capture Tripoli.

It is a real-life incident full of enough action and intrigue to easily fill a movie. I would recommend the book Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates, by Brian Kilmeade, for an excellent summary of this campaign and the war as a whole.

It is, by the way, the incident that puts "the shores of Tripoli" line in the Marine Corps hymn.

Anyway, in 1950, the campaign was indeed made into a movie simply titled Tripoli. As we would expect in a Hollywood film, it departs from actual history in a lot of ways. But if we take it for what it is--an entertaining adventure story with sharp and funny dialogue--we will find ourselves spending a very enjoyable 95 minutes.

John Payne (an actor who should be better remembered than he is) stars as the real-life Lt. Presley O'Bannon, who is given seven marines, a naval officer and a surgeon's mate as his core unit when he's set ashore to raise the army. His main source for troops is exiled prince Hamet Karmanly, whose brother is the current ruler of Tripoli. This eventually causes tension: O'Bannon has military command, but Hamet has political control of his men. Hamet is in this purely for himself and is, in fact, willing to betray the Americans if he can eventually cut a better deal with his brother. So tension between the two men is inevitable and generates much of the suspense in the movie.

Hamet also has an exiled French Countess tagging along with him. Maureen O'Hara plays her standard fiery redhead role as Sheila D'Arneau, who plans to marry Hamet for his money and would much rather just talk him into enjoying a leisurely life in exile than risk everything in a war. This puts her at odds with O'Bannon as well, since she at first works to drive a wedge between him and Hamet.




Naturally, though, Sheila and O'Bannon start to fall for each other. This is completely predictable and could be considered a weak point of the movie if O'Hara weren't simply so good at playing the fiery redheads while always looking drop-dead gorgeous. Even a trip across the trackless Sahara doesn't leave her with a Bad Hair Day.




The bulk of the movie is that trek across the desert, with lack of water and sandstorms delaying them and enemy agents seeding discord among Hamet's men. But they do get to Derna, where several Navy ships are waiting to give them support during the attack. But by now, Hamet has switch sides and O'Bannon has to improvise a dangerous plan--one that essentially consists of him calling in a naval bombardment on his own position--to give them a chance of still capturing the city.

The trek across the desert is sincerely suspenseful and the final battle is exciting. With the exception of a few rear projection shots that don't quite work, the production values are excellent.

On top of this, the movie's dialogue is sharp and often very funny. In particular, Howard Da Silva, as the leader of a Greek mercenary unit and Grant Withers as a Marine sergeant both get some great lines. The clip below gives some good examples of this. Below that, I've embedded the full movie.




Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Re-animated Skeletons and an Evil Wizard: Tragg and the Sky Gods #8

cover art by Jesse Santos

Though Tragg and the Sky Gods #7 did indeed bring the main story arc to a satisfying close, there was still one more issue to go before the series wrapped up. (I'm not counting a long-delayed 9th issue that reprinted Tragg #1.)

Tragg #8 (February 1977) is a self-contained story. Still written by Donald Glut and drawn by Dan Spiegle, it serves a slightly different purpose. Donald Glut had also been writing two other books for Gold Key that featured heroic characters: Dagar the Invincible (a sword-and-sorcery title) and The Occult Files of Dr. Spektor (starring a modern-day magic-based protagonist). All three titles were cancelled about the same time--with all three having their first issues reprinted about five years later. So, before these protagonists disappeared, Glut took the opportunity to tie them all together into a single shared universe.

I should say, by the way, that I haven't read Dagar or Dr. Spektor, so it's possible the idea of them sharing the same universe (though separated in time) might have already been introduced.  But in Tragg #8, we also learn that the three characters are actually related. Both Dagar and Spektor are descendants of Tragg and Lorn.

And since Tragg's descendants will all follow his footsteps and enter the Hero Business, the mysterious Dark Gods (who worship evil) try to set things up by making sure they are never actually born. That requires killing Tragg before he has any kids. And THAT requires bringing a dead evil wizard to Earth and returning him to life, then having him work as their hit man. He's given the power to reanimate skeletons and make those skeletons invulnerability.



Fortunately for Tragg's future children, the arrival of the wizard Ostellon is seen by Keera. She overhears the Dark Gods giving Ostellon his assignment. Keera flies off to warn Tragg, but her jet pack runs out of fuel and she ends up unconscious on the floor of the jungle, about to be a snack for a deinonychus.


Tragg saves her. She warns Tragg about Ostellon. Tragg isn't that concerned about the wizard at first, but when three invulnerable skeletons nearly kill him, he realizes that the threat is real.


Keera, by the way, saves Tragg. Her ray gun had been smashed in her duel with Lorn two issues ago, but it has been established earlier that she had repaired it sufficiently to get one more blast out of it.



Tragg and Lorn track down Ostellon. The ensuing battle is, I think, one of the few minor missteps the series had. Though Tragg has to outsmart a dinosaur skeleton by luring it off a cliff, his personal fight with Ostellon is settled with one swing of his ax. I think the required page count of the book obligated Glut and Spiegle to end the fight a little too abruptly to make it really satisfying.

So the series ends with Keera, who is now without any advanced technology, joining Tragg's tribe--though she is still feared and shunned by everyone except Tragg. Her gradual character growth from an arrogant invader who was willing to kill into someone Tragg can actually trust is one of the highlights of the series and it hits all the proper emotional notes.

And that makes the series' end at this point all the more disappointing. We don't get to see any more of their adventures and we don't see the rest of Keera's journey has she adjusts to the life of a primitive and tries to earn the trust of the rest of the tribe. We don't get to see if alien reinforcements ever show up and whether the now-insane Zorek keeps his leadership position among the other surviving invaders. We don't get to see if Tragg can cement his alliance with the dino-riders and eventually make friends with the ape men. Glut has done a magnificent job of world-building and there were many, many stories in that world that will now never be told.

That's if for now. Next week, it's off to North Africa in 1942 to jump over sand dunes in a jeep as we ride with the Rat Patrol.

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.


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