Thursday, February 28, 2019

Tarzan vs. James Bond--sort of.

Tarzan's Greatest Adventure (1959) is the fifth of six Tarzan films starring Gordon Scott and the first produced by Sy Weintraub, who would go on to produce six more Tarzan films during the 1960s as well as the Ron Ely TV series.

Weintraub dropped Jane from his version of Tarzan's mythos, but in many ways steered the franchise back towards the ape man's roots in the original novels. Greatest Adventure may not literally be the Jungle Lord's greatest adventure, but it is a superior adventure story, with Gordon Scott playing a more realistic Tarzan than we'd often seen in the films. Like the "real" Tarzan from the novels, he's well-spoken and obviously intelligent, but still a savage at heart.

We certainly see that in this film. A gang of men led by a brutal killer named Slade have killed two men while stealing some explosives. They now head up a river in a boat, heading for a diamond mine Slade had stumbled across. The explosives are needed to clear the entrance to the mine.

But their murders have put Tarzan on their trail. Slade and Tarzan have an unpleasant history and it is soon apparent that either of them would happily kill the other should the opportunity present itself.

Tarzan's pursuit of the killers, though, might be easier if he weren't saddled with a companion--a mildly stuck-up lady named Angie that the Ape Man rescued after her plane crashed.

There's a lot to like about this film. I was struck by how the villains are all given their own distinct personalities--a combination of good writing and good acting. Anthony Quayle gives a very strong performance as Slade--a ruthless man whose obsession with killing (in particular killing Tarzan) slowly overwhelms his desire to get the diamonds.

One of his henchmen is O'Bannion, a brutal thug who's not anywhere near as smart as he thinks he is. O'Bannion is played by Sean Connery, just three years shy of becoming James Bond. This gives us a meta reason for enjoying this movie. At one point, Tarzan is about to ambush O'Bannion, but then is force to stay perfectly still as a tarantula crawls over him. In Connery's first Bond Film (Dr. No), he is at one point forced to stay perfectly still while a tarantula crawls over him.

These villains are perhaps the most thuggish bunch that Tarzan has ever gone up against in any of his adventures. They have joined together in a venture for their mutual profit, but its pretty clear that they would (and in fact do) start back-stabbing each other at the earliest opportunity. And that is exactly the sort of bad guys this particular story needs, adding to the suspense and the ambiance of the movie.

The byplay between Tarzan and Angie is quite good as well (with their eventual attraction to each other proving that Jane does not exist in this particular universe). Angie gets believable character growth, becoming more self-reliant and more compassionate towards those around her as she treks through the jungle with Tarzan.

The writer is Les Crutchfield, who's credits include being one of the important writers for both the radio and television versions of Gunsmoke. So its not surprising that Tarzan's Greatest Adventure gives us a strong story with strong characters.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Are Firecracker Arrows really the best ordinance with which to fight Dinosaurs?

cover art by Curt Swan
If you live in a comic book universe, you don't tempt fate. You simply don't. For instance, let's say you own a plantation on a tropical island. If the natives say that a huge monster will rise up out of a local volcano when that volcano erupts, then don't dismiss this as nonsense. That's just asking for trouble.

As proof of this, we have the story "The Creature from the Crater," (World's Finest #108--March 1960), written by Ed Herron and drawn by Lee Elias. When Oliver Queen and Roy Harper are visiting a plantation-owning friend, that friend falls right into this trap. Of course, as soon as he finishes dismissing the monster-from-the-volcano story as nonsense, the volcano erupts and a monster emerges. Duh.

The monster is a fire-breathing T-Rex, which presents a challenge for Ollie and Roy. They change into Green Arrow and Speedy, but they don't have an anti-dinosaur arrow. They really don't have anything that packs enough punch to take down Rex. But then can at least distract it, using firecracker arrows to do so and allow the plantation workers to escape.

This does allow the workers to escape, but Arrow and Speedy are scooped up by the monster. They soon discover that the dinosaur is a giant robot, referred to by its mad scientist creator as "Iron Rex." The motive behind letting Iron Rex loose on the plantation is to scare everyone off and then loot the place.

Why the scientist didn't just make a fortune giving rides to kids inside Iron Rex is beyond me.

Up to now, this has been a fun story with some nifty visuals. The short length (7 pages including an introductory splash page) hurts it at this point as Arrow and Speedy get the best of their captors in just a couple of rushed panels.

But, heck, even if the story is flawed, we get to see the above image: a cutaway schematic of Iron Rex. Something like that is always worth the price of admission.

That's it for this week. Next week, Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin join the circus.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Friday, February 22, 2019

Friday's Favorite OTR

Escape: "Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" 12/10/47

The Civil War on Old-Time Radio (Part 8 of 17)

An adaptation of Ambrose Bierce's creepy short story. A Southern spy barely escapes getting hanged. Or does he?

Click HERE to listen or download.

This is the eighth of 17 episodes from various series that will take us through the Civil War and its immediate post-war legacy. I'll be posting another Civil War episode every three or four weeks.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Twilight Zone Goes West--Part 7

Like two previous Western themed Twilight Zone episodes, the "7th is Made Up of Phantoms" (December 6, 1963) involves time travel. Three National Guardsmen on maneuvers near Little Big Horn eventually end up back in 1876--on the day Custer and the 7th Calvary was massacred.

The entire episode, written by Rod Serling, drips with atmosphere and maintains a spooky ambiance from beginning to end. The three soldiers don't get instantly zapped back in time. Rather, they seem to be fading in and out between 1964 and 1876 before ending up permanently in the past. 

It's a story that depends more on the plot than on in-depth characterization, but the three actors (Ron Foster, Warren Oates, and Randy Boone) do a fine job of giving their roles an Everyman feel. These are three normal guys, stuck in a bizarre situation in which they gradually realize that something is leading them along to eventually join Custer at the battle. 

No explanation or purpose is ever given for the time travel, but this is a case in which an explanation is not needed and, in fact, would have been detrimental to the story. From beginning to end, the episode depends on being spooky and mysterious.

On a meta level, I enjoy that the troopers are riding about in a Stuart tank during an episode that sometimes feels like a ghost story. The Stuart was the original Haunted Tank in DC Comics.

But I also wonder why the troopers didn't keep their tank with them--at one point marching off on foot to join Custer. Even their commanding officer (when confronted with evidence that the troopers did travel back to 1876) remarks that it was too bad they couldn't take the tank with them. Why not? Perhaps whatever destiny was forcing them along their trans-temporal path was also urging them not to bring an armored vehicle with them? It's a point that really doesn't bother me, but one can argue this is a small plot hole.

We still have one more Wild West-themed Twilight Zone episode to go. We'll look at that one soon.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Going Down with the Ship... or the Tank!

cover art by Joe Kubert
As a writer, Robert Kanigher was more concerned with telling great individual stories than he was with maintaining continuity in a particular series. This is especially true with the World War II-themed comics he wrote, in which the action from issue to issue jumped haphazardly from one point in the war to another without any concern over whether the stories could be logically strung together in a way that matched real-life history. As long as a story told on its own was good, then Kanigher went with it.

This is especially true in his Haunted Tank series. Every once in a while, a story would refer back to Lt. Jeb Stuart's childhood. In fact, I can think of at least four stories (including this one) in which he does this. But every single time, poor Jeb's childhood seems to have changed. In one story, he grew up in the South with the other members of the tank crew. In another, he met them for the first time when he took command of the tank and had to fist-fight each of them in turn to get them to accept a Darned Yankee as their C.O.

In G.I. Combat #136 (June-July 1969), we find out that Jeb's dad died in the First World War, giving his life rather than retreating from his post. Gee whiz, young Jeb had a confusing childhood.

The art in this issue, by the way, is mostly by Ross Andru. At least three pages, though, were drawn by Joe Kubert because of deadline issues.

As you can see from the panels above, Jeb is being paralleled to a young German named Ludwig von Ernst, who also lost his dad in the Great War. Notice the difference, though. Both fathers died rather than surrender or abandon their post. Ludwig, though, is being taught that this was his dad's responsibility, with the implicit lesson that he needs to do the same should a similar situation arise.

Jeb, on the other hand, is told by his mother that she hopes he'll never have to make that choice. She doesn't denigrate her husband's sacrifice or dismiss her bravery, but she understandably hopes that her son will never have to choose to die.

Jeb readily admits that he doesn't know what choice he would make, while Ludwig is certain he'll stand by his post even unto death.

Well, to the surprise of actually no one, the two men meet during World War II. Jeb now commands a tank (conveniently haunted by his Civil War namesake), while Ludwig has followed directly in his dad's footprints, commanding a U-boat.

When Ludwig brings his sub alongside a dock in a bombed out town to make repairs, he has an unlikely encounter with Jeb's tank.

Jeb ends up ramming the sub's conning tower, causing both vessels to sink. Ludwig, as he always claimed he would, goes down with his boat. Jeb and his crew jump free from the sinking tank and survive.

So Jeb's internal question--would he stay and die if necessary--goes unanswered. For Ludwig, that question has been answered.

The story, though, arguably has a deeper theme that Kanigher may not have consciously intended. Jeb and his crew abandon the tank rather than drown. Because of this, they live to fight another day. After all, a tank is easier to replace than trained men. 

Ludwig, on the other hand, consciously chooses to die. The story isn't clear, though, on whether he could have gotten out of the sub in time. If so, was staying and dying a useless sacrifice? As long as his crew was out, was there any reason for him to stay? Unlike Jeb, Ludwig does not live to fight another day. He's no longer available to serve his country.

Self-sacrifice to save others or do one's duty is admirable and heroic, but if someone sacrifices himself unnecessarily--doing so simply because he was taught to do so in his youth... well, is that misplaced courage? That Ludwig was incredibly brave is undeniable, but does bravery without wisdom accomplish anything?

That's it for this week. Next week, it's Green Arrow vs. dinosaurs. I know I reviewed a dinosaur-themed story last week, but on my blog, there is no such thing as too many dinosaurs.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Cover Cavalcade

From 1940. That guy really needs to put on a shirt if he's going to stand out in the sun like that.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Friday's Favorite OTR

Philip Marlowe: "Face to Forget" 6/14/50

Marlowe is hired to find a missing man and trails him aboard a train heading from L.A. to Frisco. The trip isn't a pleasant one, as he first finds a corpse and then is forced to jump off the train by a tough guy with a gun.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

My Role Model for Being a Good Husband!

I'm getting married later this year. No kidding--there's a lady out there willing to be my wife and she's NOT make-believe. I don't care what everyone else assumes. She really does exist!

So that means I need to learn what it takes to be a good husband. I could use the excellent pre-marital counselling offered at my church or study Biblical instructions about the responsibility of a husband to be unfaillingly faithful, respectful, compassionate and self-sacrificing towards a wife.

But that hardly seems necessary when Pa Kettle provides such a good example for me.

Ma and Pa Kettle, perfectly played by Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride, started out as supporting characters in the 1945 novel The Egg and I, written by Betty MacDonald. The book was made into a movie in 1947 and the popularity of the Kettles with that film convinced Universal to feature the Kettles in a series of nine B-movies made between 1949 and 1955. Main played Ma in all nine films. Kilbride played Pa in the first seven.

The Kettles are a dirt-poor hillbilly family with 16 kids. Why are they dirt-poor? Well, it's likely because Pa Kettle has an aversion to hard work. His only real talent is avoiding work. But despite this, Ma manages to keep the kids fed. She's at least a tad more ambitious than Pa. She's also the one to do all the cooking. When she thinks their farm--which is in serious disrepair--is about to be condemned, she's the one who snatches up a shotgun and mobilizes her children to defend the homestead.

This is the situation at the beginning of the first of the Kettle solo films--Ma and Pa Kettle, released in 1949. The town council was, in fact, about to condemn the farm. But news that Pa Kettle has won a slogan contest and won an ultra-modern home for his family turns this into a happy occasion.

Well, happy for everyone but Pa, who is perpetually flummoxed by items such as doors operated by electric eyes and automatic sun lamps. Even when the only person in the family with a lick of brains--their oldest son Tom (played by future Big Valley resident Richard Long)--returns from college to help, Pa and technology simply can't be made to mix together smoothly.

Pa finally has enough and returns to the farm. But soon after, it is suggested that Pa (due to forgetfulness rather than dishonesty) might have plagerized the slogan he used. When Pa hears that his family might be evicted from the modern home, he is finally roused to take proactive action.

That this action involves a careless and definitely unwise use of dynamite doesn't make his intentions any less noble.

The movie is a fun, slapstick romp filled with characters we can't help but like. The success of the Kettle films have been credited with helping Universal Studios survive financially during this time, so Pa's inate laziness obviously has its benefits.

So there you have it. Pa Kettle lived a stress-free life as a husband and, when he wasn't being baffled by modern technology, seemed to be enjoying himself. I don't see why he shouldn't be a great role model for me to use after I'm married.

Of course, I suppose I should leave out the parts involving dynamite. And hopefully Angela won't end up chasing me with a two-by-four and murder gleaming in her eyes. But every relationship has its ups and downs.

Pa Kettle as a role model. I don't see how this can be anything but a great idea.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Sacrificed to Sea Monsters!

cover art by George Wilson

 If a Gold Key Turok comic is written by Paul Newman and drawn by Alberto Giolitti, then it is going to be good. This is a truism.

Turok, Son of Stone #70 (July 1970) is an example of this and I think the first few pages are a prime example of how skilled Paul Newman was at story construction--structuring events to link together thematically as well as in terms of plot.

Turok and Andar have found a river that flows into a narrow gorge. Not wanting to bypass any possibility of finding a way out, they plan to build a raft and travel downstream through the gorge. But before this can happen, they are attacked by a giant crocodile. This forces Turok to launch a near-suicidal attack against the monster to save Andar.

This serves two purposes (other than being an exciting and visually facinating action scene in its own right). First, it shows us that the river is dangerous, foreshadowing that there be trouble ahead.

Second, it reminds us that Turok feels an enormous responsibility towards Andar. Their mentor/teacher relationship is such that we can fairly assume that Turok thinks of Andar as a  younger brother--or perhaps even a son. In a few pages, the two are going to be seperated under circumstances that mean Andar might be dead. This earlier scene helps highlight his intense worry later one, adding an effective emotional kick.

Andar dispatches the croc with a poison arrow to the throat. With each of them carrying a pouch filled with a supply of poison berries, they head up the river. But, in a delightfully creepy scene, the raft is overturned by the River People.

Turok manages to get to shore and its here we get the scene in which he doesn't know if Andar is alive. An encounter with large and hungry crabs forces him back into the water, where the River People capture him. He's taken to the underwater grotto that the tribe calls home. Andar is here as well.

Like most tribes in Lost Valley, this one has a nasty tendency to kill all strangers. Turok tries to convince the tribe that he and Andar are strangers, but he fails a test--he's not able to swim deep enough to retrieve his pouch after this is tossed into a deep pool. A tribesman, equipped with fins that allow him to swim faster, brings the pouch back.

More great plot construction here. This scene first puts Turok and Andar back into immediate danger and serves as a reminder that each is carrying a pouch full of poison. Andar's pouch, in particular, is the Chekov's Gun of this story.

The two are strapped to crosses of wood and set adrift in the river. I love that panel above, by the way. One of Giolitti's strengths as an artist is his compositional skills. Notice how he uses the mesosaurus to frame the two Indians in the center of the image. It makes for a wonderful visual.

This is where Chekov's Gun is fired, as Turok manages to reach Andar's poison pouch and toss it into the mesosaur's mouth. The River People, seeing this, assume Turok has powerful magic and run for it.

When the two are swept into rapids, Turok is snapped loose from his ropes when his cross hits a rock. He manages to pull Andar to safety and the adventure comes to an end.

It's an effective and exciting story--one that was particular fun to analize simply because of the skill with which the writer put the whole thing together.

Next week, we head back to World War II to watch a tank do battle with a submarine.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Edgar Rice Burroughs Podcast--Episode 6

Jess, Scott and I have recorded Episode 6 of the Edgar Rice Burroughs Podcast. This one is about the vivid and exciting 1927 Western "The War Chief."

You can listen or download the audio  HERE.

And here's the video version:

Monday, February 11, 2019

Saturday, February 9, 2019

DC vs. Marvel (1963)

This is a discussion I led at Dark Side Comics and Games in Sarasota, FL on October 24, 2018. We are doing a page-by-page comparison of Superman #164 and Fantastic Four #19, both cover-dated October 1963. I started the recording devise early, so the first 3 minutes is a random discussion we were having about the TV show "Land of the Lost." I've left that in because some of you might find it entertaining. Simply jump to the 3:00 mark to skip this and get right to the lecture.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Friday's Favorite OTR

Rocky Jordan: "Memento from Adelaide" 9/25/49

Rocky unexpectedly receives $40,000 in life insurance money. The dead woman who had named him as beneficiary had claimed to be Rocky's wife. But Rocky has no idea who she was.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Gun Lap Way

Read/Watch 'em In Order #98

Jimmy Dillon is an engineer who wants a job actually building a bridge he designed. But to get that job, he first has to win a race.

Back in the day, it wasn't unusual for businesses to have their own baseball teams and give men jobs because they were good ball players. In this case, the head of an engineering firm is really into track and field, so he has hired a couple of top-flight sprinters as soon as they graduated from college. So Jimmy and his arch-rival Brayton are both asked to run in a race known as the Golden Mile. Whichever one of them wins gets the prime job of building that bridge.

Jimmy's boss is kind of a jerk in this regard. And Brayton is a jerk as well. A year earlier, he had "accidentally" brushed up against Jimmy during a race. Jimmy ended up with a fractured leg. It's only now that he's ready to run again.

This is the premise of "The Gun Lap Way," by Daniel Winters, the next-to-last story in the February 1949 issue of New Sports Magazine. The theme is one of rediscovering courage--of Jimmy willing to out-run Brayton and fight him for the lead despite the painful memory of that broken leg.

But there is another sort of courage invovled as well. Jimmy tolerates his jerk boss because his job represents security and a relatively secure future. Jimmy has a job offer from another guy--a skilled engineer who appreciates Jimmy's own skill in the field. But that job would be a risky one. If it flopped, Jimmy would be broke and unemployed.

So when the race begins, Jimmy has to find a double-dose of courage within himself to both compete with Brayton and make the best life decisions.

I know my summary makes the story sound corny, but it's well-constructed with good characterizations, endowing the tale with real emotional backbone. What this story and other stories in New Sports Magazine share is the idea that a sport can be more than a game. That the work, courage and willingness to compete inherant in any sport really can teach us life lessons. I remember once reading that Dwight Eisenhower credited playing sports at West Point with teaching him important things about self-discipline and teamwork.

So both "The Gun Lap Way" and the other tales in this magazine rise above merely being corny or contrived, both because the writers were talented and because the lessons being taught really do apply to real life.

You can find this issue online HERE.

Anyway, we have one more tale to go. We'll finish up the issue with a basketball story.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Penguin's First Caper

When Dectective Comics #58 (cover dated December 1941) was published, Batman had only been active in Gotham City for about two years. His established Rogue's Gallery was still growing.

So this issue is an important one, as it marks the first appearance of Oswald Cobblepot, alias the Penguin.

Actually, though, we don't read the name Oswald Cobblepot in this issue. For much of the story, the Penguin is posing as an art dealer named Mr. Boniface. It's not clear if this was originally his name or if it was itself an alias. The Cobblepot name was later introduced in the Batman newspaper strip.

The story is written by Bill Finger, with art by Bob Kane. The Penguin, as already mentioned, is posing as a erudite art dealer, but he's really the one responsible for stealing some valuable paintings. His use of umbrellas for tools of crime is here right from the start. He uses an umbrella to smuggle some stolen paintings out of a gallery and later is seen firing everything from bullets to gas out of it.  That's one heck of an umbrella.

He's soon taken over the rackets in Gotham City. So now he's set up to steal valuable art, but at the same time make himself appear to be an innocent victim of his own crime wave.

But if you are going to be a successful criminal in Gotham City, you need to get rid of Batman. Penguin's plan involves knocking Batman out and leaving him at the scene of a robbery in what appears to be suspicious circumstances.

The Gotham cops take Batman in, though are apparently polite enough not to take his mask off. But, while still enroute to police headquarters, Penguin stages a "rescue."

So Batman is now a prisoner of the bad guys AND wanted by the cops. Fortunately, the Penguin is apparently also too polite to unmask the Dark Knight. Batman, though tied up, taps out a distress signal using a radio hidden in his heel, bringing Robin to the rescue. I love that part and its a scene that helps show us where Batman's reputation for always being absurdly prepared for any circumstance original comes from.

Batman soon demonstrates his innocence by exposing Penguin as a criminal. In future stories, Penguin isn't always noted for his skill in a fist fight, but he manages to actually out-wrestle Batman long enough to make a getaway. This leads directly into the Penguin's second story, which appeared in the next issue of Detective. Penguin's scheme in that one is particularly clever, so I may review it soon.

The Penguin, because of his fun visual design and his erudite speech, quickly became a frequent return villain and eventually led to one of the greatest bits of casting in the history of film and television when Burgess Meredith played him in the 1966 Batman TV series. And it all began in this untitled story from 1941.

Next week, we'll return to the Lost Valley for another visit with Turok.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Friday's Favorite OTR

CBS Radio Mystery Theater: "The Cask of Amontillado" 1/12/75

Poe's classic tale is expanded to include two additional murders and a clever detective working to solve the crimes.

Click HERE to listen or download.

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