Friday, March 29, 2019

Friday's Favorite OTR

X Minus One: "The Haunted Corpse" 12/12/57

A scientist invents a machine capable of transferring minds into different bodies. His intended use for it might not be completely ethical.

Click HERE to listen or download.

My review of the story on which this episode is based is available HERE.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Escape from Fort Bravo

If you are a Confederate prisoner being held in Fort Bravo--in Arizona Territory--you need to be very, very careful when making your plans to escape. Not only do you have to worry about crossing a scorching, water-starved desert... not only do you have to worry about Mescalero Apaches who will leave you staked out for the ants to devour... you also need to worry about getting on the bad side of Union Captain Roper. You don't want to get on Roper's bad side.

Escape from Fort Bravo is a 1953 Western directed by John Sturges, who would go on to helm classics such as The Magnificent Seven, Bad Day at Black Rock and Ice Station Zebra. Fort Bravo, made early in his career, usually isn't listed among his classics. And that's probably fair enough. It is in many ways a standard Calvary vs. Indians story that doesn't necessarily break any new ground.

But it is an enormously fun movie, nonetheless. Sturges takes full advantage of location shooting in Death Valley to make many of the action scenes look downright magnificent. And a great cast brings the story to life.

William Holden is Roper. We meet him almost literally dragging an escaped Reb back to the fort at the end of the rope. Roper is a man who can respect an honorably enemy, but this particular Reb had marked himself a coward in Roper's eyes. The Reb had ridden a horse nearly to death and then had left the animal to suffer rather than putting it out of its misery.

Whether or not Roper is correct in his assessment of the prisoner, his actions increase the bitterness and desire to escape among the other rebels being held there. But escape does indeed take some careful planning, especially with a brutal Indian war raging around them.

The situation is complicated further when the beautiful Carla Forrester (Eleanor Parker) arrives at the fort. Supposedly there to attend the wedding of one of the officers, she turns out to have an agenda of her own.

The events of the movie play out in such a way that the climax involves a small band of Union soldiers and a small band of escaped Confederates, along with Carla, are surrounded by Mecaleros. This is the best part of the movie, with a suspenseful and exciting "last stand" set piece that has quickly become one of my favorite action scenes of all time. Gee whiz, this is good stuff.

I mentioned a great cast earlier. Holden is typically excellent in the lead role. Richard Anderson, one of my favorite character actors (and the future Oscar Goldman on The Six Million Dollar Man), plays an officer who dislikes Roper and his methods, but turns out to be a good soldier in his own right. John Forsythe is the ranking officer among the Confederates.

My favorite characters are two Rebs played by William Demarest and William Campbell (who would later be both Trelane of Gothos and Klingon Captain Koloth on Star Trek). The two play off each other perfectly, gripping about their situation and often insulting each other, but looking out for one another when the chips are down. These two needed to have their own movie.

So Escape from Fort Bravo is worth watching if you enjoy a well-told Western, with that final action sequence really standing out. Here's the first few minutes of that sequence to wet your appetite:

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Avoiding Death Traps and Curing Blindness

At the end of Marvel Team-Up #5, Spider Man is guarding an unconscious Puppet Master inside the Baxter Building. MTU #6 (Janurary 1973) picks up right from there, with Ben Grimm and his blind girlfriend Alicia Masters coming home and asking Spidey what the heck is going on?

As with the last issue, this one is written by Gerry Conway and drawn by Gil Kane, with the two producing yet another fun issue. Remember that Puppet Master is Alicia's step-father. Well, we find out here that he had actually murdered Alicia's actual dad AND was responsible for her blindness. We also get hints that he is a craven moral coward, which is a theme running through his character arc in this issue.

All that is fine, but some actual important plot points are laid out a sloppy fashion. Puppet Master and Alicia's dad were partners experimenting with radioactive clay, but the purpose of the experiments is never defined. It was the clay that rendered Alicia blind and, though P.M. tries to figure out how to use it to restore her eyesight, he ends up figuring out how to make mind-controlling puppets instead. Such are the vagaries of Comic Book Science.

Ben has an.. um... "discussion" with P.M. and its decided to return to the ruins of his original lab and make another attempt to restore Alicia's sight. I'm pretty sure this is wishful thinking on Ben's part, but it can be said to be well within his established character.

Puppet Master is leading them into a trap anyways. He has sort of sublet the land to the Mad Thinker, who has built a standard issue Underground Lair complete with Death Traps. Ben and Spidey decide to split up while exploring the lair--kind of a dumb thing for two experienced superheroes to do--and soon both have indeed fallen into Death Traps.

But both are able to figure out ways out of the trap. When Alicia is threatened by one of the Thinker's androids, Puppet Master has an attack of conscience, but can't bring himself to knock out the Thinker with a wrench until Spidey shows up to help. Ben, in the meantime, takes care of the android.

The story ends when the lair blows up. How did that happen? Alicia thinks that Puppet Master might have finally been overcome with guilt and done the deed himself. Of course, in a comic book universe, villains pretty much always turn out to be alive, but for the moment the bad guys seem to be dead.

The last panel implies that we are supposed to feel a little sympathy for Puppet Master, though Conway does such a great job of making him cowardly and loathsome, there's not a lot of room for sympathy. It is well within Alicia's established character to feel badly for him, though, so it is a nice way to bring the tale to a close.

Next week, back to Colonial America as Ben Bowie and his comrades trek through a really bad snow storm.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Cover Cavalcade

This is an awesome cover for the classic novel. I tried to find a credit for the artist, but failed.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Friday's Favorite OTR

You Are There: "The Battle of Gettysburg" 2/22/48

The Civil War on Old-Time Radio (Part 9 of 17)

July 3, 1863 was the High Tide for the Confederacy. General Robert E. Lee had brought his ragged troops into Pennsylvania, where it encountered the Union army at a small town called Gettysburg.

Click HERE to listen or download.

This is the ninth 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, March 21, 2019

I wish we had seen more of Hattie

I wish we had seen more of Hattie Annis. She was an eccentric, somewhat annoying and absolutely wonderful character. But she pops up in one story and then fades away into pop culture limbo. That's a pity.

But perhaps a character like Hattie only works once and would become tiresome if she continued to appear in later stories. Besides, I have no idea how she would have realistically been sandwiched into any additonal Nero Wolfe mysteries.

The novella in which Hattie appears is "Counterfeit for Murder," which was first serialized in the Saturday Evening Post in 1961 (under the title "The Counterfeiter's Knife") and later published with two other novellas in the 1962 book Homicide Trinity.

She shows up at Wolfe's brownstone with a large package of $20 bills. Her idea is for Wolfe to find the owner and then they would split the reward. She didn't want to take it to the cops, because she doesn't like cops. And I mean she really doesn't like cops.

Because after the money turns out to be counterfeit and someone tries to run down Hattie and one of the borders at her home is murdered, she locks herself in her room and refuses to allow the police in to question her. They have to break in and literally carry her from the home.

Wolfe and Archie just sort of end up with Hattie as a client without really meaning to. Hattie wants to hire them to make the cops eat dirt. Wolfe interprets the job as figuring out who the killer is. The cops-eating-dirt part may or may not be a by-product of that.

I like Rex Stout's novels featuring Wolfe and Archie more than the novellas, largely because there's more room to portray more of the always entertaining interactions between the residents of that Manhattan brownstone.

But this one has both a good, tight mystery (involving Wolfe getting a hint at the killer's identity and Saul Panzer then doing his usual effective field work) and the presence of Hattie. Her tendency to call Archie "Buster" and Wolfe "Falstaff," combined with her eccentric behavior and unique sense of honor makes her a delight. It's is indeed very possible that she works best as a one-off character, but I still kind of wished we had seen more of her.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

An Android with a Splitting Headache.

Over in the DC Universe, the various heroes are scattered acorss the U.S., usually in cities such a Gotham or Metropolis that only exist within that universe.

In the Marvel Universe, the heroes mostly congregate in New York City, so its not that much of a stretch that Spider Man was pretty much stumbling over another character every month in the pages of Marvel Team Up. 

In MTU #5 (November 1972), the webslinger stumbles across Vision, who is apparently having a really bad night.

 The story, written by Gerry Conway and drawn by Gil Kane, is an entertaining and unusual one. Vision is having sudden and unpredictable attacks of seizures and blinding headaches. He doesn't want to go to the Avengers because of some angsty stuff he's going through in concurrent issues of the Avengers.

That's a weak excuse, by the way. In the Avengers, Vision is going through a sort of identity crisis because he's not a human being, but refusing to go to his teammates when he so obviously needs their help isn't just angst, it's just dumb.

But, dumb or not, Spider Man is the only one around to help him.

Spidey realizes that an intangible ally makes it easy to break into a hospital, where he uses some jury-rigged equipment to find out a mysterious signal is superimposing another set of brainwaves onto Vision. The source of that signal is traced to the Baxter Building--the headquarters of the Fantastic Four.

I like this part of the story. Peter Parker is a budding brilliant scientist as well as a superhero and it's always nice when a story remembers this and incorporates Peter's smartypants tendencies into the plot.

We soon find out that FF villain Puppet Master is inadvertantly responsible for the Vision's woes. While hiding out in a remote cabin, he saw an alien ship crash. From this wreck he recovers a powerful robot. He makes a puppet of the robot to gain control over it, then begins to use it to take revenge on the Fantastic Four.

The robot barrells through the building's security, but Puppet Master is disappointed to find out there's no one home. It's at this point that Spidey and the Vision show up.

I've always enjoyed Gil Kane's art work, whom I believe never drew an uninteresting panel in his life. The fight between Spider Man and the robot, in which the webslinger barely holds his own, is entertaining and exciting.

Vision isn't much help at first. The headaches and seizures come whenever Puppet Master is actively controlling the robot, so he's pretty useless at first. But when he sees Puppet Master and figures out what's going on, he pulls himself together long enough to destroy the puppet. The robot then deactivates and collapses.

So Vision is now all better and he soon flies off, leaving Spidey behind in the Baxter Building with a damaged alien robot and an unconscious supervillain.

What will the FF say when they get home? We'll find out next week, since the next issue is a direct continuation of this one.

This particular issue is fun. Conway's scripts were too dialogue heavy at this early point in his career, but he was still producing great stuff. The plot makes sense within the confines of Comic Book Logic and I really did enjoy seeing Peter Parker being able to use his science skills.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Cover Cavalcade

For a book with the title "Superman's Pal," there were a very high percentage of covers that featured Jimmy trying to kill Superman or Superman tormenting Jimmy.

From 1961, with art by Curt Swan. This cover was inspired by this 1938 pulp cover painted by Howard V. Brown.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Friday's Favorite OTR

Escape: "A Sleeping Draft" 4/5/53

A ship is transporting a group of convicts from England to Australia. The convicts are somewhat... disrespectful of authority and a few knives smuggled aboard make them a real threat to the crew. The captain can only defuse the situation by trusting a murderer to help him.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Basketball was pretty rough as well.

Read/Watch 'em In Order #99

The last story in the February 1949 issue of New Sports Magazine is "The Backward Forward," which dives down into the world of both pro and high school basketball.

I'm not as familar with the history of basketball as I am with the history of baseball, because... well, because its not baseball. I do know the NBA formed the same year this story was published when two rival leagues decided to merge.

But the main characters in this story, Duke Brandon and Red McGee, play for small towns in more localized pro leagues. I don't know how common such leagues were in 1949, As the tale opens, they are nearly broke and hitching a ride into the mill town of Ironton. Their last team folded after someone embezzled the league funds, so they hope to find a spot on the Ironton squad. Duke also plans to answer an ad for a coach at the local high school.

They seem to be in luck--there are two openings on the team. Duke and Red are good players, leading their new teammates to a hard-fought victory that night.

The author, William Heuman, does a great job of describing the action of the game with exciting and engrossing prose. And that action is rough. There's only one ref officiating the game, so shoving, pushing and tripping is common whenever he's not looking. In this regard, the story reminds me a lot of the rough, not-always-legal play that was described in this issue's baseball story.

The next day, Duke does get the coaching job. The kids at the school are rough around the edges, but he begins to identify their individual talents and soon has them playing winning ball.

To give them team spirit, he wants them to have uniforms. But the school can barely afford to pay his pittance of a salary, much less spring for uniforms. So Duke bets his pay for three pro games on his pro team to win. They do and the kids get uniforms.  And because a pro player betting on sports never ends badly. (Read that last sentence in a sarcastic tone, please.) Oh, well. At least he bet on his team to win.

Soon, Duke gets an offer to coach at a college, for more money and more opportunities for the future. Taking that job seems like a no-brainer. But here in Ironton, he's respected by the high school kids, who would just be hanging out in pool halls if they weren't playing ball. He's the star of the local pro team. He's starting night school to improve himself and there's a girl who likes him.

So the decision isn't such a no-brainer after all.

This brings our look at this issue of New Sports to an end. There has been a consistent theme of sports building community and character throughout all the stories--with the stories well-written enough to usually make this seem sincere rather than corny. I actually summarized this in my look at the previous story, which you can read here.

The entire issue is available HERE.

The next Read/Watch 'em in Order entry will be #100. Quite a milestone which will undoubtably have a lasting effect on civilization. I'll have to give careful thought on what to write about.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Penguin Returns

A few weeks ago, we took a look at the first appearance of the Penguin. That issue ended with the villain's "fowl scheme" (get it?) foiled, but with the Penguin himself getting away.

That was in Detective Comics #58. The 59th issue (January 1942)  picked up right where that story left off, with the Penguin jumping a train out of Gotham.

The credited writer for the first story was Bill Finger. This second part is credited to Joe Greene, though this new story flows smoothly out of its predecessor, so the change in writers caused no storytelling bumps in the road. The art is still credited to Bob Kane.

The Penguin encounters a bunch of hoboes on the train, all of whom are wanted in various cities and have a tendency to brag about the size of the rewards being offered for their capture. This gives Penguin an idea. Why not travel from city to city, turning each of them in for the reward, then busting them out of prison before moving on to the next city? The reward money is then split between them.

It's a pretty good plan and fits the M.O. of the clever and well-spoken arch-villain.

But after they pull it off the first time, Batman and Robin are on their trail. They track Penguin and the hoboes to a "jungle" near the railroad tracks. A jungle, by the way, is a clearing near the railroad in which hobos congregate. Thus the story's title: "King of the Jungle."

The ensuing fight goes well for the Dynamic Duo at first, but Penguin's gas-emitting umbrella puts them down. Penguin leaves them tied up and hanging upside-down to "die painfully--a lingering death!" Penguin is not a cute or friendly bird.

Batman manages to wriggle free. Penguin, in the meantime, keeps pulling off his plan, turning in his fellow crooks for reward money and then busting them out in a variety of clever ways.

Eventually, though, Batman is able to see a pattern and predict the next city the Penguin will visit. This leads to a chase in which Penguin and his gang are forced to hijack a riverboat in their attempt to get away.

Batman and Robin board the boat and are promptly thrown overboard. (Golden Age Batman does not seem to have the same level of martial skills as his later counterparts did.) But they use the paddlewheel to sneak back aboard and, despite the fact that a sword vs. broomstick fight does not go well for the Dark Knight, have soon captured the gang.

The Penguin jumps overboard and seems to have drowned. But even this early in superhero literature, most readers had probably learned that if there's no body, then the villain is almost certainly not dead.

Taken together, the two issues that introduce us to the Penguin are strong ones. The stories successfully portray him as intelligent and innovative. His unexpected agility makes him trickier to catch than one might think, but is not used to present him as an expert fighter in the long term ("I can't match your fisticuffs" he tells Batman at one point). He's a mastermind who depends on trick umbrellas and improvision to get himself out of physical scraps when necessary. It's not surprising that he would go on to become a major part of Batman's Rogue's Gallery.

Next week, the first of a two-part look at a couple of Marvel Team-Up stories.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Cover Cavalcade

Another Neal Adams cover, this one from 1972. Word balloons on covers eventually fell out of favor in comics, but here's an example of a cover that shows word balloons can be part of a very effective image.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Friday's Favorite OTR

Dangerous Assignment: "Five Gardenias" 7/26/50

Steve Mitchell goes undercover as a mercenary to catch the leader of a guerilla band operating in Asia. But the presence of a possible double agent might blow his cover.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

The Twilight Zone Goes West: Part 8

The last visit the original Twilight Zone made to the Wild West was another comedy episode. "Mr. Garrity and the Graves" aired on May 8, 1964, near the end of the show's final season. 

As far as I can remember, it's the only original TZ story that is (kinda-sort of) based on a true story. 

Apparently, in 1873, a guy convinced the citizens of the mining town of Alta, Utah convinced the citizens that he could raise the dead. But those citizens, though initially enthusiastic, began to think about problems such as re-marriages and inherited properties, they ended up paying the guy $2500 NOT to resurrect anyone.

Rod Serling read about this in an article by a sports writer named Mike Korologos and turned the idea into a script. John Dehner (perhaps my favorite character actor) plays Mr. Garrity, a peddler who comes to the town of Happiness, Arizona and announces he plans to raise the dead. He brings back a dog who had been hit by a wagon as proof of his ability.

Well, this seems like a good thing at first. But after a little reflection... well, Mr. Gooberman's wife Zelda wasn't really that pleasant. The bartender's dead brother used to steal from the till. In fact, there aren't many of the deceased that their loved ones necessarily want to see again. 

So Mr. Garrity begins to get inquires about how much it would cost to prevent a particular person from climbing out of his or her grave.

It's a fun episode. The script is not one of Serling's strongest, but the cast (especially Dehner) play their parts to perfection and bring the story to... um.. life. "Mr. Garrity and the Graves" is yet another example of the high quality of character actors that used to populate TV during the 1950s and 1960s. 

But wait! If Mr. Garrity is a con artist, then what makes this episode fodder for The Twilight Zone?

Well, perhaps Mr. Garrity is a slightly better Resurrectionist than he thought he was.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Napoleon and Illya Join the Circus

The evil organization THRUSH is running a jewel smuggling operation in Europe, so U.N.C.L.E.'s plan to break this up is to have its too best agents join the circus.

This is the situation we find in Man from U.N.C.L.E. #13 (July 1967--writer unknown; art by Mike Sekowsky.)

Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin at first think their boss Mr. Waverly might be off his rocker, but the plan actually does make sense. A small circus can travel around Europe, stopping in locations in which smuggling activity has been detected and thus allowing the agents to quietly investigate.

In fact, "The Flying Clowns Affair" is a very well-constructed story. Of course, it's a story set in the universe of the Man from U.N.C.L.E., so it is by nature over-the-top. But even taking that into consideration, the story follows a perfectly logical progression.

In a French border town, Napoleon and Illya get a line on some smugglers using a local winery as a hide-out. But the circus strong man is a THRUSH agent. Tailing the good guys to the winery, he trys to run them over with a truck, only to end up getting killed when the truck slams into a giant vat of wine.

They capture a couple of THRUSH agents and find a cache of red rubies hidden inside a cask of red wine, but the villains are executed by a sniper before they can answer any questions. THURSH does not have an attractive benefits package for their employees.

The good guys do recover the radio the dead strongman used to contact his THRUSH boss. They are able to trace the signal to an area around the German border and begin to search that area. So THRUSH agents try again to get rid of them, this time by rigging the cannon used by Illya in a human cannonball act. The charge inside is set far too strongly, firing the hapless U.N.C.L.E. agent well clear of the circus, with Napoleon desperately running after them.

It's here that you can argue the otherwise well-plotted story fails to hit its mark, since it depends on pure dumb luck for its next plot twist. Illya happens to land in a haystack just outside the barn in which the THRUSH smugglers are hiding. They have a limo parked there which is equipped with a number of secret hiding spots for stolen jewels.

The limo tries to make a getaway with Solo and Illya handing on to the top. Napoleon blinds the driver with his over-sized clown coat. The limo crashes, killing the THRUSH agents inside and finishing off the smuggling operation.

Mike Sekowsky's art is not on many people's Favorite Artist list, but he does tell a story well and more often than night manages to make Solo and Illya look more or less like Robert Vaughn and David McCallum. And his panels showing the agents in their clown get-ups are a lot of fun.

The unknown writer does a fine job of constructed a logical plot. Even the dumb luck of Illya dropping into that haystack isn't too bad--the reasonable detective work they had done to get close to the smugglers makes it feel as if they had earned that bit of luck.

Next week, we'll return to Batman and the Penguin again. I reviewed Penguin's first appearance a few weeks back. So it seems only right to look at his second appearance as well, which happened in the very next issue. After that, since we've been to the DC Universe a number of times recently, we'll pay a visit to the Marvel U.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Friday, March 1, 2019

Friday's Favorite OTR

Nero Wolfe: "The Case of the Malevolent Medic" 2/23/51

The wife of a wealthy man dies of a heart attack while in her doctor's office. Or was it a heart attack?

Click HERE to listen or download.

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