Friday, December 3, 2021

Friday's Favorite OTR

 Family Theater: "The Leprechaun Who Wouldn't Listen" 3/16/49

A young leprechaun chronically fails to listen to good advice or to what is taught in leprechaun school. This leads to trouble, not just for him, but for the entire leprechaun community. 

Click HERE to listen or download. 

Thursday, December 2, 2021

I Guess I'll Make it a Triple Feature


A week ago, I reviewed The Bonnie Parker Story, which was directed by William Witney and starred Jack Hogan. A few years ago, I reviewed Cat Burgler, which was also directed by Witney and starred Jack Hogan.

So now I feel obligated to complete a Witney/Hogan triple feature with a review of the 1959 movie Paratroop Command

This one actually shares three cast members with The Bonnie Parker Story--Hogan, Ken Lynch and Richard Bakalyn. In this case, Bakalyn is the lead character--a paratrooper named Charlie.

The film opens with a combat drop into North Africa. Scattered around at first, the Americans gradually regroup as they run into German soldiers. At one point, a soldier called the Cowboy mistakenly thinks Charlie has frozen up. Charlie loses touch with the rest of his unit for a while.

When he shows up again, he shoots and kills Cowboy, mistaking him for a German. You can see exactly what happens in the clip below. Though a tragedy, it is clearly an accident and Charlie can't reasonably be blamed. But Cowboy has had time to say that Charlie had frozen. Cowboy's best friend Ace (Hogan) is convinced Charlie murdered Cowboy to keep his cowardice a secret. Several others in the unit, at the very least, don't quite trust Charlie.

{On a side note: one doesn't expect complete realism in most movies, but notice in the scene below that Cowboy--a trained soldier--points a live weapon at a fellow soldier. That's a dumb thing to do, even in jest. Notice that he's not even observing proper trigger discipline. To be fair, though, in the adreneline rush that follows what he just accomplished in knocking out the German bunker, maybe this is understandable if not excusable.}

The lieutenant believes Charlie and gives him a chance to transfer to another unit and start fresh. But by this time, the story has spread across the entire division. Charlie would have to transfer out of the paratroops. And he won't do that. All his life, he's felt he was a screw-up. Joining an elite unit is his best chance to accomplish something. He won't give up his chance now.

The second act of the movie takes place in Sicily and involves a well-choreographed fight set around a farmhouse. There's a couple of really effective moments here, such as when a haystack behind which Germans are hiding is set on fire and the scene actually manages to generate sympathy for the bad guys when they run out with their uniforms blazing. During this fight, Charlie is ordered to stand down when he has a moment to help because he's still not trusted by the others.

The last act is set at Salerno. The unit is tasked with finding a concentration of German tanks and reporting their position to the Air Force. The unit is pinned down and takes casualties. The lieutenant has spotted the tanks and has the radio, but he's wounded and unable to move. Charlie has the generator needed to power the radio. To get the generator to the radio, he has to cross an open road seeded with land mines while under fire from the Germans.

Charlie is finally given a chance to accomplish something worthwhile. 

 Like the fight at the farm house, this final action scene is well-choreographed and honestly surprised me in who got killed and wounded. 

There are a few weaks points. The banter between two characters (the Sergeant and Pigpen) fails to generate the laughs it's supposed to. The low budget shows in that every American has a Tommy gun and every German has an MP 40 (probably what the studio had available).  A few M1s or carbines mixed in would have been nice. Also, we hear ricochets, but never see one, implying that the movie's budget didn't include squibs. 

Even so, Paratroop Command is a good movie, with a strong cast and Witney's direction lifting it over the weak points in the script and its low budget. 

Over the past three weeks, I've reviewed three B-movies--the first two because they were originally released as a double-feature, then the third because it shared an actor and a director with one of those. Then I connected this with a fourth B-movie I review a few years ago. Now, I must resist the urge to expend another Thursday post next week on the movie that played with Paratroop Command as a double-feaure: another WWII flick titled Submarine Seahawk.

Oh, who am I kidding? I'm not going to resist the urge at all. Join me next week for a review of Submarine Seahawk.

By the way, Jack Hogan isn't the only actor in this movie who would later appear regularly in the TV series Combat! The German captain we meet during the farm house fight is played by Paul Busch, who popped up on Combat! dozens of times as a German soldier. Not the same one, since he usually got killed in each episode in which he appeared. Busch was a 2nd generation American, but his mom was from Germany and he spoke the language fluently. Playing Germans in WWII films and TV shows pretty much represented a steady paycheck for him during the 1960s.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Cap Meets Fury


Sgt. Fury #13 (December 1964) shows us the first time Nick and Captain America met. Eventually, the two men will team-up countless times, both during the war and in modern times after Nick takes over SHIELD and Cap gets thawed out. There is no doubt that either one of them would gladly give his life for another. So it's a fun idea when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby decide to give Sgt. Fury a bad first impression of the future Avenger.

The issue begins in a London movie theater, where Nick and his gal Pam are watching newsreels. When footage of Nick and the Howlers is shown, the crowd reacts with subdued "good show" reaction. But when Cap and Bucky are on screen, the crowd applauds wildly. Pam expains this is because Captain America is new, but Fury still feels some jealousy.

In the meantime, Cap and Bucky are on a mission that takes them into occupied France. There's a build-up of German forces near the coast and they need to find out what's what.

They sneak ashore... well, I guess "sneak" isn't really the right word, since they are soon in battle with what seems to be half the Wehrmacht. 

I know that one of Cap's skill sets is supposed to be "master tactician," but his plan here pretty much consists of punching Germans until he stumbles across the information he wants. Well, at least initially. Later on, we'll see he and Bucky pulling off a pretty nifty con on the Germans. So perhaps punching his way into the Fortress Europe is just the first part of that plan.

They soon find out that the Germans are shipping large numbers of slave laborers from Poland and other Eastern countries. There's no big factories in the area, so what's up with that? The partners rescue some American airmen who were about to be executed and send them pack to their submarine rendevouz with a message to send over the Howlers.

Cap and Bucky then disappear from the story for awhile. Back in England, we get some scenes of the Howlers training--practicing judo and going on a long hike with full packs. This isn't an essential part of the main story, but it is important to help continue to build three-dimensional characterizations of the Howlers and their supporting cast. This is especially important in a book like this, where the action is undeniably over-the-top. Solid characterizations keep the cast grounded and relatable even in the midst of the wild combat scenes. 

In this case, there's some humor from Captain "Happy Sam" Sawyer putting the Howlers through their paces and a nice humanizing moment for him when he realizes they are exhausted after their hike and turns his back on them so they can relax without him seeing them looking beat.

But it's not long before word comes that the Howlers are needed, giving Nick the satisfaction of knowing he'll be able to show Cap how a real soldier gets things done. A few panels later, they've parachuted into France. Here we get several pages of non-stop action, in which the Howlers are slowly whittled down in numbers. Gabe is wounded and Izzy is detailed to take him back to their submarine pick-up point. Dum-Dum and Dino break away from the Howlers to capture a bunker and use the cannon there to give the others cover to advance. When Fury and Reb jump on a train, Percy remains behind to hold off some advancing Germans.

Nick and Reb find themselves in a box car full of slave laborers. Also aboard is a young American soldier we recognize as Captain America. Bucky is there as well, wearing the uniform of a Hitler Youth as he "guards" the prisoners.

The two Howlers hide their weapons in rolls of cloth and soon the train arrives at the entrance to a huge tunnel--a tunnel the Nazis are building underneath the Channel with the intention of invading England.

How Cap and Bucky set up things to be where they are at this point isn't explained, but it doesn't need to be. During their absense from the story, they obviously pulled off a clever ploy or two, putting them in the right place at the right time. This is definately a part of Cap's skill set and, by not taking time for a flashback, Stan and Jack get us into the final action scene right away.

Soon, Cap and Bucky are back in costume. Nick sees them in action and soon realizes that Captain America is the real deal.

The Howlers are soon seperated again from the two superheroes, finding an escape hatch near enough to England to get home. Cap, in the meantime, blows the tunnel, putting an end to the invasion plans. Nick and Reb end up in the hospital for a few days, where we learn the other Howlers got home okay as well. Nick worries about Cap and Bucky, not realizing that they are in the neighboring hospital room recovering from their own injuries.

It's a great story, full of wonderful Kirby-drawn action. Taking Cap out of the story for a time, then bringing him back in out of uniform so that Nick doesn't initially realize who he is, is clever and effective. Nick's initial jealousy of Cap is understandable, but it's also in character for him to readily admit his mistake later on. It was inevitable that Stan and Jack would eventually show up Stan and Cap's first meeting and it's satisfying that they did such a good job with it.

Next week, we'll look at Part 3 of The Great Darkness Saga.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Friday's Favorite OTR

 Our Miss Brooks: "Clay City Football Game" 10/31/48

Miss Brooks agrees to drive Mr. Boyton to a nearby city to watch the Madison High team play an away game. She assumes that it could be a nice, romantic drive with just the two of them. But Walter, Harriat, Principal Conklin, Mrs. Conklin, and a bullfrog named MacDougal all end up coming along. The trip does not go smoothly.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

A Bank Robbing Double Feature, Part 2


Last week, we looked at the 1958 drive-in film Machine Gun Kelly. That was released as a double-feature along with The Bonnie Parker Story

Directed by B-movie and TV veteran William Witney, Bonnie Parker isn't quite as good as Kelly, but it's still a fun movie. Like Kelly, it follows the broad strokes events of the real-life Bonnie and Clyde, but fictionalizes details and characterizations.

We meet Bonnie Parker when she is working as a waitress at a greasy spoon, the only job she can get because her husband is a crook (and is currently serving 175 years in the slammer). That job falls through when the only way she can keep it get rather personal with the cook. But then someone else comes into her life and offers her a ticket to the big time.

That someone is Clyde Barrow. No, waitaminute. His name is... "Guy Darrow?"

I have no idea why they changed the name for the film. Later on, when Guy's brother joins their gang, the brother changes from the real-life Buck to the movie Chuck.  I can't imagine that there were legal issues with the Barrow family, but what do I know? Perhaps the names were changes simply to allow us to focus more on Bonnie as the center of the story.

Which is fine. Dorothy Provine plays Bonnie as a tough gal who wants something better than what she has. Like Guy, she turns out to be a sociopath, but she's realistic enough to eventually realize she and Guy are doomed. And an encounter with a "nice guy" (an archtecture student who doesn't know she's a crook) leaves her aware of what she can never have.

Guy is played by Jack Hogan, who is best remembered for playing chronic complainer Pvt. Kirby in Combat! In that show, Kirby used a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR). As Guy Darrow, he uses a Tommy Gun. There's a bit of irony in that, as in real-life Clyde Barrow used a BAR. For us Combat! fans, it would have been pretty nifty to see Hogan wielding what would have become his signature weapon.

Anyway, Bonnie and Guy rob places like bars and gas stations, kill some people and are soon known and wanted no matter where they go. Bonnie, who was promised the Big Time, is getting disillusioned. It's not long before she asserts her strong personality and takes over. In fact, for most of the rest of the movie, she's the one carrying the Tommy Gun, making plans and showing more physical courage than other members of the gang. All the time, though, she clearly knows that sooner or later, they are going to die.

She also busts her husband out of prison to beef up the gang. Guy isn't happy about that, but by now Bonnie is keeping both Guy and her husband on a short lease. She no longer interested in either of them romantically or physically. She simply needs them to pull off profitable bank jobs.

The movie's biggest flaw in the character of Tom Steel, a Texas Ranger clearly based on Frank Hamer (the Ranger that tracked down Bonnie and Clyde). He's effectively played by Douglas Kennedy and he's supposed to be a relentless lawman who never gives up. He pops up several times throughout the film. But because Bonnie and Guy keep getting away from him, he comes across as ineffectual. Yes, he does get them in the final scene, but by that time it comes across as just dumb luck.

By the way, a few years after making Bonnie Parker, William Witney would direct Jack Hogan in a movie titled Cat Burgler. You can read my review of it HERE

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

The Great Darkness Saga, Part 2


Legion of Super-Heroes #291 (September 1982) picks up right where the last issue took place. That previous issue ended with the capture of one of the Servants of Darkness. Brought back to Legion HQ, the Servant is examined and discovered to be a clone of an ancestor of Shadow Lass.

It's an effective way of bringing us back into the story after waiting a month for the next issue. We are finally fed a little bit of information about the bad guys, but its only enough to be intriguing and a little creepy without giving away too much. 

Writer Paul Levitz and artists Keith Giffen (breakdowns) & Larry Mahlstedt (finished art) then continue to pile more stuff on, with examples of just how powerful the villain is. He releases Mordru, the evil wizard who is described as being equal in power to the entire Federation civilization. But then he almost casually zaps Mordru, draining the wizard of his power.

The same thing happens to another villain with god-like powers when the Time Trapper is also drained of power.

Dream Girl gets a premonition that her sister, White Witch, is also going to attacked. Forewarned, the Legion manages to save her.

It's during this battle that Invisible Kid tries to slip through one of the space warps that the Servants use to see who the Big Bad is. And it's here that we get a visual clue to his identity. As I mentioned last time, Darkseid isn't yet as well-known as he will eventually become, but he has been around. For attentive readers familiar with him, the panel below is probably the best clue yet to his identity.

Invisible Kid takes an Omega Beam blast and is injured. The Servant gets away and for the time being Darkseid's identity is still unknown to the Legion and probably also to many of the original readers of the book.

While all this is going on, the captured Servant comes out of her coma and nearly takes down Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy. Lightning Lad, who has been ill himself, pulls himself together enough to put the Servant down again.

It's a great issue. It's fast-paced, full of great action, doles out just enough information about the villains to leave us wanting more, and moves the overall story arc along enough to be satisfying. 

As with the last issue, I'm giving short shrift to many of the continuing story arcs--there's an election for the new Legion leader (Dream Girl wins) and Chameleon Boy is on trial for something incredibly dumb he did a few issues earlier. I want to concentrate my review on the main story, but I should say again that these ongoing arcs gave depth to the characters and made them relatable. 

That's it for now. We'll be back in two weeks with the next part of the Great Darkness Saga. Next week, we'll jump back a little over a thousand years to discuss a war-time team up between Sgt. Fury and Captain America.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Friday's Favorite OTR

 Richard Diamond: "Photographer's Card" 3/26/50

Diamond gets possession of a small photographic negative that people are willing to kill for.

Click HERE to download or listen.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

A Bank Robbing Double Feature, part 1


Machine Gun Kelly and The Bonnie Parker Story were released as a double-feature in 1958. Both were released by American International Pictures and produced on very low budgets (which was A.I.P.'s specialty.) Both, despite the low budget, are excellent movies.

Machine Gun Kelly was produced and directed by Roger Corman, who is often remembered for churning out scores of movies on very low budgets, thus turning a profit on each one regardless of its quality. But he was a good director when he put his mind to it. He knew how to tell a story well and his direction often has a visual flair to it that keeps things interesting.

Kelly is one of his good films. It benefits from having Charles Bronson play the title role. This was Bronson's first leading role and he does a great job endowing that role with just the right mixture of brutality, bravado and barely-hidden cowardice.

Kelly runs a small gang that specializes in bank robberies. His girl--Flo Becker--is a part of that gang (with Susan Cabot giving another strong performance). It's soon obvious that she is the manipulative half of the two, though Kelly maintains an veneer of supposed manhood around her with occasional abusive behavior and displays of jealousy. 

All in all, it's not a healthy relationship. But then, Kelly has trouble with healthy relationships. His leadership methodology to run the gang boils down to being a bully. It's not a happy gang.

In fact, that gang splits apart and turns against one another when a bank job goes wrong. Even before that, one of them tries to snitch more than his cut from the bank job that opens the movie. That guy ends up being pushed onto a cage containing an angry mountain lion and losing an arm. Kelly later has to ambush a rival gang led by one of his former partners. 

It's Kelly's brutality that eventually brings him down. He and Flo turn to kidnapping, teaming up with a crook named "Apple" and snatching the young daughter of a rich man. But Kelly eventually kills Apple and the one-armed snitch from earlier in the movie snitches once again. Things begin to fall apart, with Kelly now in a panic as the Feds close in, while Flo tries to badger him into manning up and going down in a blaze of gunfire.

There are hints throughout the movie that Kelly is a coward, egged on to acts of immoral courage only because of Flo. Anything he sees that reminds him of death sends him into a cold sweat. In fact, the second bank robbery goes wrong because he sees a coffin being delivered and freezes up for a minute, keeping him from getting to the bank in time to cover his partners.

The movie has a number of strong elements aside from the solid story and the lead actors. The supporting cast are all great, each giving their characters distinctive personalities. Especially notable are Frank DeKova as a crooked gas station owner who claims to have once been a great hunter and Morey Amsterdam as the eventually one-armed snitch with a snake-oil personality. In fact, it's fun to see Amsterdam (best remembered as Buddy on The Dick Van Dyke Show) play a low-life crook. 

I couldn't decide on which scene to highlight for this review, so I'm just going with both my top choices. The first is the dialogue-free opening scene, showing up a bank robbery set to jazz music. The other gives us a chance to see Charles Bronson roughing up Morey Amersterdam--which is something you just don't see every day.

Next week, we'll look at The Bonnie Parker Story--the other half of this drive-in double feature from 1958.

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