Friday, September 20, 2019

Friday's Favorite OTR

Suspense: "Pigeon in the Cage" 8/11/57

Lloyd Bridges plays a man who overhears a murder being planned and committed while he's stuck in an elevator. If the killers realize he's there, he may never get out.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Red Skelton and Buster Keaton

Actually, the title of today's post is a cruel joke of sorts. Buster Keaton and Red Skelton do not actually appear together in the 1950 comedy The Yellow Cab Man.  In fact, Keaton isn't in the film and doesn't appear in the credits.

But, according to the information I got from Ben Mankiewicz' nifty introduction to the film when it recently aired on TCM, Keaton was involved in the movie as an uncredited consultant. It's easy to believe this is true. The sight gags in the film come one after another at a rapid fire pace and every single one of them is hilarious. The climatic chase scene, which involves scrambling around a rotating house and taking to the air in hot air balloons, is comedy gold. Red Skelton was already a superb comedian. Add input from the funniest guy who ever lived and you are bound to end up with an incredibly funny movie.

Skelton plays Red Pirdy, the world's most accident-prone human being. In fact, he's gotten to expect to be periodically hit by a car or take a sudden fall down a flight of stairs. He even keeps his doctor's contact information printed on his undershirt.

When he accidentally walks in front of a Yellow Cab, he ends up meeting Ellen Goodrich (Gloria De Haven), an employee of the cab company. He also meets a sleezy, ambulance-chasing lawyer named Martin Creevy (Edward Arnold), but he decides he'd rather talk to the pretty girl.

Pirdy is also an inventor and Ellen arranges for him to demonstrate his unbreakable glass to the cab company's owner. The demonstration goes awry, but results in Pirdy working as a cab driver.

After a few minutes on the job, he's accidentally kidnapped a bratty little boy, inadvertently convinced a crowd of people that a bomb is ticking inside a mail box, and pretty much guarantees that a bride and groom are not going to make it to Union Station in time to catch their train. It's a scene that literally drips with Keaton-esque comedy.

In the meantime, Creevy and his cronies plot to steal Pirdy's formula for the unbreakable glass. One of his men, played by Walter Slezak, pretends to be a psychiatrist who eventually convinces Pirdy that he might be a murderer.

A more detailed description of the plot would almost be beside the point. There is a plot that progresses in a more-or-less logical manner, but the main purpose of the story is to give a structure on which the sight gags can be built. And that is exactly how it should be.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Back to 1942 (Again!)--Part 2

Cover art by Jack Kirby and John Romita
Last week, we looked at 1976's Marvel Two-in-One #1, in which Ben Grimm traveled back to 1942 to recover some time-lost Vibranium and thus prevent the Nazis from winning World War II.

In that issue, Ben didn't get a chance to punch many Nazis, with the Liberty Legion (made up of various relatively obscure Golden Age heroes) handling most of the action. But as the story spills over into Marvel Two-in-One #20 (October 1976), writer Roy Thomas and artist Sal Buscema toss Ben right into the middle of the action.

Using a flag pole as a catapult, Ben has boarded a giant flyng swastika that was attacking New York City. And may I just take a moment to say that I love being able to type that sentence. A Comic Book Universe is a wonderful thing.

The Liberty Legion had been fighting various Nazi super-villains that had been recently introduced in The Invaders. Roy Thomas continues this trend as Ben discovers the Nazi disembodied brain known as the Brain Drain (also part of the Invaders' Rogue's Gallery) is controlling the giant flying swastika.

I love that sentence as well. I have a good life.

Before the action really gets started, though, we are treated to a couple of pages recapping the events of the recent annual. This has been a chronic problem with this story arc--the FF Annual, Two-in-One Annual and this issue all get bogged down in relatively lengthy information dumps needed to bring the readers up to speed. There's also a painfully contrived moment in which the Nazi villain Skyshark publicly and nonsensically announces that he's carrying the Vibranium on his person. But, just as with the two annuals, the pacing eventually picks up and the story becomes enjoyable.

MTIO #20 is pretty much just a non-stop brawl. The swastika lands at a secret base and Brain Drain's allies put in an appearance, bringing together enough raw power between them to give Ben a pretty tough fight.

Sal Buscema knew how to effectively choreograph a superhero fight and we have a lot of fun watching Ben trade punches with the bad guys. Ben handles himself well and comes close to winning, but he's simply outnumbered. Fortunately, the Liberty Legion arrives.

The conclusion of the fight continues the fun, as the Liberty Legion uses their powers together in tactically interesting ways to finish off the villains. Brain Drain and Skyshark get away, but the remaining Nazis are captured, the Vibranium is recovered and New York City is saved. Ben returns to the present to find out that history has unfolded correctly.

I do wish that Ben's two-issue trip into the past had allowed him more time to directly team-up with the Liberty Legion members. Part of the fun of the FF Annual that kicked off this story arc was getting to see modern heroes interact with Golden Age heroes. Here, Ben is either on the sidelines or unconscious when the Liberty Legion is around.

But the story is a good one regardless, with Nazis getting beaten up and obscure heroes getting their moments in the sun.

Next week, Bruce Wayne produces a movie, solves a murder and gets into an aerial dogfight in what will be the first of three reviews of stories featuring World War I aircraft.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Cover Cavalcade

From 1963, with cover art by Sheldon Moldoff. Any comic book universe worth its salt is filled with Tarzan-inspired Jungle Men.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Friday's Favorite OTR

Suspense: "Frankie and Johnny" 2/3/57

Margaret Whiting plays Frankie, who eventually decides to murder her no-good, cheating boyfriend Johnny. What makes this particular episode fun is that Whiting sings a lot of the story in the form of a blues number. It's something Suspense had done a few years earlier in an episode staring Rosemary Clooney.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

You Can't Think of Everything--The Pusadian Tales, Part 2

Read/Watch 'am In Order #105

The second Pusadian tale (stories set in a mythical Bronze Age written by L. Sprague Dr Camp) was published in the November 1951 issue of Imagination.

Get out your Pusadian Tales scorecard and remind yourself about the setting. Pusad is a slowly sinking continent that is analogous to Atlantis. Lorsk is the predominant nation on Pusad. In this story, we meet Gezun, a 14-year-old boy who originally came from Lorsk. The ensuing tales will follow Gezun's life as he eventually rises from slave to king, largely through his cleverness and his innate ability as a con artist.

In this story, he's been a slave for about a year, having been captured by pirates, taken away from Pusad and sold to a wizard named Sancheth Sar.

Fortunately, the wizard is a relatively benevolent master and Gezun has not been unhappy. In fact, as the story opens, Gezun is awkwardly trying to seduce a girl he's befriended, though being only fourteen, he's not quite sure what he'll do if she says "Yes."

 Gezun's first adventure begins when his master sends him to attend an auction of magical items, with orders to obtain a specific manuscript.

Before he gets home again, Gezun will need to be clever, make important spot decisions, deal with a pair of bandits, and resist the lure of o shape-changing sprite. But while he's on guard against these threats, he's not necessarily watching out for more mundane ways of getting the manuscript away from him.

The story is a delight on several levels. The characterization of Gezun is excellent. He's clever and capable, but de Camp never forgets that he is still a young boy, who sometimes reacts to the world in childish manner.

Also, as is true with all of de Camp's Pusadian Tales, Gezun's world view, such as his attitude towards slavery or the casual ruthlessness of his tactics when dealing with bandits, accurately reflect a Bronze Age culture. The story is a fantasy, but de Camp's thoughtful inclusion of period-accurate details give it verisimilitude and makes the setting and characters seem real.

You can find the story online HERE.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Back to 1942--AGAIN (Part 1)

cover art by Jack Kirby
Marvel Two-in-One Annual #1 (1976) follows up on the story from that year's Fantastic Four Annual, in which the FF had to travel back to 1942 and recover some Vibranium to keep the Nazis from winning the war. But they only managed to recover half of the rare and powerful element.

I have a pet peeve about stories crossing over between titles, which I talked about when I reviewed the FF Annual a couple of weeks ago. I was giving these titles a pass, because--though both involve traveling back to 1942 to recover missing Vibranium--they are independent enough of each other to read and enjoy seperately. 

I still feel that is true, but its connection to the FF Annual does get this issue off to a really slow start. A number of pages are needed to recap the events of the earlier book, which is followed by Ben Grimm playing 20 Questions with the Watcher, who wants to help Ben preserve history but won't overtly violate his non-interference oath by actually speaking. All he can do is smile or frown slightly when Ben asks questions.

Even in the context of a Comic Book Universe, this is a little silly. The Watcher is still interfering--he's still violating his oath--he's just doing it without talking. Maybe according to Watcher Law this gives him a legal loophole, but it's still a goofy way of getting in exposition and setting up the plot.

Anyway, Ben eventually realizes that the Vibranium was split in half when it fell back in time, so the other half still needs to be found. And it needs to be found quickly, because New York City (starting with the most recently constructed buildings) starts to vanish. Ben hasn't seen Back to the Future, which won't be made for another ten years, but he still realizes that history is being altered and he needs to do something about it fast.

Sal Buscema's art is fun to look at, though, and writer Roy Thomas does use the exposition to remind us that Ben is a really smart guy, not just a bruiser who likes to clobber stuff.

Anyway, Ben eventually uses the time machine to travel back to 1942 and the story rapidly gets more interesting. A nice touch here is having Ben meet a young John Romita and befriend him. 

But his new friend will have to wait. A flight of Nazi dive bombers attack New York, which confuses Ben since he knows that the Germans don't have any aircraft carriers. How did the planes get to the United States?

A couple of recent issues of Marvel Premiere (which did cross over directly with the Invaders--GRRRRRR!!!) had introduced the Liberty Legion to the Marvel Universe. This is a group of obscure Golden Age characters who band together to protect the home front while the Invaders are taking the war to occupied Europe. They show up again to take care of the Nazi planes, though the Nazi leader--a brutal pilot named Sky Shark who made a name for himself by strafing civilians--gets away.

Ben doesn't get to do much here, since he's stuck on the ground while the fighting is going on in the air. Also, the Liberty Legion is understandable suspicious of his story that he's from the future. In fact, Ben gets left behind again while the Legion divides into sub teams to fight superpowered Nazi sabateurs.

This bad guys are all villains who had been introduced in recent issues of The Invaders. So Roy Thomas is once again being a Triple Threat: he's indulging in his love of Golden Age characters, using this story to promote characters from other books, and telling a fun story.

That last one is the important part. Using one book to promote another is perfectly legitimate, as long as the story being told is still entertaining.

This one isn't quite as good as the FF Annual, because Ben (one of the Marvel U's best characters) gets left on the sidelines for pretty much the entire tale. But he gets his chance to join in on the last page, when a giant flying swastika attacks the city. He uses a flagpole as a makeshift catapult to fling himself up towards the strange craft and into the next regular issue of Marvel Two-in-One. We'll look at that issue next week.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Friday, September 6, 2019

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Falcon: "The Case of the Big Talker" 4/29/51

A mobster forces Mike Waring to help clear him of murder. The mobster is undoubtedly capable of murder--the question is whether he's guilty of this particular one.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Different Studios---Same Idea--Same Year

Famous Studios (formally Fleischer studios before being taken over by Paramount) was based in New York  in 1951. The Fleischers had moved their studio to Miami, but after things went bust for the brothers, Paramount had moved operations back to New York by 1943.

Terrytoons, in the meantime, was founded by Paul Terry in 1929 and stuck around New York until they closed up shop in 1972. Terrytoons were released by 20th Century Fox.

So the only thing they had in common was having studios in the same state. I don't think they were close enough for their to be a common restaurant or bar where they would have hung out with each other after work. I initially wondered about that, because in 1951, both studios independently produced cartoons featuring the same general idea. Famous' Little Audrey and Terrytoons' Heckle and Jeckle both made unwise wishes on a rainy day, causing severe draught and causing them to have to take action to resolve the problem.

The characters also had respectable comic book careers beyond their cartoon origins.
Little Audrey's "Audrey the Rainmaker" begins with the precocious girl stuck inside on a rainy day. Bored and annoyed, she makes a heartfelt wish that it would never rain again. When this wish actually comes true, Audrey is tasked by a sentient drop of water to make amends. This requires her to make a trip up a rainbow and visit the Rainmaker.

Written by Isadore Klein and directed by Izzy Sparber, "Audrey the Rainmaker" is a wonderful cartoon, full of imaginative images and giving us an effective "be careful what you wish for" moral.

Terrrytoons' "The Rainmakers," written by Tom Morrison and directed by Connie Rasinski, starts with a near-identical premise. Heckle and Jeckle, fed up with their picnic being ruined by a rain storm, also wish that it would never rain again. This also leads to a drought, repleat with some downright frightening surreal images of the consequences of this. The cartoon goes off in its own direction at this point, with the two magpies taking flight in a plane to capture a rain cloud. Unfortunately for them, the cloud they try to capture is a "little girl" whose much larger dad is less than pleased with her captors. Like the Famous Studios' cartoon, it is full of imaginative and surreal images that make it a joy to watch.

As I said, both cartoons were released in 1951. So that's what made me think perhaps there was a common watering hole for New York animators and perhaps this general idea was discussed by guys working for the different studios, with each studio then taking the premise in different directions. But, as I said, I don't think the studioes were that close to each other.

Then again, Heckle and Jeckle's cartoon was released in May, while Little Audrey's cartoon wasn't released until October, so maybe someone at Famous Studios saw the H & J effort and lifted the basic idea. I have no idea what the production times were for either studio, so I don't know if that's possible.

Or maybe it was merely a coincidence--probably the most likely explanation. In any case, the end result was a pair of cartoons that literally drip with imagination and creativity.
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