Thursday, December 14, 2017

“Your Reclamation, Then” | Scrooge McDuck (1983)



In Mickey's Christmas Carol, Scrooge seemed like a believer when he was talking to Marley, but his tone quickly changes once Marley's gone. He searches his room, and finding nothing, he grumbles, "Spirits." That doesn't necessarily mean that he no longer believes in Marley's ghost, but maybe he thinks that Marley was wrong about the other visitors. At any rate, he goes to bed with a final, "Humbug!"

He does fall asleep and we get a nice POV shot of something bouncing into the room and landing on Scrooge's nightstand. It's Jiminy Cricket, who raps his umbrella on the bells of Scooge's clock. That's all the chiming we'll get, but this Marley never made any predictions about what time the spirits would show up. In fact, Scrooge's clock says that it's not quite ten minutes after midnight. So no waiting around 'til one this time.

Jiminy makes an okay Spirit of Christmas Past. He's tiny (something that Scrooge comments on), but his real advantage is his personality and the role he's known for in Pinocchio. It's in character for him to lecture about morality, which will be a major part of his job in the coming scenes as he points out the lessons that Scrooge should have learned in his past. Unlike some of the other characters in this adaptation, Jiminy's look isn't modified to represent Dickens' version. There's not so much as a holly branch. In fact, the only modification to Jiminy's traditional look is that his medal now says "Ghost of Christmas Past - Official" instead of "Official Conscience."

Scrooge and the Spirit's conversation is almost entirely changed from Dickens. They briefly debate the importance of kindness before Jiminy declares that Scrooge didn't always undervalue the trait. As Scrooge tries to ignore him and go back to sleep, the Spirit hops over to the window and opens it. The snowy breeze gets Scrooge out of bed as the Spirit announces that they're going to visit Scrooge's past. Scrooge worries that he'll fall, but the Spirit hops in his hand and tells him to "just hold on." Then he opens his umbrella and flies out the window, dragging Scrooge behind him like Mjolnir pulling Thor. Well, maybe not so gracefully as that.

There's no touching Scrooge's heart and all together it appears that Scrooge has backslid in this scene. He seemed willing to change with Marley, but he doesn't respect this little Spirit. He's going to need some more convincing.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

“Your Reclamation, Then” | Walter Matthau (1978)



Since Rankin-Bass' The Stingiest Man in Town spent so much time on Marley, it keeps this introductory scene incredibly short. We'll have to get to know the Spirit of Christmas Past as we go.

Scrooge doesn't even get a chance to go to sleep. He's still quivering in his bed when the Spirit draws back the curtain and introduces himself. And he's decidedly a man. And an old one.

If you're not going to go all out and do the young-old, genderless representation, I understand the impulse to make the ghost old. Scrooge himself is an old man and this spirit represents all of his previous Christmases, so it makes sense that it's as old as he is. Dickens' adding a youthful quality is just a metaphor for how fresh our memories are. We remember even childhood things as if they were "just yesterday." If you've got to pick either young or old though, I think old is the way to go.

Incidentally, it's just this year that I paid any attention to the Spirit's explanation (which does come up in this abbreviated version) that it specifically represents Scrooge's past and not all Christmases past in general. I used to think the Spirit must have been 1,980-something years old, but really it's only going to be in its 70s or however old Scrooge is.

What I don't accept as much is the decision to make the Spirit male. If you're not going to go genderless, then why not add a woman to the already very male-heavy cast of characters?

The Spirit is small like in Dickens, but not supernaturally so. He just looks like a very short person. And he does carry the holly and the cap and he has the bright light shining from his head. This Scrooge is still terrified, so he doesn't dare ask the Spirit to put the cap on. In fact, he doesn't talk to the Spirit at all except to ask if he represents "long past."

The Spirit doesn't touch Scrooge's heart either. He simply commands Scrooge to take the Spirit's hand and then flies them both out of the window. As we talked about last year with Scrooge's question about "how" to change, I think his heart has already been touched. He doesn't know what he needs to do, but the interest in changing is already there at this point.

As the window opens, Tom Bosley's Humbug character has the chance to come back in, since he was trapped outside during the Marley scene. He watches Scrooge and Spirit go, but stays behind. I don't remember if he witnesses the past with Scrooge, so maybe he catches up later.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

“Your Reclamation, Then” | Alastair Sim (1971)



Richard Williams' animated version had Scrooge hurry off to bed after his encounter with Marley and we find out in this scene that he did go to sleep. He's awakened by the chime of one though, so there's no sitting up and fretting for the last hour. I'm curious to see if any of the theatrical versions include that and how they might handle it, but I expect that most will just cut straight to the Spirit's showing up.

Michael Redgrave's narration comes back in rather unnecessarily, since he's just describing things we can see onscreen, like the room's filling with light or a ghostly hand drawing back Scrooge's bed curtain. Once Scrooge and the Spirit speak though, Redgrave backs off.

The Spirit itself is super accurate. It's got the long, white hair and the youngish, gender-neutral face. It carries the holly and the cap and there's a bright flame coming from its head. It even flickers in the way Dickens described, with extra limbs and even heads coming into and fading out of view. (One cool result of this is that the Spirit can hold onto its holly and cap, but still have hands to interact with Scrooge.)

Scrooge is very polite to it. He calls it "sir" (that could be his own bias talking as much as any real understanding of the ghost's gender) and he doesn't complain about the light or ask the Spirit to put on its cap. Scrooge is so polite that when the Spirit says that its there for Scrooge's welfare, there's not even a mention of unbroken rest. Scrooge doesn't even think it, as far as we know. If he does, the Spirit doesn't correct him, but I think that line was left out on purpose. Scrooge's attitude seems to be very complacent and it has been since the end of Marley's visit. It looks like Marley did the heavy lifting on this transformation. Scrooge already seems willing to learn.

That might also explain why this Spirit never has to touch Scrooge's heart. It simply says, "Rise, and walk with me," and then whisks Scrooge out of the window. Scrooge doesn't express fear of falling and doesn't appear to need any extra upholding by the Spirit.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Hellbent for Letterbox | Maverick (1994)



It's cold out there, but Pax and I stayed warm talking about one of our favorite Westerns, 1994's Maverick with Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, and James Garner. And in a special "Whatchoo Been Westernin'?" segment, we discussed some of the episodes of the Maverick TV show that we watched, too.

“Your Reclamation, Then” | Teen Titans #13 (1968)



The Teen Titans version of A Christmas Carol isn't an adaptation, but just an adventure inspired by Dickens' story. Once Robin noticed the similarities between Dickens' characters and the people involved with the Titans' current case, he had the idea of using Christmas Carol tactics to try to redeem Scrounge.

So late on Christmas Eve night, when Scrounge is finally alone in his junkyard, Kid Flash shows up and pretends to be the Ghost of Christmas Past. It's never spelled out in the story, but I assume that he's vibrating his molecules at super speed in order to pass through that wall.

Unfortunately, his costume is a rush job and looks more like the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Accurately representing the story isn't really the kids' point. They're just using its general approach.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

“Your Reclamation, Then” | Graphic Classics, Volume 19: Christmas Classics (2010)



Alex Burrows and Micah Farritor's severely abridged version of the story cuts this year's scene down to five panels. In the first, Scrooge is sleeping and a clock chimes one. In panel two, Scrooge wakes up. And in panel three, the Spirit appears and Scrooge asks who it is.

Panel four is the one above. The Spirit is relatively androgynous; perhaps leaning towards masculine. And it's neither young nor old, but middle-aged. I'm not crazy about that, but I do like the choice to give the Spirit flames for hair. That suggests the flickering nature of the ghost and also provides a source for the light emanating from its head. The holly branch is replaced by a garland that the Spirit wears as a necklace. The cap is there, but Scrooge calls no attention to it and it serves no purpose other than to be faithful to Dickens.

In the final panel, Scrooge asks the Spirit if it's the ghost of "long past." It says, "No, your past" and orders Scrooge to take its hand. Their hands touch in an inset panel and the following panel smash-cuts to the next scene, outdoors.

That means that the Spirit never touches Scrooge's heart, but I think Scrooge is going to be okay anyway. He doesn't have much to say, but his eyes are wide and submissive the whole time. He turned humble halfway through Marley's visit and still is. Earlier in the story, this Scrooge's defining characteristic seemed to be arrogance, but his confidence has been shaken by the ghosts and I'm betting he's going to be pretty easy to change. We'll see though.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

“Your Reclamation, Then” | Campfire’s A Christmas Carol (2010)



Scott McCullar and Naresh Kumar skip the build-up to the Spirit's appearance and just have Scrooge wake up at the stroke of one. Frankly, that's fine with me. I don't think that the weird passage of time adds to the story and I prefer versions where everything is happening in one night anyway.

Kumar draws the Spirit as feminine and vaguely young. Maybe in her twenties? She does carry holly and a cap, but they both appear and disappear from panel to panel. Maybe that's intentional in lieu of a flickering affect. I doubt it - Kumar's art is sloppy in general - but Mike Collins' version did the same thing so I'll cut Kumar some slack, too.

Scrooge's reaction to the Spirit is hard to get a handle on. Kumar has a tough time maintaining consistency in facial expressions (or even in just the way he draws eyes), which has created a malevolent, sociopathic version of Scrooge who may be hallucinating all of these ghosts. He's positively horrifying when he asks the Spirit to cover her light with her cap, but thoughtfully complacent when apologizing after she takes offense. He's so all over the place that - like in the Marley scene - the general impression is that he's struggling internally with how to deal with all this. There's no sense that he's actually interacting with real beings.

Which makes the Spirit's hand on Scrooge's heart all the more fascinating. This is my favorite depiction of that so far. Other versions have only implied or outright changed it, but Kumar has the Spirit's hand firmly on Scrooge's chest with bright light passing from her to him. If I haven't stated it outright yet, I will now that this is a big deal.

I believe that Dickens' intention is to show the power that memories have to shape our character. Specifically, that dwelling on positive memories (like of Christmas) can lift our spirits and make us better people. The Spirit's putting its hand on Scrooge's heart is a metaphor for that, but as a thing that literally happens in the story, it also means that Scrooge's transformation isn't entirely his own choice. There's a direct, supernatural influence over his heart that at the very least makes him more receptive to what the Spirit's about to show him.

Reading this version as all being in Scrooge's head gives him back the power to change. I still really like this as an alternative reading. The weakness with it though is that there's no obvious reason for Scrooge start struggling with this. I can imagine that it's just something that's been building for a while and is now bubbling over, but that's not satisfying. Maybe there is a supernatural force at work - and maybe it's even Marley's ghost - but it could be triggering this war in Scrooge's mind rather than literally visiting him.

Friday, December 08, 2017

“Your Reclamation, Then” | A Christmas Carol: The Graphic Novel (2008)



Sean Michael Wilson and Mike Collins' adaptation again makes great use out of its longer page count. There are three entire pages dedicated just to chiming clocks and Scrooge's nervous build-up before the Spirit's appearance. It plays out just like it did in Dickens, with Scrooge's falling asleep and then being awakened by the midnight chimes so that he can count down the final hour.

Collins bravely takes up the challenge of faithfully depicting the Spirit. It's an accurate representation from the ghost's diminutive stature to its youthful, androgynous face and long, white hair. Collins even goes for the flickering effect by giving the Spirit extra limbs in some panels, but not in others. Sometimes it's more legs; sometimes more arms.

I wish that the holly branch was bigger, but oh well. And it's interesting that it and the cap disappear and reappear through the rest of the Spirit's visit. They're as ethereal as the Spirit itself.

Scrooge's reaction to the Spirit is as Dickens wrote it, but this adaptation calls out something that I missed earlier. In Dickens, Scrooge's observation about "a night of unbroken rest" being best for his welfare is an unspoken thought. I'm so used to its being spoken aloud in movie versions that I read it that way in the text, but Dickens specifically wrote that "the Spirit must have heard him thinking." Wilson and Collins called my attention to it by putting the "unbroken rest" line in a thought balloon. That also helps with what I noticed in the Marvel adaptation, where the "unbroken rest" line is omitted entirely. It was a risky approach for Marvel to just take it out and have the Spirit respond to it anyway, but I'm happy that now it at least looks like it was down on purpose.

The thing I don't like about this version of the scene is what it does with the Spirit's touch. Instead of asking Scrooge to bear but a touch of the Spirit's hand on Scrooge's heart, the Spirit pulls Scrooge's hand to its own heart. I guess it still works - that some of the Spirit's own compassion may pass into Scrooge this way - but it's an unnecessary change and I much prefer that the Spirit literally touch Scrooge's heart.


Thursday, December 07, 2017

“Your Reclamation, Then” | Marvel Classic Comics #36 (1978)



The Marvel adaptation also spends several panels faithfully having Scrooge wake up and fret over the weird passage of time. It does some different things with the Spirit, though.

It does away with both holly branch and extinguishing cap, but the biggest change is the choice to make him decidedly masculine (including a beard) and not at all childlike. He's not an old man by any means, but he's essentially a younger version of the Spirit of Christmas Present.

He does have the bright glow (not from the top of his head, but I like the dazzling aura effect as it's drawn). What's weird is that Scrooge still makes the comment about wanting the Spirit to put his cap on, even though there's no cap. I'd tally that up with the other evidence in this adaptation that Scrooge is mad, but the Spirit also refers to the nonexistent cap as if it's there. I haven't been able to come up with an in-story explanation that makes any sense, so no Marvel No-Prize for me.

There's also a lettering flub where the Spirit mentions Scrooge's welfare, but Scrooge's response is omitted. So when the Spirit says, "Your reclamation, then," he's not replying to anything verbal. Maybe he's reading Scrooge's thoughts, but we aren't privy to them as readers.

Then there's one other oddity around the Spirit's touch. Instead of putting his hand on Scrooge's heart, he simply holds his hand out, palm up. And he says, "Bear but a touch of my hand... here." Not "here" as in, "On your heart." But as in, "Here's my hand for you to touch."

I don't know why Doug Moench changed the line, but it does something interesting in conjunction with the art. The way the hand intersects with Scrooge's cap, it's possible to read the panel as the Spirit's touching Scrooge's head. That's very interesting to me in a comic where I've been questioning Scrooge's sanity for a while. Instead of Scrooge's heart needing healing, perhaps it's his mind. That's obviously not the intended reading, but it fits with the other things I've been noticing and forcing onto this version.

Finishing out the scene, I like how it holds the end of the Spirit's sentence ("and you shall be upheld in more than this!") until the following panel as he's dragging Scrooge out the window and into the air. It's quite dramatic.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

“Your Reclamation, Then” | Classics Illustrated #53 (1948)



Faithful to Dickens, Classics Illustrated does take a few panels to have Scrooge wake up, experience the sped-up progression of time, and fret about it.

It abandons the old-young Spirit though and goes for a youthful specter with long, blonde hair. Something I didn't mention yesterday was Dickens' refusal to assign a gender to this ghost. He always refers to it as "it." Visual depictions are going to have to decide what to do about that and Classics Illustrated cleverly chooses an androgynous look.

The Spirit has the holly branch in this one and that bright light effect is part of its appearance in every panel, but there's no extinguisher cap. Which is probably good, since this version of Scrooge is one of the meanest and least sympathetic. I wouldn't be surprised to see him extinguish the Spirit's light if he had the opportunity. So the story doesn't give him one.

It also abbreviates Scrooge's conversation with the ghost. Scrooge stammers his initial question about the Spirit's purpose (the old man is clearly scared; there's just not any evidence of change yet) and the Spirit answers that it's there for Scrooge's "welfare and reclamation." That robs Scrooge of his humorous line from the book about a night of unbroken rest. But the Marley scene also removed Scrooge's sense of humor. This Scrooge is all business.

The conversation is so abridged that the Spirit doesn't even explain that it represents Christmas Past. We'll have to pick that up through its actions as it takes Scrooge on tour. [UPDATE: As Caffeinated Joe points out in the comments below, not only does the Spirit announce itself, it does so in the panel I included on this post. I'm a dork.] 

It does take a panel to touch Scrooge's heart though. Or rather, to point at Scrooge's heart. We never see the actual touch. The implication is that it happened though, since Scrooge and the Spirit are outside in the next panel. We'll just have to wait to see if the touch had any effect in "upholding" the old man.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

“Your Reclamation, Then” | Dickens



Illustration by Harry Furniss.

As usual, as we look at Dickens' text, I'm going to copy the entire text of the section in bold italics and insert commentary. That'll help identify elements that we want to pay attention to in the adaptations.

When Scrooge awoke, it was so dark, that looking out of bed, he could barely distinguish the transparent window from the opaque walls of his chamber. He was endeavoring to pierce the darkness with his ferret eyes, when the chimes of a neighboring church struck the four quarters. So he listened for the hour.

To his great astonishment the heavy bell went on from six to seven, and from seven to eight, and regularly up to twelve; then stopped. Twelve! It was past two when he went to bed. The clock was wrong. An icicle must have got into the works. Twelve!

As we noticed last year, Dickens' version had Marley announce that the ghosts would visit one per night over three nights. I assumed that the first visit would start that very night on Christmas Eve, but Dickens makes it clear that that's not the case. Scrooge went to bed at 2:00 am on Christmas morning, so the clock rushes all the way through Christmas Day and we're now hearing it chime midnight as December 25th becomes the 26th.

Of course, most adaptations will ignore this and have everything happen on one night, but I'll point out the ones that stay faithful. I think I remember that some of them do.

He touched the spring of his repeater, to correct this most preposterous clock. It's rapid little pulse beat twelve; and stopped.

A repeater was a kind of clock that would chime the hours (and even minutes, using a different tone) when you pressed a button. It was a way to figure out what time it was in the dark without having to light a candle. I doubt many (if any) adaptations will include this detail, but maybe.

"Why, it isn't possible," said Scrooge, "that I can have slept through a whole day and far into another night. It isn't possible that anything has happened to the sun, and this is twelve at noon!"

The idea being an alarming one, he scrambled out of bed, and groped his way to the window. He was obliged to rub the frost off with the sleeve of his dressing-gown before he could see anything; and he could see very little then. All he could make out was, that it was still very foggy and extremely cold, and that there was no noise of people running to and fro, and making a great stir, as there unquestionably would have been if night had beaten off bright day, and taken possession of the world. This was a great relief, because "three days after sight of this First of Exchange pay to Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge or his order" and so forth, would have become a mere United States' security if there were no days to count by.

A couple of things are going on at the end of that paragraph. Basically, Scrooge is worried that he's going to run out of time to cash in certain IOUs. A "United States security" was a derogatory term that referred to the poor credit that the US had with other countries at the time. So Scrooge is concerned that some of his accounts will become worthless if time is speeding past deadlines.

Scrooge went to bed again, and thought, and thought, and thought it over and over and over, and could make nothing of it. The more he thought, the more perplexed he was; and the more he endeavored not to think, the more he thought. Marley's Ghost bothered him exceedingly. Every time he resolved within himself, after mature inquiry, that it was all a dream, his mind flew back again, like a strong spring released, to its first position, and presented the same problem to be worked all through, "Was it a dream or not?"

Scrooge lay in this state until the chimes had gone three quarters more, when he remembered, on a sudden, that the Ghost had warned him of a visitation when the bell tolled one. He resolved to lie awake until the hour was past; and, considering that he could no more go to sleep than go to Heaven, this was perhaps the wisest resolution in his power.

I doubt many adaptations will spend time on Scrooge's wakeful fretting. If memory serves, they'll either have him go right to sleep after Marley to be awakened by the First Spirit, or they the First Spirit simply shows up right away. We'll keep track, though.

The quarter was so long, that he was more than once convinced he must have sunk into a doze unconsciously, and missed the clock. At length it broke upon his listening ear.

"Ding, dong!"

"A quarter past," said Scrooge, counting.

"Ding, dong!"

"Half past!" said Scrooge.

"Ding, dong!"

"A quarter to it," said Scrooge.

"Ding, dong!"

"The hour itself," said Scrooge, triumphantly, "and nothing else!"

I'm having trouble following the timeline at this point. The clock sped ahead to midnight, then Scrooge fretted for 45 minutes and decided to just wait out the last 15 minutes until 1:00 am. But within those last 15 minutes, the clock chimes three 15-minute periods. Dickens seems to be messing with readers to make them as uncertain about the passage of time as Scrooge is.

He spoke before the hour bell sounded, which it now did with a deep, dull, hollow, melancholy One. Light flashed up in the room upon the instant, and the curtains of his bed were drawn.

The curtains of his bed were drawn aside, I tell you, by a hand. Not the curtains at his feet, nor the curtains at his back, but those to which his face was addressed. The curtains of his bed were drawn aside; and Scrooge, starting up into a half-recumbent attitude, found himself face to face with the unearthly visitor who drew them: as close to it as I am now to you, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow.

I love that image, that Dickens, as storyteller, is right here with us as we read. It makes him immortal, which, of course, he is.

It was a strange figure - like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of having receded from the view, and being diminished to a child's proportions. Its hair, which hung about its neck and down its back, was white as with age; and yet the face had not a wrinkle in it, and the tenderest bloom was on the skin. The arms were very long and muscular; the hands the same, as if its hold were of uncommon strength. Its legs and feet, most delicately formed, were, like those upper members, bare. It wore a tunic of the purest white; and round its waist was bound a lustrous belt, the sheen of which was beautiful. It held a branch of fresh green holly in its hand; and, in singular contradiction to that wintry emblem, had its dress trimmed with summer flowers. But the strangest thing about it was, that from the crown of its head there sprung a bright clear jet of light, by which all this was visible; and which was doubtless the occasion of its using, in its duller moments, a great extinguisher for a cap, which it now held under its arm.

Even this, though, when Scrooge looked at it with increasing steadiness, was not its strangest quality. For as its belt sparkled and glittered now in one part and now in another, and what was light one instant, at another time was dark, so the figure itself fluctuated in its distinctness: being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body: of which dissolving parts, no outline would be visible in the dense gloom wherein they melted away. And in the very wonder of this, it would be itself again; distinct and clear as ever.

It's easy to see why this Spirit gets the most variation in how it's represented. It has to be simultaneously old and young, while also as flickering and changing in appearance as a flame. Almost impossible to do with live action and even tough for the static images in comics. If anything's going to be able to get close, it'll have to be the animated versions.

It'll be fun to see which aspects of the Spirit the different adaptations focus on. And I wonder how those highlighted aspects will relate to Scrooge's reaction to this Spirit and what lessons he learns from it. For example, if the Spirit is depicted as old in a version, what does that say about its message to Scrooge? And how does that change if the Spirit is depicted as young? We won't be able to answer all of those questions this year, but by noting what the various versions are emphasizing in the Spirit, we'll lay groundwork to build more complicated theories on in the next couple of years.

"Are you the Spirit, sir, whose coming was foretold to me?" asked Scrooge.

"I am!"

The voice was soft and gentle. Singularly low, as if instead of being so close beside him, it were at a distance.

"Who, and what are you?" Scrooge demanded.

"I am the Ghost of Christmas Past."

"Long past?" inquired Scrooge: observant of its dwarfish stature.

"No. Your past."

Perhaps, Scrooge could not have told anybody why, if anybody could have asked him; but he had a special desire to see the Spirit in his cap; and begged him to be covered.

"What!" exclaimed the Ghost, "would you so soon put out, with worldly hands, the light I give? Is it not enough that you are one of those whose passions made this cap, and force me through whole trains of years to wear it low upon my brow!"

Scrooge reverently disclaimed all intention to offend, or any knowledge of having wilfully "bonneted" the Spirit at any period of his life. He then made bold to inquire what business brought him there.

"Your welfare!" said the Ghost.

Scrooge expressed himself much obliged, but could not help thinking that a night of unbroken rest would have been more conducive to that end. The Spirit must have heard him thinking, for it said immediately:

"Your reclamation, then. Take heed!"

I notice that while Scrooge still has some wit about him, he's being very polite to the Spirit. Marley wore him down to the point where he acknowledged that there may be some need for change. But Scrooge isn't ready to commit to making those changes. It sounds hard... and he's prideful.

So we'll take not of Scrooge's attitude towards the Ghost in the adaptations.

It put out it's strong hand as it spoke, and clasped him gently by the arm.

"Rise! and walk with me!"

It would have been in vain for Scrooge to plead that the weather and the hour were not adapted to pedestrian purposes; that bed was warm, and the thermometer a long way below freezing; that he was clad but lightly in his slippers, dressing-gown, and nightcap; and that he had a cold upon him at that time. The grasp, though gentle as a woman's hand, was not to be resisted. He rose: but finding that the Spirit made towards the window, clasped its robe in supplication.

"I am mortal," Scrooge remonstrated, "and liable to fall."

"Bear but a touch of my hand there," said the Spirit, laying it upon his heart, "and you shall be upheld in more than this!"

A lovely image and claim to end on. I wonder how many adaptations will include it.

So here's what we're looking for this year:
  • The timeline: which adaptations rush through the clock to get to midnight the next day?
  • The Spirit's appearance
  • Scrooge's attitude toward the Spirit.
  • Does the Spirit touch Scrooge's heart?

Monday, December 04, 2017

The Christmas Carol Project | “Your Reclamation, Then.”



It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, which means that it's also time to get back to our annual look at everyone's favorite Christmas/ghost story, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. If you're new to this, the idea is to pay attention to the way Scrooge's story has been interpreted and adapted to other media over the years. I’ve broken the story into scenes (or sometimes parts of scenes) in order to look at their translation to 19 different films, TV shows, and comics.

Here's the list of adaptations in the order I'll take them:

• Classics Illustrated #53 (1948)
• Marvel Classics Comics #36 (Marvel; 1978)
• A Christmas Carol: The Graphic Novel (Classical Comics; 2008)
• A Christmas Carol (Campfire; 2010)
• "A Christmas Carol" in Graphic Classics, Vol. 19: Christmas Classics (Eureka; 2010)
• Teen Titans #13 (DC; 1968)
• A Christmas Carol cartoon (1971) starring Alastair Sim
• The Stingiest Man in Town (1978) starring Walter Matthau
• Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983) starring Scrooge McDuck
• A Christmas Carol (2009) starring Jim Carrey
A Christmas Carol (1910) starring Marc McDermott
Scrooge (1935) starring Seymour Hicks
A Christmas Carol (1938) starring Reginald Owen
Scrooge (1951) starring Alastair Sim
"A Christmas Carol" episode of Shower of Stars (1954) starring Fredric March
Scrooge (1970) starring Albert Finney
A Christmas Carol (1984) starring George C. Scott
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) starring Michael Caine
A Christmas Carol (1999) starring Patrick Stewart

Annual Disclaimer: This obviously isn’t an exhaustive list. I started with my favorites, added some that people have recommended over the years, and then threw in some others that just caught my curiosity. We can talk about the ones I left out, but I will say that the reason Mr Magoo’s Christmas Carol isn’t here is because I hate it with a passion. It’s neither a good Christmas Carol nor a good Mister Magoo cartoon. There’s also no Scrooged or An American Christmas Carol or Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. When I first started this, I tried to stick to more or less faithful adaptations, but even though I've since added Teen Titans to the list, I'd rather that be a fun exception and not have to figure out where I'm going to draw the line.

This is going to take years. Every December we'll look at one scene, starting with Dickens' version, then exploring individual adaptations of that scene in the days leading up to Christmas. This year's scene is one I've been looking forward to for a long time. We get to meet the Ghost of Christmas Past: a character with some wildly different interpretations, (almost?) none of which are accurate to the book. It'll be fun to try to figure out why that is.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Guest Post | Groo vs Conan: A Hyborian Romp

By GW Thomas

December 1932: Conan the Cimmerian explodes onto the pages of Weird Tales in "The Phoenix on the Sword" by Robert E Howard. Not the first sword-and-sorcery tale (that was Howard's earlier Kull tale, "The Shadow Kingdom"), but "Phoenix" did begin a fantasy franchise that is still a hit today in novels, comics, and occasionally films and television.

Sergio Aragones was born just a little under five years later, in Spain. He rose to fame as a cartoonist in Mad Magazine, drawing all those little margin cartoons beginning in 1963. Mark Evanier (who will come in this story later) estimates that Sergio drew over 12,000 of them.

In May 1982, fifty years after Conan stepped onto the sword-and-sorcery stage, Groo the Wanderer appeared for the first time in the back pages of Destroyer Duck #1. This four-page battle scene between Groo and a four-armed dinosaur ninja goes badly for the princess whom Groo is attempting to save. The strip bears only Aragones name as he had yet to team up with writer Mark Evanier (see, told ya). This he would do for a back-up story in Starslayer #5 (November 1982). A five-pager this time, announcing the coming of Groo's own comic. And so it went. First Pacific Comics, then Marvel's Epic line, then Dark Horse. He is Groo "the Wanderer" after all.

In July 2014, we finally saw the stars align and the impossible happened. Conan, superstar of sword-and-sorcery, met Groo, super parody of same, in Groo vs. Conan, a four-part series. Begun in 2011, unavoidable delays due to back surgery kept the crossover from seeing print until 2014.

The plot is made up of three threads: first, that of the creators Sergio and Mark, who are trying to save a comic shop from being closed by a ruthless lawyer. Sergio ends up in the hospital and receives multiple medicinal shots, resulting in him running around the city in a hospital gown thinking he is Conan on a glorious adventure.

The second thread is Groo's, as he is hired to stop a protest around a bakery that is being closed by a ruthless vizier. When the townsfolk hear that Groo is coming, they cry that a terrible monster has come to kill them all.

The third thread is Conan's as he leaves his home to face the terrible monster Groo. The two meet and different versions of their meeting are told in taverns around the town. Meanwhile, back in Conan's village, his second in command Olaf takes over, having heard that Conan lost to Groo and is dead. All these threads rush together in what turns out to be a fairly predictable ending. Lawyer and vizier are defeated as Groo and Conan team up to fight a common enemy (what else would happen in a cross-over!). Poor Olaf when he finds out that Conan has not fallen in battle...

[NB: It turns out this wasn't the first time Sergio Aragones appeared as himself in a comic. In Jon Sable, Freelance #33 (Febuary 1986), Aragones is invited to draw the comic book version of BB Flemm's children's fantasy called "Cave of the Half-Pints," about leprechauns living in Central Park. Aragones appears alongside characters like Jon Sable and even ends up in a hot tub with his female agent.]

The final result of Groo versus Conan is a fun romp. The Aragones art is hilarious as always. To blend the more realistic Conan art of Tom Yeates must have been challenging, but the effect is good; something similar to Pete's Dragon animation from Disney back in the day. The jokes are fast and furious, with Evanier taking good-natured shots at hospitals, health care, the police, comic book fans, and best of all, at Sergio and Mark and their long working relationship. The sword-and-sorcery jokes were not as many as I would have liked, but after thirty-two years of Groo comics, what's left? Conan plays the straight man most often, with lines about how he must endure Groo's stupidity. Like so many actors faced with acting with a comedic maniac like Jim Carrey or Robin Williams, what do you do? Stand back and let them fly.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Holiday Affair (1949)



Who's In It: Robert Mitchum (Thunder Road, The Way West), Janet Leigh (Little Women '49, Psycho) Wendell Corey (The Great Missouri Raid, Rear Window), Gordon Gebert (The Flame and the Arrow, The House on Telegraph Hill), and special guest star Harry Morgan (High Noon, MASH) as a cop in one scene.

What It's About: A woman's (Leigh) Christmas is turned upside down when her feelings for a department store clerk (Mitchum) complicate her relationship with her lawyer boyfriend (Corey).

How It Is: What a great transition from Noirvember to Christmas. I saw this (or rather, the last half of it) a few years ago and have wanted to see it the whole way through ever since. It's totally romantic comedy and if it was remade today it would go straight to the Hallmark Channel. But it's got Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh and some other excellent performances, so its a new holiday classic for me.

This is an early role for Leigh, who plays the main character Connie. It was Leigh's tenth film, but her debut was just a couple of years earlier and it's easy to see why she was so busy so quickly. She's stunningly beautiful, for starters, but she's also crazy good and totally reels me in as a young widow trying to raise her son Timmy (Gebert) on her own. She's got support, including her in-laws and her boyfriend Carl, but she's also fiercely independent and protective of her and Timmy's autonomy. That's kept her distant from Carl - who desperately wants to marry her - and it's also a problem when she meets and becomes attracted to Mitchum's Steve.

Holiday Affair is an unusual genre for tough-guy Mitchum, but he's not exactly playing against type. He's still super confident and charming; he's just not punching anyone. And he gets a lot of opportunity to interact with kids, which is adorable.

Gebert is great, too. You could swap him out with little Ronnie Howard and I wouldn't complain, but the movie wouldn't be any better. He's a good actor and super cute.

And I quite like Corey as Carl. One synopsis I read describes him as "stuffy," but that's not the impression I got. He's solid and reliable, but he's also very clearly, deeply in love with Connie. He's a great guy and I especially love a speech he gives about the relationship he wants to have with Timmy. Unfortunately for Carl, it's also clear to the audience that Connie's not in love with him. But it'll take Steve to get everyone on the same page.

The story isn't unique, but the cast is so good that I get wrapped up in their characters. This is one I'm adding to my annual Christmas marathon.

Rating: 4 out of 5 best couples ever.



Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Thundarr Road | Interview with Buzz Dixon



In this special episode, we took a break from recapping the show to talk with very special guest, Thundarr the Barbarian writer Buzz Dixon! He's a great storyteller and had lots to tell us about not just working on Thundarr and his time with Ruby-Spears, but anecdotes from all across his prolific career: from Tarzan and the Super Seven to GI Joe, Transformers, and beyond!

If you're a fan of cartoons, especially the Saturday morning variety, you don't want to miss this episode!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Thunder Road (1958)



I'm wrapping up Noirvember with another Robert Mitchum movie that's been on my list for a long time. It's the inspiration for the title of our Thundarr the Barbarian podcast, so it's about time I finally watched it.

Who's In It: Robert Mitchum (The Night of the Hunter, Cape Fear), Gene Barry (The War of the Worlds, Bat Masterson), Keely Smith (sang with and was married to Louis Prima for a while), Sandra Knight (Frankenstein's Daughter, The Terror), and James Mitchum (son of Bob).

What It's About: A moonshine runner (Robert Mitchum) fights a war on two fronts (the law and a crime organization trying to take over the territory) while trying to protect the people he cares about.

How It Is: Mitchum's as charming as ever and I really love that his son is playing his kid brother. They don't just look alike; they also have a lot of chemistry and it raises the stakes considerably to believe so deeply that Luke (Robert Mitchum) is desperate to keep Robin (James) out of the driver's seat. I do wonder how awesome it would have been if Elvis Presley (Mitchum's first choice to play Robin; curse you, Col. Tom Parker) had been in the film, but as much as I love Elvis, I'm not sure I'd want to trade in James.

There's a lot of cool driving stuff, with Luke using a couple of different, tricked out cars. And I enjoyed his confrontations with the law (represented by Gene Barry) and the crime syndicate. The Appalachia and Memphis settings are cool, too.

What pulls the movie down for me though is Luke's unconvincing insistence that he can't escape his job. It's not even that he really wants to escape it. He clearly loves it and simply refuses to give it up. But what's never clear to me is why he feels that way. He has a lot going on in his life including his family and two women who care deeply about him: a Memphis nightclub singer (Smith) and local girl Roxie (Knight). He cares enough about all of these people to want to keep them at a distance where they won't be hurt by his occupation, but not so much that he's willing to give it up and do something different with his life. That would be a great conflict to explore if I better understood what's keeping him behind the wheel in the first place.

Rating: 3 out of 5 proto-Duke Boys.



Monday, November 27, 2017

Mystery Movie Night | AI (2001), The Hunt for Red October (1990), and Die Hard (1988)



On the latest Mystery Movie Night, Dave, David, Erik (he's back!), and I are joined by my good buddy Evan Hanson to talk robots, Russians, and Roy Rogers. Is AI a misunderstood work of genius or a big giant mess? Who's the best Jack Ryan? Is Die Hard a Christmas movie? We figure it all out.

00:00:45 - Review of AI: Artificial Intelligence

00:23:17 - Review of The Hunt for Red October

00:43:00 - Review of Die Hard

01:10:03 - Guessing the Connection

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Speculative Chic's Justice League Sound Off!



I'm a very occasional contributor to the Speculative Chic website and this week was one of the occasions. I joined some of the other writers to talk about Justice League and we're mostly in agreement about how well it succeeds as the next step in Warner Bros' attempt to build a DC cinematic universe. Go check it out!

Monday, November 20, 2017

While the City Sleeps (1956)



Who's In It: Dana Andrews (Laura, Night of the Demon), Rhonda Fleming (Spellbound, Out of the Past), George Sanders (Foreign Correspondent, Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake), Thomas Mitchell (Stagecoach, The Outlaw), Vincent Price (His Kind of Woman, House of Wax), Sally Forrest (Son of Sinbad), John Drew Barrymore (Drew Barrymore's dad), and Ida Lupino (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes).

What It's About: The heads (including Sanders and Mitchell) of three branches of a media empire compete to catch a serial killer (Barrymore) in order to impress their new boss (Price) and win the top spot in his reorganization.

How It Is: I love how complicated the movie is. Like how the general plot description above doesn't even include the main characters, Ed (Andrews) and his girlfriend Nancy (Forrest). Ed is a TV news commentator in the same media company that the others work for, but he doesn't want the new position for himself and throws his connections and investigative skills behind his friend Jon Day Griffith (Mitchell). Unfortunately for Nancy (who works for George Sanders' character, Mark Loving), part of Ed's plan is using her as bait for the serial killer. And if that's not betrayal enough, Ed's not exactly resistant when Loving throws his own girlfriend, columnist Mildred Donner (Lupino) at Ed. So there are multiple dramas playing out at the same time: who'll get the top spot, will the killer be stopped, can Ed and Nancy's relationship survive it all, and do I even want it to?

Noir is all about flawed characters, but there's flawed and then there's butthead, and Ed falls into the latter category. He asks Nancy's permission to use her in his trap, but he does it after he's already planted the bait for the killer to see. And after he drunkenly makes out with Mildred, he plays the victim when Nancy gets upset. Sally Forrest is lovely in the role though and I believe that Nancy is smitten with Ed, so I end up rooting for them to work it out. But it's a struggle.

The rest of the film is super compelling and strong, though, with great performances all around. Rhonda Fleming is a standout as Vincent Price's wife (who's having an affair with one of the candidates and scheming to have him win the job) and Price once again solidifies my position that film noir Price is better than horror Price.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 intrepid reporters.



Friday, November 17, 2017

The Night of the Hunter (1955)



Who's In It: Robert Mitchum (The Lusty Men, Angel Face), Shelley Winters (Winchester '73, The Poseidon Adventure), and Lillian Gish (The Birth of a Nation, Intolerance).

What It's About: A serial killer (Mitchum) turns his attention to a widow (Winters) and her two kids, thinking that one of them must know the location of some money hidden by their deceased husband/father.

How It Is: A stylish thriller with the emphasis on "stylish;" often to a fault. The story is great and some of the performances are also great (particularly Mitchum and Gish), but I'm not always sure what Charles Laughton is up to in his one and only directing credit.

Laughton and cinematographer Stanley Cortez create some stunningly gorgeous shots and I love the use of Harry's (Mitchum) singing "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" to build dread. What I don't like is the way the film rushes through some elements. Some of that's a script problem. Willa (Winters) falls for Harry at a ridiculous, unconvincing speed, for example, but there are multiple points where I'm totally lost about why someone is behaving the way they are. Pearl's (Sally Jane Bruce) reactions to Harry are equally mystifying. 

I also don't like a lot of the editing. There's a cool sequence where people are talking about how Willa needs a man and the dialogue is cleverly intercut with shots of Harry's train in transit, but the cuts themselves are matter-of-fact and artless. Every step of the way The Night of the Hunter is trying cool things and I appreciate that, but only about a third of them are successful.

Rating: 3 out of 5 creepy clergymen.



Thursday, November 16, 2017

Guest Post | G Peyton Wertenbaker, Science Fiction Pioneer

By GW Thomas

Early science fiction writers had it tough. Little or no pay and even if you succeeded, everybody thought you were nuts for writing "that junk." It should not be surprising that many of them were young men trying out a new interest. One of these was Green Peyton Wertenbaker, a sixteen-year-old who submitted his first story to Hugo Gernsback's Science & Invention, a non-fiction magazine that occasionally published "Scientifiction" stories. Wertenbacker's first try was called "The Man From the Atom" and it appeared in April 1923. But Hugo had bigger plans for Scientifiction and G Peyton Wertenbaker.

April 1926 saw the reality of Gernsback's dream of a magazine filled only with science fiction. It was called Amazing Stories and it reprinted Wertenbaker's tale along with Jules Verne, HG Wells, George Allan England, Austin Hall, and Edgar Allan Poe. The entire first issue was made up of reprints. So was the second, with the exception of "The Man from the Atom (Sequel)." As suggested by its odd title, it was the second part of Wertenbaker's tale of the man who could control his size. It was also the first new science fiction story to appear in an all-science-fiction magazine. So why isn't G Peyton Wertenbaker a household name?

Mike Ashley in The History of the Science Fiction Magazines, Part 1 (1974) wrote of Wertenbaker: "He was born in Virginia in 1907, and deserted the science fiction field after but five stories, all competently written and deserving of further reprinting. (Although one must grant the licence of some rickety science)." Like so many writers after him, including RF Starzl, Edwin K Sloat, Charles W Differin, and many others, Wertenbaker would leave SF behind to pursue more lucrative fields. (He would become a professional technical writer, a writer of regional novels, London correspondent for Fortune magazine, serve in the Navy, then work at NASA. He would help Hubertus Strughold write The Green and Red Planet (1953), a scientific appraisal of the possibilities of life on Mars. What more could a SF writer want?

His "but five stories" include:

"The Man from the Atom" (Science & Invention, April 1923 and reprinted in Amazing Stories, April 1926). A young man named Kirby, eager for adventure, volunteers to try out a new device that Professor Martyn has created, one that can expand or shrink someone to infinite size. Kirby experiences growing larger than the planet, then the solar system, then the universe. But afterwards, he pines for Earth when he realizes that while he was expanding, time was moving faster back home than for him. Even returning to normal size, everyone on Earth has long since passed away. The tale ends with a cryptic mention of Kirby's going to live with a cruel, but advanced race that treats him like a primitive caveman. This story was significant, for it built on ideas Ray Cummings had used in "The Girl in the Golden Atom" (All-Story Weekly, March 15, 1919) and Henry Hasse would expand on in "He Who Shrank"(Amazing Stories, August 1936).

"The Man From the Atom (Sequel)" (Amazing Stories, May 1926) shows the race that Kirby ends up with. They are an advanced people, but the men are all emotionless scientists and the women, who are considered inferior, are more like our own Earthfolk. Kirby's education into this new civilization falls to a girl named Vinda. It is Vinda's uncle who finds a way for Kirby to get home to Earth -- sort of. He postulates that time is circular and that if Kirby expands to great size in a certain fashion he could return to a world that is the next incarnation of 20th Century Earth. The scientists calculate exactly how this can be done and Kirby is too busy with the expectation of returning home to notice that Vinda has fallen in love with him (even though she is programmed to marry Edvar in a stale, emotionless marriage). Kirby returns home only to realize he too is in love with Vinda and leaves again to find the next incarnation of her and her world. The final product of all this expanding (and time traveling) is pretty annoying since Kirby comes off as being a bit thick. The influence of HG Wells's The Time Machine is obvious, with the Time Traveler returning to Weena's time at the end.

"The Coming of the Ice" (Amazing Stories, June 1926) was written when Wertenbaker was nineteen and was the first new story not based on a reprint. This tale follows Dennell, a man who gains immortality by an operation. The doctor Sir John Granden and Dennell's fiancee Alice die in an auto accident, leaving the immortal to suffer the long years ahead in loneliness. We follow his years as an academic, taking multiple PHDs, but ultimately being left behind as the human race evolves beyond his capabilities. Dennell suffers as a primitive curiosity as the human race grows large brain and weak bodied. When the ice comes, this proves to his advantage, being physically superior to the future humans. It becomes bad, with only a remnant of mankind living at the Equator. The immortal is forced to feed on his fellow men until the last survivors commit suicide together. He is alone and writing a history of mankind that no one will ever read. The story showed a much finer touch to the clunkier "The Man From the Atom."

"The Chamber of Life" (Amazing Stories, October 1929) follows Barret, a filmmaker who wakes up in a lake. While returning home he recalls the night before when he had met a scientist named Melbourne. Piecing together what has happened, Barrett remembers that Melbourne showed him his "Chamber of Life," a virtual reality room that took Barrett to a perfect world where he met Selda and fell in love. The Chamber of Life acts directly on the brain so when Barrett left the chamber he experienced both worlds before ending up in the lake. The story ends with the man sadder, knowing he will never see Selda again, but unwilling to find Melbourne and return to her. Many SF critics credit Ray Bradbury's "The Veldt" as the inspiration for the Star Trek holodeck, but this story predates Bradbury by twenty-one years. It even has the germ of the famous Geordie LaForge/Leah Brahms love story arc. That Bradbury read this story in his youth is likely. Beside the holodeck inspiration, this story, with its fragmented structure, shows Wertenbaker taking a new, maturer command of his writing. It is in my opinion his best work.

"The Ship That Turned Aside" (Amazing Stories, March 1930) (as Green Peyton) is a variation from Wertenbaker's usual formula. In this tale, a ship passes into the fourth dimension and a scientist named Pretloe offers his ideas on what has happened. Captain Weeks discovers an island that the narrator, Pretloe, and Weeks explore. There they find a city that they approach, only to find themselves in Paris. Another doorway from the fourth dimension lies there. Wertenbaker anticipates much of the interest in the Bermuda Triangle with this tale. EF Bleilier thought this tale one of the best to appear in Amazing Stories.

"Elaine's Tomb" (Amazing Stories Quarterly, Winter 1931) tells of a college professor, Alan Frazer, who is madly in love with one of his students, Elaine. He goes to Egypt with a fellow teacher, Weber, who is trying to decode an ancient secret that predated the Egyptian civilization. While there, Frazer dies of a tropical fever, but before he dies he gives Weber permission to preserve his body as the ancients did. He wakes to find himself in the far future where the sun is old and red. He is revived by the future humans who turn out to be lazy, disinterested folk, who have all their needs met by robots. Frazer discovers there is a famous building in the north called "Elaine's Tomb" and he must go there. Ice has claimed the northern and southern points of the globe, but Frazer flies from Cairo in a flying machine. He stops at Mexico City and the Tower of Science. There, a scientist named Kivro, helps him to locate the tomb, which lies in what was once Chicago. North America is covered in glacial ice and inhabited by diminutive savages. Frazer finds the tomb resting in a village of these primitives. He uses a ray device to break into the tomb and revives Elaine. When they leave, the villagers appear and tell Frazer that Elaine is their queen. In the struggle to escape, the flying ship is damaged by the ray device and the couple are stranded in the cold. They decide to walk even though they know they will freeze to death. Exhausted, David covers Elaine before passing out. He wakes to find they have been rescued by Kivro. The tale ends with the couple contemplating their life in this strange world. This last romance shows that Wertenbaker had grown to be an SF writer of some ability.

Wertenbaker's favorite device is the younger man who tries out a scientific discovery made by an older man, always an avante garde scientist, working outside the accepted norms of science. Sometimes he is a kooky inventor like Professor Martyn; sometimes a respectable surgeon like Sir John Granden. The device is always the same though: the older man makes a discovery, but the younger man is game to try it out, usually with terrible consequences. If he had continued to write, it would have been interesting to see how he would leave this formula behind. How much of it was his own - and how much simply done to please Gernsback's requirement for scientist heroes and weird gadgets - we will never know. Wertenbaker's increasing ability to handle the human story within his narratives suggests better things to come.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Nerd Lunch World!



I got to be on the latest episode of Nerd Lunch to talk about two of my favorite things: theme parks and Thundarr! In order to create a Nerd Lunch theme parks, the fellas and I assigned each other individual lands to develop. So CT created Star Trek Land, Jeeg made Rock 'n' Wrestling Land, Pax invented Oz Land, and I designed Thundarr Land. It is super nerdy and super cool and you should listen to it.





Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Southern Charm | Appalachia, the TVA, and Biscuits



In this month's Southern Charm, Jody and I talk about the challenges facing Appalachia and the pros and cons of the Tennessee Valley Authority before comparing biscuit recipes and topping preferences.

Witness to Murder (1954)



Who's In It: Barbara Stanwyck (Double Indemnity, The Big Valley), George Sanders (The Saint Strikes Back, Rebecca), and Gary Merrill (All About Eve, Mysterious Island).

What It's About: An interior decorator (Stanwyck) sees a murder take place through her apartment window and her obsession with catching the killer (Sanders) threatens her sanity and her new relationship with the investigating police detective (Merrill).

How It Is: Barbara Stanwyck is usually strong and I'm always a big fan of George Sanders, so I had high hopes for this variation on the Rear Window theme. Not that it's borrowing directly from Rear Window since it was released a few months before Hitchcock's film, but it was one of those Tombstone/Wyatt Earp or Armageddon/Deep Impact scenarios where similar films happened to come out uncomfortably close to each other. At any rate, I had every reason for high expectations for this grittier version of the concept.

Unfortunately, all the main characters do dumb and/or unbelievable things in order to keep the story moving. Merrill's Larry Mathews is a horrible detective, from his sloppy investigation of the alleged crime scene to his revealing the witness' identity to the suspect and on to his dating the witness. Merrill is an affable actor, but his pleasantness only makes Mathews appear that much more befuddled and ineffectual.

Stanwyck's Cheryl Draper starts off okay. Thanks to Mathews' incompetence, she at first questions what she saw and then decides to investigate on her own just to make sure she's not seeing things. But as she uncovers more and as the police continue to dismiss her, she gets weirdly panicky, which of course makes everyone dismiss her even more. I always hate scenes in any movie where a character thrashes around and screams about how sane they are. By the end of the movie, she's completely unstable, but I never believed any of the steps to her getting that way.

As for Sanders' Albert Richter, his motive for the murder Draper witnessed is ridiculous. There's some nonsense about his philosophy of violence (he's even written a manifesto about it that the police are happy to ignore) and the woman he killed was simply a poor girlfriend who was in the way of his aspirations of marrying a wealthy woman. What it comes down to is that he found it easier to murder her than break up with her.

Witness to Murder should have been a great showdown between Stanwyck and Sanders, but the script is so awkward about putting them into combat that I was never able to get into it.

Rating: 2 out of 5 dogged designers.



Monday, November 13, 2017

Hellbent for Letterbox | Bandolero! (1968)



Pax and I discuss Bandolero! starring Jimmy Stewart, Dean Martin, Raquel Welch, and George Kennedy. And in "Whatchoo Been Westernin'": Witchblade: Day of the Outlaws and the National Geographic Channel's Billy the Kid: New Evidence.







Friday, November 10, 2017

Guest Post | The Jungle Cover Triangle

By GW Thomas

Looking at copies of Jumbo Tales I was first struck by how lush these covers were (and who could refuse buying them?), but secondly how each followed a formula of construction I like to call the Triangle. There is some variation, but the most popular examples feature three main focal points set in a triangle. These included the star hero or heroine, a threat (an animal or villain attacking), and a victim to be saved. The artist could vary which was largest in the picture but all three had to appear within that triangle. This got me looking back. When did this start? Did all jungle-themed comics have this cover formula?

I started with the oldest comics, the Tarzan newspaper strip that began in 1929 (the Ape Man actually came late to comic books in 1947). Typically, especially during the film cover era, these were not "triangular" but usually a double image, Tarzan striking a pose with a weapon or object in his hand. The publicity stills of Lex Barker or Gordon Scott were easily produced and promoted the film's main asset, the actor. The later covers were paintings and required more animals and fantastic villains to be featured in them.

But when Real Adventures Publishing entered the scene in 1938 with their general audience comic, Jumbo Comics, they didn't know that within their second year every cover would be a jungle cover, as their character Sheena, Queen of the Jungle rose to prominence in their stable of characters. By #18 (August 1940), the superhero covers were gone and the jungle would be featured on every issue until #159 in May 1952. That's 141 issues over 12 years! But that's just Jumbo Comics. Their sister magazine Jungle Comics, featuring Kaanga, would run 163 issues from January 1946 to Summer 1954. And then there was Kaanga, 20 issues on his own from Spring 1949-Summer 1954, with every cover a jungle triangle.

The triangle had become the norm. Whether it was Rulah, Zoot Comics, Zegra, Jungle Lil, Jo-Jo, White Princess of the Jungle, or Yarmak in Australia, they all used the same formula. The one exception was Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, a solo comic that for 18 issues ran from Winter 1942 to Winter 1952-3. The Sheena covers sometimes returned to the Tarzan-style double image, with Sheena holding a weapon. Her star had risen high enough she could stand with the Ape Man.

One variation of the triangle is what I call the Square. This works the same as the Triangle, but the artist sneaks in a fourth figure, usually a second animal, such as two hyenas rather than one, or a mount upon which the hero/heroine rides, such as an elephant or zebra. The Square came along in later years as the cover artists must have been quite bored by the typical cover of Sheena throwing herself from a tree limb to intervene with an evil hunter or tribesman.

Where did the Jungle Triangle come from? Was Jumbo Comics #15 (the first full Sheena cover in May 1940) the first to use it? Not at all. I got to thinking about the very first Tarzan illustration of them all, Clinton Pettee's cover for Tarzan of the Apes (All-Story, October 1912). There was the triangle! Tarzan straddling a lion, about to plunge his knife into its side, while on the ground, John Clayton lies, the intended victim.

And of course, the jungle pulps later became jungle comics, as companies like Real Adventures phased out or doubled up their pulps - like Jungle Stories - with comics. These too had covers and what do you know... the Triangle! Clinton Pettee started it, the pulps and comics continued it, and even Frank Frazetta, the master painter, used it in 1952 for his Thun'da comics, which he abandoned when the strip dropped the caveman and dinosaurs angle. Frazetta returned to it in the 1960s when he came to paint his Tarzan covers like Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar. The fierce lion attacking Jane is about to get a surprise as Tarzan comes to the rescue.

Later jungle comics such as Shanna the She-Devil and Ka-Zar did not use this formula as often (what would be so old-fashioned by the 1970s), but rather the typical Marvel-style cover. DC's Tarzan and Korak under Joe Kubert harkened back more to the old days, but Kubert adds a sizzle to the old formula that makes it his own. The most modern jungle girl covers by Dave Stevens or Frank Cho look more like publicity stills to a Sheena movie or pin-up art. The triangle lives on but only in subtle ways.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Angel Face (1953)



Who's In It: Robert Mitchum (Holiday Affair, His Kind of Woman), Jean Simmons (the original Blue Lagoon, The Big Country), and Jim Backus (Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town, His Kind of Woman).

What It's About: A man (Mitchum) is drawn into the world of a poor little rich girl (Simmons) who at best craves drama and at worst may be trying to murder her step-mother.

How It Is: I'm a big fan of Jean Simmons, so it was tough to watch her play such a miserable character. She does it well though and I was sucked into the story of her relationship with Mitchum's Frank.

Frank is a complicated character himself. He's dating a woman named Mary (Mona Freeman), but insists that he's a romantic "free agent" and Mary acknowledges this, even if she doesn't fully accept it. So he's not a great guy, but he's also not exactly doing anything wrong when he starts to spend more and more time with Simmons' Diane. And I like that he's smart enough to recognize Diane's behavior as troubling.

His problem is that he trusts his detachment to protect him from whatever Diane's planning. He always leaves himself an exit from her, thinking that he can walk away at any time, but he underestimates her intelligence and determination. In it's own, noirish way, Angel Face has a strong feminist message for womanizing men.

There's a part late in the movie where Frank's true flaw is clearly revealed. Like I said, he's not a great guy, but he's not an awful person, either, and there's a lot that I admire in him. He's smart, and even if he's determined not to commit to anyone, then at least he's up front about it. But while he insists on being free to hang out (and make out) with Diane, it becomes more and more evident that he wants to keep Mary on the hook as well. And he resents it when she starts showing interest in their mutual friend Bill (Kenneth Tobey).

At one point, after Frank has been damaged by Diane and he's looking for comfort from Mary, he laments to her that he ever met Diane. Mary's response to him is great when she reminds him that Bill was also there when Frank and Diane met. Bill had the same opportunity as Frank to get pulled into Diane's web, but he resisted. Which means that Diane's not the problem in Frank and Mary's relationship; Frank is. It's a powerful revelation, powerfully stated.

(Footnote: I mentioned Backus in the cast, so I should follow up and say that he's not a big part of the movie. He has a minor, but important role as a lawyer, but it's Jim Backus, so it was worth mentioning.)

Rating: 3 out of 5 bummed out bluebloods



Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Kill All Monsters review in Publishers Weekly



I missed this at the time, but the Kill All Monsters Omnibus got a very nice review in Publishers Weekly:
May’s tales of betrayal and determination bring freshness to well-worn subject matter, aided by Copland’s emotive grayscale illustration and some terrifically nuanced lettering from Ed Brisson. This collection also includes the new story “Island of Giants,” an intriguing and mysterious coda that skillfully expands an already impressive series.
If you haven't already, you can get your copy at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Comixology, or wherever fine comics are sold.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

His Kind of Woman (1951)



It's Noirvember, so I'm taking the opportunity to watch some film noir movies this month. Not gonna do one every day or anything, but I hope to cover one or two a week.

Who's In It: Robert Mitchum (When Strangers Marry, Out of the Past), Jane Russell (The Outlaw, Macao), Vincent Price (Shock, The Web), Raymond Burr (Rear Window, Perry Mason), and Jim Backus (Mister MagooGilligan's Island).

What It's About: Gambler Dan Milner (Mitchum) is coerced by gangsters to stay at a Mexican resort for mysterious reasons. It sounds like an easy job, but it gets complicated quickly by the resort's other inhabitants, which include thugs and government agents, but especially a singer (Russell) and the famous, married actor (Price) she's dating.

How It Is: One of my favorite noir films, largely for the cast, but the setting plays a big part, too.

Most of the action takes place at the resort, which is a small enough place that everyone knows everyone else's business. It's full of colorful characters and reminds me of a tropical version of the resort in Dirty Dancing with lots of little dramas going on around the main one.

Mitchum is one of my favorite actors ever and he's got great chemistry with Russell. (So much so that producer Howard Hughes wanted them back together for Macao, which I also like; just not as much as this one.) The film doesn't ask me to believe that they're falling deeply in love, but there's a palpable connection between them that convincingly throws their other plans into question. Dan is a charming, likeable guy and Lenore Brent (Russell) is funny and easy-going, even though she's clearly got secrets and some tragedy in her past.

As the head of the gang that's manipulating Dan, Raymond Burr is neither as terrifying as his Rear Window character, nor as suave as Perry Mason, but he's intimidating as hell and makes the part better just by being in it. Backus isn't super important to the plot, but he livens up the place as one of the resort guests and I'm always excited to see him.

I've saved Vincent Price for last, because he's one of the best characters, but also one of the most out-of-place. He plays movie star Mark Cardigan, a married man who's having an affair with Lenore when she meets Dan. Dan isn't the only one to throw a monkey wrench into Mark and Lenore's relationship though. Mark's wife (Marjorie Reynolds) shows up partway through, determined to put an end to her husband's philandering one way or another. How Mark reacts to and deals with all of this is unexpected and priceless. I love the character.

Or I do until the climax of the movie. It's around then that Mark realizes that he's tired of just playing adventurers onscreen. As he discovers what's going on around Dan, Mark sees an opportunity to participate in a real adventure. Which is very cool, but the script turns him into a cartoon character after that. His dialogue becomes almost entirely quotes from Shakespeare and his decision-making is absurdly comical. Price is great at it - totally hamming it up - but the character doesn't fit the rest of the movie anymore. Mark doesn't ruin the movie at all, but he does keep me from loving it as much as I would if he'd been reined in.

Rating: 4 out of 5 plaid jackets.



Monday, November 06, 2017

Mystery Movie Night | The Wizard of Oz (1939), Labyrinth (1986), and Mortal Kombat (1995)



David, Dave, and I are joined by special guest Rob Graham to talk about Gales, Goblins, and Goro. And after learning what connects them all, we reveal our favorite '80s fantasy movies.

00:00:56 - Review of The Wizard of Oz

00:17:56 - Review of Labyrinth

00:42:26 - Review of Mortal Kombat

01:16:25 - Guessing the Connection

Episode 19: The Wizard of Oz (1939), Labyrinth (1986), and Mortal Kombat (1995)

Friday, November 03, 2017

Guest Post | November Joe: Canada's Sherlock Holmes

By GW Thomas

Hesketh Prichard
The Northern was Canada’s one true contribution to genre literature. The majority of Northerns are tales of fur trappers or gold miners: strong men and women pitied against the rough conditions of life in the wilderness. One book amongst these tales of hunting, trapping, and the lives of the animals that dwell in quiet places belongs to another genre as well. The book is November Joe (1913) by Hesketh Prichard. Despite being a Northern of the highest order, it is also a detective novel, or rather, a collection of detective stories.

Prichard's detective possesses the Sherlockian ability to see what others do not: "...Where a town-bred man would see nothing but a series of blurred footsteps in the morning dew, an ordinary dweller in the woods could learn something from them, but November Joe can often reconstruct the man who made them, sometimes in a manner and with an exactitude that has struck me as little short of marvelous."

The character of November Joe is incredible, but no more incredible than the man who created him. Hesketh Prichard was the son of a British officer who died weeks before his son's birth. Raised in England by his mother, he trained for the Law but became a writer instead. Through his acquaintance with JM Barrie, Prichard and his mother went to work for Cyril Arthur Pearson, the owner of Pearson's Magazine in 1897. Under the pseudonym E and H Heron, the mother-son team wrote a dozen tales of ghostbreaker Flaxman Low. But Hesketh was not limited to horror stories. He wrote books about hunting, sports, and his travels. These caught the attention of President Teddy Roosevelt who called Prichard's Through Trackless Labrador (1911) the best book of the season.

With the coming of World War I, Prichard enlisted as an "eyewitness officer" in charge of war correspondents. His observations at the front led him to lower the number of British casualties from snipers. He developed several techniques to locate German snipers, including inventing the dummy head and improved trench design. He also spent his time and his own money improving British sniping rifles and techniques. For this he was given the Distinguished Service Order in 1917. To say the least, Hesketh Pricard knew guns, shooting, and the wilds of Canada; all part and parcel of the story of November Joe.

November Joe begins with our Watson, Mr. James Quaritch, leaving work for three months to go shoot moose. His friend, Sir Andrew McLerrick, recommends November Joe as his guide. Upon arriving in the woods of Quebec where Joe lives, Quaritch is asked to deliver a message to Joe. The Provincial Police offer him fifty dollars if he can find the killer of a dead trapper. The hunting trip off, Quaritch convinces Joe to let him tag along.

THE CASES OF NOVEMBER JOE

"The Crime at Big Tree Portage" gives Quaritch plenty of opportunities to see November Joe in action. The two men go to the lumber camp at Big Tree Portage where the dead man, Henry Lyon, lies. Joe quickly accesses the few clues, seeing that the killer pulled up in a canoe, called to the man, and then shot him, leaving virtually no evidence. But Joe isn't stymied. He backtracks Lyon to his camp before the murder. Here he finds two beds of spruce boughs and evidence of the identity of a second man. Going to the small town of Amiel, November Joe finds out the background of Lyon's life, the names of all the men away trapping, and quickly narrows his suspect list to one man. He and Quaritch visit the man and quickly get a confession. When they learn of his reasons for the killing, Joe helps him destroy evidence, making it impossible for the police to follow the trail. The fifty dollars is not as important to Joe as his sense of backwoods justice.

"The Seven Lumberjacks" has local tree-fallers being robbed by a gang of thieves. False evidence has them accusing their boss, Mr. Close, of the deed, but Joe's careful examination of the ground tells him that the gang is only one man, and one of the lumberjacks. He sets a trap too tempting for the thief to resist.

"The Black Fox Skin" has a widow, Sally Rone, seeking out Joe because someone is robbing her traps: a ploy to force her to marry or starve. One of the pelts that is taken is a black fox pelt worth eight hundred dollars. Suspicion falls on Val Black, one of Sally's suitors, when he is found with stolen furs and a condemning bullet is found in Sally's cabin. November Joe suspects a frame-up. He sets a trap for the culprit and Sally and Val are free to marry.

"The Murder at the Duck Club" is almost an English cosy with its select club members and enclosed space. Young Ted Galt is accused of murdering Judge Harrison while out shooting geese. The tracks do nothing to clear the fiance of Harrison's daughter, Eileen. Instead of tracks, Joe examines the guns that have been so damning for Galt, as only he uses size 6 shot in his shotgun. Joe gleans a different motive and quickly rounds up the killer, someone else with a grudge against the judge.

"The Case of Miss Virginia Plank" has November and Quaritch looking for a murdered girl. November's careful tracking proves the girl is not dead, but kidnapped. Later, after meeting the kidnappers (a big man who talked and a small one who didn't), November is onto the truth. The tracks of the small man reveal his moccasins are too large. November knows that Virginia Plank was the small man and the kidnapping is a set-up. With a knowledge of civilized girls and a little poking around, he identifies the girl's accomplice, Hank Harper, and finds her at his cabin. Virginia explains why she pulled the stunt, and like in "The Crime at Big Tree Portage," November's sense of justice outweighs his sense of law.

"The Hundred Thousand Dollar Robbery" has Joe following a missing banker named Atterson, who has absconded with $100,000 in securities. Joe finds the man, but realizes that he has been robbed in turn and in fact used by another to commit the crime. He deduces who would have been able to turn Atterson's head and tracks down the woman, getting the money back.

"The Looted Island" has a fox farmer named Stafford robbed of $15,000 in fur. His employee, Aleut Sam, is also missing. Joe agrees to track down the culprits for ten percent of the furs' value. The island is frozen and icy, so there aren't any tracks to follow. Instead, November examines the fox pens and the cabin where the robbers camped out for a few days. This produces some information, like the fact that all the carcasses are from red foxes, not black. Someone has taken the foxes and tried to make it look like they were killed. Before they can act, the three men notice smoke coming from the neighboring island. Here they find Sam who tells a story of being stranded for eleven days. November examines his campfire and knows he is lying. The ashes indicate only a two-day stay, as Sam has no axe with him. Stafford forces the truth out of Sam and the men are off to Jurgenson's fur farm. The Swede can’t deny the evidence November provides and agrees to return the black foxes and two extra for their trouble.

"The Mystery of Fletcher Buckman" is a traditional train murder mystery. Buckman is an oil expert traveling with his wife. He is to make a report that will either increase or decrease certain stocks. The man is found dead, hanging like a suicide. November quickly puts this idea to rest for he finds fingermarks on the man's throat where he was strangled. The report has also been stolen. A man who had been arguing with Buckman, a down-and-out oil worker named Knowles, looks like the killer, but November proves this untrue based on the clues in the murdered man's car. Taking all the evidence and geography in mind, November leads the provincial police to the post office where the killer is about to mail the stolen report. This story breaks one of the classic Ronald Knox's fair-play rules: "The criminal must be mentioned in the early part of the story...". The culprit is never even named, let alone known to November Joe. The story is more about proving Knowles innocent and tracking the killer.

The remaining chapters, "Linda Petersham," "Kalmacks," "The Men of the Mountains," "The Man in the Black Hat," "The Capture," and "The City or the Woods" tell the final tale of November Joe. (The previous chapters were obviously short stories sold to magazines, and now Prichard is attempting to give the book a final episode to fill it out.) Quaritch is approached by an old family friend, Linda Petersham. She's worried about her father, who has purchased a large hunting concession called the Kalmacks. In fairness, he paid out the local squatters, but someone has sent a death threat if Petersham doesn't pay another $5000. Quaritch brings in November Joe and all four are off to the wilds, surrounded by lurking danger.

Upon their arrival, Petersham is informed that one of his game wardens, Bill Worke, was shot through the knee while at Senlis Lake. November's tracking about the lake finds a 45.75 caliber cartridge. November has Petersham dump two loads of sand from the lake around the house to improve tracking. This keeps the blackmailers away for a while, but eventually they make their demands that the $5000 dollars be left at Butler's Cairn. The demand comes from a masked man who holds up the other game warden, Ben Puttick, at rifle point. Petersham doesn't want to pay and Joe agrees. He slips out the window and covers Butler's Cairn, but no one shows. This makes him suspicious so he sets up a plan for the following day.

November leaves for Senlis Lake, making sure everyone knows where he is going. Shots are heard and Quaritch runs to the lake to find Joe shot. Together they look at the body of the shooter, a man in a black hat with a beard. Joe has killed him with a shot to the throat. Quaritch carries Joe back to the cabin where he reveals that the mole in their group is Puttick. The dead shooter is identified as Dandy Tomlinson, who with his brother, Muppy (both names worthy of Jack London), devised the plan with Puttick.

Mystery solved, Petersham tries to show his gratitude to November by offering to set him up in business. Linda encourages November to take the offer so that she can marry him. In the end, November Joe refuses, returning to his woods. Prichard leaves just enough of an opening for a sequel if the book should sell well. (As no sequel ever happened, I guess it did not.)

What struck me as interesting about this ending is how, in essence, it is the same as the final pages of Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Burroughs would write his most famous novel around the same time, so I'm not suggesting either author had any influence on the other. What I am suggesting is that the theme of both is that the Natural Man refuses to be corrupted or tamed by civilization. Tarzan returns to his jungle, more ape than man. The difference is that Tarzan of the Apes was a huge success followed by twenty-three sequels. The first of those was The Return of Tarzan, in which Tarzan and Jane are united at last. Jane and Tarzan build a ranch and remain in Africa. This is a choice that November Joe refuses to think of for Linda Petersham. He knows she is a creature of civilization and will never be happy living the mean existence of a trapper's wife.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

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