Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Raven (1963)

Who's In It: Vincent Price (The Fly, The Haunted Palace, The Tomb of Ligeia), Peter Lorre (M, The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca), Boris Karloff (Bride of Frankenstein, How the Grinch Stole Christmas), and Jack Nicholson (The Shining, Wolf).

What It's About: A despondent wizard (Price), mourning the death of his wife, helps another sorcerer (Lorre) who was turned into a raven by third (Karloff), drawing them all into a contest for the leadership of the entire magic community.

How It Is: I needed to finally see some of the Roger Corman/Edgar Allen Poe/Vincent Price movies and this is the year. This was a weird one to start with though, because of the humor. It's a fun, lighthearted story about rival wizards and there's plenty of room for Price, Lorre, and Karloff to ham it up as Olive Sturgess (playing Price's daughter) and young Jack Nicholson (as Lorre's son) look on in horror. And there's even a plot twist or two to keep things moving.

It's slight, but delightful. Deslightful!

Rating: 3 out of 5 bawdy blackbirds.

Guest Post | Chris KL99 - Space Adventurer

By GW Thomas

Edmond Hamilton has many claims to fame in a science fiction writing career that spanned fifty years. He began in the pages of Weird Tales, contributing the most SF of material in the largely horror magazine. He also explored his own brand of fantasy and even wrote a few legitimate horror tales. Hamilton's style of cosmic-sized adventure won him the nickname "World Wrecker" Hamilton, though he was also capable of writing deeply personal stories too, like "He That Hath Wings" (Weird Tales, July 1938). In 1940 he was chosen to write the Captain Future series created by Mort Weisinger. Hamilton's career peaked in 1949 when he wrote his most famous novel, The Star Kings.

In 1946, Ed made another choice that would affect his direction for the next twenty years. He began writing comics for DC's Superman and Legion of Super-Heroes. He would leave comics in 1966, returning to stories and novels full time. Before that day, Hamilton would write largely superhero fare, but occasionally he got to return to his SF roots in comics like Strange Adventures. In the inaugural issue he began his "Chris KL99" series, which would appear in seven issues. Loosely based on the Captain Future formula, Chris KL99 is a space explorer who flies around in his ship the Pioneer, with his three sidekicks: a Martian adventurer named Halk, the Venusian scientist Jero, and his chameolonic dog, Loopy. (Interestingly, Hamilton wrote six more Captain Future novellas for Startling Stories while penning this comic. There were enough space adventurers around in the comics to not make this a conflict of interest.) Chris got his name from Christopher Columbus, because he was the first baby born in space. The KL99 is his status from the Space Academy where he scored 99%. All seven adventures were drawn by Harold Sherman.

The first cover went to the adaptation of Destination Moon, but Chris KL99 opened the issue. His first adventure is "The Menace of the Green Nebula" (Strange Adventures #1, August-September 1950). Chris and his buddies are lured into the Green Nebula by a fake distress call. Unscrupulous types follow them to the planet of the nebula to steal its rich radium deposits. This turns out to be the food of the radioactive men who dwell there. It's up to Chris and his friends to make things right. Fortunately, Chris knows a little science about radium that saves the day.

"The Metal World" (Strange Adventures #3, December 1950) begins with mysterious raiders stealing metal treasures like the Eiffel Tower and Brooklyn Bridge. Chris KL99 and his team find the ion trail of the thieves and follow them to their planet-size spaceship. After being captured, Chris comes up with a scheme that will save earth's treasures and the inhabitants of the Metal World.

"The World Inside the Atom" (Strange Adventures #5, February 1951) has Chris answering a distress call from a miniature universe. Shrinking to microsize, he and his two comrades go to Ruun, a planet that is dying because its sun has gone out, allowing monsters to attack its citizens. The distress call came from Drimos, who turns out to be a tyrant, ruling the people with his artificial light. Chris discovers that Drimos is actually the king's twin, Karthis, and that the true king is imprisoned. He uses his size control to rescue Drimos, but Karthis vindictively destroys the light that holds back the monsters. Chris and his friends grow to immense size and restart the sun by throwing a dead planet into it. Obviously inspired by stories like Henry Hesse's "He Who Shrank" (Amazing Stories, August 1936), the atomic science of this story is quite dated even for 1951.

Up to this point, Chris KL99 had been the headliner of Strange Adventures. By #7 he started to appear later in the issue, and often last. This may indicate that other strips in the magazine were more popular, like the non-series stories by Gardner Fox or "Captain Comet" by Edgar Ray Merritt (John Broome). But more likely, Hamilton was busy with Superman and other, bigger titles.

"The Lost Earthmen" (Strange Adventures #7, April 1951) is Chris KL99's first origin story (this will be changed in future guises). In this episode, we learn why he jumps from planet to planet, exploring deeper and deeper into space. He is on the trail of the Starfarer, a ship his mother and father used to find a new Earth. When they did not return, Chris joined the Space Academy so he could go in search of them. He finds their ship on a remote planet where the survivors remain. His parents died as heroes, saving the doomed ship, hit by an ether-wave. But the survivors are once again in trouble. The ether-wave that made them crash will destroy the planet by drawing a storm of asteroids. Chris and his friends have to hurry, using parts from abandoned ships to repair the Starfarer. His quest now finished, Chris plans to quit space forever. He finds a recording from his father and mother that inspires him anew to carry on exploring the universe.

"The Exile of Space" (Strange Adventures #9, June 1951) is Halk's origin story. As chief scientist of Mars, he ruined the great crystal that pumps the planet's water. He has been searching space for a replacement. This he finds on a world that has sent a distress call. When the three arrive, after a couple of close calls with energy beings and an asteroid belt, they find the local tyrant has several power crystals and uses them to oppress the people. Chris and his friends, using gravity inhibitors (a la Buck Rogers), fly up to one of the crystals and take over. Using that crystal, they blow up the others. As a reward, the people ask Halk to take the last remaining crystal with them. Halk is able to make amends for his mistake, but doesn't give up his life in space.

"The Missing Moon" (Strange Adventures #11, August 1951) starts with a visit to a planet of astronomers who give Chris an interesting photograph of earth. In the picture, there are two moons. Chris begins a quest to find earth's missing moon. He follows a trail in space that leads him to the moon, where a civilization of technology haters arrest him and his friends for sacrilege. He learns that there was once a war between the two moons. Giant energy weapons destroyed the surface of our moon, while thrusting the second moon out of orbit and into the galaxy. Escaping the moon-men, a new problem threatens everyone. A dark star is drawing near and only the projection weapons can save them. Halk and Jero hold off the moon-men long enough for Chris to divert the moon away from the star. He even parks the moon around a warm sun, improving life for the moon people. Shades of Space: 1999!

"The Rival Columbus of Space" (Strange Adventures #15, December 1951) features Shan Kar, a fellow explorer from the planet Zor who is Chris KL99's only rival. Shan Kar decides he will enter a deadly, bell-shaped dark cloud because he thinks a planet lies inside. Chris warns Shan Kar off and everyone thinks he is jealous. Both explorers head out in their own ships. Monsters attack Shan Kar's ship, but Chris saves him, allowing them to arrive at the planet inside. Shan Kar lands, even though Chris warns him again. Shan Kar finds gigantic jewels, but the rays from these cause him to grow to a giant size and unable to return in his ship. Chris has been to the planet before and has devised a metal that can counter-act the rays. He joins Shan Kar on the planet and begins smelting ore to make a covering for the giant. Shan Kar is shrunk back to normal and they all go home. Once home, Shan Kar declares Chris the true "Columbus of Space."

The character of Chris KL99 would live on at DC after its original author was gone. In later comics, his origin was changed and he made several cameos in other titles. But the great days of Edmond Hamilton stand nicely separate from these later changes. Here is space adventure of the simplest, pulpy kind as only "World Wrecker" Hamilton could provide.

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.

The Birds (1963)

Who's In It: Rod Taylor (Long John Silver, The Time Machine, 101 Dalmatians), Jessica Tandy (Cocoon, Driving Miss Daisy, Fried Green Tomatoes), Suzanne Pleshette (Blackbeard's Ghost, Support Your Local Gunfighter, The Bob Newhart Show), and Tippi Hedren (Marnie).

What It's About: A woman (Hedren) plays the world's dumbest practical joke and finds herself in a small town during the onset of the Bird War.

How It Is: There are some good, dramatic moments in it, but I can't get into the plot, the main characters, or especially the ending. I went into detail about it on Mystery Movie Night.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 recreating ravens

Monday, October 16, 2017

Planetary Union Network | "Krill"

On the latest episode of Planetary Union Network, we talk to David A Goodman, Executive Producer of The Orville and writer of last week's episode, "Krill." David's a great guy (he was on an episode of Starmaggedon, too, back in the day) and he offers some insight to the development of the show, the current writing process, and striking the right balance between drama and comedy. And of course there's also plenty of talk about "Krill" itself.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

Who's In It: Bette Davis (Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte, Burnt Offerings, Return from Witch Mountain, The Watcher in the Woods), Joan Crawford (The Unknown, I Saw What You Did, Berserk, Trog), and Victor Buono (Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte, The Wild Wild West, Batman, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Man from Atlantis).

What It's About: A former child star (Davis) attempts a comeback while also persecuting her housebound sister (Crawford).

How It Is: Wow. I was really disappointed in this classic. Davis gives a great, disturbing performance and there are some tense scenes, but there are also a dozen ways that Blanche (Crawford) could have gotten herself out of that situation.

It works as a character study of these two sisters. And the complicated, ambiguous relationship between Jane (Davis) and the man she hires as musical accompanist to her comeback (Buono) is fascinating. But it's an unconvincing thriller and not really a horror movie at all.

Rating: 2 out of 5 sadistic sisters

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The City of the Dead (1960)

Who's In It: Christopher Lee (pretty much every Hammer horror film, Lord of the Rings, Attack of the Clones), Betta St John (Tarzan and the Lost Safari, Tarzan the Magnificent), Valentine Dyall (The Haunting), and Venetia Stevenson (Island of Lost Women)

What It's About: A young woman (Stevenson) investigates the history of witchcraft by visiting a remote village with a long, dark history. But practice of the occult may not all be in the town's past.

How It Is: Hard to talk about this one without SPOILERS, so beware.

The City of the Dead is a nicely atmospheric Satanic thriller with some cool performances. The structure threw me though, because I expected to follow Stevenson's character through the whole thing, but it turns out that she's basically Janet Leigh in Psycho. That was disappointing, partly because I liked her a lot, but also because the actual Final Girl (St John) is nowhere near as charming. In fact, she's downright dull.

The mystery of what's going on in the little village is predictable, but at least I was having fun watching Stevenson put the pieces together. Once she was out of the picture, I got impatient to wrap up.

Rating: 3 out of 5 midnight masses

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Alligator People (1959)

Who's In It: Beverly Garland (My Three Sons, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman), Bruce Bennett (The New Adventures of Tarzan), Lon Chaney Jr (The New Adventures of the Wolf Man; just kidding), George Macready (Tarzan's Peril), and Richard Crane (Rocky Jones: Space Ranger)

What It's About: A newlywed woman (Garland) searches for her husband (Crane) who disappeared on their honeymoon, tracking him to a gothic mansion in a remote swamp where terrible experiments are being performed.

How It Is: The Alligator People is a strong mystery in a cool setting. A lot of the acting and characters aren't especially memorable, but Garland is quite good as the tenacious woman relentlessly searching for her missing husband. And Lon Chaney Jr is effective as an unpredictable, gator-hating Cajun. The gator-people makeup is effective too and even sort of terrifying. I suspect that some will find the final transformation silly, but I like it a lot.

The only thing I don't care for in the film is the weird and unnecessary framing sequence in which Garland has repressed her memories of the swamp and even has a new name. That raises a lot of questions that the movie doesn't care to answer and also reduces the tension in the main story, because we know how her story ends. But I do like that the framing sequence features Bruce Bennett as one of the doctors examining Garland's character. As Herman Brix, he played one of my favorite film Tarzans.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 scaly spouses.

Friday, October 13, 2017

I'm in Athena Voltaire Pulp Tales

I think I've mentioned this all over social media, but keep forgetting to do it here, too. There's an Athena Voltaire prose anthology coming out soon and I wrote one of the stories in it.

If you're not familiar with Athena Voltaire, she's an awesome comics character created by Steve Bryant. She's a pilot in the days leading up to WWII and she has all sorts of pulpy adventures featuring lost treasures and Yeti and vampires and secret societies and of course Nazis. Her comics adventures are all worth checking out and I couldn't be happier that I got to write a story for her. Mine features a forbidden island and a cameo by Errol Flynn, because that's the kind of company Athena keeps.

Anyway, I hope you'll check it out. There's lot of other cool writers in it, too, like Tom King, Corinna Bechko, Gabriel Hardman, Genevieve Pearson, and Will Pfeifer.

The Deadly Mantis (1957)

Who's In It: Craig Stevens (Peter Gunn), Alix Talton (The Man Who Knew Too Much), and William Hopper (Perry Mason).

What It's About: After we learn way more than we want to know about the Cold War DEW line, random seismic activity frees a giant, prehistoric insect from its icy prison.

How It Is: I was really pleased that the effects team actually created a giant mantis instead of just superimposing insect footage over human actors like I expected. The only character I like though is Talton's Lois Lane-like reporter and she doesn't get enough to do to carry the movie for me. Stevens and Hopper passive-aggressively fight over her and no one's really being all that smart about tracking and stopping the monster. There are a couple of memorable set pieces, but also a lot of nobody doing nothing.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 murderous mantodea

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Hellbent for Letterbox | Unforgiven (1992)

On the latest Hellbent for Letterbox, Pax and I delve into the 1992 modern classic Unforgiven starring Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, and Gene Hackman.

Also: I recommend the 2016 Dakota Fanning/Guy Pearce Western, Brimstone.

From Hell It Came (1957)

Who's In It:  Tod Andrews (Hang 'Em High, Beneath the Planet of the Apes) and Tina Carver (she was on an episode of the Thin Man TV series; I didn't know there was a Thin Man TV series).

What It's About: A Pacific Island man (Gregg Palmer) is executed for a crime he didn't commit, so his vengeful spirit is resurrected as a tree monster that threatens the rest of his village as well as a group of US scientists (including Andrews and Carver) conducting research on the island.

How It Is: I was worried that From Hell It Came would follow in the footsteps of Robot Monster: a cheesy, low-budget horror movie that I'd always wanted to see, only to be disappointed to find unwatchable. Robot Monster has one of the coolest monster designs of all time, but an incomprehensible, mind-numbingly boring plot. From Hell It Came also has a so-awful-it's-awesome monster and it's set on a tropical island, so I desperately wanted it to be at least something that I could sit all the way through. It is that, and more.

The plot is simple, but it (mostly) makes sense and I do love the setting. The acting's not good and the monster is ridiculous, but From Hell It Came is laughably bad and that means that I'm having a good time watching it. A really good time, as it turns out.

Rating: 4 out of 5 injurious Ents

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Thundarr Road | Wizard Wars

David, Noel, and I visit Saint Louis with Thundarr and the gang. There's a head in a jar, killer elevators, and a fish-man to talk about in the second season episode, "Wizard Wars."

Them! (1954)

Who's In It: James Whitmore (Planet of the Apes, The Shawshank Redemption), Edmund Gwenn (Miracle of 34th Street), Joan Weldon (Them!), and James Arness (The Thing from Another World, Gunsmoke). With Daniel Boone and Mr Spock in bit roles.

What It's About: Nuclear testing creates giant ants that threaten to destroy the world.

How It Is: I love '50s scifi movies, especially when they involve alien invasions and giant, mutated animals. Maybe because they speak so deeply to my Cold War Kid's heart, since I grew up in a time when we were terrified of communist invasion and atomic weapons.

But even with a fairly high baseline to star from, Them! is a step or two above the others in the genre. To start with, the performances are strong, which wasn't always the case with the genre. But what I really like is the way the story unfolds through a serious, procedural style. Whitmore is especially great as Sgt Peterson, the main character for most of the movie. He's one of the police officers who discovers the first of the ants' victims and his obsession with learning the truth and then eliminating the threat is what drives the film for a good long while.

Unfortunately, as more and more people get involved, like the scientists played by Gwenn and Weldon or Arness' FBI agent, the less character work the movie is able to do. In fact, by the time Whitmore's character reaches the conclusion of his story arc, it's barely commented on because so much else is going on. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 enormous arthropods

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Fall ComiCon Report

I forgot to report back about the Twin Cities' Fall ComiCon from last weekend. It was great.

The Midwest Comic Book Association volunteers are always awesome, but we especially appreciated them for this show. Diane and David hadn't confirmed that they were attending as creators, so we were a little nervous about whether there would be room for them. But not only were they planned for by the volunteers, another creator near us had cancelled, so we were allowed to spread out to a couple of tables. That meant that Diane had an entire table for her face painting and that David was able to spread out his monster sketches for people to see more easily. That turned out to be super helpful for him, because he usually only has a quarter of a table and potential customers have to flip through a stack of sketches to see if there's anything they want.

The convention was well attended and people came to spend money. Diane always does well, but folks were also buying David's sketches and copies of the Kill All Monsters Omnibus. In fact, I only have a few left now, which is awesome.

The quarter bin was a big success, too. I got rid of a bunch of comics that were taking up space in my office and we raised about $30 for Hero Initiative. A lot of people refused their change, so that all went to the charity, too. Will definitely be doing that again.

La Belle et la Bête (1946)

Who's In It: Josette Day (pretty much this unless you're way more familiar with French cinema than I am) and Jean Marais (Fantomas, Stealing Beauty)

What It's About: Adapts the classic fairy tale in which a beautiful woman (Day) is held prisoner in the castle of a terrifying beast-man (Marais).

How It Is: I love that Jean Cocteau opens his adaptation with text that reveals his sincere love for the story and refuses to apologize for it. He basically says, "Get on board or don't watch." And then he presents a straightforward version of the story that's imaginatively designed (all those arms and living statuary!) and gorgeously shot. Calling it magical is not hyperbole.

Currently, Cocteau's is my favorite adaptation of the story, at least until I can revisit the George C Scott TV movie that I remember so fondly from childhood. I don't actually expect Scott's to dethrone this one, but I feel a deep need to compare.

Rating: 4 out of 5 noble man-monsters

Monday, October 09, 2017

Planetary Union Network | "Pria"

Guess who was a guest on the latest episode of the Planetary Union Network podcast?

Sadly, a last-minute schedule change prevented me from joining that part of the conversation, but it's a really cool interview. Frakes compares directing the Orville cast with directing the cast of Next Generation and talks about the similarities and differences between The Orville and Star Trek: Discovery. He's got a great take on it.

After the interview, I joined Dan and Joe to talk about the Orville episode that Frakes directed: "Pria." Among other things, we discuss Isaac's character development in the episode and the casting of Charlize Theron as the title character.

Jane Eyre (1943)

Who’s In It: Joan Fontaine (Rebecca, Ivanhoe), Orson Welles (Citizen Kane, Touch of Evil, The Muppet Movie), Margaret O'Brien (Little Women, The Secret Garden), Agnes Moorehead (Citizen KaneBewitched), and a very young Elizabeth Taylor.

What It’s About: After a childhood of abuse, a young woman (Fontaine) hopes for change as governess in a house with a brooding master (Welles) and dark secret.

How It Is: I don't know how I've missed this adaptation for so long, but it was cool to watch so closely after Rebecca, Fontaine's other big gothic romance. She's fantastic in it and Welles is awesome, too. They have chemistry and O'Brien is delightful as Rochester's (Welles) ward Adele. They make a nice family that I hate to see struggle with the weight of Rochester's baggage.

Agnes Moorehead is beautifully cold as Jane's cruel aunt who sends Jane's life into a dangerous spiral. And I get a kick out of 11-year-old Elizabeth Taylor playing the only friend of young Jane, because she and Fontaine would go on to play romantic rivals nine years later in Ivanhoe.

The sets in Jane Eyre are magnificent and there's a ton of mood around the whole thing. It's a really cool production. My only complaint is that it rushes through the story a bit, so some of the emotional punches aren't as powerful as they could be, but it's an excellent introduction to the story. I'm eager to rewatch Cary Fukunaga's 2011 version now and compare.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 cantankerous cavaliers

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Southern Charm | Studio Craft, Ryman Auditorium, and Fried Chicken

On the latest Southern Charm, Jody and I talk Elvis, the North Carolina craft community, the history of the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, and how to make good fried chicken.

The Seventh Victim (1943)

Who’s In It: Kim Hunter (When Strangers Marry, A Streetcar Named DesirePlanet of the Apes), Jean Brooks (The Leopard Man), and Tom Conway (Tarzan's Secret Treasure, Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie).

What It’s About: A young woman (Hunter) falls in love with her brother-in-law (Conway) while investigating the disappearance of her sister (Brooks).

How It Is: As I expect from Val Lewton movies now, The Seventh Victim is very stylish (I mean, Jean Brooks' bangs alone!) and begins with a cool mystery. Unfortunately, it has more in common with The Leopard Man than Cat People or Isle of the Dead. The mystery is solved too early and after that the film just becomes about the fallout from it. Which, like in The Leopard Man, isn't a bad take in itself. I like that the movie is interested not just in the mystery, but also in the way that it affects its characters. But in this case, if affects Mary (Hunter) by forcing her into a romance with her brother-in-law, Louis (Conway). Not only is that creepy and inappropriate considering that they're both looking for their sister and wife, but at no point do I ever actually believe that either character is really falling for the other one. I don't know if that's lack of chemistry or underwritten characters or both, but it doesn't work.

It's also a big problem that the reality of Jacqueline (Brooks) doesn't equal the build-up. The woman that everyone's looking for in the first half of the movie sounds cool, confident, and a little mysterious. But that's not the reality of the frightened and severely depressed person we meet in the second half. There's a great discussion to be had about the masks we put on to cover our insecurities, but the movie never really goes there. It's too interested in that dumb romance that Jacqueline's in the way of.

I feel like I should at least mention the Satanic cult that the movie's supposed to be about (and that gives the film its name), but it's a lame, toothless group that (except for one, memorable sequence) doesn't have much effect on the main characters. It's as disappointing as the rest of the movie.

Rating: 2 out of 5 poisoned punches

Saturday, October 07, 2017

The Leopard Man (1943)

Who's In It: Dennis O'Keefe (the original Brewster's Millions and Raw Deal), Margo (Lost Horizon), and Jean Brooks (The Green Hornet Strikes Again!, The Seventh Victim).

What It's About: After a panther escapes from a nightclub act, multiple women are found horribly mutilated. But is it the work of the animal or a human serial killer?

How It Is: I always love the mood and visual style of  Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur films. I'm especially a fan of Tourneur with Night of the Demon and Out of the Past being a couple of my all time favorite movies. I'm all over the place on their collaborations though. I love Cat People and like I Walked with a Zombie, but The Leopard Man was very disappointing.

Brooks and O'Keefe play a singer and her manager who are partially responsible for letting the animal escape. They feel some guilt over the situation, so they join the hunt for the animal, but they soon suspect that the escaped beast is just a cover up for a human murderer.

Unfortunately, their investigation is sloppy and once they do discover the actual villain, the motivation for the murderers is barely given any thought. It turns out that the movie is actually more focused on Brooks and O'Keefe and how their experience changes them and shapes their relationship. That's cool, but it's not a replacement for a satisfying mystery, which The Leopard Man doesn't have.

Rating: 2 out of 5 killer cats.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Rebecca (1940)

Who's In It: Laurence Olivier (Wuthering Heights, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, Clash of the Titans), Joan Fontaine (Suspicion, Jane Eyre, Ivanhoe), George Sanders (The Picture of Dorian Gray, All About Eve, The Jungle Book), Judith Anderson (Laura, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock), Nigel Bruce (Watson to Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes), Reginald Denny (Madam Satan, the Bulldog Drummond movies from the '30s, Batman: The Movie), C Aubrey Smith (Tarzan the Ape Man, Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back) and Gladys Cooper (The Black Cat, My Fair Lady)

What It's About: A young bride (Fontaine) moves to her husband's (Olivier) estate and contends with the figurative ghost of her predecessor.

How It Is: Another one we just covered on Mystery Movie Night, but I don't mind talking about it again. I love this movie so much.

It's a smart - really smart - gothic romance with some great twists and turns. But even when I know what's coming after having seen it so many times, I always find something new about a character or just the way that Hitchcock's telling the story. And it's so beautifully shot and wonderfully acted by everyone involved.

I go into detail about my favorite cast members in the MMN episode, but I'll say again here that Fontaine and Olivier are awesome together and make me want them to figure things out even while it's clear that they aren't a natural fit for each other and have a lot of work to do. Oliver's charming, but also heartbreaking as he's not dealing well with the trauma of his previous marriage. Fontaine is naive and childlike to a fault. They both have characteristics that the other needs, but neither knows how best to support the other. It's great to see them (and it's mostly Fontaine) work through that.

The best part for me is watching Fontaine's character grow and seeing how that affects her relationship with Maxim (Olivier). The movie doesn't hit me over the head with it, but suggests her maturing in subtle ways and I love to find new clues every time I watch.

Rating: 4.5 out 5 evil ladies' maids

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Come see me at Fall ComiCon

I'll be at the Twin Cities' Fall ComiCon this weekend with copies of the Kill All Monsters Omnibus, Volume 1 to sell and sign. Or you can bring your already bought copy and I'll be happy to sign that, too. Or just stop and chat. David will be on hand and we can all talk about podcasts or whatever. And Diane will be there too if you want something awesome painted on your face.

I'm gonna try something new for this show, too. I've got a bunch of old comics that I need to get rid of just to free up some office space, so I'll have a genuine quarter bin at my table. Every comic in it will be 25¢ with all proceeds going to Hero Initiative. I'm hoping it'll be a fun, cheap way to get some cool comics and help out some people as well.

Jamaica Inn (1939)

Who's In It: Maureen O'Hara (1939's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Black Swan, Rio Grande), Charles Laughton (The Old Dark House, Island of Lost Souls, 1939's The Hunchback of Notre Dame), and Robert Newton (Disney's Treasure Island, Blackbeard the Pirate).

What It's About: A young woman (O'Hara) moves in with her aunt (Marie Ney) and uncle (Leslie Banks) in their remote, coastal inn and discovers that the place is the headquarters to a ruthless gang of land pirates.

How It Is: I talked about this one at length on Mystery Movie Night recently, but the short version is that I'm very fond of this gothic romance/spy thriller. I'm still looking for a print where I can understand all the dialogue, but I like the story enough that I'm willing to struggle through that even with the lousy print I've got.

I'm a big fan of gothic romance anyway, but the sea elements make this one extra cool for me. And I love the sense of place in the inn itself. It's full of nooks and crannies, but I understand where they all are in relation to each other and it's fun to explore. Charles Laughton is delightfully over-the-top as Sir Humphrey and it's great to see a very young Robert Newton in a heroic role as a British spy who's infiltrated the gang. Newton's not especially memorable if you don't already know him as the future Long John Silver, but I got a kick out of him anyway.

Rating: Three-and-a-half out of five intrepid, gothic heroines.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Guest Post | The Darker Drink: Pseudonymous Saint

By GW Thomas

The Saint series by Leslie Charteris is known for its highly adventurous flare. In fact, Charteris really created the James Bond film feel. If you read Ian Fleming, you find a Bond who is morose, cold, and rather unappealing. The flamboyant spy with the quips and one-liners is Simon Templar with the more realistic backdrop of Fleming to support it.

One can argue that neither the Saint nor 007 is particularly "realistic." Criminals do not defy the police as Templar does Inspector Veal. Spies do not stand out as playboys and rock stars. If there is anything George Smiley can tell us, it is that these characters are fiction's equivalent of comic book heroes. Which is alright. They serve a different purpose than John le Carre's cold, depressing truth. They make us laugh and dream of fast cars and faster women. They embody the fourteen-year-old's zest for life and all its possibilities.

It shouldn't be a big stretch for a superman of Simon Templar's stripe to have adventures that are just a little less believable. Even fantastic. Which he did do on a number of occasions. These stories were collected in The Fantastic Saint (1982), edited by Martin Harry Greenberg and Charles G Waugh. The book includes "The Newdick Helicopter," "The Gold Standard," "The Man Who Loved Ants," "The Questing Tycoon," "The Darker Drink," and "The Convenient Monster." The book acknowledges that the second Saint novel, The Saint Closes the Case (1930), is similarly fantastic, but too long to include. Among the stories gathered were four tales that actually appeared in SF magazines; three reprinted in Fantasy & Science Fiction. This shouldn't be too surprising since F&SF was created by Francis J McComas and the mystery/SF guru Anthony Boucher. The more surprising one is "The Darker Drink" that was the Saint's only SF pulp appearance in October 1947's Thrilling Wonder Stories.

"The Darker Drink" begins with Simon Templar alone in a cabin, frying trout for his supper. Suddenly a stranger comes to his door - pursued by three men - and begs Simon to help him. To convince the Saint, the man shows him a crystal that contains the image of the most beautiful woman in existence, Dawn. The man, Big Bill Holbrook, claims he is really bank clerk Andrew Faulks, a man dreaming the entire thing from his sleep in Glendale, California.

The Saint thwarts the thugs, meets and kisses the girl, and makes Big Bill jealous, but nothing really makes any sense. The girl can't remember her past. Everybody keeps calling the Saint the same three nicknames, in exactly the same order, until finally the thugs' big boss, the very fat Selden Appopoulis, faces off with Templar. The shootout does not go the way it usually does with the Saint and the Happy Highwayman falls to the floor with a bullet hole in his chest. Except he wakes up and none of it seems to have happened. Simon still has the gem in his pocket, so he can't quite believe it was all a dream. When he gets to Glendale he finds out Andrew Faulks had slipped into a coma, but died at the exact time Templar was shot. Even the gem has disappeared from his pocket. In the end it all really had been a dream of a dying man.

This story offers little we haven't seen before in dream stories. The shock at the end isn't particularly good. What makes this story fun is two other things. One, Charteris keeps you guessing even though you know some explanation will be forthcoming. Secondly, and much more rewarding, is that the author has fun with himself and his formula. All the plot elements are familiar Saint material: the man in need of help, the beautiful girl, the vicious thugs; the shoot out. Without the fantastic element, it could easily pass for one of the duller radio episodes. The author pokes fun at himself when Simon Templar notes to himself that "this sounds like one of those stories that fellow Charteris might write." This will be doubly so when we consider the true authorship of the story. For Charteris didn't write it.

The actual authorship of these "fantastic" Saint stories has been the subject of some educated guessing. It is a well-known fact that Harry Harrison wrote Vendetta For a Saint (1964) and that all the novels after 1963 were not written by Charteris. Most were written by Lee Fleming and revised by Charteris. "The King of the Beggars" (1948) was written by Henry Kuttner from an old radio script. So who wrote "The Darker Drink?"

At first, some thought it was Harrison or Theodore Sturgeon, but this was not the case. The best guess these days is that is was Astounding Science Fiction alumnus Cleve Cartmill. Cartmill is best remembered as the author of "Deadline," a tale about nuclear weapons before the devices were common knowledge. The story drew a visit from the FBI that had Cartmill and editor John W Campbell in the hot seat until they could prove that they had been writing about nuclear technology in science fiction for years. And that if they suddenly stopped, the Nazis might get suspicious. Cartmill is also suspected as the author of the story in which the Saint meets the Loch Ness Monster: "The Convenient Monster."

"The Darker Drink" never received a television rendering, so we can't look at how Roger Moore might have played out this weird scenario. The closest we can get is "The Convenient Monster" (the only story from The Fantastic Saint to be televised) that appeared on November 4, 1966. In this color episode, the monster is never shown; only implied. If "The Darker Drink" had been produced, it would have been easy enough to recreate, since no monsters or special effects were needed. The confusing atmosphere might have been intriguing in a good director's hand, but I don't think the producers would have contemplated a scene in which Simon Templar is shot dead (even in a dream). The TV Saint always wins. This story was perhaps the closest he ever came to failing that motto.

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.

The Walking Dead (1936)

Who’s In It: Boris Karloff (Frankenstein, The Man They Could Not Hang) and Edmund Gwenn (1947's Miracle on 34th Street)

What It’s About: John Ellman (Karloff) is executed for a murder he didn't commit, but is raised from the dead by scientists (Marguerite Churchill and Warren Hull) who knew he was innocent, but were too cowardly to come forward during his trial. That's when the people who framed Ellman start dying.

How It Is: People sure liked bringing Karloff back to life in the '30s. The Walking Dead is no Frankenstein, but it compares favorably to The Man They Could Not Hang. At least in terms of sheer filmmaking. It's a good-looking movie and I like that Karloff's character isn't so much a figure of blind vengeance as he is a symbol of poetic justice. The film spends some time building him into a sympathetic character and doesn't waste that goodwill by turning him into a homicidal maniac. He doesn't so much murder his victims as he does just sort of harbinger their deaths. That's a refreshing change from how these kinds of stories typically go.

On the other hand though, if I want cheesy, pulpy fun, I'm going with The Man They Could Not Hang, even though its a far inferior production.

Rating: Three-and-a-half out of five Santa scientists (Gwenn).

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Introducing Planetary Union Network: The Orville Fan Podcast

If you've had a chance to listen to the most recent episode of N3rd World, you know that I've fallen in love with The Orville. Go check that out to hear my full thoughts, but the short version is that when I first heard about the show, I wrote it off as not for me. And when the early reviews came out, I felt justified in my dismissing it. Nobody seemed to like the show. But then it finally premiered and the fans got a chance to see it.

Fan response has been very different from the professional critics and one of the loudest of those fans was my pal and N3rd World co-host Dan Taylor. He got me curious about it, so I caught up last week and now I'm totally hooked. I joined Dan and his co-host Joe Quickle on their Planetary Union Podcast this week to talk about The Orville Episode 4: "If the Stars Should Appear."

They were slumming by having me on. Their first couple of guests were people who've actually appeared on the show: Patrick Cox (Justin the Ogre) and Brett Rickaby (the spiny-headed alien from Episode 2). And they've got other awesome people from the show coming later. What I have that those folks don't have though is availability to be there every week, so when Dan and Joe graciously offered me a regular spot on PUN after we recorded, I jumped at it. If you're an Orville fan, you should definitely check out the show. It's gonna be a good one.

The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)

Who’s In It: Boris Karloff (Frankenstein) and Myrna Loy (The Thin Man)

What It’s About: Nayland Smith (Lewis Stone) tries to steal the treasure of Genghis Khan before Fu Manchu can get it and use it to recruit a world-conquering army.

How It Is: You gotta know going in that a Fu Manchu movie is going to be super racist, even before you consider all the white actors in yellowface. The Sax Rohmer novels were speaking directly to and capitalizing off British fears about Southeast Asia, so the very concept is that the West is under attack by the East and that white people are perfectly justified in doing whatever they need to do to protect themselves. Even with that basic understanding though, The Mask of Fu Manchu is uncomfortable to watch. It's summed up in a final scene where the white heroes encounter a Chinese servant and are afraid of him until he reveals himself to be an idiot. That's the only kind of Chinese person these characters are comfortable with.

It gets labeled as a horror movie because of Karloff, I guess. And I suppose that for Westerners at the time, the Fu Manchu stories did represent something that they were truly terrified of. But it's not a scary movie. It's really just a treasure-hunting adventure with a colorful supervillain. And unfortunately, it's only a mediocre one of those.

I do like that the damsel in distress is actually a dude in distress (Charles Starrett). And the sets and props around Fu Manchu's palace and the treasure are pretty fun. But none of the acting is good and  Karen Morley is especially horrible as the daughter of one of Nayland Smith's companions. A very simple plot and just the ugliness of the overall tone drag it down and make me never want to watch it again.

Rating: Two-and-a-half out of five warlord swords.

Monday, October 02, 2017


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