Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Happy Anniversary, Starmageddon!

If I'd been a better blogger last week, I would have let you know that a new episode of Starmageddon came out. It's our One Year Anniversary Special, which means that we do what we always do: talk about Star Wars and Star Trek news. We discuss Alden Ehrenreich as the newer, younger Han Solo and go over the recent Rogue One info that leaked out. Minor spoilers in that part of the conversation, I guess, though there's not much new info other than some names of characters and a couple of descriptions. I also recapped the Star Trek/Wars panel I hosted at MSP ComicCon and we briefly touch on the teaser trailer for the Star Trek TV series.

Monday, May 30, 2016

British History in Film | Braveheart (1995)

In The Black Rose, Edward I (aka Longshanks) is portrayed as a reasonable and even compassionate man who wants to unite his broken country. That takes the form of trying to settle an anachronistic conflict between Normans and Saxons as well as some vague talk of stopping oppression in general. It's quite easy to like that Edward.

The Edward Longshanks in Braveheart is very different. He's also trying to unite the people of his island, but by ruthlessly taking them over. The truth is somewhere in the middle with the historical Edward making significant contributions to English law, but also squashing rebellions and trying to conquer Wales and Scotland. Braveheart focuses on the latter conflict, of course.

I like Braveheart a lot, but I don't always feel like I should. I don't think it's a problem with Mel Gibson, whom I always like on screen even if I have problems with him personally. My issue with the movie is that I feel manipulated by it. Between the speeches and the music and the super generic theme of Freedom, I can see exactly what the movie is doing to make me feel the way it wants me to feel. The thing is that it works and I usually do feel the way it wants me to. But I can also see the strings that it's pulling and that creates some dissonance for me.

It ultimately wins me over in spite of that, though. If all it had going for it was speeches and music and Freedom, I probably wouldn't like it, but it also has humor and - for me - more personal themes about loyalty and leadership. Those are things that connect with me about Braveheart.

But I still like Rob Roy better.

Next time: We met Edward's undependable son in Braveheart and lucky for us, someone wrote a play about him.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Supergirl: A Second Chance [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

(Warning: This piece contains big spoilers.) I have a few confessions to make first. I slammed the pilot of Supergirl pretty hard back in June of last year. I avoided the series like the plague while I had Daredevil to watch on TV and several superhero movies to look forward to like Deadpool, Batman v Superman and Captain America: Civil War. But eventually I ran out of excuses and had to sit down and watch the finished first season. I had heard it was cancelled and then not cancelled. I wasn't sure if I cared or not?

Let me recall what my gripes were with the pilot:

1. The pilot lacked pace. They threw everything at you so fast.
2. Because of this we didn't get to know the characters or care about them.
3. The villains were all cardboard.
4. Each week they'd throw another villain at Supergirl.

The first complaint I am happy to say is no longer a problem. With twenty episodes to fill, the pace has improved greatly. Kara Danvers can now take time to worry about dating, or be jealous of Lucy Lane, while other characters got story-lines and scenes that fleshed them out. Callista Flockhart as Cat Grant, who I found repulsive in the pilot, becomes this hard-edged, but worthy mentor. Hank Henshaw, who seemed superfluous and annoying, becomes an intriguing character as Martian Manhunter. All the peripheral characters such as Winn Schott Jr. and James Olson (along with future villains like Siobhan McDougal/Silver Banshee) all get time and purpose. This in turn gets rid of problem #2.

Problem #3 still persists. Non (played by Chris Vance), the husband of Kara's Aunt Astra, has about as much depth as Snidley Whiplash. His wife is killed by a kryptonite sword and he grinds his teeth and gets angry (but he always talks like that), but never really comes across as a grieving husband. Instead he hooks up with the Mystique-wannabe, Indigo (played by Laura Vandervoort) and leaves when he fails. He should have been a linchpin character who cast any ever-present pall of dread over Supergirl's life, but he comes off as tacky and boring. Let's hope next year they come up with a better big bad.

The last problem, the weekly villain or monster, is systemic and not only part of Supergirl's set-up, but any other superhero show, such as The Flash. (The "World's Finest" crossover episode featuring Grant Guston as Barry Allen was fun and a nice break from the main story line.) Even Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer had this problem, as do all episodic hero shows. Supergirl makes fun of this in episode 19 ("Myriad") when Max Lord says, “We’re way past ‘Villains of the Week’ and kittens stuck in trees.” This shows that writers are well-aware of the nature of the beast. So what do you do about it? Better writing. And we've seen that with Season One. "Red-Faced" (episode 6), where Kara has to deal with an invisible, intelligent robot and her anger issues, had some real pathos, though not quite enough logic for me. (Why would the Army spend billions on a prototype, then decide to destroy it on a whim? And who doesn't put a safety protocol into a billion dollar project?) The episode with the red kryptonite (episode 16) invented by Max Lord, Supergirl's Lex Luthor, that made Kara turn evil, also has Kara's sister Alex reveal that she killed her aunt. Some very good acting by Chyler Leigh and better writing showed that the series has soul.

Other problems I never mentioned before include "teamism." All the superhero shows have teams. Arrow has Felicity Smoak and John Diggle, while the Flash has Cisco and Harrison Wells and Kaitlyn Snow. Supergirl has two teams! Her buddy team and the Department of Extranormal Operations (DEO). I understand that TV shows are filled with people talking to each other, and the teams allow this dialogue. But one of the things I loved about Netflix's Daredevil was that he didn't have a team. And if it gets to the point where DD is talking to Foggy Nelson on an ear piece while Karen Page works the monitor, then I give up, and will start watching reality TV (shudder). Again, I loved the movie, Unbreakable, because Bruce Willis' character was alone. It's limiting, but I love it.

So is the show cancelled? It appears not, just moving to the CW, where I think it will be quite at home. How do I feel about this? I'm glad and I will watch Supergirl next year. Partly because the show has embraced the old spirit of the Supergirl comics, which featured weekly complications ad nauseum from writers like Otto Binder and Mike Sekowsky. This is one side of her comics. Not all stories have to be galaxy-wide punch-fests (though some of these are good too). I want Supergirl to be something different from The Flash (which I still watch). I understand network superhero shows can't be as gritty as Jessica Jones, my second favorite after Daredevil, but perhaps on the CW Supergirl can survive long enough to find its way, and we can enjoy that Kryptonian universe Siegel and Shuster created 78 years ago.

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.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Year in Movies: 1928

Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)

One of my favorite Buster Keaton films (Top Three with The Navigator and The General). The hat shopping bit is great and has a perfect payoff. I've also become a fan of Ernest Torrence, who plays Keaton's father. He and Keaton are perfect against each other, which reminds me of another great scene when Keaton tries to smuggle escape tools in a loaf of bread to his jailed dad. Also, Marion Byron is super cute as Keaton's girlfriend.

A Girl in Every Port (1928)

I was looking forward to seeing a Howard Hawks film starring Louise Brooks, but A Girl in Every Port is disappointing. It's the ultimate Bros Before Hos movie with a couple of womanizing bullies who fight and philander their way around the world. Brooks plays an equally awful woman who almost comes between them. I like that she's in the movie - and that so is Robert Armstrong, who went on to play Carl Denham in 1933's King Kong - but I wish that I liked either of their characters.

The Farmer's Wife (1928)

I blind-bought this a while ago because Early Hitchcock, knowing that it's not his usual genre, but curious anyway. Realizing that I remembered almost nothing about it, I watched it again and was reminded why it hasn't stuck with me.

The farmer of the title is a stupid, arrogant man who decides that enough time has passed since the death of his wife that he should remarry. He's not in love with anyone; it's just time. So he goes about it methodically, making a list of prospects and then proposing to them one by one. He rightly observes that none of these prospects have other prospects of their own, but the conclusion he draws from that is that any of them should realize how lucky they are to receive his proposal. Which he pretty much tells them as he's proposing. To his shock, they all turn him down. They give various reasons, but the fact that he's an ass is an unspoken one. His confidence begins to dwindle, rejection by rejection.

All the while, there's a wonderful woman in his household whom he doesn't consider even though her perfection is loudly obvious to the viewer. What's going to happen next is predictable every step of the way, except for two things.

One is that the film occasionally meanders from its plot to share cute sequences with some of the other characters, whether it's the farmer's servants or one of his prospects. These are generally enjoyable, but they did have me looking at the time to see how long the movie was spending on them.

The other surprise is better though, and that's how sweet the conclusion actually is. What happens may be telegraphed like crazy, but once the movie gets there, I'm genuinely happy to see the couple realize their feelings for each other. That has a lot to do with Lillian Hall-Davis' lovable performance as Minta - I wanted so much for her to be happy - but also something to do with the farmer's finding enough humility that he's no longer insufferable. In real life, I'm sure he goes back to being a jerk once he regains his self-respect, but in the final moments of the movie, I'm rooting for the new couple.

Easy Virtue (1928)

Another early Hitchcock outside the genre he became so well known for. Easy Virtue is an effective, but depressing story about the power of gossip, speculation, and the court of public opinion. Those things all make me cranky enough that I can't say that I enjoyed the film, but it's as relevant as ever and of course wonderfully directed.

The Man Who Laughs (1928)

Conrad Veidt's disturbing grin in The Man Who Laughs was the visual inspiration for The Joker, so that - plus liking Veidt in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Casablanca - is what drew me to watch it. Then I was reminded that Mary Philbin (The Phantom of the Opera) is in it and that it's based on a Victor Hugo story and I was even more excited.

It's an amazing film that uses horror-movie tricks to tell a story that isn't horror at all. It combines elements of the German Expressionism in Caligari and Nosferatu with the lavish productions of movies like Phantom and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The tone of the movie is similar to Hunchback (also based on a Hugo novel, of course), which isn't a horror movie either, but I think of it as one thanks to Lon Chaney's awesome makeup. Same goes with The Man Who Laughs and Veidt's smile.

Like Hunchback, it's the story of a disfigured man who loves a beautiful woman. Unlike Quasimodo though, Veidt's Gwynplaine has a hope that his love may be returned. In fact, blind Dea (Philbin) openly loves him; he just has a hard time accepting it. On top of the romance are layered political complications since some powerful people have figured out that Gwynplaine is unknowingly the son of a nobleman. Brandon Hurst is delightfully sinister as a Machiavellian opportunist who uses his knowledge of Gwynplaine to win favor from the Queen, and Olga Baclanova is crazy seductive as the noblewoman who now possesses Gwynplaine's estate.

It's a captivating story with characters I loved. Another for the list of silent films that make great introductions to the format for someone who hasn't given them a try.

Beggars of Life (1928)

I watched a murky, pixelated version of this on YouTube, but still enjoyed it. I love rooting for Louise Brooks' characters, which is something that I can't always do. Beggars is exciting, sad, scary, and heart-warming. Heavier on the sad than I like, but worthwhile.

Friday, May 20, 2016

British History in Film | The Black Rose (1950)

I couldn't find any movies about King John's son, Henry III, so I skipped ahead to his grandson, Edward. He was a tall dude for his time, so he's best known by his nickname, Edward Longshanks. The Black Rose doesn't focus on him, but he does play an important role in the story.

The movie plays up the Norman-Saxon conflict in a way that's probably not historically accurate. Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is that the dust had settled on that long before Edward's time. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that there were lingering feelings of resentment among some folks, but The Black Rose has it as an official system of oppression with the Saxons ready to rebel against their Norman overlords.

The main character is Tyrone Power's Walter of Gurnie, the bastard son of a deceased Saxon who was married to a Norman woman. There's a lot of stuff early in the movie that's meant to show how unfair the system is to poor Walter, but that's all prologue to the real adventure in which Walter and his friend Tristam get fed up and leave England to seek their fortunes in China. There they meet a Mongol warlord played by Orson Welles and get involved in a plot to rescue a young woman (nicknamed The Black Rose) from a harem under the warlord's protection.

The movie is overly long, but the big problem with it is that I don't like Walter. With all that oppression being heaped on him, it shouldn't be hard to make him sympathetic, but he comes off as entitled and a baby about the whole thing. Tristam is pretty great though. He's an archer of Robin Hood-like skill who accompanies Walter more out of love for his friend than for any personal grudge against England. I also really like Welles' crafty warlord who has a great balance of ruthlessness and amiability.

One of the ways that Walter is oppressed in the early part of the story is that his father's will put Walter into the service of the Norman King Edward (played by Michael Rennie from The Day the Earth Stood Still). The Black Rose's Edward is a reasonable fellow who's primary goal is to unite his kingdom. In the movie that means putting a stop to oppression and trying to resolve the whole Norman-Saxon feud, so he ultimately rewards Walter for his adventures and comes off as a really nice guy.

Next week though, we'll look at a very different interpretation of Edward Longshanks, who's still concerned about uniting the kingdom, but in a much less benevolent way.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Bomba the Jungle Boy: A Swinging Scene [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

Bomba the Jungle Boy was created in 1926 by the Stratemeyer Syndicate, the organization that produced all those Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew novels by the truck load. The twenty Bomba novels were largely written by John William Duffield and included titles like Bomba and the Moving Mountain, The Abandoned City, The Swamp of Death, etc.. It was only a matter of thirteen years before the books became a movie serial starring Johnny Sheffield, now a grown Boy, looking for a new jungle to play in. Sheffield made a dozen Bomba serials from 1949 to 1955. The serials were cut into a popular TV show in 1962 called Zim Bomba. (Kurt Russell would play a parody of Bomba in an episode of Gilligan's Island, "Gilligan Meets Jungle Boy," February 6, 1965.)

In 1967, with the Zim Bomba episodes endlessly in repeat through syndication, DC decided it was time to do a Bomba comic. (There were seven issues from September-October 1967 to September-October 1968.) They would have preferred Tarzan, but Western had a long-running franchise with the Burroughs property. So if no Lord Greystoke, then his most famous clone. And to make sure the kiddies got that it was based on the TV show the title bore in big letters "All-New! TV's Teen Jungle Star!" (Many readers were not TV fans, as the letter columns showed, and the title was dropped with Issue #3. One letter writer, John Stewart II of San Antonio, Texas was familiar and made this comparison: "On TV, he has a knife, and sometimes a spear or bow-and-arrows. The television star doesn't have a pet spider monkey, parrot, jaguar, ostrich or any giant bird. All he has is a pet chimpanzee and, once in a while, an elephant or two." The comic version of Bomba was more fantastic, and fans such as Stewart liked that.

To get the series started, DC editor George Kashden set Otto Binder (science fiction writer and old pro from the Superman comics) to write the first issue. After this premiere, Kashden would write the comic himself until Issue #5, when Denny O'Neil would script the last two. The first issue had a single page text piece called "The Amazon Jungle," meant to familiarize those who thought the comic took place in Africa. The piece may have been written by Otto Binder, but George Kashden seems more likely. Either way, it's a dull one, obviously cobbled from an encyclopedia.

The story in this first issue sets the pattern with a three-part tale, similar to the old serials. A group of archaeologists come to the jungle to look for the ancient Incan temple of Xamza, but they are attacked by Jojasta and his marauders. The bad guys kidnap Dr. Jasper Craine, then ambush Bomba, forcing him to make a dangerous detour. His animal friends, the jaguar, the condor, and the emu help him to escape, then to find Dr Craine and Jojasta at the temple with the treasure. To Bomba's surprise, Craine isn't really in danger, but Jojasta's partner. The evil witch doctor uses the Mask of Xamzu to destroy Craine's pistol, exposing his double-cross. Fortunately for Bomba, his pet monkey Doto and parrot Tiki save the day.

The response in the second issue's letter column is revealing. The readers suggest in two cases that Bomba should have super-powers and join the Teen Titans. Kashden largely poo-poos this, reminding the readers that this is a jungle comic and it should remain true to that formula. Later letter columns would only contain letters in support of traditional jungle characters. While I agree with Kashden personally, it does show that some readers wanted something more modern and it should be no surprise that the comic only went to seven issues.

The artwork in the first two issues was done by Leo Summers, an artist who got his start in the pulps and would later do work for James Warren's Creepy. His work on Bomba is adequate, but nothing to grab fans by the throat. (Unlike Carmine Infantino's cover for Issue 1!) Jungle comics had a long tradition before 1967. The jungle style created by Will Eisner for Sheena, Queen of the Jungle had been copied by virtually every jungle lord or lady after 1938. Summers doesn't try to emulate this out-of-date look. It is closer to what Western was doing in Tarzan and Korak, Son of Tarzan. Jack Sparling would take over with the third issue and not really improve on Summers.

Issues #3-5 featured a mix of traditional Tarzan plots with "The Deadly Sting of Ana Conda" having more tribesmen after gold, but two more experimental stories featured animated tree-men in "My Enemy...My Jungle" and a robot idol in "Tampu Lives... Bomba Dies." Tina, the local girl who wears a flower-print dress, is featured in these three issues. A love interest for Bomba, she morphs from simple native girl into a hip teen saying, "Maybe you ought to try a folk rock beat, Bomba! You know how mod these animals are nowadays!" Not surprisingly, the response for Tina was poor and she had to go.

Along with the character, editor and writer George Kashden also went. In the editor's chair, Dick Giordano took over. In writing, Denny O'Neil brought a new feel to the comic. Issue Six relates the history of a new villain, Krag, a baddie from out of the past. O'Neil writes the entire issue without dialogue balloons, making Sparling's art feel different. This experiment was not repeated in Issue Seven, when the dialogue balloons returned. To defeat Krag, Bomba has to go to the city and wear a suit. This last issue ends with him running towards his beloved jungle, stripping off his civilized dubs. Bomba was cancelled after Issue Seven. The changes by Giordano and O'Neil came too late and didn't really offer anything better. The feel was more modern, but somehow less jungle.

In 1973, DC would finally get their chance to do Tarzan right, with Joe Kubert scripting and drawing the comic. Though a commercial failure, Kubert's Tarzan was a high water mark in Burroughs-related comics. Bomba would be back as a back-up feature to the ape-man, with old artwork from the Bomba comics reworked as "Simba" for copyright reasons. DC retained the rights to their artwork but not the name. Looking for cheap filler, they did not want to pay to use Bomba's name again. And so Bomba faded from the world of comics, under an alias.

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.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Year in Movies: 1927

The King of Kings (1927)

After the heavy-handedness of Cecil B DeMille's original Ten Commandments, I was nervous about how he'd portray Jesus' story in King of Kings. And I was right to have some of those fears. HB Warner's Jesus tends to be over-serious and often sounds like he's quoting himself instead of having conversations. And I hated the way the film portrays Mary Magdalene's conversion as a miraculous act that's possibly even against her will. (It's really well done from a technical standpoint; I just hate the theological implications.)

But the movie does great things with Magdalene and by the end of the movie I had no doubt that at some point she'd made her own decision to follow Jesus. And there are some great, human moments for him, too, especially in his interactions with kids and the woman caught in adultery.

And of course DeMille knows how to create a spectacular set, so every scene in the movie looks like an elaborate Renaissance painting. It's a gorgeous film to watch.

Metropolis (1927)

If you asked me a month ago if I'd seen Metropolis, I would've told you, "Yes," but that's almost not true. I have a crappy, murky, horribly framed print of the heavily trimmed down version, so that's what I've seen a few times. Recently though, I watched the restored version with all the extra footage. It looks great and improves the story significantly. The edited version I'm used to retains the plot, but cuts out a lot of character stuff. This time, I cared more for the characters than I usually do.

But I still have many of my usual problems. I love the theme about the relationship between heart, head, and hands, but the movie is so eager to get that point across that it makes some dire mistakes. It's super didactic, for one thing, but that's not as bad as the way its characters act. People do the craziest things, not because it makes sense to the story, but because they have to in order to make the analogy work. Drives me crazy.

But I do like the characters and the world and the concepts and above all else the look of the film. It's visually astonishing and needs to be seen if for no other reason than that.

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)

There have been many versions, but this is my favorite. No surprise, since it's Hitchcock, but for reasons that I can't go into without spoilers, I also love this story best. The others add their own plot twists, but end up diluting an an almost perfect story.

It (1927)

There's a contrived misunderstanding in order to drive a wedge between the romantic leads, but it's no worse than the plots of most modern romantic comedies. And few of those have leads as likable as Clara Bow and Antonio Moreno. Or goofy best friends as adorable as William Austin. It's easy to see why It is such a classic.

Tarzan and the Golden Lion (1927)

For some reason, Tarzan has a sister and a best friend who are in love with each other. Jane is in the movie, but she doesn't do anything. Sis gets all the plot (that's her in the poster above). Also, Boris Karloff plays an African warrior.

So the movie makes some weird choices, but James Pierce is a great Tarzan. He's not wearing a goofy wig, for one thing, nor does he occasionally stop to pound his chest like Elmo Lincoln and Frank Merrill would do. He's just a straightforward, clean-cut hero who happens to wear leopard skins. And he looks really cool hanging out with his pet lion. It's a minor Tarzan film, but a memorable one.

The Unknown (1927)

The plot is essentially an EC Comics horror story fleshed out to full length, but that's not a complaint. Once I figured out that's what it was, it let me predict the broad strokes of the outcome, but I love chilling tales of comeuppance for evil people, so I didn't enjoy it any less.

The bigger challenge was getting past Nanon's (Joan Crawford) goofy chirophobia. It's not goofy because it's irrational, but because it's so easily dropped when the plot needs it to be.

Still, the movie has a lot of style and the effects used to make Lon Chaney appear armless (like integrating the feet of an actual armless man to make it look like Chaney's manipulating objects with his toes) are seamless and amazing.

College (1927)

Buster Keaton's version of a sports movie. It's neither my favorite Keaton film nor my favorite sports movie, but I still cheered at the end and had a great time throughout.

 London After Midnight (1927)

I watched the reconstruction with stills and it made me mourn the loss of the real version. It's a very cool story that I'd rather not spoil and the sharp-toothed stranger has a fantastic, iconic look. It deserves a better remake than 1935's Mark of the Vampire (which is enjoyable on its own terms, but not a good version of London After Midnight).

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Come see me at MSP Comicon!

I'm super late with this post, but if you live not too far away from Minneapolis/Saint Paul, I hope you've already made plans to come to MSP Comicon this weekend. And while you're there, I hope you'll look me up! I'll have a table with Kill All Monsters comics, but also some nifty Starmageddon "May the Force Live Long and Prosper With You" stickers.

And speaking of Starmageddon, this morning at 10:30 I'm hosting a panel called Star Trek and Star Wars: Why Can't We Be Friends?. We've got a great group of comics creators who are also Star Trek and/or Star Wars fans (a couple of whom have worked on honest-to-Spock official Star Trek comics). We'll be celebrating Star Trek's 50th anniversary by sharing our favorite memories from the show and hopes for the future of the series. And we'll be talking plenty of Star Wars, too, debriefing over The Force Awakens and looking forward to Rogue One. And then we'll wrap up with a discussion of the differences and similarities between both series.

It'll be audience participatory, too. We want to hear from anyone who wants to share!

See you at the show!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Hellbent for Letterbox: God is not responsible for the podcast you choose

On the latest Hellbent for Letterbox, Pax and I discuss Forsaken starring Kiefer and Donald Sutherland, Demi Moore, Brian Cox, and Michael Wincott. We're pretty free with the spoilers, so I recommend watching the movie before listening to the show, but we both loved it and recommend watching it anyway.

We also briefly touched on the concept of contemporary Westerns (movies like Brokeback Mountain and No Country for Old Men) and whether or not those scratch the Western itch for us.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

British History in Film | King John (1984)

Shakespeare's King John isn't one of his most popular plays, but I've always been interested in seeing it as a sort of sequel to the Robin Hood legend. There aren't too many versions available for home viewing, but the 1984 BBC production directed by David Giles and starring Leonard Rossiter is a fine production.

I'm no Shakespeare scholar - or even a super knowledgeable fan - but I wonder about why King John isn't more widely regarded. It has some great speeches and iconic scenes and Giles' version is especially well-performed. Rossiter is fantastic as the selfish, sometimes cowardly John, but George Costigand steals the show as the king's intelligent and humorous bastard nephew, son of the late King Richard. There's also some great casting for a couple of English noblemen, starting with Robert Brown, who was M in the '80s Bond movies.

John Castle is another cool actor who plays a noble. I wouldn't have known him before this project, but he was King John's brother Geoffrey in The Lion in Winter. Geoffrey's dead by the time King John takes place, but his presence is still very much felt. In Lion in Winter, Geoffrey's claim to the throne wasn't supported by either of his parents, but he did have the new king of France (played then by young Timothy Dalton) as an ally. In King John, King Philip is much older, but still supports Geoffrey's family. In fact, the play's drama is kicked off by Philip's insistence that Geoffrey's son is the rightful ruler of England.

There are some speeches that go long in the middle, but I'll sit through those for lopped-off heads and people falling off of castle walls. Sadly, I couldn't find a movie about John's son, Henry III, so next time we'll skip ahead to grandson Edward.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Wait Here While I Describe the Eldritch Horror: Weird Tales Radio? [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

You learn the strangest things when you read "The Eyrie," the old letter column in Weird Tales. Like that a boyish Julius Schwartz was a big Robert E Howard fan back in 1933. Or that the readership was split 50-50 over the interplanetary fiction of Otis Adelbert Kline. Or that Weird Tales tried to spawn its own radio show. "A radio show?" you ask.

This should be no surprise as many of the pulps either had radio counterparts or even started as radio shows. The classic example of this is The Shadow, which began with Orson Welles as the mysterious voice and narrator. This, in turn, spawned the pulp adventures of Lamont Cranston that went on to become Street & Smith's best selling magazine. Usually, it worked the other way around. Pulp characters such as Tarzan, the Saint, Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, and Zorro began as magazine characters, then got radio and eventually film counterparts.

One of the popular formats was the anthology show, with programs such as Suspense, Escape, Lights Out! and X-Minus One. Whether mysteries, horror or science fiction, the audience expected a new tale each week in a manner we have come to think of as The Twilight Zone format. Though Rod Serling certainly borrowed the idea from radio. The anthology shows often took their material from magazines, allowing the publications to plug their content. X-Minus One partnered with Galaxy and Astounding. Suspense tried it the other way, spawning a short-lived magazine edited by Leslie Charteris in 1946. Why should Weird Tales be any different?

The recordings are very rare and there isn't much solid information. Was it a show or just a proposed show that never caught on? The promotional flyer says that the producers planned to do 52 episodes. The company that did the recordings was Hollywood Radio Attractions (4376 Sunset Drive, Hollywood, CA.) Actors included William Farnum, Jason Robards Sr, Richard Carle, Viola Dana, Richard Tucker, and Priscilla Dean. All the episodes were adapted by Oliver Drake and produced by Irving Fogel .

There were three initial episodes done on a demo record. These were recorded in two lengths, as half-hour programs or they could be played in two 15-minute shows. Some radio stations were not part of the larger networks and could determine their own content. Shows like the Weird Tales programs or the earliest adventures of Tarzan could be played as station managers saw fit. There is some evidence that the Weird Tales shows played at midnight on certain local stations.

The three episodes that were recorded for sure were:

1. "The Living Dead" by Kirk Mashburn (based on "De Brignac's Lady," February 1933). I haven't been able to locate this piece, but in The Monster With a Thousand Faces: Guises of the Vampire in Myth and Literature (1989), author Brian J Frost writes of this story: "Of the latter was captained: 'A story of baby vampires: infant marauders belonging to the Undead!' It's just as ludicrous as it sounds..." Weird Tales featured many vampire and werewolf stories, so this is a natural subject matter. Why they picked Mashburn when they could have gone with Greye LaSpina, H Warner Munn, or Seabury Quinn, I have no idea? I do know that Carl Jacobi's much better vampire tale, "Revelations in Black" was one of the proposed 52 stories.

2. "The Curse of Nagana" by Hugh B Cave (original title "The Ghoul Gallery." June 1932) is the story of Doctor Briggs who goes to the haunted mansion of Lord Ramsey, along with his beautiful fiancée, Lady Ravenal. In the best gothic tradition, the lords of Ramsey have been killed in the upper galleries of the house by a strangling phantom. The villain proves to be a vengeful ghost in the form of a painting. Cave's style is typical of his Shudder Pulp stories with the setting and psychic doctor character harkening back to the English ghost writers. (Not everyone agrees with me on that. In "The Eyrie," reader Harold Dunbar of Chatham, Massachusetts wrote: "...This author has a fine rolling style and a depth which few writers of weird fiction can rival...")

Fortunately, thanks to Rand's Esoteric OTR, we can listen to a portion of this show and see how the original material was treated. The story's original cast of four is expanded to include a maid (cannon fodder), but more importantly the character of Nagana, a stranger from the Orient who turns out to be the villain of the piece instead of a real ghost. The final scene in the gallery is the same but instead of finding the coffin of Sir Ravenel, the doorway behind the painting leads to the roof where Nagana plans to sacrifice Sir Guy, having hypnotized him. All this is narrated by Parker, the butler who acts as the doctor's side-kick. What Hugh B Cave thought of this I'm not sure, replacing his admittedly well-worn ideas for different well-worn ideas.

3. "Three From the Tomb" by Edmond Hamilton (February 1932) is a typical what-if story from that author. Hamilton wrote many interesting SF tales by asking that question. What if humans all reverted to cavemen ("World Atavism" in Amazing Stories, August 1930)? What if a man evolved centuries into the future ("The Man Who Evolved" in Wonder Stories, April 1931)? What if everyone fell asleep at the same time ("When the World Slept" in Weird Tales, July 1936)? And on and on...

I suppose the company presenting the first shows would not want to confuse potential consumers with too wide a genre selection, so they selected one of Hamilton's stories with a more morbid angle. In the original story, we follow reporter Jerry Farley and county detective Peter Todd as they unravel the mystery of how Dr. Charles Curtlin resurrects three rich men who had been dead for six months. Todd interviews each man, asking him if he remembers being threatened by unknown parties before their deaths. Each answered that he did. The final solution to the mystery is presented at the moment Dr. Curtlin reveals his final specimen, before he will supposedly destroy the resurrection ray machine and his notes. Todd knows the whole thing is a con and proves it by admitting that none of the dead had ever been threatened at all. Curtlin is a famed plastic surgeon and created false millionaires so he could control their money. This kind of fake science fiction tale would prove more popular in magazines like The Saint with stories by Cleve Cartmill, or in the tales of Ed Hoch in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, though the tradition runs back to Ann Radcliffe and her explained away horrors.

A business letter dated February 14, 1933 - included in Lost in the Rentharpian Hills: Spanning the Decades with Carl Jacobi (1985) - written by Farnsworth Wright to Carl Jacobi states that any money the radio broadcasts might make would be given to the authors as Weird Tales was not using the show to make money, but to increase sales of the magazine. The fact that the personal correspondence between WT authors don't include lengthy discussions of radio income suggests that the radio show never took off. This is too bad for several reasons. First off, writers like HP Lovecraft could have used that dough. But more for us today, I would love to have heard a radio dramatization of Jules de Grandin, filled with exclamations of “Sacré nom d’un fromage vert!” Now there's an acting job only an old-time radio star could pull off.

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.

Monday, May 09, 2016

The Year in Movies: 1926

The Black Pirate (1926)

Douglas Fairbanks plays a nobleman who pretends to be a pirate in order to take down the buccaneers responsible for his father's death. There's a love story too of course when they capture a ship with a princess aboard. And naturally our hero comes into conflict with the previous leader of the pirate gang, who also has an interest in the princess.

A lot of the elements are predictable, but there are complications to keep it interesting. And that's in addition to the amazingly athletic swashbuckling that Fairbanks is so excellent at. My print doesn't have a real score, but just some generic orchestral music, so that's my only complaint. One of the first pirate movies is also one of the best.

The Bat (1926)

I'm really fond of the 1959 version starring Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead, so I wanted to see this one adapting the same play. Now I need to see the Price one again to compare, because I think I may actually like this one even better. The plot's basically the same - a killer called The Bat terrorizes a bunch of people in a mansion that may have a lot of money hidden in it somewhere - but the '26 version surprised me with how gorgeous it is. The sets are huge and extravagant, the shots are dark and stylish, and the Bat's costume is amazing: basically a trench-coated man who wears an elaborate bat mask with huge, fur-covered ears and a working mouth.

My only issue with the film was the soundtrack on the print I watched. I rented it from Amazon where the score is relentlessly dull trance music that kept putting me to sleep. It's atmospheric, but doesn't go well with the movie's many comedic moments. I was captivated by the story and the look of the film, so I persevered, but finally muted the sound and listened to some Sisters of Mercy while I watched. It still didn't fit perfectly, but at least it wasn't boring.

It’s the Old Army Game (1926)

So that's me smitten with Louise Brooks then.

I wanted to check out some Brooks movies and started with this one because it's the earliest that I have access to. I'm also familiar enough with WC Fields to know that I generally like him, so that made it a safe introduction, too.

There's a loose plot about Fields' character getting involved with a land scheme (the movie's title refers to con games), but mostly it's a series of unrelated gags that go on longer than they should. Like when Fields takes his family out for a picnic and has it on the lawn of some rich guy's house. The running joke about the animosity between Fields and his young nephew is especially tiring. The actor playing the nephew was 11, but the character sleeps in a crib and rides in a baby carriage part of the time, so I don't know how old he's supposed to be.

The frustrations are all worth it whenever Brooks shows up though. She's beautiful and charming and absolutely captivating every time she's on screen. Looking forward to seeing some of her other films.

Battling Butler (1926)

A really early version of the tropey romantic comedy formula where a misunderstanding or lie snowballs and threatens to break up our couple if the secret gets out. And rather than having a grown-up conversation about it, the lead character perpetuates the lie, breaking the other person's heart and requiring a big gesture to set things right.

Because it's Buster Keaton, it still works for me, but it relies more on the situation for laughs than on Keaton's physicality. In fact, Keaton's playing a wimp, so his athleticism is intentionally de-emphasized.

The General (1926)

This one's probably the first Buster Keaton movie I ever saw. It's a great introduction because it's essentially a feature-length chase scene. (I've heard it compared to Mad Max: Fury Road, which is kind of appropriate.) There's some introductory stuff to set the stakes, but even that's very funny and once we get to the train chases, it's just gag after gag after gag. And they all work.

A potential drawback for modern viewers is that Keaton's playing a loyal Confederate in the Civil War. The movie isn't overtly political and the reasons for the war are never mentioned, but The General makes a strange companion piece to The Keeping Room, which also depicts the Union Army as the bad guys. I certainly don't want that to be the only - or even primary - way we talk about the Civil War, but I do think it's valuable and necessary to remember that there were multiple perspectives on that conflict.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Panels and Pizza with Adam Vermillion (and me)

The Twin Cities area has a fantastic comics community from its excellent shops and enthusiastic fans to its vibrant creators and great local conventions. Podcaster Adam Vermillion celebrates that community every week by getting together with a local creator to have some pizza and talk some comics on his Panels and Pizza podcast. It's a fun format and I'm super happy that he invited me to join him for the latest episode.

We talk about Kill All Monsters, of course, but also Alpha Flight and why Bronze Age comics are awesome. I pitch my dream Marvel writing gig and we also get into podcasting in general and the pizza we enjoyed. It was a great time and I think that comes through in the episode. Thanks again to Adam for having me on!

Thursday, May 05, 2016

British History in Film | Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) and Robin Hood (2010)

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

This one gets laughed at quite a bit, but I love it, even with its American Robin Hood. That has a lot to do with Alan Rickman, of course, though his Sheriff crosses from merely ambitiously evil into some truly creepy and despicable territory. That's the script and not Rickman's performance, but it does keep me from wholeheartedly enjoying that character.

I also love Michael Kamen's score and even the cheesy Brian Adams song, "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You." It's the one Brian Adams song I've ever liked, but I like it without reservation. Probably because of it's association with this movie.

On top of all that are some great set pieces. There's plenty not to like, too, but over all it's the big budget, spectacular Robin Hood that I wanted and it still holds up.

Robin Hood (2010)

It's barely a Robin Hood movie, but I still enjoy it as simply a medieval adventure. Ridley Scott is always visually exciting and I'm a huge fan of most of the cast from Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett to Max von Sydow, Mark Strong, Oscar Isaac, Mark Addy, Matthew Macfadyen, Kevin Durand, and Léa Seydoux. I even really like William Hurt in it and that's not something I can usually say about his movies. Also, the music is great, thanks to musician/actor (and appropriately named) Alan Doyle as the minstrel Allan A'Dayle.

Something interesting that Scott's movie does is place the action after the death of King Richard. Prince John is now King John, but no less spoiled and oppressive. Next week, we'll check in on him again during his later reign via Shakespeare.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

The Radio Man: Questions and Answers [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

Edgar Rice Burroughs was a master of the jungle and interplanetary adventure. It is only natural he should have imitators. The most famous (or perhaps obvious) was Otis Adelbert Kline. But before Kline wrote of his imaginary Venus, another writer staked that territory with a long-running saga called The Radio Series. That writer was Ralph Milne Farley, pseudonym of Roger Sherman Hoar (1887-1963). Hoar has sparked many questions for me ever since I first encountered him in the old Ace paperbacks, The Radio Beasts and The Radio Planet (1964). The first novel begins with a recap of what was obviously a preceding story not included in those books. The questions begin... where was the first story?

The second question was why the pseudonym? Why was "Ralph Milne Farley" better than "Roger Sherman Hoar". Both have the same ring of the Victorian novelist to it. Hoar was a member of a family of well-respected lawyers and politicians. He was a state senator in Massachusetts as well as Assistant Attorney General, and the inventor of a guided missile system used in WWII. His relative, Roger Sherman, was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. I can only conclude that he might have been trying to protect that well-respected name from being tarnished by such an activity as writing for the "soft magazines," as pulps were known then.

Delving deeper, I came up with many more points. First off, why is it the "Radio Series"? The stories originally appeared in Argosy/All-Story, June 28-July 19, 1924. 1924 was an important year for radio as a public medium. The invention goes back into the 1890s, but the first public broadcasts began in 1924 (January 5: the BBC broadcasts a church sermon; January 15: the BBC does the world's first radio drama, Danger; February 12: the first commercially-sponsored program, the Eveready Hour airs). Farley, seeing the writing on the wall, decides he will use radio technology to send his hero into the universe. (William Gibson would do a similar job for the Internet with Neuromancer in 1984.)

The next question I had revolved around an event in my own life. Back in the early 2000s I had a successful book-selling operation through eBay. One of my customers was the granddaughter of Roger Sherman Hoar, trying to find copies of his work. I must suppose that the old lawyers of the family had not thought Ralph's work worthy of notice, and allowed the copyrights to lapse. (An odd thing for lawyers to do, but not those that find old science fiction stories silly.) Why had the family lost track of this part of their history?

Another question I had was: what did Edgar Rice Burroughs think of this series? It turns out that Farley became a friend of Burroughs. (Irwin Porges makes no mention of him in Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created Tarzan (1975), but according to Den Valdron's excellent overview of the series, Farley was "actually a close friend of Edgar Rice Burroughs." Through the Milwaukee Fictioneers he also knew Ray Palmer, Robert Bloch and Stanley G Weinbaum (with whom he collaborated). Unlike many pulp slaves, Hoar wrote out of interest and did not need the money. This explains some of the diversity of his work, appearing in Weird Tales as often as Argosy.

Lastly, I came across a comic book adaptation of the first tale, done by Wally Wood for Avon Fantasy (1951). Actually, I found the reprinted version in Strange Planets #11 (1963). (Ralph's only other comic book appearance is a three-page text reprint, "Abductor Minimi Digit," reprinted in Witches Tales Volume 3 Number 4 (August 1971), originally in Weird Tales, January 1932.) How did the story come to be adapted? Farley was still alive in 1951 and his reaction to the piece may have been interesting. Wood's work is not his best, but even poorly executed Wally Wood is better than most.

But lets go to the beginning and look at the Radio saga. The series features Myles Cabot (did John Norman's Tarl Cabot come from Farley?), a radio inventor and operator who has an accident with his radio equipment that transports him John Carter of Mars-style to the distant planet of Venus. Venus is inhabited by giant insects who war with each other. Cabot falls in with the ants, only to find the humans of Venus are their slaves. Joining the Cupians (humans), Cabot shows them how to use gun powder and frees them. He of course wins the princess, too.

The first segment, "The Radio Man" appeared in Argosy/All-Story in 1924. (This novel and some of the sequels were reprinted in Famous Fantastic Mysteries and Famous Novels.) For some reason this story was never used by ACE Books in the 1960s, despite being the perfect size for inclusion. This feeling of incompleteness made me (and perhaps other readers) reluctant to start the series for many years. The truth may be the story was not available as it had appeared in hard cover in 1948 and at rival paperback publishing Avon in 1950.

The next two volumes comprise what most people consider the bulk of the series in paperback. The Radio Beasts ( March 21-April 11, 1925) and The Radio Planet (June 26-July 31, 1926) continue the Burroughsian-style story with all the fannish love that we would not see again until Lin Carter wrote his Jandar of Callisto books and the Green Star series, both in 1972.

More adventures came later, not in novel length, but as short stories and novellas with The Radio Flyers (May 11-June 8, 1928), The Radio Gun-Runners (February 22 - March 29, 1930), and The Radio Menace (June 7- July 12, 1930). The stories also moved away from giant insects and moved onto earthly invasion by the Whoomangs, animals controlled by intelligent slugs. None of these stories were reprinted by ACE, though they would have made great doubles. Perhaps the sales of Beasts and Planet had been poor (not surprisingly).

Farley wrote more full-length novels including The Radio War (July 2- July 30, 1932). Its missing first chapter was printed in Fantasy Magazine (February 1934). The Golden City (May 13-June 17, 1933) was oddly not named "Radio City," while Farley's name had become so associated with the word "Radio" it was attached to stories that weren't part of the series, such as The Radio Pirates in Argosy All-Story, August 1-August 22, 1931.

Getting long-in-the-tooth, the Burroughs clone was resurrected for Ray Palmer with The Radio Man Returns (1939) in Amazing Stories, June 1939. Farley was instrumental in Palmer's becoming editor of the magazine, so Palmer would have been pleased to return the favor. But this wasn't the last attempt for the denizens of Mars come to Venus. The Radio-Minds of Mars (1955) would appear in Spaceway (June 1955), then be reprinted in three issues of a new Spaceway magazine in January -September/October 1969, six years after Hoar's death.

Though not the longest running series in SF (that title probably goes to Neil R Jones' Zoromes), the Radio Series is an interesting specimen of Argosy's desire to replicate Edgar Rice Burroughs' success (both interplanetary as well as jungle). They would do this slowly over time, first with Farley, then Kline, (they actually rejected Kline's first novel, The Planet of Peril, until 1929, because they had already purchased The Radio Man), JU Guisy, Charles B Stilson, and others. As Sam Moskowitz points out in his Under the Moons of Mars (1970), this stems from the rough handling that ERB received by Thomas Metcalf over The Outlaw of Torn and The Return of Tarzan:
Now it was Metcalf's turn to worry. The success of The All-Story Magazine depended upon Burroughs, and the maintenance of his own job depended on the continuance of The All-Story Magazine. It was evident that he was already out of his depth. He was handling a once-in-a-lifetime circulation booster like Burroughs with far less finesse than he exercised upon the scores of run-of-the-mill hacks that were grinding out an endless series of eminently forgettable stories for the new breed of pulps that were digesting millions upon millions of words per year.
Munsey had a Burroughs exclusive and lost it by not realizing what they had in old Ed Burroughs. If they couldn't guarantee his work, they would try and duplicate it. But is Ralph Milne Farley a fair duplicate of ERB? This of course is a matter of opinion, but are any of the imitators close to Burroughs? I would say Farley was better than Kline, but certainly no better than most ERB wannabes. Even the Fritz Leiber and Joe R Lansdales fall short, perhaps not because they aren't good writers, but because they simply aren't ERB. Ralph Milne Farley may have been the first to try out of fannish love for Burroughs work, but in the end he is one of many reliable also-rans.

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.

Monday, May 02, 2016

The Year in Movies: 1925

Since most of my 7 Days in May posts have been around the massive silent movie kick I'm on lately, I'm weeding out the extra stuff and am just going to concentrate on sharing the silents. I think that makes a better post than a miscellaneous hodge podge of stuff. And since I've been working my way through the silents chronologically, it makes sense to re-title this The Year in Movies. Here are the movies from 1925 that I've recently checked out (or rewatched).

Seven Chances (1925)

This Buster Keaton feature starts off as a romantic comedy in which Keaton's character needs to get married by a certain time in order to inherit seven million dollars. The jokes in that part are all about his proposing to various women at his country club and getting turned down, hilariously.

Then one of his buddies hits on the idea of putting out an ad that attracts probably about a hundred women. At that point, it becomes a chase movie as they run Keaton through the streets and across the countryside. And it's a brilliant, funny chase, too (way better than the one in Cops), especially when the rock slide starts.

There are some racist gags that I wish weren't in there, but generally it's one of Keaton's stronger movies.

Don Q: Son of Zorro (1925)

Put it on the list of sequels that are better than the original. Fairbanks' Mark of Zorro is amazing and fun, but Don Q goes to another level with a more intricate plot, a great group of characters, and even better actors to play them. I cared a lot about the people in this story, despairing and cheering right alongside them.

I'm glad I don't have to choose between Douglas Fairbanks and Buster Keaton for whose athleticism I admire more. I've said before that Fairbanks may not be as handsome as some of the swashbucklers who followed him, but he rules them all in terms of energy and sheer physical impressiveness. He's the definition of swashbuckler, always full of life and joy - even in the darkest moments - and never willing to walk or climb when a leap will get him there faster.

The Lost World (1925)

I really thought I'd seen this before, but didn't recall it as I was watching and think I would have. It's about half-faithful to the Arthur Conan Doyle story it's adapting with Wallace Beery (whom I know as King Richard from Douglas Fairbanks' Robin Hood) as a great Professor Challenger. He's physically imposing with a perpetual, angry brood on his face most of the time. The other actors are great as well, but the real stars are the makeup and special effects.

Bull Montana is legitimately frightening in his ape-man makeup by Cecil Holland, and legendary effects artist Willis O'Brien (who'd go on to supervise the visual effects for King Kong) worked on the charming stop-motion dinosaurs. The dinosaurs are so great that I'm glad the movie modified the end of the story by having a brontosaurus rampage through London (another foreshadow of King Kong).

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Seen this one a million times, but the sets and costumes are still spectacular and it's creepy in all the right places. Chaney is magnificent; equal parts evil and pathetic. Christine is flighty and pretty dumb, but her shenanigans just add to my enjoyment.

The Unholy Three (1925)

It may star Lon Chaney and be directed by Tod Browning, but The Unholy Three is no horror movie. It's a crime story, just with the twist that the trio of criminals in the title met in a sideshow act. Chaney plays Professor Echo, a ventriloquist who teams up with a little person and a strong man to pull elaborate burglaries, using a pet store as a front.

Complicating the situation is Echo's girlfriend, Rosie, an official member of the gang who's spending more time than Echo likes with Hector, the pet store clerk whom Echo's keeping around as a possible fall guy if things go wrong.

There's a lot that has to be overlooked to enjoy the movie. The way ventriloquism and courtrooms work, for instance. But there's a great, emotional core that keeps it interesting and makes it worthwhile. When allegiances shift - and boy do they - it always feels natural and because of who the characters are. Now I'm curious to see the 1930 remake that brought back Chaney and the three-foot Harry Earles with sound.

Go West (1925)

A very sweet story about the relationship between a friendless man and a brown-eyed cow. I love Buster Keaton's usual romantic shenanigans, but Go West is a refreshing change of pace. Though there is a woman, of course, and that story is sweetly told, too.

Wolf Blood (1925)

Wolf Blood (Wolfblood?) has even less to do with werewolves than the infamous She-Wolf of London, because that one at least starts its misdirection early on. Wolfblood spends most of its time creating drama between rival lumber operations and setting up romance between its lead characters. The lycanthrope element is tossed in towards the end as a romantic foil more than anything else.

But at least it has a pretty great character in Edith Ford, a flapper who also owns one of the lumber companies. In fact, if the movie had just been about her trying to decide between her surgeon fiancé and the handsome foreman of her company, I would have liked the movie better. Like She-Wolf, my biggest problem is its trying to squeeze in a supernatural plot and being half-hearted about it.

Tumbleweeds (1925)

A cool silent film covering the same events as the finale of Far and Away, which I have fond memories of and need to watch again.

Tumbleweeds makes a nice companion piece to The Covered Wagon, which also has people in covered wagons looking for a place to settle down. But in Covered Wagon they're opening up the frontier in the 1840s, while Tumbleweeds has them filling it in 50 years later.

I'd never seen a William S Hart movie before and I can see now why he was a big Western star. He's got a kind face, but a tough attitude. I doubt I'll track down his other movies, but I liked him in this.

Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925)

Like with the two Ten Commandments movies, I've always wanted to see the original Ben-Hur. Now that I have, I'm pretty sure I like it better than the Charlton Heston version. It's been a long time since I've seen Heston's, but I'm not a huge fan of him anyway and Ramon Novarro is extremely handsome and appealing as the title character.

I can see why William Wyler's remaking it was a good idea with new technology (and am curious to see how Timur Bekmambetov will do it again this year), but Fred Niblo totally got it right the first time. It wraps up too neatly and conveniently for me, but it's got all the spectacle and it's well-acted.


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