Friday, November 30, 2007

To Stop The Rat, One Kills It

Everybody is kung fu fighting in THE YEAR OF THE RAT, #3 in Manor Books' Kung Fu series, written by "Lee Chang" and published in 1974. Although the lead character is named Mace--and the name is prominently displayed on the cover--the series is named Kung Fu, certainly to capitalize on the KUNG FU TV series starring David Carradine. I believe there were also some KUNG FU novelizations published at the same time, meaning there were two different series under that umbrella on the shelves then. Fans of the TV series who accidentally read this book were probably surprised at the intense violence the "Kung Fu Monk-Master" perpetrates upon his opponents.

Victor Mace, a kung fu badass, is on assignment for the CIA in Ottawa, Canada, where he is to discover how the Red Chinese are sneaking their agents into North America. That's not what the book is about, however, as the Chinese commies are planning to release a deadly virus along the east coast of the United States that will kill hundreds of thousands of Americans. The trail leads Mace from Ottawa, where he eliminates a couple of dozen enemies inside the Chinese embassy there, to a commercial ice plant just outside Buffalo, New York, where Mace massacres a few dozen more rednecks. And that's not even mentioning the many gunmen, assassins and Red Chinese agents he beats the asses of elsewhere.

Like Ninja Master Wade Barker, Mace sometimes dresses in ninja garb and uses weaponry such as shurikens to slice up his opponents, but I get more of a Shang-Chi vibe than Sho Kosugi from him. He mostly just fights hand-to-hand without any gimmicks, and certainly doesn't rely on swordplay to cut his opponents in half like the Ninja Master did. THE YEAR OF THE RAT is an action-packed little novel, and like many of these trashy paperbacks I've been reading, would make a great exploitation movie. I'm really surprised that no producer during the 1970s optioned the Mace books or the Penetrator or the Executioner or the Ninja Master and made a movie based on one of their stories (there was a Destroyer movie in the '80s starring Fred Ward as Remo Williams, but it was not a hit).

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sweet Revenge

This book reads like a lawsuit waiting to happen, but the series continued, so I guess either nobody read this Manor book or nobody cared. Imagine this novel coming out in 1975--one year after DEATH WISH became one of the country's most talked-about films. It's a novel about a white-collar liberal named Bronson, whose wife and children are raped and murdered by street thugs. Out of rage and frustration, after the killers are set free by the courts, Bronson becomes a vigilante, stocking up on weapons and hitting the cold, dark streets night after night, looking to kill the killers of his family.

Oh, sure, the city is Cincinnati, not New York, and the protagonist's name is Richard, not Charles, Bronson, but DEATH WISH was certainly the blueprint for this violent urban thriller. The major exception is that this Bronson is certainly no hero. While DEATH WISH made sure its star, Charles Bronson as architect Paul Kersey, killed only people who deserved it, the Bronson of BLIND RAGE isn't so accommodating. He kills anyone who stands between him and vengeance, even if they happen to be innocent bystanders or just accidentally in his way. The body count in the book is quite high, though it seems like just over half of the victims actually had it coming.

Bronson discovers the leaders of the toughs who slaughtered his family, twins named Bennie and Bernie, have skipped the Queen City and headed towards Sacramento. With his new lover, a 17-year-old Latina named Teresa, in tow, Bronson follows them to California, stopping off for awhile in Nevada to pick up some expensive new weaponry and learn how to use it effectively. When he isn't shooting people, Bronson can be quite vicious for a guy who never hurt a fly until a few weeks ago. He ties one woman to her bed, nude, pours kerosene on her, and holds a match to her pubic hair to set her afire. One victim he ties down and fastens cages of hungry rats around his head and hand. You certainly wouldn't see that in a DEATH WISH movie.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Wrong Time To Be Right

Yes, I know it's been a long time since I last reviewed an episode of THE ROCKFORD FILES.

”Sleight of Hand” is one of THE ROCKFORD FILES’ darkest episodes. It opens with Jim Rockford (James Garner) forlornly wandering the beach, reacting to flashes of a dead girl lying in the surf surrounded by a crowd, and it ends on a very tough note. It also happens to be one of the series’ best episodes.

The episode is based on THIN AIR, a 1948 novel by Howard Browne, an author, editor and screenwriter of dozens of films and television shows. If the plot seems familiar, it may be that you’ve seen one of the many TV adaptations of THIN AIR, authorized or otherwise. Reportedly, Browne sold the rights to his novel to Universal, which recycled it several times as scripts for their television series. In addition to THE ROCKFORD FILES, THIN AIR was also the basis of episodes of JIGSAW, SIMON & SIMON and others. Ironically, SIMON & SIMON co-star Gerald McRaney may have experienced déjà vu when he starred in his episode, also titled “Thin Air” and co-written by Browne, because he plays a supporting role in “Sleight of Hand.”

For the last six months, Rockford has been in a serious relationship with Karen Mills (Pat Delaney), a divorcee with a three-year-old daughter. Returning home late one night after a weekend car trip to San Francisco, Jim sends Karen ahead to unlock the front door of her house, while he carries the little girl inside. But by the time he reaches the foyer, Karen is gone. Without a trace. And without her keys or purse. How could she have vanished so quickly? Jim was right behind her. He calls his police detective friend Becker (Joe Santos) for help, but Becker’s lieutenant, Diehl (Tom Atkins), thinks Rockford killed the woman somewhere between Frisco and West Hollywood.

Garner is great in the episode, showing more depth than he usually was asked to do in this usually light crime drama. While he’s still perfectly natural doggedly following the clues or wisecracking his way past the bad guys, Rockford’s personal stake in the mystery means Garner is more sober than usual. This is borne out in his scenes with Noah Beery Jr. as Rockford’s father, who feels his son’s pain and tries to help bring some closure, as well as his encounter with McRaney as an officious hotel clerk, who is reluctantly bullied for pertinent information, even though Rockford realizes he’s stepping over the line.

Guest star Lara Parker was one of the loveliest actresses working in ‘70s TV, and is likely best known for her run as Catherine Collins on the cult daytime serial DARK SHADOWS.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Nightmare Is Knowing You're Sane

A sane person locked away in an insane asylum is a tried-and-true thriller plot that even popped up as a two-part episode of THE ROCKFORD FILES. When the subject is a woman, it gives you a chance to basically make a women-in-prison movie, but without the prison. That's basically how Hikmet Avedis' 1979 sleazefest THE FIFTH FLOOR is structured--as a good ol' WIP.

Kelly (Dianne Hull) is a waitress at a discotheque who contracts strychnine poisoning and collapses in convulsions on the dance floor. Her doctor, believing she tried to commit suicide after a fight with her boyfriend Ronnie (John David Carson), assigns her 72 hours on the hospital's fifth floor, where the psychiatric patients are locked away. There she makes friends with a wide variety of wackos and tries to fend off the malevolent advances of perverted orderly Carl (top-billed Bo Hopkins).

It's not a very good movie, but it does offer standard WIP fare, including two creepy shower/bath scenes and full-frontal nudity. The script is by Meyer Dolinsky, who wrote a ton of TV episodes (including STAR TREK's silly "Plato's Stepchildren") and doesn't seem to have spent much time polishing the plotholes out of this one. It seems as though the medical staff, which includes nurse Julie Adams (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON) and shrink Mel Ferrer (THE SUN ALSO RISES), would have to be pretty dim to disbelieve Kelly's normal mental state, and even after the police learn that Kelly did not attempt suicide after all, no one moves very quickly to get her released.

Still, you have to love this down-and-out cast, which also includes Patti D'Arbanville, Robert Englund (who does a Dracula impression), Sharon Farrell, Anthony James and Earl Boen. A young Alan Silvestri (BEOWULF) composed the rotten disco score, which sounds like it belongs to an episode of B.A.D. CATS. We can thank Edward L. Montoro's Film Ventures International for this movie.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Death Is Rotting Your Guts

The Enforcer is Alex Jason, a journalist and novelist who suffers from terminal stomach cancer. With only six painful months of life remaining in his disease-ravaged body, Jason is approached, via hologram, by the mysterious Mortimer J. Flack, a highly placed representative of the John Anryn Institute (I believe the name is a take on Ayn Rand, whose Objectivist philosophy is somewhat echoed in the novel). Flack offers Jason two additional years of pain-free life by transferring his mind into a newly created clone body. In return, Jason must work for the Institute as an agent and sometimes assassin.

The catch is that each clone body lasts for only ninety days. At first, one side of the body goes numb, blind and lifeless, then the other side. Ultimately, the body melts down into a blob of ick, during which time the brain is still functioning and the subject is aware of its hideous breakdown. However, the mind can be easily transferred into a new clone body as long as the old one still lives (by the way, the body is not a clone of Jason; rather, he receives a different-looking and sized body each time). As THE ENFORCER, #1 in Andrew Sugar's series opens, the human mind can only handle eight transfers (hence, Jason's two-year reprieve); on the ninth, retardation and/or senility begins to occur.

At 222 pages, THE ENFORCER, published by Lancer Books in 1973, is longer than most of these paperbacks, but it does have to fill in Jason's origin before it can dive into its plot. Jason is given a Latin body for his first mission, which is to storm the beach of a Caribbean island and use a super-powerful laser rifle to shoot and destroy an oil rig anchored fifteen miles off-shore. The laser has unlimited range, but is limited to only fourteen shots; on the fifteenth, it self-destructs, and you don't want to be holding it when it does.

However, Jason is captured soon after arriving and is held captive by a gay Latin germophobe general named O'Brien (!), who spends a month torturing Jason, believing him to be an agent of the CIA. Eventually, Jason is rescued by the Institute, who tosses him into a new mission, which is to penetrate a nearby laboratory where evil scientists are turning children into plants!

THE ENFORCER is quite lively and doesn't go overboard with its crazy science fiction elements, providing just the right level of audaciousness. Perhaps there's a little too much story, though there's no doubt a kickass movie could be made from this material. It's one of the best men's adventure paperbacks I've tackled so far, and I'm looking forward to reading the rest. I own six of Sugar's seven Enforcer novels. The cover is awesome too, even though no bikini girls accompany the Enforcer on his mission.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Two Tough Cops

A double dose of head-crackin', six-shootin' action today. First off is DEATH ON THE DOCKS, #2 in Warner Books' Dirty Harry series, which, obviously, was based on the character played by Clint Eastwood in DIRTY HARRY, MAGNUM FORCE and THE ENFORCER (SUDDEN IMPACT was released in 1983, two years after DEATH ON THE DOCKS was published). Twelve original Dirty Harry novels were written, six of those by Ric Meyers.

Meyers did not, however, pen DEATH ON THE DOCKS, and who knows who did (all the paperbacks were credited to "Dane Hartman"). It's an okay but not great book with too many annoying out-of-character situations. For instance, Harry fancies himself a master of disguise and dons a wig, mustache and loud clothes to track a suspect in a bar. That is just something Dirty Harry would not do, and if you've seen the execrable PINK CADILLAC, you know Clint Eastwood shouldn't do it either.

DEATH never lives up to its brutal opening, as two professional hitmen invade the home of a prospective union leader the night before the election and murders his entire family, including two small children, in graphic detail. Inspector Harry Callahan gets the case, and even though he knows the killers must have been employed by the victim's opponent, Bull Ryan, or--more than likely--Ryan's string-puller, the former union boss, Matt Braxton, how can Harry prove it?

He does it by making a pain in the ass of himself, following Braxton around and earning the wrath of his superiors in the department, who may be on the crime boss' payroll. After a few shootouts, Callahan manages to arrest Braxton, but the villain jumps bail and heads to the Caribbean, where Harry follows after taking a vacation from work and gathering his disguise.

I think I may have solved a mystery of sorts through reading 1974's THE SNIPER, the first of Leisure Books' series of Ryker procedurals about a tough New York City cop named Sergeant Joe Ryker. Before I get to that, the Ryker books are notable for their author: Nelson DeMille. Before DeMille was a best-selling author of thrillers like THE GENERAL'S DAUGHTER and GOLD COAST, he was churning out these paperback quickies under the name Jack Cannon. I've seen covers using the Cannon pseudonym, though my paperback appears to be an original, judging from the copyright info, so I'm confused as to when and why the Cannon name was used.

What's really interesting is that, at least twice, I noticed proofreading slipups in which the name "Blaze" was substituted for "Ryker." Is it possible that DeMille was actually "Robert Novak," and that THE SNIPER was supposed to be part of the Super Cop Joe Blaze series? Both are tough, corrupt NYPD sergeants named Joe. THE SNIPER, while not great, mainly due to its cynicism and misogyny (which continue to haunt DeMille's writing to this day), is much better written than the hacked-out THE BIG PAYOFF, though the coincidence is too close to dismiss. Maybe when I read additional Blaze and Ryker books, I'll be able to make a definitive decision.

Ryker and his partner Arthur Hayes are on the trail of a Tennessee-born sniper named Homer Cyrus, who learned to shoot in Vietnam and is now targeting young blond women from the rooftops of New York. The mystery isn't much, as it doesn't take Ryker long to learn the killer's identity. Obviously influenced by THE FRENCH CONNECTION (as I think the Super Cop Joe Blaze books are), THE SNIPER presents a "hero" who sleeps with hookers, treats everyone around him rudely, and even beats the shit out of an innocent civilian on the theory it may lure Cyrus out of hiding. Not a pleasant guy to spend time with, if he were real, though not between paperback pages either.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Turkeys Away

Yes, I'm fully aware that this will appear on 3000 blogs today, but it's too funny and too perfect to not use. It's the famous turkey-dropping scene from the "Turkeys Away" episode of WKRP IN CINCINNATI, originally broadcast on CBS in the fall of 1978.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Mark Of The Demon

Jonah Hex is one of the great non-superhero comic book characters, and an excellent bargain is DC Comics' trade paperback SHOWCASE PRESENTS JONAH HEX, VOLUME 1, which presents more than 500 pages of ALL-STAR WESTERN and WEIRD WESTERN TALES issues from the 1970s. Sure, they're in black-and-white, but that keeps the cost down (to well under $20), and this particular series looks fine in b&w anyway. Hex was created by writer John Albano and artist Tony DeZuniga in ALL-STAR WESTERN #10, and was the recipient of many sharp, gritty, action-packed adventures penned by Albano and, later, Michael Fleisher (who is still likely best known for his work on Hex and The Spectre in ADVENTURE COMICS around this same time).

The Comic Treadmill today has a fine post on Jonah Hex, coming from a comic-book fan just noticing Hex for the first time.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Potpourri For $200, Alex

A few points to make during this post, since I have been away from here for a few days. First off, Mr. Whipple passed away at age 91.

Mr. Whipple was actually a fine actor named Dick Wilson, who appeared in tons of television guest shots over the years, usually in sitcoms playing either a fussy man or a drunk. I grew up with Mr. Whipple, and I think I was off to college by the time he stopped squeezing the damn Charmin in commercials. The story goes that Charmin gave Wilson a lifetime supply of toilet paper, and for all he did to brand that company and make its name in the public eye, he surely deserved it.

For some reason, the Washington Post did a fairly lengthy article on MANNIX, the fine private-eye series that debuted on CBS in 1967--forty years ago. I didn't realize MANNIX had such a rabid fanbase, though I watched it religiously on TV Land back in the '90s. It's a terrific show that needs a DVD release. Since CBS/Paramount seems to be having success with its MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE season sets (Season 3 is out this week), perhaps they'll put MANNIX out there too.

Waiting on my front porch today was a large box filled with more trashy mens' adventure paperbacks. Including postage, the books were 50 cents apiece--80 for $40--so how could I say no? I'm running out of places to stack them. Yikes. I'll have another review up soon. I actually read John Whitlatch's THE JUDAS GOATS, but I decided not to review it. Coming up is the first of six Dirty Harry novels I own. Yep, Warner Books released a dozen or so Dirty Harry novels in the early 1980s, just before SUDDEN IMPACT came out.

I'm having bad luck with my new leather jacket. I bought it online from Casual Male XL, but it was a size too big. So I took it back to the store here in Champaign for an exchange. They didn't have any in stock, so I had to turn the jacket in for a refund, then go home and reorder the jacket in a smaller size on the Web site. I don't know why I couldn't order a new one at the store, but anyway. The real problem is that they "couldn't" refund my money right away, even though I used a debit card to pay for it. It seems as though it would be easy to replace the money in my account within a day or so, but, no, it takes two "billing cycles," which means it could be up to a month before I get my refund.

So I have now paid for two leather jackets. However, Friday night, the damn zipper got all jammed up, so I had to take the second jacket back too. For some reason, they told me at the store that they would take the jacket back, and Casual Male XL would mail me a new one in two days time--actually Friday, because of the Thanksgiving holiday. If they could take back a damaged jacket and send a replacement right away, why couldn't they do the same with a jacket that was the wrong size? At least that one, they could have resold right there--hung it up on the rack--because there's nothing wrong with it.

Time to watch CHUCK.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

He's My Favorite Honky

There's no way I can explain in words just how popular Steve Martin was in the late 1970s. And if this video doesn't explain it for you, then I'm afraid you'll never get it.

In 1978, Martin's album A WILD AND CRAZY GUY was on every kid's record player. It won the Grammy for Best Comedy Album, sold more than 2 million copies, and remains the last comedy album to reach as high as #2 on the Billboard pop chart. And everyone was singing along with "King Tut," which was a Top 40 hit that summer.

This clip is from an episode of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE that Martin guest-hosted. His band, The Toot Uncommons, played on the record, but I don't know if they're also playing in this clip or if it's the SNL house band.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Eee Oh Ele...Uh...Thirteen

Watching OCEAN'S 13 tonight, it occurred to me that I don't remember a damn thing about OCEAN'S 12 or OCEAN'S 11. Or the original Rat Pack OCEAN'S 11, for that matter. Truth is, I have stronger feelings towards MAUDLIN'S 11 than those other films. But that's as it should be. After all, they were made as frothy romps, and if I was still thinking about them a week later, they really wouldn't be doing their job.

OCEAN'S 13, now out on DVD, is pretty much the same old same old, but very skillfully done by director Steven Soderbergh, who receives tremendous support from composer David Holmes, who delivers a deliciously jaunty score. To get back on a mean hotel magnate who cheats trusting Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) out of his fortune, causing Reuben to suffer a stroke, Danny Ocean (George Clooney) pulls his caper team back together for revenge. The hotelier, Willie Bank (Al Pacino), is holding the grand opening of his new Vegas casino on July 3, and Ocean means to bankrupt him by, among other things, staging an earthquake on the premises.

The first half-hour or so is way too complicated for its own good. Or maybe I should say "confusing," because complicated doesn't have to mean "difficult to follow." Eventually, the screenplay starts to settle down, and you get a fix on the caper, but Soderbergh and his writers, David Levien and Brian Koppleman, have a lot of characters to juggle...I count at least seventeen major characters.

Frankly, no matter what happens in OCEAN'S 13, it's hard to pass up a movie with this cast. You've got Clooney and Brad Pitt and Matt Damon and Pacino and Ellen Barkin (reunited from SEA OF LOVE) and Andy Garcia and Elliott Gould (still wearing those huge fucking glasses) and Carl Reiner and Bernie Mac and Don Cheadle. Casey Affleck and Scott Caan are, again, very funny as bickering brothers. Eddie Izzard and Vincent Cassel are back. Julian Sands. David Paymer is here. It was incredible to see Bob Einstein, of all people, being hilarious as usual. Everyone wears nice clothes and engages in witty banter and nobody gets hurt, not even Pacino really.

No One Stops Hangman

Avon Books' Killsquad series is basically a more violent version of THE DIRTY DOZEN (which actually was a novel before the 1967 movie). In the first book, COUNTER ATTACK, former CIA operative John Smith (aka The Hangman) put together a squad of six Death Row inmates to go on a suicide mission. Among them were bloodthirsty German Schnell, one-eyed murderer Williams, Florida fisherman Jackson (who was actually innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted), racist White, ex-boxer Walker and Harlem hitman Barnes.

Somehow, the Killsquad survived its first three missions, and book #4, 1987's THE JUDAS SOLDIERS, finds them going up against one of the Hangman's old rivals: a fellow ex-CIA paramilitary operative named Ty Barber, who was jettisoned from the Company after plowing down dozens of innocent civilians, including children, in El Salvador. To get revenge, Barber has kidnapped a pair of scientists and forced them to concoct Strain X, an incredible virus he plans to dump into the United States' water supply. To test its power, he uses it to wipe out an entire Iowa town.

Smith and Killsquad have less than 48 hours to find Barber and stop his insidious plot, which leads them all the way to South America, where they are ambushed by vicious Incas whose taste for blood leads them to gut their victims and pin their intestines to the walls of their huts to warn intruders away.

Much shooting and killing (and graphic descriptions of various firearms) fill THE JUDAS SOLDIERS, which is credited to author Frank Garrett, but who is actually Dan Schmidt, a writer with more than sixty books on his resume. It's very right-wing with all its racially charged dialogue and emphasis on brutal action, but the characters are quite dull. In fact, they're all so similar that they seem to be speaking with the same voice. Except the black-hating ex-Klansman, of course, though all the prisoners get along together much more smoothly than you would think.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Death On The Water

In Mark Roberts' (writing as Lionel Derrick) CRUISE INTO CHAOS, we learn a bit of the Penetrator's backstory. Orphaned at a young age (his mother was a Cheyenne), Mark Hardin grew up in a series of foster homes, one belonging to a Mafia don who was blown up on his front lawn. He played football at UCLA on a scholarship, then served two terms in 'Nam, where he was wounded three times--once by members of a lucrative black-market ring that beat him nearly to death after he exposed them.

After leaving the Army, Hardin ended up in the Stronghold, the secret dream home of a retired USC professor named Willard Haskins, which was located underground inside an abandoned borax mine. A "Batcave" of sorts, it became a headquarters from which Hardin could battle organized crime using up-to-date weaponry, vehicles and other technological gadgetry, such as the artificial fingerprints on the tips of his realistic-looking skin-tight gloves.

Hardin also got married, but his wife, Donna, was murdered in a car accident arranged by a Mafia chieftain named Pietro Scarelli. Hardin destroyed Scarellio and his operation, and the Penetrator was born. Only a handful of men knew the Penetrator's identity and headquarters, including Haskins and David Red Eagle, a Cheyenne medicine man who provided Hardin's physical and mental training.

In the Penetrator's 39th mission, published in 1980, he goes undercover to Portland, Oregon as a Detroit hitman named Dolphins Bonelli to crack a case of international piracy. Don Francello Conti has acquired an actual 1940 German U-boat, which his gang uses to prowl beneath the Pacific Ocean surface and hunt cruise ships carrying wealthy passengers. The sub surfaces, Conti's men board the ship, rob it, and then sink it using torpedoes.

Hardin blows his cover about halfway through the novel and has to beat feet across a burning desert dressed only in his briefs and a pair of fresh rabbit pelts fashioned into moccasins. Author Roberts really packs a lot of plot into CRUISE, as the Penetrator manages to rent an authentic B-25 bomber, which he uses to destroy the Mafia's Mexican U-boat pen, and then hide away on a cruise ship targeted for Conti's last score.

With new plot angles popping up every few pages, CRUISE INTO CHAOS keeps up its fast pace, while opening up Hardin's character to give him more dimension than most paperback heroes. George Wilson painted the cover.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Death Prowled The City

The retro cover of D. Gunther Wilde's CLAWS is kind of interesting, though more fitting for a book published in 1958, rather than 1978. In fact, I suspect the screaming woman was probably ganked from an older cover, and a new artist added the (too large) claw and the tear lines (though I don't understand how the claw could be "ripping" air!). I also suspect "D. Gunther Wilde" doesn't exist, though he/she seems to have written some erotic paperbacks and an article for a 1974 ESCAPADE. There appears to be virtually no mention of CLAWS anywhere online...which, as you may have noticed, is a big place...making the Leisure book somewhat obscure.

And probably deservedly so, as it really isn't very good. There is no mystery involved, as we know right from the ad blurb who the killer is: "killer cats." New York City is plagued with a series of several dozen extremely brutal murders in which the corpses are found torn, ripped and clawed up, usually without faces. The coroner can't figure out how they were killed, as none of the victims were shot, stabbed, strangled, poisoned, etc. All were killed outside very late at night with no one nearby hearing a sound. Not only can the cops not figure out what weapon was used, how were the victims killed so ferociously without even defending themselves?

Young policewoman Darcy Ryan thinks she knows, but sexism and youthism has left her riding a desk, instead of cruising in a patrol car. She doesn't know how or why, but she's pretty sure New York's massive contingent of stray cats is causing the deaths. Of course, her superiors would never believe her (not that they have any better leads), so she takes a few weeks leave and teams up with her boyfriend Tully to creep around the subway tunnels looking for clues. And what does a mean old homeless woman named Dirty Gertie have to do with anything? Indeed.

The concept of killer kitty cats is absurd, and CLAWS, despite passages describing the brutal mauling of the victims and their hideous remains, doesn't do a whole lot to dispel the notion. It suffers from too few characters and no interestingly drawn ones. And the ending doesn't make any sense; once the human villain is dispatched (in a predictable but implausible manner), CLAWS implies that the cat killings are over, but I don't see why they would be (though Wilde leaves it open for a possible sequel).

CLAWS was written during the late 1970s, after JAWS had created a cottage industry of films and novels about wild animals on a rampage killing people. I don't remember any others about cats. For obvious reasons.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


What's fun about watching old reruns is consistently being surprised by a familiar-looking actor early in his or her career, before he or she became famous. I've been watching weekly airings of LOU GRANT on the American Life network, which is basically what TV Land used to be back when it was fresh and exciting. Except American Life isn't fresh or exciting. What it is, however, is a terrific showcase of good old television series, such as COMBAT!, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, LOST IN SPACE, THE RAT PATROL, I SPY, THE FBI, 77 SUNSET STRIP, 12 O'CLOCK HIGH, BATMAN, THE GREEN HORNET, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, MAVERICK, CHEYENNE, CHINA BEACH, LAWMAN, CHICO AND THE MAN and several others. Not all of the shows I just mentioned are presently on American Life's schedule, but they have been. The network is clearly aimed at codgers--the constant commercials for life insurance, vitamins, scooters and hearing aids being the best clue--but it far outpaces other cable networks in terms of providing a home for classic television.

At any rate, LOU GRANT was a very successful CBS series that debuted in 1977, and was a spinoff of the recently canceled MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. The concept was that the Lou Grant character (Edward Asner), who was fired in the MTM finale, moved to Los Angeles to become the city editor of the Tribune newspaper. I think it's the only time in network TV history that a sitcom character spun off into a serious hour drama. While it had humor, LOU GRANT was essentially a drama that used its journalism setting to explore social and human interest issues of the era. It was nominated for an astonishing 56 Emmy Awards in its five seasons and won thirteen of them, as well as Peabody Awards, Humanitas Awards and pretty much anything else you can imagine. I wouldn't be surprised if it won a blue ribbon at a 4-H fair.

I have done a helluva lotta rambling, just to tell you that a LOU GRANT I saw recently, "Nazi," featured Peter Weller and Brian Dennehy as guest stars. By 1977, neither actor was known at all by audiences, though each had done some supporting parts in series and TV-movies. Weller had a great guest role--the kind you don't see a lot in today's glut of cop shows with large ensemble casts--as Stryker, the leader of an L.A. neo-Nazi group that breaks up a Jewish ceremony in a public part. While researching a news story about the organization, reporter Billie Newman (Linda Kelsey) discovers that Stryker's real name is Sturner...and that he's Jewish. Dennehy plays Stryker's number-two in a nuanced performance that suggests his character's essential loneliness; you can tell--without being told--that he was the fat kid in school who was picked on and joined the Nazi party to find acceptance.

It is obvious from "Nazi" that both young actors had the stuff to become successful actors, particularly Weller, who is very convincing playing a range of emotions. Casting agents must have noticed, because both men worked steadily in TV and films from then on. And still do.

A Credit To The Force

Signet's Decoy series revolved around Nick Merlotti, a charismatic thief and master of disguise who enjoyed a high-profile career that included taunting the police after another daring ripoff. Several years after "The Great Pretender"'s last caper, he reappears to rob a bank, but is busted. A cop named Duffy (an old acquaintance of Merlotti's) and an assistant district attorney named Passantino offer Merlotti a deal: go to work for them, kinda like Robert Wagner in IT TAKES A THIEF.

$5 million in heroin vanished from a police evidence locker shortly before a major trial, and Duffy believes the cops involved are on mobster Louie Gianfreddo's pad. To avoid jail, Merlotti agrees to work undercover and ingratiate himself into Gianfreddo's organization to find the drugs and ferret out the dirty cops. He is teamed with a mysterious black electronics expert named Mr. Waves, who appears to have made the same type of deal with Duffy and Passantino that Merlotti did.

Told in first person, 1974's THE GREAT PRETENDER, the first in the Decoy series, is not terribly interesting, but I can't say that I hated it. Although he's supposed to be a disguise artist, Merlotti doesn't really do anything like that in the book, nor does he do any stealing or Rockfordesque scamming. I don't even know why the series is called Decoy, because the word or name never appears in the book, and the hero doesn't do any decoying.

I have at least one more Decoy book that I'll give a chance to. There's nothing really wrong with THE GREAT PRETENDER. But there's not a lot right with it either. Besides the cover, of course.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

I Want Camellion Dead

In Joseph Rosenberger's MANHATTAN WIPEOUT, #11 in Pinnacle Books' Death Merchant series, the godfather of New York City's most powerful mob family, Salvatore Giordano, has put out a contract on the Death Merchant's life. Giordano had a supporting role in the previous novel, THE MAINLINE PLOT, and MANHATTAN WIPEOUT is basically a direct sequel, as Richard "Death Merchant" Camellion continues to battle the same mobsters. As such, it's also quite repetitive, as most of the book finds the Death Merchant mowing down dozens of Italians with a variety of firearms--none of them as far out as MAINLINE PLOT's Blaster, a 3000-shot submachine gun that fired explosive bullets. Rosenberger doesn't stint on the gore, as mobsters lose their faces, arms, legs to Camellion's gunfire. I even learned where the perineum is located on the human body, as one of the Death Merchant's .357 Magnum slugs penetrates one belonging to some unlucky bastard.

Even though MANHATTAN WIPEOUT felt like "same ol' same ol'" on the heels of MAINLINE PLOT, it's still a decent, violent pageturner that you can kill in a night or two. Later entries take the Death Merchant into more far-fetched plots that sound more appealing, including a journey into the jungle to battle an ex-Nazi and an adventure in Africa where he must fight clones of himself!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Wanna Play?

If MAXIM had produced ENTER THE DRAGON using futuristic CGI, this ridiculous PG-13 action movie might have resulted. With noted Hong Kong action director Corey Yuen, who made the marvelous SO CLOSE, putting sexy American girls in skimpy clothing through some skillfully choreographed kung fu paces, it seems as though DOA: DEAD OR ALIVE couldn’t miss. And it doesn’t for the most part, at least for what it is, which is a brainless action flick based on a video game. However, I prefer my martial arts without CGI, which throws the action too far over the top into Cartoonland for my tastes.

Pro wrestler Tina (Jaime Pressly, an Emmy winner for MY NAME IS EARL), Japanese princess Kasumi (Devon Aoki, 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS), master thief Christie (Holly Valance, PRISON BREAK) and Helena (Sarah Carter, SHARK), whose father invented the tournament, are summoned to the private island of Dr. Donovan (badass Eric Roberts, sporting some incredibly thick hair) to participate in DOA—a round-robin winner-take-all martial-arts tournament. In between bouts, which Donovan announces at random intervals, Christie and her lover Max (Matthew Marsden) plot to steal the $10 million prize money for themselves, while Kasumi searches for her missing brother, who was presumed killed during last year’s tournament. Meanwhile, Donovan (obviously, since Eric Roberts plays him) engineers his devilish plan to hijack the best fighters’ kung fu skills and beam them into his body—sort of like taking their “quickening,” I suppose.

It’s fast, it’s loud, and it features a lot of very hot women fighting in bikinis. That makes DOA about as close to critic-proof as a movie can get, and you probably already know if it’s something you want to see. I wish the film had gone much farther. It’s all tease and empty style without any kind of edge. The plot is kinda crazy, but not all that crazy, and a more audacious approach and actresses willing to do nudity probably would have resulted in a better movie—think SWITCHBLADE SISTERS or INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS. Dimension barely dumped it into U.S. theaters, long after it had already played in foreign markets, but I don’t know why they were so down on it. Its premise and slick marketing should have been able to draw an audience.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Best And Worst Cop In New York

Perhaps, but definitely one of the shittiest books in or out of New York. Belmont Tower Books published at least three Joe Blaze novels--maybe at the same time, because I can't believe 1974's THE BIG PAYOFF, the first of the series, sold many copies. The plot is extremely simple and thin, the characters despicable, and the action routine. If some television writer turned this in to KOJAK, he'd be kicked out on the street. Hell, this wouldn't even make it into the BERT D'ANGELO/SUPERSTAR offices.

So, what I'm trying to say is that Super Cop Joe Blaze really sucks. Obviously, he's a pissed-off lone-wolf type of homicide detective. Whether he's also a drunk and a burnout, who knows, because author Robert Novak doesn't provide enough characterization for us to find out anything about anyone. There isn't even a "big" payoff in the book; merely a small one that leads to an inconsequential subplot that exists only to pad the word count and get this paperback up to 173 dumb pages.

Blaze is called in to investigate a "sex killer" after a prostitute is found raped and stabbed in her apartment. The mystery angle is barely there, as Blaze and his partner Ed Nuthall fairly quickly discover the murderer's identity by following some simple clues. Nearly thirty pages are left when he's apprehended, so, of course, the "bleeding heart" judge lets out a guy indicted on nine murder charges on $1000 bail (suurrrrrre, he does), just so Novak can have the dude attack another woman. One shootout, a car chase and two massive fistfights fill the action quotient, but none of it is suspenseful or imaginative.

The question remains as to whether or not the author is also the prominent Washington pundit. The book is certainly right-wing and simpleminded enough to be him.