Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Remo Who?

Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir's unique blend of right-wing fantasy and tongue-in-cheek parody continues in UNION BUST (Pinnacle, 1973), the seventh book in the highly acclaimed Destroyer paperback series. CURE head Harold Smith sends Remo and Chiun to Chicago to investigate a possible new superunion that would put all the transportation unions—from truck drivers to cargo ships—under one umbrella. Meaning that a strike would inevitably cripple the world's economy. That isn't in America's best interests, in Smith's opinion, so Remo becomes the Teamsters' new recording secretary to get closer to charismatic new union president Eugene Jethro. His headquarters are located inside a mysterious new skyscraper that was built in just two months by contractors who have mysteriously disappeared.

The fun of UNION BUST comes in the man behind Jethro, who turns out to be Nuihc (!), Chiun's nephew whom the old Korean trained in the days before he hooked up with Remo. Not quite an evil twin, but Murphy and Sapir seem to be taking a swipe at the old "enemy from the past" chestnut. I'm still not completely sold on the violence that often leaves innocent bystanders just as dead as the bad guys; Smith orders the assassination of an innocent physician he recruited to save Remo's life, in order to protect CURE's identity. It's a tricky tone that the authors are shooting for. It's more than action with a dash of humor, but not exactly action/comedy either. The Destroyer books definitely stand out from the novels they're spoofing, such as the Executioner and Penetrator series, which are played dead serious.

UNION BUST is entertainingly written, but an acquired taste. Considering the enormous number of Destroyer books written over the decades, the franchise is certainly more than just a cult favorite though.

Mystery Of The Playboy's Mistress

Casey Kasem voices this 1981 promo for NBC's Friday night lineup. HARPER VALLEY was a spinoff of the shockingly popular HARPER VALLEY P.T.A. feature film, which was, obviously, based on Jeannie C. Riley's hit country song of 1968. Barbara Eden looks incredibly beautiful in it. George Gobel, not so much.

Then, it's THE BRADY GIRLS GET MARRIED. And Lee Horsley (MATT HOUSTON) and William Conrad (CANNON) in NERO WOLFE, which I liked.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Random Comic Book Splash Page #18


MYSTERY IN SPACE was one of DC Comics' most exciting anthology titles of the Silver Age. Edited by Julius Schwartz and primarily written by Gardner Fox and John Broome, its science fiction tales felt as though they came right out of the pulps of the 1930s. Which they well may have been, considering that Fox and Broome were extremely intelligent, well-read men with much experience penning sci-fi novels and short stories.

My favorite MIS feature is Adam Strange, not just because of the imaginative Fox plots, but especially due to the gorgeous artwork of Carmine Infantino, who was inked on "The Spaceman Who Fought Himself" by the equally great Murphy Anderson. In general, Infantino isn't one of my favorite pencilers, but his Adam Strange stories are always sleek and exciting, and his rendering of Adam's wife Alanna made her one of the sexiest women in comics.

This Fox/Infantino/Anderson page is from MYSTERY IN SPACE #74, cover date March 1962.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Best Burger In The Whole Wide World

Robert Richardson and I think a young Patrick Swayze appears briefly in this 1978 Burger King ad. What do you think? Look closely at the 26-second mark.

The Luck of the Irish

The Luck of the Irish
January 22, 1980
Music: Jimmie Haskell
Teleplay: Richard Bluel & Pat Fielder
Story: Richard Bluel & Pat Fielder and Thomas Joachim & Eugene Fournier
Director: Leslie H. Martinson

To get his repossessed double-wide back, Sheriff Lobo (Claude Akins) challenges crooked gambler Eddie Rico (Duncan Gamble) to a game of poker. Rico slips the surprisingly naïve Lobo a Mickey and takes some compromising photos of the sheriff with Rico's girl Vicki (Kimberly Beck). To stay out of Rico's back pocket, Lobo leans on a newly rich (or so he thinks) Perkins (Mills Watson) and the earnest Birdie (Brian Kerwin) in a scheme to get the photos back. The best gags involve Lobo, who needs Perkins' help badly, having to suck up to his deputy. Perkins, who stands to win almost $500,000 in the upcoming Irish sweepstakes, lords his almost-wealth over Lobo and stupidly runs up a bunch of credit in anticipation. Four writers created a middling MISADVENTURES OF SHERIFF LOBO episode with an unexceptional guest cast and no vehicular mayhem. Beck is better known by cult-movie audiences for her leading roles in FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER and MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Newsman’s Lot Is Not Always Happy

Adventure novelist Edward S. Aarons is best known for his long-running series about globetrotting American spy Sam Durell, but he also penned many other pulp mysteries during his long career. NO PLACE TO LIVE, originally published in 1947 under his Edward Ronns pseudonym, is a nifty old-school mystery that even offers the tried-and-true gimmick of compiling the long list of suspects in a living room before pointing out the guilty party.

Aarons' hero is no detective, but Jerry Benedict, a political cartoonist for a New York City newspaper. Working the police beat temporarily while the regular guy is no vacation, Jerry sticks his nose into the case of a mobster named Frank Hamilton, whose mutilated body is fished out of the harbor. Although Hamilton's acquaintances positively identify the body, Jerry has his doubts—which are affirmed when he stumbles upon the real corpse in a dark apartment.

The key to the mystery lies in a different apartment—the one in which Hamilton was living when he died and the one that suspects are literally lining up to rent. Figuring there must be a clue or two inside, Jerry pulls some sleight of hand to nail down the lease and look around. Of course, a beautiful woman is involved as well. Stephanie Farley is one of many Hamilton acquaintances willing to woo or threaten Jerry into turning over the apartment, including a spacey actress, a shady doctor, and a South American who once tortured Jerry in one of Castro's prison camps (I wonder if Aarons ever told this story in an earlier book).

NO PLACE TO LIVE moves quickly and smartly through 160 pages with violence, intrigue, and good humor, courtesy of the wisecracking Jerry. It's the first non-Durell Aarons novel I've read and a good one. My paperback is a 1964 reprinting by MacFadden Books. The cover, while accurate, is not the most exciting.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Read All About Earl Owensby

North Carolina filmmaker Earl Owensby, whose 1979 horror pic WOLFMAN I wrote about here, is profiled on page 12 of the June 1981 issue of BOXOFFICE.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Incomparable Enforcer Of Good

Take sixty seconds out of your day to watch these promos for WONDER WOMAN and HOGAN'S HEROES that aired on Rochester, New York's WUHF-TV, Channel 31, in 1981.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Random Comic Book Splash Page #17


Like all Atlas/Seaboard comics, THE GRIM GHOST lasted only a handful of issues, as the company folded after a little more than a year of weak sales. Despite an amazing roster of talent that included Neal Adams, Rich Buckler, Gary Friedrich, Larry Hama, Howard Chaykin, Larry Lieber, and many, many other notable comic-book writers, artists, and editors of the mid-1970s, Atlas couldn't stay afloat for many reasons (you can read them for yourself here.

The Grim Ghost was created by artist Ernie Colon and, I believe, writer Michael Fleisher, who gave us this splash page to THE GRIM GHOST #1. In a premise similar to the current TV series REAPER, the Grim Ghost was a Civil War vet who made a deal with Satan to stay alive by providing him with evil souls to populate Hell. Ol' Scratch transplanted the Ghost into 1975, where he captured evildoers and sent them downstairs.

THE GRIM GHOST lasted just three issues, but was certainly one of Atlas/Seaboard's finest titles. Colon provided the art for all three issues, which may have been a record for that company, which was notorious for turning over creative teams--and even premises--from one issue to the next.

Siege

Siege
January 19, 1980
Music: Stu Phillips
Teleplay: Michael Sloan
Story: Michael Sloan & Glen A. Larson
Director: Michael Preece

This BJ AND THE BEAR episode is Silverman-era TV at its finest. BJ's favorite truck stop is besieged by armed hoods on a night when a squad of cheerleaders known as the Panhandle Pussycats is in the joint to judge a beauty pageant. While some of the Country Comfort regulars—Bullets (Joshua Shelley), Tommy (Janet Louis Johnson), Hammer (Charles Napier)—and the local mayor (Parley Baer) are being held at gunpoint, the goons' ringleader, John Kirk (Geoffrey Lewis), takes half the cheerleader squad, last year's Miss Country Comfort (Markie Post), and BJ (Greg Evigan) in BJ's truck. Kirk's plan to split up the hostages is a good one, ensuring that if something happens to the kidnappers on one end, the other side will kill their hostages.

For a series not generally remembered for its acting, Lewis is extremely good as the hard-bitten mercenary who'll fight any war for money. Executive producer Sloan provides him and Evigan with some strong dialogue about their combat experiences that provides more backstory than almost any other BJ AND THE BEAR heavy has ever had. "Siege" is a more serious episode than usual, and even manages to generate a bit of worry concerning the hostages' well-being.

Mark Goddard (LOST IN SPACE) also guest-stars as the Pussycats' manager, and William Sylvester (GEMINI MAN) is their millionaire benefactor set up to pay the ransom. Director Preece went on to helm 63 (!) episodes of WALKER, TEXAS RANGER.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Guess Who's Fighting It Out In..?

The great Ernie Anderson voices this trailer for United Artists' asskicking action thriller VIGILANTE FORCE, which has the same plot as BUCKTOWN, which AIP released just one year earlier.

Shockingly, despite the cast, the director (George Armitage, who later made the excellent GROSSE POINTE BLANK), and the fact that it's a good movie that would be easy to sell to action fans, VIGILANTE FORCE is not on DVD. I don't think it was even on VHS, though I may be wrong about that. The version I have is recorded from a TNT telecast many years ago.

Gene Corman, brother of Roger, produced this exciting though implausible actioner that stars "dynamic young star" Jan-Michael Vincent (AIRWOLF) as a tractor salesman in a rural Southern California community that has been overrun by rowdy oil riggers that have brought violence, drunkenness, disorder, gambling and murder to the formerly quiet town. The police--at least the ones who haven't been killed by bank robbers--aren't equipped to handle the situation, so the town enlists Vincent to recruit his brother Kris Kristofferson (A STAR IS BORN), a Vietnam War veteran, to keep the peace. Kris agrees to come home and brings his war posse with him, including Shelly Novack (THE F.B.I.), Charles Cyphers (HALLOWEEN) and Carmen Argenziano (THE HOT BOX). Soon, Kris discovers that being a cop is chump change, and decides to take over the town for himself. Oh, he does his job alright. There's little crime left in town...that is, aside from his own major crime ring that pits brother against brother. The scrumptious Victoria Principal, later DALLAS' prime hottie, plays Jan's ill-fated lady.

VIGILANTE FORCE is a good movie, very well paced with plentiful action sequences and explosions. Both Kristofferson and Vincent were major Hollywood players at the time, and they perform believably as brothers. They're also often shirtless, and it's a nice change from today's movies to see action heroes built like normal human beings. No exploding pecs for these dudes.

If you pay attention, you'll see a pre-WKRP IN CINCINNATI Loni Anderson in the cast as "Peaches", along with Andrew Stevens, Brad Dexter from THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, David "Bosley" Doyle (CHARLIE'S ANGELS), Paul "You're mine for two months, Bender" Gleason (THE BREAKFAST CLUB), Antony Carbone, and Bernadette Peters.

VIGILANTE FORCE is an unassuming, straightforward action movie that deserves to be better known. My guess is that MGM owns it, so maybe there will at least be an MGM HD broadcast in the future.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Spanish Connection

I'm a little surprised it's taken me this long to get around to reading a Nick Carter novel, as it's most likely the longest running action series in the history of original paperbacks. From 1964 to 1990, a whopping 261 Nick Carter novels were published. None of them featured the author's name on the cover, since the adventures were purportedly penned by Carter himself. Since so many different authors over the years took a crack at a Carter adventure, it appears as though continuity ran a little ragged in terms of style and descriptions of the main character. Apparently, this Nick Carter, who was an American agent codenamed Killmaster, is no relation to the pulp detective that debuted in print in the 19th century, spawning several novels, movies (Walter Pidgeon played Carter), and a radio series.

THE SPANISH CONNECTION (Award, 1973) is about the 82nd Killmaster novel to be published. Carter is assigned by AXE to pick up an attractive Mexican agent, Juana, and take her to Spain, where they're to meet a Mafia druglord named Enrico Corelli. Corelli, after years of pushing hard dope, found a conscience after his college-age daughter died of a heroin overdose. He decides to turn state's evidence against the Mob and sets up a meeting with the Killmaster and Juana on a yacht off the coast of Malaga. Knowing the Mob wants him very, very dead before he can turn over microfilm containing all the details of their drug operation, Corelli makes Carter jump through all sorts of hoops to protect his health. And since nobody knows what Corelli looks like, Nick has no way of knowing which of the new friends he makes on this adventure is Corelli and which is the hitman on his trail.

Told in first person by, reportedly, author Bruce Cassiday, a pulp author of some renown who also dabbled in TV tie-ins (including a MARCUS WELBY, M.D. novel), THE SPANISH CONNECTION is a crackling good yarn short on gadgetry and pyrotechnics. It feels more like a tight private-eye yarn than a globetrotting spy adventure; actually, now that I think about it, it's similar to Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm series or Edward Aarons' Sam Durell books, but not as rich. It runs 200 pages, but feels much leaner, which is a great compliment. I understand the Killmaster series varies in quality, but this is a good one to start with. It was one of 14 (!) Carter novels published in 1973.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

My First Book. Sorta.

I've been published in magazines and newspapers and even DVD covers, but this is the first time my writing has appeared between honest-to-goodness book covers.

I wrote one chapter apiece for 101 HORROR MOVIES YOU MUST SEE BEFORE YOU DIE and 101 SCI-FI MOVIES YOU MUST SEE BEFORE YOU DIE, available now from Barron's.

For casual film fans, they really are interesting little books with colorful photos and original poster art for each film. And they're perfectly sized for the end table in your living room, so you can peruse it during commercials or when deciding what to Netflix next. I hate to say it, but they're also perfect bathroom reading with their short 300-word chapters.

For the record, I chose DRESSED TO KILL and STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN to write about. I didn't get paid, I receive no royalties, and my name only appears on the Contributors page in back (my initials appear with the articles). But it was fun, not especially hard work, and it is a kick to see my writing in print form. Thanks to editor Steven Jay Schneider for the opportunity.


Goodbye, Bird

The very fine baseball writers Rob Neyer and Joe Posnanski write about Detroit Tigers phenom Mark Fidrych, who died Monday in an accident on his Massachusetts farm. Fidrych was 54.

I don't think I can explain to anyone who wasn't a baseball fan in 1976 just how popular "The Bird" was. If I said more popular than Manny, Junior, CC, and Jeter put together, you wouldn't believe me, but it's true.

The MLB Network recently ran Fidrych's amazing MONDAY NIGHT BASEBALL start against the Yankees as a segment of its ALL-TIME GAMES series. I suspect it will be running again, so catch it if you can. It will explain better than any blog post what was so magical about The Bird.

Monday, April 13, 2009

America's Most Controversial Film

Considering return on investment, this 3D softcore flick is one of the most profitable movies ever made. Shot in nine days for under $40,000 and originally released by Sherpix in 1969, THE STEWARDESSES bounced around hardtops and drive-ins for more than a decade, sometimes with different scenes cut in. All scenes with Christina Hart and Michael Garrett, for instance, were created after the film had already been released and were added to the prints for nationwide release.

Since THE STEWARDESSES is little more than naked or partially naked women having sex with men, lamps, and each other, the real appeal of the film then and now is its 3D presentation. Director/writer/producer Allan Silliphant and co-producer Chris Condon used a relatively simple and lightweight single-camera process that allowed them to film body parts jutting into the audience at little cost.

As flimsy as THE STEWARDESSES is, it was enormously influential, inspiring a decade of R- and X-rated sex comedies—some filmed in 3D—about not just stewardesses, but also teachers, models, cheerleaders, and nurses. Watching it, it’s hard to believe this plotless mélange of boobs, buttocks, and boring chat could inspire anything. One stew takes acid and makes out with a lamp. The new girl pays a booty call on a swinging pilot. Samantha (Hart) seduces an advertising exec (Garrett) in hopes he can get her an acting career. Silliphant claims there was no finished script, and I believe it.

Nevertheless, THE STEWARDESSES made a lot of money, mostly paid by men who wanted to see topless women brushing their hair in 3D. In October 1971, after a year in release, it was #1 at the box office, just ahead of major studio films SUMMER OF ’42, SEE NO EVIL, and KOTCH. Considering it’s less energetic than a Bethel Buckalew joint and less bawdy than a Russ Meyer, the 3D gimmick must have been the key.

More interesting than THE STEWARDESSES is Shout Factory’s 2-disc DVD, which offers the intriguing history of the film and the 3D process on its featurettes. I had no idea, for instance, that filmmakers had been experimenting with 3D since the 1930s, and some of the clips revealed are pretty amazing. Silliphant and Condon still hold THE STEWARDESSES in high regard, but actress Hart thinks it’s “appallingly bad.” I think her opinion is more reality-based, but there’s no denying THE STEWARDESSES is a classic of its type.

Hail! Hail! The Gang’s All Here

Hail! Hail! The Gang's All Here
January 15, 1980
Music: Jimmie Haskell
Writer: Stephen Miller
Director: James Sheldon

It's a dual role for actor Mills Watson in this MISADVENTURES OF SHERIFF LOBO episode. Undercover to bust a biker gang, Deputy Perkins (Watson) is bopped on the head, which has him believing he's actually a hard-drinkin' two-fisted motorcycle hoodlum named the Skull. Dr. Doom (Charles Dierkop) and his gang, the Marauders, take rooms at the Orly Hot Springs Hotel with the intention of pulling a bank heist. To find out what the bikers are planning, Sheriff Lobo (Claude Akins) sends Birdie (Brian Kerwin) undercover as the world's least credible biker. Feeling left out, Perkins sneaks undercover himself, which leads to his disastrous memory loss.

Watson, who spent years playing heavies, is up to the two-role task. He's well abetted by Dierkop (who, still remembered at NBC for his supporting role on POLICE WOMAN, nabs a Special Guest Star credit) and William Watson, a fine actor who played mostly menacing tough guys on television and rarely had the opportunity to do comedy, which "Hail! Hail!" demonstrates he was pretty good at.

Story editor Stephen Miller works into his plot a theme about technology working its way into the Orly police force. Police equipment salesman Cruickshank (Dick O'Neill) charges $10,000 for a quaint computer with a modem, and Lobo discovers a clue to the bikers' target while watching a videotape on a clunky machine.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Keaton's Cop

You’ve never seen this rancid Cannon action movie, nor do you want to. Why am I writing about it? Someone has to. I actually saw this theatrically in an empty theater in 1988.

A post-FALL GUY Lee Majors is maverick Galveston homicide cop Mike Gable. A post-FISH Abe Vigoda is decrepit ex-mobster Louie Keaton, marked for murder by two gay hitmen. When they get Gable’s partner (Don Rickles) instead, Gable takes Keaton into protective custody faster than you can say MIDNIGHT RUN. And just to remind you what movie KEATON’S COP is really ripping off, Gable’s boss gives the two 48 hours to find Rickles’ killer.

Galveston Island, which is only 64 square miles, is an unusual setting for a film, and is also the most interesting aspect of KEATON’S COP. It isn’t funny, it isn’t exciting, the concept is absurd, and the local Texas actors are terrible (“The phones aren’t workinggggg!”). Rickles manages to maintain some dignity—despite an awkward exposition scene with Majors and him whizzing in an alley—and Majors tries hard, but no actor could have conquered a script like this, particularly an ill-conceived romance between him and nurse Tracy Brooks Swope.

Random Comic Book Splash Page #16

I know—not a splash page—but it's one of my favorite moments from any Batman comic book and a prime example of what's wrong with comics today. There's no reason why Batman can't be both a dark avenger of the night and a human being with a sense of humor.From "Half an Evil," a wonderful but too-short 15-page Two-Face mystery from BATMAN #234, August 1971. For my money, the early to mid 1970s was the Batman character at its best, as shepherded by editor Julius Schwartz; writers Denny O'Neil, Frank Robbins, and David V. Reed; and artists Neal Adams, Sal Amendola, Dick Giordano, Irv Novick, Bob Brown, and Jim Aparo, among others. O'Neil, Adams, Giordano, and Schwartz were responsible for this story, which has been reprinted many times.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Chute To Kill

TERROR IN TAOS (Pinnacle, 1975) is an okay but not great edition of the long-lasting Penetrator series. The half-Cheyenne crimefighter flies to New Mexico to investigate the Mafia's theft of valuable Indian jewelry form a reservation. Posing as a reporter, he ingratiates himself with the leaders of a Native American uprising that has resulted in a complete takeover of Taos Pueblo. While federal officials ring the small town in fear of another Wounded Knee, Mark Hardin tries to prevent further bloodshed.

Hardin's "William Hansen, Jr." disguise bites the dust in this episode, which opens with the Penetrator parachuting from his beloved Beech Baron and leaving the body of a murderous pimp in it to fake his own death. Hardin poses as "John Savage" in TERROR IN TAOS, which doesn't fool his old government foe, Howard Goodman, the head of the FBI's special Penetrator Squad, who knows the mercenary is still alive somewhere.

In another nod to continuity, the Mob boss targeting Taos Pueblo turns out to be the UCLA football star who kneecapped Hardin in college, when the "goody-two-shoes" wouldn't go along with his point-shaving scheme. The injury ruined Mark's chance for a pro career, but he gets the last laugh in the final chapter of TERROR IN TAOS.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Toughest Broads In The World

Seeing drive-in icons Roberta Collins and Claudia Jennings in THE UNHOLY ROLLERS--so vibrant and sultry and undeniably interesting--makes their untimely deaths feel doubly tragic. Especially Jennings, the 1969 Playboy Playmate of the Year, who died in a car accident ten years later, leaving behind a legacy of defiant performances in exploitation flicks like TRUCK STOP WOMEN, THE GREAT TEXAS DYNAMITE CHASE, and this 1972 roller derby yarn undoubtedly inspired by KANSAS CITY BOMBER (Jennings is even a redhead like the latter film’s star, Raquel Welch).

Although Vernon Zimmerman (FADE TO BLACK) is not much of a director, he and co-writer Howard Cohen (DEATHSTALKER) have a sure ear for satire. Their character study of a struggling roller derby newcomer masks elbow jabs at a crumbling Americana, including a wobbly, crackling, skipping LP of “The Star Spangled Banner” that opens the picture. Jennings literally takes shots at American consumerism; hey, I never said Zimmerman was subtle about it.

To give THE UNHOLY ROLLERS more credit, knowing Martin Scorsese was its supervising editor, one can’t help wondering whether it was any influence on RAGING BULL. Both films have virtually the same story, exploring the rise and fall of a volatile athlete competing in a seedy, corrupt atmosphere.

Jennings is Karen Walker, an ambitious assembly-line worker who tells off her lecherous boss and quits with dreams of joining the roller derby circuit. Showing off her skating skills (as well as her more obvious physical attributes) during an open tryout, Karen lands a spot on the Los Angeles Avengers, much to the initial displeasure of her teammates, who attack her during a post-game party and strip her naked on a pool table. Karen falls for greasy teammate Nick (Jay Varela), while her naked ambition and arrogance affects her relationships with friendly roomie Donna (Candice Roman) and Donna’s goofy boyfriend Greg (Alan Vint). The brassy Roberta Collins (THE BIG DOLL HOUSE), who passed away in 2008, registers strongly as Avenger Jennifer, whose antagonism belies an intelligence common to her performances.

After all the nice words I’ve written, it would be nice to proclaim THE UNHOLY ROLLERS a good film. Unfortunately, the whole is much less than the sum of its parts. Despite Jennings’ delicious charisma and the greasy roller derby milieu, the movie is too ragged to be considered anything more than an interesting failure.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Wanted: Dead Only

The Butcher is one of my favorite men's adventure heroes to come along in the wake of the Executioner's amazing success for Pinnacle Books. The Butcher is a real hardass named Bucher, whose twinge of conscience spurred him to step down from his post as the Mafia's head of East Coast operations and spend the rest of his life atoning for his past evils by joining a super-secret government organization called White Hat and fighting the Mob. Since nobody, but nobody, leaves the Mafia and lives, the Syndicate places a $100,000 bounty on Bucher's head, which somebody in each book tries to earn, but fails hard.

Pinnacle's first Butcher adventure, 1971's KILL QUICK OR DIE, is nicely summarized by James Reasoner on his blog, which you can read here for a second opinion (or a first, since I agree with everything he says about it). White Hat sends the Butcher (sometimes derogatorily called "Butchy-roo" or "Butchy-boy" by the baddies, just before they hear the "koosh" of Bucher's silenced Walther…) to Egypt to find a Red Chinese scientist named Dr. Fong, who has fallen into the hands of Mafioso Frankie Lobertini, who is also smuggling wealthy Arabs into the United States by selling them false American citizenship papers. It's kind of a weird plot—actually, it's about three weird plots in one—like author Stuart Jason was switching from one to the other after getting bored every fifty pages.

It's interesting how few of these men's adventure series gave anything more to lip service to the hero's origin. You would expect the first book of a series to go into great detail about the star's backstory, his home life, the violent tragedy that led him to dedicate his life to exterminating evil. That's what would happen if these books were written today. Since earlier publishers understood that origin stories are inherently dull, series like the Executioner, the Butcher, the Penetrator, the Sharpshooter, etc. open with the hero already on his life's mission. The hows and whys are generally dealt with in a few pages, sometimes as a brief prologue, which is for the best. I don't really need to know why Bucher is fighting the Mafia or the intricacies of his recruitment into White Hat. He does, he was, and let's get on with the bloodshed.

Speaking of, KILL QUICK OR DIE is the most gruesome Butcher novel I've read so far. Jason goes into great detail describing the mutilated bodies and the sadism Lobertini leaves behind, and one gunsel's encounter with a 5-year-old boy is a shocker. The point is to accentuate the sick nature of the Mafia, and every bad guy featured in KILL QUICK OR DIE is not only a pervert or a sadist, but is also physically described as homely or deformed in some way.

It looks as though Stuart Jason may have been James Dockery, who used the Jason pseudonym on a series of lurid plantation novels for Lancer just before the Butcher series started in 1971. Apparently, Dockery wrote most of the first couple dozen Butchers with Lee Floren, who wrote tons of westerns and some softcore porn, contributing a couple and Michael Avallone writing the last nine.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Fire In The Hole

22 Fire in the Hole
January 12, 1980
Music: Stu Phillips
Teleplay: Sidney Ellis
Story: Richard Kelbaugh
Director: Bruce Kessler

For this BJ AND THE BEAR episode, writer Richard Kelbaugh brought back Pogo Lil (Anne Lockhart), who has given up racing rigs to mine gold out of Universal's old western town. She isn't especially happy to see BJ (Greg Evigan) when she sees whom he's brought with him. His client is Joe Pogovich (Harry Carey Jr.), Lil's estranged father who left her and her mother fifteen years earlier. After a life of playing poker and raising hell, Joe has purchased mining equipment to get back into Lil's good graces. However, no sooner have BJ and Joe arrived than Lil loses her mine to businessman Cummings (Bruce Glover), who forces her to sign it over to him and his henchman (John Quade).

By the point in the series, Evigan was really becoming comfortable in the role. Not that he was ready to do Ibsen, but he comes across as very relaxed and likable, particularly when sharing scenes with his chimp co-star. "Fire in the Hole" is nothing special as an episode, giving us a few old-fashioned shootouts and explosions. Director Bruce Kessler stages a decent slo-mo car crash. Teleplay writer Sidney Ellis' and Kelbaugh's knowledge of the law doesn't seem to wash, as a lawyer explains to Lil that if she can force her way into the mine and hold it for a couple of days, the courts will be on her side in any ownership dispute with Cummings. Glover and Quade were veteran television heavies, and their performances in "Fire in the Hole," as professional as they are, are not exactly taxing their abilities. More impressive is Lockhart's curvy body poured into some very tight denim shorts.

Not a bad episode, though, and again the filmmakers were ahead of their time by having the characters reference earlier episodes in a conscious attempt at building some continuity.

Broccoli. Cubby Broccoli.

The late producer of the venerable James Bond movie series would have been 100 years old today. Here's a photo I snapped at Forest Lawn in Los Angeles back in February.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Wisdom Of Death

After reading the next two Ninja Master novels first, I have to conclude that Wade Barker's VENGEANCE IS HIS (Warner, 1981) is something of a disappointment. Oh, there's nothing wrong with the basic storytelling, but it's a fairly mundane urban revenge tale that treads familiar ground from countless exploitation films of the period. The debut book seriously lacks the grungy sleaze of the later entries that may have been completely tasteless, but was at least memorable.

Barker, who may have been Ric Meyers, gives VENGEANCE IS HIS a two-act structure. The first reveals the origin of the Ninja Master, who is Brett Ashford, a young man who returns to his parents' home in Ohio with a new Japanese wife, Kyoko, after several years overseas studying philosophy. After an elegant party, at which the Ashfords announced Kyoko's pregnancy, Brett's parents, wife, and unborn child are murdered during a raid by psychotic drug-addicted bikers while Brett is driving an intoxicated friend home. Seething with rage, Brett watches while the killers are eventually set free on a technicality. Using the martial arts skills he developed as a child and honed during his time in the Far East, Brett lures the three baddies to a secluded spot and murders them. Realizing his true calling, Brett liquidates his family's fortune, stashes the cash in various bank accounts around the world, returns to Japan, and trains to become a ninja.

Nine years later (this jump in time is literally dealt with in a single sentence), Brett (now Alexander) moves to Los Angeles after reading about street gangs terrorizing innocent citizens. He finds an apartment in a colorful building populated by old people, a grizzled ex-cop, and a sexy call girl. He goes into Charles Bronson mode from his new base, investigating the Street Rangers and ingratiating himself with the leaders, so he can get them alone and assassinate them.

Unlike the Ninja Master books that followed, VENGEANCE IS HIS is light on gore and sex. Although it's an okay story decently told, there's little about it that would stand out among the more lurid paperbacks of the era. Perhaps that's why Warner Books sleazed it up in the books that followed. I would say that VENGEANCE IS HIS would make a good movie, but I feel like I've seen it many times already.

Friday, April 03, 2009

In The Year 2050

Roger Corman.  Cirio H. Santiago.  Kickboxers.  Post-apocalyptic setting.  Revenge plot.  Tons of violence and nudity.  It feels like 1984 all over again.  New Concorde's BLOODFIST 2050, released in 2005, nearly a decade since the previous BLOODFIST, is the first of the nine-picture series to not star Don "The Dragon" Wilson. 

This time, "five-time world martial arts champion" Matt Mullins steps in to star in a loose remake of the original BLOODFIST.  Alex Danko (Mullins) arrives in seedy, futuristic Los Angeles, where his brother was jumped and beaten to death in an alley outside a strip joint.  You pretty much know the rest--young kickboxer investigates murder of kickboxing champion brother, goes undercover, usual training sequences, has sex with hot stripper, lots of random fight scenes in and out of the ring.  The credits play over a futuristic car chase out of one of director Santiago's '80s ROAD WARRIOR knockoffs, then that's the last we ever see of that part of 2050 society.

Once the credits end and Danko gets to L.A., society seems pretty normal, except there is an inordinately large Filipino population (BLOODFIST 2050 was shot in the Philippines).  There is also a surprising amount of nudity in this movie, completely gratuitous, much of it provided by Beverly Lynne as Mullins' blond love interest.  A lot of stock footage appears from previous Corman films; I think a pre-silicone Maria Ford appears as a stripper.  Lynne and the guy who plays Danko's comic-relief fighter sidekick (Glen Meadows) are married softcore porn stars in real life. And it's good to see Joe Mari Avellana, who acted in the first two BLOODFIST movies (as different characters) still appearing in and wearing several hats in these cheapjack Corman productions (he also designed the crummy sets).

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Guiding Light Is Out

After more than 72 years and nearly 16,000 episodes on radio and television, CBS is cancelling THE GUIDING LIGHT. I'm not a soap fan, and I doubt I've ever seen a full episode of THE GUIDING LIGHT, but it's still a shame for a series this historic to disappear. I fully understand that the daytime soap is a dying genre, what with fewer women home to watch them, but it's still too bad.

Trained To Kill

This retread of TARGET and TRUE LIES, directed by Rick Jacobson, was originally the eighth in Concorde/New Horizons' BLOODFIST series, all starring Don "The Dragon" Wilson.  However, it has also been screened, at least on cable television, as HARD WAY OUT without the BLOODFIST title. Again, it's likely it was not originally intended as a BLOODFIST movie. It was called BLOODFIST VIII: TRAINED TO KILL when I saw it.

This time, The Dragon is high school teacher Rick Cowan, a single father of incorrigible 16-year-old Chris (John Patrick White).  When a gang of assassins invades the Cowan home, forcing Rick to dispatch them in high-kicking style, Chris is exposed to the past he never knew his father had.  Turns out Rick is actually George Macready (!), an ex-CIA agent who must reteam with his old partner Danielle (the returning Jillian McWhirter) and boss Michael Powell (Warren Burton) to discover who's trying to kill him.  "Mac" and Chris, with Danielle alongside, travel to Ireland, where they hope to find some answers.

Besides the interesting choice of Ireland as a location, there isn't much to recommend.  None of the performers, including McWhirter, who has done much better work in similar DTV action movies, manages any color, humor, or nuance from Alex Simon's paint-by-numbers screenplay, and the movie really suffers from the lack of a strong villain. 

Would ya believe it if I told you Powell's sidekick is named Emeric Pressburger?