Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
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.
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
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
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
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
Monday, April 20, 2009
Sunday, April 19, 2009
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.
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.
Friday, April 17, 2009
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Friday, April 10, 2009
Thursday, April 09, 2009
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
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
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
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.
Sunday, April 05, 2009
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
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
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?