Monday, December 31, 2007

Green Hell

The Death Merchant's 13th adventure is a nice change-of-pace from the other two series entries I've read. In those, Richard Camellion was dedicated to mowing down the Mafia, filling page after page with graphic killing sprees. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But THE MATO GROSSO HORROR has a more interesting setting than some Mafioso's country estate.

The CIA offers the Death Merchant $100,000 (his usual fee) to take a handful of Green Berets into the Brazilian rain forest to prevent a former Nazi, Klaus von Linderbock, from continuing his horrible experiments. From his base located deep, deep within the jungle--only 2% of which has ever been explored--the cruel Third Reicher has created a powerful hypnotic drug which can be used to turn humans into zombies. The ultimate soldier--one who never thinks or retreats and doesn't care about dying. Or living, for that matter. Keep him a shot and send him loose to kill. Von Linderbock's inhuman medical experiments have resulted in nearly a dozen creatures confined to cages. Once human beings, they're now mutated guinea pigs.

Taking along an anthropologist and his daughter to bolster the party's cover story as being on an expedition, Camellion and his Green Beret backup plunge on foot into a wicked jungle filled with vipers and insects and sweat and heat. Not to mention native tribes hellbent on murdering the White Man. Writer Joseph Rosenberger's body count is astounding, well into the hundreds, as the Death Merchant deals death to wave after wave of bloodthirsty Indians.

Packed with action and atmosphere, THE MATO GROSSO HORROR is a heckuva potboiler, bolstered by its delightfully pulpy plot, which climaxes with the Death Merchant not only battling Nazis and natives, but also monstrous mutations and a few dozen bushmasters.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Three The Hardman Way

Happy Holidays, folks. I trust everyone had a fun Christmas weekend. I did little besides eat, doze, watch NFL football, and read trashy novels. I have three to catch up on here, so I'll throw them up here in a hurry.

In Ralph Dennis' THE LAST OF THE ARMAGEDDON WARS, #11 in Popular Library's Hardman series, Jim Hardman is a non-licensed ex-cop who sorta does private investigation work on the side, assisted by his big, strong, black pal Hump Evans. Hardman finds himself trapped in a gang war when The Man--a black mobster named Warden Pike who runs all the black rackets in Atlanta--is under siege by assassins. The Man trusts Hardman enough to look into who wants to kill him, while the cops want Hardman's help working on the inside. Hardman loves to grill steaks and fight in this very short paperback, written in first person and published in 1977. Not bad, but nothing out of the ordinary, outside of the unusual Atlanta setting.

VENDETTA, Peter McCurtin's first novel in Belmont/Tower's Marksman series, published in 1973, is not an origin story and forces you to fill in some gaps yourself. Basically, Phillip Magellan--the Marksman--despises the Mafia and wants to kill everyone involved with the organization. The back of the book claims that Magellan was a teenage trick shot champion and that the Mafia murdered his family when he refused their invitation to become an armorer for them, but none of this is in the book. What is in the novel is a large body count, as the Marksman makes for San Francisco to bring down a high-ranking mobster named Dino Flavel. He also kills a bunch of hippies, cuts the head off of one and leaves it in the St. Georges Hotel's fountain.

The Butcher's second adventure, 1971's COME WATCH HIM DIE by Stuart Jason (Pinnacle, 1971), is pretty good stuff that really gets crazy down the stretch. The first half or so is typical bang-bang stuff, as Bucher, a former mobster who quit the Mafia and now works for a government agency called White Hat to bring down the organization, bounces from New Orleans to Holland to avoid the $100,000 bounty on his head, particularly when he learns a female assassin is on his trail. His mission is to investigate a former Nazi named Klaus von Rimer, who is rumored to have instigated a plot to substitute perfect doubles for American congressmen that will vote in favor of the Mafia's wishes. The wildness really kicks in when the Butcher comes face to face with von Rimer, who turns out to be a cannibalistic necrophiliac who keeps genetically mutated, giant-size anacondas in his cellar. While the climax was just as I predicted, it's still pretty gruesome and quite memorable, as is the rest of the book.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Marley Is Dead, Killed in a Nuclear War

A 90-minute television version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL written by Rod Serling, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (ALL ABOUT EVE), and starring Peter Sellers, Sterling Hayden, Robert Shaw, Steve Lawrence (!), Pat Hingle, Percy Rodrigues, Britt Eklund, Eva Marie Saint, Ben Gazzara and Peter Fonda, with a score by Henry Mancini?? How the crap is this not a holiday classic?

Believe it or not, this well mounted production, called CAROL FOR ANOTHER CHRISTMAS, aired only one time: December 28, 1964 on ABC. I never heard of it, though that can be excused, considering it's never even been on home video. Read more about this fascinating special in Thomas Vinciguerra's New York Times article (I don't know why it's in the Fashion & Style section).

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Don't Go In The Woods

Some junior forest rangers pick up some girls and head deep into the woods to clear brush and go rafting. Joey Pants strands their asses in the wilderness, and a psycho roams around killing them, though unfortunately not nearly enough of them.

THE FINAL TERROR is a bad movie made worse when you pay attention to the credits. It was filmed in 1981 when most of the creative team were nobodies, but was finally released by Aquarius in 1983 when several cast members were becoming hot Hollywood names. Between the time THE FINAL TERROR was filmed and the date it hit theaters, Adrian Zmed was zooming around in a squad car with Bill Shatner on T.J. HOOKER, Daryl Hannah had done BLADE RUNNER, Rachel Ward got big with SHARKY'S MACHINE and THE THORN BIRDS, and Joe Pantoliano was Guido The Pimp in RISKY BUSINESS. Mark Metcalf had already been Niedermeyer in ANIMAL HOUSE, and striking co-star Akosua Busia went on to marry John Singleton. Audiences must have been stunned to see the classy Ward stumbling through the mud and the dew in this crummy horror flick.

Behind the camera, the pedigree is just as interesting. Director Andrew Davis jumped briefly onto Hollywood's A-list with action hits like THE FUGITIVE and UNDER SIEGE. Producer Joe Roth went on to direct films and run Walt Disney Studios and Revolution Studios, as well as produce the Academy Awards telecast. Roth was married to the daughter of legendary AIP owner Samuel Z. Arkoff, who "presented" THE FINAL TERROR (one wonders if Arkoff was supposed to release it himself, but balked for whatever reason). Ronald Shusett, who co-wrote ALIEN, receives a screenplay credit, and New World's resident post-production fixer-upper Allan Holzman (who directed FORBIDDEN WORLD and Jillian Kesner's nude scenes in FIRECRACKER) supervised post. That job entailed hiring one of the few women ever to score a horror movie, Susan Justin, who provides a very nice musicscape that is probably the best individual aspect of the movie.

So. If I told you the director of THE FUGITIVE and the writer of ALIEN had teamed up to make a slasher movie with Daryl Hannah, Rachel Ward, Joe Pantoliano and Adrian Zmed, to be released by Sam Arkoff, you'd probably think it had to be at least somewhat interesting. It really isn't, though I admit it contains one or two brief scares and a somewhat effective though unfinished ending. Its story is confusing to the point that you don't really know who the characters are or why they're in the woods. Davis even misses the point of a post-FRIDAY THE 13TH slasher flick, in that THE FINAL TERROR drastically skimps on the sex, nudity, gore and body count. It could play easily on television with just a couple of seconds snipped out (though so could FRIDAY THE 13TH, come to think of it).

Davis was a director to watch for awhile. A few years after THE FINAL TERROR, he got a Chuck Norris movie for Orion, CODE OF SILENCE, which turned out to be a very effective urban action movie, not just for a Chuck Norris movie, but for an action movie, period. He then made Steven Seagal's debut, ABOVE THE LAW--the same plaudits for CODE OF SILENCE apply. Then, the entertaining THE PACKAGE with Gene Hackman and Tommy Lee Jones before hitting it big with UNDER SIEGE (also with Seagal) and THE FUGITIVE.

Davis hasn't made a film as good since. Though I feel comfortable saying they're all better than THE FINAL TERROR.

Vengeance In Cuba

I guess when your name is Mark Blood, you pretty much have to spend your life killing people. I doubt there are many florists or bank presidents named Blood.

This Blood was a Marine captain and war hero in Vietnam who learns overseas that his young wife, Cindy, was killed by hijackers who intercepted her commercial flight to Miami and aimed it at Cuba. We know something is fishy right away, as Cindy's throat is slashed by a hijacker during the prologue, but the brass tells Blood she was killed by a stray bullet.

After serving his country, he returns home to an empty house, depression, and two CIA agents who attempt to recruit him into the agency to find a Cuban revolutionary named El Matador who plans to overthrow Castro. Blood says no thanks, but when he's jumped by a couple of gunmen who hint that El Matador was involved in Cindy's death, he surreptitiously enters Cuba to investigate on his own and ultimately learns of a master plan to create a powerful nerve gas named X80 to be sold to America's enemies.

Not a bad novel, but nothing great either. It's paced decently enough, and is one of the few men's adventure novels I've come across that's written in first person. Allan Morgan wrote the 1974 novel for Award Books. There were at least two other Blood adventures, presumably placing the hero within the CIA as an assassin.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Scalpel Scam

I was not a big fan of 1984's NIGHTMARE NETWORK, #5 in Pinnacle's Protector series. The Protector is never actually called that in the novel, and I presume he is Alex Dartanian, a soldier of fortune who owns Dartanian Security Service, a high-priced security firm based in Manhattan. Within that network is an ultra-secret faction called ICE: Inner Court Executions. Dartanian's ICE men serve as vigilantes, recruited from the best military and intelligence men in the U.S. His ace assistants are ex-Special Forces 'Nam vet Mick Porter and Japanese martial arts expert Sin Simara.

Their target is Dr. Stewart Valcour, who kidnaps healthy people and keeps them captive in his technologically advanced private hospital to use in his organ farm. Wealthy patrons pay big bucks for new eyes, kidneys, hearts and livers or to just have regular blood transfusions that will prolong their lives. Yes, author Rich Rainey is ripping off COMA and not too arrestingly either. Unromantic action scenes and scant characterization help sink this book. Late in the game, Rainey introduces a potentially interesting character named Taurus, a reclusive assassin who lives high in the mountains with a harem of women. So much a mystery to his employers that they don't even know his name, Taurus is quickly killed after a build-up that leads the reader to assume he'll play a big part in the climax.

I read this one in a hurry and won't remember a thing about it a few weeks from now. Considering its lurid plot, it would have helped to add some sleaze to the proceedings (although a female doctor does have regular sex with one of her coma victims).

Sunday, December 16, 2007

An Army To Get The Dope Out Of Harlem

In past posts, I lamented the absence of badass favorites DARK OF THE SUN and SITTING TARGET on DVD. To the list add GORDON'S WAR, a hard-hitting hunk of heavy blaxploitation filmed in Harlem by director Ossie Davis (COTTON COMES TO HARLEM) and released by 20th Century Fox in 1973.

The late Paul Winfield, nominated for an Oscar the year before for SOUNDER, contributes another strong performance as Gordon, a Green Beret who returns from Vietnam to learn his wife has died from a drug overdose--a habit she picked up while Gordon was overseas. Overcome with grief, he organizes a group of three Army buddies and makes war on the pimps and pushers of the neighborhood, including the colorfully named Big Pink, Luther the Pimp, and the dude who runs Harlem's action: druglord Spanish Harry (Gilbert Lewis).

Grittier and less cartoony than many other black action flicks of the era, GORDON'S WAR benefits from some of the seediest New York locations ever put on film (also a highlight of Davis' previous directorial effort), nice chemistry among the four leads--Winfield, Carl Lee as poetry-reading Bee, Tony King as behemoth Roy and David Downing as wisecracking Otis--and a serious approach by scripters Howard Friedlander and Ed Spielman (white guys who created TV's KUNG FU). There's no shortage of violence either, the highlights being a brutal leg-breaking and an exciting car/motorcycle chase through the streets of Harlem.

For some reason, Fox hasn't gotten around to putting this one out on DVD, even though just about every other blaxploitation movie of the period seems to be available. I don't see how there could be a market for BROTHERHOOD OF DEATH and BLACK SHAMPOO, but not for this. Available only on a long OOP prerecord VHS from CBS/Fox, GORDON'S WAR is an outstanding urban crime drama with a message as poignant today as it ever was.

Fingertips To The Wolverines

Watching the first three episodes of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE ever broadcast is an interesting experience. The show was, of course, much different than it is today, but it's also much different than the way it would become later in that first 1975-1976 season. Each episode is an unusual grab bag of concepts, blackouts and musical numbers that plays very much like a stage revue. If you don't like what's happening, don't worry, something else completely different will come along in just a few minutes.

The first show, for example, hosted by George Carlin. It offers four different monologues by Carlin, who doesn't appear in any sketches (he was supposed to be in Michael O'Donoghue's big Alexander the Great sketch, but refused after dress rehearsal, and it was dropped). Andy Kaufman does his brilliant Mighty Mouse bit. Albert Brooks produces a funny short film (complete with pedophilia gag). The Muppets have their own spotlighted slot (nothing the Muppets did on SNL is the least bit entertaining). Billy Preston ("Nothing from Nothing") and Janis Ian ("At Seventeen") do two songs each. The Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time Players (Don Pardo fucks up and calls them "Not-for-Ready..." in the opening) barely appear, and only Chevy Chase, who anchors Weekend Update, makes an impact, though a couple of the sketches are funny. George Coe and O'Donoghue are official Players in the premiere. In all, an oddly structured yet fascinating historical curio.

The second show is almost completely different from the previous week's in every way. Almost all ninety minutes are devoted to music, as host Paul Simon performs several hits and also reunites with Art Garfunkel for a couple numbers (Artie does a hit on his own too). Phoebe Snow and Randy Newman also perform, and, aside from more Muppets and Brooks pieces, the longest comic bit is a tedious filmed one-on-one basketball game between Simon and NBA star Connie Hawkins that is hosted by Marv Albert! Jerry Rubin (!) and Bill Bradley also appear, and the NRFPTP gets less than a minute of airtime on their own show.

Rob Reiner (ALL IN THE FAMILY) hosts the third show with wife Penny Marshall (soon to be on LAVERNE & SHIRLEY) and no musical guest, though a West Coast dance troupe called the Lockers (with Fred "Rerun" Berry!) appears, as does comedienne Denny Dillon, who later become an SNL regular during its notorious 1980-81 season. The NRFPTP make their biggest impact, especially Jane Curtin interviewing Laraine Newman as Squeaky Fromme on her DANGEROUS BUT INEPT talk show and Chevy (who breaks up during it) in a pro-drooler PSA. The Players were pissed about Brooks' film, which ran thirteen minutes, and Reiner's alleged prima donna act backstage.

And the Bees appeared in all three shows, can you believe it?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Changing The Face Of TV Drama

I recently wrote about LOU GRANT, which is airing Wednesday nights on AmericanLife TV Network between MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and TRAPPER JOHN, M.D. LOU GRANT debuted thirty years ago, and was the subject of a nice Associated Press piece by Frazier Moore.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Killer In The Night

I really liked this tightly rendered crime novel, the fourth in Lancer's series of books about Soldato: Man Against the Mafia. And it comes as no surprise how professional the writing is, when one discovers that author Al Conroy is actually Marvin H. Albert, whose long resume includes mysteries, hard-boiled crime novels, international adventures, westerns, film adaptations and screenplays for tough movies like DUEL AT DIABLO (a bloody western starring James Garner and Sidney Poitier) and THE DON IS DEAD (Anthony Quinn and Robert Forster in the Mafia).

I'm looking for other Soldato novels after the coolness that is MURDER MISSION!. A soldato is a "soldier," a gunsel in the Mafia, which is what Johnny Morini was before he had a change of heart, testified against his former boss, and went into the witness protection program. There, he agreed to make amends by fighting the Mafia--going undercover to destroy various Dons from within the organization. In New Orleans, he poses as Harry Bacchi, a soldato out of Chicago, who charms local Don Marno Cadvarutti by arranging for his grandson to be knocked into the water and then conveniently rescuing the boy in Marno's presence. He is welcomed into Cadvarutti's ranks, though various monkey wrenches are tossed into Morini's plan to conquer the don, including Marno's suspicious heroin-addicted brother Milo, his disowned daughter Helena, the arrival of a mobster from the West Coast carrying a sketch of the notorious Mafia-killing Morini (no one knows his new face, and Johnny wants to keep it that way), and the arrival of Bacchi's old Chicago don, who thinks Harry has busted out of prison (the Justice Department has the real Bacchi on ice in maximum security).

Conroy/Albert effectively keeps a lot of balls in the air, believably setting up more obstacles for Morini, who evades them with smarts and skill. The action scenes, including a car/boat/foot chase that concludes on a dark sandbar, are exciting, though not overly violent, and the camaraderie between Morini and Riley, his Justice Department contact (who is kidnapped during this New Orleans adventure), provides the story with some real humanity. The cover offers a final-chapter spoiler.

It's About Friggin' Time

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Biggest Mother Of Them All

When last we left MORITURI spy Patrick Shannon, well, he was doing pretty well, living it up in his New York penthouse apartment and sexing up many gorgeous women. And when we pick him up at the beginning of his next adventure, SHALLOW GRAVE, he's still sexing up hotties--up to three at a time--while on vacation down in Montego Bay. In fact, the first thirty pages have nothing to do with any plot; they just chart Shannon's fun times in the Caribbean, eating great food, lounging in his expensive hotel room, and, uh, sexing up many hotties. I don't think this makes him very likable; he's kinda smug, if you ask me. Oh, and we learn that Shannon is now an author of trashy spy paperbacks based on his own cases.

When he finally returns to New York and the penthouse he shares with his companion/sidekick/cook/houseboy Joe-Dad, Shannon investigates a series of murders of heroin-addicted hookers who are butchered and found naked with a cross sliced into their chests. The lab discovers chicken blood mixed with the victims' blood, leading to the conclusion that voodoo is responsible. Unfortunately, there are no zombies in this 1974 novel, nor anything as outrageous as the tripped-out villains of the previous novel, THE UNDERTAKER, which I greatly preferred. Author Jake Quinn took little care in crafting an absorbing mystery, and the dialogue is puerile, even for a book of this nature.

One thing of note is that we learn Shannon's origin story, in which, among other things, he was one of eight children born to wealthy Irish immigrants and served in Vietnam.

Thinking Of Candice

By my unofficial count, by far, the blog post that receives the most traffic on Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot is the memorial I penned last year about the late drive-in actress Candice Rialson, who passed away in March 2006 at the terribly young age of 54. She was not just a good actress in exploitation movies; she was a good actress, period, who sadly received too few opportunities to prove it. Joe Dante (GREMLINS), who directed her in the wonderful HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD, told Tim Lucas she was "the exploitation movie equivalent of getting Julie Christie"--a helluva compliment.

I bring her up today, because I was heartened to receive a belated comment to my earlier post from none other than Candice's brother, who answers definitively my query as to whether she was aware of her devoted fan base:, I don't think she ever knew of such following as she never became acclimated to computers and as such never had any access to find out. I know this because I am her brother.

Thank you for what I found here as a truley (sic) honorable memory of my sister Candice.

Peace, Scott Rialson

I wish Mr. Rialson had left an email address so that I, and perhaps others who loved her work, could tell him how much we appreciated his sister's talent and beauty. I'm certain that he knows, but it would be nice to tell him anyway.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Oh, Yeah. I'm There.

Happily, Lucasfilm hired Drew Struzan to create the poster for the fourth Indiana Jones film. And it looks awesome.

The Irresistible Force

Here's one of the few men's adventure heroes of the '70s who actually was adapted to motion picture form. Unfortunately, the film version of BLACK SAMURAI was directed by Al Adamson, who never made a good movie in his life. Few are even watchable, which is about the best you can say for Adamson's 1977 film, which has also been seen as THE FREEZE BOMB and BLACK TERMINATOR. I don't believe it has anything to do with any of Marc Olden's Black Samurai novels, and the version I saw was cut for television, missing some violence, swearing and nudity. Which is, of course, the only reason anybody's watching BLACK SAMURAI in the first place.

What's great about BLACK SAMURAI is Jim Kelly, who, then and now, is probably Hollywood's best choice for the character. The high-haired black martial-arts star (ENTER THE DRAGON) scraped the bottom of the action barrel when he signed on for this cheap, confusing adventure filmed in Hong Kong. As D.R.A.G.O.N. agent Robert Sand, Kelly chases sinister Satan-worshiping druglord Janicot (Bill Roy), who has kidnapped his girlfriend Toki (Essie Lin Chia), who also happens to be the daughter of a prominent Chinese ambassador targeting Janicot's crime reign for extinction.

With a bigger budget and a better director than hack Adamson (BLAZING STEWARDESSES), this adaptation of Marc Olden's series of BLACK SAMURAI pulp novels could have been fun, since it does sport plenty of exotic locations, beautiful women, kung fu, campy villains and even a midget. But Adamson, who made bad movies in nearly every genre, can ruin almost anything, and not even Kelly, who actually is livelier than usual this time, can convince your eyes to stay open.

As for the books, Olden wrote eight of them in 1974-1975. The second, THE GOLDEN KILL, is a great adventure filled with action, romance, violence, exotic locations and powerful villains. There is no D.R.A.G.O.N., of course, in the novel. Instead, Sand works for The Baron, who is actually William Baron Clarke, a former President of the United States who uses his wealth and his influence to battle evil from his Texas ranch. His one operative is Robert Sand, who goes up against millionaire Print Drewcolt's plot to use a virus to wipe out millions of Red Chinese and blame the Russians. That way, he can sign a $40 million gold mining contract with China that Russia is first in line for. Drewcolt's #1 henchman is Talon, a cruel assassin whose modus operandi involves stripping his victims nude and standing them in the dark, damp courtyard of Drewcolt's English castle, where he sends his vicious trained hawk, Rajah, to rip them apart.

THE GOLDEN KILL is a terrific novel, and leads one to wonder why Adamson didn't adapt it, rather than creating a (much worse) story from scratch. Actually, one wonders about most of Al Adamson's filmmaking choices.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

What Happens When Cannon Rips Off Lethal Weapon?

One black, one white, many bullets. Yes, it's true. Cannon made a wacky, violent buddy-cop movie starring Robert Carradine (after REVENGE OF THE NERDS) and Billy Dee Williams (three years after his previous feature film, the sleazy FEAR CITY). I actually saw this in a theater in Carbondale, Illinois in 1987. Carradine's love interest is none other than super-cute Valerie Bertinelli from ONE DAY AT A TIME! And the pissed off captain who yells at the boys for destroying public property is Peter Graves! Graves is a close personal friend of director Jack Smight, which explains what he's doing in a Cannon movie.

Smight was a journeyman who bounced back and forth between films and television for decades without really making a memorable film; some of his credits include MIDWAY, AIRPORT 1975, THE ILLUSTRATED MAN and HARPER. Some of his films are decent (I've seen HARPER several times), but nothing you'd cross a busy street to see. Well, except NUMBER ONE WITH A BULLET, of course... DIRTY HARRY's Gail Morgan Hickman wrote it, and one wonders whether it was a dusty draft of a proposed sequel.

Thursday, December 06, 2007


On some level, you have to admire a book titled HEADCRUSHER. There is certainly little doubt as to what kind of reading you'll be getting. And HEADCRUSHER, published by Leisure in 1974, lives up to its name, even though there's no head-crushing in it. Head-shooting, oh yes, but no heads are crushed.

The Sharpshooter is John Rocetti, whose father and mother were gunned down by mobsters when Mr. Rocetti refused to allow the Mafia to use his small family business as a front. At the Rocettis' funeral, the mob struck again, killing John's brother and sister and sending him to the hospital. During his lengthy healing process, John swore to avenge his family by killing as many Mafia bastards as he could before they eventually got to him.

Now known as Johnny Rock, the Sharpshooter is drinking in a Manhattan bar when he overhears a couple of mooks talking about how they were involved in the Rocetti killing years ago. I know, lucky, right? Rock blows them away, but not before learning the number-one guy in the hit was Mackie Malanga, owner of a massage parlor and porno theater on Times Square. Rock ends up undercover as Mackie's main henchman during a massive gang war, in which the Sharpshooter manages to kill dozens of "Mafia bastards" (as he puts it) while learning which don put out the contract on the Rocettis.

Tightly written and grimy as hell, HEADCRUSHER hits the spot if you're looking for violent urban thrills with an anti-hero that isn't difficult to root for, even though he's not always careful about keeping civilians out of harm's way. If an innocent bystander is killed while Rock is mowing down a bunch of mobsters, so be it.

Apparently, several staff writers were "Bruno Rossi", including Peter McCurtin, Russell Smith, Leonard Levinson, John Stevenson and Paul Hofrichter. I don't know if any of them wrote HEADCRUSHER, but I was impressed by the author's lean pulp style.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Climb Outta My Tree

“Counter Gambit” is an entertaining con episode in which Rockford (James Garner) is framed for the theft of a pearl necklace, but manages to get off the hook when he tricks the real crooks into returning the necklace to the safe from which they stole it. Rockford is summoned to the state pen by Moss Williams (Eddie Fontaine), a thug who once tried to kill Jim in prison. Moss hires the reluctant detective to find out whether his girl, Maria Heller (Mary Frann, later Bob’s wife on NEWHART), is cheating on him. The smell of Williams’ retainer—and the rantings of Jim’s dentist, who threatens to repo the detective’s filling if his bill isn’t paid—convinces Jim to take the case, which, in true ROCKFORD FILES fashion, turns out to be nothing like it seems.

Besides just being a really fun episode with an especially breezy performance by Garner, “Counter Gambit” is also notable for being Stuart Margolin’s first appearance on THE ROCKFORD FILES after the pilot. Soon to become one of the show’s most popular supporting players as Jim’s cowardly ex-cellmate Angel Martin, Margolin already appears to have the part down pat, and his initial scene, set in a seedy porn theater, sets the pace for the entire series. Also appearing in supporting bits are M. Emmet Walsh (BLOOD SIMPLE) and Garry Walberg, late of THE ODD COUPLE and soon to become a regular on QUINCY, M.E. Director Jackie Cooper, who earlier had helmed “Aura Lee, Farewell,” was better known as an actor (he began in films as a child in 1929), and actually appeared as a Special Guest Star in the next televised episode, “Claire.”

Monday, December 03, 2007

Bay Prowler

Using the name Mike Barry, prolific author Barry N. Malzberg wrote fourteen quickie novels about the Lone Wolf between 1973 and 1975. Talk about a career--this guy seems to have done just about everything. He's written more than 300 short stories dating back to 1966, edited books of criticism and essays, novelized the 1974 film PHASE IV and the pilot to the television series KUNG FU, written several mysteries and science fiction novels, and, using the name Mel Johnson, even churned out more than a dozen pornographic novels during the late 1960s. As one person wrote on the Internet, it's quite likely not even Malzberg himself remembers everything he's written.

It's quite possible the Lone Wolf series is something he'll be remembered for, as these men's adventure novels seem never to die, popping up in used book stores, basements and on eBay (where I found this one). In Berkeley Medallion's BAY PROWLER, published in 1973, Malzberg/Barry seems to be attempting a continuity that, I understand, eventually paid off in the 14th and final Lone Wolf adventure. In the first book, NIGHT RAIDER, ex-cop Burt Wulff blew up a mobster's penthouse apartment to stop the flow of drugs into the Big Apple. He managed to secure an attache case with clues leading him to a huge drug shipment coming into San Francisco, which is where BAY PROWLER is set. Wulff is one of the more fatalistic men's adventure heroes I've come across. He appears to know his life will be a short one, and realizes there's no way he can ever have a normal relationship with another human being, man or woman. He is determined, however, outdriving, outfighting and outshooting half the San Francisco Mafia, and eventually blowing up a ship and escaping the clutches of both the mob and the police.

Clues in the finale indicate Boston is the next destination for Wulff's vendetta journey, and it looks as though each of the Lone Wolf books was set in a different city, where presumably Wulff wiped out all the local mobsters. BAY PROWLER was an okay book, not a great one, and the speed with which it was written is quite obvious. Gotta give credit for the awesome cover, though, one of the best I've seen so far. Even if the book's climax fails to give the Lone Wolf a red-haired companion with deep cleavage.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Imoogi and Baraki and Bigass Snakes, Oh My

The hilariously redundant D-WAR: DRAGON WARS is reportedly the most expensive South Korean film ever made, something like $70 million. And it's all up on the screen, particularly a mid-section setpiece in which a mean giant snake blasts its way through downtown Los Angeles, upending cars and smashing buildings and knocking Apache helicopters out of the sky. The CGI effects, created by the writer/director Hyung-rae Shim in his own special effects studio, are mostly impressive, and the ambitious storyline reaches out to 16th-century Asia for a romantically rendered flashback inspired by popular wuxia like CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON.

I say the budget is all up on the screen, because little of it appears to have been used to buy charismatic young stars or an intelligent screenplay. D-WAR is a deliriously silly movie with little regard for its plot. Coincidences, such as the one that brings its hero, a cable news reporter named Ethan (Jason Behr, who has unusual tastes in hair and wardrobe for a major news star), and its heroine, empty-eyed 20-year-old Sarah (Amanda Brooks), together to jump-start the plot, abound. I don't know how fluent Shim is in English, but an unfamiliarity with the language might explain Ethan's database search for women of a certain age named "Sarah" without taking into consideration the thousands of "Saras" roaming around L.A. Though I don't know how to explain Ethan taking a bullet in the shoulder, and then getting off the ground without even a grimace or a hole in his shirt with an injury that is never acknowledged for the rest of the running time.

For a movie that ultimately boils down to two giant serpents wrestling each other, the backstory is needlessly complicated. Luckily, Shim hired the fine actor Robert Forster to explain it to a young Ethan in a flashback that leads to a flashback-inside-a-flashback. Basically, 500 years ago, a young Korean girl was born with the Yuh Yi Joo inside of her--an energy to be transferred from her on her 20th birthday to a "good" serpent--the Imoogi--and transform it into a dragon. However, an evil serpent--Baraki--wants the Yuh Yi Joo, so he can turn into an evil dragon. He can also turn himself to a Korean-speaking man who resembles a white-haired Richard Moll, and has an army of Lucasian warriors and creatures to assist his quest for the Yuh Yi Joo.

He fails to get it 500 years ago, and is now back to get it in Los Angeles, where Ethan, the reincarnation of the young warrior pressed into service protecting the girl five centuries ago, discovers the Yuh Yi Joo is inside Sarah, who has no family and apparently no job or schooling, but lives with a roommate in a comfortable house in the suburbs. Forster, as Jack, the antique-store owner who knows everything about the Imoogi legend, dies--maybe, I think, it's hard to say for sure--but pops up often in ghost form, either to provide Ethan with a periodic pep talk or just to kick the asses of some muggers giving Sarah a hard time outside a bar.

D-WAR was reportedly shorn of at least 17 minutes before its U.S. theatrical run this summer, which may explain some of the plot holes, like why the FBI knows more about an obscure Korean legend than the leads do or what scientist Elizabeth Pena's question about diamonds being the Earth's hardest substance has to do with anything. Some of D-WAR's dialogue comes across like NON SEQUITUR THEATER. It's hard to hate any movie, though, that unironically features that time-tested tradition of giant-monster movies--the scene in which a bunch of cops fire their pistols in vain at a huge snake that has already knocked down a few dozen buildings. Plus, in another (unintentional?) nod to monster movies of the past, the Baraki's evil lair is none other than camera-friendly Bronson Canyon. Throw in not one but two Wilhelm Screams, and D-WAR comes across as such stupid fun that only a cur would point out that there's only one dragon in the movie, so there could hardly be any dragon wars.