Wednesday, October 19, 2016


"I'm easier to frame than Whistler's Mother."

Here's a sure sign I'm either getting old or have way too many DVDs in my collection. Back in August, TCM ran THE DARK CORNER, a 1946 film noir directed by Henry Hathaway. It sounded like a good one from the listing description and I hadn't seen it so I recorded it and finally got around to watching it the other day After watching it, I went to the film noir section of my DVD collection (yes, I have a film noir section) and found a brand new, never opened copy of the film sitting on my shelf. I guess that should teach me to double check my collection before hitting that record button on the remote.

THE DARK CORNER is a good film noir, drenched in atmosphere courtesy of cinematographer Joseph MacDonald with a pretzel plot by screenwriters Bernard C. Schoenfeld and Jay Dratler (from a story by Leo Rosten). Mark Stevens stars as private detective Bradford Galt. He's aided by plucky secretary Kathleen (Lucille Ball, who gets top billing). A mysterious man named Foss (William Bendix) is following the pair around New York City. When Galt confronts Foss, he reveals that he's working for Tony Jardine (Kurt Kreuger). Jardine, a blackmailing attorney, is Galt's former partner. Thinking Jardine is out to kill him, Galt goes after Jardine.

SPOILER WARNING: It turns out that Foss is really working for art dealer Hardy Cathcart (Clifton Webb). Jardine is sleeping with Cathcart's wife, Mari (the lovely Cathy Downs). Cathcart hopes to goad Galt into murdering Jardine. If that doesn't work, there's always Plan B, which is have Foss kill Jardine and frame Galt. Got all that?

The plot has plenty of twists and turns, the dialogue is both hard-boiled and witty, and the leads are all solid. While watching the film, I kept thinking that if someone had made a Doc Savage film in 1946, the cast could have included Bendix as Monk and Webb as Ham. Kathleen's devotion, concern and love for Galt ultimately saves him from his inner darkness and the film ends on a happy note despite the fact that three people are brutally murdered in the course of events. Not a great film noir but a solid effort that is well worth seeing. Recommended.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


Ever wonder what legendary private detective Sam Spade was up to in San Francisco before he got involved in the Maltese Falcon caper? Well, veteran mystery/crime writer Joe Gores brings us up to date quite nicely in SPADE & ARCHER (2009), the prequel to Dashiell Hammett's famous novel THE MALTESE FALCON (1929), which, of course, was later filmed in 1941 by John Huston (his feature film directorial debut) with a cast featuring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet. 

SPADE & ARCHER begins in 1921 with Spade working as an operator (or "op") for the Continental Detective Agency in Seattle. He leaves the agency and heads for San Francisco where he opens an office as a private detective. He hires a secretary, Effie Perine and starts solving mysteries. The book is divided into three parts, spread over a period of seven years (1921-1928). Each part deals with a separate case but all three crimes are linked by a mysterious master criminal that Spade doesn't bring to justice until the end of the book. 

Gores does a good job of capturing Hammett's terse, stripped-to-the-bone prose style. There's not an ounce of fat on this narrative. Gores brings 1920s San Francisco to life with a colorful cast of characters that includes sympathetic cop Tom Polhaus and ball-buster supreme, Dundy.  Miles Archer doesn't join the firm until the third act. He helps Spade on a case but also demonstrates that he's a crooked, lazy detective. But Spade's no saint. He's screwing Ava, Archer's wife, every chance he gets. 

History doesn't record how Sam Spade met his death but I'm willing to bet it wasn't from old age. If a crook didn't get him with a bullet or a knife, Spade must have surely died from either the copious amounts of bootleg booze he imbibes or the countless filterless hand-rolled cigarettes he relentlessly makes and smokes throughout the book. 

SPADE & ARCHER is a good, fast paced detective novel that does what it's supposed to do, which is fill us on Spade's back story while setting the stage for THE MALTESE FALCON. In fact, the last paragraph of the book, is a paraphrase of the first paragraph of Hammett's novel. 


Thursday, October 6, 2016


Over the last few years I've read twenty-five SHADOW pulp novels. I've not only read them, I've read them aloud to my beautiful wife, Judy. CHARG, MONSTER (the Jove/HBJ reprint from December 1977 is pictured above), is the twenty-sixth Shadow I've read and it's the first one that has a comic book super-hero feel to it (although originally published in July, 1934, several years before the comic book debuts of Superman and Batman).

Before I started reading The Shadow books, I assumed that he went up against a super-villain of some sort on a regular basis. While The Shadow has certainly clashed with "super crooks" in some of the stories I've read, most of them have him tangling with gangsters and assorted underworld figures. Also, in many of these stories, there's little or no elements of the fantastic despite the colorful covers and evocative titles. The Shadow adventures that I've read are basically mystery novels with liberal does of gun play and violence (and the occasional death trap) thrown in for good measure. In the universe that The Shadow and his agents operate in, the mere presence of a mysterious, cloaked avenger of the night is fantastic enough.

In CHARG, MONSTER, The Shadow goes up against a super-villain who uses robots to commit murder. For once, the cover art by Jim Steranko is a fair representation of what's actually inside (albeit the absence of a shapely, blonde damsel in distress). The technology used by the villain and his metallic murderers is quite sophisticated for the mid-1930s. Also, this adventure is more tightly written than other Shadow thrillers. The plot is more streamlined and the pace is quicker than usual. There's little or no padding and The Shadow (and Lamont Cranston), appear on almost every page. With a murderous mastermind like Charg and his killer robots, The Shadow is up against a genuinely fantastic, super foe. The result is a superlative pulp thriller.

Thumbs up!

Saturday, October 1, 2016


Zombies weren't as well represented in the classic horror cinema of the twentieth-century as their higher profile monster kin such as Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolfman, The Invisible Man, The Phantom of the Opera and The Creature From The Black Lagoon, among others. Prior to 1968, there were only a handful of zombie oriented horror films produced including the Bela Lugosi film, WHITE ZOMBIE (1932), Val Lewton's moody and poetic I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943), the low-budget comedy programmer ZOMBIES ON BROADWAY (1945), exploitation quickie ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU (1957) and Hammer films' PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (1966). Three of those films, WHITE, WALKED and PLAGUE, are actually quite good and well worth seeing. But still, zombies just never had the street cred that other movie monsters did. Zombies were just re-animated corpses who moved kinda slow and obeyed their masters commands. They couldn't run very fast and hey, it's not like they were going to eat you or anything.

All of that changed with George Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), the first modern horror film to explicitly posit the newly resurrected  dead as ghouls and cannibals. These lumbering, shambling, mindless monstrosities did indeed want to eat you. This new iteration of zombie monsters was a game changer for the sub-genre. Almost every zombie oriented horror film or television series in the last forty years has featured fast moving, strong and hungry-for-human flesh hordes of the living dead.

Cast in point, Danny Boyle's 28 DAYS LATER (2002) and it's 2007 sequel, 28 WEEKS LATER. I recently had the opportunity to watch both of these films, albeit in reverse order, but they are both interesting, well made films that are worth seeing if you're a horror film fan in general and a zombie junkie in particular.

That said, I would make the case that the flesh-eating human monsters depicted in both of these films are not, in the technical, strictest sense of the word, actually zombies per se. They're not dead people brought back to life. They're merely infected with a not-quite-specified but extremely fast acting virus which turns them into rage filled, gut-munchers in less than a minute. They're still a threat but they're zombies for the 21st century in which fears of a terror attack using weaponized biological agents is a very real possibility to say nothing of worldwide epidemics of contagious, infectious diseases.

28 DAYS opens with some scientists experimenting on apes with the virus. Animal rights activists invade the laboratory to free the animals and unknowingly unleash the "Rage" virus into the world at large. Specifically, the United Kingdom, where the action resumes 28 days later with a young man, Jim (Cilian Murphy), awakening in a London hospital to find he's the only person left alive in the city. He wanders about London in scenes that recall John Wyndham's science fiction novel, THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS (1951), and two of the three film adaptations of Richard Matheson's 1954 novel I AM LEGEND: THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964) and OMEGA MAN (1971). and pre-figure Will Smith's I AM LEGEND (2007).

Of course, he's not entirely alone. Jim is saved by a couple of survivors, Selena (Naomie Harris)  and Mark (Noah Huntley). But Mark is soon killed by the zombies and Jim and Selena eventually take refuge with Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his daughter Hannah (Megan Burns). The four of them pick up a radio signal from a military base outside of the city and decide to make the journey in the hopes of finding safety and sanctuary. The military outpost, commanded by Major Henry West (Christopher Eccleston), is welcoming at first but the real agenda of the soldiers is soon revealed.

28 DAYS LATER ends on a note of hope but not before putting the characters and the audience through the wringer. This is a grim, grisly horror film, an almost unrelentingly  downbeat and depressing story of survival in a post-apocalyptic world. The effects and make-up are first rate and totally convincing, the action scenes taut and suspenseful and the performances are solid across the board.

The film did well enough at the box office to warrant a sequel, 28 WEEKS LATER, in 2007. Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, the film takes place after the infection has been largely contained within the United Kingdom, thanks to the efforts of a NATO peacekeeping force. A small area of London has been opened for re-population by returning refugees. The zone is heavily militarized and is supposed to be air-tight and totally secure.

Of course, something goes wrong. There's another outbreak of the virus which leads to a complete disaster as both infected and non-infected citizens are gunned down by the military. Two kids, brother and sister Tammy and Andy, are naturally immune to the virus and it's up to U.S. Army Sgt. Doyle (Jeremy Renner) and U.S. Army medical officer Scarlet (Rose Byrne), to get the kids out of the city safely and escort them to France where an antidote can possibly be concocted from their blood.

WEEKS is more of an action horror film than DAYS. There's plenty of automatic weapons' fire and if you've ever wanted to see a military helicopter use its' rotor blades to mow down a horde of advancing zombies, this is the movie for you. Well made, exciting and suspenseful, 28 WEEKS LATER is a fine continuation of the story that began in 28 DAYS LATER. If you're a horror film fan, check 'em out. They're definitely worth seeing.

Thursday, September 29, 2016


Regular readers of this blog know that Jack Kirby is my all-time favorite comic book artist. At last weekend's Austin Wizard World Comic Con, the only thing I bought (besides a cup of coffee and a $4.25 bottle of Dr. Pepper!) was the book pictured above. I recall buying this one when it was originally published in 1976 but somehow, over the years, it disappeared from my collection. Sold or traded away most likely. It's one of the few Kirby comics from his second stint at Marvel during the mid '70s that included work on CAPTAIN AMERICA, THE BLACK PANTHER, THE ETERNALS and DEVIL DINOSAUR, that I don't currently own. I found a dealer who had a very nice condition copy for twenty-bucks. He let me have it for fifteen. Sold.

How do I begin to explain this one? If you thought Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY was a head scratcher the first time you saw it, this over-sized all-Kirby extravaganza offers some answers but raises an equal number of new questions. First, the film was released in 1968. This Treasury Edition behemoth was published in 1976, eight years after the film had come and gone. That's far too late to be accurately identified as a bonafide tie-in and, coming in '76, was a year before STAR WARS hit and changed everything, especially in regards to merchandising for blockbuster films. Apparently, Kirby wanted to do this book as part of his deal to return to Marvel in the mid '70s. Someone must have agreed to it because rights and permissions had to be secured from MGM and Stanley Kubrick and any one else who had a claim to the property. That's also probably why this material has never been reprinted in any form. Rights must have reverted to MGM and the Stanley Kubrick estate, not Marvel and/or Jack Kirby. While there's interest in seeing this reprinted as a Kirby work, I doubt there's much commercial potential in a reprint of a forty-year old adaptation of a forty-eight-year-old film.

While I'm always happy to see Kirby's work in any format, I have to admit that I don't believe he was the best artist for this material. Sure, his artwork is solid but it's not his best work. Frank Giacoia was not Kirby's strongest inker but he does a serviceable job here. Joe Sinnott would, of course, have been perfect. Mike Royer would have been a good choice also. Thank goodness the inking was not assigned to Vince Colletta.  Kirby's dynamic, powerful layouts, compositions, figures, landscapes and machinery are all well done but his style just never seems to mesh with the cold, sterile look and pace of Kubrick's visuals and storytelling. If any then contemporary artist could have more closely captured the look and feel of the film, I submit that Jim Steranko would have been a better choice. Of course if Steranko, never the fastest artist, had started work on the book in 1976, it might just now be ready for publication.

So, let's take what we have and be glad that we have it. It's Kirby. What can I say? Jack also provides the captions and dialogue which explain everything we're seeing on the pages, leaving little or nothing to our imaginations. He over explains as much as Kubrick under explained events in the film. Where the film relied almost totally on visuals and sparse dialogue, deliberately evoking an ambiguous atmosphere full of mystery and wonder, Kirby spells it all out for us.

Plus, he adds material that was not in the film. This material appears to have come from two sources. One, Arthur C. Clarke's novel, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and an earlier draft of the screenplay co-written by Clarke and Kubrick . The added material expands the narrative but doesn't change the storyline in any major way.

As good a penciler as Kirby was, his attempts to replicate the film's notorious "cosmic light show" finale, fall short here. His pages are full of star scapes, "Kirby Krackle" and, photo collages. It's good but it's not the awesome visuals seen in the film.

Apparently, the Treasury Edition sold well enough to warrant a continuing comic book series of the same name. In the monthly comic book, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, Kirby repeated the same two part structure of the film for several issues. Open with a primitive man or woman, introduce the monolith, cut to the future where an astronaut encounters the monolith and is transformed into a "Star Baby." That's the gist of the first few issues until Kirby introduced a robot character who eventually became Machine Man, a hero who ended up taking over the book and causing a title change.

I'm glad I have this comic. It's not great but it is Kirby and even lesser Kirby work is better than many artists' best stuff. It's an adaptation of one of my all-time favorite films. It's a giant-size, tabloid format hunk of Bronze Age magic that's worth reading if you can track down a copy.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


When I was a kid, my four favorite actors were all leading men on popular network television shows. They were Adam West (Bruce Wayne/Batman) on ABC-TV's BATMAN, William Shatner (Captain Kirk) on NBC-TV's STAR TREK, Robert Conrad (James West) on CBS-TV's THE WILD, WILD WEST and Robert Vaughn (Napoleon Solo) on NBC-TV's THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. Great actors? No but they all had dynamic personalities whose performances in those roles came to largely define the men for the rest of their respective careers.

I've now had the pleasure and honor to meet two of those men. The first occurred as part of a June, 2010 screening of BATMAN (1966) at Austin's Paramount Theatre. The film had it's world premiere at the Paramount in August, 1966 as part of Aqua Fest. The reason the film premiered in Austin? The Batboat vehicle used in the film was built at Glastron Boats and Motors right here in River City. There were two screenings of the film, a matinee and one later that evening. The matinee featured several of the cast members in their character costumes while the stars sported formal wear for the evening screening. My uncle took me and my two cousins to see the premiere. We stood in the hot, baking August heat and steaming humidity along with hundreds of other fans on Congress Avenue to watch the stars arrive. Then we went into the wonderful, cool darkness of the Paramount to see the movie. It was one of the most memorable events of my young life (I was ten-years-old at the time). For the rest of my life, I could say with pride "I was there."

In June, 2010, as part of Austin's Bat Fest, a screening of the 1966 film was scheduled  with Adam West in attendance. I was writing film notes for the theater at the time and as soon as I learned about this event, I immediately asked if I could be involved in some way. In addition to writing the notes for the film, I was granted the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to introduce Adam West and do a brief question and answer session with him on stage before the film.

 Judy and I arrived at the Stateside Theater about an hour early. Mr. West was going to be there for photos and autographs prior to the screening. I was allowed to be placed at the front of the line to wait for his arrival.  I had brought my DVD of the 1966 film to get signed and while waiting in line, I struck up a conversation with a very nice gentleman behind me. He had a couple of nifty commemorative posters for the event and when he found out my involvement, he gave me one of the posters for Mr. West to sign. That was incredibly generous and gracious and I owe that unknown fan a huge thanks. When Mr. West arrived, I stepped forward to his table, posed for the photograph above (I was sixty pounds heavier then!) and asked him to sign my DVD and poster. He did and we briefly chatted about the format of his appearance next door. I shook hands, told him I'd see him backstage when he was finished and left. I was on cloud nine.

When Judy and I got to the Paramount, she grabbed us two choice seats while I went backstage to wait for Mr. West. I chatted with a couple of Paramount employees while clips from the local television coverage of the 1966 premiere were projected on the huge movie screen. Finally Mr. West arrived and we once again went over the details. I had a written, prepared script to read first and then we'd open it up to questions from the audience (which was close to 1,200 people, full capacity of the Paramount). Mr. West told me about a recent injury he had incurred while driving a dune buggy. Throughout our brief time together he was charming, gracious and friendly. It was truly like visiting with an old friend.

Finally my cue came and I strolled onto the stage. Before reading my prepared introduction, I asked if anyone there had attended the 1966 world premiere. There was a smattering of applause. I confessed that I had been there too. I read my notes and brought out Adam West to thunderous applause. We took a few questions and bantered back and forth for a few minutes. I remember him asking me which episode was my favorite and I replied, "the first one with the Riddler and Jill St. John." He ended by saying that in contrast to the "Dark Knight", his interpretation of Batman was more the "Bright Knight". With that he exited the stage, I called "give it up for Adam West!" and the place went nuts. I shook hands with him once again backstage and thanked him again then went out into the auditorium to find Judy and enjoy the movie.

It was a day I'll never forget. Truly one of the great moments of my life.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to meet William Shatner. It was a vastly different experience than my meeting with Adam West.

About a month ago, we were approached about selling copies of LEONARD, William Shatner's memoir about the late Leonard Nimoy at his appearance at Austin Wizard World Comic Con. We quickly accepted the offer and made our plans. I asked my contact person if it was possible that we could get a photo with Mr. Shatner and he told me that could be arranged. I also asked if Mr. Shatner would sign any unsold copies for us to sell at the store. I was informed that he would do so, for fifty-dollars a signature. I politely declined.

We (Jon Levesque, Jeannine Hasse and I) were set up at a table on Saturday at the con directly in front of where Mr. Shatner was signing autographs. We were next to the table where one of his agents/managers/handlers was selling autograph tickets at eighty bucks a pop. If you wanted to buy a color 8 x 10 for him to sign, that was an extra five dollars. If you wanted to buy a book from us, that came to twenty-eight dollars. Plus another eighty bucks for the signature.

After the initial signing line died down, I went over to the table and spoke to a gentleman named Gary who had introduced himself to me earlier as "Bill's agent". I asked him if we could arrange a photo op and he said, "let's do it right now."

I motioned to Jon and Jeannine and we went over to Mr. Shatner.

 "Bill," said Gary, "these people are selling your book and they'd like a picture."

"When," asked Shatner.

"Right now," said  Gary.

"Okay," said Shatner. "Come on around behind."

We did so, a volunteer took one quick, somewhat blurry picture with Jon's phone, we thanked Mr. Shatner and went back to our table. Wham, bam, thank you, mam. That was it. It was over. No hand shakes, no small talk, no engagement whatsoever. Mr. Shatner wasn't mean or rude but he wasn't ebullient, charming and outgoing either. There's no telling how many photos with fans he's had taken over the years and for him, we were just three more people. But for us, it was a once-in-a-lifetime meeting with the one and only Captain Kirk.

Make no mistake. I'm glad we did it. While I wish it could have been more, I knew it was the only opportunity we were going to get and it was better than no photo at all. Plus, we didn't have to pony up eighty bucks.

Two down. Two to go. Will I ever meet Robert Conrad and Robert Vaughn before either man passes away? Who knows? But then again, not long ago, I had no idea that I'd ever meet Adam West and William Shatner either.

Sunday, September 18, 2016


In 1931, flush from the box office and critical success of Tod Browning's DRACULA, Universal Studios, headed by Carl Laemmle, Jr., decided to put another horror film into production as quickly as possible. In the silent era, the studios' go-to-guy was the late, great Lon Chaney. But the actor had recently passed away and it was Hungarian transplant Bela Lugosi who became the first horror star of the sound era by playing Count Dracula in the film version of the stage play in which he had defined the role.

The next project being prepped was an adaptation of Mary Shelley's classic novel FRANKENSTEIN, to be directed by Robert Florey. Lugosi was considered for the part of the mute, man-made monster but a screen test was required. Make up wizard Jack Pierce applied his skills to Lugosi with somewhat questionable results. When the test reels were shown to Laemmele, Florey and Lugosi (along with other studio executives), they all knew that what was on the screen simply wouldn't work. Florey and Lugosi were out as director and star of FRANKENSTEIN, James Whale and Boris Karloff were in. The rest is history.

Florey and Lugosi did work together on a different horror film at Universal, MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (1932), based on the story by Edgar Allen Poe. And, ironically enough, Lugosi would eventually play the Frankenstein monster in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN (1942) and only play Count Dracula on screen one more time in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948).

But what about that disastrous screen test? It is, to date, lost, a bit of Hollywood history that has never been seen since that fateful day in 1931. No print of it has ever surfaced and it remains one of the great lost treasures of the great golden age of horror films. It ranks up there with Tod Browning's silent horror film LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (1927), as one of the holy grails of lost horror films. At this date, it's likely that we will never see the Lugosi Frankenstein screen test but then again, who would have ever believed that a nearly complete print of Fritz Lang's monumental METROPOLIS (1927) would surface in, of all places, Argentina, as it did a few years ago. Never say never seem to be the bywords here but I would also offer this addendum: Don't Hold Your Breath Waiting.

That legendary lost Lugosi screen test is the object of desire in ALIVE! (2013) by Loren D. Estleman. It's the third mystery involving Valentino, a film fanatic who works for the UCLA department of film preservation tracking down rare and obscure treasures. Valentino searches out both actual films as well as movie related artifacts such as screenplays, posters, promotional materials, props and costumes.  He's also up to his neck in debt restoring a vintage Los Angeles movie theater (he lives in the projection booth). Valentino's quests inevitably lead to murder and when that occurs, he plays amateur sleuth to solve the crimes and recover the prize.

That's pretty much the set-up here. A washed-up, alcoholic former action star, Craig Hunter, calls Valentino late one night claiming to have the Lugosi film. Hunter turns up dead, a victim of murder. The film is missing (if he ever really did have it) and the evidence points to a crime boss whose father worked at Universal Studios back in the day. Valentino's efforts to solve the murder of his friend and find the missing film brings him into contact with J. Arthur Greenwood, a famous Hollywood collector and publisher of HORRORWOOD magazine. Greenwood, is, of course, a stand-in for Forrest J. Ackerman, the legendary editor of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND.

Valentino is also aided in his quest by a student intern and his gang of steam punks. The suspects are many, there's a fair amount of danger and a ton of film history contained within the narrative, all of which is told with a mixture of genuine respect and reverence for film history and a slightly comic, tongue-in-cheek tone. This Valentino mystery reminds me a great deal of the Toby Peters series by Stuart Kaminsky. Peters was a Hollywood based private detective whose cases involved various players in the movie industry during the '30s and '40s. They were light weight, breezy and fun, full of affection for the Golden Age of Hollywood.

That's the vibe I get here. ALIVE! is a fun, fast read. It's not a great mystery by any stretch but I did enjoy it and got a few chuckles out of it. Of course what really pushed my buttons was the Lugosi film and all of the stuff about the Universal horror films (which are my all-time favorites). If you like classic monster movies, you'll definitely enjoy ALIVE! If you're not a fan, it's still a nice, PG-13 (brief nudity and violence)  rated murder mystery.