Saturday, January 21, 2017

DOC SAVAGE: THE FRIGHTENED FISH


I haven't read a DOC SAVAGE novel since summer of 2015 so what better way to start the new year than by tearing through a "new" Doc adventure. Judy gave me this one for Christmas (thanks sweetie) and I really enjoyed it. But then, there have been very few Doc Savage books that I haven't liked.

Some background is necessary here. Street & Smith cancelled their DOC SAVAGE magazine in 1949. The last published adventure was UP FROM EARTH'S CENTER. By the time the plug was finally pulled, the magazine had shrunk in page count and dimensions, making it digest sized rather than the traditional, larger pulp format magazine. The stories had shifted in emphasis also, Doc was now more of a glorified detective/spy smasher than a super-hero. He was more human in his abilities and he operated in the vastly different atmosphere of the post WWII Cold War. While these stories are entertaining, it's my belief that Doc always worked best (and still does) when the stories are set in the 1930s.

Doc creator Lester Dent had notes, outlines and material left over after the magazine was cancelled. Much of this material has been worked into new Doc Savage novels by pulp expert Will Murray under the house name of "Kenneth Robeson". Some of this material was for THE FRIGHTENED FISH, which was scheduled to appear after UP FROM EARTH'S CENTER and planned to be the last Doc Savage novel. That never happened but Murray, working with the estate of Lester Dent was determined to bring this story to life.

Murray originally wrote FISH in 1980 but it wasn't published by Bantam Books (who had the Doc license at the time) until 1992. It has since been reprinted by Altus Press and here, in a special edition from Moonstone. The book is a sequel of sorts to another Cold War Doc thriller, THE RED SPIDER (written in 1948 but not published until 1979)  and features the return of a Doc villain who first appeared in THE SCREAMING MAN (1945).

FISH opens like so many other Doc narratives: bizarre happenings in New York City, a man who freaks out over fish and fish images all over town, his trail of madness ending at Doc's doorstep. Doc, Monk, Ham and Johnny (no mention whatsoever here of either Renny or Long Tom), take up the trail which leads first to Long Island, then to the coastal waters of Massachusetts where all marine life has mysteriously vanished. From there, Doc and his crew board the redoubtable Helldiver (a vessel somewhat past her prime) and head for Japan by way of the Panama Canal. There's skulduggery in Tokyo and characters from RED SPIDER are brought back before the final showdown aboard a Chinese junk in the Sea of Japan.

That showdown is somewhat bloodier and more violent than previous Doc battles. Monk kills several opponents with a firearm, rather than using mercy bullets and a key character dies at the hands of the master villain (the cover art gives this away unfortunately). The unthinkable happens in this story: Monk strikes Doc in the heat of battle and Doc dares open up a part of himself that has long been securely locked away.

THE FRIGHTENED FISH is a fast paced quick read. A genuine, good old fashioned pulp page turner. While it doesn't reach the heights of some of the 1930s super sagas, it fits nicely into the late '40s niche in which it was originally planned to appear.

If you're new to Doc Savage, don't start with this novel. Save it until you've read a few others. If you're a hardcover Doc fan, you've probably already read it. If not, get it as soon as possible You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

ENTRAPMENT

"There are always surprises."

Three things that push my hot buttons: caper films, Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Combine all three, as was done in ENTRAPMENT (1999) and the result is an enjoyable little B movie, full of eye candy, high tech gadgets, plot twists and exotic locales.

Virginia Baker (Jones) is an insurance investigator on the trail of master thief Robert Mac Dougal (Connery). She joins up with him and the two plot a heist involving an ancient Chinese mask. When that job is successful, Gin convinces Mac to help her on an even bigger score, robbing an international bank of billions at the stroke of midnight, December 1999.

It's all a bunch of hugger mugger designed to capitalize on the Y2K phenomenon (you remember that one don't you?) and a chance to stage a third act set piece involving the world's tallest building in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

There are reversals of fortune every few minutes and you never know for sure just who is playing who. But who cares when the two leads are so much fun to watch. A May-December romance slowly builds between Gin and Mac but it's worth considering that Connery was 69 at the time the film was made while Jones was all of 30.

Jones makes a slinky burglar and she would have made a good Catwoman. I can also see her playing Emma Peel, should anyone ever decide to try rebooting THE AVENGERS. And of course, she would have been letter perfect as Princess Diana in a WONDER WOMAN film with Lynda Carter co-starring as her mother, Hippolyta.

Alas, such is not to be but a guy can always dream. ENTRAPMENT is a pure popcorn movie. No heavy lifting required. Just sit back, relax and enjoy it.

MY FAVORITE BRUNETTE: THE BOND GIRLS


Maud Adams is, of course, the third actress to appear in two James Bond films. First, as Andrea Anders in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974) and as the title character in OCTOPUSSY (1983).

Saturday, January 14, 2017

A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY

2017 is only fourteen days old but I may have just seen the weirdest damn movie I'll see all year. A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY (1968), is an Italian-French horror film directed by Elio Petri, QUIET is a piece of psychological horror unlike the more traditional fare of other Italian horror auteurs like Mario Bava and Dario Argento. Hell, it's more like Fellini than anything else.

Franco Nero stars as Leonardo, a disturbed young modern artist. He's suffering, among other things, a creative block that keeps him from producing his abstract "masterpieces", works that fetch a good price on the art collector market. His lover, Flavia (the lovely Vanessa Redgrave), serves as his business manager, finding him clients and gallery showings. But in addition to his creative block, Leonardo appears to be sexually impotent. He reads European skin magazines but can't seem to make love to Flavia. He's also suffering from several bizarre dreams, nightmares with a high quotient of sex and violence.

Leonardo determines that he needs to move out of the city and set up a studio somewhere in the country. Although a wealthy client has a place all set up for him, Leonardo prefers a deserted, crumbling old mansion that comes with it's very own ghost.

Leonardo becomes haunted by the spirit of Wanda (Gabriella Boccardo), a promiscuous young nymphomaniac who lived in the mansion and met her end during World War II. Leonardo becomes obsessed with the young girl and becomes determined to do away with anyone that stands between him and his ghostly paramour.

But after a brutal killing and several other strange episodes, it turns out that Leonardo, already disturbed, has finally gone around the bend. No one has actually been killed and Leonardo is taken to a maximum security asylum where he resumes his painting. Well, at least that pesky creative block is gone.

From the weirdo opening credits, a visual collage of images of classical art, academy film leader, black and white photos and other ephemera, to the bizarre and abrupt ending, QUIET PLACE is one helluva strange movie. Director Petri and cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller choose off-kilter, truncated framing and compositions instead of more traditional camera set-ups. Add to that the discordant, atonal noise (by Ennio Morricone!) that serves as a soundtrack and the result is an avant garde, bizarre for the sake of bizarre exercise in film making.

It's an extremely off putting approach and during the first act of the film I debated whether or not to turn it off. The screenplay by Petri and Luciano Vincenzoni takes it's sweet time developing and once the story finally starts to gel, it's actually pretty routine. It's as if the filmmakers didn't have any trust in the material on the page and decided to spice it up with outre camera work, editing and "music."

The film reminded me of Stanley Kubrick's THE SHINING (1980) in the sense that Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) was already crazy from the get-go, the Overlook Hotel just made him crazier. Here, Leonardo is a bubble off plumb from the opening sequence and he just goes more and more off of the rails throughout the course of the film.

A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY is an oddity. Produced at a time when restraints on cinematic sex and violence were being removed, the film offers plenty of nudity and violence. Vanessa Redgrave is awfully easy on the eyes but that's about the best thing I can say about this film.

HARDBOILED HOLLYWOOD


I received a copy of HARDBOILED HOLLYWOOD (2010) from my "Secret Santa" at work this past Christmas. Thanks Corey! I wasn't familiar with this title but I got a kick out of reading it.

It's a survey of several classic noir films, almost all of which I've seen. The films are LITTLE CAESAR (1931), THE BIG SLEEP (1946), IN A LONELY PLACE (1950), KISS ME, DEADLY (1955), HELL IS A CITY (1954), PSYCHO (1960), POINT BLANK (1967), BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967), GET CARTER (1970), DILLINGER (1973) and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997). The two films here that I haven't seen are both British, HELL IS A CITY (which, despite the title, is about London, not McDade) and GET CARTER. I'll check them out first chance I get.

Author Max Decharne devotes a chapter to each film in which he discuses the true crimes and/or novels (sometimes both), on which the films are based. He writes in a breezy, informal style that is a nice change of pace from the often times overly scholarly approach books like this can take. It's a short, quick read and I wished he had chosen a few more films to write about. As usual with books of this type, reading about these films and novels made me want to revisit the ones I've already enjoyed and seek out the ones that I haven't yet experienced. Mission accomplished and well done.

 Recommended to fans of the genre and for those just starting to discover the pleasures of film noir. .


MY FAVORITE BRUNETTE: THE BOND GIRLS


Martine Beswick was the second actress (after Eunice Gayson) to appear in two James Bond films. There was a third and that actress will be identified in a future post, although hardcore Bond fans should already know the answer.

Beswick played Zora, a gypsy girl in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963). Her screen time is limited but memorable as she's featured in Bond's visit to a gypsy camp and the subsequent gun battle that occurs there. Beswick got more screen time in THUNDERBALL (1965), in which she played Bond's assistant, Paula Caplan. She also appeared in several Hammer films including ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966), PREHISTORIC WOMEN (1967) and DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE (1971). 


Saturday, December 31, 2016

CRISIS OF INFINITE SWIPES


This the splash page to MARVEL: THE LOST GENERATION #6 published in September 2000. The lettering, as you can see by the credits, is by Jack Morelli. Note the font used for the word "crisis". Where have we seen that before?


Coincidence? I don't think so.