Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Overlooked Movies: Colorado Sundown (1952)

Rex Allen may have been Republic Pictures' second-string singing cowboy behind Roy Rogers in the early Fifties, but I've always enjoyed his movies. The production values were always top-notch as well. Take COLORADO SUNDOWN, a 1952 entry that I've just watched. The director is William Witney, the special effects are by the Lydecker brothers, and there are plenty of great stunts choreographed by stunt coordinator Fred Graham, who also plays one of the bad guys. The movie gets off to a fast start, too, with a musical number, a runaway stage coach, and a murder in the first ten minutes.

The screenplay by Eric Taylor and William Lively is fairly complicated, involving a villainous brother and sister who inherit a ranch and plan to strip it of its timber, causing erosion and flooding that will ruin the other ranchers in the valley. Their scheme goes awry when a couple of unexpected other heirs show up, one of them none other than Slim Pickens, who was usually Rex Allen's sidekick. Rex has come along with his buddy Slim, of course, to make sure that no one takes advantage of him. It doesn't take Rex long to figure out that something crooked is going on, and before you know it, ridin' and shootin' abound, mixed in with at least three brutal fistfights (a Witney trademark) and a flash flood.

Slim Pickens is always fun to watch, the fine character actress Louise Beavers does what she can with a stereotypical role as a maid, and Allen is very likable, as well as an excellent rider and athlete. He was a good singer, too, although not as good as Roy. In fact, when I was a little kid I saw him perform at the Fat Stock Show rodeo in Fort Worth, and I've never forgotten it. (I saw Roy and Dale at the same rodeo a different year. No wonder I grew up to write cowboy stories.)

If you've never seen a Rex Allen movie, you should check out COLORADO SUNDOWN. It's a well-written, well-directed, well-made B-Western, not in the top rank of the genre but certainly worth watching.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Good News for Rocket's Red Glare

Three stories from ROCKET'S RED GLARE, the science fiction anthology I edited and published last year, have been selected to be reprinted in the next volume of THE YEAR'S BEST MILITARY AND ADVENTURE SF, edited by David Afsharirad and published by Baen Books. The stories are "Orphans of Aries" by Brad R. Torgersen, "A Hamal in Hollywood" by Martin L. Shoemaker, and "A Man They Didn't Know" by David Hardy. I'm really excited that these fine stories are being honored this way and can't wait to see them appear in the anthology. Makes me feel proud to be an editor.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: All Detective Magazine

ALL DETECTIVE MAGAZINE wasn't all that successful for Dell, running less than three years, but it had some good covers, like this one by Rafael DeSoto, and some fine authors, including in this issue Erle Stanley Gardner, Frederick C. Painton, Dwight V. Babcock, Edward P. Norris, and Hapsburg Liebe. I love that redheaded babe's expression.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Mammoth Western, March 1948

I can't tell if this hombre's hat got shot off or just fell off, so I can't say for sure if it's an Injury to a Hat cover. But I can tell you that the cover is by Robert Gibson Jones, this issue was edited by Ray Palmer, and the authors who have stories inside include Dwight V. Swain, "Alexander Blade", Chester S. Geier, Robert Moore Williams, Paul W. Fairman, William P. McGivern, H.B. Livingston (who was really Berkeley Livingston), and Lester Barclay (who was also Berkeley Livingston). In other words, the usual suspects for a Ziff-Davis pulp. But it's a pretty entertaining group of usual suspects.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Forgotten Books: Oh, For the Life of an Author's Wife - Elizabeth Charlier Brown

I’ve mentioned before that I like to read books about writers. Here’s one that’s a little bit different. OH, FOR THE LIFE OF AN AUTHOR’S WIFE is by Elizabeth Charlier Brown, Fredric Brown’s second wife who was married to him from 1948 until his death in 1972, during the most successful part of his career.

Elizabeth, or Bethie, as Fred called her, wrote this book in 1958, but it’s gone unpublished until now. It’s a fine memoir. Elizabeth Brown wrote and sold a few stories to the love pulps in the early Fifties, so she wasn’t exactly an amateur writer, but this book does have a charmingly unpolished air about it, more like you’re sitting with her and she’s telling you the stories in person. She writes quite a bit about the domestic side of the life she shared with Fredric Brown, the moving from state to state (Fred Brown was a very restless person and never liked to stay in one place for too long), the houses where they lived, the friends they made, the parties they attended, etc. But for those of us more interested in the writing side of things, she also goes into detail about what Fred was working on when, how some of the books came about, how his famous habit of taking long bus trips to work out his plots originated, even how much money he was paid for his books and stories. I’m often surprised by how little money was made by writers I’ve thought of as having long, successful careers. The Browns, for example, sometimes had to borrow money just to pay bills.

There are also numerous passages about other writers the Browns met and befriended, including a mention of Sam Merwin Jr., my old mentor from the MSMM days. It’s all fascinating stuff, and I had a hard time putting the book down because it seemed like there was always another nugget about the world of mystery and science fiction publishing in the 1950s just waiting to be discovered in its pages.

I’ll admit, I’m woefully under-read when it comes to Fredric Brown. I’ve read two or three novels and a handful of his short stories, but I’ve enjoyed them all and really need to read more by him. This volume may prompt me to do just that. I really enjoyed it, and if you’re a Fredric Brown fan or just someone who likes reading about authors, I give it a high recommendation.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Overlooked Movies: Impact (2009)

(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on September 1, 2010.)

From what I can tell, this is a Canadian/German TV mini-series released as a feature film on DVD. It’s an old-fashioned disaster movie, complete with brilliant but impossibly good-looking scientist heroes, cute kids, grumpy but heroic old-timers, clueless politicians and military officers, and no real villains other than a capricious universe. In this case, the trouble starts when during a meteor shower, a chunk of a brown dwarf star slams into the Moon and imbeds itself deep beneath the lunar surface. The impact, plus the added weight of the incredibly dense dead star, throws the moon into a crazy orbit that makes gravity go crazy on Earth. Even worse, the Moon’s orbit is going to deteriorate to the point that it will eventually crash into Earth itself, shattering the planet.

I’m no scientist, but most of the scientific explanations in this movie sound pretty sketchy and the actors rush through them as if the director doesn’t want the audience thinking too much about them. To be honest, though, nobody watches stuff like this for the science. We watch for soap opera and stalwart heroics, both of which are in abundant supply in IMPACT. David James Elliott is the strong-jawed scientist hero, playing the role like something out of a Doc Smith novel, and Natasha Henstridge is the most gorgeous brainiac since Denise Richards in that James Bond movie, whichever one it was. James Cromwell is the father-in-law of Elliott’s character, Steven Culp is the President, and the rest of the cast consists of actors I’ve never heard of, although they may be well-known in Canada and Germany. Everybody is very earnest, which is understandable when the Moon is going to crash into the Earth in a month.

Despite my borderline snarkiness and the predictability of the script, IMPACT actually is pretty entertaining and manages to generate considerable suspense at times. I’m not suggesting you rush right out to pick up a copy, but watching it is an okay way to spend a couple of evenings or a long afternoon when you don’t have anything better to do.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Bill Crider

The world is an emptier place tonight for readers, writers, book collectors, and everyone who ever met the man. Rest in peace, Bill.

Outlaws of the Legion - David Hardy

I enjoyed David Hardy’s CODE OF THE LEGION so much I went ahead and read his other French Foreign Legion yarn, OUTLAWS OF THE LEGION, and I think I liked it even more. This one finds a group of Legionaires, including a Texas gunfighter (shades of El Borak!), leaving their post and raiding a sheikh’s stronghold to rescue a beautiful dancing girl and avenge a friend’s death. As always, Hardy does a fine job with the setting and the history and packs plenty of gritty action into the tale he’s telling. This is pure pulp in the best way, with echoes not only of Theodore Roscoe and Georges Surdez but also Robert E. Howard and Talbot Mundy. I hope Hardy keeps writing these, because they’re some of the best stories I’ve read recently. Highly recommended.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Transformers: The Last Knight

Have you ever been watching DOWNTON ABBEY and said to yourself, "Y'know, this is a pretty good show, but what it really needs is giant robots that can turn into other stuff fighting each other"?

Because that's kind of what you get in TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT, at least part of the time. Some of the film is set on an English country estate, complete with big, castle-like house, and Jim Carter, who played Carson the butler on DOWNTON ABBEY, plays another butler in this one, only he's a Transformer. And if you think that's kind of weird, hearing Carson's voice coming out of a robot, you'd be right. Elsewhere, Anthony Hopkins is the nobleman Carter's character works for, Mark Wahlberg and Josh Duhamel are our stalwart heroes helping the Transformers fight the evil Decepticons, and a whole crew of veteran voice actors are behind all the computer-generated robots.

The plot, you ask? Well, it fills in some of the Transformers' back-story and how they came to earth, which involves King Arthur and Merlin (no, I'm not making this up), and a secret weapon they create and give to Merlin which has been hidden for centuries, until it becomes the only thing that can prevent the Transformers' home planet of Cybertron from crashing into Earth. And Earth holds another secret that effectively sets up the next movie in the series, which I'm sure we'll watch, too, since we've seen all the others. Sure, the Transformers movies are big and loud and silly, but a few times in every one of them, they manage to create the sort of epic feeling that I enjoy. And to be honest, I'm still enough of a 12-year-old boy at heart that giant robots whaling the tar out of each other still seems like fun.

I thought about doing this post as part of the Overlooked Movies series, since I didn't know this movie had even been made, let alone was available on DVD, until I happened to come across it, but it seemed too recent and probably was too successful for that. So if I'm still doing the blog in a few years and the Overlooked Movies series is still going on, I'll do a repost of it when I'm stuck for anything else.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Bedtime Stories, February 1937

A Valentine's Day-related pulp cover by H.J. Ward. I don't know much at all about BEDTIME STORIES except that it looks pretty risque for the era and that Robert Leslie Bellem wrote for it, including a story in this issue. The names of the other authors mean absolutely nothing to me.