Friday, February 28, 2014

Forgotten Books: Escape to Sindom - Don Elliott (Robert Silverberg)

Like many of the novels in the various imprints published by William Hamling's black box empire, ESCAPE TO SINDOM is essentially a crime story. Val Sparkman is a professional criminal—a con man, a forger, a thief, a killer when he has to be. A bit of bad luck lands him in a small-town jail in Iowa. The local lawmen don't really have a clue who they've locked up, and Sparkman knows he has to escape before they find out. He manages to do so, but now he's on the run with no money and no gun. He hitches a ride and knocks out the traveling salesman who picks him up, stealing the man's car and heading for Mexico, but his odds of getting there are slim.

Meanwhile, a few towns away, beautiful but bored young waitress (and town tramp) Janey Haskell is tired of her life and wants to do something big and exciting. It's pretty much inevitable that when a handsome stranger comes along, Janey will latch on to him and run away with him, even though he may be dangerous...

Anybody who's read very many noir novels, or very many of these soft-core novels, or both (that would be me and no doubt some of you), will know pretty much everything that's going to happen in ESCAPE TO SINDOM. That said, a skillful author can elevate a book above its formula with good writing, and not surprisingly that's what we have in this one since it was written by Robert Silverberg under his Don Elliott pseudonym. Silverberg keeps things racing along at an entertaining pace, throwing in a few flashbacks to earlier sexual adventures of Sparkman and Janey. There's an occasional touch of humor to break up the overall sense of impending doom, and the final twist is a pretty good one.

By the time ESCAPE TO SINDOM was published, the sex scenes in these books were more frequent and more graphic and the rest of the plot isn't quite as important as it was in the books published just a few years earlier. That keeps it from being in the top rank of Silverberg's Don Elliott novels, but it's still pretty darned entertaining. I'll read any of them I come across, and I haven't been disappointed yet.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: The Far Country

THE FAR COUNTRY is another Western collaboration between star James Stewart and director Anthony Mann, and it's a good one. Stewart, playing the same sort of hardboiled character that he does in his other films for Mann, is a cowboy taking a herd of cattle to Alaska for the Klondike gold rush. He runs into all sorts of trouble along the way, most notably a corrupt lawman played by John McEntire. The character seems to be based on the real-life criminal Soapy Smith, who ruled Skagway, Alaska during the late 1890s.

Stewart's sidekicks are the always watchable Walter Brennan and Jay C. Flippen. McEntire's chief henchman is a young, slender, and very sinister Jack Elam, one of my favorite character actors. (You've all heard the "Who's Jack Elam?" story, I assume?) Henry Morgan is also one of the villains, which is a little hard to accept after watching him play nice guys in dozens of movies and TV shows all the way back to a forgotten series called PETE AND GLADYS. There's a mild romantic triangle involving Stewart with beautiful saloon owner Ruth Roman and tomboyish Corinne Calvet. The location photography is beautiful, and the screenplay by Borden Chase clips right along at a good pace and climaxes with a good shootout between Stewart and McEntire that I actually remembered from the last time I saw this movie more than forty years ago.

Stewart seems to be struggling a little with his own affable nature in this one. He was always capable of reaching into some dark corners, most notably in his films directed by Frank Capra (there's at least one shot in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE that's as noir as anything ever put on screen), but there are a few moments in THE FAR COUNTRY that seem almost like Elwood P. Dowd became a cowboy.

Despite that—or hell, maybe because of it—I like this movie quite a bit. It's nothing special, just a good solid hour and a half of Western entertainment. Just the ticket sometimes.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Girls of Bunker Pines - Garnett Elliott

THE GIRLS OF BUNKER PINES is the third adventure of Jack Laramie, the Drifter Detective, in what has become one of my favorite current private eye series. Jack, as you may recall, is the grandson of legendary Old West marshal Cash Laramie, but he's a very different sort of character. He wanders around Texas in the mid-1950s, living out of a horse trailer and scrabbling for a precarious living as a private detective. It's a wonderful basis for a series, and author Garnett Elliott delivers another fine yarn in THE GIRLS OF BUNKER PINES.

This time a case involving a traveling preacher and a married woman with a wandering eye involves Jack in something even darker and more dangerous. As a favor to an ex-GI who gives him a hand in that case, he investigates a land development scheme in which veterans are being recruited to invest money in underground houses. Naturally there are some beautiful women involved (the girls of the title), along with plenty of shady characters.

As a bonus this time around, Elliott provides more background on Jack in the form of flashbacks to his service as a waist gunner in a B-17 during World War II. These sections are excellent and give the reader a better sense of who Jack is and what brought him to the life he leads. The scenes set in the Fifties ring true as well. It's hard to write period fiction that comes across as authentic without being overdone, but Elliott always manages to do so quite effectively.

Mostly THE GIRLS OF BUNKER PINES is just plain fun. Fast-paced, with good characters, a twisty plot, some wry humor, and a lot of darkness lurking under the surface (figuratively and literally), this is just about everything you'd want in a good private eye yarn. I had a great time reading it.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Startling Stories, May 1947

Earle Bergey's covers were controversial among science fiction fans even when they were first being published, let alone in this more politically correct age. I like 'em, though, but I've never taken science fiction as seriously as some do. With stories by Henry Kuttner, Robert A. Heinlein, Manly Wade Wellman, and John Russell Fearn, this issue looks like a lot of fun.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Lariat Story, January 1947

Ah, those great Fiction House covers! And with stories by Les Savage Jr., Giff Cheshire, and D.B. Newton, among others, this must have been a fine issue to read, too.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Forgotten Books: The Year When Stardust Fell - Raymond F. Jones

THE YEAR WHEN STARDUST FELL is one of those Winston science fiction novels that were so popular when I was a kid, what we called juveniles back then but are considered YA now. I remember seeing this one numerous times on the bookmobile shelves, but for some reason I never read it until now. That's probably good. For one thing, it's not only a fine novel, but reading it now fifty years later also gives it considerable nostalgia appeal. For another, its grim portrait of society breaking down probably would have scared the crap out of me when I was ten years old.

It's set in Mayfield, a fictional college town in Colorado. Our hero, high school student Ken Maddox, is the son of a professor and a budding scientist in his own right, as well as a whiz on the football team and an all-around great guy. He's not perfect—he does a little hot-rodding—but he's pretty darned close. He even has a female friend who's a beautiful blond Swedish exchange student, and even though the author never gets around to developing a romance between them, you know it's inevitable.

Everything is going along in fine 1950s-sitcom style when a comet shows up and Earth gets stuck in its tail for several months. There don't seem to be any effects from that until machinery suddenly stops working and before you can say "dystopia", civilization collapses. It's as if the cast of LEAVE IT TO BEAVER or FATHER KNOWS BEST were dropped down into a dangerous, post-apocalyptic world. The people in Mayfield struggle to survive and maintain at least a small degree of civilization while Ken, his father, and some other scientists from the college try to find a way to reverse the effects of the dust in the comet's tail, which proves to be the culprit in gumming up all the machines.

When it comes to grim and bleak, THE HUNGER GAMES and all the other current YA stuff has nothing on THE YEAR WHEN STARDUST FELL. Characters die right and left, including some you wouldn't expect. There are no miraculous answers, just a long, deadly struggle that Jones does a fine job of depicting. (As an aside, I haven't read any of the Hunger Games books, but when I watched the first movie, I said, "This is just Fifties science fiction." THE YEAR WHEN STARDUST FELL is pretty good evidence of that point.)

I really enjoyed this book. It's dated, of course, but that never bothers me. I'm pretty much out of date myself most of the time, so THE YEAR WHEN STARDUST FELL was a very nice return visit to Bookmobile Days. An e-book version is available for free numerous places on-line.

(By the way, I don't think the Cleavers would have made it. Although I can sort of see a grim, grizzled, heavily armed Ward Cleaver surviving. Eddie Haskell, of course, would be fine and thrive no matter how much chaos ensued.)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Bitch - Les Edgerton

You'd think that in a noir novel called THE BITCH, the title character would be a woman, but that's not the case in Les Edgerton's compelling novel from New Pulp Press. As it turns out, "The Bitch" is prison slang for getting a life sentence as a habitual criminal.

That's the threat that two-time ex-con and master burglar Jake Bishop faces as he tries to live a normal life with his pregnant wife. Jake has a decent job and is about to open his own business, when his former cellmate shows up to blackmail him into taking part in a jewel robbery. In a book like this, when one of the characters starts talking about "one last job" and "a sure thing", you know it's going to turn out to be anything but.

Boy, does it.

In fact, just about everything goes wrong for Jake that possibly can, and the choices he makes in response are, you guessed it, also wrong and just drag him deeper into trouble. Any time Jake—and the reader—thinks that things couldn't possibly get any worse, they do.

Edgerton's tough prose and sure hand with the plot twists make this novel race along at a very satisfying pace. He proves to be a master at making the reader care about and almost sympathize with Jake, even when he does terrible things. Ultimately, Edgerton goes places you don't think he'll go, but he drags you along so that you have no choice but to go with him.

THE BITCH is an excellent crime novel. Not what you'd call a fun read, by any means, but to use a cliché, it's a book you can't put down.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: Eisenhower & Lutz

This one's pretty obscure. It's a sitcom from the MTM stable that ran for 13 episodes in the fall of 1988. Scott Bakula played a somewhat sleazy young lawyer in Palm Springs, surrounded by the usual wacky sitcom characters. This is the first thing I remember seeing Bakula in, and he was pretty likable. In fact, I remember the whole show being mildly amusing. I think we watched every episode. It's never been on DVD as far as I know, and there are only a few clips from it on YouTube. The gimmick, by the way, is that there was no Eisenhower in the law firm, only Lutz (Bakula's character). But the staid, conservative citizens of Palm Springs liked the name.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Now Available: Blazing Trails and Western Tales - Charles Boeckman/Who is Elizabeth? - Patti Boeckman

Rough Edges Press is proud to announce the release of two new books from a pair of legendary writers, Charles and Patti Boeckman:

Cover by Laura Givens

From gunsmoke-laced shootouts in cantinas and saloons to desperate nighttime dashes across the Rio Grande to the quiet, heartfelt courage of men backed into a corner and faced with overwhelming odds, Charles Boeckman's classic stories of the Texas frontier are filled with everything that makes the Old West exciting!

Writing under the name Charles Beckman Jr., Charles Boeckman filled the pages of vintage Western pulp magazines such as STAR WESTERN and DIME WESTERN with colorful tales of action, adventure, and romance. With authentic settings and compelling characters, these stories are some of the best from the pulp era.

Rough Edges Press is proud to present BLAZING TRAILS AND WESTERN TALES, a new collection of eight novellas and short stories by Charles Boeckman originally published between 1949 and 1957. These tales from one of the master storytellers of the Old West have never been reprinted until now.

Cover by Livia J. Washburn

Pit a feisty, she-cat against a reluctant interloper and watch the sparks fly.

When Elizabeth McDaniel's reclusive, sheltered existence on her grandfather's farm is invaded by Derek Huston, she cannot possibly imagine the stunning result of his intrusion into her life. And he has no idea how enchanted he will become with the lovely, spit-fire redhead who demonstrates her dead-eye, rifle aim on their first encounter.

Their first clash of wills precedes a budding romance, the flowering of Elizabeth's musical talents with a guitar provided by Derek, and Derek's acceptance into the family. No one suspects that Derek has a hidden agenda so explosive that, when revealed, it turns Elizabeth's world upside down and her image of herself inside out.

No longer able to trust Derek on any level, she erases him from her life and from her heart.

Is there any hope that Derek can regain her confidence and her love?

Find out in this delightful, warm, touching, compelling account of two people whose lives are dramatically changed by each other and who have to sort through the rubble of their existence before they can know if they have a future together.

I enjoyed editing both of these books. Charles is one of the great Western pulp storytellers and these are fine examples of his work. Patti's novel really kept me turning the pages because of her skill at creating characters the reader cares about.

Below the links are the covers of some of the Western pulps in which Charles's stories in this volume originally appeared.


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Spy Stories, March 1935

I think I need a monocle and one of those little mustaches that curls up on the ends. Bet I'd look suitably sinister (or just silly). This was an A.A. Wyn pulp, and there's a nice line-up of authors inside, including E. Hoffmann Price, George Fielding Eliot, Norman A. Daniels, and Arch Whitehouse. I don't think I've ever seen an issue of SPY STORIES, but I'm sure I'd enjoy it if I did.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Cowboy Stories, October 1934

Pretty violent cover on this issue of COWBOY STORIES. Most of the authors inside are unfamiliar to me. The ones I recognize are S. Omar Barker, Wallace K. Norman, and Tom J. Hopkins. I suspect it's a pretty decent issue anyway. Most Street & Smith pulps were.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Forgotten Books: Mad Strikes Back

I think that like science fiction, the Golden Age of MAD Magazine must be twelve. That's about how old I was when I discovered it. A friend of mine had one of the Signet paperbacks reprinting material from the first few issues of the magazine about ten years earlier. I'm not sure, but I think it was THE BROTHERS MAD, the fifth in the paperback reprint series.

Whichever volume it was, I loved it. I thought the humor was hilarious, and some of the art was just risqué enough that I knew it would scandalize my mother, which was always a plus. (My mother was easily scandalized. She liked Zane Grey's novels, but she couldn't read some of them because they were just too racy. Her favorite authors were Grace Livingston Hill and Emilie Loring, and that should be enough to explain her reading tastes to those of you old enough to remember those writers.)

Anyway, I'm getting a little far afield from this week's book, which I came across a while back and just got around to reading. It's MAD STRIKES BACK, the second volume in the paperback reprint series, and includes material from 1953 and 1954. The first edition was published in May 1955. The copy I read is a 14th printing from October 1963. Those books were popular back then. I saw them all the time on the spinner racks. Somehow, though, I never read this one.

There's an introduction by comedians Bob and Ray, then a number of comic strip parodies: "Prince Violent", "Teddy and the Pirates", "Manduck the Magician", and "Gopo Gossum" (the originals should be pretty obvious to most of you), plus a couple of take-offs on early television, "Captain TVideo" and "Poopeye", and a classic movie about a giant ape, "Ping Pong". Also assorted humor features.

I don't know who wrote all this stuff—Al Feldstein and Harvey Kurtzman come to mind as probable suspects—but the art is by comics icons Wally Wood, Bill Elder, and Jack Davis. Wonderful art all around, with the highlights for me being Wood's "Prince Violent" and "Teddy and the Pirates".

As for the stories themselves...well, some of them are still good for a chuckle, but I was surprised by how much of the humor sort of fell flat for me. After I discovered the paperbacks about 1964, I started buying the current issues of the magazine and was a big fan for the next eight or ten years, but then satire and parody began to pale for me as a form of humor. I can still appreciate the cleverness of a lot of the material in this book, but it doesn't really make me laugh anymore.

Despite that, I still consider MAD STRIKES BACK to be well worth reading for the art and for the nostalgia value, and I'm glad I found it. So I leave you with that timeless philosophical question: "How's your mom, Ed?"

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The Last Wagon

I've mentioned before that I appreciate Richard Widmark as an actor more now than I did when I was a kid. He's the star of another of those Westerns that I missed somehow, THE LAST WAGON, and does a fine job in a pretty hardboiled role.

He plays an outlaw known as Comanche Todd, so called because he was raised by the Comanche after he was the only survivor from a massacre. As THE LAST WAGON opens, he's on the run from the law, charged with murder.

It's not long before he's captured by a brutal sheriff who plans to take him back to hang. There seems to be some personal history between the two of them, and that comes into play later on in the plot. The two of them encounter a wagon train that's on its way through Apache country, and sure enough the wagons are attacked. By a fluke, there are about half a dozen survivors, including Todd, and since he's the only one with any experience, it falls to him to get the others through to safety.

On that simple storyline hangs quite a bit of moral ambiguity and complexity. It's a bit of a "Grand Hotel" plot with an assortment of characters, each with his or her own back-story. There's some romance along the way, as Widmark's character falls for an immigrant woman played by Felicia Farr, and a lot more action including an encounter with the U.S. Cavalry and some big explosions before the true climax comes in a tense courtroom scene.

As I mentioned above, Widmark is excellent as Comanche Todd, and the rest of the cast, which includes Nick Adams from THE REBEL and Tommy Rettig from LASSIE, is pretty good, too. The movie looks great, with a lot of long shots of spectacular Arizona scenery. It was directed by Delmer Daves, never a particular favorite of mine but a director who made some pretty good films anyway, and co-written by James Edward Grant, who who scripted quite a few films for John Ford. THE LAST WAGON is a good film. I never quite got caught up in it the way I thought I might, but I still think it's worth watching.

It also serves as an example of how times have really changed. Talking about the Comanche girl he married when she was fifteen, Widmark says, "With girls and horses, the younger you break 'em in, the better." Any character with a line of dialogue like that in a movie these days would be a despicable villain instead of the hero.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Monday Morning Digest Magazine: Manhunt, January 1953

This is the first issue of the iconic crime fiction magazine, and it's also an issue I used to own. I read it about twenty years ago. And what an issue it is, with part one of a serial by Mickey Spillane and stories by William Irish (Cornell Woolrich), Kenneth Millar (better known as Ross Macdonald), a Shell Scott story by Richard S. Prather, Evan Hunter, and Frank Kane. Oddly enough, considering that all-star line-up, the story I remember liking the best was a novelette by the now largely forgotten Floyd Mahannah. But here's what really interests me about this issue now: there's another story, and it's by none other than Charles Beckman Jr., also known as Charles Boeckman, still alive, still writing, and a pulp legend I'm proud to call my friend, something that never would have entered my mind when I read this issue all those years ago.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Adventure, September 1940

Gorilla with a rifle! Paging Mark Finn! Behind that distinctive cover is what seems to be a good issue of one of the great pulps, with stories by Georges Surdez, Joel Townsley Rogers, Tom Roan, Dale Clark, and an installment of the serial by Luke Short that became the novel BARREN LAND SHOWDOWN (Mounties vs. Nazis, if I recall correctly; it's been a long time since I read it). I'm not familiar with Brian O'Brien, who wrote the lead novel, but I'm sure it's good, too. Not many bad stories got published in ADVENTURE.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Texas Rangers, August 1938

Not a great cover on this issue of TEXAS RANGERS, but the Jim Hatfield novel "Brand of the Lawless" is a good one. It's one of three Hatfield novels by J. Edward Leithead, who brings his own distinctive style to the series. For a long time I didn't know who wrote this novel, along with "Gun Harvest" and "Riders of the Shadows", but I knew they were all by the same person. I used to refer to him as "the Coltman author", because of his habit of using the word "Coltman" instead of "gunman". I believe it was Jim Griffin who came across that word in a story under Leithead's name and tipped me off to it, and then when I read several of Leithead's stories I knew he had to be "the Coltman author" because of a number of other phrases he used frequently that also cropped up in those three Hatfield novels. This sort of research fascinates me, although I understand why most people wouldn't care about such obscure stuff. This issue of TEXAS RANGERS also has a Long Sam Littlejohn story in it, a back-up series that I also enjoy.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Forgotten Books: Quest of the Golden Ape - Ivar Jorgensen and Adam Chase

There's some question as to who actually wrote this novel, which was originally published as a serial in the January, February, and March 1957 issues of the science fiction digest magazine AMAZING. Most sources credit it to Randall Garrett (writing as "Ivar Jorgensen") and Milton Lesser (writing as "Adam Chase"). It's well established that Lesser, better known for his hardboiled mysteries under the name Stephen Marlowe, was Adam Chase. Robert Silverberg, who knew everyone involved, says that Jorgensen, in this case, was really Paul W. Fairman, the editor of AMAZING. Jorgensen started out as one of Fairman's pseudonyms before it became a house name.

Regardless of who wrote it—and I lean toward Fairman and Lesser, myself, with Fairman writing the first installment and Lesser the second and third—QUEST OF THE GOLDEN APE is a fine example of the sort of science fiction "they don't write anymore", to the dismay of old codgers such as myself who grew up reading this stuff. It's mostly adventure, with only a little bit of science thrown in to make it colorful.

The story opens with a mysterious, deserted old mansion somewhere in an unnamed eastern state, and a hundred-year-old duty carried out by a lawyer whose great-grandfather was hired by a mysterious old man. (Lots of mystery right off the bat, you see.) On this particular day, the lawyer has to go to the old mansion and open a sealed crypt beneath it. What he finds there is a giant, god-like, apparently young man in a state of suspended animation. Of course the lawyer awakens him, as he's supposed to, turns over to him a mysterious package that contains a bracelet of an unknown alloy, and before you can say, "John Carter", our amnesiac hero is transported to an alien world where he finds himself in the middle of intrigue, danger, and romance.

You're either rolling your eyes by now at this brief description of the plot, or else you're remembering what it was like to be twelve years old and encountering a yarn like this for the first time. I would have been utterly enthralled, probably sitting in the rocking chair in my parents' living room and rocking back and forth so hard that my mother would gripe at me and tell me I was fixing to turn the chair over—which was known to happen from time to time.

There's a lot of Edgar Rice Burroughs influence in this novel, as our hero, who dubs himself Bram Forest for reasons that make sense in the context of the story, finds himself in the middle of warring factions on the planet Tarth, which orbits the sun exactly opposite from Earth, which explains why we've never discovered it. (Isn't this the same gimmick that's used in the Gor books by John Norman? I only read the first one of those about fifty years ago and didn't care for it.) There are a couple of decent plot twists that set this apart from the John Carter series, though. There's also some Doc Savage influence with a hero raised from infancy to be a hero, an echo of Superman with a baby sent from one planet to another, and a lot of sword-and-planet swashbuckling of the sort that we've encountered many times from many authors, carried out at a competent level.

The quality of the writing definitely improves from the first installment to the second, but nobody reads this kind of yarn for fancy prose. The appeal of QUEST OF THE GOLDEN APE lies in its headlong pace, its colorful action, and its larger-than-life characters. The hero is mighty-thewed, the heroine is beautiful and often finds herself without clothes, the villains (including an evil queen) are truly despicable, and a rousing good time is had by all. At least, I had a rousing good time, and that's why I read books, after all.

QUEST OF THE GOLDEN APE has been reprinted once, and e-texts of it can be found in numerous places on-line. If you're capable of hearkening back to the era in which it originally appeared, you might enjoy it a great deal. I certainly did.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Stillman's War - Peter Brandvold

One of Peter Brandvold's best-known characters, Ben Stillman, returns in the new novel STILLMAN'S WAR. It seems hard to believe that it's been more than a decade since there was a new yarn about the Montana lawman. But Stillman is still as rugged and stalwart a hero as ever.

This one opens with Stillman and his deputy Leon McMannigle closing in on a gang of rustlers. Through a tragic twist, the daughter of a powerful rancher winds up dead, and her father declares war on the two lawmen, sending his sons and hired guns to kill them. Stillman and McMannigle are separated for much of the novel, and there are dangerous twists going on back in the town of Clantick, as well, that lead up to an unexpected but satisfying climax.

The action hardly ever lets up in this novel, and even when the bullets aren't flying, Brandvold maintains a high level of suspense. He's a master at piling troubles on his heroes until the reader wonders how they can ever get out of it. He's also one of the best in the business at creating an atmosphere of vivid, gritty realism.

I really enjoyed STILLMAN'S WAR. All of Brandvold's work reminds me of the sort of hardboiled Westerns that Gold Medal published in the Fifties and Sixties. His books are more graphic when it comes to sex, violence, and language, but they have the same tough sensibility and hard-charging plots and action. STILLMAN'S WAR is a great example of fine all-around storytelling. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Bend of the River

I have a vague memory of watching this movie on TV at my sister's house around 1970, but that's all I remembered about it. So when we saw it recently it was almost like watching one I hadn't seen before.

BEND OF THE RIVER was an early collaboration between James Stewart and director Anthony Mann, and it's a strong entry in the series of Westerns they did together. Stewart plays a tough but decent hombre with a shady past who hires on to guide a group of settlers to Oregon. Along the way he encounters and befriends a gunman played by Arthur Kennedy, who also seems like a decent sort at first. Since he's Arthur Kennedy, though, you know that sooner or later he and Stewart will wind up on opposing sides.

That takes a while to come about, and in the meantime the settlers reach Oregon (not without some Indian fights along the way) and settle into their new homes with the promise of supplies being brought upriver by one of the merchants in Portland. Something goes wrong, though, and the food they need to survive through the winter doesn't show up. Stewart and the leader of the group, played by the fine character actor Jay C. Flippen, set out to discover why.

There are a couple of romantic subplots, one involving Stewart and the classy, beautiful Julia Adams, the other involving one of the immigrant girls and a fast-on-the-draw gambler played by a very young Rock Hudson.

One of the nice things about this movie is that there's a lot of moral ambiguity to the characters. Many of them are a mixture of good and evil and can't quite seem to decide which side to come down on. As a result, allegiances change throughout the film and it's hard to predict exactly what's going to happen. That creates some effective suspense, courtesy of the screenplay by Borden Chase and the source novel by Bill Gulick, which was titled BEND OF THE SNAKE.

On a side note, BEND OF THE RIVER is one of the few movies I've seen based on a novel by an author I actually met. Bill Gulick, who passed away last year, was a regular at the WWA conventions during the years I was attending most of them, too. He was also the guy who got extremely angry at a Spur Awards banquet, as I suspect some of you who were there recall. At that same convention, I rode down the Snake River on a raft, but that was over in Wyoming, not Oregon where BEND OF THE RIVER is set.

I enjoyed this one a lot. It's a good, solid traditional Western, and well worth watching.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Monday Morning Digest Magazine: Galaxy Science Fiction, August 1966

An occasional series in which I post the covers of digest magazines I like or that have some other meaning to me. In this case, although I had read a lot of science fiction by 1966, the August issue of GALAXY that year was the first science fiction magazine I remember buying. I picked it up at Lester's Pharmacy, and I recall that it had the second part of a serial by Frank Herbert, "Heisenberg's Eyes" in it, as well as a novelette by Keith Laumer. However, I don't remember a thing about either of those stories, or any of the others in the issue, which included work by James Blish, R.A. Lafferty, and George H. Smith. I must have enjoyed it, though, because I bought other issues of GALAXY when I found them, which wasn't often because distribution of all the fiction digests was pretty spotty in the town where I grew up.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Dime Mystery, March 1941

I keep coming back to the Weird Menace pulps because they have such great, bizarre covers. Where else but on a Weird Menace pulp would you find a guy in top hat and white gloves battling evil mummies? Authors in this issue include such pulp icons as Norvell Page and Emile C. Tepperman, along with Russell Gray (Bruno Fischer) and Stewart Sterling, who are better known for the numerous paperbacks and hardback mystery novels they wrote later on.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Greater Western Action Novels Magazine, September 1940

This is a Western pulp I hadn't heard of before. Not a great cover, but it's pretty action-packed. With stories by E.B. Mann and Norman A. Fox, it's probably pretty good reading, too.