Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Phantom Blonde

THE PHANTOM BLONDE – A Chet Falcon “Weeping Detective” Mystery

When Chet Falcon returns to Los Angeles in the summer of 1945, his intention is to jump start his private investigator business, but his first big case begins to spiral out of control almost at once. Haunted by the deaths of his friends on Guadalcanal, and drinking heavily, Falcon is asked to investigate the disappearance of silent film actor Curtis Sterling twelve years earlier, but there are people who don’t want to talk about Sterling. Soon Falcon is up against a complex mystery that involves sex, greed and family ties. Chet Falcon had survived the war, but surviving the mean streets of Hollywood will push him beyond the limits of endurance in this hard-boiled fast-action thriller.

WOUNDED OUTLAW BOOKS publishes fast action fiction at a low price for budget-minded readers in paperback only. No eBooks.

Titles include re-releases (and revised) editions of Trail of the Burned Man, Wind Rider, Showdown at Snakebite Creek, Death Rides a Palomino and Gunfight at Crippled Horse. New titles commenced with The Phantom Blonde (1940s Detective) and Spirits of Tomahawk Canyon (Traditional Western). Forthcoming genres will include Science Fiction and Horror.

Reviews are sincerely appreciated!

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Violent Saturday by W. L. Heath

1955 Hardcover First Edition

- Spoiler Alerts!

Although the 1955 film starring Victor Mature is better known, W. L. Heath’s novel is a hard-boiled, neglected masterpiece. The advance word on this novel was strong and caught Hollywood’s attention from the start. Darryl Zanuck purchased the film rights before the book was published. There are notable differences between the film and the book. The novel is tighter, blunt and unrelenting. Set in the Alabama town of Morgan, a little place seething with atavistic racism, lust and greed. The book is a series of character studies, broken into sub-chapters as the story develops. It is a slice of reality, and the dialogue includes frank discussions on alcoholism and sex. None of the characters are particularly appealing, but they are all linked to the bank robbery that occurs after three men arrive in town on Friday. Of these, Shelley Martin is the nicest, although his views on Asians and Negroes are not unusual for the period and location. His goal for that weekend is harmless (he wants to go fishing) whereas everyone else in town has an ulterior motive. These are people who are controlled by their selfish interests in sex and money. Heath outlines each character’s weakness in detail. Emily and Boyd Fairbanks are alcoholics and Emily is consistently unfaithful to Boyd. And Boyd is a drunken wimp. He loves his wife and tolerates her infidelity because he doesn’t know what to do about it. The banker, Harry Reeves, is a voyeur. He gets worked up when he sees the new nurse in town, Miss Benson. He begins the habit of stalking her, and he lurks in the alley at night so that he can watch her undress through a window. Sexual desire is a reoccurring motif in the book, and it affects all of the charters both directly and indirectly. In the novel, Reeves is unredeemable. When he spies Miss Benson coming out of a five-and-dime “He fed his eyes on the motion of her hips straining the white poplin skirt as she walked, and the deft switching back and forth of the hem of her skirt above the seams of her stockings. It filled him with desire, and he had to look away from time to time, drawing deep breaths of the hot summer air.” (p. 98) By the conclusion, after being shot up in the bank, his fate is to lay in the hospital bed as Miss Benson administers his care, and the sound of the “efficient swishing of her uniform” is maddening. His fate is to suffer an existential hell of unrequited desire. Other characters include Sugarfoot, the bellhop in the Commerce Hotel where the robbers are staying. Sugarfoot is a stereotype. He drinks too much, is nosy, and discovers the men have a shotgun with them which makes him suspicious. His failure to act, and to only drink and snoop about, turns his character into something of a Greek Chorus character. He exists to explain what he sees, but he has no outward redeeming qualities himself. Shelley Martin is drawn into the plot when the robbers hijack him for his car. They leave him tied up in a barn, but he manages to get free. Martin is forced to kill, and the violence of that Saturday is quick and unblemished. The Robbers also kill in the bank. I found the conclusion touching, made up almost entirely by dialogue between Martin and his wife. They had both survived something terrible, and Martin is grateful for his wife and children. W. L. Heath was a journalist for many years, and his prose follows the same clipped, journalistic approach that Hemingway used and made popular. There are no poetic embellishments. 

The film takes a different approach. Violent Saturday is often described as film noir but that statement is incorrect. The film is a Cinemascope DeLuxe color movie made in Bisbee, Arizona. It might best be described as a crime drama, but because of the location and certain plot elements introduced by screenwriter Sydney Boehm, Violent Saturday plays like a modern Western. Where the book’s robbery takes place on a rainy day, the film is bright and sunny and filled with breathtaking scenery. This is a study in contrasts; both the film and the novel effectively use identical material but turn it into something fresh and exciting. Victor Mature plays Martin, and his character is a veteran of WWII, but his son is upset that his father never won any medals for heroism like the fathers of other kids. This embellishment saddles Mature with the notion of proving himself, which he obviously does. The three robbers are played with appropriate menace by Stephen McNally, Lee Marvin and J. Carrol Naish. Miss Benson is played with compact sexiness by Virginia Leath, and Reeves is played superbly by Tommy Noonan. Richard Egan and Margaret Hayes are excellent as the tortured Fairbanks.’ Hayes has one of the film’s best bits of dialogue: “You’re an alcoholic and I’m a tramp” which does not appear in the novel. The script introduces Ernest Borgnine as an Amish farmer. Borgnine and his family are held captive in the barn with Mature/Martin. This adds a quality to the film not found in the novel. Martin and the Amish farmer are the two unblemished, honest characters in the film. By comparison, all of the other characters are tainted in some way; they are fractured, greedy and sexually immoral at all levels. Martin and the Amish farmer get their hands dirty by killing, but their motivation stems from survival rather than greed. Too much is made of the fact that Victor Mature never gave himself much credit for his acting ability, yet, in truth, he was always quite good; sincere and capable. He reminds me here of a beefier version of Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo in First Blood. Mature is good, but his role is secondary. He provides the necessary violent conclusion that everyone is waiting for. None of the acting is overstated. In fact, Richard Egan avoids slapstick in those scenes where his character is intoxicated. He plays it straight and the film is made better by the even keel maintained by the excellent cast. The location is changed from Morgan, Alabama to Bradenville, a fictional copper mining town, and while the location is never mentioned, the location scenes make it clear this is the southwest. Directed by Richard Fleischer, son of Max Fleischer of the famed Superman animation films, he is also known for directing the flashy 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea for Disney.

I recommend both the book and film for those of you that haven’t encountered this story. Violent Saturday is quintessentially American; at once ugly and disturbing, but occasionally infused with a higher sense of purpose, like an intoxicating perfume.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Wilderness-Stone by Robert Nathan

In this 1961 fantasy novel, Robert Nathan once again tackles the nature of time. Edward, a Los Angeles screenwriter, is living in an apartment next to Miranda, and during their friendship he begins telling her about his past, and of his many friends who have passed on. Edward’s good friend, Benjamin, known as Bee to all, is of special interest to Miranda and Edward both. Bee had died at Matterhorn thirty years earlier, with a mysterious woman that he loved but whom Edward had not met. During their friendship, Edward comes to realize that Miranda is displaced in time, and that in fact, her odd memories and dreams, often coinciding with Edward’s recollections, are of Bee, and her longings for him are real. This must have been a very personal novel for Nathan to write. He sprinkles the narrative with brief literary remembrances of actual contemporaries with whom he was associated, including Stephen Vincent Benet, John Dos Passos, Alexander Woollcott, Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, Edna Ferber and others. In fact, Nathan dedicated the novel “To all my friends herein remembered...” The novel’s basic structure follows that of Nathan’s classic Portrait of Jennie (1940), however, the narrator here has hopes of Miranda marrying his nephew, thus keeping her near him. In Portrait of Jennie the narrator Eben Adams is in love with Jennie who is also slipping in and out of time. Nathan takes his title from a line of Stephen Vincent Benet’s John Brown’s Body (1928): “...I know her heart touched with that wilderness-stone that turns good money into heaps of leaves...” Benet and Nathan were friends, and Nathan openly acknowledge Benet’s influence in several of his novels, in fact, the identical line is quoted in Nathan’s Winter in April (1938). The wilderness stone is akin to the philosopher’s stone, which Nathan specifically states represents freedom. Nathan is once again touching on the idea that time is fluid, that God is love, and such intangibles, as they are perceived, are the best aspects of life. In the mythology (or history) of the philosopher’s stone, its alchemical substance is vital as the “elixir of life” which is necessary for rejuvenation and immortality. For Nathan, such characters as Miranda in The Wilderness-Stone, Jennie in Portrait of Jennie, and Anne in The Elixir, are immortal, part of the past, but the past is intricately linked to the future. There are other examples of this in Nathan’s other novels as well. For Nathan, love is the driving force of nature. As a writer of fiction, he employs modern references in the narrative, such as the visit to Disneyland in chapter 9, and he sometimes offers an opinionated passage about other writers. Here we learn that Nathan, at least disguised somewhat as Edward, appreciates Mark Twain, and his view of Hemingway’s Across the River and into the Trees is positive, which was (and is) the opposite of most critical assessments. Robert Nathan remains one of my favorite authors, and interested readers are encouraged to seek his books on Amazon where many of them are available as digital downloads.
Robert Nathan's signature

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Superman # 127, February 1959

Curt Swan and Stan Kaye did the cover art for Superman # 127, with the interior artwork by Wayne Boring, Ray Burnley and Swan. Superman # 127 is notable for the first appearance of Titano, a giant ape inspired by King Kong. The DC Wiki credits Jerry Coleman as the writer. I believe Otto Binder wrote the Titano story. There are three stories in this issue for a total of 25 pages of story and artwork. There are two one-page filler cartoon strips, “Little Pete” and “Moolah the Mystic.” There are two full page advertisements, one for Flash # 103, and two quarter page ads. The cover price was 10 cents. I’m not saying the older comics were better, but I wanted to point out the approach has changed. The first story in Superman # 127 is tagged as “An Untold Tale of Superman” and is titled “When There was no Clark Kent.” The next story is “The Make-Believe Superman” and the final story is “Titano the Super-Ape.” Titano would make several appearances in Superman and Action Comics. The stories are obviously cornball by today’s standards, but I loved them when I was a kid. I still believe that Titano is a great character that could be re-vamped as a new and exciting villain for Superman. Anyway, Superman # 127 is typical of the era, imaginative and exciting. When Toto the ape is blasted into space as part of an experimental program, his rocket is caught between two meteors, one made of uranium and one kryptonite. The radiation causes him to grow into a giant ape with kryptonite vision which spells trouble for Superman. Naturally, he kidnaps Lois Lane who tricks him into wearing lead-goggles which helps Superman capture him. Supes takes Titano back in time to a prehistoric age so he can live a happy life without posing any danger to mankind. Superman comics was a top-selling comic book in 1959, and the character’s popularity was at an all-time high. George Reeves had been playing Superman on television for several years and his iconic portrayal was the best advertisement these comic books could have. Reeves would die only a few months later.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Strange Tales, June, 1932

I was pleased to finally snag a copy of the Wildside Press facsimile reprint of June 1932 issue of Strange Tales, a quintessential pulp collector’s item. I saw the original issue once at a convention years ago but the price was way beyond my budget. I’m in favor of facsimile reprints or anthology reprints of the pulp era stories. These original magazines pages are brown now, and often hardly worth collecting because the pages are too brittle to touch. A Wildside Press copy is fine by me. This issue includes some phenomenal talent – High B. Cave, Clark Ashton Smith, Paul Ernst, Henry Whitehead, August W. Derleth and Robert E. Howard. Strange Tales lasted 7 issues and was created to compete with the best-selling pulp magazine, Weird Tales. Harry Bates was the editor, best known today as author of the science fiction story “Farewell to the Master” which was filmed later as The Day the Earth Stood Still. This issue features a letters page which includes a letter from Julius Schwartz, later the famed editor at DC Comics during the Silver Age. I met Schwartz several times and my conversations with him were always about the pulp era. The cover art is by H. W. Wesso. Okay, enough trivia. “Stragella” by Hugh B. Cave is a great creepy tale, followed by “Dread Exile” by Paul Ernst and “The Great Circle” by Henry S. Whitehead. Those three tales set the tone. Then we have “The House in the Magnolia’s” by August Derleth, and you can never go wrong with an August Derleth tale. “People of the Dark” by Robert E. Howard is a classic, which is followed by two moderate tales: “The Emergency Call” by Marion Brandon, and “The Golden Patio” by Aubrey Feist. Then we’re treated to “The Nameless Offspring” by Clark Ashton Smith, another classic. These are perfect stories for Halloween or just any old dark and stormy night.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Iron Coffins by Herbert A. Werner

My father bought this book in 1969, and this is one of the rare non-fiction books that he read. The Mickey Spillane novels were the only fiction that he read, but when it came to non-fiction he read about WWII or Popular Mechanics magazine. He wasn’t alone. Iron Coffins was the talk of the neighborhood when it was published, and the book’s reputation is secure all of these decades later. This book is often mistaken as the inspiration for the 1981 film, Das Boot, directed by Wolfgang Petersen, but that excellent film was based on the novel of the same name by Lothar-Gunther Buchheim.  Iron Coffins is in a category by itself; a riveting first-hand account of the U-boat battles of World War II. Herbert A. Werner served on five U-boats, survived the sinking of two, and was continuously promoted during the war. After the war he moved to the US and wrote Iron Coffins. He became a US citizen and died in California in 2013. Iron Coffins remains in print. The book is split into three primary sections: “Years of Glory,” a detailed and nostalgic account about Germany’s industrial and military growth, and which offers insight and great details into the the lifestyle Werner lived; “Above Us, Hell,” which recounts the military operations and battles in grueling and suspenseful details; and “Disaster and Defeat,” which documents the lingering death throes of the Nazi regime.  Iron Coffins reads like a novel but it’s all real, well documented, and illustrated with photographs from the author’s collection. Werner’s writing is lush, heartfelt and easily renders an image of a lost country and its people. He writes fondly of his escapades ashore, which are often hedonistic, sensual; and which in turn make a stark contrast to the terror stricken months in a submarine, praying not to be sunk. German U-boat losses were high, and Werner was acutely aware at his good fortune in surviving. I found this book impossible to put down and its reputation as an accurate and fascinating historical document is well-deserved.