Monday, December 31, 2007

Green Hell

The Death Merchant's 13th adventure is a nice change-of-pace from the other two series entries I've read. In those, Richard Camellion was dedicated to mowing down the Mafia, filling page after page with graphic killing sprees. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But THE MATO GROSSO HORROR has a more interesting setting than some Mafioso's country estate.

The CIA offers the Death Merchant $100,000 (his usual fee) to take a handful of Green Berets into the Brazilian rain forest to prevent a former Nazi, Klaus von Linderbock, from continuing his horrible experiments. From his base located deep, deep within the jungle--only 2% of which has ever been explored--the cruel Third Reicher has created a powerful hypnotic drug which can be used to turn humans into zombies. The ultimate soldier--one who never thinks or retreats and doesn't care about dying. Or living, for that matter. Keep him a shot and send him loose to kill. Von Linderbock's inhuman medical experiments have resulted in nearly a dozen creatures confined to cages. Once human beings, they're now mutated guinea pigs.

Taking along an anthropologist and his daughter to bolster the party's cover story as being on an expedition, Camellion and his Green Beret backup plunge on foot into a wicked jungle filled with vipers and insects and sweat and heat. Not to mention native tribes hellbent on murdering the White Man. Writer Joseph Rosenberger's body count is astounding, well into the hundreds, as the Death Merchant deals death to wave after wave of bloodthirsty Indians.

Packed with action and atmosphere, THE MATO GROSSO HORROR is a heckuva potboiler, bolstered by its delightfully pulpy plot, which climaxes with the Death Merchant not only battling Nazis and natives, but also monstrous mutations and a few dozen bushmasters.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Three The Hardman Way

Happy Holidays, folks. I trust everyone had a fun Christmas weekend. I did little besides eat, doze, watch NFL football, and read trashy novels. I have three to catch up on here, so I'll throw them up here in a hurry.

In Ralph Dennis' THE LAST OF THE ARMAGEDDON WARS, #11 in Popular Library's Hardman series, Jim Hardman is a non-licensed ex-cop who sorta does private investigation work on the side, assisted by his big, strong, black pal Hump Evans. Hardman finds himself trapped in a gang war when The Man--a black mobster named Warden Pike who runs all the black rackets in Atlanta--is under siege by assassins. The Man trusts Hardman enough to look into who wants to kill him, while the cops want Hardman's help working on the inside. Hardman loves to grill steaks and fight in this very short paperback, written in first person and published in 1977. Not bad, but nothing out of the ordinary, outside of the unusual Atlanta setting.

VENDETTA, Peter McCurtin's first novel in Belmont/Tower's Marksman series, published in 1973, is not an origin story and forces you to fill in some gaps yourself. Basically, Phillip Magellan--the Marksman--despises the Mafia and wants to kill everyone involved with the organization. The back of the book claims that Magellan was a teenage trick shot champion and that the Mafia murdered his family when he refused their invitation to become an armorer for them, but none of this is in the book. What is in the novel is a large body count, as the Marksman makes for San Francisco to bring down a high-ranking mobster named Dino Flavel. He also kills a bunch of hippies, cuts the head off of one and leaves it in the St. Georges Hotel's fountain.

The Butcher's second adventure, 1971's COME WATCH HIM DIE by Stuart Jason (Pinnacle, 1971), is pretty good stuff that really gets crazy down the stretch. The first half or so is typical bang-bang stuff, as Bucher, a former mobster who quit the Mafia and now works for a government agency called White Hat to bring down the organization, bounces from New Orleans to Holland to avoid the $100,000 bounty on his head, particularly when he learns a female assassin is on his trail. His mission is to investigate a former Nazi named Klaus von Rimer, who is rumored to have instigated a plot to substitute perfect doubles for American congressmen that will vote in favor of the Mafia's wishes. The wildness really kicks in when the Butcher comes face to face with von Rimer, who turns out to be a cannibalistic necrophiliac who keeps genetically mutated, giant-size anacondas in his cellar. While the climax was just as I predicted, it's still pretty gruesome and quite memorable, as is the rest of the book.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Marley Is Dead, Killed in a Nuclear War

A 90-minute television version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL written by Rod Serling, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (ALL ABOUT EVE), and starring Peter Sellers, Sterling Hayden, Robert Shaw, Steve Lawrence (!), Pat Hingle, Percy Rodrigues, Britt Eklund, Eva Marie Saint, Ben Gazzara and Peter Fonda, with a score by Henry Mancini?? How the crap is this not a holiday classic?

Believe it or not, this well mounted production, called CAROL FOR ANOTHER CHRISTMAS, aired only one time: December 28, 1964 on ABC. I never heard of it, though that can be excused, considering it's never even been on home video. Read more about this fascinating special in Thomas Vinciguerra's New York Times article (I don't know why it's in the Fashion & Style section).

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Don't Go In The Woods

Some junior forest rangers pick up some girls and head deep into the woods to clear brush and go rafting. Joey Pants strands their asses in the wilderness, and a psycho roams around killing them, though unfortunately not nearly enough of them.

THE FINAL TERROR is a bad movie made worse when you pay attention to the credits. It was filmed in 1981 when most of the creative team were nobodies, but was finally released by Aquarius in 1983 when several cast members were becoming hot Hollywood names. Between the time THE FINAL TERROR was filmed and the date it hit theaters, Adrian Zmed was zooming around in a squad car with Bill Shatner on T.J. HOOKER, Daryl Hannah had done BLADE RUNNER, Rachel Ward got big with SHARKY'S MACHINE and THE THORN BIRDS, and Joe Pantoliano was Guido The Pimp in RISKY BUSINESS. Mark Metcalf had already been Niedermeyer in ANIMAL HOUSE, and striking co-star Akosua Busia went on to marry John Singleton. Audiences must have been stunned to see the classy Ward stumbling through the mud and the dew in this crummy horror flick.

Behind the camera, the pedigree is just as interesting. Director Andrew Davis jumped briefly onto Hollywood's A-list with action hits like THE FUGITIVE and UNDER SIEGE. Producer Joe Roth went on to direct films and run Walt Disney Studios and Revolution Studios, as well as produce the Academy Awards telecast. Roth was married to the daughter of legendary AIP owner Samuel Z. Arkoff, who "presented" THE FINAL TERROR (one wonders if Arkoff was supposed to release it himself, but balked for whatever reason). Ronald Shusett, who co-wrote ALIEN, receives a screenplay credit, and New World's resident post-production fixer-upper Allan Holzman (who directed FORBIDDEN WORLD and Jillian Kesner's nude scenes in FIRECRACKER) supervised post. That job entailed hiring one of the few women ever to score a horror movie, Susan Justin, who provides a very nice musicscape that is probably the best individual aspect of the movie.

So. If I told you the director of THE FUGITIVE and the writer of ALIEN had teamed up to make a slasher movie with Daryl Hannah, Rachel Ward, Joe Pantoliano and Adrian Zmed, to be released by Sam Arkoff, you'd probably think it had to be at least somewhat interesting. It really isn't, though I admit it contains one or two brief scares and a somewhat effective though unfinished ending. Its story is confusing to the point that you don't really know who the characters are or why they're in the woods. Davis even misses the point of a post-FRIDAY THE 13TH slasher flick, in that THE FINAL TERROR drastically skimps on the sex, nudity, gore and body count. It could play easily on television with just a couple of seconds snipped out (though so could FRIDAY THE 13TH, come to think of it).

Davis was a director to watch for awhile. A few years after THE FINAL TERROR, he got a Chuck Norris movie for Orion, CODE OF SILENCE, which turned out to be a very effective urban action movie, not just for a Chuck Norris movie, but for an action movie, period. He then made Steven Seagal's debut, ABOVE THE LAW--the same plaudits for CODE OF SILENCE apply. Then, the entertaining THE PACKAGE with Gene Hackman and Tommy Lee Jones before hitting it big with UNDER SIEGE (also with Seagal) and THE FUGITIVE.

Davis hasn't made a film as good since. Though I feel comfortable saying they're all better than THE FINAL TERROR.

Vengeance In Cuba

I guess when your name is Mark Blood, you pretty much have to spend your life killing people. I doubt there are many florists or bank presidents named Blood.

This Blood was a Marine captain and war hero in Vietnam who learns overseas that his young wife, Cindy, was killed by hijackers who intercepted her commercial flight to Miami and aimed it at Cuba. We know something is fishy right away, as Cindy's throat is slashed by a hijacker during the prologue, but the brass tells Blood she was killed by a stray bullet.

After serving his country, he returns home to an empty house, depression, and two CIA agents who attempt to recruit him into the agency to find a Cuban revolutionary named El Matador who plans to overthrow Castro. Blood says no thanks, but when he's jumped by a couple of gunmen who hint that El Matador was involved in Cindy's death, he surreptitiously enters Cuba to investigate on his own and ultimately learns of a master plan to create a powerful nerve gas named X80 to be sold to America's enemies.

Not a bad novel, but nothing great either. It's paced decently enough, and is one of the few men's adventure novels I've come across that's written in first person. Allan Morgan wrote the 1974 novel for Award Books. There were at least two other Blood adventures, presumably placing the hero within the CIA as an assassin.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Scalpel Scam

I was not a big fan of 1984's NIGHTMARE NETWORK, #5 in Pinnacle's Protector series. The Protector is never actually called that in the novel, and I presume he is Alex Dartanian, a soldier of fortune who owns Dartanian Security Service, a high-priced security firm based in Manhattan. Within that network is an ultra-secret faction called ICE: Inner Court Executions. Dartanian's ICE men serve as vigilantes, recruited from the best military and intelligence men in the U.S. His ace assistants are ex-Special Forces 'Nam vet Mick Porter and Japanese martial arts expert Sin Simara.

Their target is Dr. Stewart Valcour, who kidnaps healthy people and keeps them captive in his technologically advanced private hospital to use in his organ farm. Wealthy patrons pay big bucks for new eyes, kidneys, hearts and livers or to just have regular blood transfusions that will prolong their lives. Yes, author Rich Rainey is ripping off COMA and not too arrestingly either. Unromantic action scenes and scant characterization help sink this book. Late in the game, Rainey introduces a potentially interesting character named Taurus, a reclusive assassin who lives high in the mountains with a harem of women. So much a mystery to his employers that they don't even know his name, Taurus is quickly killed after a build-up that leads the reader to assume he'll play a big part in the climax.

I read this one in a hurry and won't remember a thing about it a few weeks from now. Considering its lurid plot, it would have helped to add some sleaze to the proceedings (although a female doctor does have regular sex with one of her coma victims).

Sunday, December 16, 2007

An Army To Get The Dope Out Of Harlem

In past posts, I lamented the absence of badass favorites DARK OF THE SUN and SITTING TARGET on DVD. To the list add GORDON'S WAR, a hard-hitting hunk of heavy blaxploitation filmed in Harlem by director Ossie Davis (COTTON COMES TO HARLEM) and released by 20th Century Fox in 1973.

The late Paul Winfield, nominated for an Oscar the year before for SOUNDER, contributes another strong performance as Gordon, a Green Beret who returns from Vietnam to learn his wife has died from a drug overdose--a habit she picked up while Gordon was overseas. Overcome with grief, he organizes a group of three Army buddies and makes war on the pimps and pushers of the neighborhood, including the colorfully named Big Pink, Luther the Pimp, and the dude who runs Harlem's action: druglord Spanish Harry (Gilbert Lewis).

Grittier and less cartoony than many other black action flicks of the era, GORDON'S WAR benefits from some of the seediest New York locations ever put on film (also a highlight of Davis' previous directorial effort), nice chemistry among the four leads--Winfield, Carl Lee as poetry-reading Bee, Tony King as behemoth Roy and David Downing as wisecracking Otis--and a serious approach by scripters Howard Friedlander and Ed Spielman (white guys who created TV's KUNG FU). There's no shortage of violence either, the highlights being a brutal leg-breaking and an exciting car/motorcycle chase through the streets of Harlem.

For some reason, Fox hasn't gotten around to putting this one out on DVD, even though just about every other blaxploitation movie of the period seems to be available. I don't see how there could be a market for BROTHERHOOD OF DEATH and BLACK SHAMPOO, but not for this. Available only on a long OOP prerecord VHS from CBS/Fox, GORDON'S WAR is an outstanding urban crime drama with a message as poignant today as it ever was.

Fingertips To The Wolverines

Watching the first three episodes of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE ever broadcast is an interesting experience. The show was, of course, much different than it is today, but it's also much different than the way it would become later in that first 1975-1976 season. Each episode is an unusual grab bag of concepts, blackouts and musical numbers that plays very much like a stage revue. If you don't like what's happening, don't worry, something else completely different will come along in just a few minutes.

The first show, for example, hosted by George Carlin. It offers four different monologues by Carlin, who doesn't appear in any sketches (he was supposed to be in Michael O'Donoghue's big Alexander the Great sketch, but refused after dress rehearsal, and it was dropped). Andy Kaufman does his brilliant Mighty Mouse bit. Albert Brooks produces a funny short film (complete with pedophilia gag). The Muppets have their own spotlighted slot (nothing the Muppets did on SNL is the least bit entertaining). Billy Preston ("Nothing from Nothing") and Janis Ian ("At Seventeen") do two songs each. The Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time Players (Don Pardo fucks up and calls them "Not-for-Ready..." in the opening) barely appear, and only Chevy Chase, who anchors Weekend Update, makes an impact, though a couple of the sketches are funny. George Coe and O'Donoghue are official Players in the premiere. In all, an oddly structured yet fascinating historical curio.

The second show is almost completely different from the previous week's in every way. Almost all ninety minutes are devoted to music, as host Paul Simon performs several hits and also reunites with Art Garfunkel for a couple numbers (Artie does a hit on his own too). Phoebe Snow and Randy Newman also perform, and, aside from more Muppets and Brooks pieces, the longest comic bit is a tedious filmed one-on-one basketball game between Simon and NBA star Connie Hawkins that is hosted by Marv Albert! Jerry Rubin (!) and Bill Bradley also appear, and the NRFPTP gets less than a minute of airtime on their own show.

Rob Reiner (ALL IN THE FAMILY) hosts the third show with wife Penny Marshall (soon to be on LAVERNE & SHIRLEY) and no musical guest, though a West Coast dance troupe called the Lockers (with Fred "Rerun" Berry!) appears, as does comedienne Denny Dillon, who later become an SNL regular during its notorious 1980-81 season. The NRFPTP make their biggest impact, especially Jane Curtin interviewing Laraine Newman as Squeaky Fromme on her DANGEROUS BUT INEPT talk show and Chevy (who breaks up during it) in a pro-drooler PSA. The Players were pissed about Brooks' film, which ran thirteen minutes, and Reiner's alleged prima donna act backstage.

And the Bees appeared in all three shows, can you believe it?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Changing The Face Of TV Drama

I recently wrote about LOU GRANT, which is airing Wednesday nights on AmericanLife TV Network between MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and TRAPPER JOHN, M.D. LOU GRANT debuted thirty years ago, and was the subject of a nice Associated Press piece by Frazier Moore.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Killer In The Night

I really liked this tightly rendered crime novel, the fourth in Lancer's series of books about Soldato: Man Against the Mafia. And it comes as no surprise how professional the writing is, when one discovers that author Al Conroy is actually Marvin H. Albert, whose long resume includes mysteries, hard-boiled crime novels, international adventures, westerns, film adaptations and screenplays for tough movies like DUEL AT DIABLO (a bloody western starring James Garner and Sidney Poitier) and THE DON IS DEAD (Anthony Quinn and Robert Forster in the Mafia).

I'm looking for other Soldato novels after the coolness that is MURDER MISSION!. A soldato is a "soldier," a gunsel in the Mafia, which is what Johnny Morini was before he had a change of heart, testified against his former boss, and went into the witness protection program. There, he agreed to make amends by fighting the Mafia--going undercover to destroy various Dons from within the organization. In New Orleans, he poses as Harry Bacchi, a soldato out of Chicago, who charms local Don Marno Cadvarutti by arranging for his grandson to be knocked into the water and then conveniently rescuing the boy in Marno's presence. He is welcomed into Cadvarutti's ranks, though various monkey wrenches are tossed into Morini's plan to conquer the don, including Marno's suspicious heroin-addicted brother Milo, his disowned daughter Helena, the arrival of a mobster from the West Coast carrying a sketch of the notorious Mafia-killing Morini (no one knows his new face, and Johnny wants to keep it that way), and the arrival of Bacchi's old Chicago don, who thinks Harry has busted out of prison (the Justice Department has the real Bacchi on ice in maximum security).

Conroy/Albert effectively keeps a lot of balls in the air, believably setting up more obstacles for Morini, who evades them with smarts and skill. The action scenes, including a car/boat/foot chase that concludes on a dark sandbar, are exciting, though not overly violent, and the camaraderie between Morini and Riley, his Justice Department contact (who is kidnapped during this New Orleans adventure), provides the story with some real humanity. The cover offers a final-chapter spoiler.

It's About Friggin' Time

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Biggest Mother Of Them All

When last we left MORITURI spy Patrick Shannon, well, he was doing pretty well, living it up in his New York penthouse apartment and sexing up many gorgeous women. And when we pick him up at the beginning of his next adventure, SHALLOW GRAVE, he's still sexing up hotties--up to three at a time--while on vacation down in Montego Bay. In fact, the first thirty pages have nothing to do with any plot; they just chart Shannon's fun times in the Caribbean, eating great food, lounging in his expensive hotel room, and, uh, sexing up many hotties. I don't think this makes him very likable; he's kinda smug, if you ask me. Oh, and we learn that Shannon is now an author of trashy spy paperbacks based on his own cases.

When he finally returns to New York and the penthouse he shares with his companion/sidekick/cook/houseboy Joe-Dad, Shannon investigates a series of murders of heroin-addicted hookers who are butchered and found naked with a cross sliced into their chests. The lab discovers chicken blood mixed with the victims' blood, leading to the conclusion that voodoo is responsible. Unfortunately, there are no zombies in this 1974 novel, nor anything as outrageous as the tripped-out villains of the previous novel, THE UNDERTAKER, which I greatly preferred. Author Jake Quinn took little care in crafting an absorbing mystery, and the dialogue is puerile, even for a book of this nature.

One thing of note is that we learn Shannon's origin story, in which, among other things, he was one of eight children born to wealthy Irish immigrants and served in Vietnam.

Thinking Of Candice

By my unofficial count, by far, the blog post that receives the most traffic on Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot is the memorial I penned last year about the late drive-in actress Candice Rialson, who passed away in March 2006 at the terribly young age of 54. She was not just a good actress in exploitation movies; she was a good actress, period, who sadly received too few opportunities to prove it. Joe Dante (GREMLINS), who directed her in the wonderful HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD, told Tim Lucas she was "the exploitation movie equivalent of getting Julie Christie"--a helluva compliment.

I bring her up today, because I was heartened to receive a belated comment to my earlier post from none other than Candice's brother, who answers definitively my query as to whether she was aware of her devoted fan base:, I don't think she ever knew of such following as she never became acclimated to computers and as such never had any access to find out. I know this because I am her brother.

Thank you for what I found here as a truley (sic) honorable memory of my sister Candice.

Peace, Scott Rialson

I wish Mr. Rialson had left an email address so that I, and perhaps others who loved her work, could tell him how much we appreciated his sister's talent and beauty. I'm certain that he knows, but it would be nice to tell him anyway.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Oh, Yeah. I'm There.

Happily, Lucasfilm hired Drew Struzan to create the poster for the fourth Indiana Jones film. And it looks awesome.

The Irresistible Force

Here's one of the few men's adventure heroes of the '70s who actually was adapted to motion picture form. Unfortunately, the film version of BLACK SAMURAI was directed by Al Adamson, who never made a good movie in his life. Few are even watchable, which is about the best you can say for Adamson's 1977 film, which has also been seen as THE FREEZE BOMB and BLACK TERMINATOR. I don't believe it has anything to do with any of Marc Olden's Black Samurai novels, and the version I saw was cut for television, missing some violence, swearing and nudity. Which is, of course, the only reason anybody's watching BLACK SAMURAI in the first place.

What's great about BLACK SAMURAI is Jim Kelly, who, then and now, is probably Hollywood's best choice for the character. The high-haired black martial-arts star (ENTER THE DRAGON) scraped the bottom of the action barrel when he signed on for this cheap, confusing adventure filmed in Hong Kong. As D.R.A.G.O.N. agent Robert Sand, Kelly chases sinister Satan-worshiping druglord Janicot (Bill Roy), who has kidnapped his girlfriend Toki (Essie Lin Chia), who also happens to be the daughter of a prominent Chinese ambassador targeting Janicot's crime reign for extinction.

With a bigger budget and a better director than hack Adamson (BLAZING STEWARDESSES), this adaptation of Marc Olden's series of BLACK SAMURAI pulp novels could have been fun, since it does sport plenty of exotic locations, beautiful women, kung fu, campy villains and even a midget. But Adamson, who made bad movies in nearly every genre, can ruin almost anything, and not even Kelly, who actually is livelier than usual this time, can convince your eyes to stay open.

As for the books, Olden wrote eight of them in 1974-1975. The second, THE GOLDEN KILL, is a great adventure filled with action, romance, violence, exotic locations and powerful villains. There is no D.R.A.G.O.N., of course, in the novel. Instead, Sand works for The Baron, who is actually William Baron Clarke, a former President of the United States who uses his wealth and his influence to battle evil from his Texas ranch. His one operative is Robert Sand, who goes up against millionaire Print Drewcolt's plot to use a virus to wipe out millions of Red Chinese and blame the Russians. That way, he can sign a $40 million gold mining contract with China that Russia is first in line for. Drewcolt's #1 henchman is Talon, a cruel assassin whose modus operandi involves stripping his victims nude and standing them in the dark, damp courtyard of Drewcolt's English castle, where he sends his vicious trained hawk, Rajah, to rip them apart.

THE GOLDEN KILL is a terrific novel, and leads one to wonder why Adamson didn't adapt it, rather than creating a (much worse) story from scratch. Actually, one wonders about most of Al Adamson's filmmaking choices.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

What Happens When Cannon Rips Off Lethal Weapon?

One black, one white, many bullets. Yes, it's true. Cannon made a wacky, violent buddy-cop movie starring Robert Carradine (after REVENGE OF THE NERDS) and Billy Dee Williams (three years after his previous feature film, the sleazy FEAR CITY). I actually saw this in a theater in Carbondale, Illinois in 1987. Carradine's love interest is none other than super-cute Valerie Bertinelli from ONE DAY AT A TIME! And the pissed off captain who yells at the boys for destroying public property is Peter Graves! Graves is a close personal friend of director Jack Smight, which explains what he's doing in a Cannon movie.

Smight was a journeyman who bounced back and forth between films and television for decades without really making a memorable film; some of his credits include MIDWAY, AIRPORT 1975, THE ILLUSTRATED MAN and HARPER. Some of his films are decent (I've seen HARPER several times), but nothing you'd cross a busy street to see. Well, except NUMBER ONE WITH A BULLET, of course... DIRTY HARRY's Gail Morgan Hickman wrote it, and one wonders whether it was a dusty draft of a proposed sequel.

Thursday, December 06, 2007


On some level, you have to admire a book titled HEADCRUSHER. There is certainly little doubt as to what kind of reading you'll be getting. And HEADCRUSHER, published by Leisure in 1974, lives up to its name, even though there's no head-crushing in it. Head-shooting, oh yes, but no heads are crushed.

The Sharpshooter is John Rocetti, whose father and mother were gunned down by mobsters when Mr. Rocetti refused to allow the Mafia to use his small family business as a front. At the Rocettis' funeral, the mob struck again, killing John's brother and sister and sending him to the hospital. During his lengthy healing process, John swore to avenge his family by killing as many Mafia bastards as he could before they eventually got to him.

Now known as Johnny Rock, the Sharpshooter is drinking in a Manhattan bar when he overhears a couple of mooks talking about how they were involved in the Rocetti killing years ago. I know, lucky, right? Rock blows them away, but not before learning the number-one guy in the hit was Mackie Malanga, owner of a massage parlor and porno theater on Times Square. Rock ends up undercover as Mackie's main henchman during a massive gang war, in which the Sharpshooter manages to kill dozens of "Mafia bastards" (as he puts it) while learning which don put out the contract on the Rocettis.

Tightly written and grimy as hell, HEADCRUSHER hits the spot if you're looking for violent urban thrills with an anti-hero that isn't difficult to root for, even though he's not always careful about keeping civilians out of harm's way. If an innocent bystander is killed while Rock is mowing down a bunch of mobsters, so be it.

Apparently, several staff writers were "Bruno Rossi", including Peter McCurtin, Russell Smith, Leonard Levinson, John Stevenson and Paul Hofrichter. I don't know if any of them wrote HEADCRUSHER, but I was impressed by the author's lean pulp style.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Climb Outta My Tree

“Counter Gambit” is an entertaining con episode in which Rockford (James Garner) is framed for the theft of a pearl necklace, but manages to get off the hook when he tricks the real crooks into returning the necklace to the safe from which they stole it. Rockford is summoned to the state pen by Moss Williams (Eddie Fontaine), a thug who once tried to kill Jim in prison. Moss hires the reluctant detective to find out whether his girl, Maria Heller (Mary Frann, later Bob’s wife on NEWHART), is cheating on him. The smell of Williams’ retainer—and the rantings of Jim’s dentist, who threatens to repo the detective’s filling if his bill isn’t paid—convinces Jim to take the case, which, in true ROCKFORD FILES fashion, turns out to be nothing like it seems.

Besides just being a really fun episode with an especially breezy performance by Garner, “Counter Gambit” is also notable for being Stuart Margolin’s first appearance on THE ROCKFORD FILES after the pilot. Soon to become one of the show’s most popular supporting players as Jim’s cowardly ex-cellmate Angel Martin, Margolin already appears to have the part down pat, and his initial scene, set in a seedy porn theater, sets the pace for the entire series. Also appearing in supporting bits are M. Emmet Walsh (BLOOD SIMPLE) and Garry Walberg, late of THE ODD COUPLE and soon to become a regular on QUINCY, M.E. Director Jackie Cooper, who earlier had helmed “Aura Lee, Farewell,” was better known as an actor (he began in films as a child in 1929), and actually appeared as a Special Guest Star in the next televised episode, “Claire.”

Monday, December 03, 2007

Bay Prowler

Using the name Mike Barry, prolific author Barry N. Malzberg wrote fourteen quickie novels about the Lone Wolf between 1973 and 1975. Talk about a career--this guy seems to have done just about everything. He's written more than 300 short stories dating back to 1966, edited books of criticism and essays, novelized the 1974 film PHASE IV and the pilot to the television series KUNG FU, written several mysteries and science fiction novels, and, using the name Mel Johnson, even churned out more than a dozen pornographic novels during the late 1960s. As one person wrote on the Internet, it's quite likely not even Malzberg himself remembers everything he's written.

It's quite possible the Lone Wolf series is something he'll be remembered for, as these men's adventure novels seem never to die, popping up in used book stores, basements and on eBay (where I found this one). In Berkeley Medallion's BAY PROWLER, published in 1973, Malzberg/Barry seems to be attempting a continuity that, I understand, eventually paid off in the 14th and final Lone Wolf adventure. In the first book, NIGHT RAIDER, ex-cop Burt Wulff blew up a mobster's penthouse apartment to stop the flow of drugs into the Big Apple. He managed to secure an attache case with clues leading him to a huge drug shipment coming into San Francisco, which is where BAY PROWLER is set. Wulff is one of the more fatalistic men's adventure heroes I've come across. He appears to know his life will be a short one, and realizes there's no way he can ever have a normal relationship with another human being, man or woman. He is determined, however, outdriving, outfighting and outshooting half the San Francisco Mafia, and eventually blowing up a ship and escaping the clutches of both the mob and the police.

Clues in the finale indicate Boston is the next destination for Wulff's vendetta journey, and it looks as though each of the Lone Wolf books was set in a different city, where presumably Wulff wiped out all the local mobsters. BAY PROWLER was an okay book, not a great one, and the speed with which it was written is quite obvious. Gotta give credit for the awesome cover, though, one of the best I've seen so far. Even if the book's climax fails to give the Lone Wolf a red-haired companion with deep cleavage.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Imoogi and Baraki and Bigass Snakes, Oh My

The hilariously redundant D-WAR: DRAGON WARS is reportedly the most expensive South Korean film ever made, something like $70 million. And it's all up on the screen, particularly a mid-section setpiece in which a mean giant snake blasts its way through downtown Los Angeles, upending cars and smashing buildings and knocking Apache helicopters out of the sky. The CGI effects, created by the writer/director Hyung-rae Shim in his own special effects studio, are mostly impressive, and the ambitious storyline reaches out to 16th-century Asia for a romantically rendered flashback inspired by popular wuxia like CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON.

I say the budget is all up on the screen, because little of it appears to have been used to buy charismatic young stars or an intelligent screenplay. D-WAR is a deliriously silly movie with little regard for its plot. Coincidences, such as the one that brings its hero, a cable news reporter named Ethan (Jason Behr, who has unusual tastes in hair and wardrobe for a major news star), and its heroine, empty-eyed 20-year-old Sarah (Amanda Brooks), together to jump-start the plot, abound. I don't know how fluent Shim is in English, but an unfamiliarity with the language might explain Ethan's database search for women of a certain age named "Sarah" without taking into consideration the thousands of "Saras" roaming around L.A. Though I don't know how to explain Ethan taking a bullet in the shoulder, and then getting off the ground without even a grimace or a hole in his shirt with an injury that is never acknowledged for the rest of the running time.

For a movie that ultimately boils down to two giant serpents wrestling each other, the backstory is needlessly complicated. Luckily, Shim hired the fine actor Robert Forster to explain it to a young Ethan in a flashback that leads to a flashback-inside-a-flashback. Basically, 500 years ago, a young Korean girl was born with the Yuh Yi Joo inside of her--an energy to be transferred from her on her 20th birthday to a "good" serpent--the Imoogi--and transform it into a dragon. However, an evil serpent--Baraki--wants the Yuh Yi Joo, so he can turn into an evil dragon. He can also turn himself to a Korean-speaking man who resembles a white-haired Richard Moll, and has an army of Lucasian warriors and creatures to assist his quest for the Yuh Yi Joo.

He fails to get it 500 years ago, and is now back to get it in Los Angeles, where Ethan, the reincarnation of the young warrior pressed into service protecting the girl five centuries ago, discovers the Yuh Yi Joo is inside Sarah, who has no family and apparently no job or schooling, but lives with a roommate in a comfortable house in the suburbs. Forster, as Jack, the antique-store owner who knows everything about the Imoogi legend, dies--maybe, I think, it's hard to say for sure--but pops up often in ghost form, either to provide Ethan with a periodic pep talk or just to kick the asses of some muggers giving Sarah a hard time outside a bar.

D-WAR was reportedly shorn of at least 17 minutes before its U.S. theatrical run this summer, which may explain some of the plot holes, like why the FBI knows more about an obscure Korean legend than the leads do or what scientist Elizabeth Pena's question about diamonds being the Earth's hardest substance has to do with anything. Some of D-WAR's dialogue comes across like NON SEQUITUR THEATER. It's hard to hate any movie, though, that unironically features that time-tested tradition of giant-monster movies--the scene in which a bunch of cops fire their pistols in vain at a huge snake that has already knocked down a few dozen buildings. Plus, in another (unintentional?) nod to monster movies of the past, the Baraki's evil lair is none other than camera-friendly Bronson Canyon. Throw in not one but two Wilhelm Screams, and D-WAR comes across as such stupid fun that only a cur would point out that there's only one dragon in the movie, so there could hardly be any dragon wars.

Friday, November 30, 2007

To Stop The Rat, One Kills It

Everybody is kung fu fighting in THE YEAR OF THE RAT, #3 in Manor Books' Kung Fu series, written by "Lee Chang" and published in 1974. Although the lead character is named Mace--and the name is prominently displayed on the cover--the series is named Kung Fu, certainly to capitalize on the KUNG FU TV series starring David Carradine. I believe there were also some KUNG FU novelizations published at the same time, meaning there were two different series under that umbrella on the shelves then. Fans of the TV series who accidentally read this book were probably surprised at the intense violence the "Kung Fu Monk-Master" perpetrates upon his opponents.

Victor Mace, a kung fu badass, is on assignment for the CIA in Ottawa, Canada, where he is to discover how the Red Chinese are sneaking their agents into North America. That's not what the book is about, however, as the Chinese commies are planning to release a deadly virus along the east coast of the United States that will kill hundreds of thousands of Americans. The trail leads Mace from Ottawa, where he eliminates a couple of dozen enemies inside the Chinese embassy there, to a commercial ice plant just outside Buffalo, New York, where Mace massacres a few dozen more rednecks. And that's not even mentioning the many gunmen, assassins and Red Chinese agents he beats the asses of elsewhere.

Like Ninja Master Wade Barker, Mace sometimes dresses in ninja garb and uses weaponry such as shurikens to slice up his opponents, but I get more of a Shang-Chi vibe than Sho Kosugi from him. He mostly just fights hand-to-hand without any gimmicks, and certainly doesn't rely on swordplay to cut his opponents in half like the Ninja Master did. THE YEAR OF THE RAT is an action-packed little novel, and like many of these trashy paperbacks I've been reading, would make a great exploitation movie. I'm really surprised that no producer during the 1970s optioned the Mace books or the Penetrator or the Executioner or the Ninja Master and made a movie based on one of their stories (there was a Destroyer movie in the '80s starring Fred Ward as Remo Williams, but it was not a hit).

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sweet Revenge

This book reads like a lawsuit waiting to happen, but the series continued, so I guess either nobody read this Manor book or nobody cared. Imagine this novel coming out in 1975--one year after DEATH WISH became one of the country's most talked-about films. It's a novel about a white-collar liberal named Bronson, whose wife and children are raped and murdered by street thugs. Out of rage and frustration, after the killers are set free by the courts, Bronson becomes a vigilante, stocking up on weapons and hitting the cold, dark streets night after night, looking to kill the killers of his family.

Oh, sure, the city is Cincinnati, not New York, and the protagonist's name is Richard, not Charles, Bronson, but DEATH WISH was certainly the blueprint for this violent urban thriller. The major exception is that this Bronson is certainly no hero. While DEATH WISH made sure its star, Charles Bronson as architect Paul Kersey, killed only people who deserved it, the Bronson of BLIND RAGE isn't so accommodating. He kills anyone who stands between him and vengeance, even if they happen to be innocent bystanders or just accidentally in his way. The body count in the book is quite high, though it seems like just over half of the victims actually had it coming.

Bronson discovers the leaders of the toughs who slaughtered his family, twins named Bennie and Bernie, have skipped the Queen City and headed towards Sacramento. With his new lover, a 17-year-old Latina named Teresa, in tow, Bronson follows them to California, stopping off for awhile in Nevada to pick up some expensive new weaponry and learn how to use it effectively. When he isn't shooting people, Bronson can be quite vicious for a guy who never hurt a fly until a few weeks ago. He ties one woman to her bed, nude, pours kerosene on her, and holds a match to her pubic hair to set her afire. One victim he ties down and fastens cages of hungry rats around his head and hand. You certainly wouldn't see that in a DEATH WISH movie.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Wrong Time To Be Right

Yes, I know it's been a long time since I last reviewed an episode of THE ROCKFORD FILES.

”Sleight of Hand” is one of THE ROCKFORD FILES’ darkest episodes. It opens with Jim Rockford (James Garner) forlornly wandering the beach, reacting to flashes of a dead girl lying in the surf surrounded by a crowd, and it ends on a very tough note. It also happens to be one of the series’ best episodes.

The episode is based on THIN AIR, a 1948 novel by Howard Browne, an author, editor and screenwriter of dozens of films and television shows. If the plot seems familiar, it may be that you’ve seen one of the many TV adaptations of THIN AIR, authorized or otherwise. Reportedly, Browne sold the rights to his novel to Universal, which recycled it several times as scripts for their television series. In addition to THE ROCKFORD FILES, THIN AIR was also the basis of episodes of JIGSAW, SIMON & SIMON and others. Ironically, SIMON & SIMON co-star Gerald McRaney may have experienced déjà vu when he starred in his episode, also titled “Thin Air” and co-written by Browne, because he plays a supporting role in “Sleight of Hand.”

For the last six months, Rockford has been in a serious relationship with Karen Mills (Pat Delaney), a divorcee with a three-year-old daughter. Returning home late one night after a weekend car trip to San Francisco, Jim sends Karen ahead to unlock the front door of her house, while he carries the little girl inside. But by the time he reaches the foyer, Karen is gone. Without a trace. And without her keys or purse. How could she have vanished so quickly? Jim was right behind her. He calls his police detective friend Becker (Joe Santos) for help, but Becker’s lieutenant, Diehl (Tom Atkins), thinks Rockford killed the woman somewhere between Frisco and West Hollywood.

Garner is great in the episode, showing more depth than he usually was asked to do in this usually light crime drama. While he’s still perfectly natural doggedly following the clues or wisecracking his way past the bad guys, Rockford’s personal stake in the mystery means Garner is more sober than usual. This is borne out in his scenes with Noah Beery Jr. as Rockford’s father, who feels his son’s pain and tries to help bring some closure, as well as his encounter with McRaney as an officious hotel clerk, who is reluctantly bullied for pertinent information, even though Rockford realizes he’s stepping over the line.

Guest star Lara Parker was one of the loveliest actresses working in ‘70s TV, and is likely best known for her run as Catherine Collins on the cult daytime serial DARK SHADOWS.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Nightmare Is Knowing You're Sane

A sane person locked away in an insane asylum is a tried-and-true thriller plot that even popped up as a two-part episode of THE ROCKFORD FILES. When the subject is a woman, it gives you a chance to basically make a women-in-prison movie, but without the prison. That's basically how Hikmet Avedis' 1979 sleazefest THE FIFTH FLOOR is structured--as a good ol' WIP.

Kelly (Dianne Hull) is a waitress at a discotheque who contracts strychnine poisoning and collapses in convulsions on the dance floor. Her doctor, believing she tried to commit suicide after a fight with her boyfriend Ronnie (John David Carson), assigns her 72 hours on the hospital's fifth floor, where the psychiatric patients are locked away. There she makes friends with a wide variety of wackos and tries to fend off the malevolent advances of perverted orderly Carl (top-billed Bo Hopkins).

It's not a very good movie, but it does offer standard WIP fare, including two creepy shower/bath scenes and full-frontal nudity. The script is by Meyer Dolinsky, who wrote a ton of TV episodes (including STAR TREK's silly "Plato's Stepchildren") and doesn't seem to have spent much time polishing the plotholes out of this one. It seems as though the medical staff, which includes nurse Julie Adams (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON) and shrink Mel Ferrer (THE SUN ALSO RISES), would have to be pretty dim to disbelieve Kelly's normal mental state, and even after the police learn that Kelly did not attempt suicide after all, no one moves very quickly to get her released.

Still, you have to love this down-and-out cast, which also includes Patti D'Arbanville, Robert Englund (who does a Dracula impression), Sharon Farrell, Anthony James and Earl Boen. A young Alan Silvestri (BEOWULF) composed the rotten disco score, which sounds like it belongs to an episode of B.A.D. CATS. We can thank Edward L. Montoro's Film Ventures International for this movie.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Death Is Rotting Your Guts

The Enforcer is Alex Jason, a journalist and novelist who suffers from terminal stomach cancer. With only six painful months of life remaining in his disease-ravaged body, Jason is approached, via hologram, by the mysterious Mortimer J. Flack, a highly placed representative of the John Anryn Institute (I believe the name is a take on Ayn Rand, whose Objectivist philosophy is somewhat echoed in the novel). Flack offers Jason two additional years of pain-free life by transferring his mind into a newly created clone body. In return, Jason must work for the Institute as an agent and sometimes assassin.

The catch is that each clone body lasts for only ninety days. At first, one side of the body goes numb, blind and lifeless, then the other side. Ultimately, the body melts down into a blob of ick, during which time the brain is still functioning and the subject is aware of its hideous breakdown. However, the mind can be easily transferred into a new clone body as long as the old one still lives (by the way, the body is not a clone of Jason; rather, he receives a different-looking and sized body each time). As THE ENFORCER, #1 in Andrew Sugar's series opens, the human mind can only handle eight transfers (hence, Jason's two-year reprieve); on the ninth, retardation and/or senility begins to occur.

At 222 pages, THE ENFORCER, published by Lancer Books in 1973, is longer than most of these paperbacks, but it does have to fill in Jason's origin before it can dive into its plot. Jason is given a Latin body for his first mission, which is to storm the beach of a Caribbean island and use a super-powerful laser rifle to shoot and destroy an oil rig anchored fifteen miles off-shore. The laser has unlimited range, but is limited to only fourteen shots; on the fifteenth, it self-destructs, and you don't want to be holding it when it does.

However, Jason is captured soon after arriving and is held captive by a gay Latin germophobe general named O'Brien (!), who spends a month torturing Jason, believing him to be an agent of the CIA. Eventually, Jason is rescued by the Institute, who tosses him into a new mission, which is to penetrate a nearby laboratory where evil scientists are turning children into plants!

THE ENFORCER is quite lively and doesn't go overboard with its crazy science fiction elements, providing just the right level of audaciousness. Perhaps there's a little too much story, though there's no doubt a kickass movie could be made from this material. It's one of the best men's adventure paperbacks I've tackled so far, and I'm looking forward to reading the rest. I own six of Sugar's seven Enforcer novels. The cover is awesome too, even though no bikini girls accompany the Enforcer on his mission.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Two Tough Cops

A double dose of head-crackin', six-shootin' action today. First off is DEATH ON THE DOCKS, #2 in Warner Books' Dirty Harry series, which, obviously, was based on the character played by Clint Eastwood in DIRTY HARRY, MAGNUM FORCE and THE ENFORCER (SUDDEN IMPACT was released in 1983, two years after DEATH ON THE DOCKS was published). Twelve original Dirty Harry novels were written, six of those by Ric Meyers.

Meyers did not, however, pen DEATH ON THE DOCKS, and who knows who did (all the paperbacks were credited to "Dane Hartman"). It's an okay but not great book with too many annoying out-of-character situations. For instance, Harry fancies himself a master of disguise and dons a wig, mustache and loud clothes to track a suspect in a bar. That is just something Dirty Harry would not do, and if you've seen the execrable PINK CADILLAC, you know Clint Eastwood shouldn't do it either.

DEATH never lives up to its brutal opening, as two professional hitmen invade the home of a prospective union leader the night before the election and murders his entire family, including two small children, in graphic detail. Inspector Harry Callahan gets the case, and even though he knows the killers must have been employed by the victim's opponent, Bull Ryan, or--more than likely--Ryan's string-puller, the former union boss, Matt Braxton, how can Harry prove it?

He does it by making a pain in the ass of himself, following Braxton around and earning the wrath of his superiors in the department, who may be on the crime boss' payroll. After a few shootouts, Callahan manages to arrest Braxton, but the villain jumps bail and heads to the Caribbean, where Harry follows after taking a vacation from work and gathering his disguise.

I think I may have solved a mystery of sorts through reading 1974's THE SNIPER, the first of Leisure Books' series of Ryker procedurals about a tough New York City cop named Sergeant Joe Ryker. Before I get to that, the Ryker books are notable for their author: Nelson DeMille. Before DeMille was a best-selling author of thrillers like THE GENERAL'S DAUGHTER and GOLD COAST, he was churning out these paperback quickies under the name Jack Cannon. I've seen covers using the Cannon pseudonym, though my paperback appears to be an original, judging from the copyright info, so I'm confused as to when and why the Cannon name was used.

What's really interesting is that, at least twice, I noticed proofreading slipups in which the name "Blaze" was substituted for "Ryker." Is it possible that DeMille was actually "Robert Novak," and that THE SNIPER was supposed to be part of the Super Cop Joe Blaze series? Both are tough, corrupt NYPD sergeants named Joe. THE SNIPER, while not great, mainly due to its cynicism and misogyny (which continue to haunt DeMille's writing to this day), is much better written than the hacked-out THE BIG PAYOFF, though the coincidence is too close to dismiss. Maybe when I read additional Blaze and Ryker books, I'll be able to make a definitive decision.

Ryker and his partner Arthur Hayes are on the trail of a Tennessee-born sniper named Homer Cyrus, who learned to shoot in Vietnam and is now targeting young blond women from the rooftops of New York. The mystery isn't much, as it doesn't take Ryker long to learn the killer's identity. Obviously influenced by THE FRENCH CONNECTION (as I think the Super Cop Joe Blaze books are), THE SNIPER presents a "hero" who sleeps with hookers, treats everyone around him rudely, and even beats the shit out of an innocent civilian on the theory it may lure Cyrus out of hiding. Not a pleasant guy to spend time with, if he were real, though not between paperback pages either.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Turkeys Away

Yes, I'm fully aware that this will appear on 3000 blogs today, but it's too funny and too perfect to not use. It's the famous turkey-dropping scene from the "Turkeys Away" episode of WKRP IN CINCINNATI, originally broadcast on CBS in the fall of 1978.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Mark Of The Demon

Jonah Hex is one of the great non-superhero comic book characters, and an excellent bargain is DC Comics' trade paperback SHOWCASE PRESENTS JONAH HEX, VOLUME 1, which presents more than 500 pages of ALL-STAR WESTERN and WEIRD WESTERN TALES issues from the 1970s. Sure, they're in black-and-white, but that keeps the cost down (to well under $20), and this particular series looks fine in b&w anyway. Hex was created by writer John Albano and artist Tony DeZuniga in ALL-STAR WESTERN #10, and was the recipient of many sharp, gritty, action-packed adventures penned by Albano and, later, Michael Fleisher (who is still likely best known for his work on Hex and The Spectre in ADVENTURE COMICS around this same time).

The Comic Treadmill today has a fine post on Jonah Hex, coming from a comic-book fan just noticing Hex for the first time.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Potpourri For $200, Alex

A few points to make during this post, since I have been away from here for a few days. First off, Mr. Whipple passed away at age 91.

Mr. Whipple was actually a fine actor named Dick Wilson, who appeared in tons of television guest shots over the years, usually in sitcoms playing either a fussy man or a drunk. I grew up with Mr. Whipple, and I think I was off to college by the time he stopped squeezing the damn Charmin in commercials. The story goes that Charmin gave Wilson a lifetime supply of toilet paper, and for all he did to brand that company and make its name in the public eye, he surely deserved it.

For some reason, the Washington Post did a fairly lengthy article on MANNIX, the fine private-eye series that debuted on CBS in 1967--forty years ago. I didn't realize MANNIX had such a rabid fanbase, though I watched it religiously on TV Land back in the '90s. It's a terrific show that needs a DVD release. Since CBS/Paramount seems to be having success with its MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE season sets (Season 3 is out this week), perhaps they'll put MANNIX out there too.

Waiting on my front porch today was a large box filled with more trashy mens' adventure paperbacks. Including postage, the books were 50 cents apiece--80 for $40--so how could I say no? I'm running out of places to stack them. Yikes. I'll have another review up soon. I actually read John Whitlatch's THE JUDAS GOATS, but I decided not to review it. Coming up is the first of six Dirty Harry novels I own. Yep, Warner Books released a dozen or so Dirty Harry novels in the early 1980s, just before SUDDEN IMPACT came out.

I'm having bad luck with my new leather jacket. I bought it online from Casual Male XL, but it was a size too big. So I took it back to the store here in Champaign for an exchange. They didn't have any in stock, so I had to turn the jacket in for a refund, then go home and reorder the jacket in a smaller size on the Web site. I don't know why I couldn't order a new one at the store, but anyway. The real problem is that they "couldn't" refund my money right away, even though I used a debit card to pay for it. It seems as though it would be easy to replace the money in my account within a day or so, but, no, it takes two "billing cycles," which means it could be up to a month before I get my refund.

So I have now paid for two leather jackets. However, Friday night, the damn zipper got all jammed up, so I had to take the second jacket back too. For some reason, they told me at the store that they would take the jacket back, and Casual Male XL would mail me a new one in two days time--actually Friday, because of the Thanksgiving holiday. If they could take back a damaged jacket and send a replacement right away, why couldn't they do the same with a jacket that was the wrong size? At least that one, they could have resold right there--hung it up on the rack--because there's nothing wrong with it.

Time to watch CHUCK.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

He's My Favorite Honky

There's no way I can explain in words just how popular Steve Martin was in the late 1970s. And if this video doesn't explain it for you, then I'm afraid you'll never get it.

In 1978, Martin's album A WILD AND CRAZY GUY was on every kid's record player. It won the Grammy for Best Comedy Album, sold more than 2 million copies, and remains the last comedy album to reach as high as #2 on the Billboard pop chart. And everyone was singing along with "King Tut," which was a Top 40 hit that summer.

This clip is from an episode of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE that Martin guest-hosted. His band, The Toot Uncommons, played on the record, but I don't know if they're also playing in this clip or if it's the SNL house band.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Eee Oh Ele...Uh...Thirteen

Watching OCEAN'S 13 tonight, it occurred to me that I don't remember a damn thing about OCEAN'S 12 or OCEAN'S 11. Or the original Rat Pack OCEAN'S 11, for that matter. Truth is, I have stronger feelings towards MAUDLIN'S 11 than those other films. But that's as it should be. After all, they were made as frothy romps, and if I was still thinking about them a week later, they really wouldn't be doing their job.

OCEAN'S 13, now out on DVD, is pretty much the same old same old, but very skillfully done by director Steven Soderbergh, who receives tremendous support from composer David Holmes, who delivers a deliciously jaunty score. To get back on a mean hotel magnate who cheats trusting Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) out of his fortune, causing Reuben to suffer a stroke, Danny Ocean (George Clooney) pulls his caper team back together for revenge. The hotelier, Willie Bank (Al Pacino), is holding the grand opening of his new Vegas casino on July 3, and Ocean means to bankrupt him by, among other things, staging an earthquake on the premises.

The first half-hour or so is way too complicated for its own good. Or maybe I should say "confusing," because complicated doesn't have to mean "difficult to follow." Eventually, the screenplay starts to settle down, and you get a fix on the caper, but Soderbergh and his writers, David Levien and Brian Koppleman, have a lot of characters to juggle...I count at least seventeen major characters.

Frankly, no matter what happens in OCEAN'S 13, it's hard to pass up a movie with this cast. You've got Clooney and Brad Pitt and Matt Damon and Pacino and Ellen Barkin (reunited from SEA OF LOVE) and Andy Garcia and Elliott Gould (still wearing those huge fucking glasses) and Carl Reiner and Bernie Mac and Don Cheadle. Casey Affleck and Scott Caan are, again, very funny as bickering brothers. Eddie Izzard and Vincent Cassel are back. Julian Sands. David Paymer is here. It was incredible to see Bob Einstein, of all people, being hilarious as usual. Everyone wears nice clothes and engages in witty banter and nobody gets hurt, not even Pacino really.

No One Stops Hangman

Avon Books' Killsquad series is basically a more violent version of THE DIRTY DOZEN (which actually was a novel before the 1967 movie). In the first book, COUNTER ATTACK, former CIA operative John Smith (aka The Hangman) put together a squad of six Death Row inmates to go on a suicide mission. Among them were bloodthirsty German Schnell, one-eyed murderer Williams, Florida fisherman Jackson (who was actually innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted), racist White, ex-boxer Walker and Harlem hitman Barnes.

Somehow, the Killsquad survived its first three missions, and book #4, 1987's THE JUDAS SOLDIERS, finds them going up against one of the Hangman's old rivals: a fellow ex-CIA paramilitary operative named Ty Barber, who was jettisoned from the Company after plowing down dozens of innocent civilians, including children, in El Salvador. To get revenge, Barber has kidnapped a pair of scientists and forced them to concoct Strain X, an incredible virus he plans to dump into the United States' water supply. To test its power, he uses it to wipe out an entire Iowa town.

Smith and Killsquad have less than 48 hours to find Barber and stop his insidious plot, which leads them all the way to South America, where they are ambushed by vicious Incas whose taste for blood leads them to gut their victims and pin their intestines to the walls of their huts to warn intruders away.

Much shooting and killing (and graphic descriptions of various firearms) fill THE JUDAS SOLDIERS, which is credited to author Frank Garrett, but who is actually Dan Schmidt, a writer with more than sixty books on his resume. It's very right-wing with all its racially charged dialogue and emphasis on brutal action, but the characters are quite dull. In fact, they're all so similar that they seem to be speaking with the same voice. Except the black-hating ex-Klansman, of course, though all the prisoners get along together much more smoothly than you would think.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Death On The Water

In Mark Roberts' (writing as Lionel Derrick) CRUISE INTO CHAOS, we learn a bit of the Penetrator's backstory. Orphaned at a young age (his mother was a Cheyenne), Mark Hardin grew up in a series of foster homes, one belonging to a Mafia don who was blown up on his front lawn. He played football at UCLA on a scholarship, then served two terms in 'Nam, where he was wounded three times--once by members of a lucrative black-market ring that beat him nearly to death after he exposed them.

After leaving the Army, Hardin ended up in the Stronghold, the secret dream home of a retired USC professor named Willard Haskins, which was located underground inside an abandoned borax mine. A "Batcave" of sorts, it became a headquarters from which Hardin could battle organized crime using up-to-date weaponry, vehicles and other technological gadgetry, such as the artificial fingerprints on the tips of his realistic-looking skin-tight gloves.

Hardin also got married, but his wife, Donna, was murdered in a car accident arranged by a Mafia chieftain named Pietro Scarelli. Hardin destroyed Scarellio and his operation, and the Penetrator was born. Only a handful of men knew the Penetrator's identity and headquarters, including Haskins and David Red Eagle, a Cheyenne medicine man who provided Hardin's physical and mental training.

In the Penetrator's 39th mission, published in 1980, he goes undercover to Portland, Oregon as a Detroit hitman named Dolphins Bonelli to crack a case of international piracy. Don Francello Conti has acquired an actual 1940 German U-boat, which his gang uses to prowl beneath the Pacific Ocean surface and hunt cruise ships carrying wealthy passengers. The sub surfaces, Conti's men board the ship, rob it, and then sink it using torpedoes.

Hardin blows his cover about halfway through the novel and has to beat feet across a burning desert dressed only in his briefs and a pair of fresh rabbit pelts fashioned into moccasins. Author Roberts really packs a lot of plot into CRUISE, as the Penetrator manages to rent an authentic B-25 bomber, which he uses to destroy the Mafia's Mexican U-boat pen, and then hide away on a cruise ship targeted for Conti's last score.

With new plot angles popping up every few pages, CRUISE INTO CHAOS keeps up its fast pace, while opening up Hardin's character to give him more dimension than most paperback heroes. George Wilson painted the cover.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Death Prowled The City

The retro cover of D. Gunther Wilde's CLAWS is kind of interesting, though more fitting for a book published in 1958, rather than 1978. In fact, I suspect the screaming woman was probably ganked from an older cover, and a new artist added the (too large) claw and the tear lines (though I don't understand how the claw could be "ripping" air!). I also suspect "D. Gunther Wilde" doesn't exist, though he/she seems to have written some erotic paperbacks and an article for a 1974 ESCAPADE. There appears to be virtually no mention of CLAWS anywhere online...which, as you may have noticed, is a big place...making the Leisure book somewhat obscure.

And probably deservedly so, as it really isn't very good. There is no mystery involved, as we know right from the ad blurb who the killer is: "killer cats." New York City is plagued with a series of several dozen extremely brutal murders in which the corpses are found torn, ripped and clawed up, usually without faces. The coroner can't figure out how they were killed, as none of the victims were shot, stabbed, strangled, poisoned, etc. All were killed outside very late at night with no one nearby hearing a sound. Not only can the cops not figure out what weapon was used, how were the victims killed so ferociously without even defending themselves?

Young policewoman Darcy Ryan thinks she knows, but sexism and youthism has left her riding a desk, instead of cruising in a patrol car. She doesn't know how or why, but she's pretty sure New York's massive contingent of stray cats is causing the deaths. Of course, her superiors would never believe her (not that they have any better leads), so she takes a few weeks leave and teams up with her boyfriend Tully to creep around the subway tunnels looking for clues. And what does a mean old homeless woman named Dirty Gertie have to do with anything? Indeed.

The concept of killer kitty cats is absurd, and CLAWS, despite passages describing the brutal mauling of the victims and their hideous remains, doesn't do a whole lot to dispel the notion. It suffers from too few characters and no interestingly drawn ones. And the ending doesn't make any sense; once the human villain is dispatched (in a predictable but implausible manner), CLAWS implies that the cat killings are over, but I don't see why they would be (though Wilde leaves it open for a possible sequel).

CLAWS was written during the late 1970s, after JAWS had created a cottage industry of films and novels about wild animals on a rampage killing people. I don't remember any others about cats. For obvious reasons.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


What's fun about watching old reruns is consistently being surprised by a familiar-looking actor early in his or her career, before he or she became famous. I've been watching weekly airings of LOU GRANT on the American Life network, which is basically what TV Land used to be back when it was fresh and exciting. Except American Life isn't fresh or exciting. What it is, however, is a terrific showcase of good old television series, such as COMBAT!, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, LOST IN SPACE, THE RAT PATROL, I SPY, THE FBI, 77 SUNSET STRIP, 12 O'CLOCK HIGH, BATMAN, THE GREEN HORNET, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, MAVERICK, CHEYENNE, CHINA BEACH, LAWMAN, CHICO AND THE MAN and several others. Not all of the shows I just mentioned are presently on American Life's schedule, but they have been. The network is clearly aimed at codgers--the constant commercials for life insurance, vitamins, scooters and hearing aids being the best clue--but it far outpaces other cable networks in terms of providing a home for classic television.

At any rate, LOU GRANT was a very successful CBS series that debuted in 1977, and was a spinoff of the recently canceled MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. The concept was that the Lou Grant character (Edward Asner), who was fired in the MTM finale, moved to Los Angeles to become the city editor of the Tribune newspaper. I think it's the only time in network TV history that a sitcom character spun off into a serious hour drama. While it had humor, LOU GRANT was essentially a drama that used its journalism setting to explore social and human interest issues of the era. It was nominated for an astonishing 56 Emmy Awards in its five seasons and won thirteen of them, as well as Peabody Awards, Humanitas Awards and pretty much anything else you can imagine. I wouldn't be surprised if it won a blue ribbon at a 4-H fair.

I have done a helluva lotta rambling, just to tell you that a LOU GRANT I saw recently, "Nazi," featured Peter Weller and Brian Dennehy as guest stars. By 1977, neither actor was known at all by audiences, though each had done some supporting parts in series and TV-movies. Weller had a great guest role--the kind you don't see a lot in today's glut of cop shows with large ensemble casts--as Stryker, the leader of an L.A. neo-Nazi group that breaks up a Jewish ceremony in a public part. While researching a news story about the organization, reporter Billie Newman (Linda Kelsey) discovers that Stryker's real name is Sturner...and that he's Jewish. Dennehy plays Stryker's number-two in a nuanced performance that suggests his character's essential loneliness; you can tell--without being told--that he was the fat kid in school who was picked on and joined the Nazi party to find acceptance.

It is obvious from "Nazi" that both young actors had the stuff to become successful actors, particularly Weller, who is very convincing playing a range of emotions. Casting agents must have noticed, because both men worked steadily in TV and films from then on. And still do.

A Credit To The Force

Signet's Decoy series revolved around Nick Merlotti, a charismatic thief and master of disguise who enjoyed a high-profile career that included taunting the police after another daring ripoff. Several years after "The Great Pretender"'s last caper, he reappears to rob a bank, but is busted. A cop named Duffy (an old acquaintance of Merlotti's) and an assistant district attorney named Passantino offer Merlotti a deal: go to work for them, kinda like Robert Wagner in IT TAKES A THIEF.

$5 million in heroin vanished from a police evidence locker shortly before a major trial, and Duffy believes the cops involved are on mobster Louie Gianfreddo's pad. To avoid jail, Merlotti agrees to work undercover and ingratiate himself into Gianfreddo's organization to find the drugs and ferret out the dirty cops. He is teamed with a mysterious black electronics expert named Mr. Waves, who appears to have made the same type of deal with Duffy and Passantino that Merlotti did.

Told in first person, 1974's THE GREAT PRETENDER, the first in the Decoy series, is not terribly interesting, but I can't say that I hated it. Although he's supposed to be a disguise artist, Merlotti doesn't really do anything like that in the book, nor does he do any stealing or Rockfordesque scamming. I don't even know why the series is called Decoy, because the word or name never appears in the book, and the hero doesn't do any decoying.

I have at least one more Decoy book that I'll give a chance to. There's nothing really wrong with THE GREAT PRETENDER. But there's not a lot right with it either. Besides the cover, of course.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

I Want Camellion Dead

In Joseph Rosenberger's MANHATTAN WIPEOUT, #11 in Pinnacle Books' Death Merchant series, the godfather of New York City's most powerful mob family, Salvatore Giordano, has put out a contract on the Death Merchant's life. Giordano had a supporting role in the previous novel, THE MAINLINE PLOT, and MANHATTAN WIPEOUT is basically a direct sequel, as Richard "Death Merchant" Camellion continues to battle the same mobsters. As such, it's also quite repetitive, as most of the book finds the Death Merchant mowing down dozens of Italians with a variety of firearms--none of them as far out as MAINLINE PLOT's Blaster, a 3000-shot submachine gun that fired explosive bullets. Rosenberger doesn't stint on the gore, as mobsters lose their faces, arms, legs to Camellion's gunfire. I even learned where the perineum is located on the human body, as one of the Death Merchant's .357 Magnum slugs penetrates one belonging to some unlucky bastard.

Even though MANHATTAN WIPEOUT felt like "same ol' same ol'" on the heels of MAINLINE PLOT, it's still a decent, violent pageturner that you can kill in a night or two. Later entries take the Death Merchant into more far-fetched plots that sound more appealing, including a journey into the jungle to battle an ex-Nazi and an adventure in Africa where he must fight clones of himself!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Wanna Play?

If MAXIM had produced ENTER THE DRAGON using futuristic CGI, this ridiculous PG-13 action movie might have resulted. With noted Hong Kong action director Corey Yuen, who made the marvelous SO CLOSE, putting sexy American girls in skimpy clothing through some skillfully choreographed kung fu paces, it seems as though DOA: DEAD OR ALIVE couldn’t miss. And it doesn’t for the most part, at least for what it is, which is a brainless action flick based on a video game. However, I prefer my martial arts without CGI, which throws the action too far over the top into Cartoonland for my tastes.

Pro wrestler Tina (Jaime Pressly, an Emmy winner for MY NAME IS EARL), Japanese princess Kasumi (Devon Aoki, 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS), master thief Christie (Holly Valance, PRISON BREAK) and Helena (Sarah Carter, SHARK), whose father invented the tournament, are summoned to the private island of Dr. Donovan (badass Eric Roberts, sporting some incredibly thick hair) to participate in DOA—a round-robin winner-take-all martial-arts tournament. In between bouts, which Donovan announces at random intervals, Christie and her lover Max (Matthew Marsden) plot to steal the $10 million prize money for themselves, while Kasumi searches for her missing brother, who was presumed killed during last year’s tournament. Meanwhile, Donovan (obviously, since Eric Roberts plays him) engineers his devilish plan to hijack the best fighters’ kung fu skills and beam them into his body—sort of like taking their “quickening,” I suppose.

It’s fast, it’s loud, and it features a lot of very hot women fighting in bikinis. That makes DOA about as close to critic-proof as a movie can get, and you probably already know if it’s something you want to see. I wish the film had gone much farther. It’s all tease and empty style without any kind of edge. The plot is kinda crazy, but not all that crazy, and a more audacious approach and actresses willing to do nudity probably would have resulted in a better movie—think SWITCHBLADE SISTERS or INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS. Dimension barely dumped it into U.S. theaters, long after it had already played in foreign markets, but I don’t know why they were so down on it. Its premise and slick marketing should have been able to draw an audience.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Best And Worst Cop In New York

Perhaps, but definitely one of the shittiest books in or out of New York. Belmont Tower Books published at least three Joe Blaze novels--maybe at the same time, because I can't believe 1974's THE BIG PAYOFF, the first of the series, sold many copies. The plot is extremely simple and thin, the characters despicable, and the action routine. If some television writer turned this in to KOJAK, he'd be kicked out on the street. Hell, this wouldn't even make it into the BERT D'ANGELO/SUPERSTAR offices.

So, what I'm trying to say is that Super Cop Joe Blaze really sucks. Obviously, he's a pissed-off lone-wolf type of homicide detective. Whether he's also a drunk and a burnout, who knows, because author Robert Novak doesn't provide enough characterization for us to find out anything about anyone. There isn't even a "big" payoff in the book; merely a small one that leads to an inconsequential subplot that exists only to pad the word count and get this paperback up to 173 dumb pages.

Blaze is called in to investigate a "sex killer" after a prostitute is found raped and stabbed in her apartment. The mystery angle is barely there, as Blaze and his partner Ed Nuthall fairly quickly discover the murderer's identity by following some simple clues. Nearly thirty pages are left when he's apprehended, so, of course, the "bleeding heart" judge lets out a guy indicted on nine murder charges on $1000 bail (suurrrrrre, he does), just so Novak can have the dude attack another woman. One shootout, a car chase and two massive fistfights fill the action quotient, but none of it is suspenseful or imaginative.

The question remains as to whether or not the author is also the prominent Washington pundit. The book is certainly right-wing and simpleminded enough to be him.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Only Man To Leave The Mafia And Live!

From Pinnacle, the publisher that brought you the Executioner, the Penetrator, the Destroyer and the Death Merchant, comes...the Butcher. The Butcher's real name is Bucher, an ex-Mafia chieftain who grew a conscience and left the mob...which nobody does and lives. With a $1 million bounty on his head, the Butcher is recruited by a super-secret government agency known as White Hat, which not even the FBI or the CIA is aware of. Turning to White Hat as a way to atone for his sins, Bucher doesn't even take a government salary, living off his blood money stashed away in Swiss bank accounts and traveling the world righting wrongs and killing a whole lotta bad dudes.

In 1980's SEPTEMBER SLAUGHTER (also known as SLAUGHTER IN SEPTEMBER), written by Stuart Jason (who may be prolific paperback author Michael Avallone), the Butcher is in Reno, where he teams up with lovely red-haired CIA agent Susan Raintree to investigate labor uprisings across the West. Someone, presumably mobsters, is inciting union strikes and rioting in an attempt to knock off small businesses and leave the field wide open for their own fronts to thrive. After a shootout in Nevada, Bucher and Raintree hop a cab driven by avuncular Turkey Tomlin to Stockton, California; who woulda guessed that Stockton was such a hotbed of crime?

A lot of shooting and a little bit of sex gussy up this fast-moving thriller, which seems little more than "Executioner Lite." It's a breezy read, however, and, like most of its ilk, can be zipped through in just a couple of hours.

As you have probably already noticed, among the best parts of these novels are their painted covers. This one is by Fred Love, whoever he is.

Robert Goulet, R.I.P.

The star of ABC's shortlived spy drama BLUE LIGHT--and, of course, the great singer--Robert Goulet is dead at age 73.

Nerd Herd

NBC's CHUCK is my favorite new show of the fall season. Okay, so I've only seen a handful of new shows, but CHUCK is officially my favorite. It's THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (if that show was centered around the civilian sidekicks spies Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin recruited in every episode) updated for the 21st century.

I wrote about my favorable impression of the pilot in an earlier post, but another reason I'm really digging this well-crafted combination of slacker comedy and campy spy action is its opening titles. Yep, not only is CHUCK a throwback to the light action shows of the 1970s and '80s, but it's also one of the few current hour shows to feature a full-fledged title sequence. It's funky, happy and fully encapsulates the style and tone of the show. Set to Cake's "Short Skirt/Long Jacket," here's CHUCK:

Time Has Just Begun

Ever wondered where ABC swiped the concept for its hit TV series LOST? It just had to go back to its own fall schedule, 35 years earlier. Meet THE NEW PEOPLE.

In the fall of 1969, ABC attempted a bold experiment. Breaking away from the normal block of 30- and 60-minute series, ABC scheduled two 45-minute shows to air back-to-back on Monday nights: THE MUSIC SCENE and THE NEW PEOPLE. Neither show lasted the whole season, but were valiant attempts to program directly at the youth audience. Unfortunately for ABC, those viewers were watching ROWAN & MARTIN'S LAUGH-IN on NBC.

THE MUSIC SCENE is on DVD, and you can check it out if you like. It consisted of the week's top pop songs performed on stage or in video clips, and it was hosted by several hip young hosts, including Lily Tomlin and David Steinberg. The hosts could occasionally be downright nasty concerning songs they didn't like--The Archies' "Sugar Sugar" received several raspberries, and guest star Tom Smothers was downright rude to Merle Haggard's "Okie from Muskogee". Only Steinberg lasted the entire run anyway, but the music was frequently great.

On the other hand, THE NEW PEOPLE is practically a lost show. Its 45-minute (with commercials) length made it impossible to rerun, and only the pilot seems to be available in bootleg form. Aaron Spelling was the executive producer, and THE NEW PEOPLE was created by Rod Serling, who penned the pilot episode using the name "John Phillips", which likely means it was futzed with by either Spelling or ABC.

A disparate group of American college students, on their way home from a tumultuous tour of Asia, is caught in a violent storm, and their plane crashlands on a remote island in the South Pacific. The only adult survivor is Hannicek (Richard Kiley), the State Department liaison. Luckily for the castaways, the island is not completely deserted. While exploring, the kids discover an empty city that closely resembles a Hollywood backlot (enabling ABC to shoot on an actual backlot, rather than going on location every week). It turns out they have landed on Bonamo, an abandoned U.S. atomic test site, which the government left loaded with food, water, shelter, weapons, even dune buggies. But no radio.

At first, the students turn to alcohol and partying to alleviate their stress at being stranded on an island, which turns bad when a redneck football player gets drunk and destroys their signal fire just as an airplane flies overhead, just to spite one of the black students. Hannicek, aided by ex-Marine George Potter (Peter Ratray), just about the only level-headed youth on the island, manages to quell a lynch mob before dying of the wounds he sustained in the crash. At the pilot's end, it appears as though Hannicek's passing has sobered up the group enough to realize that they're on Bonamo for the long haul, and it's time to start their new civilization.

Although several dozen youths survived the crash, like LOST, it appears as though the show would have focused on just a few, including Potter, icy rich blonde Susan Bradley (Tiffany Bolling), angry black Gene Washington (David Moses), bigoted Southerner Bob Lee (Zooey Hall) and Ginny Loomis (Jill Jaress). Also like LOST (and GILLIGAN'S ISLAND, for that matter), being stranded on a deserted island didn't stop guest stars from stopping by.

While the pilot suffers a bit from Serling's preachy writing and unlikable characters (appealing to the youth audience is difficult when the U.S. government authority figure is the smartest and most sensible character, though that may be my age talking...), THE NEW PEOPLE is obviously a great premise that allows for the examination of a myriad of social issues, including race, war, feminism, gun control, classism--undoubtedly all of which became sources of episodes. Competition was too strong, however, and THE NEW PEOPLE barely made it into 1970, getting canceled after sixteen episodes.

For all of LOST's success, it is still inferior to THE NEW PEOPLE in one regard, in that the '60s series attempted to be about something in a way in which no modern television drama can match.