Saturday, June 30, 2007

African Ice: a book review for Joe Bob Briggs

Here's my latest review for the Joe Bob Briggs Report Book Club. As always, this is my draft and the folks over at the site are free to edit and make changes. They don't do that as often as they used to, which means I'm either getting better or their standards are going down. :-)

African Ice by Jeff Buick
Published by Dorchester Publishing
ISBN: 0843957204

Despite the 350+ pages, this international thriller is a pretty quick read. Ranging from New York City to the Congo, with side trips to London, Cairo and Amsterdam the cast of characters seems to be constantly on the move. While I can’t vouch for the authenticity of the writer’s description of each place, he certainly makes them seem real. Whether through personal experience or careful research, Buick’s Congo is as easy to imagine as the streets of Manhattan. Also, through the thoughts and dialogue of his main characters he presents a sympathetic view of a continent riddled with violence and corruption, yet filled with people doing the best they can for themselves and their loved ones.

Hired by the Gem-Star company, to locate a diamond rich location in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, noted geologist Samantha Carlson is at first hesitant. While she enjoys working in the field, rather than a laboratory, her past experiences in Africa have made her a bit uneasy. She is also still grieving the loss of both her parents in an accident several years before. Eventually she meets Travis McNeil, who will command the security team which will accompany her, and considering her other options she decides to take the job. Little does she know that it is not Gem-Star seeking the diamonds, but the unethical president of that firm, Patrick Kerrigan.

When Samantha, Travis and his team of ex-SEALs arrive in Africa they quickly discover that they might not be able to trust either Kerrigan nor those he has hired to get the team in and out of the remote jungle. Eventually, they discover that they are not the first team that Kerrigan has sent in and then betrayed, leaving no survivors to tell the tale. Even escaping from the initial ambush, the group finds that Kerrigan is willing to remove anyone who stands between him and the diamonds. His wealth gives him access to resources that Samantha & Travis may not be able to overcome.

Buick brings his characters a dimension not always found in books of this type. Even the bad guys, in some cases, have reasons they feel justify their deeds. While some of the author’s detailed description of diamond mining and other minutia will glaze your eyes, overall I enjoyed the story and would be more than willing to pick up another book by him.

Three stars

Thursday, June 28, 2007

OTR: More Classic Science Fiction

I’m finally getting around to finishing my overview of the 10-CD compilation of radio shows put out by Radio Spirit & the Smithsonian Institute.

Lux Radio Theatre presents an adaptation of George Pal’s 1953 classic film: “War of the Worlds” with Dana Andrews in the Gene Barry role. While based on the H.G. Wells novel the program is a straight re-enactment of the Pal movie. They even have the same opening narration by voiceover great Paul Frees. Between the Pal film, and listening to the Mercury Theatre broadcast by Orson Welles I’ve almost forgotten how the original novel presented the same material. I think it’s time to go back and read the classic, in the same way that I re-read Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN a couple of years ago.

There’s an adaptation of “The Seventh Victim” by Robert Sheckley, which was turned into an Italian film by Elio Petri,“The Tenth Victim.” This 1965 movie, which I don’t believe I’ve ever seen completely, featured Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress. In a future where war has been banned, how do folks with 'killer instincts' get their kicks?

A Pail of Air” by Fritz Leiber is an eerie end of the world story. It does something a bit different with a fate similar to that confronted by the characters in Wyllis Cooper’s “Adam and the Darkest Day.” The classic TWILIGHT ZONE also played with the idea of climate change in Rod Serling's "The Midnight Sun."

In “Junkyard” by Clifford D. Simak, the captain of a spaceship must figure out what to do if you land on a planet and forget how to get off again? For some reason this reminded me of some early episodes of the original Star Trek series, especially when they put crewmembers in danger while the senior staff stands around discussing things.

”Finally, “Mr. Costello, Hero” by Theodore Sturgeon is a cautionary story about paranoia and how easily people will turn over control of their lives if they feel threatened. I find it especially prophetic now in the age of the Patriot Act. “They” don’t have to have done anything but you can’t trust “them” not to be planning something.

In listening to many of these shows it is fascinating how many actors turn up over and over again. The recognizable voice of Bill Conrad pops up in at least four of the shows in this set, and Parley Baer has a role in “War of the Worlds” as a forest ranger.

Fair warning! I’ll have more OTR stuff to review in the next few weeks.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

DC Countdown: So, what's up with Jimmy Olsen?

Man, am I glad that we have Wikipedia around! I've been taking time the past few days trying to catch up on the DCU for the past three years. As I may have mentioned before, the last DC book I read was IDENTITY CRISIS and there appear to have been several 'events' between that series and COUNTDOWN.

(This might have some SPOILERS so keep that in mind and don't say I didn't warn you!)

Looks like all or most of the old Charlton Heroes have been killed off or gone MIA, now we have this new Blue Beetle and The Question is either dead or soon to be. Wikipedia has several dozen characters listed as being dead, including the Earth-Two SUPERMAN & WONDER WOMAN and the partial clone SUPERBOY (Connor Kent) among them.

I'm glad I'm taking my time with COUNTDOWN, reading only one issue a day, since there's so much to absorb. I have to stop every few pages to try and recall who this or that character is or was (in some cases). With the Multiverse back, that makes things even harder since a hero/villain from another Earth might have been very different from their Earth One counterpart.

So, Jimmy Olsen has his signal watch and is back to being Superman's best friend. Jimmy's 'guardian angel' is keeping tabs on him and apparently a number of heroes & villains know this. The coolest thing (in my book) is that Olsen appears to have super-powers and doesn't know it. When he's attacked by Killer Croc (still in his devolved lizardy appearance) and goes all rubbery I wanted to cheer. What a fanboy, huh? Can't wait for him to turn into Giant Turtle-boy Jimmy in a future issue!

Seriously, I like the fact that Olsen seems to be as clueless about this as the reader. It seems as if, at least initially, the story will focus on the mystery of Jimmy's new abilities and Mary Marvel trying to regain her own.

Finally, where did several members of the LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES come from? I've seen Karate Kid (who really has to get a new name) and Star Boy so far, and assume there may be one or two others up there in the Satellite of, Justice League headquarters. The Wikipedia articles mentions that the LS-H come from Earth-247, if I remember correctly.

Do I have to say that I love this?

Monday, June 25, 2007

DCU's COUNTDOWN: What the...?

(This post may contain SPOILERS for the series COUNTDOWN, so if you care about that sort of thing you are officially warned off, fangirl!)

I was rushed on Saturday, so didn’t go to Comic Quest after working in Lake Forest. Sunday, Donna and I did some grocery shopping and after lunch I decided to try a place closer to home.

You can’t see Nuclear Comics & Skateshop from the street, so I didn’t know it was there until checking the phonebook. Ken, the store’s owner, is really nice and couldn’t have been more pleasant to all the customers in the shop. We will ignore the fact that guy would be Central Casting’s choice for a role in “Baywatch: Laguna Beach.” When it finally got around to my turn he took several minutes to ask what I read, or rather what I used to read when I was a regular comics buyer.

It was a surprise to have him actually recommend I NOT buy several titles, since it would have made him more money. He directed me to the new DC title COUNTDOWN, telling me that I could probably skip 52 and wait for it to be collected in TPB. I bought all the issues so far (#51 – 45), and have already read a few. I’ll try to get around to reviewing, or at least commenting on them more once I get my feelings straight.

Part of the problem, of course, is that having not read a since the hardcover edition of INDENTITY CRISIS two years ago, I’m sort of confused. When the hell did the Multiverse come back? Who are some of these charaters on the covers? There’s more than one Monitor?? Finally, how sad was it that I could still recognize all but three characters on the fold-out cover of #51?

Since when is Captain Marvel, Jr. blonde? That is Freddie, isn’t it? I thought the Red Hood (if he is called that) was a bad guy. Should I feel bad that certain characters are already being killed off even if they are former Titans? Lastly, just because the next Batman film will feature The Joker, shouldn’t mean the DCU version shouldn’t have been killed off along with Lex Luthor and Darkseid. Haven’t all three been used way too much over the past decade?

I’ll only say that Paul Dini, the series chief writer, is doing a nice job filling in some things. I don’t know if somebody totally unfamiliar with the DCU could figure things out, but there was enough so that I didn’t feel totally lost. It’s good to be reading comics again.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Next Comic Who Wants to be an American Chef

As I’ve written before, I’m hooked on some of the ‘reality shows’ the networks and cable stations are showing this summer. You should feel free to ignore this post, just as I do when I see anything on shows like “Survivor” or “The Great Race.” They are all equally fluff, but that sums up 90% of the shows on television anyway.

I was sorry to see Tom eliminated from “Who Wants to be the Next Food Network Star?” He seemed like a genuinely nice guy, but it was obvious that his heart wasn’t in it and he missed his family. I’ve noticed that the folks doing this show seem to have been taking notes on Bravo’s “Top Chef”, or maybe the contestants have. The folks this season sure seem more ‘in your face’ and have attitudes that weren’t evident in the first season.

Speaking of “Top Chef”, this season also has its share of drama queens. It’s funny that the guy I dislike most, namely Hung, knows last season’s biggest jerk, Marcel. Just like last season, when I wanted anybody but Marcel to win I’m feeling the same way about Hung. I appear to be in the minority, if you read the comments over on the TC fan site. Maybe I’m letting my total distaste for Marcel cloud my judgement.

Last Comic Standing” is kind of hit or miss with us. It’s hard to get much of a feeling for the comics when you get between 15-30 seconds (if that!) of a routine. Also, the show’s producers give a short interview piece with some contestants, but ignore others. Naturally, they want you to feel something for those particular folks, but you feel bad for those nameless comedians you see standing in the group when the selection is made. As with past seasons, I don’t think anybody will come into focus until the final group is together and interacting. I’ll be curious to see if some of the comedians from outside the U.S. make the final cut. There was one Australian female comedian (originally from London, if I remember correctly) that we thought was very funny.

America’s Got Talent” has a slightly different feel this year, with Regis Philbin gone as host. Jerry Springer seems like a genuinely nice guy, without the sometimes-phony vibe you got from Regis. I’ll never understand why David Hasselhoff believes he’s a legitimate celebrity, and Piers Morgan is doing his Simon Cowel imitation more than ever. He’s actually making children cry and feels as if he has to hit the buzzer fifteen seconds into almost every performance. Then when changes his mind and votes the performer on he claims he hit the buzzer just to see how they would react. I’m not sure how I feel about Sharon Osbourne. I think I like her more than I should and believe she votes performers on who really shouldn’t get past the initial spot. I still admit to enjoying this show more than I ever did “American Idol”.

Finally, “The Next Best Thing” is an odd guilty pleasure. How could you not love a show, which looks for celebrity impersonators? Seeing bad Elvis(s) {Elvi?), transvestite Tina Turners & Chers! That’s entertainment! So far the guy from New York who is a ringer for Howard Stern, a Lucille Ball and a Roseanne are among the best. I’m looking forward to dueling George Bush and “young” Elvis going up against Little Richard.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Getting back into stuff

Well, I just resubscribed to the Comic Buyer's Guide (CBG) yesterday, so we'll see how long it takes for my first issue to arrive. I plan on trying to get over to the comic shop in Lake Forest this Saturday, since I'm working at the El Toro Library. I'm hoping to pick up the most recent CBG, and at least glance at a few comics if not actually pick up a couple.

Once I start getting the magazine in the mail each month, I'm going to read and review some of the material in each issue. Since I don't read any current titles, it might be a chance to catch up on things, besides what I read in the comics related sites. I'm also sure that the section that reviews older books will probably trigger some memories that will get me blogging.
If memory serves me, I owned the issue of CBG with the Jack Kirby cover. I first read and quickly subscribed to CBG, back with it was known as The Comic's Buyers Guide (TCBG) and Alan Light was the publisher. In fact, my ex Betsy and I both had subscriptions for a while when we first moved in together.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"Fanboy?": I'm okay with that!

Beau Smith, a comics writer and columnist has a piece over at Silver Bullet about the term 'fanboy' and how he really dislikes the term. You can check it out yourself by clicking on the headline above.

Personally, I've used the term when referring to myself and haven't really been bothered by it. Maybe because when I was seriously into fandom it wasn't the totally negative expression which it has become. I guess it's right up there with 'geek', but that's a term with a longer and nastier history. As in the short-lived DC comic of that title, the term was used for those lowest of carnival/freak-show performers generally seen biting the heads of chickens or other sub-human behavior. Later it became a term used to label unpopular kids by those who were popular, or at least accepted into whatever cliche happened to rule the school.

"Geek" is used all the time now, especially in movies and TV shows as shorthand for the guy or gal who happens to be the computer whiz. That's, of course, before the 'geek' saves the butt of the same group that had been harassing him or her.

Anyway, I'm cool with being a fanboy, or even one of the "Old Farts of Fandom" (OFF), since I've been reading, collecting and/or writing about comics, SF and other silly stuff before I was even in my teens.

Old Beau could easily kick my butt, but it still wouldn't change my mind.

He does look good in leather!

Once again I had to share today's installment of SHELDON. If you go to Dave's site you will see the strip from yesterday which set this up.

Monday, June 18, 2007

OTR: Classic Science Fiction, pt. 2

Dimension X adapted Robert Bloch’s “Almost Human” for its May 13, 1950 performance. The story had been originally published in ’43, which showed that early on Bloch was good at creating deeply complex characters. His “Junior”, is a huge robot with no initial understanding of human emotions. The episode is especially creepy, ending in a fashion that implies rather than reveals what is about to happen. Brrr….

Ray Bradbury has two stories adapted for X-Minus One that demonstrate both Bradbury’s poetic side and his occasional dark sense of humor. “There Will Come Soft Rains” deals with want might continue when mankind’s creations go on after he is no longer around. “Zero Hour” is a morality tale for parents, at least for those who have more important things to do than pay attention to their children.

Wyllis Cooper, today is probably best known as the screenwriter of the classic Universal monster movie, Son of Frankenstein. Originally a reporter, Cooper wrote for radio and created the show “Lights Out” which is also represented in this collection. Here Cooper’s later program “Quiet Please” brings forth “Adam and the Darkest Day”, which tells of a possible future for this planet and the last man living. When the story is over you’ll find yourself wondering to whom Adam is speaking.

Known more for his fantasy and “sword & sorcery” work, L. Sprague de Camp has his take on time travel gone wrong in “A Gun for Dinosaur” another great show from X-Minus One. I believe that this story introduces his ‘Reggie Rivers’ character, but you might want to double-check me on that.

Gordon R. Dickson’s “Speak No More” about a pair of telepaths was brought to the air on “Exploring Tomorrow” hosted by long time SF editor & writer John W. Campbell. While the prestigious CBS Radio Workshop does a great job with Robert A. Heinlein’s “Green Hills of Earth”, with Everett Sloane in the role of Rhysling.

Finally, for now, we have one of my favorite SF writers, Philip K. Dick popping up with the very eerie “Colony”, that works quite well in this X-Minus One adaptation. When apparently inanimate objects become deadly, what is a good starship captain going to do? You don’t want to think too long and hard about the fate of the spaceship’s crew.

In the next part of these posts I’ll talk about Fritz Leiber’s “Pail of Air” and stories by Sheckley, Silverberg, Simak & Sturgeon.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

OTR: Science Fiction Classics, pt.1

The good folks at Radio Spirits have put together a wonderful compilation of radio adaptations of science fiction short stories. Many are written by well-known writers such as Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke among others, while others are by writers possibly not as well remembered today.

The collection is on 10-CDs, so I’ve broken up my reviews into several posts rather than having this one go on longer than even my most devoted readers would like.

OTR had a number of SF programs over several decades, many only short-run summer replacements, while some longer running anthology programs would occasionally have an SF episode. Of course, you had regular SF shows aimed at kids (Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers) and things like SUPERMAN, which were SF of a type. The shows collected on these Radio Spirits CDs are aimed at an adult audience, many of whom may not have been SF readers but were interested in radio drama.

While Radio Spirits has collections of programs from some of the SF anthology shows, this compilation is made up of shows from over a half dozen different programs from different networks. They range from tales of rockets and aliens to quieter shows taking place in the future here on Earth. One of the unintended amusing things is hearing the year 1985 given as a far-future period, which we naturally see as the past. It’s like looking at the covers of those issues of POPULAR MECHANICS from the early twentieth century that show folks of the 1990s using rocket belts and flying in hovercraft through mile-high cities.

Among standouts on the first couple of disks are radio adaptations of two stories, which were initially turned into motion pictures. Robert A. Heinlein’s “Rocketship Galileo” made as DESTINATION MOON by George Pal and Harry Bates’ “Farewell to the Master” which was turned into the film THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. The later has Michael Renne recreating his role as Klaatu, the alien emissary.

Something a bit different is an episode of THE SHADOW, which was written by SF author Alfred Bester, a regular scriptwriter for that show and other OTR programs at the time. This one called “The Man Who was Death” is not only chilling, but makes more use of Lamont Cranston in his role as police consultant than it does the “invisible” hero of the program. In fact, The Shadow only makes his presence felt in the last few minutes of the show confronting the title villain, a scientist contaminated during a laboratory explosion.

More on some other great SF shows in later posts.
By the way, a click on the headline above will send you over to the Greater Northern Audio site, where you can find more on SF on radio, that will in turn take you to the home of the "Mark Time Award". Damn, but the guy in that helmet looks familiar?

Not that this needed an explanation for some of you!

I mentioned these characters in my previous post and thought that I should briefly explain them for non-comic geeks.
FLAMING CARROT was created by Bob Burden in the late 1970s, eventually having the spin-off MYSTERY MEN (which was turned into a disappointing but still fun movie), of which FC was a member in the comics version. The character has popped up with several publishers, along with Burden's self-published efforts. When the action figure was announced, I was pretty much an FC completest and couldn't resist. I still need an FC lighter though, for those moments when I want to impress folks as I light up a cigar.
LOBO THE DUCK is a bit harder to explain.
Back in 1997 Marvel & DC comics were doing one of several cross-over type events, in which characters combining various traits of one publisher's characters were merged with those of the others. (For instance, BATMAN & WOLVERINE were combined to become the character DARK CLAW; Doctor Strange & Dr. Fate became Doctor Strangefate, etc.) For some reason, LOBO was especially popular, so somebody decided to combine the one-note thug with Steve Gerber's far more witty creation HOWARD THE DUCK. I thought it worked only partially, but couldn't resist buying the action figure when I saw it at a convention.
Your mileage may vary in all this, I'm sure.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Back in the saddle again!

I'm going to have to start paying Dave Kellett one of these days.
If you're not getting the strip on a regular basis you are missing out on one of the most delightful, and often laugh-out-loud funny strips on the 'net.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Psychotronic Video: the website

Back in that 'other life', I was a huge fan of strange & bizarre movies. Whether low-budget slasher/thrillers or old forgotten B&W oddities from small Hollywood studios. I was a regular at the Film Forum showings of Sci-Fi and Noir classics, as well as reviewing low-budget/direct-to-video stuff for the old Joe Bob Briggs Report. There was nothing more fun than joining Vinnie, Dorian, Matt, Debbie D. and Michael Gingold (now managing editor at FANGORIA) to watch the animation festivals and such

Before and after that time I was a subscriber to Michael Weldon's gone but never forgotten PSYCHOTRONIC VIDEO magazine. I also have both trade paperback books, compiled from the thousands of reviews which Weldon and his staff did over a decade. Weldon and I actually had a brief e-mail correspondence going, dealing primarily with a group in the mid-West trying to co opt the 'psychotronic' name. I was in contact with both sides back then and can tell you that it got pretty nasty.

For a while I had an almost complete collection of PV, but over the past five years I have sold or given them away to other fans. I believe I may have an issue or two among the comics and fanzines I brought with us from New York. I think it's in the box with my FLAMING CARROT & LOBO, THE DUCK action figures. :-)

Weldon, as he explains over on the PV site, has pretty much closed shop on the printed version of the magazine, but a lot of the articles, reviews & interviews (amazing behind the scenes stories from some of the most interesting actors, directors and screen writers you may remember from B-movies & cult films) are available online. You might also want to check out the PV store if looking for hard-to-find weirdness.

Once again, I don't make anything from plugging these sites, but I do want to make them available to you as I find them myself. Hell, a few of the links over on The Right were created by folks who contacted me after reading something here. Discovering that anybody but the usual six of you read this thing is a surprise!
Oh, despite what the first paragraph implies I'm still a big fan of that stuff. I just get fewer opportunities to indulge.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Wasting more time!

You can tell that I have way too much free time today, so I'm adding links and throwing things here into the blog that I haven't gotten around to before.

The headline at the top there and a link over on the Right will take you over to '1000 Misspent Hours'. You'll discover reviews of movies you've been trying to forget, or never knew about in the first place. The reason I discovered the site was while seeing who else out there has fond (or not so fond) memories of my favorite "guilty pleasure" movie.

THE KILLER SHREWS or ATTACK OF THE KILLER SHREWS (it's advertised by either title) is a film that used to show up on Saturday nights and afternoons on local stations. It's been a few years since I last saw it, so I'm going to hold off on doing my own review. Of course, I could do it from memory, but I'm sure that I've forgotten some great stuff.

If you're not familiar with the movie, you really should try and locate a copy. At only 69 minutes (depending on the cut you see) it won't take long and we've all misspent time doing other things just as senseless. Haven't we?

Big Bang for your buck!

Back when I was more seriously into comics two of my favorite publishers (or imprints) were AC Comics (you’ll find a link to their site over on The Right) and Big Bang. While AC was a publisher of new (Fem Force, Sentinels of Justice, etc) and reprint material (westerns, including licensed items & Golden Age super-heroes), Big Bang (BB) was a smaller publisher (later distributed by Image) which put out new material which looked and felt old, if you know what I mean.

The writers and artists at BB are obvious fans of Golden & Silver Age comics, especially super-heroes of the Julius Schwartz era. Their characters like Ultra Man, Knight Watchman and Thundergirl were homages (some would say rip-offs, if they were unkind) of Superman, Batman,and Mary Marvel with other characters standing in for various Justice Society & League members, and similar heroes of the period. The thing about BB, and many of AC’s books, is that they still contain that element of fun, which the Big Two seem to have forgotten.

I’m adding a link to the Big Bang site, and hope that you’ll go and check it out. I also want to remind you that you should click on the AC Comcs site, since they continue to produce a nice assortment of material (including some ‘good girl’ stuff) for comic fans, not just fans of Western comics with Roy, Gene and other B-movie stars.

Monday, June 11, 2007

More about Simon Templar

I'm adding a link to Dan Bodenheimer's great SAINT blog. He has tons of information on Leslie Charteris' most famous creation, not just OTR.

As I said in my previous post, I've been a fan of the character since seeing Roger Moore playing Templar in the '60s. Probably one of the reasons I had for not totally believing Moore in his "James Bond" role, was he appeared to be playing Templar under a different name. I liked the films, but always felt like the real Bond had asked his buddy Simon to fill in for him on some missions.
If you are interested in THE SAINT in any medium, give Don's blog a glance. I was clicking away for almost an hour and lost track of time.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Old Time Radio: The Saint

Chances are I may have seen some of the films featuring THE SAINT when I was a kid, but my first memories of the Leslie Charteris character was the television series. That, of course, the one which starred Roger Moore in the role of Simon Templar (aka The Saint). Later, when going through my first ‘mystery phase’ I read a couple of the novels and several short stories featuring the character. At least, early on Simon could be quite blood thirsty, easily taking the lives of murderers or those he felt preyed on innocents.

From the books it was an easy transition to the screen beginning in 1935 with Louis Haywood as Templar, followed by George Sanders (possibly the best known actor in the role until Moore) and then Hugh Sinclair. THE SAINT first came to radio in 1940, with American produced programs starting in 1945.

While not the first actor to bring Templar to life over the air, it was surprisingly (at least to me) Vincent Price who played the role for the longest period, from 1947 until 1951. Knowing Price for his screen persona, it is odd at first to hear him doing this wise-cracking and lighthearted rogue. Some episodes in the Radio Spirit collection are almost slapstick, with Price being hit over the head, slapped and even thrown overboard in a single episode. It’s apparent that Price is having fun with the show, possibly as it allows him to play the handsome leading man rather than the darker heavies he was already beginning to be known for on screen.

One intersting side note is that when Price left the show he was replaced by actor Tom Conway, the real life brother of George Sanders. At the time Conway had recently finished appearing in a series of films as The Falcon, a character almost identical to that being played by his brother also for RKO Studios.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Old Time Radio: Alfred Hitchcock

Just about everyone is familiar with director Alfred Hitchcock, if not from his many classic motion pictures, then from his long running television anthology program. The man’s name is synonymous with mystery and suspense. While he was working just about every major motion picture actor either appeared in or wanted to appear in a Hitchcock production.
Considering how influential Hitchcock was it shouldn't’t be a surprise that he sometimes made his presence felt on radio, which until the early 1960s was still a major source of entertainment other than just music & news. While he never had his own regular program he did allow some of his films to be adapted for radio, sometimes taking part in their production or simply introducing them. Even when he had no direct hand in their production, some radio programs did adaptations of the same novels & short-stories that the director used as inspiration.

The Smithsonian Institution and Radio Spirits (the later producing the GUNSMOKE & HOPALONG CASSIDY CD-sets I reviewed before) has compiled a six-CD set of classic radio broadcasts. Among these are Lifeboat (with Tallulah Bankhead), Rebecca (with Loretta Young), 39 Steps (with Glenn Ford) and Strangers on a Train (with Ray Milland). Joseph Cotton reprises his role as the mysterious uncle in Shadow of a Doubt.

The set also includes Hitchcock’s attempt at his own radio program, called Suspense (years before a successful show with that title began without Hitchcock connected). Here the director tries an adaptation of “The Lodger”, which was one of his early silent films made while in his native England.

You can’t really go wrong with six-hours of Hitchcock, no matter what the medium as far as I’m concerned. Thow in the talents of dozens of the era’s best known radio and film actors it just makes for some great entertainment and pretty smooth commuting.

If you think you might be interested in any of the OTR stuff I’ve been talking about you might want to head over to and see what else they have. You can not only check their catalog, but also listen to some of the OTR absolutely free. (No! I’m not making a cent from any of this, before you ask.)

Misc. TV stuff of no importance

JERICHO, according to a CBS announcement yesterday, has been rescued, for seven to eight episodes this Fall. Looks like if everybody can work it into their schedules we can expect the show to appear as a mid-season replacement. Apparently, a compromise which would have let the show's creators wrap things up with a two-hour "movie event" was turned down. We fans couldn't be happier, although I expect some characters won't have survived the gunfight.

Donna and I are watching both AMERICA'S GOT TALENT & THE NEXT BEST THING, so you know that there's not much else except reruns. We have also started watching episodes of DEADLIEST CATCH, which is deals with crab fishing in Alaska. When Fran was here over the Memorial Day weekend, she recommended the show, and we've been catching (pardon the expression) the show when we can.

Bravo's TOP CHEF: Season 3 is starting next week. Last night was a face-off between the winning chefs from the first two seasons, which was pretty good. We won't be missing Marcel, but some of the Season 3 folks look to be just as smug, so we're sure to have some nastiness to enjoy.

LAST COMIC STANDING also begins a new season next week, which we liked last season so are going to give it a try at least for the first couple of weeks.

I may have more to say about all these shows over the next few weeks, so you can understand why even Donna thinks I should go back to reading comics!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Wikipedia, just for fun!

As with everything Internet I’m pretty late getting into the new stuff. Folks had been blogging for a while before it was suggested that I give it a try. As for WIKIPEDIA I’ve only really started getting into it over the past few months, although I had taken a peek at it last year while still in New York.

As with Google, you can’t always trust 100% what you’ll find in any given search, especially since just about anybody who signs up can make changes in any given entry. Still it is amazing the things you can learn about just about any given subject, including tons of entries on fannish things of all kind.

I already have a link to WIKIPEDIA over at PARTING SHOTS, but wanted to add one here as well. Whenever I use information from the site I’ll try to remember to add that link to my headline. Just in case, you can go over to The Right and click on the permanent link there.


I can’t honestly say that HOPALONG CASSIDY was the first western I ever saw, but apparently he must have made some sort of impression on me quite early. According to both my parents, I would run around the house yelling “Hoppy!” when I was about three years old. Somewhere I have an old photograph of me dressed up as a cowboy, about that age. My first childhood accident (from which I still have a small scar on my nose, which shows where it was split) was from a fall down a flight of stairs caused by my tripping on the gun holster you can see me wearing in the picture. (I promise to dig that out and scan it one of these days!)

I also don’t recall the last time I saw a film featuring William Boyd in his most famous role. I’m going to guess that it may have been more than twenty years ago, and even that might be a decade off. Encore Western channel broadcasts plenty of Roy Rogers & Gene Autry, along with other western B-movies stars, but I haven’t seen a single Hoppy film since we subscribed to the service.

Anyway, after Boyd was already known for the role he was smart enough to actually buy up the films and appeared in the black & silver outfit for just about the rest of his life. While Roy & Gene were basically playing fictionalized versions of themselves, Boyd, was probably better known as the character than by his own name. At least, he didn’t have to spend his later years fighting to wear a mask, like his fellow TV westerner Clayton Moore.

Since it’s been so long since I saw Boyd on the screen I can’t say for sure how much the character he portrays in the radio show compares or differs from the film version. I doubt very much, since Boyd was very careful to maintain control of the character, which made him fairly well off in later years, I assume. Unlike Roy, Gene and the LONE RANGER, it wasn’t unheard of (pardon the expression) for the radio Hoppy to actually kill someone in a gunfight or while they were taking part in an illegal activity (he kills at least one bank robber in the shows I have listened to recently). Be interesting to see what Hoppy’s body count was in those 60 + films and 40 episodes of hit television program (where actor Edgar Buchanan {Uncle Joe on Petticoat Junction} played his sidekick, “Red Connors”).

In the radio program actor Andy Clyde portrays “California Carlson”, a character he also played in dozens of the Hopalong movies. Clyde began his career in his native Scotland before coming to the U.S. to work with the Mack Sennett studio. During most of he later career he basically played the same gruff, old timer whether with Boyd or in other western films. He remained acting until about a year before his death in 1967, playing the reoccurring character “Cully Wilson” in the series LASSIE.

As with GUNSMOKE you can find these OTR programs available at your local library, on Amazon and over on LIVE 365 Internet radio, among other places.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Old Time Radio: GUNSMOKE

I’ve been listening to Old Time Radio (OTR) recordings the past few weeks. They have about a half dozen different OTR on CD sets at the library and I’m working my way through them. As I do I’ll have a few comments which I’d like to share. For those with no interest in OTR, feel free to skip these, which I’ll try to identify by a photo of the subject and in the headline.

I’ve been a fan of GUNSMOKE, the TV series, since I was a kid. It was one of my father’s favorite shows, so I was allowed to stay up and watch it with my parents. James Arness seemed to have been born to play the role of Marshal Matt Dillon, so it was surprising to discover years later that the role had been originated and offered to somebody else. William “Bill” Conrad, was known to me as the narrator of the Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons and later as CANNON, the rather large P.I. on network television. Conrad had been the voice of Matt Dillon since the radio program began in 1952 and continued until the show ended in 1961 (one of the last of the OTR series), and it was his size which persuaded the television producers in 1955 to look else where.

Along with Conrad, were Howard McNear (best known as Floyd the Barber on “The Andy Griffith Show”) as Doc Charles Adams; Parley Baer (who you would recognize from just about every situation comedy and many dramatic programs from the 1950s through the late ‘90s.) as Chester Proudfoot, Matt’s unofficial deputy; and Georgia Ellis (who did a lot of radio, as well as appearing in films and as one of Jack Webb’s reoccurring group of actors in a number of episodes of DRAGNET) as Miss Kitty Russell.

If you’ve ever seen the television version of GUNSMOKE, you’d find few surprises in the OTR version. Truly an “adult western” it often touched on subjects like racism, domestic violence and prejudice, among other things. It was not unusual for the show to have a gunfight or two, often ending with Matt putting a permanent finish to the show’s villain. Appeared the marshal had to shoot more men than he locked up. It this is your type of thing I’d recommend you check out your local library or and other sites. You can also find GUNSMOKE among the OTR broadcasts on LIVE 365 internet radio.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Mark Verheiden & Me

To be honest, Mark probably would not even remember me after all these years, but we have met and exchanged e-mails. Back in that other life, when I was involved in fandom Mark and I were both members of the comics apa, Capa-Alpha (generally referred to as K-a). At least once, but perhaps a couple times, we attended the annual K-a breakfast/brunch get-together at the San Diego Comicon.

Now Mark has had his name attached to seemingly half the SF/fantasy/comics related shows on television, as well as writing several films and hundreds of pages of comics. Back when I knew him he was best known as the writer of The American, a great take on the idea of a Captain America type hero who worked for the government. Seemingly invulnerable and ageless, it turned out that there was actually an entire group of government agents who were trained and surgically changed. Any one of them could replace the current American, if he was killed or otherwise unable to appear at any given crisis or event.

It appears that Mark has been signed to writing a live action TEEN TITANS film for Warner Bros. If anybody can do a great job on that project it will be Mark.

To keep up with all things Verhheiden I'm adding a link to his blog, but in the meantime you can check it out by clicking on the headline above.