March 2017


REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


THE SHIP OF MONSTERS. Producciones Sotomayor, Mexico, 1960. Columbia Pictures, US, 1961. Originally released as La Nave de los Monstruos. Eulailio González, Ana Bertha Lepe, Lorena Velázquez, Manuel Alvarado. Directed by Rogelio A. González.

   From the land of robot-fighting Aztec Mummies, and monster-battling masked wrestlers, comes their strangest contribution to cinema yet, Ship of Monsters, a UFO, alien monster invasion, Western, singing and dancing cowboy and alien, Mariachi-singing robot and computer console, kid and his robot pal, science fiction adventure.

   Let’s just say if it didn’t exist, Mystery Science Theatre 3000 would have had to invent it. There used to be a Science Fiction Western comic book from Charlton, but it was never this weird.

   It all starts when Gamma (Ana Bertha Lepe) and Beta (Lorena Velázquez) land on Earth with a ship load of monsters who escape and have to be rounded up with the help of their robot Tor. Unknown to them they are observed by Lauranio (Eulailio González) a singing and dancing, fast on the draw cowboy who no one in the local cantina will listen to about his UFO sighting. Well, he does drink a little, so they can be excused.

   So of course Lauranio goes back out and runs into Gamma and Beta, gorgeous flimsily clad redhead and blonde, and agrees to help them round up the escaped monsters, enlisting the young Rupert who soon becomes pals with Tor.

   As if that wasn’t enough, Beta becomes jealous of Gamma and Lauranio and turns evil, sending the monsters out to capture or kill Gamma and Rupert. Lauranio then has to seduce Beta, singing and dancing seductively with her in the monster’s cave, while Rupert sneaks on the ship and saves Gamma. It is easily the most awkward dance scene in the history of film with Beta resembling nothing so much as a cheap Burlesque Queen and Lauranio looking more like he is fighting a bull than seducing a beautiful blonde alien.

   Beta discovers, as all must, monsters can’t be controlled, leaving Lauranio, Gamma, and Rupert to stop the monsters, and the film comes to a romantic end as Gamma decides to stay on Earth with Lauranio and Rupert while Tor pilots the monsters back home singing a Mariachi duet with a mobile female computer console he has a crush on.

   I kid you not.

   You can watch it in Spanish on YouTube if you want. In its own insane way it is entertaining, however strange, but you have to wonder at the mind that came up with it and try not to boggle your mind wondering what Roy Rogers and Gene Autry would have done with this one. Compared to it Gene’s Phantom Empire serial is downright tame: none of his robots even hummed.

SELECTED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


ED GORMAN “The Order of Things Unknown.” First published in Lovecraft’s Legacy, edited by Robert E. Weinberg & Martin H. Greenberg (Tor, hardcover, 1990; St. Martin’s, trade paperback, 1996).

   Truthfully, I had no idea where this story was going. Not until I read a little further and got to learn a little more about the protagonist’s sordid past. Apparently, some years ago Richard Hanson murdered an innocent small town girl he picked up on the roadside. His was a vile act, a disgusting murder in every sense of the word. And apparently, this Hanson became a compulsive serial killer of women. During the day, he was a normal family man with a job, wife, and kids. But he also killed and he never knew exactly why he did it and what drove him to such depths of moral depravity.

   The why is the crux of the matter in Ed Gorman’s gripping homage to H. P. Lovecraft. In “The Order of Things Unknown,” Gorman engages in genre blending, mixing a dark crime story with cosmic, supernatural themes once found in Weird Tales and other similar pulps. That question of “why” – why does an average man engage in such unspeakable atrocities? – is answered with reference to the same dark forces that haunted Lovecraft’s imagination.

   Maybe Hanson isn’t a free agent, acting in accordance with free will. Maybe he’s at the mercy of dark forces beyond his control, a mere puppet on the play strings of an ancient god. Overall, a haunting read, one that demonstrates how well versed the late Ed Gorman was with the philosophical and theological issues that so concerned Lovecraft during his short, tumultuous life.

Sarah Harmer is a singer-songwriter from Canada. “Lodestar” is a song from her 2000 CD You Were Here, which went platinum in that country (over 100,000 copies sold).

MURDER AT 3 CENTS A DAY:
An Annotated Crime Fiction Bibliography of the
Lending Library Publishers: 1936-1967
by William F. Deeck


From the back cover:

    “Murder at 3¢ a Day is the first and only reference volume devoted entirely to the lending-library publishers that flourished from the mid 1930s into the 1960s. More than ten years in compilation, it contains full listings of mystery and detective fiction published under such imprints as Phoenix Press, Hillman-Curl, Mystery House, Gateway, Arcadia House, Dodge, and Caslon.

    “Included are dust jacket blurbs, settings, and leading characters for each title, as well as descriptions of jacket illustrations and names of the artists who designed them. Also included: an article about the lending-library trade written in 1939 by Charles S. Strong, who specialized in this type of novel; a tongue-in-cheek article on Phoenix Press mysteries by Bill Pronzini; brief biographies of many lending library writers; and selected period newspaper reviews of various titles.

    “Readers and aficionados alike will find a wealth of fascinating and often amusing information about this little known variety of crime fiction. Murder at 3¢ a Day is a must for any reference shelf.”

UPDATE:

   A supplement to the book can be found at www.lendinglibmystery.com/. Thanks to the collection of Bill Pronzini and his gracious generosity, this is an online compendium of all of the covers of the books included in Bill Deeck’s book, which was published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box Press in 2006.

   Bill Pronzini is adding to his collection all the time. Here below are the covers added in the past two months, missing from earlier versions of the website. Some covers are still missing. Check through the website. If you can fill in any of the gaps, please let Bill or I know!

CLINTON BESTOR – The Corpse Came Calling (Phoenix Press, 1941)


ADELINE McELFRESH – My Heart Went Dead (Phoenix Press, 1949)


EDGAR WALLACE & ROBERT CURTIS – The Mouthpiece (Dodge, 1936)


GWYN EVANS – Satan Ltd. (Godwin, 1935)


MARK HANSOM – The Shadow on the House (Godwin, 1935)


JACK MANN – Dead Man’s Chest (Godwin, 1935)


DONALD STUART – The White Friar (Godwin, 1935)


ANTHONY GILBERT – She Vanished in the Dawn (Mystery Houise, 1941)


ANNE TEDLOCK BROOKS – Undertow (Arcadia House, 1943)


THE LOST BOOKS OF PETER CHEYNEY, Part Two
by Keith Chapman


   Part One of this two-part article can be found here.

   The Detective Weekly cover (1937) is from the FictionMags Index. This is the issue that ran The Gold Kimono, which was written by Cheyney under his Stephen Law byline. Note that it has the title as “Gold” not “Golden”, as recorded in the FictionMags listings, and which I now believe might be a mistake.

   The art is unmistakably by Eric Parker who was still working for the Amalgamated Press (by then Fleetway Publications) when I got my first-ever job on leaving school (as an editorial assistant on the staff of the Sexton Blake Library). Later (1964), I commissioned Eric to do interior illustrations for the Edgar Wallace Mystery Magazine when I founded and edited this digest for Micron Publications.

   And here below is the Detective Weekly cover for The Riddle of the Strange Last Words, another Stephen Law novella, which I believe was a version of the newspaper story Death Chair. Roy Glashan informs me that Detective Weekly used the wrong artwork for this issue. The illustration in fact depicts a scene from another newspaper serial, the Vengeance of Hop Fi, which DW was to use as The Mark of Hop Fi.

   I have found a Collectors’ Digest article by Brian Doyle at Google that throws a little more light on the early Cheyney career. I noted in particular this piece:

    “In 1926 he founded and directed the Editorial and Literary Services Agency. He and his staff researched, wrote and sold stories and features to newspapers and magazines throughout Britain and overseas. His agency was extremely successful and sold nearly 800 press features in its first year alone. Cheyney specialised in writing about real-life crime and criminals…”

   I surmise that the four full-length Cheyney works just discovered in the digitized Australian and New Zealand newspapers were bought from this agency … also that the loss of Cheyney’s “massive set of files on criminal activity in London …destroyed during the Blitz in 1941” (Wikipedia) possibly included the newspaper serials.

   Although I’d read before of Cheyney’s part in writing “Tinker’s Notebook” (a Sexton Blake feature in the story paper Union Jack), I didn’t know that he’d attempted a Blake yarn of his own and had it rejected. I did know that his friend Gerald Verner (aka Blake author Donald Stuart) had a hand in adapting Cheyney novels for the stage.

Note:   This article has been slightly revised and expanded since it was first posted.

From Emmylou’s 1976 album Luxury Liner. She is accompanied on this track by Nicolette Larson.

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


THE SHE BEAST. Miracle Films, UK, 1966; Europix Consolidated Corp., US, 1966, as She Beast. Barbara Steele, John Karlsen, Ian Ogilvy, Mel Welles, Jay Riley, Richard Watson. Screenwriter-director: Michael Reeves.

   Sometimes, flying by the seat of your pants has long-term consequences. Say, for instance, when you take part in a lynch mob and, without following proper procedures and taking necessary precautions, you drown a witch in a lake. Maybe it’s a pardonable sin.

   After all, you’re just a peasant and what do you know. I mean: how could you possibly be aware that the deceased witch will, some two hundred years later, come back to life? Well, other than the fact that, just before dying, she tells you that she’ll come back and have her revenge.

   That’s the premise of The She Beast, a rather clumsy and at times overwrought horror film starring the legendary British scream queen Barbara Steele. She portrays Veronica, the new wife of an Englishman named Philip (Ian Ogilvy). Vacationing in Transylvania on their honeymoon, the couple first has to deal with a broken down car, then a perverted innkeeper.

   Things get worse. Veronica dies in a car accident. This leaves Philip distraught. But he, with the help of an elderly Von Helsing (John Karlsen), soon learns that Veronica isn’t dead. Her soul has been temporary been taken by the one and only she beast, the ugly witch that the local peasantry killed centuries ago.

   And that’s about it. That’s the plot in a nutshell. There’s some creepy Gothic imagery at work here, but by and large, the performances aren’t particularly good. Steele isn’t in the movie for very long, although her screen time is memorable and she is undoubtedly the main attraction.

   Also look for the bizarre scene in which a sickle gets thrown to the ground and lands on top a hammer. The Soviet symbolism is obvious. Given the fact that the local police are all bumbling communist apparatchiks, I’d say there was some not too subtle mockery of communism going on in this otherwise truly mediocre European horror film.

WILLIAM COLT MacDONALD – Powder Smoke. Berkley Y814, paperback original; 1st printing, August 1953. Berkley Medallion X1718, paperback 1969. Five Star, hardcover, 2005. Leisure, paperback, 2006. (The latter two editions also include the short novel The Son of the Wolf.)

   There’s some justification for this book to be included in Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV, but I’m sure Al knows best, and in spite of all the criminal activity in it, it’s not.

   Most of the tale is taken up with the attempt by “Powder Smoke” Peters, owner of the PSP ranch, to clear young Owen Thorpe from the charges that he killed his brother. The main evidence against Owen is the fact that his gun is found on the ground next to the body, so obviously the case is not that strong to begin with.

   The sheriff, Milton Lapps, is not so very bright, and this also helps keep the case alive. (At one point Powder Smoke nicknames him “Mental,” which tells you something about the book, but I’m not sure what.) I kept waiting for the big twist at the end, but even though I know it’s already come and gone, I feel as though I’m still waiting.

— Reprinted from Nothing Accompliced #4, November 1993, slightly revised.

THE LOST BOOKS OF PETER CHEYNEY, Part One
by Keith Chapman


   My email traffic has been buzzing with Peter Cheyney messages, both “to” and “from.”

   UK bibliographer Steve Holland of the Bear Alley blog, which has in the past run several lengthy posts about this hugely successful author of thrillers in the 1940s and ’50s, recently wrote to say: “Amazing to see all these forgotten works by such a major author turning up.”

   Now available at Roy Glashan’s freeread.com.au (a Project Gutenberg offshoot) is The Deadly Fresco, which made its first appearance as a newspaper serial in Australia in 1932.

   In Roy’s pipeline are several more such full-length works, written as much as eight years prior to publication of the “first” Cheyney novels recorded at Wikipedia, the Thrilling Detective website, the Official Peter Cheyney website, etc.

   Just a few days ago I told Roy about The Sign on the Roof, serialized in the Auckland Star from September 14 to October 5 in 1935, and about Death Chair serialized in the New Zealand Herald from May 21 to July 16 in 1932. (Very incidentally the NZ Herald was the first paper I worked on after arriving here in 1967, and I was an Auckland Star sub-editor at the time of its closure in 1991.)

   Roy replied, “I wasn’t aware of the existence of this novel [The Sign on the Roof]. ”

   Steve Holland found an advertisement in a British newspaper announcing serialization of Death Chair in the Sheffield Mail in 1931. It said, “Mr Peter Cheyney is already well known to Sheffield Mail serial readers who remember his splendid stories The Vengeance of Hop Fi and The Gold Kimono.”

   Both these serials were also syndicated and ran in Australian and New Zealand newspapers, such as the Auckland Star and the New Zealand Herald. Digital image files can be seen at PapersPast, a website of the National Library of New Zealand.

   Roy tells me he has ebook versions of the pair in the pipeline for his RG Library at freeread.com.au. The Vengeance of Hop Fi‘s first appearance that he knew of was the serialization in the Auckland Star beginning on July 7, 1928.

   The FictionMags Index has novella, presumably abridged, versions of the Hop Fi and Komino stories listed under the pen-name “Stephen Law” and published in 1937 in single issues of the Amalgamated Press’s Detective Weekly. FictionMags also lists a newspaper serialization of The Sign on the Roof in The Hawick News (Scotland) in 1935.

   Whetting my reading appetite for these well and truly forgotten books, not known to have been in print since the 1920s and ’30s, is this quote from the NZ Herald:

    “The Death Chair is an astounding story told by a great writer in his most brilliant form. It is drama, pathos, humour, a story that captivates the minds of all who read.”

Note:   Part Two of this two-part article appears here.

THE TIME TUNNEL. 20th Century Fox Television, 2006. Unaired pilot. David Conrad, Andrea Roth, Max Baker, Bob Koherr, Tawny Cypress. Written by Rand Ravich, based on the original series created by Irwin Allen. Director: Todd Holland.

   The first and only season of the original Time Tunnel series was on ABC during the 1966-1967 season. I was not a fan. I made sure I was on hand for the first episode, though, and I was so disappointed after seeing it that I never watched it again. There were so many holes in the plot that I found what was on the air next to worthless. That’s what growing up reading Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke will do to you.

   The earlier series is out on DVD, though, and this unaired pilot that came along some four decades later is one of the bonuses to be found on the final disc. (If I’m in error about this later show never being telecast, please let me know.)

   It’s actually quite good. If it had picked up as a series, and I’d watched this as the first episode, I’d have watched more, there’s no doubt about it. The tunnel itself is a lot spiffier, of course, but so is the story line, which considers the possibility — if not likelihood — that changing things in the past is more than likely to change the way the present looks now, with no one being aware of it.

   Except for the scientists and technicians who were working underground when a “time storm” was accidentally created. They are also aware of “ripples” in time that mean something has happened to change history as they know it. Their job: to go back to the past to correct it.

   It turns out that a young monk with the bubonic plague has slipped far into his future, 1944 and Germany during World War II. A team from their present has to go back and solve the problem, and quickly. During this highly secret operation, one of the members meets his own grandfather, who is known to have died that day. Can he save him? Or, should he save him?

   The cast consists of a bunch of actors unknown to me, but they do just fine. Even better is the script, which I think does about as good as it’s possible to outline the problems of time-related paradoxes as could be done in less than 50 minutes of running time.

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