October 2017


REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


APACHE TRAIL. MGM, 1942. Lloyd Nolan, Donna Reed, William Lundigan, Ann Ayars, Connie Gilchrist, Chill Wills, Ray Teal, Grant Withers, Fuzzy Knight, Trevor Bardett. Based on the short story “Stage Station” by Ernest Haycox (Collier’s, 22 April 1939). Director: Richard Thorpe.

   Lloyd Nolan is miscast as a no good rascally outlaw in MGM’s Apache Trail, a surprisingly effective, if not overly memorable, programmer. Directed by Richard Thorpe, who had a long career at the studio, the film stars William Lundigan as Tom Folliard, a stagecoach station manager who must contend not only with his criminal brother Trigger (Nolan), but also Apaches on the warpath. Given how much of a scoundrel Trigger is, it comes as no real surprise to him that the Apache uprising is due, at least in large part, to Trigger’s subterfuge.

   There’s also a romantic subplot that revolves around the unrequited love that Rosalia (Donna Reed), a Spanish employee at the station has for Tom. Her competition is war widow Constance Selden (Ann Ayars), who is guarding a secret about her late husband’s death. Then there’s a small amount of comic relief and music thanks to Chill Wills who portrays a worker at the station.

   All told, Apache Trail isn’t anything that one need to go seeking out. But it’s a decent enough Western, albeit one that features a formulaic plot about white people trapped inside a station in the Southwest with marauding Indians on the outside, one that would be repeated time and again throughout the next two decades. But with Thorpe’s craftsmanlike direction and a decent soundtrack courtesy of Sol Kaplan, Apache Trail works well for what it is. Still, one wonders who made the decision to cast Lundigan and Nolan as brothers?

THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


GEORGE GOODCHILD – McLean Investigates. Inspector McLean #3. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, 1930. No US edition.

   This is a collection of short stories featuring the investigations of Inspector McLean of Scotland Yard, who, unless I missed it somewhere, seems to lack a first name.

   A few of the stories have some rather good detection, but for the most part McLean relies on “narks” — much as do the real police — and extraordinary coincidence. In one case an informer tells him he might find someone he is looking in a certain nightclub. McLean goes there and observes four men working over a map; fortuitously, the men are plotting the assassination that McLean is trying to prevent.

   Nevertheless, as I said, there is also good detection. McLean in one case discovers the guilty party by testing how difficult it was to crank start a car. (Remember the publication date, dear reader! And for those whose memory of cars with cranks doesn’t exist, that was the way car motors were started before the self-starter was invented. Think of how for example, the typical gasoline lawnmower is started, and you will have some, but not much, idea of how a car was started by a crank.)

   Of course, the car had been immersed in a pool in a disused quarry for more than a month, and this might have had something to do with the difficulty — indeed, I am astonished that McLean got it started, no matter how much effort he put into it — but McLean is above such petty details.

   McLean is also extremely lucky. In his investigation of someone who arranges assassinations, McLean approaches the person, and how he is still with us only the author knows:

   “There was a lightning movement and the flash of a fire-arm. A bullet whistled past his [McLean’s] head. He held his fire but advanced on her with a chair extended in his left hand. A second shot ripped through the wooden bottom. He pinned her to the wall between the four legs….”

   Lots of things happel1 in the stories “like lightning,” though I think Goodchild means “rapidly.” My favorite description, however, is the one of the chap who moves around a lot; he is described as “illusive.”

   The driving of McClean’s Sergeant, Brook, who also appears not to have been Christened anything in particular, can raise some thrills, at least in those whose grasp of English isn’t all that it should be:

   “He took bends and corners at a rate that should have spelt suicide, but always he managed to get the car right after hair-breadth skids.”

   Ah, those nasty hair-breadth skids!

— Reprinted from CADS 17, October 1991. Email Geoff Bradley for subscription information.


Bibliographic Notes:   This was the third of over 60 novels and story collections featuring Inspector McLean in a career extending from 1929 to 1967. He seems to have been referred to as “Dandy” McLean at times, but otherwise Bill appears to have been correct in surmising that the character had no known first name.

   As for the author himself, here is an edited version of the first paragraph of his Wikipedia page:

    “George Goodchild (1888–1969) aka Alan Dare, Wallace Q. Reid, and Jesse Templeton, was a prolific and successful British writer of popular books, short stories, plays, and movies, who published over 200 works in his 60-year career, and beyond his lifetime. Featured characters include Inspector McLean, spy catcher Q33 Trelawney, Nigel Rix, and Trooper O’Neill.”

JACKSON GILLIS – Chain Saw. St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, 1988; paperback, August 1990.

   Sometimes I think a writer spends so much time polishing up Chapter One of his or her book that it ends up so overwritten as to be almost unreadable. I exaggerate, but it did happen again here, and I almost quit reading, which would have been a serious mistake, as I very much liked a lot of what came later.

   Former LA policeman Jonas Duncan is hired in this book to discover if a young orphan making a claim on an elderly lumberwoman’s fortune is for real or not. I’m not sure why this was published by St. Martin’s in paperback under their “Mean Streets” imprint. The phrase implies “urban streets” to me, and this particular tale, which also includes an authentic portrayal of a lumber industry which is slowly dying out, is as rural and outdoorsy as they come.

   There is also a decent mystery involved, with plenty of twists and false trails. Skip Twin Peaks and read this instead.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File #23,, July 1990. (Considerably shortened and revised.)


Bio-Bibliograhic Notes:   This was Jonas Duncan’s only appearance in printed form. Author Jackson Gillis wrote one other detective novel included in Hubin: The Killers of Starfish (Lippincott, 1977) which also took place in Washington State, but that is the only connection between the two.

   His name may, however, be more familiar to some of you for a couple of other reasons. According to his Wikipedia page, Gillis was “an American radio and television scriptwriter whose career spanned more than 40 years and encompassed a wide range of genres.”

   Some of the radio shows he wrote for: The Whistler and Let George Do It. For TV: Perry Mason, Lost in Space, and Hawaii Five-O. He died in 2010 athe age of 93.

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


CRIME OF PASSION. United Artists, 1957. Barbara Stanwyck, Sterling Hayden, Raymond Burr, Fay Wray, Virginia Grey, Royal Dano. Original story and screenplay: Jo Eisinger. Director: Gerd Oswald.

   Call it what you will: a crime film, a film noir, or a proto-feminist melodrama. But make no mistake about it. Crime of Passion is most definitely a Barbara Stanwyck vehicle. So much so that one could say that Stanwyck, who is front and center throughout the proceedings, is the auteur of this United Artists release. Directed by craftsman Gerd Oswald, this somewhat average black and white thriller also benefits from the presence of co-stars and supporting cast members including Sterling Hayden, Raymond Burr, and a young Robert Quarry as a newsroom worker.

   Stanwyck portrays Kathy Ferguson, a tough as nails San Francisco newspaper columnist. She’s a career woman with no desire to marry and settle down. Not until she meets visiting Los Angeles detective Lieutenant Bill Doyle (Hayden), who is up north searching for a Southern California woman accused of killing her husband. Soon enough, Kathy and Bill are married and living a seemingly idyllic suburban existence in the San Fernando Valley. But soon suburban dinner parties and boredom get to Kathy. It’s clear that she wants more in life. Both for herself and for Bill, whom she thinks is deserving of a better position in the police force.

   Enter Bill’s superior at the LAPD. When Kathy meets Inspector Tony Pope (Burr), she takes an immediate interest in his passion for solving difficult cases. Soon, however, the passion between the two takes a more sordid turn, with Kathy and Tony sharing a night together. When Tony decides that it was all a mistake, Kathy is despondent. And never underestimate a character portrayed by Barbara Stanwyck, especially when she has access to a gun.

   Despite Stanwyck’s formidable screen presence, Crime of Passion never quite gels as a movie. Yes, there are a few plot holes and implausibilities. But those aren’t what end up making this movie an interesting but not particularly memorable affair. No. It’s the fact that, while the plot may have worked well enough on paper, the movie’s story — the radical transformation of Kathy from a tough single newspaperwoman into a helplessly in love housewife and then into a scheming and impassioned killer — feels too forced. It’s this artificiality that makes this particular Stanwyck film a pale imitation of so many of her other works.

REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


PAUL HARDING – Red Slayer. Brother Athelstan #2. William Morrow, US, hardcover, 1994. Avon, US, paperback, 1995. First published in the UK as The House of the Red Slayer (Headline, hardcover, 1992).

   Unless I’m mistaken, Harding writes historical mysteries under a number of different names, P. C. Doherty among them. However, when I tried to find something to substantiate all this, I couldn’t put my hands on anything, so I may be wrong. I don’t think so, though.

   Brother Athelstan (a friar, not a monk) is parosh priest of Saint Erconwald’s, a church in Southwick in London of the mid-fourteenth century. He is also cleric to the City Coroner (a very important person in that time and place), Sir John Cranston. Just before Christmas in the fierce winter of 1377 they are called to the Tower of London, where the Constable of the Tower has been found in a locked bedroom in the Tower’s upper reaches, throat cut from ear to ear.

   It develops that while the Constable was not a well-liked person at all in the present, his past (he was once a mercenary knight in Egypt) might hold the secret to the murder. To round out the story, Sir John has wife problems and someone is robbing corpses from the cemetery at Brother Athlestan’s church.

   One book from so prolific a writer is far too small a sample from which to generalize, so I won’t I’ll just say that I didn’t find this particular book quite up to the level of, say, the historical mysteries of Peters, Marston, Tourney, et al. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy it. Harding is at pains to provide a vivid historical background, and tells his story well enough.

   I suppose my reservations were in the natter of the leads. Sir John in particular seemed to be somewhat of a one-note character with his constant wine-bibbing and bellowing, and Athelstan never came quite to life for me. I also got tired of reading “he slurred” every time one of the drinking characters spoke. Nevertheless, I’ll try Harding again.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #13, June 1994.


BIBLIOGRAPHIC UPDATE:  Barry was quite correct in stating that Paul Harding was one of several pen names of P. C. (Paul) Doherty. Other bylines he has used are Vanessa Alexander, Anna Apostolou, Michael Clynes, Ann Dukthas, and C L Grace. To this date (2017) there are 18 books in his Brother Athelstan series, the last eleven of them under his own name.

BOILEAU-NARCEJAC – She Who Was No More. Pushkin Vertigo, trade paperback, 2015. Translation by Geoffrey Sainsbury. First published by Éditions Denoël (France) in 1952 as Celle qui n’était plus. Reprinted by Rinehart, US, hardcover, 1954. Hutchinson, UK, hardcover, as The Woman Who Was, 1954. Films: Diaboliques (France, 1955; director: Henri-Georges Clouzot); House of Secrets (US, 1993; made for TV); Diabolique (US, 1996).

   The collaboration between French authors Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac is perhaps most famous for producing, among several other works of well-regarded crime fiction, The Living and the Dead (D’entre les Morts, 1954), the basis for the movie Vertigo, considered by many to be the best of Alfred Hitchcock’s many films.

   Unfortunately, of the the ten titles included in Hubin, only three have been published in the US. She Who Was No More is one of them, and it’s good to have it back in print again, after a long wait of over 60 years. The story is both easy and not so easy to describe. A man’s mistress helps a man kill his wife. They do it in such a way as to make it seem to be an accident which happened while both have solid alibis. Yet when the husband goes to “discover” her body, it has vanished. Disappeared.

   Worse, he begins to find notes from her saying that she’s gone away but will be home again soon. More. His brother-in-law in Paris claims that she has stopped by to see him, even after she is supposed to be dead.

   What is difficult to explain is what a feverish nightmare of a novel this is, a pure noir fantasy, if you will. A combination of a guilty conscience with a belief in ghosts floods Ferdnand Ravinel’s very being — and perhaps the reader’s, too. What is also difficult is to write a review without saying more, or even without a hint of saying more.

   So I won’t. I will say that I enjoyed this oe immensely — but more than that, no. But it is frustrating!

THE OLD TIME RADIO HOST/ANNOUNCER
by Michael Shonk


   One of old time radio’s (OTR) characters most fondly remembered is the series host/announcer. Radio programs needed a way to introduce the series and episode to the listener. Limited to just words and sounds radio created the host role.

   Perhaps one of the appeals of listening to radio drama was how often the fourth wall was ignored. It began with the host/announcer who would talk directly to the listener. It gave the program and the listener at home a personal connection, as if the story was being told directly to you.

   There were several basic types of host/announcer. It could be an announcer or famous celebrity or a fictional character. He or she could exist separate from the story or be a fictional character narrating the story or a real celebrity who introduces the story and at times joins the cast and performs as one of the characters in the story, or in rare cases a real announcer could interact with the fictional characters (usually to promote the sponsor).

   One of the earliest radio series to have a fictional character as host was the 1930 CBS anthology DETECTIVE STORY HOUR. The character with the strange eerie voice was The Shadow, a character that has had a long successful career. For those who wish to learn more about the pulp/radio icon I recommend the book SHADOW SCRAPBOOK by the character’s creator Walter B. Gibson (with Anthony Tollin).

   Here is the first episode from the Mutual Network version of THE SHADOW. “Death House Blues” aired September 26, 1937 and introduced him to the Mutual audience. In the story The Shadow played by Orson Welles works to save an innocent man from the electric chair.


   Characters such as Philip Marlowe, Rocky Jordan, and Archie Goodwin for Nero Wolfe would break the fourth wall to talk to the audience, set the mood and begin narrating the story.

   LIVES OF HARRY LIME was a BBC production and syndicated in America, airing various places including Mutual radio network. The series was based on the character from the film THE THIRD MAN, star Orson Welles would return to play Harry Lime in this prequel to the 1949 British film.

THE LIVES OF HARRY LIME “Too Many Crooks” (Mutual, August 3, 1951), It begins when Harry receives a letter asking for his help rob a bank in Budapest. As zither music sets the proper THIRD MAN mood, Harry profits from the plans of some very untrustworthy bank robbers.


   The Shadow’s spooky voice fit radio well for establishing mood. Hosts for series such as LIGHTS OUT began to warn the listeners of the terrors to come. Some of the more entertaining hosts would go beyond the spooky voice to the rantings of an insane lunatic. Among the better ones were GUEST OF DOOM, DARKNESS, WITCH’S TALE, STRANGE DR WEIRD, WEIRD CIRCLE, HERMIT’S CAVE, and BLACK CHAPEL.

   Forgotten BLACK CASTLE remains one of the best examples of the madman host. BLACK CASTLE featured host The Wizard and his pet raven Diablo. Don Douglas not only played the host but he also did all of the voices.

   A warning about the episode “Jungle Adventure,” it was done during WWII and has a un-PC attitude about the Japanese and island natives.

BLACK CASTLE “Jungle Adventure” (Mutual, September 25, 1943). Two American airmen crash on a small Pacific island.


   Some hosts could be downright judgmental towards the fictional characters in the story (THE WHISTLER) or some hosts were notably uncaring to what happened to the people of the story (THE CLOCK, DEVIL’S SCRAPBOOK and THE CROUPIER).

   One who was judgmental and uncaring was Fate in DIARY OF FATE, played by Herbert Lytton.

DIARY OF FATE “The Entry of Tyler White” (ABC, April 6, 1948). Tyler White is about to be executed for a murder he did not commit.


   Not all hosts were scary some were quite friendly such as in WORLD ADVENTURERS CLUB, and THE CASEBOOKS OF GREGORY HOOD.

   The CRIME CLUB host The Librarian (Barry Thomson) was always eager to help us with that book or manuscript we wanted. Many of the stories were adaptations of actual books published by Doubleday’s Crime Club imprint .

CRIME CLUB “Mr. Smith’s Hat” (Mutual, January 22, 1947). Gilbert Shannon calls Inspector McKee to report his own murder. A few moments after he hangs up the Inspector gets a call from Shannon’s daughter who has discovered her father’s dead body. Witty dialog highlights the story based on a book by Helen Reilly and adapted by Stedman Coles.


   Celebrities were popular choices to host drama anthologies, such as radio producer Arch Oboler (LIGHTS OUT), writers such as John Dickson Carr (MURDER BY EXPERTS) and actors such as Peter Lorre (MURDER IN THE AIR).

   CREEPS BY NIGHT aired on the Blue network with Boris Karloff as host and actor. The series was done on the West coast. When the series moved to the East coast with episode #13 “The Walking Dead (May 16, 1944) Karloff stayed behind and the mysterious Dr. X took over as host. The name of the actor who played Dr. X was never revealed.

CREEPS BY NIGHT “The Final Reckoning” (Blue network, May 2, 1944). George Miller is out of prison after serving 20 years for a murder he did not commit. George feels his life has been wasted and is obsessed with revenge against the man who framed him.


   One of the most important roles for the host/announcer was to promote the sponsor. Series such as MYSTERY HOUSE would take a comment made by the characters to remind everyone about the sponsor. INNER SANCTUM Mr. Host enjoyed his creaking door and pun filled introductions but then he would turn to Mary to discuss the perfection and joy the sponsor’s product would bring to the listener’s life.

   But no host/announcer was more interested in the sponsor than the host of a kid’s show, radio serials such as CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT, JACK ARMSTRONG ALL AMERICAN BOY, DICK TRACY, and endless others push their promos like maps and code rings and nagged kids to get their Mom or Dad to buy the sponsor’s product.

TOM MIX RALSTON STRAIGHT SHOOTERS “The Green Man” (Mutual, June 30, 1944). A swami arrives and tries to buy Longwind Wilson house that keeps disappearing because of a former cactus now anti-social Green Man. Not the most PC but still fun. In this episode Tom Mix was played by Joe “Curley” Bradley.


   Not all serials were aimed at kids and their parents’ bank account. There would be soap operas for Mom (ROMANCES OF HELEN TRENT and BACKSTAGE WIFE), adventure (ADVENTURES BY MORSE and SHADOWS OF FU MANCHU), mysteries (CHARLIE CHAN and I LOVE A MYSTERY), and spies (ANN OF THE AIRLINES).

   But no matter the type of radio serial all of them needed the host/announcer to keep the audience up to date on the continuing story that usually aired three to five times a week.

   Here is an episode from PERRY MASON, a radio series that would evolve into TV soap opera EDGE OF NIGHT.

PERRY MASON “The Case of the Puzzled Suitor’ (CBS, June 7, 1944). A rich scientist wants Mason to write his will, but a woman had early warned Mason that the scientist was being coerced.


   One of the things the Internet has given us is access to the past unlike ever before. You can listen to OTR at YouTube, Internet Archive (archive.org) and various other places on the Internet. Whether you remember when the shows first aired or you are listening for the first time, OTR offers a variety of wonderful entertainment, shows more often than not introduced by a host/announcer.

SOURCES::

RadioGOLDINdex     http://radiogoldindex.com/

ON THE AIR THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF OLD-TIME RADIO (Oxford University
Press, 1998) by John Dunning

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


WEREWOLF OF LONDON. Universal Pictures, 1935. Henry Hull, Warner Oland, Valerie Hobson, Lester Matthews, Lawrence Grant, Spring Byington. Director: Stuart Walker.

   Warner Oland gives the overall rather dated Werewolf of London a welcome exotic, mystical flair that makes the otherwise somewhat staid film an enjoyable viewing experience. As the first mainstream werewolf movie ever produced by a major American studio, this Universal Pictures release is also notable for its makeup effects by Jack Pierce. A Hollywood legend in his own right, Pierce would go onto do similar work for the much better known (and better movie) The Wolf Man (1941) starring Lon Chaney, Jr.

   Henry Hull stars as the titular werewolf, a botanist named Wilfred Glendon. He has recently returned from an expedition in the Himalayas where he had a frightening encounter with a strange beast. That beast, as it turns out, was one Dr. Yogami (Oland), who himself is suffering from lycanthropy.

   Yogami arrives in London to tell Glendon that the botanist is about to turn into a werewolf and that a specific plant, one in the latter’s possession, can serve as an antidote. Glendon finds this preposterous, but he has his doubts. These are only strengthened when Glendon notices his hands are getting unusually hairy.

   As in The Wolf Man, which was released six years later, Werewolf of London is fundamentally a tragedy. Glendon’s story is a tragic one. His refusal to take seriously his condition, as well as his persistent neglect of his lovely wife Lisa (Valerie Hobson), lead him down a dark and foreboding path that includes murder and ultimately, his own tragic demise at the hands of a Scotland Yard inspector.

   But unlike Larry Talbot (Chaney) in The Wolf Man, who appeared as a character in several follow up feature films and became a Universal Monsters icon who is still beloved today, Wilfred Glendon was a character that appeared once and was never heard from again. That is unless there is a remake that could give some fresh life into this somewhat dated feature, something that would give it a little more of a bite for contemporary audiences. Now that’s an idea that would make some fans of classic fans howl at the moon!

IT IS PURELY MY OPINION
Reviews by L. J. Roberts


J. D. ROBB – Secrets in Death. Lt. Eve Dallas #45. St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, September 2017.

First Sentence:   It wouldn’t kill her.

   Lt. Eve Dallas investigates homicides, but the victims don’t usually drop dead at her feet. Larinda Mars is a “social information reporter”; i.e., a gossip columnist who clearly has an enemy since someone slashed one of her major arteries causing her to bleed out in the middle of an upscale bar. Eve, and her team, are determined to find the killer.

   Some readers have an issue with the bedroom scenes in this series. “Outlander” author, Diana Gabaldon, provided an excellent perspective with her reminder to readers that sex is a normal part of an adult relationship and that “it is much more about emotion than the exchange of bodily fluids.” That said, the scenes are easy to skip over without losing the thread of the plot.

   The slightly futuristic world in which one finds oneself is just enough to provide for fun imaging, yet not so removed from our reality that it seems implausible. As with much of science fiction, it is not impossible that some of the gadgets and technologies will ultimately be realized.

   The primary attraction to the series are the characters, particularly Eve. She is an interesting dichotomy between the tough, smart cop who is dedicated to standing in for the dead even when they may not have been good people themselves, and the woman who is completely indifferent to her appearance, and is unaware of many things outside her job. But she does know baseball.

   Secrets in Death is an enjoyable read with a couple of well-executed twists. It is more of a straight police procedural than some in the series.

— For more of LJ’s reviews, check out her blog at : https://booksaremagic.blogspot.com/.

THE GHOSTS OF OLD MOVIES
by Dan Stumpf


(Note: This was written in 1981, the early days of Cable Satellite TV, before there were on-screen video guides or anything like that; when cable stations bloomed and vanished daily, and they ran anything — anything — in the small hours of the night just to sell advertising. I was working Third Watch in those days, and on my nights off I sometimes flipped around the dial…)

        “There are strange things done ’neath the midnight sun…”
                   –Robert W. Service

   Service would feel right at home with Cable TV. They do things late at night on television that no one ever talks about.

   In those bleary hours after the bars close and before the doughnut shops open. Strange images flit across the screen, interspersed more or less at random between ads for Country Music and Diet Pills, and the black-and-white phantoms, transfixed for a moment on a flickering screen that is often the sole illumination in a sleeping house, are apt to go anywhere, do anything: murder, make love, or burst into song. Pictures of people long dead strut and fret their fearful ninety minutes or so at the whims of writers and directors who are mostly dust now.

   These are the Ghosts of Old Movies, roaming the night, and the restless, channel-changing viewer who stumbles across them, be he insomniac, inebriate or both, may witness tales that he will relate at peril of disbelief.

   It was at such a time that I, wide-awake, sober, and no higher than one can get from a glass of Diet Pepsi, chanced upon one of those works that re-define Surrealism; a fragment of one of those films that must have seemed so impressive to post-war French cinéastes and philosophers. Let me try to describe it to you as I saw it, coming in somewhere in the middle and thus caught unawares by the wonder of it all.

   As the screen kindles into life, we see a jungle village, somewhere in Africa. A crowd of dark-skinned natives and a mustached Cowboy (?) are genuflecting in front of the Chief’s hut.

   Inside the hut, a white man in a leopard-skin and top hat (??) is ministering to the Chief’s son. They are alone. The white man gives the black man a shot from a hip flask that knocks him stiff as a board, whereupon whitey blacks his face with soot, dons the son’s clothing, and passes as him, walking through the kneeling natives to where a mule is tethered on the outskirts of the village.

   En route, the soot mysteriously vanishes from his face. He mounts the mule anyway and gallops off with the natives and the Cowboy, who have tumbled to him, in hot pursuit. The white man/witchdoctor rides past some potted palms, is thrown from his mount, and suddenly gasps in horror.

   The scene shifts suddenly to a completely different-looking jungle where a lion is walking off in an entirely irrelevant direction. Cut back to the white witch doctor, who can apparently see the lion (wherever it is) and is frightened by it. He climbs a tree, the lion makes a few half-hearted jumps at some other tree, and wanders off.

   Then a gorilla swings through the branches, lands next to our hero and starts making amorous eyes at him. The white man leaps from the tree and lands among the natives who have gathered beneath it. The mustached Cowboy has apparently wandered off unnoticed. Cut to commercial.

   When we get back, the natives have escorted the captive honky back to their jungle village. Suddenly a group of Mounties (???) rides up. The head Mountie halts his men, turns to the captive and demands, “Where’s Gene Autry?”

   I turn up the sound, wondering if I could have heard correctly and how the hell did Mounties ever get into Africa anyway. But the scene shifts to a trading post elsewhere in the jungle, where none other than Gene Autry himself is trying to convince a winsome heroine that he did not kill her father. Suddenly the mustached Cowboy enters and gets the drop on Gene, who is quickly escorted to a heavily-guarded hut and locked up with an old man whose function in the story seems somewhat indeterminate.

   We now cut back and forth between the mustached Heavy, who is trying to get the heroine to sign something, and Autry in Durance Vile. Gene quickly subdues his native guards (by getting them to reach through the barred windows for beads and trinkets, then tying their hands together) and runs from the hut, which turns out not to have been locked after all.

   Then a bunch of other stuff happens and before long Autry and his stuntman have freed the white slaves from the diamond mine (????) and the Heavy, seeing that the jig is clearly up, leaps into a covered wagon with the heroine and rides off, vigorously pursued by Autry’s stuntman.

   The ensuing chase, however, is set not in Africa, but among the oversize boulders and dusty trails of Gower Gulch, California, a landscape familiar and overly-familiar to every viewer of B-Westerns. The Heavy wrecks the wagon, the stuntman rescues the girl, and the Mounties, who have apparently been following at a respectful distance, ride up with Smiley Burnette (for it was he, it turns out, who was the white witch doctor in leopard-skin and topper) having somehow learned of Autry’s innocence en route to this appointment in Samara.

   The scene shifts again to the deck of a westbound boat. Gene Autry, Smiley Burnette and some miscellaneous Cowboys are serenading the heroine. The Mounties are gone, but the Native Chief and his children are aboard, dressed in western garb and singing Harlem tunes.

   As “The End” settles across the screen, we fade out, and — seconds ahead of an appeal for Lee’s Press-on Nails — the title of this Jungle Epic dances across the screen. It is Round-Up Time in Texas (Texas?????)

   Somehow it seems to fit.

   I love this film and all films like it. There is an unconscious audacity operating in films as cheap as this one. I mean, when you watch a good movie, or even most bad ones, you generally have some inkling of what is going to happen next. Or at least you know it won’t be something totally off the wall. But there are moments in some books and movies that defy rationalization. They simply exist. And they restore to me that sense of childlike wonder that should always be present in one’s critical faculties. As long as there are films like this to be discovered I shall never grow old.

ROUND-UP TIME IN TEXAS. Republic Pictures, 1937. Gene Autry, Smiley Burnette, Maxine Doyle, The Cabin Kids, Champion. Director: Joseph Kane.

Next Page »