PERSONAL REPORT, INC. Unsold pilot, 30m, Desilu, 1957. Wayne Morris, Touch Connors, Nancy Hadley, Ted deCorsia, Dabbs Greer, Ann Doran, Bill Lundmark. Created by Martin N. Leeds. Teleplay: Donald H. Clark & Don Martin. Producer-Director: Lee Sholem.

   There’s not a lot of information about this show on the Internet. One reference on IMDb gives the date as 1959, but there is no entry for the show itself. The two main stars play a pair of former FBI agents, Larry Blair (Wayne Morris) and Bradley Martin (Touch Connors) who have set up shop as private detectives, and they seem to be doing very well at it. The case that’s dramatized in this failed pilot is a very easy one, though. A young man has confessed to a murder, but his parents hire the two of them to prove he didn’t do it.

   Turns out that the dead man had refused the confessed killer his sister’s hand in marriage. Obviously the young man thought she did it. It also turns out that the police autopsy report says the dead man was killed two hours before the confessed killer says he did. Obviously the police prefer their cases open and shut, and messy details like this don’t matter.

   Touch Connors, later known as Mike, is the one who does most of the footwork and in the process manages to get hit on the head once, way before Mannix came along, but for what purpose, as far as the real killer is concerned, is not exactly clear. Connors, by the way, is loose and relaxed as an actor, and it can easily be seen that he was destined to a TV star. (Hindsight is great, however, isn’t it?) Wayne Morris’s performance, in quite a contrast, is forced and stiff. He died later that year of a massive heart attack, at the age of only 45.

   Overall, there’s not much a premise to begin with here, and there’s nothing special about either the story or the stars to latch onto either. If I were a would-be sponsor, I’d pass, too.

   I started having problems with one of my three computers on Friday, the one with my scanner and photoshop program, along with my old WordPerfect files, so while I can get along without them, it’s not so easily done. It froze up almost immediately every time I logged in. It took me into the late evening hours to get access to my files and back them up, thanks to a helping hand from my son-in-law Mark who deals with computers all day long.

   And I don’t know how or why, but as soon as I got the backing up done, the computer decided that play time was over and went back to work, and I was able to post Walker’s column about collecting pulp covers on Saturday. But nonsense like this wears me out any more. I must be getting old.

   I’m going to take a couple of days off from posting. Plenty of other things that needed to be done didn’t get done this weekend, and I was going to be busy all day tomorrow anyway.

   Speaking softly so the one upstairs doesn’t hear me, but between you and me, I hate computers.

COLLECTING PULPS: A Memoir, Part 16:
A Field Trip
by Walker Martin

   Recently, Steve Lewis reviewed the issue of Argosy for June 9, 1934. My copy of this issue is now over 80 years old and still in great shape with the pages very supple and no browning or brittleness. Nice cover and full spine. It has a nice smell and no pulp shreds to clean up. I like the cover by Paul Stahr with the macabre scene of two skeletons showing that two poker players were struck dead while playing cards.

   Which reminds me of a field trip I once made to buy a couple original pulp cover paintings by Paul Stahr. It was in the mid-1970’s, and I was consumed by the desire to track down as many pulp paintings as I could find. This was 40 years ago (hard to believe that so much time has passed!), and I was busy doing the usual things that men in their thirties were always doing, like marriage, raising a family, job career, buying a house, and thinking about my next car.

   But my real interests, now that I think back on my life, was reading, collecting books, vintage paperbacks, pulps, and trying to find the cover paintings used on the paperbacks and pulps. The video revolution was still several years off, so I had not yet started to buy hundreds of video tapes of old movies and serials. Not to speak of the thousands of dvds that I now have cluttering up my house.

   Sure, all that other stuff is important in a life, but does anything really match the enjoyment and thrill of collecting books and art? This is the main subject of my two series: Collecting Pulps and Adventures in Collecting. Collectors are always paying lip service to their jobs and families, but I have often found them to be addicted to that greatest vice of all: book collecting. Otherwise known as bibliomania.

   And of course collecting pulps, paperbacks, and original art are all offshoots of book collecting. I remember many of my friends in college, the army, at work, were often involved in wasting time boozing, taking drugs, gambling, or that most dangerous sport of all, chasing women. I like to pretend that I was not addicted to these mundane vices. No sir, I was back then a Collector with a capital C and I still think there is no higher calling for a life’s work.

   I still wake up each day thinking about what I’m going to read or what books or pulps I can add to my collection. Not to mention what old movies I want to watch. And of course the collecting of original art, which is one of the most unique things to collect. A book or pulp for instance may have many copies in existence, but a piece of art is unique, a one of a kind thing connected to the collecting of books.

   I’ve always wondered why more book and pulp collectors are not interested in at least having a few examples of cover art to hang on their walls, in their libraries, between the bookcases or if the art is small enough, on the book shelves with the books. I can understand not being able to spend thousands of dollars on artwork, but I have many times picked up amazing art bargains for very little money. Even today, some artwork can be bought for a few hundred or less. I’ve had more than one friend that liked to buy new cars every couple years for many thousands of dollars but would turn pale in horror at the thought of spending a few hundred on a pulp cover painting.

   Which brings me around to the details of my field trip. In the 1970’s and even in the 1980’s, it was possible to buy non SF cover paintings for very little money. Very few collectors were interested in such genres as detective, western and adventure paintings. As a result of this lack of interest I routinely bought pulp and paperbacks paintings for prices as low as $50 and for many years I was paying only an average price of $200 to $400 each for artwork. Now prices are higher but you still can find bargains, especially at the two pulp conventions: Windy City and Pulpfest.

   In fact, it was at one of the early Pulpcons that a friend told me about an art store in Brooklyn NY that had pulp art for sale. I had no idea about how to navigate to and through Brooklyn but he agreed to meet me a the Penn Station train station and take me out to the store. It was the typical small store but it was crammed with paintings.

   I still remember the very large painting by Walter Baumhofer that the dealer showed me. It was enormous and showed a shootout in a bar between gangsters. It was used as an interior in a slick magazine, perhaps The Saturday Evening Post or Colliers. But he wanted a few hundred for it and I couldn’t buy everything, so I reluctantly passed on it. One of my collecting mistakes from 40 years ago that still haunts me. I still dream about these mistakes and often wake up in the middle of the night cursing myself. My wife wonders what the hell, but most collectors probably know what I’m talking about.

   The dealer showed me several other pieces, and I was shocked to see how he had the paintings stored. Most were unframed, and he was just pulling them out and scraping the paint off as he yanked them out. Finally he got to the paintings that I could afford at the $200 level. There were several Paul Stahr paintings, and I recognized them as Argosy covers. Stahr was very prolific and did many covers for the magazine in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

I decided I could spend $400, after quickly calculating how much I owed my wife, mortgage, car payment, and a couple pulp collectors who sold me sets of pulps on the installment plan. The paintings I bought were used for the covers on Argosy for December 3, 1932 and December 24, 1932. So we packed them up for the long trip back home and casting a final look of regret at the big Baumhofer masterpiece, I left the store. I never returned, and I’m sure it is long out of business.

   I had the paintings nicely framed, and both were hanging together for around 20 years. I still have the December 3, 1932 painting but the December 24 artwork suffered a tragic end. Steve Kennedy, a NYC art dealer who just died a few weeks ago specialized in pulp art. He thought he could get me a good deal in a trade but I would have to give up the December 24, 1932 piece. So he took the painting and mailed it off on approval to another collector. Later on, he told me the sad news that the Fed Ex or UPS truck had caught on fire and the painting was destroyed.

   All collectors have the time travel dream. You know the one where you go back in time and buy a stack of Hammett or Chandler first editions. Or maybe you buy several issues of the first Tarzan All-Story or the first Superman comic. One trip I would make would be back to the Brooklyn store of 40 years ago. Only this time I’d say to hell with the bills and mortgage payment and by god, I’d buy that beautiful Baumhofer gangster painting!

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

ROMULUS AND THE SABINES. Finanziaria Cinematografica Italiana, Italy, 1961. Original title: Il ratto delle sabine. Roger Moore, Mylène Demongeot, Georgia Mool, Scilla Gabel, Marino Masé, Jean Marais, Rosanna Schiaffino. Director: Richard Pottier.

   I was curious. Roger Moore, in an early film role, portraying the founder of Rome in an Italian sword-and-sandal epic? Although I hardly expected a wondrous cinematic experience, I simply felt as if I had to see Romulus and the Sabines. After all, Moore was always my favorite Bond actor and this movie also starred French actress Mylène Demongeot as a Sabine vestal virgin princess.

   What’s not to like?

   Turns out, a lot. It’s not so much that Romulus and the Sabines doesn’t try its best to entertain audience, as it is that reaches for something beyond its grasp. Designed to be a lighthearted take on the mythological “Rape of the Sabine Women,” the film has some comedic moments and a playful historical take on the battle of the sexes, but falls victim to a flaccid, predictable script and unexceptional cinematography and direction.

   That said, Moore in his portrayal of Romulus has a singular, unforgettable screen presence. The facial expressions, from the furrowing of an eyebrow to the classic Moore smirk. It’s all there and it’s great. But it’s simply not enough to make Romulus and the Sabines anything other than an historical curiosity, in both senses of the word.

   Transforming one of the founding myths of Rome into a fanciful romantic comedy of manners is an ambitious undertaking. As much as I generally loathe remakes, I wouldn’t mind seeing an independent director taking a stab at rebooting this one. But would there even be an audience for it? That’s a tough call.

FILM ILLUSIONISTS – Part Three: Henri-Georges Clouzot
by Walter Albert

   Since I seem to be in a retrospective mood, I will recommend as the best thriller of my recent experience a French film you’re not likely to see at your neighborhood theater or on late-night TV. It’s Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Le Corbeau (The Raven), financed by a German producing company and released in occupied France in 1943. Movie-goers whose memories go back to the fifties may remember the great success of two of Clouzot’s films on the art-house circuit, The Wages of Fear (1953) and Diaboliques (1955), the latter with its unforgettable body-in-the-bathtub scene.

   Clouzot’s reputation had already been established in France with three films: The Murderer Lives at No. 21 (1942), based on a novel by Belgian writer André Steeman; Le Corbeau; and, one of my other favorites, Quai des Orfevres (1947), released in this country as Jenny Lamour and with a fine cast headed by Louis Jouvet, one of France’s legendary actor-directors.

   Le Corbeau was originally conceived by writer Louis Chavance in 1937 (effectively taking care of the later charge that the film was written to put the French in the worst possible light) and was based on an incident involving the writing of poison-pen letters in Marseilles. In Clouzot’s film, the anecdote which serves as the basic narrative thread is only a pretext to allow him to film a pessimistic study of provincial life in which everyone is hiding something and is a likely suspect for the writer who signs himself as “le Corbeau.”

   The initial letters expose a relationship between an idealistic doctor, Rémy Germain (played by Pierre Fresnay) and the wife of his respected elder colleague, psychiatrist Dr. Vorzet, but before the movie reaches its disturbing conclusion 850 letters have indicted what appears to be just about everybody of any importance in St. Robin.

   Clouzot has been compared to Hitchcock in his ability to play skillfully on the spectators’ nerves, but Clouzot has none of the wit of the British filmmaker, and the town seems to be tainted by a slow rot that even the exposure of the identity of the Raven will not remove. (Shadow of a Doubt is closest in tone to Le Corbeau, but the basic goodness of at least some of Hitchcock’s characters does not become suspect.)

   With his camera menacing every character’s movements, shadows mimic the black bird’s shape until, at the end, a veiled avenger, clothed in white, is costumed and photographed as a mocking parody of the bird of death.

   Two sequences deserve special note: a funeral cortege for the victim of the poison-pen letters, with superbly detailed close-ups of the townspeople silently watching the procession as the mourners step over and around a letter that has fallen from the hearse; and the flight of the chief suspect down empty streets invaded by the threatening shouts of an unseen mob, growing in intensity until glass shatters in her room where she has taken refuge and forces her to rush out into the arms of waiting authorities.

   And, in a scene which serves as a key to Clouzot’s intentions, the investigator-psychiatrist Vorzet uses a slowly swinging lamp to demonstrate to Dr. Germain our ambivalent demonic/angelic nature in a relentless alternating of light and shadow that is ironically descriptive of the director’s nightmare vision.

   Georges Méliès (in Part One), Tod Browning (in Part Two), and now Henri-Georges Clouzot: their methods may differ and they are not similar stylistically, but they are all accomplished directors,who use the camera to deceive and mystify audiences. Welles may be the first and, perhaps, the best of film magicians, but this marvelous theater of illusions that is film has many rooms, and who knows what delightful or terrifying furnishings we shall find behind the next door we open?

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 6, No. 6, November-December 1982.

LE CORBEAU. Continental Films/Films Sonores Tobis, France, 1943. Pierre Fresnay, Ginette Leclerc, Micheline Francey, Héléna Manson, Jeanne Fusier-Gir, Sylvie. Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot.

ARGOSY WEEKLY. 9 June 1934. The problem with collecting Argosy pulps, unless you want them only for some inborn collector’s urges and your life wouldn’t be the same without them, is that more than half of every issues is taken up with staggered installments of usually three different serials. You have to do a heap of collecting to put a string of consecutive issues together before you could read the complete story of all three.

   So why I did I read the first installment of “Pictured Rock,” by Frank Richardson Pierce, in this particular issue? Pure carelessness, that’s all. I wasn’t paying attention. It’s Part 1 of 5, and it never came out in book form, so there’s no chance I’ll ever get to finish it. I was closing in one page 22, where the next story started, before I began to think to myself, what’s going on? This story ends in two pages, and it’s barely begun.

   A fairly astute observation, that. But the story’s an interesting one, and I don’t regret reading the portion of it that I did. It’s about a young man raised by his uncle, a banker on the East Coast, who heads for the West when his father, thought to have been dead for 25 years, manages to send him a written request to come to see him before he dies. A story very much in the larger-than-life Max Brand western tradition.

   On page 22 begins a novelette by H. Bedford-Jones in his long-running series of adventures of one John Solomon, a London-based Cockney adventurer-agent of sorts who seems to have his fingers in all kinds of pies, including friends on the police force and perhaps even higher echelons. “John Solomon of Limehouse” is the first one of these tales that I’ve read, so anything anyone can say more about the character, please do.

   Solomon’s first recorded adventure dates back to 1914, plus or minus a year so, and the one in this issue of Argosy comes (I believe) toward the end of the run. It begins with a young chap named Carson newly arrived in London being taken for his great-uncle, a rather unlikable man of some wealth — ill-gotten, by all accounts — with many enemies. To get out of the scrape Carson finds himself in, he learns that he will need all of the assistance Solomon can give him.

   The story is well-told, with plenty of exotic and picturesque settings in the area of London along the docks, but it suffers from the fact that Solomon simply has too many resources for most bad guys to make a stand against him.

   The next novelette is by William Edward Hayes, who besides being the author of many stories for the pulps, also wrote three hardcover detective novels, one of which, Black Chronicle, was reviewed on this blog by Bill Deeck some three years ago.

   “The Dark Temple” is a story about the problems facing the men trying to build a railroad through the jungles of somewhere in Central of South America. There is a deadline, and an engineer named McAllister is called on by his good friend Captain Strickland to help. As soon as he arrives, though, McAllister knows he is in danger and worse, Cap has disappeared. Lots of action in this one, but what’s amusing is that every time McAllister finds himself in a situation with no way out, it is a girl who comes to his rescue.

   I’m not a big fan of French Foreign Legion stories, but a writer named Georges Surdez wrote a lot of them for Argosy and other pulp magazines, and well enough that they seem to be based on personal experience. The short story “Another Man’s Chevrons” is about a soldier who is not noted for his bravery, but when it counts, he does what he needs to do.

   Next comes another serial installment, this one called “The Terror,” by Eustace L. Adams, which is about an air pirate with dreams of dominating the world, if I read the blurb correctly. I’d like to read this one sometime if I could, but it was never published in book form. He did write a boys’ book called Pirates of the Air (Grosset and Dunlap, 1929), featuring, I am told, mid-Atlantic floating landing platforms. According to ISDb, these are not the same two stories.

   One short story comes before the next long serial installment, this one entitled “All Equal,” by Foster-Harris about a Wild West shoot-out taking place instead in an oil rig camp, one with a twist that makes it worth reading.

   To wind up this issue is Part 4 of 6 of a novel by F. V. W. Mason called “The Barbarian.” This is a historical novel taking place in ancient Carthage. Ordinarily I find such fiction dry as bones, but I think Mason, a prolific novelist and very well known in his day, was someone who could make stories in such settings readable in everyday language. I didn’t read any of this one, but you can check out his Wikipedia page here.

Reviewed by DAN STUMPF:         

  SHIRLEY JACKSON – We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Viking, hardcover, 1962. Popular Library M2041, paperback, 1963.

   I first read this as an unpopular and maladjusted fourteen-year-old hooked on old monster movies, and I remember well how intensely I related to the outcast narrator of this compelling short novel. Now fifty-some years later, older and beloved by all for my acts of goodness and heroism, I come back to it again and find it just as forceful and fascinating as ever.

   Castle reads like To Kill a Mockingbird would have if Scout had been Boo Radley’s little sister. The narrator sets the tone in the first lines: “My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood, I am eighteen years old and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf….”

   Mary Katherine (“Merricat”) Blackwood may be eighteen, but her narrative voice is more like that of an obsessive-compulsive 12-year-old, and it turns out the Blackwoods (the surviving ones anyway) live in a big old house just outside a small town where they have been despised and taunted by the locals ever since most of the family was killed in a mass poisoning years earlier.

   Merricat’s older sister Constance was tried and acquitted of the murder, but a heavy cloud of suspicion was never dispelled, and the two women endure their ostracism as best they can while they care for their weak and aging Uncle Julian, who is one of the most brilliantly-drawn characters you will ever encounter in fiction—when he speaks in the book, you can almost hear Ralph Richardson’s bluff irony, and laugh at his semi-unintentional gaffes.

   The twists in the plot are few and simple (this was before the days when a novel had to run at least 300 pages) and the solution to the “mystery” is just as obvious as it was back when I was fourteen. There is even a point where this book takes a very bleak and depressing view of humanity as a whole.

   But stick with it. The ending is poignant, heart-warming and blood-chilling, all at the same time, a remarkable feat in a book you should not miss.


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