Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


THE TEXAS RANGERS. Paramount Pictures, 1936. Fred MacMurray, Jack Oakie, Jean Parker, Lloyd Nolan, Edward Ellis, George “Gabby” Hayes. Based on The Texas Rangers (1935), by Walter Prescott Webb, a non-fiction history of the first hundred years of the famed law enforcement agency. Director: King Vidor.

   The Texas Rangers is a quite fun, if sometimes predictable, 1930s Western. Directed by King Vidor and starring Fred MacMurray, the movie benefits from an overall solid cast, some great scenery, a devious villain, and enough personal conflicts between the characters to keep you engaged with the story throughout the film’s running time of a little over ninety minutes.

   While The Texas Rangers is not the type of film you watch for the cinematography or to explore frontier psychology, it is worth viewing for its good direction, plot twists, and some rugged, well choreographed, frontier action. There’s an especially harrowing sequence involved Indians rolling boulders down a hill in order to maim and murder some Rangers that is really something to behold.

   The movie begins, like many a Western, with bandits holding up a stagecoach driven by a semi-comical character by the name of Wahoo Jones (Jack Oakie). Soon enough, it turns out that Wahoo is in cahoots with the bandits, his friends Jim Hawkins (MacMurray) and Sam McGee (Lloyd Nolan). After the robbery, the men decide to part ways. McGree heads off to seek his Mexican girlfriend. Wahoo and Jim decide to stick together, eventually joining the Texas Rangers.

   But the three men will be reunited soon enough. Out on patrol for cattle rustlers, Jim and Wahoo, now both Texas Rangers, find out that their old friend Sam is now living in their small part of the world. A plan is hatched, with the men deciding that they’ll work together on a criminal scheme, utilizing inside information that Jim can obtain now that he’s a lawman.

   And as might be expected from a movie such as this, Jim eventually has a change of heart about his criminal ways, setting the stage for a confrontation with Sam (Nolan). Unlike some other Westerns I’ve watched recently, in this one at least, the protagonist’s change in mindset is gradual, haphazard, and believable. Up to the very end at least, he really doesn’t want to harm his former partner in crime.

   Although MacMurray is quite good in this, it’s Nolan’s character that is more dynamic and interesting. There’s something universal about his being that’s just plain villainous. Sam McGee wouldn’t seem all that out of place in 1930s New York. He just seems a bit more gangster than outlaw. He’s truly ruthless, someone who isn’t above murdering an old friend for the sake of maintaining his criminal ways.

   In conclusion, The Texas Rangers isn’t a particularly deep or introspective film, as much as a well paced, gripping action movie set on the Texas frontier. Its depiction of Native Americans isn’t especially enlightened, but that’s to be expected. And with the exception of Sam McGee, the movie’s main characters can at times come across as somewhat one-dimensional. But that doesn’t stop the film from being an above average Western, one that tells a story about men in a certain time and place, and which tells it very well.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


RICHARD STARK – The Jugger. Pocket 50149, paperback original, 1965. Reprinted several times, mostly in softcover.

   A few years ago I re-read one of Richard (Donald E. Westlake) Stark’s old “Parker” novels in the standard “caper” vein, Green Eagle Score, so I recently thought I’d try something a bit different, and selected The Jugger, wondering, as I did, whether Stark’s writing would seem as fine now as it did to the High-School kid I was over forty years ago. My doubts were answered in the first two paragraphs:

   When the knock came at the door, Parker was just turning to the obituary page. He put the paper down and looked around the room and everything was clean and ordinary. He walked over and opened the door.

   The little guy standing there was dressed like he was kidding around.

   Right there. Right in your face, but gently, hints of death, something to conceal, and a trace of tough humor. Makes me wish I could write like that.

   The Jugger departs from the usual format of the series to center on Parker’s response when an old associate writes to ask him for help. It develops that the old-timer (the “jugger” of the title, i. e., someone who has done time in “the jug”) has been hounded to death by a venal cop looking for loot stashed away from previous capers. When Parker shows up just days after the jugger’s death, the cop is convinced he must have an inside track on Where’s The Money.

   I remembered this had a fairly perfunctory murder-mystery angle, but I forgot how abruptly Parker wraps it up. I also recalled a pleasantly tricky bit of business toward the end, as Parker makes sure the cop won’t double-cross him, and one other thing: When Parker responds to the jugger’s plea, he is not necessarily going to help him — he’s going to see if the old-timer has gone soft enough to sell out his friends and hence need to be killed.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


THE GIANT CLAW. Columbia Pictures, 1957. Jeff Morrow, Mara Corday, Morris Ankrum, Louis Merrill, Edgar Barrier, Robert Shayne. Director: Fred F. Sears.

   It’s not everyday that a hideously looking giant bird from outer space soars through American airspace. Even less frequent, I would guess, would that bird have some form of protective anti-matter barrier allowing it to escape detection by radar.

   But that’s the exactly the case in the Sam Katzman-produced, The Giant Claw, a schlocky creature feature that manages to be silly, enjoyable, predictable, and just a little bit subversive.

   Directed by Fred F. Sears, the story follows Mitch MacAfee (Jeff Morrow) and his mathematician girl friend, Sally Caldwell (Mara Corday), as they alternatively butt heads and team up with the U.S. military in an effort to destroy an extraterrestrial flying bird creature that threatens humanity. It’s obviously not a serious movie, but the two lead actors, to their credit, take their parts seriously enough to make it work.

   As far as the creature, it’s indeed a strange looking thing, with bulging eyes and yes, a giant claw. Plus, it’s got an unusual hairstyle that looks more East Village in the 1980s than monster movie in the 1950s.

The bird’s tenacious, though. It’s immune to both conventional and atomic weapons and has little to no patience for rebellious teenagers. And it may have even seen King Kong, given its decision to perch on top of the Empire State Building at one point during the film.

   If you think about it a bit, you come to realize that the film takes a slightly subversive approach to the military brass, which comes across as all too eager to initially disbelieve reports of the bird creature’s existence, then make its very existence classified once they realize that the reports were indeed true. In addition, they come across more than eager to utilize weapons to destroy it. It’s a theme that certainly not unique to The Giant Claw, but one which is fairly well developed for a late 1950s film.

   I wouldn’t dare call The Giant Claw a great movie. In fact, it’s not really even a good movie in the traditional sense. But it’s got something really good going for it — it’s undeniably great escapism, made to entertain rather than to enlighten.

THE ARMCHAIR REVIEWER
Allen J. Hubin


EDWARD MATHIS – The Burned Woman. Scribner’s, hardcover, 1989. Berkley, paperback, 1990.

   The late Edward Mathis [1927-1988] reportedly left a pile of manuscripts, and, if The Burned Woman is any indication, we have some fine treats in store. Here we travel further down the Dan Roman trail. He’s [a private eye] married to Susie, sixteen years his junior and very successful in TV reporting.

   Those years of age difference, the demands of her job, the crude advances of one of Susie’s celebrity interviewees — these all eat at Dan, and he drives her away. Whereupon, after a meeting with the celebrity, she disappears. Dan is plunged into alcoholic despair, alienating his best friend, “proving” his love for Susie by dallying with a prostitute, flailing randomly about as the weeks pass.

   Could the celebrity be holding Susie somewhere, could Susie’s disappearance be connected with a road accident near the celebrity’s home on the night she disappeared?

   Roman here emerges as a deeply flawed person, but the tale is masterfully plotted and utterly compelling.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.

       The Dan Roman series –

From a High Place (1985)

Dark Streaks and Empty Places (1986)
Natural Prey (1987)
Another Path, Another Dragon (1988)
The Burned Woman (1989)
Out of the Shadows (1990)

September Song (1991)
The Fifth Level (1992)

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         


THE FUGITIVE. RKO Radio Pictures, 1947. Henry Fonda, Dolores Del Rio, Ward Bond, Pedro Armendariz, J. Carroll Naish, John Qualen, Fortuno Bonanova, Rodolfo Acosta. Screenplay by Dudley Nichols, based on the novel The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene. Directors: John Ford and Emilio Fernandez, the latter uncredited.

   Asked by a journalist to name the top three American film directors of all time, Orson Welles replied honestly: “John Ford, John Ford, and John Ford.”

   Certainly Welles was being clever, but he was also being honest. When it comes to film directors, there is John Ford and then there is everyone else.

   I will be clear. I would reply to this day exactly as Welles did, though I would add the finest film director who has lived to this date.

   So take this project, The Fugitive, the film version of Graham Greene’s stunning novel of faith, guilt, and redemption, The Power and the Glory, only surpassed in his own work by The Burnt Out Case, his finest achievement as a serious novelist. Add to that a screenplay by the brilliant Dudley Nichols, and topped with a cast of Ford’s favorite everyman Henry Fonda, and what you have is …

   A misfire.

   A misfire, because you could not find two men more diametrically opposed in outlook, philosophy, and their shared Catholic faith than John Ford and Graham Greene. Ford’s film adaptation is faithful and direct, often straight from the novel. But where Greene wrote his novel as a deeply conflicted Catholic uneasy with his faith and all too aware of the futility of his heroes victory, John Ford made a movie about the Christ-like sacrifice of a flawed priest and the ultimate triumph of the church through the ascension and symbolic resurrection of his hero.

   It’s the exact same story, save Greene’s novel is one of the closest he came to writing a tragedy, Ford’s is a sentimental and triumphant parable about the redemption of the faithful in Mexico through the sacrifice of a flawed man rising to ascension in the footsteps of Jesus.

   The story is simple. In the 1930‘s parts of Mexico were under the control of a secular anti-Catholic, anti-faith, near police state where there was a bounty on the head of any priest ministering to the people. The Catholic Church responded by sending priests in lay disguise into the country to attend to the religious needs of the faithful from last rites to confession. The hero of Greene’s novel is one of these, a Mexican priest returned to serve his flock.

   Here Ford and Greene hove close to each other. The young priest (Henry Fonda) is what was known then as a ‘whiskey’ priest, one who had failed in his duties, fallen into sin, and in this case even had an affair with a Mexican woman, Dolores del Rio. On the ship entering Mexico with the priest is an American bank robber (Ward Bond) who will play the good thief to the priest’s Jesus, also true to the novel.

   Meanwhile a lieutenant in the Federales, Pedro Armendariz, knows a priest has entered his territory and is determined to find and execute him.

   Greene’s hero, is frightened, uncertain of his mission, tempted by drink and sex, and struggles with his faith in lieu of the pressure on him from all sides to turn back and abandon this suicide mission. Ford’s priest is seeking redemption, is near Christlike in his determination to repent for his sins, and finds peace in his mission and ultimate fate.

   Greene’s novel is never sentimental and only symbolic in its questioning: an allegory of fragile men battling intolerance and evil, but flawed and weak and ultimately all too human. Though Greene’s hero meets the exact same fate in front of a firing squad after being betrayed by metizo J. Carroll Naish, a whining slimy treacherous Judas figure, his death in the novel redeems no one, not even himself.

   Ford’s film, though is full of beautiful Christian imagery borrowed from the great works of religious art from Michelangelo and Leonardo to Rembrandt. Shot in stark black and white on location in Mexico, it is a stunning looking film as you might expect from Ford. Ford’s priest dies as triumphal as the risen Christ with the Lieutenant’s Pontius Pilate unable to wash the innocents blood from his hands. In the novel the Lieutenant at best feels a certain guilt at having killed the priest, and questions his work.

   Nothing demonstrates the difference between film and book as the ending does, though it is almost word for word the same in both. After the whiskey priest dies, a Catholic family silently mourns him and waits for a relative to die without the last rites. There is a knock at the door and a child goes to open it. A man stands in the doorway and begins to announce he is a priest, but before he can speak the child silences him with a finger to his lip, and he enters the darkened home.

   In Greene’s version we are meant to recognize the futility of the priest’s sacrifice. However noble it was, the Church would always send another man because the Church transcended individual sacrifice. In a sense Greene’s hero has saved no one’s soul but his own and maybe the thief’s. He accomplished little, died for his efforts, but was only a cog in the machinery of faith. His sacrifice was an illusion that has meant nothing to anyone but himself and will be forgotten by everyone but a handful of people, lost even as his body lies in unconsecrated ground no last rites read over it to ease his soul heavenward.

   The book is not tragic because he does overcome his flaws, but just how necessary that sacrifice was is questioned. It is the work of a deeply faithful and conflicted Catholic, himself held captive by guilt and self recognition. The novel is a deep and troubling question about the necessity of sacrifice and the blindness of faith.

   That same scene in the Ford film is triumph, the rising of Christ Himself, reborn in this new anonymous priest. The Church has defeated the forces repressing it. The priest has defeated his enemy’s in death and his own inner demons, their power is broken, the faithful have triumphed, the music rises, the priest silhouetted in the door way is Christ, the child mankind saved by his Grace.

   Ford’s film is sentimental, worshipful, a paean to the power and glory of the Church, and yet the title of the novel, The Power and the Glory, is ironic and the Church would have triumphed and continued with or without the priest’s sacrifice. The film is heavy handed, it’s message delivered with a sledge hammer of symbolic images and barely concealed metaphors. A revival would be less obvious.

   The novel leaves questions unanswered, the ending is ironic and a bit bitter, the priest’s sacrifice of little matter however Christ-like its nature. Greene is uncertain if it is necessary or pointless for a good man to die. Good Catholic that he was, Greene is clearly wishing he could change the outcome and let the priest find happiness with the woman. The author’s conflict, not the parable. make this a great book.

   The Fugitive is not a bad film. Like most Ford films, it is gorgeous to look at, literate, and the acting by Fonda, del Rio, Bond, Armedariz, and Naish well above average. It would likely be a more respected film if it had just had the courage to question faith and sacrifice as Greene’s novel did. Instead it is as sentimental about the faith as Going My Way or Boys Town.

   The power of the novel is lost in Christian symbolism, the glory of its telling sacrificed to just another heavy handed Hollywood religious parable about as subtle, but not half as much fun, as de Mille.

   Greene famously disliked the film, with some justification, both as the author and as a noted film critic, but then he was never very happy with any of the American films of his work, and expecting him to appreciate one by the sentimental Irish American patriot John Ford was probably too much to ask.

   The Power and the Glory did get a more faithful adaptation in a film made for British television and released theatrically, starring Lawrence Oliver as the whiskey priest and Claire Bloom the woman he loves. This version dares to ask the questions and pose the conundrums Ford’s film shies from. It may be the only time in history the made for television version was better than the theatrically released feature. It is certainly one of the few times anyone made a better film than John Ford using the same source.

CONVENTION REPORT: PulpFest 2014
by Walker Martin

   I’m just back from PulpFest in Columbus, Ohio. Out of the six annual conventions which began in 2009, this one was the best. They seem to be improving each year and I’m compelled to file my convention report right away even though I’m exhausted from lack of sleep and the 10 hour ride.

   Once again, four of us rented a van because we needed a bigger vehicle to carry all our books, pulps, and artwork. Coming back, we were worried about fitting everything in and a couple big boxes had to be mailed back by UPS. One of these days we might have to take a vote and leave one of our group of biblio maniacs behind due to lack of space!

   Why do I consider this one to be the best of the six PulpFests? I never thought I would be praising the evening programming instead of just talking about the dealer’s room but this year set a standard for programming that will be hard to break in the future. During the three evenings we had over a dozen panels, tributes, and discussions:

   Laurie Powers lecture at Ohio State about her grandfather Paul Powers

   Frank Robinson Tribute

   Nathan Madison and Ed Hulse discussing FAMOUS FANTASTIC MYSTERIES, one of the great pulps.

   The Avenger’s Diamond Jubilee

   FarmerCon panel on Philip Jose Farmer

      And that was just Thursday night. Friday we enjoyed:

   1939: Science Fiction’s Boom Year

   STARTLING STORIES: An overview(Another great pulp)

   Philip Jose Farmer’s Early Science Fiction

   Pulp Premiums and Promotions by Chris Kalb

   Eighty Years of Terror: The Weird Menace Pulps

   1939: The Golden Year of ASTOUNDING STORIES

      And then Saturday evening we had the auction plus:

   UNKNOWN: The Best in Fantasy Fiction

   John Newton Howitt: a discussion about the artist by David Saunders

      Each night ended with a four chapter Buck Rogers serial.

   I’ve spent some time listing the above in detail because the former Pulpcon conventions of 1972-2008 never really had such a great number of interesting and valuable programming. I attended almost all the conventions and each Pulpcon had evening events like the Guest of Honor speech, the banquet, an auction, a radio play, and at the most, a couple of panels.

   But this year’s PulpFest had over a dozen programs on the schedule, including much needed discussions of such interesting and influential magazines as FAMOUS FANTASTIC MYSTERIES, STARTLING STORIES, TERROR TALES, ASTOUNDING, and UNKNOWN.

   We need even more such panels and tributes because they are the real reason that we continue to meet at these conventions. We read these great pulps because they are filled with excellent fiction; we collect them because they are beautiful artifacts and we are obsessed by them; we talk and discuss and argue about them because they are important subjects in magazine history and popular culture.

   I’ve spent my adult life reading, collecting, and discussing these magazines. When I think back over my life, I don’t think of myself as someone who worked as a supervisor and manager in business. No, I was, and I still am, a book, magazine and art collector who arises each day thinking of such subjects as listed above. We should all be proud to be called readers and collectors, especially in this busy modern world where we are constantly bombarded with electronic distractions.

   Another great thing about this convention involved the awarding of the Munsey Award to Randy Cox, who has written several books about the pulps and dime novels plus being the editor of THE DIME NOVEL ROUND UP for around 20 years. He has long deserved this award and recognition.

   Another pulp enthusiast and worker won the Rusty Hevelin award for service. Congratulations Barry Traylor, a long time committee member of both Pulpcon and PulpFest.

   It’s always enjoyable seeing and speaking to such interesting collectors. I also was glad to speak with Mike Nevins, who showed me a proof copy of an upcoming book, and Gordon Huber, who is the only collector to attend every Pulpcon and PulpFest since the beginning in 1972. I was also glad to see Tom Krabacher who was wearing a great UNKNOWN T-shirt one day and an ADVENTURE related shirt the next. I asked if he could make me copies of these shirts and he agreed to try. I’ll be glad to add them to my collection of shirts I wear celebrating various pulp magazines.

   In addition to this being the best PulpFest, issue number 23 of THE PULPSTER was the best of the Pulpcon and PulpFest convention magazines. The front cover shows a great Edd Cartier cover from UNKNOWN. Mike Chomko has a long article on the SF pulps, Don Hutchison discusses the weird menace magazines, Garyn Roberts talks about Ray Bradbury’s fanzine and other articles cover Argentine SF, horror pulps, Hannes Bok, Fritz Leiber, and Frank Robinson. Editor William Lampkin deserves our thanks for this excellent issue.

   The auction was the best PulpFest auction also. For the first time all items had to have minimum bid of $20 and this kept out most of the trivial and less interesting items. A nice variety of magazines were auctioned but the most interesting items were several lots from the estate of an author by the name of Everil Worrell, who appeared in several issues of WEIRD TALES during the twenties, thirties, forties, and fifties. In addition to manuscripts there were several letters from editor Dorothy McIlwraith discussing such interesting subjects as WEIRD TALES art, problems with payments, and the changeover to the smaller digest format.

   As usual I had a table in the dealer’s room and I sold several cancelled checks paying for stories in ADVENTURE MAGAZINE. I also sold DVDs, pulp related books, and magazines. But my main interest was in buying pulps and I found one of my major wants, the July 7, 1917 issue of ALL STORY. Not that it has much of interest but I’m close to completing my set of ALL STORY and now only need 3 issues of the over 400 published during 1905-1920. Frankly, when I started collecting the magazine decades ago, I never thought I’d come so close to completion simply because so many issues contain Edgar Rice Burroughs. A great magazine full of so many early science fiction classics.

   Since the 1960′s, I’ve had all the ASTOUNDING back issues but I noticed a run of the years when John Campbell worked for the magazine in 1937-1943. 72 issues, most in fine condition, which is better than my set. Naturally I had to buy it and I now have two sets of the individual issues plus a bound set. You can never have too many sets of your favorite magazines! You know it’s true love when you buy duplicate sets, which I’ve done with such titles as ASTOUNDING, PLANET STORIES, UNKNOWN, and FAMOUS FANTASTIC MYSTERIES. My wife says it’s hoarding but we all know it’s collecting.

   There were over 100 tables in a large room and attendance was between 450 and 500. This also makes it not only the best Pulpcon/PulpFest, but also the largest. The committee has already booked the Hyatt for 2015 and 2016, so we are set for the next two years. Speaking of the committee, I must thank them by name. Jack Cullers and his army of family volunteers, Mike Chomko, Barry Traylor, Ed Hulse, and Chuck Welch. Thank you fellow readers and collectors, for all your work done on this convention. I hope we all can continue to attend many more PulpFests!

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


THE LAW AND JAKE WADE. MGM, 1958. Robert Taylor, Richard Widmark, Patricia Owens, Robert Middleton, Henry Silva, De Forest Kelley. Based on a novel by Marvin H. Albert (Gold Medal, 1956). Director: John Sturges.

   The Law and Jake Wade has many of the requisite elements of an above average 1950s Western. Directed by John Sturges, whose Last Train From Gun Hill I reviewed here, the film boasts an impressive cast and an even more impressive natural scenery of the Alabama Hills and the High Sierras. There are some incredibly well shot action sequences to boot.

   Overall, the film has a quite stark and gritty feel to it. This dovetails nicely with the film’s plot about a man seeking a domestic, morally upright life far removed from both his wartime experiences and his criminal past.

   Yet, despite all this, the film nevertheless ends up feeling as something of a letdown. It’s not so much that the plot doesn’t work, as it is that outlaw-turned-lawman Jake Wade, as portrayed by a taciturn Robert Taylor, just isn’t all that a compelling Western protagonist.

   Instead, the film’s evilly grinning villain, played by Robert Widmark, ends up being the movie’s center of gravity. Without him as an antagonist, the viewer might find it very difficult to care about Jake Wade.

   The film begins with Jake Wade (Taylor) breaking Clint Hollister (Widmark) out of jail. He does it out of a perhaps misplaced sense of loyalty to the man, because as it turns out, the two men used to be partners in crime. That is, until Wade accidentally shot and killed a young boy in a bank holdup (or so he believes). Wade’s left the criminal life behind him and has set up shop in a new town with a lovely girl and a job enforcing the law as opposed to breaking it.

   But Hollister and his men aren’t about to let Wade walk out of their lives so readily. There’s the pesky matter of stolen cash that Wade, now a Marshal, allegedly buried, and Hollister wants his share of the loot.

   So he kidnaps Wade and his fiancée, Peggy Carter (Patricia Owens), with the goal of forcing them to take him to where the money is buried. Assisting him in his endeavor is his gang, including the lanky sociopath Rennie (Henry Silva) and the violent but loyal Wexler (Star Trek’s DeForest Kelley in a great role). It’s Widmark’s character that makes the movie increasingly suspenseful.

   The rest of the movie follows this ragtag expedition as they traverse mountain paths, hole up in a ghost town, and do battle with Comanches.

   And, naturally, there’s a final shootout between Jake Wade and Clint Hollister. Wade ends up killing his former partner, allowing him to at least have an opportunity to put his dark past behind him once and for all.

   It’s only too bad that the character of Jake Wade was never developed beyond what is essentially a stereotypical Western anti-hero, a former Confederate soldier and outlaw who wants a fresh start.

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