November 2015

by Michael Shonk

   It is that time of year when children of all ages experience what collectors feel all year round. The thrill of the possibilities, the excitement of the search and finding your prey, the joy of possession – and we don’t have to wait for Santa.

   Every collector has his Holy Grails, his or her list of those that have escaped their grasp for too long and may not even still exist. I decided this season to ask Santa for some help, and I decided to share it here.

   The first is always of interest to the collector. So I have long sought the series most accept as TV network’s first weekly mystery series with a regular cast – BARNEY BLAKE, POLICE REPORTER. The series aired live on NBC from April 22, 1948 to July 8, 1948 and starred Gene O’Donnell as Barney.

   One of my favorite characters in fiction is Craig Rice’s John J. Malone of books, films, radio, and TV. I have reviewed the radio series here (and discussed the TV series in the comments)

   The TV version of Malone aired on ABC between September 24, 1951 and March 10, 1952 and starred Lee Tracy as Malone. The series aired live and alternated with MR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY on Monday at 8-8:30pm. While MR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY has been released on DVD, I have yet to find one episode or even clip of AMAZING MR. MALONE.

   It was common in the fifties for radio series to become a TV series and that was the fate of George Harmon Coxe’s Jack Casey. The TV series CRIME PHOTOGRAPHER aired on CBS from April 19, 1951 to June 5, 1952. In Season One Casey was played by Richard Carlyle who was replaced in Season Two by Darren McGavin. Today few remember the once popular Casey who got his start in pulps and in addition to radio and TV made it in novels and films.

   THE MASK aired on ABC from January 10, 1954 to May 16, 1954. It featured two brothers, Walter and Peter Guilfoyle (played by Gary Merrill and William Prince) as lawyers who fought crime. It was also TV’s first hour-long mystery series with a continuing cast of characters.

   21 BEACON STREET aired on NBC from July 2 to September 10 1959. PI Dennis Chase (Dennis Morgan) worked with a group of specialists to solve crime. Reportedly the series producers sued MISSION IMPOSSIBLE for stealing its idea (or one of its characters). It also may be the first TV series with a female license PI (Joanna Barnes as Lola).

   ADVENTURE SHOWCASE aired on CBS on Tuesday during the summer of 1959. The series featured four failed pilots, one airing each week. IMDb gives details of three of the four titles – BROCK CALLAHAN (episode title “Silent Kill” and starred Ken Clark, written by Stirling Silliphant and directed by Don Siegel), JOHNNY NIGHTHAWK, a lover of adventure and professional pilot with his own plane (starred Scott Brady, written by Tony Barrett and directed by Oscar Rudolph), WAR CORRESPONDENT (starring Gene Barry as Sgt Pike, written by Otis Carney and directed by Christian Nyby).

   All sound interesting, but I am a fan of writer Sam Rolfe, and he apparently wrote the second week’s failed pilot of which almost nothing is known – not plot, characters, cast, nor title — and that is what I am searching for. Santa knows all — including collectors never pick the easy ones.

   Speaking of challenges, number one on my wish list (and bucket list … I did say I was a collector) is THE LONG HUNT OF APRIL SAVAGE. The TV Movie pilot was written by Sam Rolfe, and may have had the episode title of “Home is an Empty Grave.” Everything about this show is intriguing. The pilot sold and the series was on the proposed ABC’s 1966-67 schedule. The premise was ahead of its time. Robert Lansing starred in the Western as April Savage. Savage’s family had been killed by eight men and during the series he would search for each to kill them.

   Similar to today’s arc stories Savage would find the killers one at a time over the period of the series, or so it was planned. But there were behind the scenes problems, and reportedly Rolfe quit and the show fell apart, so ABC quickly turned to another pilot also with Lansing called THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS. (A review of a made-for-TV movie cobbled together from edited episodes of THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS can be found here.)

   Sometimes you wonder how a TV series with such great talent involved could disappear, an example of this is ABC’s STONE. The series aired January 14, 1980 to March 17, 1980. It was created by Stephen Cannell (ROCKFORD FILES), Richard Levinson and William Link (COLUMBO) and produced by Cannell for Universal Television. It starred Dennis Weaver (McCLOUD) a cop who writes a best seller that affects his work on the police force.

   DETECTIVE IN THE HOUSE aired on CBS between March 15 and April 19, 1985, and starred Judd Hirsch as a successful engineer who quits to become a PI and is tutored by a retired PI played by Jack Elam. This hour-long drama may have had Howard Duff in an episode or two. I wanna see Elam as a PI in a “drama.”

   LEAVING L.A. aired on ABC from April 12, 1997 to June 14, 1997. The series was about an odd group of people working at the Los Angeles morgue. The cast included Christopher Meloni, Ron Rifkin, Allison Bertolino and Hilary Swank (pre-Oscar). Someday this one will pop up somewhere and since Santa is always watching, maybe he will tell me if I’ve been good.

   Sometimes just a clip from a forgotten/lost series can add it to the wish list. Here are a few series that made Santa’s list with only a clip or theme song.

   MONTY NASH was a syndicated TV series based on a series of books by Richard Telfair. Harry Guardino played government investigator Monty Nash in this half hour series that aired in 1971.

   KINGSTON: CONFIDENTIAL starred Raymond Burr as a rich communication mogul who liked to fight crime. This NBC series aired first as a successful TV Movie called KINGSTON in 1976. The series lasted 13 episodes from March 23, 1977 to August 10, 1977.

   VERONICA CLARE was on Lifetime network from July 23 1991 to September 17, 1991. Veronica was an owner of a jazz club in L.A.’s Chinatown and doubled as a PI with a 40’s style. While the clip’s audio is near unlistenable, the video shows the series neo-noir style.

   BLACK TIE AFFAIR was originally called SMOLDERING LUST until NBC changed it over creator/producer Jay Tarses objections. Tarses is known for his comedy work (THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, BUFFALO BILL). In this series Tarses created his version of the PI mystery. The series aired from May 29 to June 19, 1993, and starred Bradley Whitford and Kate Capshaw. Once the series changed its name to BLACK TIE AFFAIR the theme would lose its lyrics but here is the original theme with its lyrics.

   Now comes the horrible moment I remember as a kid. I am only half way into the Sears Christmas catalog, and I realize my list is too long. I could make Santa mad by asking for too much — aka all I really really need. But I am an adult now, and I no longer have to depend on the kindness of others. I can continue to shop until it is time to give Santa yet one more try next year. Ho ho ho everyone.

WEIRD TALES, September 1935. The cover of this issue includes one of artist Margaret Brundage’s beautiful nudes for which she was well-known, and still is, for that matter. It illustrates the first story, “The Blue Woman,” by John Scott Douglas, which puzzled me right then and there, since the woman on the cover is not blue, but a beautiful and entirely natural shade of pink.

   I’m sure it helped sell a lot of copies of this issue, though. The story itself is not very good, though, and one wonders why Farnsworth Wright, the editor of Weird Tales at the time, chose it to be the lead story. There is a pseudo-scientific reason why the woman is blue, and the observant reader will put two and two together within the first page or so of the story, as soon as it learned that the wife of wood-carver Ludwig Meusel was released from her job at a watch factory with a large payment of cash and a diagnosis of a fatal illness.

   A lanky red-headed private eye named Ken Keith is brought into the case of murder that develops, which he solves with not too much effort. I do not know whether Keith appeared in the two earlier stories by Douglas that appeared in Weird Tales, but if not, perhaps he showed up in one of other roughly 350 stories Douglas also wrote for the aviation, adventure, detective and sports pulp magazines over the course of his writing career. Well, probably not the sports pulps.

   The second story in this issue, “The Carnival of Death,” by Arlton Eadie, doesn’t so indicate it, until the end, when surprise! I discovered that it’s the first of four parts. I really hate it when that happens. It’s about mummies, ancient Egypt and a present day curse, and I’d love to able to finish it, but alas, my collection of Weird Tales isn’t extensive enough to do so.

   The novel was published in its entirety by a British publisher but is impossibly difficult to find. Ramble House has published a restored edition of The Trail of the Cloven Hoof, another of Eadie’s novels serialized in Weird Tales the year before (1934), but so far, although promised, they don’t don’t seem to have found a copy of this one to use.

    “The Man Who Chained the Lightning,” by Paul Ernst, is the second of eight adventures of Doctor Satan to appear in Weird Tales, and the story is more one of horror and the grotesque than weird, per se. Doctor Satan was one of the earliest and perhaps the longest-running of the pulp super-villains. His genius could have been put good use for the world, but instead he dressed in a red rubber suit and a cap with horns and used his fabulous inventions for the commonest of crimes.

   In this story he uses electricity both to kill and to re-animate corpses to steal funds from the bank accounts of the city’s wealthiest men. Opposing him in this case is equally brilliant Ascott Keane and his more-than-secretary Beatrice Dale. Dr. Satan is foiled this time, but the image of his naked captives cooped up in cages too small for them will stay with me for a long time.

   Before moving on, it should be noted that all eight of Dr. Satan stories have been collected any published in a single volume by Altus Press (2013).

   I have always associated the name of Clark Ashton Smith with fantasy fiction, infused with the essence of poetry and the ebullience and brilliance of descriptive writing. The story “Vulthoom” is science fiction, however, but with no diminishment in the use of words to produce an almost overpowering sense of wonder.

   Two men who find themselves in impoverished circumstances on Mars are invited to work for an immortal being, Vulthoom, having arrived from another planet millions of years ago and now living miles beneath the surface of the red planet, to help pave the way for him to conquer Earth. They resist, but trying to escape and after making their way through miles of underground tunnels and caves, they….

   If the opportunity ever comes your way, read this one. As well as later in other collections, it first appeared in Genius Loci and Other Tales (Arkham House, 1948).

   Next is the conclusion of “Satan in Exile,” by Arthur William Bernal, a novel serialized in four parts. I did not read it, but the synopsis suggests that it is a science fiction story about Prince Satan, a pirate or bandit of the interplanetary spaceways, with a nod toward Robin Hood. It has never been reprinted in complete form, nor can I suggest whether or not someone should.

    “The Shambler from the Stars,” which follows, is a short story by Robert Bloch, and a rather famous one which is dedicated to a certain H. P. Lovecraft. Translating a ancient book from the Latin, while visiting an eccentric expert in the occult living in Providence, Rhode Island, the narrator manages to summon a strange vampire-like being from space. Here’s an excerpt:

    “It was red and dripping; an immensity of pulsing, moving jelly; a scarlet blob with myriad tentacular trunks that waved and waved. There were suckers on the tips of the appendages, and these were opening and closing with a ghoulish lust…. The thing was bloated and obscene; a headless, faceless, eyeless bulk with the ravenous maw and titanic talons of a star-born monster. The human blood on which it had fed revealed the hitherto invisible outlines of the feaster.”

   Two short short stories follow next. The first, “One Chance,” by Ethel Helene Coen, takes place in a plague-invested 18th century New Orleans and has a very effective O.Henry type twist. The second, “The Toad Goad,” by Kirk Mashburn, is a rather ordinary tale about an Aztec artifact collector in Mexico who removes a sacred object he shouldn’t.

    “The Monster God of Mamurth,” by Edmond Hamilton, is a reprint from the August 1926 issue of Weird Tales (shown to the right). In this an archaeologist seeking ruins of ancient Carthage comes across city in ruins inside an invisible wall and guarded (for so he discovers once inside) by a giant invisible spider-like creature. Variations on a theme, but an effectively creepy one when in the right hands, as it is here. (Remarkably, as I have later discovered, it is the first of Hamilton’s many works of science fiction or fantasy to be published.)

    “Return of Orrin Mannering,” by Kenneth Wood, and the last story in this issue, is a ghost story less than two pages long about how a desperate killer fugitive is brought back to justice. A filler, but smooth enough going down.

   By this time, after all of capsule summaries and associated commentary, you will have realized that for the relatively steep price of 25 cents in 1935, readers really got a lot for their money. Not all the stories were gems, but how much ordinary, mundane non-genre short fiction from the the same year is still as readable today?

AGATHA CHRISTIE – Sad Cypress. Dell #529, paperback, mapback edition, 1951. First published in the UK by Collins, hardcover, 1940; 1st published in the US by Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1940. Reprinted many times since.

   Agatha Christie tries her hand at romance in this one, more than usual, I believe, and while it’s still a detective story that sucks the reader right in, I don’t think that it’s one of her better ones.

   Accused of killing the young girl who stole her fiancé away from her, unknowingly so, Elinor Carlisle in the story’s prologue is on trial for her murder. The girl was poisoned, and even Hercule Poirot concedes that on the face of the evidence, there is no one else who could have done it.

   Act One of the story is a flashback to a time well before the murder. Other than a cameo appearance in the prologue, Poirot does not show up until the book is half over. Although the local doctor who engages his services only wishes to prove Elinor innocent, Poirot demurs, saying he must only go where the facts take him.

   The second half of the book is then split into two parts. First, the eccentric Belgian detective questions everyone who has any connection with case. Then follows Elinor Carlisle’s trial, and then and only then, when the defense has its turn, are the Poirot’s deductions that revealed.

    Wills (or in one case, the lack thereof) are important in this tale, and of course there is the matter of the poison that is used, one of Christie’s favorite devices for removing certain people from her stories. It is easy to spot some of the red herrings for what they are, while the matter of parentage comes also into play, and at the end Poirot explains how he knew that everyone involved in the case told at least one lie to him.

   While the explanation at the end almost holds up, I think the solution has more than one loose end to it. How could the killer get away with it, you ask (or least I did), and why didn’t Poirot trust the police to catch that killer before he/she makes his/her escape, instead leaving the the defense to provide the evidence in court. The trial is a charade, in other words, designed by the author only for its dramatic effect, which as in all of Agatha Christie’s novels, is considerable.

   Christie is as readable as always in Sad Cypress (the title coming from a passage in Shakespeare), but the story is just a little too complicated this time, and for me, not satisfactorily so.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

THE BROTHERS RICO. Columbia Pictures, 1957. Richard Conte, Dianne Foster, Kathryn Grant, Larry Gates, James Darren, Argentina Brunetti. Screenplay: Lewis Meltzer , based on the novel Les frères Rico by Georges Simenon (Paris, 1952). Director: Phil Karlson.

   Adapted from a Georges Simenon story, The Brothers Rico is an effective, albeit decidedly uneven, crime film that packs some great punches, but occasionally gets bogs down in family melodrama. The film features an exceptionally well cast Richard Conte as Eddie Rico, a former mob accountant now living an idyllic suburban life and running an allegedly clean business.

   But just how clean is Eddie’s laundry business? It’s ambiguous, to say the least, but he at least has the persona of a respectable businessman and has assured his wife that his connected days are long since past.

   Then out of the blue, a letter and a phone call change all that, casting doubt on Rico and his wife’s plans to adopt a child. Apparently, Eddie’s two other brothers, Gino and Johnny, were involved in a hit, and now Johnny is nowhere to be found. According to Sid Kubik (Larry Gates), Eddie’s serpentine former boss based in sunny Miami, Johnny may be on his way to turning state’s evidence against the organization.

   Kubik sends Eddie to New York to track down Johnny to get him out of the country and to make sure that Johnny’s brother-in-law doesn’t force the young Rico brother to turn his back on the family, so to speak.

   Overall, The Brothers Rico is worth a look. Conte is forceful and convincing in the lead and the atmosphere is one of entrapment and moral turpitude. Eddie’s a man with feet in three different worlds: the warm, communal Little Italy neighborhood where his mother and grandmother still live; the suburban Florida life he shares with his wife; and the sleazy, opportunistic realm of organized crime.

   Some of the film’s most effective scenes are filmed outdoors in the bright sunlight, a compelling moral contrast to the dark world in which the three brothers, none of them as innocent as they might think themselves to be, are ensnared.

   Although packaged as part of a film noir DVD box set from Columbia Pictures, the cinematography in The Brothers Rico isn’t noir at all, although the movie does feature a protagonist whose world is spinning out of control. [SPOILER ALERT: Had the studio cut out the innocent, happy ending, it actually would have made the film a lot more noir than it ends up when all is said and done.]


NICHOLAS KILMER – Harmony in Flesh and Black. Henry Holt, hardcover, 1995. Harper, paperback, 1995.

       — Man with a Squirrel. Henry Holt, hardcover, 1996. Poisoned Pen Press, softcover, 2000.

       — O Sacred Head. Henry Holt, hardcover, 1997. Poisoned Pen Press, softcover, 2000.

       — Lazarus, Arise. Poisoned Pen Press, hardcover, 2001; softcover, 2005.

   Go figure. In my previous review, I was more impressed by Michelle Blake’s The Book of Light than I was Nicholas Kilmer’s Dirty Linen (1999), but it’s the latter’s Fred Taylor “art mystery” series that I’ve been devouring like a box of chocolate-covered walnuts.

   The situation is somewhat the same in each of the novels I’ve read: Fred Taylor, with a mysterious past that includes a traumatic stint in Vietnam, works for wealthy Boston collector Clayton Reed. Taylor has an office at Reed’s, but is part owner of a house in Watertown serving as a way station for scarred Vietnam veterans, although he lives much of the time with his librarian girl friend Molly and her two children at their Cambridge house.

   The plots are generally sparked by an artwork that Reed wants Taylor to help him acquire, a task that puts Fred in extreme peril. Kilmer, a sometime painter and art dealer, has a cynical view of the art scene but he’s endowed his protagonist with a good eye for quality painting and the skill to negotiate the shark-infested waters dealers and collectors appear to swim in.

   Many of the characters are only minimally sketched, but with a vitality that keeps the involved plots in motion. The most memorable of the characters is Jacob Geist, an gifted Jewish conceptual artist who is only momentarily onstage at the beginning of Lazarus, Arise. In spite of this cameo appearance, he comes to dominate the novel as Taylor discovers his secret studio and the cache of inspired drawings that he was working on when he died.

   The best gimmick may be the one used in Man with a Squirrel. An antique dealer buys a section of an oil painting that has been rudely cut away from the canvas. As Fred attempts to track down the rest of the painting he finds that it and its dismemberment are connected to a popular self-help psychologist whose latest scam is deprogramming victims of satanic cults. The violence escalates, culminating in a climactic scene that strains the novel’s credibility but does tie up all the loose ends.

   The action in the novels may be intense and bloody, but the dialogue is often intelligent, with informed discussions of art and artists. Some readers may find these too academic for their taste. I didn’t, but then I’m a retired academic, so maybe I’m somewhat prejudiced.

   The novels don’t challenge, in precision and economy of style or structure, Iain Pears’ series set in Italy, but they are an entertaining mix of knowledgeable art dealings and crime that should interest the reader who likes the subject.

Bibliographic Note: There are three later books in the series: Madonna of the Apes (2005), A Butterfly in Flame (2010), and A Paradise for Fools (2011).

One of my favorite songs of all time. From 1974:

“If you got a problem, don’t care what it is
“If you need a hand, I can assure you this
“I can help, I got two strong arms
“I can help.”

Reviewed by DAN STUMPF on

BLACK FRIDAY. Universal, 1940. Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Stanley Ridges, Anne Gwynne Anne Nagel. Written by Curt Siodmack and Eric Taylor. Directed by Arthur Lubin.

   An odd confluence of horror movie and gangster film, done up with the usual polish of Universal’s upper-case monster movies, but sadly unfocused.

   Boris Karloff stars as (surprise!) a Mad Scientist, and Bela Lugosi gets second-billing as a bad guy, but the meatiest part goes to Stanley Ridges as Karloff’s friend, a likable old professor of the Walter Albert type, who gets run over by a bank robber (also Ridges) in mid-getaway who then conveniently cracks up his car, leaving Karloff with two men on his hands who will quickly die unless he tries his unconventional theories….

   With Curt Siodmack’s name on the credits, the knowing horror buff won’t be surprised to see a brain transplant in the offing. In this case, Karloff sews part of robber/Ridges’ brain into professor/Ridges’ noggin, resulting in a mild-mannered professor who morphs into a heartless killer from time to time as the plot demands.

   Well we all had a few teachers like that in College, didn’t we? In this case though, Karloff figures out that robber/Ridges knows where all sorts of stolen loot may be hidden, and means to get his hands on it—another instance of the sad decline of Universal’s monsters that I mentioned earlier, in my review of Spider Woman Strikes Back.

   Anyway, to further his ends, Karloff sets about bringing more and more Crook out of the Academic, at which point Black Friday turns into a Warners-style gangster pic, with molls, shifty miscreant and a rival gang boss, played by poor Bela.

   It was about this time someone at Universal decided Lugosi was never going to get another decent part there. With the arguable exceptions of his Ygor reprise in Ghost of Frankenstein and the Monster in Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, his career there was consigned to a series of sinister butlers and indifferent red herrings, with good billing but nothing very much to do.

   Karloff on the other hand, looks marvelously sinister in this, and Stanley Ridges is very effective in an underplayed star turn, equally convincing as the gentle academic and the nasty desperado, and really except for the sad sight of Lugosi languishing on the sidelines it’s an enjoyable film. Just one thing has always puzzled me about it though:

   Black Friday opens on Karloff in a jail cell awaiting imminent execution, spinning his tale in flashback. But when I got to the end of the film I couldn’t figure out what he even got arrested for; in fact, he never doers anything particularly criminal in this film –- not in front of witnesses, anyway — and as THE END flashed across the screen, I wondered if perhaps the writers had thought this thing out all that carefully.

   Anyway, if any of the legions of obscure movie buffs out there remember this one — and if you’ve done your shopping and polished off the leftovers by now, perhaps someone can explain it to me.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

WILD, WILD PLANET. MGM, Italy-US, 1966. Original title: I criminali della galassia. Tony Russell, Lisa Gastoni, Massimo Serato, Carlo Giustini (as Charles Justin), Franco Nero. Director: Antonio Margheriti.

   Directed by Antonio Margheriti (under the name Anthony Dawson), Wild Wild Planet is a low-budget Italian science fiction movie with some ridiculously stilted dialogue, silly miniatures for special effects, and a plot that defies credulity, even for outlandish science fiction.

   Yet, for those fans of campy and dare I say it – cheesy – movies, it’s not without its charms. Much like Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires (1965), it’s the atmosphere, rather than the plot, that counts. With a skillful use of color and costumes and a hint of grotesquerie here and there, there’s just enough pizazz to keep the viewer engaged throughout. Plus, there’s cult film favorite Franco Nero – a quite young and clean-shaven Nero, I should add – in an early supporting role.

   The plot, such as it is, is something straight out of the serials. A diabolical scientist named Nurmi (Massimo Serato) is engaged in a sinister plot to create a master race of humans. Sounds typical enough, right? Oh, did I mention that Nurmi has some affiliation with a sinister sounding entity called “the corporations” and that he utilizes female robots to kidnap persons he wants to use for his experiments? Of course, it’s up to the movie’s hero, Commander Mike Halstead (Tony Russell) to stop him and to rescue the beautiful Connie Gomez (Lisa Gastoni) from Nurmi’s evil grasp.

   As I said earlier, it’s not the plot, but the borderline psychedelic atmosphere that counts and makes the movie worth watching. Sometimes the special effects are just plain silly, but every now and then, they work and create an indelible impression on the viewer.

   I wouldn’t dare suggest that Wild, Wild Planet is a great science fiction movie. Not by any means. At the end of the day, here is a film too ambitious for its comparably low budget, making it simultaneously an example of clumsy filmmaking and unleashed creativity. That’s got to count for something.

Random but relatively Uncontroversial
Musings by DAN STUMPF on:

THE RETURN OF THE CISCO KID. Fox, 1939. Warner Baxter, Lynn Bari, Henry Hull, Cesar Romero, Robert Barrat, Kane Richmond, Chris-Pin Martin and C. Henry Gordon. Written by Milton Sperling. Directed by Herbert I. Leeds.

   I’ve told the story before, but…

   The little Repair-and-Sale shop where I bought my first typewriter had a framed photo of Warner Baxter on the wall, signed “Thanks for everything, Warner Baxter” and a typewritten note beneath it to the effect that the owner of the shop once loaned then-salesman Baxter $100 to go to Hollywood and get started in the Movies.

   The typewriter purchase was in the late 1970s, and I doubt that anyone then much noticed the photo nor remembered Baxter as the guy who told Ruby Keeler, “You’re going out a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star!” much less as the actor who won an Oscar for playing the Cisco Kid in In Old Arizona (Fox, 1929.)

   In the years following Old Arizona, Fox shuffled Baxter into a number of Gay Bandido roles, including a reprise of Cisco in 1930, but in 1939 they apparently toyed with the idea of a series of B-features around the character and launched it with The Return of the Cisco Kid.

   That this was intended as a B series was clear from the assignment of director Lederman and writer Sperling, who spent most of their time working on things like the Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto series. And though Return is done with the customary Fox gloss, the lack of ambition is evident throughout, particularly in some of the worst fake-riding-past-back-projection scenes ever committed to film.

   Baxter himself looks a bit tired and tatty to be dashing about as O. Henry’s Robin Hood of the old west, and his romancing of Lynn Bari (a B starlet if ever there was one) has a rather pathetic edge to it, particularly as she prefers the younger Kane Richmond for story purposes. In fact, when Fox launched the Cisco series proper later that same year, they promoted Cesar Romero to the lead — more on him later, but now on to the Plot.

   It’s Western Plot #A-5: heroine & father (Henry Hull, feasting on the scenery even more than usual) swindled out of their ranch. Fortunately they cross paths with Cisco and his pals Lopez (Romero) and Gordito (Chris-Pin Martin) a sort of 2-man Hispanic Defamation Society: dirty, lazy, dishonest and greasy, fleeing criminal pasts in Mexico for more promising prospects here in the U.S. “Where perhaps,” Cisco muses, “I weel become the Presidente!”

   Okay, we’ll just let that one pass uncommented-on. Suffice it to say Cisco takes a hand, there are fights, chases, merry badinage, clever trickery and a surprising lack of gunplay for a B-western. And an ending that rather surprised me so I’ll throw in a


   Robert Barrat is the heavy in this one, a dishonest Sheriff, callous swindler and something of a tough guy — he beats a young Ward Bond in a fair fight and challenges Cisco to duke it out at one point — so when the two have their last confrontation one expects a bit of conflict.

   Only it doesn’t happen. What we get instead is that Cisco warns Barrat to leave his friends alone, and Barrat promises to do that if Cisco stays out of his territory. The deal is struck, there are press releases, smiling photo-ops, and Cisco rides away to further adventures.

   And that’s it. To western fans accustomed to the cathartic conclusions typical of the genre, it may come as something of a disappointment, and it certainly caught me off-guard, but on reflection I rather think I’ll remember this one long after other B-westerns have faded from recollection.

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