Sep 162014
 
(This post originally appeared on April 4, 2009) Those of you who really wanted to see this movie have probably already watched it. Those of you who haven’t and are undecided . . . well, I have a hunch you’ll either love it or hate it. I don’t think there’ll be much middle ground on this film. It opens with a nameless stranger (Clive Owen) sitting at a bus stop munching on raw carrots. A

Four Elmore Leonard Westerns

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Sep 162014
 


FORTY LASHES LESS ONE

Surprisingly funny Western that takes place mostly within the walls of Yuma prison in the early part of the 20th century. Harold is the only black inmate at the soon-to-be-closed Yuma, and Raymond is the only Indian, which makes them the targets of derision. Shelby, a prisoner with connections, makes their lives hell, until the new warden, Mr. Manly, takes a special interest in the pair and decides to elevate their confidence in the hopes he can bring them to Jesus. Harold and Raymond eventually form a bond, based on their desire to be like the warriors of their ancestry. When Shelby and his cohorts plan an escape, Manly relies on the misfits to bring the fugitives to justice.

I loved how the central characters were nothing like your standard Western heroes-- like pretty much every character in the book, they aren't too bright and they aren't too heroic. But there's something very likable about both of them. 

There's a scene about mid-way through FORTY LASHES LESS ONE that was pure Leonard humor, where Warden Manly is trying to explain some finer points of the Bible to the boys, who are clearly not getting it. It's presented in the sort of dead-pan way that Leonard would later become famous for, and reminded me once again why his dialogue is so enviable.

The very last paragraph made me laugh out loud.




THE LAW AT RANDADO


I believe this is Leonard's second novel, written in the early '50's, and as such doesn't really display the trademark humor and terrific dialogue we know him for. For all that, though, it's still very well-written, spare and lean, befitting the Arizona setting.


A group of Randado's prominent citizens, manipulated by rich cattle baron Phil Sundeen, lynch a pair of rustlers without waiting on due process of law. When the young, green deputy sheriff, Kirby Frye, gets wind of it, he sets out to serve warrants to the men involved-- only to be humiliated and run out of town. But Frye isn't about to let the law be subverted; he gathers himself, along with a loose handful of allies, and sets out to bring Sundeen and his lackies to justice. 

It's a fairly standard Western scenario, especially in the last fourth, with Frye on the trail of the fleeing Sundeen, but still manages to play out in the end in unexpected ways. Frye is an interesting character, torn between youthful impetuousness and level-headed responsibility, and Sundeen is a nicely sleazy villain. The other characters all straddle lines somewhere between the two, but their main crime seems to be cowardice.

So... THE LAW AT RANDADO is a typical Western, elevated by a fast-pace and superior writing.




GUNSIGHTS


Bren Early and Dana Moon are occasional partners and uneasy friends who have been through more than their share of harrowing adventures together over the years. But it looks like fate may land them on opposite sides of a land war-- Moon has taken the job of Indian Affairs agent, tasked with protecting the interests of the residents of Rincon Mountain, and Early is in the employ of a powerful mining company that wants the native's off the mountain. 


Tensions build as newsmen from around the country flock, anticipating an epic showdown between the two gunmen friends, and things are complicated further by the arrival of Phil Sundeen, a rustler who Early and Moon left for dead some years earlier. For Sundeen, the land war is the perfect opportunity for some revenge.

As noted above, I read THE LAW AT RANDADO right before GUNSIGHTS; RANDADO is a very early Leonard and the villain in it is Phil Sundeen. GUNSIGHTS is Leonard's last western, written about 25 years later, and marks the return of Sundeen. The events of RANDADO aren't mentioned in GUNSIGHTS, but I thought it was an interesting choice to bring the sleazy bastard back for another appearance. 

Dana Moon and Bren Early are both terrific characters, and not really typical of Leonard in that they are both rather taciturn. They are a lot alike in some ways, but over the course of the novel Leonard fleshes out their particular character traits, highlights the huge differences between them-- Moon is grounded and knows what he wants out of life, Early is rudderless and a bit in love with Death and Glory. And the supporting characters, especially Sundeen's conflicted man Ruben Vega, are all terrific. 

Moon and Early would have been terrific series characters. Oh well. Great book.




VALDEZ IS COMING


This was actually the first Elmore Leonard Western I read, some months ago, and it's easily one of his best novels, Western or not.


Valdez is a lawman who gets zero respect, hired basically to do thankless grunt work. He's not taken seriously by the town's governing bodies (or anyone else, really), and when they need someone to roust a black man with an Indian wife, holed up in a cabin, they tag Valdez to do it. Valdez is forced to kill the man-- who turns out to be innocent of the crime he's been accused of. While no one else is particularly troubled by this, guilt eats away at Valdez and he tries to take up a collection for the black man's widow. And he won't allow himself to be dismissed. This leads to a violent public humiliation (one of the set-pieces of the book, a scene that's more than a little Biblical in Valdez's "crucifixion"), and being run out of town.

But his enemies have made a huge mistake, because there is only so much Valdez will endure before striking back. When he returns, he brings all Hell with him.

I thought it was interesting how it took the well-being of someone else (the Indian widow) for Valdez to stand up. He's a quietly heroic character, selfless, humble, and ultimately committed to doing the right thing. That he's the butt of the joke for so long is in keeping with some of Leonard's other work-- the two central characters in FORTY LASHES LESS ONE are similar, in that they are targets of derision who ultimately find their self-respect and prove themselves.

Like I said, this was my first Leonard Western, and one I often recommend as an ideal starting place for anyone who hasn't read a Western before. It's lean and fast-paced, with great dialogue and believable characters.

...


More Elmore Leonard Westerns coming soon.
Sep 162014
 

DASHIELL HAMMETT – Woman in the Dark. First appeared in Liberty Magazine in three installments, April 8, April 15 and April 22, 1933. Later published in Woman in the Dark, a digest paperback original collecting six stories, including the title novella: Jonathan Press, 1951. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 1988. Vintage Books, softcover, 1989.

WOMAN IN THE DARK. RKO Radio Pictures, 1934. Also released as Woman in the Shadows. Fay Wray, Ralph Bellamy, Melvyn Douglas, Roscoe Ates, Ruth Gillette, Joe King. Based on the story by Dashiell Hammett. Director: Phil Rosen.

   Actually I recently watched the movie first, then decided I didn’t remember the story all that well and not being able to locate my copy of the 1951 paperback, I bought the more recent one from Amazon for a ridiculously low price.

   For only a long novelette, there’s a lot of story involved. Hammett’s prose is crisp and clear, and I found myself really enjoyed reading it again, after some umpteen years. If I were to try to summarize the story in as short a space as I could, it would go something like this. I’ll fill in more later as I go along:

   A guy named Brazil (John Bradley in the movie, played by Ralph Bellamy) has just been released from prison for killing a man in a fight, and he knows he has to keep his temper from now on for fear of going back. In the course of events, however, he knocks a man down who hits his head on a fireplace. When Brazil learns the man is dying, he takes it on the lam.

   This summary is far from adequate, of course, since there’s no mention of the girl who comes knocking on his door in the middle of the night (Luise Fischer in the book, Louise Loring in the movie, played by Fay Wray). Turns out that she’s on the run from the member of local gentry whom she’s been staying with as a live-in “house guest,” and all the people around know what that means.

   It’s the fellow’s buddy who gets socked, though, after the two of them come to retrieve the runaway Luise. Brazil objects, not because the girl is good-looking, especially, but mostly on general principles.

   For a place to hide out for a while he heads for the apartment of a former cell mate (Donny Link in the book, Tommy Logan in the movie, played by Roscoe Ates) and his full-bodies blonde wife Fan (Lil in the movie, played by Ruth Gillette), where they are welcomed, but when the police are tipped off, the safe haven suddenly isn’t so safe any more.

   I hope I don’t spoil things by saying that it all works out, with a slight twist and a happy ending to boot, but a good part of the real enjoyment is Hammett’s tough, terse prose in the getting there, told in such a wonderfully atmospheric, precise fashion that I think the movie could have been filmed without changing a thing.

   But while of course they did, and not only the names of the characters, most of the story comes through intact. There are two long opening scenes to set the stage that are not in the book, the first in which we see Bradley (Brazil) being released from prison, the second at the home of the local sheriff, whose daughter has had a long time crush on Bradley, and against her parents’ wishes, is there in his cabin when Louise comes stumbling in from the cold and the dark. (Fay Wray in a white dress stands out beautifully in the night sky.)

   Ralph Bellamy seems to be a man of some wealth. I didn’t catch that that was so for Brazil in the book. Brazil seems to have been a rougher, tougher man than a Ralph Bellamy type, the latter seen most memorably lounging against the fireplace in his cabin, casually puffing away on a pipe.

   There is a flashback in the movie that describes how Louise met her benefactor Robson (a suitably slimy Melvyn Douglas), softening her image somewhat. In the movie she’s a singer down on her luck; in the story it is less clear, but she sadly seems to acknowledge that when she is called a strumpet by the local folks, they may not be altogether wrong.

   One scene in particular surprised me little when I saw it reproduced in the movie almost the way I pictured it in the book. It is when the lawyer that Brazil’s pal calls on for assistance repeatedly puts his hand on Luise’s knee, and she accidentally brushes it off with the tip of her cigarette.

   What consistently breaks the mood of the movie, though, is the comic antics of Roscoe Ates as Bellamy’s former cell mate. Hammett could be amusing in a tough, hardboiled way. It isn’t over the top, but the movie really could have done without silly stuff like this.

   Fay Wray is near perfect in her part, though, and the near pre-Code release date means we get to see camera shots of her beautifully long legs as she examines them for bruises, but there’s far more to her role than that.

 Posted by at 12:44 am
Sep 152014
 
Better late than never. Yvette at "in so many words..." issued a Flash Fiction Challenge to come up with a short short story inspired by one of three paintings she found. The sotries were to have been posted yesterday, September 14. We took a sudden trip and I was away from the computer all day. Didn't have a chance to upload my story along with the painting. But enough excuses... Without further ado, here is my contribution.

Come Like Shadows

Sorcery’s a bitch. Especially when you’re an amateur like me. My mistake was being too curious, too ambitious, not patient enough. What’s that piece of advice your schoolteachers always direct at the impatient, hyperactive students in the class – take your time and you’ll make less mistakes. Haste makes waste, right? In my case haste made a monkey of my girlfriend. Literally.

She was a sucker for strange jewelry. That’s really what started all the trouble. Never satisfied with a diamond ring or stud earrings or a simple necklace. No, not Amelia. To her a tennis bracelet was literally just that – a bracelet made up of a fine gold mesh tennis net with charms shaped liked rackets and balls. I’m surprised she didn’t want the umpire sitting in his chair as well as a couple of ball boys. She was always adding to her collection and the more bizarre the better. She was attracted to Egyptians bangles with carved hieroglyphs, amulets inspired by medieval mythological creatures and brooches shaped like dragonflies. Insects were really big with her for a couple of months. Somehow they became more alluring less alien once they were bejeweled and bedazzled. But when she got hooked on endangered species inspired jewelry I really had to put an end to it.

And why sorcery? Surely there was a simpler way to get her off her eccentric jewelry addiction. Well, you see I sort of was responsible for that too. OK, I was responsible for that. Let me own up to the whole mess right now. She never paid me any attention and I made her like me. But as usual with my adventures in potion making I improvised and the whole thing backfired. What started out as an attraction potion took on a different dimension because of my ad libbing with the formula as well as Amelia’s unpredictable behavior. I was supposed to hand her the charmed object and a say a certain phrase but no -- Amelia couldn't wait. We're a lot alike that way -- impatient and demanding. She grabbed it out of my hand and well, now I not only have a devoted girlfriend I have devoted girlfriend who demands that I give her odd pieces of jewelry. And to counteract an unnatural behavior like this, one that isn’t of her choosing, I have to resort to more magic. So I started more experimenting. Before I could find the solution to that mistake another one occurred.

To be honest she brought it on herself. Yes, she did. She barged right into my alchemy lab after one of our hedonistic nights on the town. She was more than a little tipsy on those foo foo cocktails she loves more than her gaudy jewelry. You know those concoctions with flavored vodka. Geez, whatever happened to good ol’ fashioned Old Fashioneds or a plain gin and tonics? But I digress... Her eyes headed straight for a transmogrification figurine I was working on for one of my irritating neighbors. She chittered and screamed like a friggin' monkey and I was ready to turn her into one. Amelia sees that golden figurine shaped like a monkey and she had to have it. Right up her alley, right? Endangered species and "cute as a puppy" like she says all the time. Before I could knock the cursed thing out of her hand I watched as her human shadow morphed into the shape and form of a capuchin monkey. Tail growing out of her designer gown and Amelia disappearing into the fabric till she was chattering and screeching like my annoying neighbor next door. There she was wailing and clawing at her dress trying to figure out what the hell just happened to her. And me wishing I could just chain her to an organ grinder like some prop in a 1930s screwball comedy. My life had become a screwball comedy. All thanks to my inept attempts at black magic. I looked at this absurd picture of me and Amelia and saw exactly the opposite. It was Amelia who really made a monkey out of me. And not for the first time.

Yeah sorcery’s a bitch. What kills me is it took me six months to get all the proper ingredients for that charm. And now it’s going to take me another half a year to get another batch of the same stuff. You know how I had to rack my brains to come up with a clever way to record the sound of a cat’s footsteps? It involved a xylophone and a super sensitive reel-to-reel tape recorder. A reel to reel! P.S. That was harder to find than the damn xylophone. I may have to cut corners again and to hell with the consequences.

Aw, who am I kidding? I learned my lesson the hard way. Now I’m burdened with trying to gather up all the ingredients needed to turn Amelia back into a normal jewelry addicted young woman before her appetite for tropical fruits transforms my home into a subsidiary warehouse for Chiquita and Dole. Without the aid of sorcery. This time I'm following the directions to the letter. No improvising. No substitutes. No ad libbing. 100% genuine ingredients and no cheating whatsoever this time.

Which reminds me, now that you be heard this whole crazy story –

You don’t happen to know where I might find a genuine witch’s mummy, do you?


 Posted by at 8:22 pm
Sep 152014
 
REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


  OUANGA. George Terwilliger Productions, 1936. Also released as Drums of the Jungle and The Love Wanga. Fredi Washington, Philip Brandon, Marie Paxton, Sheldon Leonard. Written & directed by George Terwilliger.

   Most critics agree that the story behind this movie is more interesting than the film itself, but I found Ouanga possessed of a unique charm that kept me watching and even enjoying it.

   The plot is a simple affair, and writer/director Terwilliger had the sense to keep it that way. Clelie (Fredi Washington) is a Haitian plantation owner of mixed race, in love with the neighboring and very white planter Adam Maynard.

   The script hints that their relationship has been more than neighborly, but as the story starts, Adam is bringing his fiancée to the island and it ain’t Clelie — it’s whey-faced blonde Eve Langley, whom Clelie decides to kill with voodoo magic. And plot-wise that’s really about it, except that Clelie herself is pursued by mixed-race overseer LeStrange (Sheldon Leonard) who has his own murderous way of dealing with unrequited love.

   The story has a spare, allegorical feel to it, even down to the names of the putative hero and heroine (Adam & Eve) and the garden-like setting of the action. There’s also a fine dichotomy between the frank passion of the native peoples and the pallid complacency of their white counterparts. Terwilliger seems to enjoy cutting between vigorous folk ceremonies and tepid garden parties—and the passion in the clinches of Clelie and LeStrange quite overshadows the perfunctory romance of hero and heroine.

   Terwilliger, obviously influenced by William Seabrook’s 1929 book The Magic Island, went to Haiti to film authentic Voodoo ceremonies and did a lot of research for this film, but he got chased out by the local witch doctors, who killed a member of his crew.

   He ended up filming in Jamaica under primitive conditions and the result is terribly crude, but I found it oddly powerful as well — if you can get past the bad script, bad acting and laughable stunt-work. The Voodoo scenes here have a primitive and suitably awed quality to them such as I have seen nowhere else, as if the filmmaker were trying to convey to us something of his own dread and wonderment.

   Ouanga ended up being largely ignored by the public and shunted off by its distributors as an exploitation show, and frankly it deserved no better. But for those who can look past its incredible ineptitude, this in a unique and haunting bit of work.

   As a footnote, writer/producer/director George Terwilliger is something of a mysterious figure in the movies. An authentic pioneer of the cinema, he worked with D.W.Griffith and stayed busy in the silent era, but there’s a ten-year gap between his last silent film in 1926 and the appearance of Ouanga.

   Afterwards, the screenplay of this film was recycled into an all-black movie, The Devil’s Daughter (1939) but Terwilliger himself never made another film. He died in 1970.

 Posted by at 7:34 pm

A Scandal In 1907

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Sep 152014
 
1907 Scandal



Early women's rights activist Annette Kellerman posed in this fitted, one-piece bathing suit to protest the restrictive clothing of the day. She arrested for indecency because of this picture. Australians can thank Annette Kellerman every time they take a swim. In 1905 she invented the streamlined one-piece swimming costume for women, a liberating garment, which became her trademark. But more than that, she re-awoke the pleasure of swimming for everyone including men, women and children. Known as the Diving Venus and the Australian Mermaid, Annette Kellerman (1887–1975) was an athlete as well as a vaudeville and movie star, one of the most famous women of her day.

Kellerman set out to challenge the legal restrictions on women's bathing clothes in the United States. In 1907, preparing for a promotional coast swim, she was arrested for indecency on Revere Beach, Boston. She was wearing one of her fitted one-piece costumes that had no skirt, clung to her body and revealed her thighs. The judge accepted her arguments in favor of swimming as healthy exercise and against cumbersome bathing suits, provided she wore a robe until she entered the water. Her arrest generated worldwide publicity. She continued to wear her one-piece swimsuit in her stage shows and public swimming events.

 Film Career
The Bride of Lammermoor: A Tragedy of Bonnie Scotland (1909)
Jephtah's Daughter: A Biblical Tragedy (1909)
The Gift of Youth (1909)
Entombed Alive (1909)
Siren of the Sea (1911)
The Mermaid (1911)
Neptune's Daughter (1914)
A Daughter of the Gods (1916)
National Red Cross Pageant (1917)
Queen of the Sea (1918)
What Women Love (1920)
Venus of the South Seas (1924)
 Posted by at 7:33 pm

Headlines that shouldn’t be true but are

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Sep 152014
 


'VETTED' REBELS STRIKE DEAL WITH ISIS
(we're off to a great start)

Witnesses: Cops Kept Arresting Dying Cyclist After Running Him Over

‘F*ck off, you fat *ss!’: Enraged minivan mom caught on camera berating
motorist

Police Allegedly Mistake Black Actress Kissing White Partner For A
Prostitute

West Virginia cop caught threatening woman filming rough arrest of
terminally ill man

Kanye Stops Concert Because Fan In Wheelchair Won't Stand Up
(heal him kanye--just keep screaming at him ns he'll walk again!)

Man Armed With Machete Holds Up Restaurant In NYC's Chelsea
neighborhood...

An Off-Duty Cop Got Drunk and Shot Some People on the Upper West Side

Bill Maher levels GOP Rep. Kline: He embodies D.C’s ‘easily-swayed
whores and sellouts’

Tucker Carlson suspects school indoctrination plot because children are
‘just learning too much’
(Fucker Tarlson is the mosr obnoxious trust fund baby of all time)

Satanists Sell Out 'Black Mass' Event...Will Stage Exorcism...

Deepak Chopra: Richard Dawkins is a bad scientist and his arrogance
pisses me off

Illinois man arrested for murder of ex-girlfriend, body found in
backseat of car

Bill Maher levels GOP Rep. Kline: He embodies D.C’s ‘easily-swayed
whores and sellouts’

West Virginia cop caught threatening woman filming rough arrest of
terminally ill man

The fight isn’t over: Voting rights may be headed back to the Supreme
Court

NFL running back Adrian Peterson indicted for allegedly abusing
4-year-old boy

‘F*ck off, you fat *ss!’: Enraged minivan mom caught on camera berating
motorist

US denies threatening Foley family over raising ransom

No evidence whistleblower Edward Snowden raised concerns internally: NSA

Police in three states hunt for gunman after trooper shot dead at
Pennsylvania barracks

Federal judge rules that Arizona gay widower is entitled to federal
spousal benefits

Details emerge in Adrian Peterson child abuse case: ‘I’m all tearing
that butt up when needed’

‘Django Unchained’ actress detained by cops because they assumed she
was a hooker

Deepak Chopra: Richard Dawkins is a bad scientist and his arrogance
pisses me off
(I agree; man is Dawkins full of himself)

The story of a civilization can be found in the materials used to build
it

Texas high school chemistry teacher arrested with date rape drug
‘recipes’ in her backpack

Golfing great Greg Norman almost severs hand with chainsaw

Details emerge in Adrian Peterson child abuse case: ‘I’m all tearing
that butt up when needed’

ISIS's latest strategy: Recruit female jihadis from America's heartland

Tucker Carlson suspects school indoctrination plot because children are
‘just learning too much’

‘Django Unchained’ actress detained by cops because they assumed she
was a hooker

Deepak Chopra: Richard Dawkins is a bad scientist and his arrogance
pisses me off

The story of a civilization can be found in the materials used to build
it

Texas high school chemistry teacher arrested with date rape drug
‘recipes’ in her backpack

Golfing great Greg Norman almost severs hand with chainsaw


John Oliver: Scotland seeks divorce because England has been ‘a little
bit of a dick’

Bernie Sanders in Iowa: Soldiers didn’t die ‘so billionaires could buy
elections’

Witnesses: ‘Django Unchained’ actress and boyfriend having sex in car
before police arrived'

Palin pushback: Family friend says other side started drunken Wasilla
birthday melee

California man killed ex-girlfriend's dog, then fed it to her, police
say

Arizona GOP official resigns after saying poor women should be
sterilized

Florida cops often drop rape cases unless victims tell them to
investigate: NYT

Milwaukee cop won’t be charged despite video proving she lied about
seeing illegal strip searches

Lindsey Graham unhinged: We will ‘all get killed back here’ if Obama
lets ISIS open ‘the gates of hell’

California man arrested following nine-hour standoff after firing on
ice cream truck, police

Newly discovered squirrel-like creatures suggest mammals first appeared
208 million years ago

Police conduct multi-state manhunt for gunman who ambushed two PA state
troopers

Luke Russert lands Meet the Press gig cuz everyone else is doin’
friggin’ drugs all weekend

RAW STORY EXTRA FOR SEPTEMBER 15, 2014
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View it in your browser.

Texas sheriff boasts on Fox & Friends he’ll send ISIS to hell after
finding Koran on the border

Alabama pastor drives girl to city park to rape and sodomize her,
police say

Bible-pushing Christians open the door for Satanic activity books in
Florida schools

Hobby Lobby president Steve Green urges Christians to stand up to the
government

Georgia police: 16-year-old mom with baby guns down man selling PS4 on
Craigslist

LSU frat fight captured by man with most self-satisfied grin ever

92-year-old Colorado man died after homemade bomb exploded, police
believe

Wisc. GOP candidate now regrets tweeting ‘fags need 2 leave my favorite
state alone’

Six Florida prison officers jailed and fired for setting up inmate
beating, lying about it

Divers return to shipwreck where the ancient 'Antikythera Mechanism'
was found

Fox’s Steve Doocy: Schools should stop ‘brainwashing’ kids with
‘meatless Mondays’ plot






Sep 152014
 
It was pretty obvious, when several of the criticsI knew would be attending Bouchercon 2014 started posting about their individual panel discussion assignments, that a preliminary lineup of such presentations was soon to come. And sure enough, yesterday brought this PDF chart of who would be speaking when at the November 13-16 event in Long Beach, California. I haven’t looked closely through it yet, but I did notice that my friends Kevin Burton Smith, Ali Karim, and Peter Rozovsky will be leading talks at one time or another.

As interesting as this schedule is, I’m no less excited to see how the list of attendees for November’s Bouchercon is shaping up.

If you haven’t yet registered for Bouchercon 2014, you can still do so by clicking here and filling out the requisite paperwork.
Sep 152014
 
There's an excellent article by Bud Elder on the life and career of Clifton Adams to be found here. My fondness for Adams' work continues to grow with everything that I read by him. Many thanks to Lawrence Block for the link.