Forgotten Films: Cold in July (2014)

By Scott A. Cupp

The last 20 minutes of Joe Lansdale’s Cold in July will keep anyone riveted.

This is the 190th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

I have been wanting to write about the thriller Cold in July for a while but somewhere in my move last year, the Blu-Ray disappeared. But I saw Joe Lansdale the other day at ArmadilloCon and got another copy from him.

The film is based on the novel of the same name, which came out in 1989. I knew Joe long before then and was anxiously awaiting this novel when it was released. I was in Abilene on the release day and looked for it in the book store. No copies were available. I checked the release date again. I had the correct day, but the store did not have the book. I asked about it and it took another week and a half to come in. I read it that night. It was a powerful book and it blew my socks off.

So, when I heard it was being filmed, I had my doubts. Joe has had many films under option, but not many have made it to the screen. Before this, we had the amazing Bubba Ho-Tep which everyone should see. And a couple of his short stories had been filmed, like Incidents On and Off a Mountain Road for Showtime’s Masters of Horror and Drive In Date, done by Cahill Productions. And, of course, there is Christmas With the Dead, which got no distribution.

Cold in July got a pretty good treatment for an indie film production. First, there was the script by Nick Damici and Jim Mickle. These two would later produce the first season of Hap and Leonard. Nick Damici also got a role in the film as Ray Price, a police lieutenant. It’s a short but important role, which he handled well. Mickle also got to direct. He had a few films earlier, but this was a showpiece.

So, we had a novel, a good script and a good director. They needed a cast. And, boy howdy, did we get a cast. The protagonist of the film, Richard Dane is played by Michael C. Hall. He would normally be the greatest thing in an indie film, but this one managed to lasso Sam Shepard as former convict Ben Russell. And he would normally have been the greatest thing in an indie film. But they also brought in Don Johnson as Private Eye Jim Bob Luke. All three chew up the scenery and make this a great viewing.

The story is a tough one. Richard Dane (Hall) is a family man, married with one child. He works as a picture framer. Life is decent until the night his wife Ann (Vinessa Shaw) hears a noise. He gets out of bed and gets his gun from the closet and loads it. He then confronts a burglar in his living room. The sudden chiming of the clock results in a twitch of his finger and one dead burglar. The police arrive and take statements. Even though the burglar was unarmed, Dane is not held responsible. He and Ann begin the task of cleanup. The sofa has to go; there are brains and blood on the wall, which needs cleaning.

The next day, people continually ask about the incident and praise his action. But Dane is upset. Someone is dead at his hand. The dead man is identified as Freddy Russell, a loser. His only relative is a father (Shepard), recently released from the prison in Huntsville. Dane is still shaken by the events and buys bars for the windows. His temper with his son grows short.

Dane watches the funeral from a distance. Sharp-eyed viewers can see Joe Lansdale in the distance for about one second as the minister handling the service. At the service Dan is approached by Ben Russell, Freddy’s dad. Ben understands the situation but still, Freddy is his son. He makes a threat that indicates that he knows Dane’s son.

That night, when the family returns home, their new locks are broken. They call the police, but nothing is found. Russell continues terrorizing the family until he’s finally chased away. But now the film takes a strange twist. Dane is at the police station and sees a wanted poster for Freddy Russell — and it does not match the man he killed.

Soon, Lieutenant Ray Price (Damici) tells Dane that Russell has been captured going into Mexico and will soon be put away. Dane has not been able to sleep well and as he goes out one night, he sees Price and some other officer load Ben Russell into a police car, handcuffed. The police knock him out, douse him with liquor and put him on the train tracks just about a minute before the late night train is due.

Dane sees all this and cannot let Russell die. He rescues the man and takes him to his family cabin nearby. Dane locks him up there for the night, returning later to try and explain everything. This ends up with the two exhuming the body in the grave and verifying it is not Freddy Russell.

Russell wants to find Freddy and calls in his old Army buddy Jim Bob (Johnson). Things take several wicked turns after this, and no one who has not read the book could ever guess where it was going to end up. The final 20 minutes or so are incredibly intense and not for the weak of stomach.

This one is well worth seeing. Sandi and I saw it on the big screen in its very limited theatrical release. It was stunning. The late night crowd was riveted and stunned by the ending. If you are a follower of Hap and Leonard on TV, you need to see this film. If you haven’t seen either one, start now. And of you have not seen Bubba Ho-Tep, we can’t be friends until you change that. Just saying.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

Forgotten Book: The Vinyl Detective: The Run-Out Groove by Andrew Cartmel (2017)

The Vinyl Detective’s latest adventure is a quick-moving read with lots of eccentric characters.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 208th in my series of Forgotten Books.

Last year, when I was in the process of moving I spent several months living by myself in a college dorm that was closed for the summer, except for me. My television did not work and Sandi was away in San Antonio, so I did a lot of reading.

Among the books I read was the first volume of the Vinyl Detective, called Written in Hot Wax. The novel is a fast-moving, first-person account of a man with his obsessions, odd friends and the ability to find the things people want.

The unnamed detective lives in the UK and has remarkable luck finding rare records for people. In Hot Wax, he was looking for a rare blues record for a large fee. He found the record, murder and a girlfriend in the process. This time out, he is looking into a rock record, All the Cats Love Valerian. The record was the final release for legendary rock star Valerian who committed suicide when it was released some 30 years earlier. The Vinyl Detective is contacted by Valerian’s brother, known as the Colonel, like his father, to find what happened to Valerian’s young son, who vanished shortly after her death. Her sister Cecilia died not long thereafter.

Valerian, the stage name of Valerie Anne Drummond, was a revered figure in British rock, and the detective is not really sure he wants to look into the case. But the Colonel has a clue. Supposedly, a single from the album was set to be released and was pulled at the time of her suicide. Additionally, there may be a hidden message in the record. Both the album and the single are impossibly hard to find. But the Colonel seems to have money and is willing to spend it.

The detective and Nevada, his girlfriend, enlist Tinkler (a truly rabid collector with no social skills or filters), Agnes DuBois-Kanes (a taxi driver and friend, generally known as Clean Head) and Stink Stanmer (a less-than-friend but convenient ally who has connections in the record business and is in recovery at a nearby treatment center).

They devise a cover story that Stink is bankrolling a documentary on the life of Valerian with Nevada as the producer. They get names and addresses and begin their investigation, but they find the album and the single a little too easily. Then things start to happen around them. There are break-ins, assaults, thefts and “accidents.” Everyone is interested in Valerian but someone certainly does not want them delving deeper into her story.

I really liked last year’s book and this year’s too. I love the smell of vinyl and the esoteric knowledge the author imparts through the various conversations the characters have. You can learn a lot about post-WWII jazz from the first book. This one does not get that deep into the rock scene, but there is still a lot of information here. It is also a great fast, easy read; Cartmel has a way with dialogue.

The plot and action move fast, even with a lot of deception going on. There’s a grave robbing sequence and an encounter with an attack goose. And an LSD doping and burn-the-house-down bit. The supporting cast is wonderfully bizarre and interesting, including the Shrink who is constantly trying to push his self-published book!

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

Forgotten Films: The Unholy Three (1925)

In The Unholy Three, Tod Browning directs Lon Chaney in a dark crime film.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 189th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films 

Sometimes, I have previously seen the films that I decide to review. Others, I see them for the first time with the idea of writing about them. This week is one of the latter. I became aware of Long Chaney’s work when I saw the film Man of a Thousand Faces with James Cagney, which was a fascinating biographical film. And I initially saw the work of his son, Lon Chaney Jr. in a wonderful series of Universal horror films.

In college, I got to see my first Lon Chaney film, The Phantom of the Opera. What a thrill! I witnessed the wonderful acting, the various stylized movements that he used, the pathos and the horror.

But I never saw any of his others. I recorded several but erased them when I began to run out of space. Silent films take a dedication from the viewer. Watching a talking film allows you to multitask. You can listen to the dialogue while checking email and not necessarily miss much. But silent films require your full attention. You never know when a card is going to appear explaining something essential. And you cannot be assured you’ll catch all the action when there are no loud explosions or screeching tires to draw your attention to the screen.

All that said, I sat back on a Sunday afternoon to watch a classic Chaney film, The Unholy Three. I knew it was one of his big roles so I was ready. At 84 minutes, I could give it all of my attention and still not require the entire afternoon to watch and digest.

Ventriloquist Professor Echo (Chaney) works at a sideshow with several memorable characters. There are the Fat Lady, the Tattooed Lady, Hercules (Victor McLaglen), the diminutive Tweedledee (Harry Earles) and others. Sweet Rosie O’Grady (Mae Busch) works the crowds as a pickpocket. Their lives all get unsettled when Tweedledee gets into a fight with an unruly spectator kid. The ensuing riot ends with them leaving the sideshow.

Echo suggests an alliance between himself, Hercules, and Tweedledee. “We will make millions!” he tells them. They laugh together and Tweedledee proposes the name the Unholy Three.

The next scene shows Rosie entering O’Grady’s Bird Shop, where she greets clerk Hector McDonald (Matt Moore) who sells parrots at the store. Rosie flirts with him. They are interrupted by her grandmother and the infant Little Willie. But things are not as they appear. Grandmother O’Grady is Chaney and Little Willie is Tweedledee. They have a scheme going. Hector sells talking parrots but they really talk for Mrs. O’Grady.

When the birds are delivered, they don’t really talk in the homes of their owners. Mrs. O’Grady goes to visit the homes and case the joints. She brings the pram with the baby inside and he helps in the casing.

One such visit takes place on Christmas Eve at the Arlington home. Grandmother and baby see a wonderful ruby necklace which they prepare to steal that evening. As they make their plans, Rosie comes to visit, but she runs into Hector carrying a tree and ornaments to set up for Little Willie. Grandmother is jealous of Hector and Rosie (since Rosie is his girl). With Echo trapped, Hercules and Tweedledee go on without him to carry out the robbery. Things do not go well and Mr. Arlington is murdered.

Police begin to suspect the grandmother, so Echo sets up Hector to be the fall guy. But Rosie has fallen in love. And the unholy trio has some dissention in their ranks. Thoughts that the loot might be better split by two, or not even split at all, run through their minds.

Bad things happen, some at the hands of a killer ape! My type of film!

I liked this Tod Browning-directed piece quite a lot, though TCM had a film score appended that intruded more often than not. In fact, I just hated the music. It’s a pretty dark film and the ending lacks some believability. But, despite those quibbles, I would watch it again in a heartbeat. Chaney is remarkable. Harry Earles tries to steal every scene, and I had to admire his effort, even though I hated his character.

If you can read your films (and many folks I know can’t. I’m looking at my wife as I type this. She’s one of them!), this is one you should see.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

Forgotten Films: Seven Days in May (1964)

Seven Days in May is tightly wound thriller.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 188th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films 

OK, hopefully, we are back on schedule.

As I work on this, I am preparing to go to Austin for ArmadilloCon. This will be the 39th ArmadilloCon, and I have been to them all. Not many can say that. I will be on a couple of panels, including one with my buddy Joe Lansdale, and I will be reading my Western Mythos-type story “Giant Scorpions From Hell!” sometime Saturday.

This means I am doing this column four days early. So I had to watch a movie earlier than normal. Oh, the horror! Fortunately TCM (the greatest cable channel ever conceived!) provided me with several options last weekend. I watched The Cheyenne Social Club with James Stewart, Henry Fonda and one of my favorites, Shirley Jones. I also took in Twelve O’Clock High with Gregory Peck, Dean Jagger, Gary Merrill and many more. Those were both fun films, and I would have prefaced a review of the Shirley Jones movie with the story of Sandi and I going to see her at the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas in 1981. We should not have done it. We were broke at the time. We had enough money for the tickets and dinner, but none left to pay for hotel parking after the show. The kind lady there let us slide, and we had a great evening. We lowered the average age of the audience by about ten years, but I loved it. And Sandi loved me so she went along. And that was one of many reasons I love her!

But I’m not going to tell that story.

I grew up in a very small town in Texas. One that makes Alpine, where I currently live, and its 6,000 residents appear large. As I entered the combined high school and junior high, I was amazed by the size of the library. I had been on military bases before so school libraries were small and wanting. (This may account for my own obsessive hoarding of books.) There were not many things to do in town so I read. A lot. One of the books I read was a political thriller, Seven Days in May, written by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II. As part of a military family, I found the story gripping.

When the film came out, I wanted to see it. But, out of the family, I was the only one. So I did not get to watch it in the theater. The nearest screen was more than 10 miles away and I was a preteen so it was not in the cards. I did eventually see it on the TV some years later and I loved it.

The cast is superb on all levels. President Jordan Lyman (Fredric March in one of his last roles) is facing a crisis in popularity. He has made a disarmament deal with the Russians many disagree with, particularly the military. Among his toughest critics is General James Mattoon Scott (Burt Lancaster), chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Scott’s aide, Colonel Jiggs Casey (Kirk Douglas), agrees with him.

It is early May, and a major drill is planned for the upcoming weekend with the President and the Joint Chiefs going to Mount Thunder to observe how the alert is handled. The President has even agreed to keep the media in the dark so none are on hand during the alert.

Strange things unfold. A young communications officer tells Casey about a Preakness betting pool that involves most of the joint chiefs. An old friend mentions that he is the exec at a military installation Casey is unaware of. The General lies to him about some visitors. People get upset about the betting pool. Senators know things they should not.

Casey has stumbled onto something nefarious. The drill is set for Sunday. And by Wednesday he is convinced that a potential coup may be in the offing. But it is well planned and every angle seems to be covered. There is nothing concrete anywhere.

I really like this film. I watched it with Sandi, who normally does not like this type of film but was riveted by this one. All the way to the end, you are unsure how things will turn out.

And the supporting cast includes Ava Gardner, Edmond O’Brien, Andrew Duggan (a favorite of mine), John Houseman, Martin Balsam, Whit Bissell and Hugh Marlowe. Wow! All of them do a great job keeping the tension going. If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean.

And, did I mention that Rod Serling did the screenplay? Go forth and watch.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

Forgotten Book: Isle of the Dead by Roger Zelazny (1969)

Roger Zelazny’s Isle of the Dead takes me back to my golden age.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 207th in my series of Forgotten Books.

They say the golden age for reading science fiction is 15. I think the same is true for discovering rock-n-roll. Whatever you are listening to when you are 15 is permanently ingrained in your genes. My golden age was the Summer of Love, with the dawn of the psychedelic era. Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, the Electric Prunes —these were my rock gods.

In the science fiction field, that period also heralded the arrival of the New Wave. We had Harlan Ellison screaming in the wind and both new and established writers breaking the molds. Around that time, I also began to have income, and suddenly there was great science fiction out there and I was loving it! Amazing writers were everywhere! Samuel R. Delany was blowing my mind. J. G. Ballard was writing condensed novels that I wasn’t sure I understood but were interesting and provocative as Hell. Thomas M. Disch, Ursula K. LeGuin, Phil Dick – they were all there. Fritz Leiber reinvented himself. The books were plentiful and they were cheap — 60 or 70 cents got you paperbacks from the Ace Science Fiction Specials or any of the other publishers who were taking my money.

Chief among these writers, to me, was Roger Zelazny. When I read “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” my mind exploded!!!! Four For Tomorrow also had some great novelettes. When I read “The Door of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth” what little brain I had left was gone.

Soon I had also read Lord of Light, This Immortal and The Dream Master. Zelazny may not have been my favorite writer (that was PKD), but he was in the top five! So, in 1969 when Isle of the Dead came out, I bought it at the PX on Ft. Sam Houston and went home to read it. It became my favorite RZ novel. Somewhere in the mid 1970’s I read it again, I felt the same. Others go gaga over Nine Princes in Amber. I read that too, but Isle stayed in the top position. I liked Amber, but it was not my number one.

So much for back story. Reading Isle of the Dead for the first time in 45 years or so, I discovered that I could not remember anything about it other than the main character’s name. This time, it was like reading a new book for the very first time.

Francis (Frank) Sandow is a human, over 500 years old. He is also Shimbo of Darktree, the Shrugger of Thunders, one of the Named Gods, a world shaper, the only non-Pei’an (i.e. the only human) member of the Named. He is incredibly wealthy and reclusive. The arrival of three messages simultaneously shake his world. One is from his mentor, Marling, who is in the process of dying and wants Frank to come perform various rites used in the passing of the Named. Frank has time. The second message is from Earth, where the Central Intelligence Bureau wants to talk with him. The third is from an old lover, Ruth, and it says “Come now” and includes a recent photo of Frank’s dead wife.

He decides to visit Ruth, but her house is empty and for sale, but she has left a note for him. He visits Marking and helps ease him on to the next level. From him, Frank learns about Green Green, a Pei’an who had not been selected for a Named avatar even though he successfully completed all the required tasks and tests. Green Green also bears a grudge against Frank even though they have never met or interacted.

Green Green’s real name is Gringrin and, among other things, he has stolen the life tapes of several of Frank’s lovers, friends and enemies. He has gone to one of the worlds Frank constructed, Illyria, reconstituted Frank’s friends and enemies and placed them on the Isle of the Dead. This pisses Frank off, since this is his world – he designed it and built it. These are his friends and enemies.

So Frank heads to the Isle of the Dead ready for a confrontation, then everything shifts and the story we were expecting is derailed into another one totally.

This is great short novel that I thoroughly enjoyed again. It brought back all the reasons I loved Zelazny’s work. Just not quite as much, since my tastes have changed some over the years. Still, early Zelazny is still worthwhile no matter what you get.

I interacted with RZ several times over the years. I met him at conventions and got many books and magazines signed. Most of them are gone now, sadly. I was called out in the dedication to If At Faust You Don’t Succeed for helping suggest the title. I gave him that one and its corrupted one, If As Faust You Don’t Succeed. I will keep that happiness with me forever. My bookselling partner Willie suggested A Fistful of Thalers, which RZ also called out in the dedication.

As always, your mileage may vary with this book. But I don’t think so. This is quality stuff.

Who are the writers of your golden age?

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

Armadillocon 2017: Where I’ll Be

This weekend, I’ll be flying up I-35 to Armadillocon, Austin’s premier literary sf, fantasy and horror convention. Here’s my schedule if you want to listen to me pontificate on writing, short stories or Lovecraft — or you’re hankering to hear me read new work.

Sa1100DR Signing Sat 11:00 AM-Noon Dealers’ Room S. Allen, L. Antonelli, L.T. Duchamp, P.J. Hoover

Sa1500CC Writing 101 Sat 3:00 PM-4:00 PM Conference Center L. Antonelli, M. Bracken, S. Allen, K. Catmull, G. Iglesias, M. Cardin* Getting past the blank page for short story and novel writing. Come prepared for a writing exercise or two.

Sa2130SPA Reading Sat 9:30 PM-10:00 PM Southpark A Sanford Allen

Su1300SPB Love. Craft. Lovecraft Sun 1:00 PM-2:00 PM Southpark B S. Allen, J. Conner, L. Person, N. Southard, D. Webb* An overview of the works of H P Lovecraft. What is the attraction of this master of the horrible? How have Lovecraftian tropes impacted popular works, movies, & TV?

Su1400BF What Shorter SF&F works should you have read this year? Sun 2:00 PM-3:00 PM Ballroom FD. Afsharirad, S. Allen*, R. Schwarz, H. Walrath

Armadillocon 39 takes place Aug 4-6 at the Omni Southpark Hotel

Red Shadows by Robert E. Howard, 1968 (Stories originally published 1928–1932 and 1968 for fragments)

Red Shadows contains Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane stories.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 206th in my series of Forgotten Books.

It has been a hectic year! As I write this, tomorrow will mark one year since my wife and I will have been in our new home for 12 months. Yowza! Books are still not totally organized, but I am getting ready for ArmadilloCon and the upcoming World Fantasy Convention in San Antonio. So many books to look through, so many to locate and get ready.

I recently went to Robert E. Howard Days in Cross Plains. I know I write too much about that event, but it is one of my favorite things to do each year. I have been four times now and had a great trip each time.

This year, I managed to acquire Skullface and Others by Howard. This wonderful Arkham House book with its legendary cover by Hannes Bok has been on my want list ever since I saw it listed in the copyrights of the Lancer Conans. So, I only waited 50 years to get this one. But I have it now thanks to the amazing Jeffrey Shanks and a fabulous trade. It sits on my bookshelf about eight feet from where I am typing.

But what I have not mentioned as much is that at the same show I found a first edition of Red Shadows, the collection of Howard’s Solomon Kane stories published by Donald M. Grant in 1968 with a cover and interior picture by Jeff Jones. I have only wanted this one since 1973 or so.

My first encounter with Howard’s Puritan swordsman/adventurer was in the three Centaur Press paperbacks that I bought in 1971 while taking a bus from Amarillo to San Antonio after the wedding of my friend Henry Melton and his charming bride Mary Ann. I have had multiple copies of the book since then, but Henry and Mary Ann are still together some 46 years later. (I should mention Henry is a very good writer I have reviewed in my Forgotten Books column on several occasions. You should check him out!)

Anyway, I started reading the adventures of Kane on that bus ride home. They were memorable stories. Kane is a Puritan who has had an exciting life. He has been a privateer captain and explored much of the world. In these stories, he goes through Europe, England and Africa. The title piece, “Red Shadows,” in which Kane vows to avenge a woman’s death by finding her kidnapped sister, set up his trip to Africa. The African stories are my favorite. “Moon of Skulls” and “Hills of the Dead” feature Kane and his blood brother, the ancient witch doctor N’Longa.

A Puritan as blood brother to a pagan witch doctor seems hard to pull off, but Howard makes it work quite well. Kane is an honorable man and so is N’Longa. He has gifted Kane with an ancient engraved staff which can be used to bring N’Longa to wherever Kane needs help with supernatural problems. Oddly enough, a vampire city does not appear to be supernatural. But the staff still taxes his abilities.

I also enjoyed the pirate story “Blades of the Brotherhood,” where Kane challenges the Fishhawk, a notorious pirate and slaver. There is not a supernatural twist to the story, but Howard makes the action move along quite well.

The Kane stories are longer pieces with some good character development and I was sorry there were not more of them in this collection. Still, it was good to experience them all again. In the intervening 46 years, I had read the occasional story, comic book adaptation and watched the 2009 film. The stories are, by far, the best.

Give this one a shot in whatever form you find it. There are multiple sets out there, including the very nice Wandering Star hardcover (be prepared to take out a good sized loan for this one) or the Del Rey paperback of The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane. Both feature fabulous art from Gary Gianni that is worth the price of admission. Of course, there are other reprint editions. Solomon Kane is, behind Conan, one of Howard’s most popular characters. Check out his stories.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

Forgotten Films: Adventures of Superman: Superman on Earth (1952) 

The pilot episode of The Adventures of Superman stands as one of the great episodes of ’50s TV.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 187th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films 

It has been an interesting week, again! I had a nightmare and fell out of bed, striking my forehead against a night stand and opening a cut up. It bled badly and was still oozing two hours later. So, I took myself to the Emergency Room where I got my cut superglued shut and a tetanus shot. I already had a headache and some aching muscles from the fall. And an embarrassed feeling in having to explain what happened. The only good takeaway is that I now have a miniature Harry Potter lightning bolt scar just above my right eyebrow.

Oh, and two of my friends got not-good health reports this week. Another peripheral acquaintance recently lost her mother, her one true love and her business. She took her life this last weekend.

So I needed something to make me feel better. Staying at home to rest my head and back, I decided to watch the premiere episode of The Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves. “Superman on Earth” is one of my favorite episodes of ‘50s TV.

The 28-minute episode is also one of the best TV superhero origin stories that stays true to its source materials. It begins on Krypton where the weather has been odd. The high council has asked young scientist Jor-El (Robert Robinson, best known as Mr. Boynton on Our Miss Brooks). He says Krypton is being drawn into the sun and will soon explode, but the council laughs him out of the chambers. At his home, he fuels his experimental rocket and discusses his experience with his wife Lara (Aline Towne, who made some memorable appearances in Republic serials). The planet’s weather anomalies begin to intensify, and Jor-El feels that it will soon explode. His rocket can carry one and he offers the seat to her. Instead, she elects to stay with him and send off their small son.

The planet explodes, the rocket speeds away, finding its way to Earth where it crashes in a field near Eben and Sarah Kent (Tom Fadden and Frances Morris). I love how they used the original names associated with the Clark Kent story and the Superman novel I reviewed some time ago.

The story unfolds normally, with Clark Kent growing up, Eben dying and Clark going off to join the Daily Planet. Here we meet the cast that the Adventures of Superman made famous. George Reeves as Superman, Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane, Jack Larson as Jimmy Olsen and John Hamilton as Perry White are all there in their glory. We also get a glimpse of the slight innuendo and wordplay between Lois and Clark that would characterize all Superman stories for the next 65 years.

Following this episode, I was much more calm and relaxed and decided to watch the Superman vs. The Mole Men movie made the year before. Suddenly, I was six again and living in Richmond, Virginia, watching Superman on an old black-and-white TV. The feeling of nostalgia and all around goodness made the day pass by.

Life was … better. It still wasn’t good. Just better.

I finished the morning watching the end of The Cat People, coming in near the swimming pool scene. It was gloriously noir.

All in all, it was a mixed bag of a day. I need to go read something uplifting too.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

Forgotten Films: Children of the Damned (1964)

Creepy kids are up to no good in Children of the Damned.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 186th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films 

When I was 8 or 9 I saw George Sanders and Barbara Shelley in the classic horror film Village of the Damned, which was based on the remarkable John Wyndham novel The Midwich Cuckoos. It was a very effective film with the trope of evil children pitted against a secluded town. In it, one day in the town of Midwich, every person mysteriously falls asleep. Soon, every woman capable of bearing children is found to be pregnant. They all give birth to blond children with golden eyes and a bad attitude.

The film as very successful financially, so naturally it was time for a sequel: Children of the Damned.

But the kids in the first film had been destroyed, so what to do? Following the oldest Hollywood rule regarding sequels, they decided to remake the first film with slight differences.

In this new movie, British psychologist Tom Lewellin (Ian Hendry) and geneticist David Neville (Alan Badel) are working for UNESCO looking into child development. One of their exercises takes them to young Paul Looran (Clive Powell). When given a large 3D puzzle, he completes it in about a minute while the other students being tested are still picking up pieces.

They are amazed and go to check on his parents. They meet Diana (Sheila Allen) who exudes the phrase “lower class” – undressed, unkempt and uneducated. They try to find out about his father. There is no father present. Diana obviously is scared of the boy and hates him. She agrees to let the scientists examine at him.

Meanwhile, other scientists have encountered five more children of the same age and abilities. They all are children of single mothers with no fathers present. And, like Paul, they are super smart and creepy. They can make people do anything. Paul, for example, has set Diana off to rendezvous with the front bumper a speeding truck in a dark tunnel.

The new batch of kids all solve the big puzzle in the same amount of time as Paul, down to the second. They’re brought to London through their various embassies and it’s soon discovered all six are in telepathic communication — instant communication.

But there are politics in motion. The embassies want the kids for themselves and intelligence services get involved, but the kids will have none of that. They have decided Paul’s aunt Susan (Barbara Ferris) will be there spokesperson, against her will.

They hole up in an abandoned church. Bad things befall anyone who tries to remove them. A large church pipe organ turns into a weapon. Soldiers kill each other unwillingly.

This was an OK film, not nearly as effective as the original but better than the 1995 Village remake with Christopher Reeve. I thought the political aspect was pretty shallow and the military involvement might have come from a Republic serial. There seemed to be no real thought to what the soldiers were doing or what might happen to the attackers or the civilian populace.

So, it was not bad, just not particularly good or creepy, until the events surrounding the Indian boy Rashid’s (Mahdu Mathen) killing are resolved. The final resolution of the film was weak to me. Overall, I’m glad I saw it, but I won’t watch it again without one of the creepy kids compelling me to do so.

Of course, your mileage may vary. But watch at your own risk.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.  

Forgotten Films: The 39 Steps (1935)

The 39 Steps works as a thriller and a comedy.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 185th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films 

This week, I’m sticking to the early stages of cinema with a film that I saw some 40 + years ago: Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps.

About a month ago, Sandi and I went to the Theater of the Big Bend for a performance. The theater department at Sul Ross State University is well known and for good reason. They produce an abundance of plays each year. I believe it was five or six this year. We saw Cabaret in April and it was fabulous. In June, they did The 39 Steps with a cast of four people, and it too was great! (We saw The Fantasticks last weekend. And, once again, we were thrilled to superb performances!)

Since I enjoyed the play of The 39 Steps, I decided to watch the Hitchcock film again. Of course, since I moved a year ago, things are still in chaos. I have looked several times for my Hitchcock collection that includes this film and it has not yet reared its head. But, thanks to Turner Classic Movies and their Hitchcock celebration this month, I was able to DVR the film and watch it again.

The 39 Steps is based loosely on a classic mystery novel of the same name by John Buchan. It follows the fantastic adventures of Richard Hannay (Robert Donat), a Canadian visiting in London. As the film opens, Hannay is taking in a vaudeville show. He watches a song and dance team who lead into the wonders of Mister Memory (Wylie Watson). Mister Memory commits 50 new facts to his fabulous mind every single day and can call them up to order. During the performance a pistol is fired and Hannay, with the rest of the audience, rushes to leave the show. In the rush, a young woman (Lucie Mannheim) attaches herself to him and asks to come to his home. The woman acts oddly, avoiding windows and shadows. She identifies herself as Annabella Smith and says she is an “agent” (read “spy”) but gives no affiliation. But she does reveal she’s tracking some stolen military air secrets and something called The 39 Steps. She is going to Scotland to meet someone. She also mentions her nemesis, a man of many names who cannot hide the fact that he is missing the upper joint on one of his pinky fingers.

Hannay allows her to use his bed while he sleeps on the sofa. His guest wakes him up with a knife in her back and promptly dies with a map of Scotland in her hand. Not sure what to do, Hannay looks outside and sees men who are obviously waiting for him. He escapes with the map via a funny ruse with the milkman and takes the train. Soon the maid discovers the body and the hunt is on. The newspapers are soon running stories about the murder and a police hunt. At one point, Hannay crashes into a room occupied by a young woman. He kisses her to escape the police, but she will have none of it. She outs him and he has to leap from the train.

Soon he is wandering Scotland and escaping police, spies, and the cold. He meets the woman from the train again and finds himself handcuffed to her. Pretending the pipe in his pocket is a gun, he persuades Pamela (Madeleine Carroll) to assist him and to help foil the spies.

The 39 Steps is a rare blend of comedy and suspense thriller. There are visual jokes, double entendre and more. The scene of the pair sleeping in a hotel bed while handcuffed, wet and hungry is a classic. One scene I loved was a throwaway: as the police and a detective follow Hannay through the train, they all tumble through a doorway like people falling out of the stateroom in the Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera.

This is the film that helped usher in an amazingly productive period of Hitchcock films and brought him into prominence. Everybody always mentions Psycho and Vertigo when talking about the great director. I would gladly throw this film into that mix as well. It is absurd at times and relies heavily on coincidence and the stupidity of some characters, but I still like a railroad ride into a Cornell Woolrich novel. I’m glad I got to revisit The 39 Steps and I hope you do also.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.