Forgotten Films: Swamp Thing (1982)

Swamp Thing Movie

Great comic, great poster… um… not so great movie.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 180th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

One of the things that I enjoy in my life is comic books. I got my first in 1959. I collected comics for several years and in 1962, the family moved from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Texas. My comic books at the time included early Green Lantern, Justice League of America, Thor, Hulk and Fantastic Four issues.

The comics were shipped in the family station wagon to Seattle, where we met up with it and discovered two items missing. One was a fire extinguisher; the second my stack of comics. I was devastated. We were about to embark upon a family trip, driving from Seattle to Dallas over a two-and-a-half-week period. We went to the Seattle World’s Fair, Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm and more. We got to see some military bases, including a naval station and a nuclear sub! Wow!

But two and half weeks in a station wagon with my parents, smoking two packs a day each, without comics was going to be hell, so pretty much every time we stopped I picked up more. This started a comic collection that lasted until 1968. My parents said they were not moving the comics anymore and that I had to rid myself of the collection, which I did a two cents apiece. I was crushed again.

But, soon, in college, I found my niche and friends who loved the illustrated page as much as I did. Among the titles starting to come out was Swamp Thing. (Hey, you knew the story was going somewhere.) Swamp Thing was a DC comic written by Len Wein and illustrated by Bernie Wrightson. It became a favorite comic because it was intelligently written and impeccably illustrated. The team worked together for only ten issues before they went in different directions. But Swamp Thing remained a classic.

So, you can guess my reaction in 1982 when this film (as you should remember, this column is about films) was announced and released. The track record of comic films at that time was not very good (except for Superman 1 and 2). And I was not familiar with the director at the time. His name was Wes Craven. Somehow I had missed his earlier directing stints, including The Hills Have Eyes.

So, I went to the theater and sat through the film. It was a mess. The story of Dr. Alec Holland and his botanic research in the swamp was there. The vicious attack by thugs and the horrific death suffered by Holland and his wife was there. The villain Arcane was there. Beyond that, things were muddled.

Dr. Alec Holland (played by the inimitable Ray Wise) has a shop in the swamp with his wife Linda (Nannette Brown). One of his security people has left and is replaced by Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau). As Cable arrives, some of the security network starts to malfunction and Alec and Alice investigate to find that wiring has been cut. When they return to the lab, some serendipity happens and the formula he’s creating starts to work in a fantastic manner.

Then the bad guys of Arcane (Louis Jordan) begin to arrive. Notebooks full of Alec’s research are taken, Linda is shot and Alec is doused in his formula and lit on fire. He runs screaming into the swamp, where he dies. Cable is hiding during some of this and has found the final notebook with the truly relevant information.

Now, the film falls off the rails. We get lots of shots of inept mercenaries trying to find Cable and we get the first appearance of the title character. Hollywood actor/stuntman Dick Durock wears the rubber suit and tries to make something out of the mess. Somehow he learns to speak, which the Swamp Thing in the comics did not regularly do.

There is some comic relief with a young black man running a gas station who is there when Alice runs in trying to escape Arcane. Reggie Batts plays Jude and is only in the film a few minutes. Soon, the film turns into a rubber-suit monster fight with broadswords in the swamp. Then it mercifully ends. But, like the seven year itch, the character returned in 1989 in The Return of the Swamp Thing.

As I watched this the other day, I cannot believe I watched both films back when they were released and had fairly decent memories of them. All I can say is, “I was young! So very young!” And I was starved for good comics-related films.

Pretty sure I will not be re-watching this one or the sequel any time soon. Or ever again. However, your mileage may vary.

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

Forgotten Book: The Chinese Agent by Michael Moorcock (1970)

The Chinese Agent traffics in spies not swords and sorcery, but it’s an entertaining read.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 200th in my series of Forgotten Books.

Finally, we reach review number 200. Seems odd to be there. But I have been doing this since 2010, so there have been several significant breaks in the time frame. And what to look at? I was thinking the other day about a friend I made in 1967 when I was still in high school and I had just moved to San Antonio. I knew no one and it was still a little bit until school started. One of the first guys I met was Ken B. Ken lived a couple of blocks away on Ft. Sam Houston. And, like me, he was a science fiction fan.

One day Ken gave me a book that changed my life. It was the Lancer edition of The Stealer of Souls by Michael Moorcock. The blue Jack Gaughan cover caught my fancy and the stories brought me into the fantasy worlds that were starting to take America by storm. He followed Stealer up with Stormbringer and one of Robert E. Howard’s Conan adventures. I was hooked on this type of literature. Moorcock and Howard moved to the top of my favorite reads. How was I to ever guess that one day I would know Mike Moorcock and would buy a story from him for a book I got to co-edit called Cross Plains Universe? I got to meet Mike! I got to edit a book! I got to buy an original story from a hero! Who would ever guess such a development?

So, it has been 50 years! Yet, somehow in 200 book reviews I have not done a Moorcock title! Elric books cannot be considered a forgotten title no matter what criteria I use. And that’s true of a large portion of Mike’s work. But as I was looking over the shelves the other day, The Chinese Agent leapt off the shelf and into my hands.

Sure, I had read it in the Seventies, but that was a long, long time ago, and I have read many, many books in that time, so it might just as well have been new to me. I did not read the original version of this novel, which was called Somewhere in the Night by Bill Barclay, from a smaller British paperback publisher in 1966. Mike rewrote it and made it into a humorous spy novel starring Jeremiah “Jerry” Cornell, a lower-level British spy.

The novel begins with half-Chinese American jewel thief Arthur Hodgkiss surveying the British Crown Jewels. He is known internationally as Jewelry Jules. While casing the Tower, another man approaches him and utters a phrase that is meant to identify a spy. Hodgkiss inadvertently gives the proper countersign and receives the plans to a secret project.

The main Chinese spy in London, Kung Fu Tzu, wants those plans. British Intelligence wants the plans. A comedy of errors ensues with Kung mistaking Jerry for a master spy with the skills of a Bond or Flint. Unfortunately, Jerry is just amazingly inept or lucky or both.

Cornell became a spy because he had skills which were needed and he did not want to go to prison. He tries to find the plans, only to be led into the paths of his relations on Portobello Road. His relations would make white trash hillbillies look good, especially his Uncle Edmond, who lives in a hovel with no electricity or water. He does have a pile of stuff that may be trash or treasure — and which may be alive.

Cornell does have extraordinary luck with the ladies, who include Shirley Withers, a secretary for his company; Miss Mavis Ming, who appears in later Jerry Cornelius adventures by Moorcock; and the legendary femme fatale Lilli von Bern, who may be a little long in the tooth but can still use sex as a weapon to obtain any information needed.

I had a lot of fun with this book. I will eventually try to find Somewhere in the Night to see what changes Moorcock made. It’s not Elric or Hawkmoon or Corum, but it kept me entertained, pretty much like every Michael Moorcock book I have ever picked up. It would have made a great movie in the day of the spy thrillers. Might still make a good one. Check it out.

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 Magnetic Monster (1953)

The thing that comes alive in The Magnetic Monster isn’t a giant radiated bug but a killer isotope.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 179th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

Boy, have I been loving May at Turner Classic Movies, where they have been showing some wonderful monster and horror movies of the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s with Dennis Miller hosting. It has been tempting to review only these movies for a while. I broke with that last week when I looked at Arsene Lupin and the Barrymores.

But here we are again with The Magnetic Monster, a ’50s science-horror movie.

Following the development of the atomic bomb, science as most Americans knew it changed drastically. Science became something terrifying and unfamiliar. And Hollywood was ready to move into this unexplored land.

The Magnetic Monster starts simply enough. The workers at Simon’s Department Store find that all their clocks have stopped. Mr. Simon (character actor favorite Byron Foulgar) begins berating Albert (Bowery Boy William “Billy” Benedict), who vows that he had wound all the clocks. Other appliances are also affected by some mysterious magnetic force which seems to have originated in the apartment above the store. The nearby Office of Scientific Investigation (OSI) is contacted and it dispatches two agents, Dr. Jeffrey Stewart (Richard Carlson) and Dr. Dan Forbes (King Donovan). They find evidence of radioactivity and massive magnetism from a lab above the store. The lab belongs to Dr. Denker (Leonard Mudie), who is carrying a dangerous isotope aboard an airplane. Denker dies from radiation poisoning. He had been bombarding this radioactive isotope with alpha particles, initiating all sorts of weird happenings.

The isotope suddenly began to defy all laws of physics by converting energy into mass, which doubles every 12 hours. While the sample size on hand is small at a quadrupling every 24 hours, it was going to become a huge threat within a few days. At 10 days, the mass would have grown by more than one million times its original size. Five more days would be a billion times. Imagine how much energy that would consume. The OSI began to speculate about how long it would take before the earth was thrown off its orbit.

The MANIAC, a giant card fed computer, taking up about a city block, runs the calculations. There’s lots of footage of the computer working, which means tape moving and cards being moved around. MANIAC finally determines that bombarding the sample within 24 hours with 900 million volts of electricity might do the trick. The experimental power station in Nova Scotia is the only possible place this might happen, even though the unit has a top rating of 600 million volts.

Tensions reach a height as the material is being bombarded and the generator’s creator does not want to see it destroyed.

The film gets tense, and aside from the faulty hand wavy science, I found myself fairly engaged. It was not a giant bug or monster film, though a giant isotope runs wild. Curt Siodmak, who gave us many fine films over the years, provided the screenplay. My favorite of his works was Donovan’s Brain, a 1942 novel which was filmed in 1954 with Nancy Davis and Lew Ayres. Siodmak also directed The Magnetic Monster. The film’s producer was Ivan Tors, in his second production, and Richard Carlson was in the prime of his career with It Came From Outer Space and Creature From the Black Lagoon appearing in 1954. According to Wikipedia this was the first in a three film series featuring the OSI, It was followed by Riders to the Stars and Gog, both in 1954.

This wasn’t a spectacular production but an OK way to enjoy an evening. Give it a try if you have the chance.

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

NASA database offers a treasure trove of research for sf writers

Forgotten Book: The Willful Princess & the Piebald Prince by Robin Hobb (2013)

Robin Hobb’s Willful Princess boasts both horses and palace intrigue.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 199th in my series of Forgotten Books.

I have reviewed nearly 200 books in this series since 2006. I have covered a lot of science fiction, mysteries and westerns, and some fantasy, but very little high fantasy. Not that I don’t like high fantasy. When the Ballantine Adult Fantasy books were being published, I bought many of them and discovered writers such as William Hope Hodgson, William Morris, and Joy Chant in that series — writers I still love today. I was already familiar with the names of Clark Ashton Smith and Lord Dunsany but had not read them, I read a lot of high fantasy and, as the market exploded, I burnt out on it quite spectacularly.

But I kept returning on occasion, I read The Belgariad of David Eddings and enjoyed it. But the subsequent volumes did not have the same sparkle and newness. The Wheel of Time? I read six volumes and realized that the story was advancing at the rate of about a week per 500 pages. And I no longer cared.

So, in 1995 when Robin Hobb appeared with Assassin’s Apprentice I was like, OK, yeah, yeah, more of the same. At least until I read that novel. After that, I was hooked. Then I found out that Robin Hobb was a name used by Megan Lindholm. I had read The Wizard of the Pigeons and Cloven Hooves and enjoyed those urban fantasies, but her Robin Hobb books were big, fun high fantasy thrills.

So, I became a Robin Hobb collector. I have the British hardcovers of all but a couple of the Live Ship Traders sequence. I will get to them eventually. In my mail today (and this is an absolutely true story) was a limited, signed printing of the Assassin’s Fate, the latest novel from England. I knew it was coming, but hadn’t expected its arrival just yet.

So the other day, I needed a new book to read and review. I had started a couple of titles but only managed to read 15 or 20 pages a night.

I was working in the library, moving around some books that were catching morning sunlight and replacing them with titles where a little sun bleaching was not going to be a financial loss. One of those titles was The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince. I looked at it. It was short, 154 pages, as opposed to the massive novels she now writes. It was a stand-alone too, a prequel to the first Farseer trilogy. And, did I mention it was short?

I grabbed a spot in my reading chair and turned on some ’60s music to let the magic take me away. And it did.

The book is two novellas with a common narrator, Felicity, whose mother was the wet nurse to Princess Caution Farseer, the only child of King Virile and Queen Capable Fareseer. Felicity is a couple of years older than Princess Caution and was the young princess’ first companion/servant. Felicity’s mother filled her mind with scheme’s to make sure that she improved her own and the family’s position at court.

The princess is known to be willful, but as an only child, her parents are not to deny her anything. Felicity remained her close and only companion. As the princess began to age, she was trained in the intricacies of political diplomacy and intrigue. But, she needs to marry and produce an heir. But no one presented to her attracts her attention. This escalates when she is named Queen-in-Waiting.

Her only passion is riding in the hunt. One Spring, she decides to go to the Horse Fair at the market and sees an amazing piebald-colored horse being handled by a piebald-colored hostler, named Lostler. There is an instant attraction to the animal and his handler. There are rumors that Lostler has some of the Wit, the ability to merge with an animal and see through its eyes. The Spotted Stud becomes the dominant horse in the stables as does his handler, replacing the stable master almost immediately.

The Spotted Stud has its way with the mares around the castle and soon, the hostler does the same with the princess. Where the Spotted Stud breeds spotted progeny, so it is with the princess, who has not heeded her name. Her spotted son ends up being the cause of her death and soon becomes the heir to the throne. The princess and her mother soon die, leaving a grieving broken king who muct choose between his less-than-noble grandson and his brother’s son, Canny.

Deadly political intrigue and the promotion of family interests worthy of Game of Thrones begins in the second half of the book. Those who are tired of waiting for the next GRRM novel can easily quell some of their thirst with the tales of the Farseers, which now number 21 titles. Check them out if you want a high fantasy fix. If that’s not your bag, check back next week and we will see what new book I have for you.

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

Forgotten Film: Arsene Lupin (1932) 

Two Barrymores star in this 1930s film about the gentleman thief.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 178th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

It was a tough choice this week selecting a Forgotten Film. On one hand, I had more of TCM’s giant creature movies on the DVR and I watched The Deadly Mantis in preparation for the review. But doing two similar films in a row was not how I really wanted to go. So, I glanced through the DVR and ran across Arsene Lupin, a mystery/thriller from 1932. I love older mysteries and the character of Arsene Lupin, so this film won out.

The character of Arsene Lupin, gentleman thief, was first introduced by Maurice Le Blanc in a series of short stories in 1905. By the time this film was made, Lupin had appeared in at least ten films and several plays as well as a number of short stories and novels. Wikipedia shows 19 volumes before the release of this film.

Aside from the subject matter, the film is also notable for being a team-up of John and Lionel Barrymore, two massive stars of the silver screen.  John gets the role of Arsene Lupin and the Duke of Charmerace, a broke aristocrat who runs a robbery ring as the gentleman burglar Arsene Lupin. The film opens with a trussed up servant of Gourney-Martin knocking a telephone off the table and calling the police. He says the house is being robbed by someone approximately six feet tall with a limp. The call goes to the dispatch, where it is identified as possibly being by Arsene Lupin. The call is given to Guerchard (Lionel Barrymore) who is one of the best in the Paris police.

As the police approach the house, the thief flees, but Guerchard follows. When they find the fleeing vehicle, it is abandoned except for a bound, well-dressed figure. The captive identifies himself as the Duke of Charmerace (John Barrymore). Guerchard says that’s a lie. The banter between the mysterious man and the officer continues back and forth continues until Gourney-Martin (Tully Marshall) arrives from the opera and identifies Charmerace to the police. Guerchard believes that Charmerac is still Lupin and was after Gourney-Martin’s famous emerald necklace and other jewels.  Gourney-Martin explains to Guerchard that Lupin would have been disappointed because the jewels are in the Gourney-Martin villa in the countryside. Charmerace hears this at the same time.

Gourney-Martin plans to head out to the countryside to make sure the jewels are OK. Charmerace has a party to host the next evening for his birthday. Guerchard is planning on having men at the party to keep an eye on him. At the party, Charmerace finds a naked woman in his bed. Her name is Countess Sonia (Karen Morley), and the strap on her gown has broken and is being repaired by some of the servants in the next room. Banter and innuendo ensues between the two.

Also at the party are collectors looking for more than a half million francs, which Charmerace promises to pay on the morrow. When the lights are turned out, women’s jewelry goes missing. The police search everyone, but the jewels are not found.

Gourneey-Martin has been at the party and asks Charmerace to come with him to the villa. He agrees and decides to bring Sonia along with him.  Guerchard is interested in this development, as Sonia notifies him about the trip, since she is working for the police.

Gourney-Martin shows Charmerace his safe which has no keyhole or combination. He asks Charmerace to open the door, but when he grasps the handle, he is shocked by the electric current which paralyzes his grip and he cannot let go of the door. Gourney-Martin laughs at the situation until Charmerace uses his free hand to grab Gourney-Martin who also is shocked. Gourney-Martin uses his free hand to flip the switch that turns off the current. He tells Charmerace about the jewels and bonds in the box. The bonds were obtained in a less than legal manner.

The rest of the film deals with Lupin taunting Guerchard and threatening to steal the Mona Lisa from the Louvre on the following day, in front of the police and Guerchard.

It is a pretty decent film. The two Barrymores show why they were among the most noted actors of their time. Many have played Lupin over the years and John Barrymore was among the best. So, if you have the chance, it is worth spending the 84 minutes with this one. A classic film featuring classic actors in classic roles.

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

Forgotten Book: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes by Loren Estleman (1979)

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes puts the world’s greatest detective on the doctor’s strange case.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 198th in my series of Forgotten Books.

Back in the mid 1980’s I thought I might end up as a regular writer of western novels. As a result, in 1984 Joe Lansdale and I ended up going to the Western Writers of America conference in Branson, Missouri. We spent a long Sunday driving from Dallas to Branson, talking the entire way. I heard stories that day which took years to appear in one form or another. I heard the story of The Night They Missed the Horror Show on that trip. I listened as Joe pitched The Magic Wagon to Pat LoBrutto in the cafeteria line for one of the meals. I met Jory Sherman and his wife Charlotte, who were writing two adult western series, Gunn and Bolt. Jory was talking with me about doing some of those titles but we never got beyond talking.

Among the people I met that weekend was Joe’s agent, Ray Peuchner. Ray had about a dozen clients there and I thought that someday soon I might be one of them. Ray’s most prestigious writer at that point was Loren Estleman.

I talked a lot with Loren that weekend. He told me about the first novel he sold, The Oklahoma Punk, and how it was from a minor publisher and was very hard to find. And he talked about Aces and Eights, his Spur award winning novel of Wild Bill Hickock, which he managed to write without once dealing with a horse. We talked mysteries too. His Amos Walker series of novels set n Detroit was underway. When I went back to Dallas, I found The Oklahoma Punk in the first bookstore I looked in.

The next WWA meeting was in San Antonio and I saw Loren again. We went book shopping in the city, where I served as the native guide to a large group of western writers. Wonderful things were found on that trip. The following year, it was Ft. Worth and I could not attend in the manner I had the previous two years. I got there briefly but I had to maintain my normal work schedule and the like. It was nowhere near as satisfying that year, and I never attended another WWA meeting. Nor did I write a western novel. I had ideas, but, being me, they remained unwritten.

A couple of years later, I found myself in the Detroit area for a couple of months. Loren lived nearby and I sent him a postcard with my information. He contacted me and we did a couple of dinners and spent a very pleasant day shopping for books in Ann Arbor. I have only seen him once or twice since then. But I enjoyed all the time we spent together.

So, long stories lead to shorter ones.

The other day while waiting for Sandi to appear in the local Cinco de Mayo parade, I spent some time in Front Street Books here in Alpine. I was killing time and enjoying the AC. I found a couple of paperbacks I was looking for and then chanced across a copy of this week’s book, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes, by John H. Watson, M.DS, as edited by Loren D Estleman.

This was Estleman’s fifth book, following The Oklahoma Punk, two westerns, and another Holmes title, Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula, or, The Adventure of the Sanguinary Count. This copy was an first edition in a dust jacket — an ex-lending library copy with massive glue stains on the end papers — but for $4 I was not about to complain.

The novel features Holmes and Watson being initially retained by G. J, Utterson, an attorney for Dr. Henry Jekyll, who is violating some confidences. Dr. Jekyll has recently made a will leaving everything he owns to one Edward Hyde, a nasty, brutish character whom Uttwerson does not trust.

The pair follow Hyde and find him to be a loathsome character whom they believe is blackmailing Jekyll for his considerable fortune. But nothing they do can disclose much about Hyde, and Jekyll wants them to drop the case. He made the will voluntarily and is not being blackmailed.

Holmes and Watson are reinvigorated when Hyde apparently kills Sir Danvers Carew one day in full sight of various witnesses. Eventually, even Mycroft appears with a message from a royal personage – a very powerful female royal personage – who wants the case solved. The chase is on and plenty of action ensues, including a wonderful chase between two hansom cabs throughout a very busy London midday.

Sometimes it is hard for us as modern readers to remember that The Strange Case of Dr, Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was originally published as a mystery and the relationship between the two title characters was a total shock to Victorian readers. So, it is here to Holmes and Watson.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes is good read. Knowing the resolution, we readers get to enjoy seeing how Holmes is going to arrive at the highly improbable solution to the tale. I found it satisfying and well worth my time spent reading.

Check it out. Personally, I blame Mary Reilly (who does not appear in this 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 Giant Claw (1957)

The Giant Claw

If only the creature in The Giant Claw was the one advertised on the poster.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 177th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

The other day on Facebook someone put up a picture that brought back interesting memories. The picture was a still from The Giant Claw.

I remember the events leading up to my seeing this film. I don’t remember the exact year. I know it was the summer of 1964 or 1965. My family was vacationing at the military park on Lake Texoma. We were visiting with my uncle Johnny and his family in the evenings and spending the day swimming at the lake. I am not a great swimmer and this may have been a reason why.

About ten in the morning, we were wading around in the water when my sister screamed bloody murder. She had stepped on a broken beer bottle and gashed open the sole of her foot. My mom grabbed a towel and wrapped up the foot. We got our stuff together and made the drive over to Perrin Field and the hospital. About an hour and a couple of stitches later, she was better.

We went back to the lake and had our lunch. In the afternoon, we went back into the lake (except my sister, who had a bandage on her foot). About 2 p.m. my brother stepped on a broken beer bottle and sliced open the bottom of his foot. Again, we grabbed up our stuff and headed back to town. I got dropped off at my uncle’s house, as sitting in the emergency room for the second time that day did not appeal to me. My cousin Ronnie was there. We were about the same age but of totally different temperaments.

While the family was at the hospital, Ronnie and I watched The Giant Claw. The family came back for me after about an hour and a half later and asked if I wanted to go back to the lake. I looked at my pale, flat and unscarred feet and said I thought I would stay at the house and finish the movie.

If you’ve ever seen The Giant Claw, you know what a hard choice that was.

Aeronautic Engineer Mitch McAfee (Jeff Morrow) is performing some tests in a jet when he witnesses a large shape coming toward his jet. He cannot make out the details but it is big and moving very rapidly. He narrowly avoids a collision and returns to the ground. Here, as he recounts his encounter, he is greeted with skepticism as the ground radar has not reported anything else in the sky. The military officer in charge threatens him over his prank. Even Sally Caldwell (Mara Corday), his girlfriend/mathematician, does not believe him.

Major Bergen (Clark Howat) is about to fight him when a call comes in about another sighting of a UFO and a missing commercial plane. Again, nothing else was seen on the radar, and the pilot had called in the sighting. Suddenly, Mitch and Sally are on their way to Washington. On their flight, the plane is attacked by the UFO and they end up in the area of the U.S./French Canadian border, where they are rescued by Pierre (Louis Merrill). When the authorities arrive, Pierre is outside and screams. He has seen la Carcagne, a French Canadian mythic creature, part woman, part giant bird.

In New York, the pair meet up with Generals Considine and Buslirk (Morris Ankrum and last week’s star of The Neanderthal Man, Robert Shayne). Mitch has found a pattern in the bird’s attacks, based on a giant spiral. More attacks are happening and they fit the pattern.

Up to this point, the The Giant Claw is a decent little B film. Then, we get to see the bird. Oh, my Lord! According to IMDB, Jeff Morrow stated that, up until the premier, no one in the cast had seen the creature. Morrow saw the film in his hometown and when the crowd started laughing, he got up and left, rather than be recognized for being in the film.

The producer ran out of money and contracted with a special effects group in Mexico. Their monster is one of the great laughing stocks in B movie history. The giant bird is a puppet with a deformed face. You can see the strings in a few scenes. It is unconvincing and horrid-looking and ruined what might have been a decent film.

Humanity wins against this extra-terrestrial being with an anti-matter screen which is bent on destruction. The method doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but by then, you don’t care. It’s a sad finish to a ruined film that had potential.

It had been more than 50 years since I saw The Giant Claw the first time. I had hoped my memories were incorrect or hazy. They were but not in a good way. It will be at least that long before I attempt it again. Unless I have to show it to someone as a lesson.

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

Forgotten Book: Kitt Peak by Al Sarrantonio (1993)

Kitt Peak’s cover isn’t a much of a grabber, but its pages are packed with action.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 197th in my series of Forgotten Books.

During my Spring Break this year, Sandi and I met with our friends Ed and Sam who came out to Alpine to see us. Among the many things we did was make a trip to the army post at Ft. Davis, about 25 miles away. That trip made me want to check back in on a previous Forgotten Book.

In February of last year, before I knew I was coming to this area, I wrote about the first book in this series, West Texas, a western mystery novel featuring former buffalo soldier Thomas Mullin who uses the methods of his literary idol, Sherlock Holmes, to solve a crime. The book was amazingly good and should be known by a larger reading group. But being published in hardcover by the minor publisher M. Evans as a Western with a non-descript typographical cover in 1993 does not lead to impulse buying and rave reviews,

Still, I knew Al Sarrantonio and I heard from those in the know that I should get that book. So I did. And when the sequel, Kitt Peak, came out, I picked it up also.

Kitt Peak is not an immediate sequel to West Texas. Thomas Mullin, the hero of the first novel, has inherited his aunt’s home in Boston and some 10 or 15 years have passed. The prejudice he experienced before is still present, though not as overt. Mullins misses the regimen of Army life and his horse. The civilization of Boston is not to his taste.

When he receives a letter from an old friend, Bill Adams, asking for his help in finding a missing daughter, it does not take much effort to start him moving. Knowing he cannot do things alone, he contacts his old companion, Lincoln Reeves, in Birmingham, Alabama, and asks to meet him in Tucson. The two are not quite sure what to expect. Adams was one of the few white men assigned to Ft. Davis and one of the few they both Mullin and Reeves respected.

But all is not sweetness and light in Arizona. Mullin could smell the aroma of alcohol on the letter and saw rings where a drink was placed on the letter. Mullins had heard that Adams had a fondness for drink, and with his daughter missing, it was not a large leap to see that fondness had grown.

The missing girl is half white and half Indian, specifically Papago Indian. The Papago name means “bean eater” and the tribe hates that name. They refer to themselves as Tohona O’otam. They worship the eagle that rules the sky. But the eagle is unhappy with the conduct of the peaceful tribe and begins to demand blood sacrifices. Le Cato is their leader, the Keeper of the Smoke, which includes the use of peyote.

When Mullin arrives, he meets up with the local hotelier, Cates, who has no use for him. The Marshall in town, Murphy, saves him from a bad encounter and tells him that not only is Abby Adams missing, but also her father Bob.

Out in the deserts south of town, Lone Wolf, an Apache leader, has plans for the area that are secret but involve lots of death.

Action swirls through this novel. Mullin and Reeves have bad encounters with the Papago and with miners. Bodies are found. Their guide is unreliable… maybe. And President Teddy Roosevelt is coming to Tucson on his way to California, seeking votes.

I enjoyed Kitt Peak quite a bit. It is short, just 143 pages, and that’s always a plus in my book when I’m trying to get one read and reviewed each week. The writing is crisp and evocative. I got a great feel for the area and the cultures. I like the first book slightly better, but that’s not a criticism of this one. Try to find it and check them both out.

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 Neanderthal Man (1953) 

The poster should clue you in that The Neanderthal Man is standard B-movie fare.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 176th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

Sometime over the last year, I DVR’d a bunch of old movies I had never seen. I do this frequently. Sometimes I watch the films, other times I decide that my initial interest has faded and pass them up.

This last week, I was skinning through the recorded shows and I saw the title The Neanderthal Man and thought, “Why the heck not?”

It begins with Professor Clifford Groves (Robert Shayne, mistakenly credited as Robert Shane) living in the mountains of California, where he conducts experiments and formulates theories about Man’s ascent up the evolutionary ladder. He is working at home when he hears a loud noise and a crash. Something has happened in his laboratory.

Local hunter Wheeler is out looking for game and he runs across a saber toothed tiger, which he calls a “big cat,” even though it’s three times the size of a mountain lion and has tusks. Even though he is armed, Wheeler elects not to take a shot. Instead he goes down to Webb’s café and tells his story. No one believes him. Nola the waitress (Beverly Garland) is sympathetic but that doesn’t help. The local game warden George Oakes (Robert Long) decides to investigate and finds the spoor of something big. He makes a plaster cast of it. He takes the cast to Dr. Ross Harkness (Richard Crane), the zoologist at the local university. Harkness thinks it is a manufactured piece, rather than something authentic.

Professor Groves’ evolutionary chart shows Cro-Magnon man prior to Neanderthal and has the hoaxed Piltdown Man on the list. No wonder the local scientists group at the Naturalist’s Club thinks he is loony. And a mad scientist in the California woods is not to be fooled with.

Harkness is aware of some of Groves’ theories, having disputed with them in the past. He has a confrontation with him at Groves’ house when he brings the Professor’s fiancé, Ruth Marshall (Doris Merrick), up from the café where her car has broken down. Harkness is looking for Oakes, who parks his car at the Professor’s house since the roads end there. Groves throws Harkness and Oakes out when he confronts them. The two go out looking for the saber toothed tiger and find it. They kill the beast and go to get Groves so they can have another person verify the kill. They have to wait for Groves to emerge from his lab and when they take him to the spot, the dead body has disappeared. The Professor loses his temper over the wasted time and throws them out again.

Ruth notices changes between the man she fell in love with and the current Professor. And, no wonder! The Professor has run out of test subjects other than a small cat which he injects with an experimental fluid. We can now guess where the tiger has come from.

With his big cat dead, the Professor does what any sane man would do. He injects the serum into his own body. Within minutes he has grown lots of hair and bad teeth. He runs out into the woods and attacks Nola who is posing for photos with her boyfriend. The boyfriend dies in the scuffle.

I don’t think I need to tell you much more of the plot. You know the drill.

The Neanderthal Man is standard B picture fare, nothing startling, nothing revelatory. The acting is OK to poor. The special effects budget was somewhere between $5 and $20. The saber toothed tiger looks amazingly like a real tiger (occasionally on a not-unseen leash) though the tusks are only seen in close up shots. In other words, the saber toothed tiger walking looks like a tiger walking without the saber teeth. The Neanderthal make-up looks like it’s from a bad werewolf movie, replete with the time lapse fur-growing scenes.

But for 1953 drive-in fare, the movie is palatable. Robert Shayne overacts the mad scientist part quite well and slings erudite insults at his Naturalist Club members with ease. And, Beverly Garland is a young Beverly Garland and well worth the attention.

This is not a film to make great effort to see, but if you have 78 minutes with nothing better to do, you could do worse.

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