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.  

Forgotten Book: Mexican Pulp Art Introduction by Maria Cristina Tavera, 2007

The cover image from Mexican Pulp Art.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 205th in my series of Forgotten Books.

This will be a relatively short review because the book is short by itself. This volume collects cover illustrations from a variety of Mexican pulp magazines over 134 pages. Some are one page or smaller, though there are several double page spreads. The pictures are from the collections of Bobbette Axelrod and Ted Frankel.

The introduction contains a little on the history of Mexican pulp magazines. According to the introduction, at their peak the Mexican pulps were being printed in amounts of 50 to 80 million per month!

The photos are from the 1960’s through the 1970’s.  Not a lot is known about the artists since, as in the US, these were disposable items, meant for momentary amusement and then the ashcan.

Dinosaurs attack in Mexican Pulp Art.

The artists are primarily known by the last names shown on the paintings. There does not appear to be anyone equivalent to J. Allen St. John, Rafael deSoto, Norman Saunders, Margaret Brundage or Hannes Bok, among the many others who graced the American pulps, but there are some gems here, including the lovely bee woman cover featured on the cover.

I have included some random shots I took from the interior of the volume. My only complaints are the size of the book and just nine pages of text,. It is barely larger than a mass market paperback. I would have loved to have seen a large trade paperback or art book to revel in. I would have loved more on the Mexican pulp industry, perhaps something about recurring characters or about how the two collections were acquired and evolved over the years. I will take what I got, though.

Check out these photos and let me know your thoughts.

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

Strange things are afoot (and aneyeball) in Mexican Pulp Art.

Another of the ghastly images from Mexican Pulp Art.

Forgotten Films: Bulldog Drummond (1929)

The 1929 version of Bulldog Drummond stars the dashing Ronald Colman.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 184th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

This week, I am still hanging out in the early stages of cinema with the first talkie version of Bulldog Drummond. (There had been two silent films prior to this one.)

If you are not familiar with Bulldog Drummond, you should correct that fault. Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond is one of the singular British heroes of the period between the World Wars. He is the creation of “Sapper” (otherwise known as H. C. McNeile. Sapper did ten novels featuring Drummond prior to his death in 1937 from throat cancer. The series of was continued by Gerald Fairley (seven novels until 1954) then Henry Reymond (two novels in the late ’60s). While not a first-tier character like Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, or Superman, he was a fairly well-known and popular character during his time. His popularity was on a par with Fu Manchu. Wikipedia lists 23 films featuring Drummond from 1922 to 1969, including the two silent versions with 12 different actors taking on the role. Alan Moore even inserted him into the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen history, while Philip Jose Farmer includes him in his Wold-Newton Universe of various heroes and villains.

The 1929 version of Bulldog Drummond has several distinctions going for it. First, it was a talking picture. Second, the star was a well-known silent film star trying to make the jump to the talkies. Ronald Colman was dashing and heroic. He had appeared in more than 25 films prior to the talking revolution, per IMDB. Samuel Goldwyn wanted to make a splash with Colman’s debut in the sound era, and he decided Bulldog Drummond would be the vehicle. As Singing in the Rain showed us, many silent stars had trouble making the transition. Colman was not one of them. This was the perfect choice. In fact, he got an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor as a result.

But, on to the film. As it opens, “Bulldog” Drummond is sitting at his club one night. He is amazingly bored. The most exciting thing happening is that someone has dropped a spoon. He is too rich to work and totally bored. So, he posts an ad in a London newspaper. He states that he is bored and looking for adventure. It gives a post box for replies. Almost immediately he receives one.

A woman asks if he is serious. If he is, she requests that he meet her at an inn where she has reserved a room for “John Smith.” She asks to meet him at midnight. He arrives and meets Phyllis Benton (Joan Bennett). But his good friend Algy (Claud Allister) is suspicious of the whole matter and drags along Drummond’s valet, Danny (Wilson Benge).

Phyllis tells Drummond a strange story involving her uncle; John Travers (Charles Sellon), whom she suspects has been kidnapped into a hospital and is held against his will. He is rich, so money is the obvious motive. The hospital is run by Dr. Lakington (Lawrence Grant), who is aided by Carl Peterson (Montagu Love) and the slinky Irma (Lilyan Tashman). Drummond soon determines that Phyllis is correct and he sets out to rescue Travers.

Algy and Danny provide some comic relief amid all the posturing, testosterone and action. There are twists and turns in the overall process, but Drummond finally succeeds.

Bulldog Drummond is fun film and it kept my interest. There was some horrendous overacting by Joan Bennett, who took a little longer to make the successful transition to sound pictures. The film music was sparse, as was true early on. So there are some long silences in the film.

I’ve seen several of the later Bulldog Drummond films with Tom Conway, Walter Pigeon and John Howard, who played Drummond seven times. Ronald Coleman recreated the role in Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back. They are passable B films of the times.

Of course, your mileage on the first Drummond talkie may vary, particularly during the comic bits. But I recommend this one.

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




Forgotten Book: Sherlock Holmes: Zombies Over London by Stephen Mertz (2015)

Sherlock Holmes: Zombies Over London delivers fast-paced action over its 135 pages.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 204th in my series of Forgotten Books.

To be upfront, I will need to point out that I have known Steve Mertz for a long time. Not a close friend, but a friend none the less. And the publisher of this volume, Rough Edges Press, is owned by my friends James and Livia Washburn Reasoner, who have published at least one of my stories in the past.

Last year at ArmadilloCon 38, James Reasoner and Steve Mertz, along with Joe Lansdale, were on a panel I moderated on writing men’s adventure fiction. Steve had apprenticed with Don Pendelton for several years and had written and created a variety of men’s adventure series. For his part, James had written a number of Mike Shayne stories for Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. And Joe had written three MIA Hunter novels for Steve in his early days. Bill Crider had also been scheduled for the panel but he missed due to health issues. Bill had written MIA Hunter, Nick Carter, and a number of western series. Between them, the participants had probably written over 600 novels.

After the panel, I purchased several of Steve’s novels including this week’s Forgotten Book, Sherlock Holmes: Zombies Over London. It’s not exactly so much forgotten as it is unseen or underappreciated. Everything about this book appealed to me. The writer, the cover, the subject matter – everything! Sherlock Holmes, Zombies! Zeppelins! Oh my!

The novel begins with Holmes and Watson aboard the zeppelin Blackhawk about to parachute into Castle Moriarty to rescue Mary Watson who has been taken captive. Upon arriving, they find Moriarty has a group of supremely powerful men that do not react well to any actions directed their way. In fact, they are nearly unstoppable.

Watson and Holmes rescue Mary but Moriarty escapes. They try to track him down but with no success. Back at 221B Baker Street, a new client arrives. He is a tutor and writer, a Mr. Herbert Wells. Watson is familiar with his work, stating that he has loved The Invisible Man. Wells reveals that his next book will be The Time Machine, and he is working on perfecting a model of the device. Holmes is familiar with Wells’ social writings, but ddoes not waste his time on fiction.

Wells is concerned that a young German student he knows appears to be missing. The 16-year-old Albert Einstein is a member of some of Wells’ mathematical circles and has been staying with Wells and his new wife.

A search of Einstein’s room discloses a flyer to a sleazy burlesque house signed by “Danielle” as well as a handkerchief with Mrs. Wells’ monogram. Things may not be all rosy at the Wells’ household.

A trip to the Leicester Square burlesque square finds the mysterious Danielle is a performer with Andre, a knife thrower. During the performance a knife narrowly misses Holmes and mayhem ensues. Danielle and Andre try to flee. A zeppelin shows up with some zombies aboard. Holmes and Watson escape.

Steve Mertz is known for writing good plots with fast action. This volume does not disappoint in those regards. At 135 pages, it is a little short for my taste, but the action never flags. There is conflict with Holmes and Moriarty and zombies and dirigibles. Einstein and Wells are involved in more than is originally thought. Danielle works her wiles. Mrs. Wells has secrets.

During this same period, I read Bill Crider’s Eight Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, an e-book of Crider’s occasional forays into the Holmes canon. I liked Crider’s just as much, even though it was more traditional than the Mertz adventure. I can easily recommend both.

I do have one minor quibble with this book. As mentioned above, Wells is working on The Time Machine and has already published The Invisible Man. The Time Machine was Wells’ first novel. But, in a world of zombies and dirigibles in 1895 London I guess I can allow that transposition.

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

Forgotten Film: The Case of the Curious Bride (1935)

The Case of the Curious Bride is an early Perry Mason mystery.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 183rd in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films 

This has been a week! Normally, depending on other commitments, I try to watch a film during the week, then I write up my thoughts on Sunday. This go-round, I was going to have to both watch the film and do the write-up on Sunday.

I had thought to do The 39 Steps, the early Hitchcock version since I had recently seen a dramatization of it, but I could not locate my copy of the film. I had recorded Man Hunt, but when I went to watch it, the recording was of a 1933 film starring Junior Durkind, not the Walter Pigeon and George Sanders suspense thriller. I thought I would watch the Durkin one, but after 10 minutes I turned off the recording and deleted the film from the DVR. I made it 5 minutes further than Sandi did. So, I dipped back into the DVR.

I pulled up The Lost Continent, a Hammer thriller from 1968 with Hildegaard Neff, Eric Porter and Suzanna Leigh. But the quality of the recording was iffy at best. Several times I got a message that the recording had been interrupted. Normally, these interruptions were for a few seconds and I was able to follow the film. But at one key point, the gap was substantial with a total change of scene and characters. I gave up on it also.

Back to the DVR. Hopefully the third time was going to be the charm. I had an early Perry Mason film recorded. I had seen several of the Warren William Masons, so I knew it would be fun. Up popped The Case of the Curious Bride, Williams’ second outing as Mason. The film went smoothly, so here we go.

Perry Mason has just completed a successful defense and is celebrating with his friends and associates. He has picked out some crabs and has gone to Luigi’s to make some fancy Italian dish. Afterward, he plans to leave for a long delayed vacation to China. While preparing the meal, though, he is interrupted by Rhoda Montaine (Margaret Lindsay), who wants to ask him about a problem one of her girlfriends has. The girl had previously been married and husband died four year earlier. She’s since fallen in love and wants to get re-married. But the first husband may be alive. Mason asks the girl’s name and address and Rhoda provides information, which proves false.

Mason is called away and when he returns Rhoda is gone. He has his meal and goes home. The next day, he finds that Rhoda was speaking of herself and that her supposedly dead first husband, Gerald Moxley (Errol Flynn in his second credited Hollywood role) has been killed. Rhoda is fleeing the city and is the obvious suspect. Her new husband, Carl, is suspicious of her behavior and her relation with Dr. Millbeck. Her new father-in-law, C. Phillip Montaine of Pasadena, wants the marriage broken up and offers Mason a lot of money to lose the defense. What’s more, the DA is out for blood.

Williams does pretty well as Mason, but Claire Dodds is wasted as Della Street who does not do much in The Case of the Curious Bride. Allen Jenkins returns as “Spudsy” Drake, Mason’s gopher and right hand worker. He provides a lot of comic relief to these tales, which I do not recall in the novels. (Come to think of it, it has been more than 40 years since I read a Perry Mason so maybe that could be a Forgotten Book column soon.) Olin Howard reprises his role as the coroner Wilbur Strong, who partakes of the gourmet meal with gusto and has a wonderful revelation when exhuming a body early on. And Wini Shaw has a fun song and dance number at the Midnight Burlesque doing a piece called “It Was a Dark and Stormy Night.” Sorry, no Snoopy sitting on his dog house.

These films will never replace the Raymond Burr TV appearances, but they are an interesting representation of the time. I found The Case of the Curious Bride worth a viewing. Perhaps you will too. But, as always with a film this old, 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: Libriomancer by Jim Hines (2012)

By Scott A. Cupp

Jim Hines’ Libriomancer is packed with fast-moving fantasy fun.

This is the 203rd in my series of Forgotten Books.

My good friend/book pusher Willie Siros suggested Jim Hines’ Libriomancer to me several years ago. In deference to his wisdom in such matters I bought a paperback copy. It stayed in my “to be read” room. Yes, others have a stack. I have a room full of titles that are in my near-future plans to read. Of course, those thoughts and ideas change frequently as I buy new books and things appear and disappear. So, time passed.

Eventually, I acquired all four volumes in the series. In hardback. I had met the author, Jim Hines at a convention in Houston. He was very nice and I enjoyed talking to him. I had him sign some bookplates to put into my copies because I did not have them with me. I managed to acquire first editions of all but the first. The one I’m reviewing now.

So, I was searching for the right book to read and glanced at this one. Serendipity happened.

With 300 or so pages, I only needed to average 50 per day to complete Libriomancer in time to write this review. As a credit to Hines’ story, I finished a day early.

Isaac Vainio is a librarian in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He is having a quiet day when vampires show up and attack him. Now, most librarians would have some trouble fending off vampires (and I am not talking about you Bill Page, Peggy Hailey, April Aultman Becker, Jeremy Brett or Jess Nevins, all of whom would kick butt). But Isaac is not your ordinary librarian. He was once one of a select group known as the Libriomancers. That means he can literally reach into a book and pull out a weapon.

The power of the Libriomancer comes from the collective belief of readers who want the activities in their favorite books to be real. Isaac had discovered this as a teen when he found his hands slipping into a novel he as enjoying. He was found and trained to be a part of Die Zwelf Portenaere (The Twelve Doorkeepers, or the Porters).

There are limitations to this power, of course. The withdrawn weapon must be able to fit through the physical dimensions of the book, so tanks or flame throwers are generally out of the question. Certain incredibly powerful items, like the One Ring, have been proscribed by the Authorities and are “locked.” Still, Isaac knows how to work with these limitations, and vampires dispatched, soon is at home wondering what is going on.

There, he meets Lena Greenwood, a dryad who is attached to his analyst/libromancer shrink Dr. Nidhi Shah. He learns that Dr. Shah has been kidnapped and the peace with the vampires has been broken. Also, Isaac’s best friend among the libromancers has been murdered. On top of this, Dr. Shah had recommended that he be taken off of field work, essentially confining him to his library with no magic involved.

But there are other problems. The creator of the Porters, Johannes Gutenberg, has disappeared, along with his 12 undefeatable automatons. There are traitors within the Porters. Some of the Porters’ libraries have been attacked, including the one at Michigan State University, which has been leveled. And someone, a very powerful someone, wants Isaac dead. Oh, and the dryad needs to form a relationship with someone or die. And that someone is Isaac, based on his interviews with the good doctor. And Ponce d Leon makes an appearance too.

I’m not going to reveal much more of the plot. But a lot happens in these pages.

Libriomancer was a blast. No one will confuse it for William Faulkner or John Steinbeck. But if you want to read good, fun action and adventure, this one is 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 Films: They Met in Bombay (1941)

They Met in Bombay is part comedy caper film and part WW2 action yarn.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 182nd in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

As I said last week, “police and detective films of the ’30s and ’40s can be a wonderful thing.” So, when browsing through the program guide a few months ago, I was immediately struck by the title They Met in Bombay. I looked up the summary and found it to be a comedy caper about two jewel thieves in India. The stars included Clark Gable, the amazing Rosalind Russell and Peter Lorre. So, onto the DVR it went.

When I was looking for something to watch and describe for you faithful readers, the film struck me again. It starts in Bombay, where the Duchess of Belltravers (Jessie Ralph) is set to appear at the annual celebration of colonial British rule. The Duchess owns a fabulous necklace with a huge diamond pendant, the Star of Asia. Being a well-known jewel, it naturally attracts the attention of thieves. Gerald Meldrick (Gable) is such a thief and he has made a very acceptable copy of the necklace. He arrives at the hotel where the celebration will take place. He presents the manager (Eduardo Ciannelli) with a telegram presenting him as a detective for Lloyd’s of London, which insures the necklace. The necklace is kept is the hotel safe and guarded at all times when it’s not worn.

As he Meldrick checks in, he sees the Baroness Anya van Duren (Russell) arrive to make her own play as a con artist. She goes to her room and studies the history of the Belltravers family, brushing up on the family lineage and personal details such as who their friends are.

When Anya goes to get her hair and nails done, Gerald is there getting a shave. That shave quickly turns into a haircut so he can look admiringly at her. At the celebration, the Duchess notes that Anya looks just like she did when she was younger. Anya’s guests include a local prince, but they have not shown up (because they were never invited). The Duchess invites Anya to join her party as the prince in question is also a friend of hers.

Anya, being a good con artist, ingratiates herself into the Duchess’ confidence, and soon the two are back at the Duchess’ suite where the older woman falls asleep. Anya removes the necklace and departs to her suite. When Gerald enters, he sees that the necklace is gone. He puts his copy on the woman and goes to Anya’s room, where he confronts her as the Lloyd’s detective and gets her to give up the goods. A few minutes after he leaves, she sees the real hotel detectives leaving the Duchess’ room with the necklace, which she asks to see. She then realizes that she has been conned herself.

The next morning, Gerald checks out of the hotel and grabs a ride to the airport. Inside the cab he finds Anya. They discuss the evening’s happenings and the possibility of a partnership. Just as they reach the airport, they hear the sound of the police. Realizing the jig is up, they steal a boat and row out to a freighter on its way to Hong Kong. Captain Chang (Peter Lorre) realizes who the pair are and offers to turn them over when they get to Hong Kong for a £10,000.

The two grab the jewel and escape over the side of the freighter and hide out in Hong Kong for several weeks. Anya has acquired a domestic streak and is hoping the two can retire from theft. Nearly broke, Gerald concocts a new plan to steal money from a businessman who has defrauded the military. Getting a military uniform, he marches through the street acquiring soldiers as he goes along. He arrives at the mark’s house with a large contingent and fleeces the man of his ledgers and all the cash on hand. Things are going well. He and Anya are leaving in a couple of hours. Then the real military shows up. Gerald, using the name Captain Houston, is whisked to the garrison where he is impressed into handling the evacuation of the Chiang Lin province from the Japanese occupation. (This is at the beginning of World War II.)

Here the film turns into a heroic adventure and is no longer the romantic caper comedy it started as. Still, it remains fun. Gable and Russell work well together throughout, although Wikipedia tells me that Lana Turner was originally slated to be the co-star. I like Russell more than I do Turner, so this was fine by me.

Overall, They Met in Bombay was was good film and I really enjoyed it. Peter Lorre was only in the film 10 or 15 minutes and was pretty well wasted as an unscrupulous Chinese freighter captain. I had never heard of this film before, so it was a nice piece of serendipity that I found it and watched it. Perhaps it will work for you also. Though, of course, 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 Continental Op: The Complete Case Files by Dashiell Hammett, 1923 – 1930, Edited by Richard Laymon and Julie M. Rivette

Hammett’s Continental Op stories aren’t as well known as his novels, but they still pack a punch.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 202nd in my series of Forgotten Books.

Like John D. MacDonald in last week’s Forgotten Book, it would be hard to imagine a world where Dashiell Hammett is a “forgotten writer.” The five novels ranging from Red Harvest, The Dain Curse, The Glass Key, The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man have been printed and reprinted over and over. In fact, The Maltese Falcon is one of the greatest novels in the English language. Together with Raymond Chandler and Carroll John Daly, Hammett led the charge to take murder and mayhem out of the English drawing room and pit it back on the mean streets.

I have read each of those books, multiple times, over the past 50 years, and I watch the films whenever they are on. I cannot count the number of times of time I have heard Sam Spade say “the stuff dreams are made of.”

But it is easy to forget that those novels did not spring fully realized from the head of Hammett. He had an apprenticeship period, generally in the Black Mask magazine. And he told many of these tales through the eyes of a short, fat unnamed detective who worked for the Continental Detective Agency in San Francisco. There are a number of Hammett short story collections that have been published throughout the years, some with great titles like Dead Yellow Women, The Creeping Siamese and The Big Knockover. But, until this volume, there has never been a complete accounting of the Continental Op stories.

The three title stories listed in the previous paragraph are all among the best of the stories contained in The Continental Op: The Complete Case Files, this week’s book. But, again, these stories did not just leap from Hammett’s fingertips. Editors Laymon and Rivette group the stories into three groups – The Early Years (1923-1924) with 10 stories beginning with “Arson Plus”; The Middle Years (1924-1926) with 11 stories, beginning with “The House in Turk Street” (one of my favorites) through “The Gutting of Couffignal” (another amazing story); and The Later Years (1927-1930) with 8 stories beginning with “The Creeping Siamese” and including the near novel The Big Knockover,” its sequel “$106,000 Blood Money” and “Death and Company.” That period also includes one unfinished story, “Three Dimes.” All but two of the published stories appeared in Black Mask.

The Early Years stories are all okay. None of them particularly leapt out to me as an Oh-My-God! moment. But with the advent of Hammett’s middle period and “The House in Turk Street” and its sequel “The Girl With the Silver Eyes,” there was a difference in the writing, a leanness that moved the stories along, even though they were longer pieces. In this period we get the stories previously noted as well as “The Whosis Kid,” “Who Killed Bob Teal” and “Dead Yellow Women.” If he had stopped writing at this point, he would still be revered today.

The later years bring it all home, though. “The Big Knockover” and “$106,000 Blood Money” were issued together as a short novel by Dell Paperbacks and as a hardcover from World Publishing. They are a little short to be considered a complete novel, but they are very, very good. During this period, I also liked “The Creeping Siamese” and “Fly Paper.” There were one or two contrived pieces, especially “The King Business” (one of the two non-Black Mask stories), which takes the Op away from San Francisco and into Europe with a young man being maneuvered into funding a political revolution.

Read in one or two sittings, these stories will get old. Spread over a week or month, however, they retain their wonderful flavor. If, like me, you have not read all of these or only know Hammett through his novels, this is where you want to be. If you are interested in the history of the mystery field in the 20th Century, this is where you need to be. The introductory essays before each section are worth the price of admission alone. If character names like The Whosis Kid, Paddy the Mex, Bluepoint Vance, Wop Healy, Tom-Tom Carey, and the Did-and-Dat Kid strike your fancy, this is the book for you. (I should mention that Hammett was definitely a product of his time, and there are some ethnic slurs that were common in the period and which reflect the character of the Operative. Just a word to not be surprised when you run into those words. There are not a lot of them, but they could be jarring to some readers.)

Looking again this evening, this particular version does not appear to be available on Amazon. Which is a crying shame. There are multiple volumes which reprint all the stories, but it talks some work and money. I got this in September 2016 for $14.99, the most I ever have paid for an e-book. And it was worth every penny.

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