Saturday, March 19, 2005

Another TV Theme Song Site 50 Great TV Themes: "50 Great TV Themes
By Matt Hinrichs"

Those of you who thought the "100 Greatest TV Themes" site that I linked to earlier didn't do a very good job might want to have a look at the one above and compare the two. This one is also annotated.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Daredevils of the Red Circle

OK, here's the set-up for this highly regarded Republic serial: An escaped convict named Harry Crowel (he prefers to be called by his prison number, 39013, pronounced Thirty-nine-Oh-thirteen) sets out to ruin Horace Granville (Miles Mander) by destroying all his holdings and properties. Charles (Ming the Merciless) Middleton plays 39013, who, by wearing a really good mask is posing as Granville.

The real Granville is being held captive in a prison cell in the basement of his own home, and the cell is an exact replica of the one 39013 was in when he was imprisoned. Don't ask me how 39013 was able to build this cell in Granvilles basement or how he was able to honeycomb the house with secret passages without anybody knowing. He just did it, the same way he arranged to have the garage fitted out with pipes that pump poison gas.

No one suspects the impersonation because 39013 never lets anyone near him. Granville has supposedly had a stroke, so 39013, taking advantage of Granville's supposedly weakened condition, can meet people only if they are separated from him by a glass wall. He speaks to them over a microphone. 39013 of course looks and sounds just like Granville, and he never slips up because, as he tells Granville, as long as he wears the mask he speaks in Granville's voice. When he removes the mask, he looks and sounds just like Charles Middleton.

I should also mention that down in the basement with the cell there's a Rube Goldberg device on which glass balls filled with poison gas are balanced. If 39013 doesn't return to the room regularly and refill the counter-balancing bottle with water, the balls will fall to the floor and break, killing Granville with the deadly gas.

So much for the set-up. One of the first properties that 39013 destroys is the Granville Amusement Center (Granville owns a little of everything, including a radium mine, which apparently is pretty much like a gold mine). The fire that consumes the amusement center takes the life of the younger brother of Gene Townley (Charles Quigley), one of the Daredevils. Townley and the other two daredevils, Tiny Dawson (Bruce Bennett, aka Herman Brix) and Bert Knowles (David Sharpe), sign on with Granville (in reality, 39013) to put a stop to 39013's depredations. The escaped con hires them so as not to arouse suspicion. Then, of course, he immediately sets out to get rid of them, and we're off to the races.

But let's stop for a moment to talk about Bruce Bennett. He was an Olympic shot-putter, and as Herman Brix, he starred in one of my favorite serials, Hawk of the Wilderness. After he got tired of the athletic roles, he took acting lessons, became Bennett, and had a long career in movies, including a role in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. According to the IMDb, he's still alive. If that's true, he'd be 99 years old.

David Sharpe was a U.S. tumbling champion who started out in movies in 1923. He did mostly stunt work, but he was one of the Rangebusters in that Monogram series. He was the stunt double for just about everybody in Hollywood at one time or another. His last credit was as a stunt driver in 1978. Fifty-five years isn't a bad career in any field.

Charles Middleton will always be Ming the Merciless to many of us. It's sad to look at his career as outlined on the IMDb and see all the "uncredited" parts he took, or, even sadder, the movies that say "scenes deleted." But he managed to hang around for a long time.

Carole Landis is one of the sad stories of Hollywood. She was beautiful, and she could act, but she never really got much of a chance. She was only about 19 or 20 when she made this serial, and ten years later she was dead of an overdose of sleeping pills. She could have livened up the serial considerably, but she's barely used at all.

Miles Mander, as all you fans of Philip Marlowe will recall, played Mr. Grayle in Murder, My Sweet.

Charles Quigley didn't do much of note either before or after this serial. Unless you want to count a minor role in Mexican Spitfire Out West.

The butler, Snowflake, is played by Fred "Snowflake" Toones, who played the same Stepin Fetchit type of character in tons of movies for 20 years. He was often uncredited and often billed as Snowflake. You can imagine the kind of humor he was involved in.

And now back to our story. Oh, what the heck. You know the story. 39013 plots to destroy stuff, and the Daredevils foil the plots. There's a fistfight in every episode, of course, with lots of climbing around gas plants, electric plants, and oil rigs. David Sharpe does some tumbling stuff in most of the fights. The cliffhangers are OK, with the one in the first chapter being the most memorable. It has Quigley racing through a tunnel only yards in front of a wall of water that seems certain to overtake him.

The weakness are those of most serials. Like, why did 39013 put that gas pipe in the garage in the first place? And, when the Daredevils investigate, why does someone say, "That valve comes from the gas plant down the road. Let's go there an check it out," instead of, "Why don't we trace that pipe and see where it goes?" (Because if they'd done that, of course, they'd have found the tunnels, which would have led them to 39013 and ended the serial.)

And of course anybody over the age of five will figure out the identity of the mysterious figure who's helping out the Daredevils, though I defy anyone of any age to figure out how the MF is getting the information that's passed along.

Then there's Chapter 11, a total cheat, since it's nothing but padding to make the whole thing 12 chapters long. All Chapter 11 does is repeat scenes from earlier episodes. But that's why remotes have the "fast forward" feature.

The good stuff? Well, the score is a dandy, the stunts are good, the fistfights are well-choreographed, and all three leads seem to be having a good time. I wouldn't put this one in the same class with some of my favorites, like Captain Marvel and all the Rocketman serials, but it's still worth watching. I'd give it three stars. Posted by Hello

Thursday, March 17, 2005

The Most Idiotic Twist Endings?

Twist and Shout - Readers nominate the most-idiotic-twist endings. By David Edelstein: "
Twist and Shout
Readers nominate the most-idiotic-twist endings."

I haven't seen several of the movies on this list. There are some spoilers in the comments, but you do get a warning.

Andre Norton RIP

Jayme Lynn Blaschke's Gibberish: "Andre Norton has passed on
SFWA Grandmaster Andre Norton died last night in her sleep. Given her recent health troubles, this does not come as a surprise. That it was semi-expected does nothing to mitigate the loss to the science fiction and fantasy community. I never had the chance to meet her, but from all accounts she was a gracious and friendly person.

Further information is to be posted at her official website when it is available."

This is sad news indeed. When I was a kid, I loved Andre Norton's books, and I read a lot of them in the old Ace editions, including one or two of the "Andrew North" books as well.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

I've Got a Little List

JUSTINALEI.CO.UK - Simpsons Lists - Chalkboard Gags: "Bart's Chalkboard Gags"

Here is is, all in one place: everything Bart Simpson ever wrote on the chalkboard. If you were snoozing and missed it, now you can look for it here.

Chupacabra? (Part 2)

WOAI: SAN ANTONIO//NEWS: "Rancher Dissatisfied with Chupacabra DNA Results"

Once again Jayme Blaschke is lagging behind on the Chupacabra news, so I'm stepping in to fill the gap.

Must-See TV

FilmForce: Spring Break Shark Attack: "Spring Break Shark Attack"

I think I can safely say that this is a guaranteed instant classic. Set your VCRs now!

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Today's Trivia

I was talking to someone the other day about western writer Will Henry, and I discovered that Henry started his career writing scripts for cartoons. His real name was Henry Allen, though he's credited as Heck Allen on the IMDb. He worked a lot with Tex Avery, and he wrote most of the famous cartoons featuring Droopy Dog, including Northwest Hounded Police (1946), which is listed as #28 in The 50 Greatest Cartoons of all Time. It seems that when Allen started writing western novels, he used pen names (in addition to being Will Henry, he was also Clay Fisher) because he was afraid the studio wouldn't approve of his moonlighting. Allen's western novels are well thought of, so I guess today they'd be called "novels of the west" instead of westerns. Wouldn't want to stigmatize them. Neither would Allen, who seemed to want to downplay his writing for cartoons, as if it wasn't worthy. I think my life was influenced a lot more by Droopy Dog than by any of his westerns, however. Posted by Hello

Amazon founder plans Texas spaceport - Amazon founder plans Texas spaceport: "Amazon founder plans Texas spaceport"

A spaceport in Van Horn, Texas? You gotta love it.

Monday, March 14, 2005

I'm a Literary Writer (Again)

Sometime back in 2000 or 2001 I got a request from Rick Bass. He asked if I'd done any writing about the environment. He said that if I had something along those lines, he wanted to include it in a book of stories, essays, and poems that would protest, according to the introduction of Falling From Grace in Texas, "the abuses of the enviroment by developers, by legislators catering to the profiteers of agriculture and petroleum." Not being the state's best-known writer about the enviroment, I didn't have much. I did have a short poem that I'd published in a little magazine about 20 years previously, so I sent that to him and forgot about it. Imagine my surprise when the book arrived today, nearly five years after the original request.

Paul Christensen says in his introduction that the book is "perhaps not what Rick Bass expected or even wanted . . . . [It] is a more problematic and intimate response . . . ."
Whatever the book is, my little poem is in it. I'm thrilled to be published in the company of Bud Shrake, Stephen Harrigan, Clay Reynolds, Olive Hershey (we shared an office back in our grad school days!), Marshall Terry, A. C. Greene, and, as they say, many others. I'll bet they're going to be surprised to see my name in the table of contents. But no more surprised than I was. Posted by Hello

100 Greatest TV Theme Songs

retroCRUSH: The World's Finest Pop Culture Site

Click on the link to see a listing, with commentary, photos and links. Great stuff. "Petticoat Junction" is #100.

Sunday, March 13, 2005


When Robert Crais started writing his series about Elvis Cole back in 1987, the first book, The Monkey's Raincoat, came out as a paperback original from Bantam. It was a big hit, an entertaining p.i. novel that obviously owed something to Robert B. Parker, among others, but that had a flair all its own. Before long Crais was being published in hardback and racking up enviable sales.

But I think Crais wanted more than enviable sales. I think he wanted bestselling novels, and in the pursuit of them he changed publishers a few times. Then he wrote a couple of standalone books, Demolition Angel and Hostage. Those last two titles must have sold very well indeed, and the movie version of Hostage opened this weekend, with Bruce Willis starring.

To tell the truth, I didn't much like either Demolition Angel or Hostage. They were very well done, but they seemed to me sort of soulless and lacking any individuality. In other words, I thought of them as by-the-numbers thrillers, and I thought they lacked the spark and originality of the early Elvis Cole novels.

The fact is, for me anyway, the last couple of Elvis Cole novels have also lacked that spark. I read The Forgotten Man this weekend, and while I think it's a perfectly fine book, it didn't do much for me. For one thing, in both this one and The Last Detective, Crais has tried to add "heft" and "seriousness" to the books, and in the process he's abandoned the first-person novel for a story told in first person part of the time and in third person the rest of the time. In doing that, he's gotten away from the things that made the series attractive to me in the first place.

But it's worked. I noticed that The Forgotten Man is right there on the bestseller list this week, sitting right in the middle. So I guess that's all to the good, at least for Crais's career. Since I've met him and like him, I wish him nothing but the best. Still, I'd trade his last four novels for another one like The Monkey's Raincoat. Luckily for Crais, hardly anybody else feels the same way.