Saturday, December 17, 2005

Trevanian, R. I. P.

Thriller author Trevanian dead at 74: "NEW YORK, NY, United States (UPI) -- Author Rodney 'Trevanian' Whitaker, whose 'The Eiger Sanction' became a hit 1972 Clint Eastwood film, has died in England at age 74."

I thoroughly enjoyed The Eiger Sanction when it appeared. It was funny and exciting, and I was sure Trevanian would be a big name. He was, for a while. Later, his bestseller status deserted him, but I'm not sure he cared. The last book I read by him was Incident at Twenty-Mile, certainly not the kind of novel calculated to get him back on the Big List. I have a book of his short stories around somewhere, and I should get it out and read a few of them.

Stage Door Canteen

Vince Keenan has some comments today about wartime propaganda movies, and by coincidence I watched Stage Door Canteen last night. Stage Door Canteen isn't your usual propaganda film. It's not about battles or courage under fire or any of that. It's the story of four soldiers and their last few days in the states before shipping out for the European theater in 1942 or so.

And of course it's also about the galaxy of stage and screen stars who perform or work at the canteen. There are far too many of them for me to name here. You need to click the link above, go to the IMDb and see for yourself. One great moment, however, just has to be mentioned. It's the scene where Johnny Weissmuller and Franklin Pangborn are in the kitchen washing dishes. Pangborn remarks about how hot it is, and Weissmuller removes his shirt. Pangborn shrieks, "What chest!" Then he does an imitation of Tarzan's ape call and swoons into Weissmuller's arms. Talk about your subtext!

Stage Door Canteen is truly a relic of another time, a past so distant that to a lot of people reading this it might as well be about the Trojan war as about WWII. It was a time when everyone was a patriot, a time when movie and Broadway stars not only supported a war but went out and mingled with the soldiers (sure the movie's romanticized, but there really was a Stage Door Canteen, and a Hollywood Canteen, too), a time when innocence wasn't just a word. (In fact, I think it would be almost impossible for a teenager today to watch the movie without laughing at a good-looking 18-year-old guy who's never kissed a girl and to whom a first kiss could mean so much.) It was a time when "The Lord's Prayer" could be sung to a group of men and women who would automatically stand at its first words and say "Amen" when it was done. It may not have been a better time, but it was beyond question a different time, and one that I'm old enough to remember. The plots and situations might seem sappy or corny now, and maybe they even seemed that way even 60 years ago, but by golly they're effective.

Some of the highlights for me were the antics of Kay Kyser, the "strip" by Gypsy Rose Lee, Benny Goodman's clarinet playing, Ray Bolger's dancing, and the great bit with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, which is why I recorded the movie in the first place. Great, great stuff, like opening a time capsule.

Friday, December 16, 2005

King Kong Addendum

I forgot to mention that the screenwriter in King Kong has to stay in an animal cage on the Venture. I love little touches like that.

Early Morning Visitor

I looked out in my back yard this morning, and this is what I saw.


King Kong Island Home Is Pure Fantasy, Ecology Experts Say

The massive star of the new movie King Kong, which opens today, effectively apes real gorillas. But the bizarre assortment of wildlife on the creature's island home seems to be from out of this world.

As seen in the remake of the 1933 film classic, Skull Island is supposed to lie somewhere in the Indian Ocean.

In the island's jungles roam a wide array of dinosaurs, including Tyrannosaurus rex; aggressive, 3-foot (90-centimeter) cockroaches; bloodthirsty car-size crabs; and, of course, Kong, a 25-foot-tall (8-meter-tall) silverback gorilla who lives alone in his mountain hideaway.

It's a world that violates most of modern science's evolutionary rules.

"The notion that dinosaurs could survive on a tiny mid-oceanic island is preposterous," said John Terborgh, a professor of environmental science at Duke University in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Damn! Who would have guessed. Now the whole movie is spoiled for me. But my review is below, anyway.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

King Kong

So I went to see King Kong this afternoon. It was great fun, but it's never going to replace the original in my affections. I'm sure I'll be watching the original again because I'm getting the "Collector's Edition" for Christmas, but I doubt that I'll watch Peter Jackson's version a second time.

I believe there have been complaints that the movie's too long because of the long build-up to the arrival at Skull Island. I didn't really feel that way. I liked the first hour at least as well as the rest of the movie. What seemed a bit long to me were the action scenes on the island, but then I'm getting crakier about drawn-out action scenes as I get older, I think. What impressed me were the quiet scenes, both in the beginning, the middle, and the end.

I was also impressed by Naomi Watts' performance. She's actually better than Faye Wray, but only because her part is written better. Watts' relationship with Kong is certainly fleshed out more than Wray's, and there's a lot more poignance in it.

The casting of Jack Black worried me from the beginning, but he did all right. He plays to the dark side of Carl Denham, and his line reading in the "I've come into the possession of a map" scene is just fine. I wasn't so taken with his reading of the famous final line, and anyway, the line seems all wrong in this movie. It's pretty clear that it's not beauty that kills the beast. It's greed and ego and showbiz that do him in.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Say, Isn't the 2006 Bouchercon in Madison?

Bill O'Reilly on yesterday's The O'Reilly Factor: "I mean, this is not Madison, Wisconsin, where you expect those people to be communing with Satan up there in the Madison, Wisconsin, media."

Will we have to get 666 branded or our foreheads to get a room at the convention hotel?

Important Anna Nicole Smith Announcement!

Sky Showbiz - Who's In Celeb Big Bro?: "Last year we had gobby Brigitte, bonkers Jackie and victorious Bez, but who will go into the Celebrity Big Brother house in January 2006?

The rumours start here...

A list of likely candidates is being banded about the press and web with some confidence - and a pretty intriguing bunch they are too.

Platinum bombshell Anna Nicole Smith is said to be bringing her outrageous self to our shores to spread some raucous action in the house.

She will, of course, have to take a breather from her legal wrangles with the children of her late billionaire husband J Howard Marshall II to do her stint in the house.

Boy George also recently hit the news after being charged with cocaine possession - but TV insiders still reckon he will make it into the house."

Luckily Anna Nicole, unlike Boy George, doesn't have any drug problems. This article, unfortunately, refers to the British version of the show. Maybe I should start a petition to get it shown in the U.S.

Scholarly Website

It's nice to know that scholarly pursuits aren't limited to the Groves of Academe. So when a worthy website such as The Encyclopedia of Women in Prison Films is called to my attention (as this one was by the inimitable Steve Stilwell, an old retired bookseller with a heart condition), I like to let others know about it.

An Interesting Experiment in Self-Publishing

A Legend of Ethshar on the Installment Plan

What do you do when a publisher kills your series? Well, you can do what I've done a few times, which is to stop writing the books. Or you could try something different, which is what SF writer Lawrence Watt-Evans did. You can read all about it at the link.

Always Magic in the Air -- Ken Emerson

It seems that Ed Gorman and I are often reading the same book. I'm really enjoying this one, and the anecdote that Ed mentions (that Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman wrote "Little Sister" and "[Marie's the Name] His Latest Flame" specifically for Bobby Vee) is certainly one of many highlights. But all the stories about the Brill Building songwriting teams are good. Just the names are enough to invoke a veritable frenzy of nostalgia: Leiber and Stoller, Goffin and King, Weil and Mann, Barry and Greenwich, Sedaka and Greenfield, Bacharach and David. There's also great stuff about Bobby Darin, Phil Spector, Connie Francis, and plenty of others. If you grew up listening to the radio in the late 1950s and early 1960s, or if you're happy to learn that it was Neil Sedak playing piano on "Splish Splash," then this is the book for you.

The End of the Western

Richard Wheeler says on his blog today: "I intend to devote this web log to a single topic over the next months, the collapse of western fiction. Readers who are not interested, or who would prefer diversity, should check in next spring when I will begin to tackle other topics."

I don't know about you, but I'll be following his commentary with great interest.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Important Anna Nicole Smith Announcement!

The Sun Online - News: George and the dragon: "STAND by for fireworks — Boy George is going on Celebrity Big Brother with Anna Nicole Smith.

Show insiders are predicting tension between the pair — one a camp Eighties icon, the other a feisty former lap dancer and centrefold.

To stir things up Channel 4 bosses have also lined up acid-tongued comic Johnny Vegas, alongside veteran funnyman Jimmy Tarbuck.

George, 44, is appearing despite being charged last month with cocaine possession. He was nicked by cops in New York. "

The question is, why won't a blockbuster like this be shown in the U.S.? It's unfair!

A Good Reason to Go to Oklahoma in a Couple of Years

Car buried in 1957 to be unearthed in '07: "TULSA, Okla. -- A Plymouth Belvedere that was buried in a concrete vault nearly 50 years ago as part of the state's golden anniversary celebration will be unearthed in 2007 as part of the Oklahoma centennial festivities.

The 1957 Belvedere is underground next to the Tulsa County Courthouse. Also buried with it were five gallons of gas and a case of beer.

Old news reports indicate the gas was buried in case internal combustion engines became obsolete by 2007 and no fuel was available. Other buried items include the contents of a woman's purse: 14 bobby pins, a lipstick, a pack of gum, tissues, a pack of cigarettes and matches and $2.43."

I love stuff like this, and I'd love to be there when that car's unearthed. I won't, but it would be fun to see.

Happy Birthday, Ross Macdonald

Kenneth Millar would have been 90 years old today. I'm sorry he isn't around to celebrate. There's no question that his books, under the name Ross Macdonald, were among the most influential on me back in my formative years. For me, he's right up there with the other greats of the mystery field, and he always will be. Some readers (notably Donald Westlake) have complained that Macdonald told the same story again and again. Maybe so, but it was a great story, and it might have been a story that Macdonald was compelled to tell. Here's what he once said: "I was in trouble, and Lew Archer got me out of it... I couldn't work directly with my own experiences and feelings. A narrator had to be interposed, like protective lead, between me and the radioactive material." If you've never read Macdonald's work, you're missing some great stuff.

Hardluck Stories

The new issue of Hardluck Stories is on-line. This one was edited by Iain Rowan and "features new crime fiction which play out in the dark heart of the city while the rest of the world sleeps. These are the types of stories played out by night-shift workers and prostitutes and cabbies and grifters and dealers - the types of stories that leave no evidence to the rest of the world except when they catch the blood being hosed off the steps the next morning." For those of you in the writing game, guidelines for the Sping 2006 Borderland Noir issue to be guest edited by Craig McDonald are available.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Most Popular Toys of the Last 100 Years

A nice slideshow from Forbes. Check it out.

Stephen Marlowe remembers Evan Hunter

Great post on Ed Gorman's blog. Check it out!

Happy Birthday, Connie Francis

Connie Francis is 67 years old today. I liked her music from the first time I heard "Who's Sorry Now?" and I've often wondered why she's not in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Sure, she recorded mostly ballads, but the Platters are in the Hall, and virtually everything they recorded was a ballad. It's not as if Connie couldn't rock out, as she proved with songs like "Lipstick on Your Collar," "Stupid Cupid," and "Everybody's Somebody's Fool."

Connie Francis was also in a movie I liked a lot back in the very early 1960s. Paula Prentiss was my big crush, but Connie held her own and was very funny. After I saw the movie, I bought the paperback by Glendon Swarthout. I still have a copy around here somewhere.

Harvey. No, Not the Giant Invisible Rabbit.

Harvey the Alligator


For 10 years, children at Southside Middle School in Rockville Centre told stories about the giant alligator living in the basement.

It sounds like a youthful myth, concocted to confront boredom -- like lunch ladies serving up rats or aliens occupying the principal's office -- except that the 500-pound carnivorous reptile lurking under Southside was real."

Mystery*File Yet Again

Interview with JOHN D. MacDONALD, by Ed Gorman.

I know, I know, I keep on shilling for Mystery*File, but an interview with John D. MacDonald isn't to be missed, not even if you've read it before.

Overheard in Alvin

Now and then frequent commenter Jeff Meyerson sends me a link to the Overheard in New York website. Naturally Alvinites can't compete with the suave sophisticates in the Big Apple when it comes to the colorful use of language, but now and then I do overhear an interesting remark. Why only last Saturday I was mingling with the joyous holiday crowds at the local Wal-Mart when a Rubenesque young woman passed among us. A dapper young man nearby nudged his amiable companions and said with obvious appreciation, "Look at the shitter on that critter!"

And yet some would say that chivalry is dead.

Sunday, December 11, 2005


Okay, I'm feeling quite intellectual this evening because I've watched a movie with subtitles. It was also the most entertaining movie I've seen in a long time. When it comes to buckling swashes, this French movie makes The Mask of Zorro look like a pathetic wannbe.

One thing I really liked was the filming of the action scenes. Nobody's jumping around on trampolines or doing wire work. The fencing looks like actual fencing, without any of the MTV-inspired quick cutting that ruined most of the action scenes in movies like Gladiator for me.

The cinematograpy is excellent. The movie glows, and the scenery is beautiful. I wish I'd seen this movie in a theater.

As for the plot, it's the old revenge story, with action that hardly ever lets up. Everybody in the movie seems to be having a grand time, and there's plenty of humor mixed into the action. Wit and energy: what a concept!

Why doesn't Hollywood make movies like this anymore? Probably because it's "old-fashioned." Maybe I enjoyed it so much because I'm an old poop.

Richard Pryor, R. I. P.

I haven't seen this mentioned in the few obituaries I've read, but the first time I ever saw Richard Pryor was on a TV series called The Kraft Summer Music Hall in 1966. Judy and I had been married for one year, and we were planning to move from Denton, where I was attending North Texas State University, to Austin, where I planned to start work on my doctorate. We had a little black and white TV set, and we watched the Kraft show every week. It was hosted by John Davidson, who was at least as square as we were. Maybe even more square. But on that show were two guys we thought were hilarious, Richard Pryor and George Carlin. Who would ever have guessed that those two would become icons of the hip? (Okay, sure, Carlin was already playing the hippy-dippy mailman.) We followed their careers after that and tried to see them on TV and in the movies when we could or buy their recordings. Over the years they developed into terrific comedians and hilariously funny but entirely serious commentators on life in this country. I never got to see either of them in person, though I've seen Pryor's concert films, and I've seen Carlin's performances for HBO. Though Pryor hasn't performed recently because of his MS, his death still leaves a big hole. Time to go listen to This Nigger's Crazy again, I guess. So long, Richard.